A couple of years after my first “choose myself” moment as a professional, I hung out my shingle as a solo practitioner.
One day I was having lunch with another local lawyer, a casual friend. Not someone I knew very well.
Out of the blue my lunching lawyer companion drops this bombshell:
“Walker Jones [pseudonym] said you're kinda weird.”
Wow. Hearing that was weird.
It would be an understatement to say I was taken aback. This “Walker” person was a law school classmate and house-mate of the boyfriend of my third-year law school roommate. Although we weren't what I'd call “friends,” we'd certainly socialized enough during the few years that I'd known him. I could not imagine what would make “Walker” describe me as weird.
This paragraph is for context, not to make myself look all wonderful. It's just to indicate that I was, by “normal” standards at the time, the epitome of what was defined as normal in the 80s: I had a very active social life in those years. I was a sorority girl, dated cool guys, was a campus leader at Bama, in the top 1/3 of my law school class, loved alternative music, was a campus radio DJ, wore stylish, preppy clothes. I could't think of anything about my life that would've classified me as anything other than relatively popular and the prototypical law school grad who had, in those days, big ambitions.
So the idea of being called “weird” by someone who knew me just through these social channels really floored me. So much so, that I laughed it off.
Well, I laughed it off then. But, obviously, the comment stayed with me. Otherwise, I wouldn't be blogging about it decades later.
Maybe I Was Weird
The only thing I could figure out then is that by 1990 I wasn't yet married, and most of the crowd “Walker” hung out with was, by that time, married or engaged. I wasn't in a hurry to get married. In fact, I always said I had no desire for a big wedding. I always said when I found the right guy I'd just go get married. Did not understand the wedding fixation business. I still don't. Simple is more than adequate—for me. But I'm not one to judge others. If weddings are your thing, go for it.
Of course, I'm still not married. So maybe that says something. Or not. I'm perfectly content. Lifelong single wasn't planned, but it doesn't bother me. Maybe that's weird.
In hindsight, I can think of other aspects of my life that might have made me a bit weird (but not to “Walker” because he wouldn't have known about these):
When I was about 5 years old, I discovered The Avengers on TV. I was fascinated by the show to the point that I would imitate Mrs. Peel shooting the cork off the top of a champagne bottle. Well, I didn't have a champagne bottle to work with, but the intent was there.
In fourth grade, I started taking piano lessons. At first we didn't have a piano. So that made it hard to practice. But I learned fast, anyway, using a fake keyboard poster. And weekend visits to practice on a relative's piano. That was kind of weird, in hindsight.
Later, in high school I also learned to type very fast, a skill for which I'm very thankful. I remember dreaming of typing the asdf jkl; pattern over and over.
Apparently, I'm good with keyboards. Still a plus, in the computer age, even with touchscreens.
When I was in maybe the fifth grade, someone on the school bus, an older kid, asked why I was always reading books. I stared at him, in the way that 9-old-girls can stare. Girlfriend.
I like(d) to read. In those days I read books about camping and nature and biographies of Elvis and Joe Namath. And my Mom's English literature textbooks. Maybe that was weird. For a while, in junior high, I stopped reading so much, just so I could “fit in” a bit more. Fortunately, I recovered from the need to fit in.
When I got to junior high, I said I wanted to join the band so my parents took me to a meeting for kids who wanted to join the band.
Out of the blue I said I wanted to play trumpet. I think it was because my cousin had the Whipped Cream album by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. The band director, Curtis Ikard, looked at my teeth and said I was good to go.
Two years later I played Amazing Grace as a solo at my high school football game. My parents bought me a silver Bach Stradivarius trumpet just before that game. No other girl had played a trumpet solo at halftime at my school—and our marching band was renowned in the area. I was still in junior high.
I turned down a chance to be drum majorette so I could keep playing trumpet. I eventually became the first girl first-chair solo trumpet player at my school. Band was cool at my school. I was cool.
That all probably makes me weird.
The Weird Turn Pro
I was so into college that I wanted to major in everything. Including parties. After changing my college major at least five times in three years, I settled on broadcasting. Mainly because it interested me and I could finish that degree in four years.
The guy who taught the radio production course was a grad student studying in radio.I remember his syllabus included the phrase:
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
I'd never heard of Hunter S. Thompson before that class. And I don't remember the grad instructor's name. But he taught me how to edit audio tape by splicing and taping it and how to tell a story using audio only.
My final project in that course was a package on women choosing non-traditional careers. I interviewed a few of my friends and sorority sisters. One was finishing her major in electrical engineering. She'd also learned to speak Chinese. Another had a double-major in accounting and Russian. A third was also bound for law school.
We might have been sorority girls but we weren't dumb. The package started with a snipped of music from the Mamas and the Papas: “You've gotta go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do…” and ended with Helen Reddy's “Oh yes, I'm wise, but it's wisdom born of pain…I am strong, I am invincible…..”
Given that I am weird about things, I hung onto the reel-to-reel tape from that class until I left Oklahoma State in 2007. I finally decided I probably wouldn't ever have access to a reel-to-reel player again. At one time, I had a cassette version of that package. Maybe I still do. Maybe I should try for Hoarders. That would be weird, since I do not watch reality TV. It's weird that I even know about it.
It's weird how much we can remember about little isolated snippets of our lives.
At that time, I was intent on becoming the first woman president. I did not hide that ambition. I think I could've achieved that, had I really set my mind to it. But I'm glad I didn't go down the path of politics. I still have my soul and my life.
When I finally got tired of practicing law, I gave it up to return to academia and writing. I earned a Ph.D.
Hoping a few students from my grad school teaching years still remember me at least as fondly as I remember the grad-student-teacher-whose-name-I-can't-recall. He was kinda weird, but I still liked him.
Is Brave Weird?
Maybe I'm weird because when I was 19 I stared into the face of wrath, as two hands wrapped around my neck and and a familiar voice growled: “I could break your neck right now, if I wanted to. All I have to do is press a little harder.” Instead of cowering or pleading for release, I looked impassively but directly into black, alcohol-stained eyes and waited, until my cousin Tommy opened the door and the fingers around my neck relaxed. Check mate.
I forgave this person. That's also weird (to most people).
Following My Bliss
I'm getting tired and, as I wrote yesterday, sleep is my secret weapon, so I'll close this out.
Maybe I'm weird because I've never been willing to settle for the status quo or something less than what I think will help me become a better version of myself.
In my own experience, when the going gets tough, it's time to get brave and push on toward the vision I have for my life.
Likewise, you need to go after the vision you have for your life.
Don't settle for whatever version of reality someone else thinks is normal.
Maybe what's weird is that we, as a society, spent most of the 20th century rewarding the yes men, the rule-followers, those who stayed within +/- 2.5 standard deviations from the mean.
Now that we're in the midst of a “new normal,” inside the normal curve is the last place we should ever want to be.
I still won't claim to be a fan of Hunter S. Thompson, although I have read some of this writing in the years since that class in 1984. But he was very right about one thing:
Weird heroes and mould-breaking champions exist as living proof to those who need it that the tyranny of ‘the rat race' is not yet final.
Hunter S. Thompson
I'm proud to wear the mantle of the weird. What about you?