Every once in awhile I’ll post on Facebook “I’m a weirdo” and it gets about 5 likes in comparison to the 150 likes I get for a check-in at the movie theater with my husband. A few weeks ago, someone sent me a message and asked me why I always identify myself as a weirdo. “You are successful, handsome and you really have your shit together. Why in the world would you want everyone to think you’re a weirdo and what does that even mean?” I thought it was an interesting question so I looked up the definition of weirdo and found this: a person whose dress or behavior seems strange or eccentric. Hmmm…I don’t know. I guess it all started with Janis Joplin.
My mother always loved Janis Joplin and I grew up with her soul and lyrics blasted through the stereo into the rooms of our house. On any given day I could find my mom shuffling in the kitchen to Down on Me or Piece of My Heart. On other days I’d find her on the front step, drinking a beer and humming Summertime or Work Me Lord. My mom so identified with Janis, partly because they were the same age, but also because my mom always dreamed of getting out of Suburbia and living in the Haight, long hair blowing in the wind, hanging out with her politically minded musical friends. In the 60’s, my parents lived in Chicago and my mom did get very involved in liberal politics, even befriending some of the Chicago 7 while working at Northwestern Library. Years later she moved into a house in a suburb of Indianapolis and found herself turning her music down in her car as soon as she would hit the pavement of our street.
I think that my mom was ashamed that she sold out. It was until she moved out of that house, almost twenty years later, and found a small condo that she really found herself again. She decorated her place with tons of local art filling the walls, oriental rugs on every floor, fresh flowers everywhere and loud music filling the walls. Books filled the shelves on the wall and the edges of every couch and table; biographies of Jerry Garcia and Nelson Mandela. Spiritual books on Buddhism and Christianity. While she was healthy and always had fresh fruit in her kitchen, a pack of cigarettes and a gallon of ice cream was also always within reach.
Sometimes I think I give a very misinformed image of my mother. People always send me emails or messages and saying “You’re mother sounded wonderful. She was truly wise. I wish I had known her.” The fact was that my mother was at times a very lonely and difficult person. At her funeral I gave a eulogy to a packed audience. I stood at the pulpit of the church and looked up at the mass of people flooding the balcony and the back of the church. The handwritten homage I had written shook in my hand. I looked out the crowd and started crying. “My mother would have been so overwhelmed to know so many people loved her. She always felt so alone.”
Speaking your mind and being different are not always popular. I learned this the hard way in high school when my friends and I found ourselves definitely on the wrong side of right. But even though we danced to the beat of our own music, we loved our individuality and took pride in our being different from the rest. I remember a popular girl one time saying to me that I could have been popular because I was cute and was stylish if I didn’t hang out with such freaks. The statement really hurt, because even though at times I could mold into the crowd in a way that some of my friends chose not to, I felt just as freakish as they did. I still do. And those friends were my heart stone in high school. What I couldn’t endure from 7-3 made all that more enjoyable after school when we drove around, smoking cigarettes, singing punk music at the top of our lungs and looking for the perfect thrift store in Indianapolis.
I don’t think being weird is a way of dressing, although it can be. I think it is a feeling inside that you’ve never fit in and you also don’t care. The clothes, the hair, the piercings and tattoos are a manifestation of the inside showing on the outside. I love words like individual, different, weirdo and bohemian. They all apply to me on some level. I think when people see me they see a guy with short conservative hair and a flannel shirt, but inside I’m bursting out. If you ever catch me alone in my car you’ll find this to be true as I blast all different kinds of music and sing and dance and don’t care who sees me. My care is my safe place.
While being weird is I think a personality trait or a deeper sense of being that you can’t control, allowing to come out definitely is a choice. My mom could have shut her mouth and allowed herself to just mold to the groove, but she didn’t. I think she just couldn’t stop the weird from coming out and it caused her lots of problems. At times she wasn’t invited to things and she didn’t do stuff with many friends, mostly because they found her to be too passionate about her opinions and stances. If she became too loud or overzealous, they hushed her and I even found myself doing this at times. She was like a nervous child that didn’t know how to act at times. Towards the end of her life she opted to wear almost entirely all black. Her costume of choice was black capri pants, a black v-neck tee shirt, black stacked sandals and huge black sunglasses. Her hair was very blonde and cut in a sharp bob, one side tucked behind her ear, often a black leather jacket in cooler weather. She was pretty cool, but I think this fashion statement was more about her going back to her roots and finding that Mod or Beat mentality that she always related to in books and music. It sang to her heart and made her feel alive. To me, that is the definition of being weird; following the truth inside of your soul no matter what the consequences.
Martin Luther King was a weirdo. So was Gandhi and Stephen Biko, as well as Mother Theresa, Oprah, Malcolm X and many, many more, including the Queen of Weird herself, Janis Joplin. When I first heard her quote, “I’m just one of those regular weird people”, I knew Janis and I were soul mates. I felt connected. I had found my tribe.
I remember watching interview with Janis when she talked about going back to her high school reunion in Port Arthur, Texas. At one point she shares that she didn’t go to prom because no one asked her. “I don’t think they liked me very much,” she said, “so I’m going back.” I so relate to that statement. The funny thing is that when I stopped hiding and allowed myself to truly be who I am, dressing how I want to dress, writing on my blog, posting videos and just putting myself out there at any expense, people seemed to like me more. People in high school that never could be bothered saying hi to me in class over the 12 years we sat next to each other were sending me messages about how inspiring I was when all I was doing was finally living my authentic self; being weird.
It’s so fucking liberating being weird. I don’t have to make any excuses and I can be and do whatever I want to do. I can sing at the top of my lungs and look up at the sky and imagine my mom and Janis smoking cigarettes in heaven and shuffling to Down on Me. And even though I get sad about my weight or that I don’t always fit in, I can talk about it, let it out and be genuine. I don’t have to compromise myself or be something that I’m not. I can just be myself; a weirdo.
Wow, how refreshing.