In Praise of Weirdness

On Twitter, someone posted about a six-year-old who, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, said “I want to be a weird person.” It dawned on me: That’s what I always wanted to be.

I’ve succeeded, though not without some bumps and sidetracks along the way. Being weird is not considered a viable career or social path, something I’d already figured out when I was six, so I didn’t admit my desire to others or pursue it as directly as I could have.

Not that I haven’t always been weird. It’s just that there were some years there where I tried to be both normal and weird, which is not an easy task.

I remember as a kid wanting to be an artist of some kind, wanting to be surrounded by the paraphernalia of art. Musician, painter, dancer, and ending up on writer because it was the one thing I knew I was good at.

I also remember wanting to be a beatnik. I did grow up to be a hippie. (I’m glad to have had those years and also glad I didn’t get stuck there.)

As a teenager, I remember wanting to live in a garret in Paris or a walk-up in New York City where I could hang out with other artists (or maybe philosophers, since I went through a spell of reading de Beauvoir and Sartre). My sister moved to New York City to dance. I was always jealous of that.

Instead of doing those things, I went to law school. That would have been the extreme opposite of weird, except for one thing: when I did it, it was still weird for women to go to law school.

In addition to wanting to be weird, I wanted to do things that women weren’t supposed to do. And I wanted to use law to make change. My weirdness had its radical and political side.

It occurs to me now that combining work in the inherently non-weird profession of law with being not just a woman in a very male-dominated field, but also a woman with a personal weirdness that was both artistic and politically radical, was not an undertaking destined for success. Especially since I didn’t completely understand either myself or how the world worked.

Perhaps if I had been content to just push my way into the legal system, without regard for who I worked for, I would have been more successful. I might be a federal judge today. Or I might be like the smart and charming woman I know who represents fossil fuel companies for a big law firm. (How she lives with herself in this day and age I do not know, except that lawyers are good at compartmentalizing their lives.)

Instead, I stumbled around trying to find my place. I did end up doing a lot of legal work with co-ops of all kind, and I’m proud of that work. Eventually, my legal education set me up for a good job as legal editor, which gave me time and mental energy for doing the things that mattered: fiction and martial arts.

I sometimes look back on my life and think about how I might have gotten around to my true passions by more direct paths. But some of what mattered didn’t exist at the right place and right time, and the things that were going on in that place and time influenced me, as they do. Even if you’re weird and aspire to be weirder.

These days I feel like I’m following my own weird path, writing more fiction and essays, teaching and advocating for empowerment self defense, and getting involved in more co-ops. I don’t live in a garret, but I do live in an exciting urban area and I’m doing art and feminist and political things. My kind of weird.

So what did you want to be when you grew up? And if you’ve grown up, did you succeed? Or did you find something better?



In Praise of Weirdness — 14 Comments

  1. I got made fun of mercilessly for being a dork/geek/nerd as a kid, when conformity was so very much a part of the fifties/early sixties cultural scene. Hippiedom was such a relief–my long hair and desire for flowing dresses (when I wasn’t wearing jeans) fitted right in. I was still a dork even to fellow hippies, but at least dorkiness was “doing your own thing.”

    From the time I made books out of paper towels at age six I always wanted to be a writer, and to own a big house that was mainly library, except for the beautiful furniture and secret passageways. Well, I live in a shabby condo shaped like a box, but it’s mostly library! And being retired, I get to write when I’m not dealing with Daily Life.

    • I never understood that being smart was considered weird, so I was never able to keep quiet. And even as a teenager I wanted to be different, because I was bored by the things that were considered cool. It occurs to me this morning that I never really had any choice about being weird. I couldn’t help it.

  2. I wanted to be a nurse, a biologist, anthropologist, paleontologist, scientist, millionaire, multiple-award winner renaissance person, writer, actress (back then there was no need to say ‘actor’), singer. I succeeded only one of those–sort of–scientist. I’ve being a caregiver for a few days for my aging mother, so I guess that counts a bit as nurse. The rest is work in progress.

    If that is weird, then cheers to weird! 🙂

  3. The “Keep Portland Weird” is alive and well here in Oregon. We are home of the unipiper after all.

    Fashion, often the first symptom of weirdness, runs the full spectrum from tailored suits (male and female) to tie dye to military type camouflage. Walking downtown looks like Halloween most every day.

    I like that.

  4. That’s how it is in Oakland, too. When I wonder if I’m dressed right for something, I say to myself, “I live in the East Bay. Whatever I have on is right.” Wonderfully freeing.

    It comes to me that I lived in Austin back when it really was weird, before “Keep Austin Weird” became a slogan on t-shirts made in China and sold in upscale convention hotels. But as with Portland, there are still pockets of wonderful weirdness in Austin, including many displays of yard art.

  5. when my childhood playing companion and first cousin Maja and I were playing together as little girls, we had very clear ideas in our heads about the future. She wanted to be a vet – and she is one today, at least by qualification and by proxy because she runs a business which is a veterinary pharmacy. Me? I wanted to grow up weird. I started writing when I could hold a pencil; I wrote my first poem at 5, my first story at probably not much older than that, my first (bad) novel at 11, my first GOOD novel at 14, and I kept going. But way back then when we were little girls playing together… she would sit there pretending to heal animals, and I would be daydreaming stories in my head.

    I guess we both grew up to be what we thought we would.

    • It’s so important to do that imagining and play — and to not have people around saying “you can’t do that” or “stop daydreaming.” I made up stories for my sister and me to act out when I was a kid.

  6. When I was about five, I wanted to write books. When I was twelve, I wanted to go to Hollywood and write screenplays. When I was 15, I wanted to be a doctor. I went on wanting to be a doctor until I faced the facts that I was great at things like Sociology, Psychology, and English, and hopeless at math and chemistry and only decent at biology and anatomy. I did go to grad school, in spite of a biology professor who felt you had to do calculus to go to grad school, but I went to grad school to train as a public health educator, at a college where I didn’t have to live on campus and didn’t have to take calculus to go to grad school. I passed my orals with flying colors and a 103-degree temperature.

    Then Ronald Reagan became president and my life fell apart. Instead of hiring me, the agencies I interviewed with wanted me to volunteer for a year and then maybe they’d hire me. I had student loans to pay. I spent the next ten years substitute teaching and working as a home health aide. And declaring bankruptcy at 27.

    And then I ended up in NYC and working on computers where I have to solve problems, not do coding.

    And I still want to be a writer. Maybe I’ll even finish the three books I”m stalled on.

    • Finish them! Write those stories.

      And yeah, the Reagan years were a lousy time to try to establish a career doing good work. I ended up working at a local legal services organization where my boss, when I discussed a raise, told me, “This organization was founded by Catholic priests. You probably didn’t realize you took a vow of poverty when you came to work here.” He meant it as a joke (it was founded by priests, but he wasn’t one, and he wasn’t being paid a lot of money either), but it summed up the opportunities for those who wanted to do actual good work in the 80s.