Wednesday, August 03, 2011

On Being Strange

I delight in the unobtrusively strange; people with harmless little quirks which set them gently apart from others. As long as one’s strangeness does not impose negatively on anyone else, it lends both spice and charm to our lives. I still remember, from the first time I lived in Chicago, the little old lady who walked past my apartment building frequently. She had to have been in her 80s at the time, and was thin to the point of being gaunt. She always dressed as though she were going to the opera: long, white—or black, depending on the season—dress, elbow-length gloves, high-heel shoes, large-brimmed hat with a red or black cabbage rose, pancake makeup with bright red lips and a toy-soldier circle of rouge on each cheek. Though I never had the chance to speak with her, I remember her fondly after all these years.

We are all different, of course, and people being what they are almost everyone is considered a bit strange by someone else. Being a little strange is part of being an individual human being. We all have our own quirks, some of which we recognize in ourselves, but which are more often recognized in us by others. While most of us simply accept that we have certain...harmless quirks, some of us try very hard to hide them, while others wear their strangeness like a badge of honor and go out of our way to cultivate our differences.

There are as many types of strangeness as there are wildflowers on a Nebraska prairie in May.

There are, to my mind, three basic categories of strangeness: 1) The ordinary; 2) The conscious; 3) The calculated.

1) Most of us fall into the "ordinary" or garden variety strange...simple reflections of our individual personalities which make each of us harmlessly but noticeably different from those around us. No one else is seriously affected by it. The "ordinary strange" cover a broad spectrum from the little neighbor lady with six cats through the obsessive-compulsives who iron their underwear and arrange their sock drawer by color. They largely go unheralded because they don't go around calling attention to their particular forms of strangeness. The "ordinary strange" seldom can be spotted in a crowd.

However, the outer edges of ordinary strangeness begin to blur in those who readily believe the most egregious nonsense if it fits their personal preconceptions and prejudices.

2) Those who use their natural strangeness and consciously build upon it as a way to call attention to themselves and make themselves appear to be "cool." (Do people still use that word?) They leap upon whatever bandwagon happens to be passing through town: “In” fashions, hairstyles, piercings, tattoos, wearing pants with belts worn just above the knees and baseball caps at the cutest angles…which they see as ways to stand out. People flock to these trends, deluding themselves into believing they are leaders when they are actually followers, with the result that they all end up looking exactly alike and must go off in search of the next trend or fad.

3) Those who deliberately and with cold calculation exploit and manipulate their strangeness to intimidate and control others are a far more disturbing matter, and can be both frightening and dangerous. They are far from stupid. They take full advantage of the insecurities and fears of others to exploit stupidity and hatred as a means to gain attention and power. And when this strangeness is mixed with megalomania and arrogance we get the truly frightening likes of Michelle Bachman, Sharron Angle, Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, religious fanatics who dare to presume to speak for God, almost any member of the Tea Party, etc.

Strangeness is like a campfire; a pleasant source of warmth and comfort. But it has to be watched carefully, lest it spark an insanity which can destroy us all.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And please take a moment to check out for information on Dorien's "Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs."

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