Joslyn writes: Let me tell you a story. When I was 13, I transferred to a new school. I had to go through the excruciating tween process of trying to fit in during a time when being cool and popular was the only imperative. Luckily, I knew a lot of the kids already because we had gone to grammar school together. They brought me right into their fold. However, the social structure had altered dramatically in a few short years, and this regional middle school had more students. There was a whole new social order, and I had no idea how to navigate it.
On one of the first days of school, a friend told me that she had asked the most popular boy (let’s call him Scott — because, well, that was his name) what he thought of me. I was eager to hear this, since of course I thought Scott was real cute.
Scott said, and I quote, “I think she’s weird.”
Weird. Is there a more cruel thing you can say to a 13-year-old, whose modus operandi is simply to fit in? This was the 80s, mind you, so being unique was not the thing. Had it been the 70s, I may have been more the rebel offspring my hippie parents were hoping for, but in the 80s it was very important to be just like everyone else, from the big bangs to the pastel miniskirts to the matching polka dot socks. My parents’ generation of free love and creative expression was over. I grew up worshipping at the altar of primary colors and formulaic pop music.
The worst thing about it was that I knew, deep down, that I was indeed weird, and now Scott was exposing my truth to the world. No, I wasn’t gay; I didn’t have a secret deformity; my white, blue collar family fit neatly into the demographics of rural New England in that era — but there was definitely something weird about me — I had a certain freakish je ne sais quoi, which I knew would keep me from ever becoming homecoming queen, and I lived in fear of anyone finding out. I felt like Scott had blown my cover. I was afraid that his pronouncement would unveil my weirdness to the whole school.
So I threw myself into being normal. I stopped fashioning my own skirts from castoff curtains my mom threw out. I stopped spending my spare time drawing and writing stories. I adopted “normal” girlish traits like shaving my legs (which I didn’t need to do at all) and wearing a bra (sadly, ditto, and that hasn’t changed much). I made every effort to suppress my weirdness — and that meant suppressing my creativity. Which, of course, is what made me weird in the first place.
Once, I did The Artist’s Way. This is a well known book/program/spiritual practice developed by the writer Julia Cameron to help people revive their suffocated creativity. One of the exercises in The Artist’s Way is to unearth the “monsters” who thwarted your creativity at some point in your development. It took me a while to figure this out, but I really think it all traces back to Scott. Scott was the first person to ever point out that I was weird. Scott was the villain!
These many years later, though, I wonder what Scott actually meant by “weird.” At the time, being 13, I was horrified, ashamed and embarrassed. But now, if someone calls me “weird,” I get a little glow inside because I know that “weird” means “different” and different, in my book, is fantastic. Now that I am 40, I strive to be weird. Suddenly, I think “weird” is the highest compliment. I love weird people. “Weird” to me means eccentric, creative, doesn’t-care-what-people-think. The weirder, the better. Weird means that I am exactly who I am.
I no longer have aspirations to fit in. I am letting my freak flag fly, at last. Thank you, Scott, for pointing out my very best quality. You were ahead of your time.
She also writes regular tongue-in-cheek missives for Elephant Journal and her own wellness-focused blog: Cirque du Malaise. She co-founded RecoveringYogi, an irreverent community forum for the spiritually disenfranchised, with Vanessa Fiola and Leslie Munday.
You can find her small stones here.