Hiding My Weird

This may surprise you but I get told I’m weird kind of a lot. Like daily. I get it. I am unusual. I am well aware of this fact. This is not news. I’ve always been weird. And more than likely will always be weird.

I am pretty sure this came from my upbringing. It was unusual. If it had been a TV show it would have been an offbeat dramedy full of colorful characters, unusual plot twists and storylines, and a slight tinge of melancholy. Weird generally comes with lonely.

See that right there is my kind of weird. I describe my life in terms of a TV genre. Weird.

Anyways, I know I’m not the only person that knows they are weird. Adult me understands that everyone is kind of weird. Because that’s what makes us the people we are. Being weird. We all know this. However, it’s pretty clear that even with a baseline of everyone being kind of weird, I am still remarkably weird. Like for instance: sometimes when I am nervous about speaking in front of people I will listen to either A, the original Broadway recording of Newsies or B, watch the clip of Steve Martin’s grocery store freak out in Father of the Bride. Something about his explosion over hot dog bun packaging makes me feel like I am not alone in the world. Someone gets it.

In case you’re curious, here’s the clip:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYIHLUxzRr8

Welcome back. See what I mean? When dude says ‘Weiners’ I just nod in total and complete agreement. Thank you, Steve Martin, for all you have done and do for my mental state.

Okay. That’s weird. But I dunno, it works for me. It centers me and let’s me interact with people. Lets me be comfortable around folks and even be vulnerable enough to tell people about my weirdness in my blog. That comfort level isn’t something I have always had. For a long time, I wanted to hide my weird. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. It’s really normal for people to want to hide what makes them unusual. It’s the society we grow up in that restricts what we think we should and shouldn’t do or be. Move too far out of the lines and BOOM, you’re out. You’re on the outside. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe you are one of those lucky few that have that ability to completely live on the outside and not have issues with not being included.

I’m not. I never have been particularly good at being isolated and excluded. I mean… don’t get me wrong. I have had a lot of opportunities to get used to it. I was alone a lot growing up. I didn’t find making friends particularly easy. And it was in part because of my weirdness relative to my environment. In elementary school we lived in a super tiny farming town in Iowa. Everyone’s parents had a farm, and everyone worked on their farm. Everyone except me. I lived in “town”, which by town I mean the 3 houses around the post office/gas station/video store/grocery store. So while every other boy in town worked in fields and on tractors and such, weirdo me was in town watching movies. I’d like to tell you I read a lot, but that would be bullshit. I watched movies. And I did it all the time. I cannot even fathom how many times I watched my VHS copy of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. No idea. Nor could I possibly guess how many viewings I have had of Highlander, the Star Wars original trilogy, the Star Trek movies, and countless other 80’s sci-fi and fantasy films. FUCK. Was there ever a better time than the 80’s for films for weirdos? Look at fucking Legend. I mean, when the hell else would that giant ball of awesome sauce have been made? Fucking Legend, dude.

Right from the beginning I was weird. No doubt about it. And I knew it. I could tell. But if for some reason I hadn’t noticed that, my classmates were MORE than willing to point it out to me. They pointed it out with words, notes, chants, pushing, slaps, kicks, and punches. They made me very aware of my weirdness. Which of course did little to help the problem I had with being alone. For those that have been there you know what it’s like. For those that haven’t… I don’t if there is a way to explain it. Because that particular experience is something you feel. And that feeling never leaves. The loneliness of it. The fear of it. The hate of it. The wish that if you could just somehow be someone or something different… that you could change whatever it is about you that people find different and weird… that feeling… it gets in you so deep. You don’t shake it either. You keep it. It stays with you and every once in awhile it pops out just to remind you that no matter how far you’ve come, how much you’ve changed, and how much you’ve experienced or grown it is still there. And it is still just strong enough to break you down and shake your core any time it wants if you’re not prepared.

I’m worried I am not effectively describing my weirdness. It wasn’t just the movie thing. I also watched TV ALL OF THE TIME. I’m not talking about just kid stuff. I watched it all. I am almost certain that I saw every episode of Northern Exposure during its original run. Herman’s Head too. I remember watching and liking Dear, John. I’m not sure many even know what that was. I was fat too. And I had freckles. I had freckles all the time. I still do. My hair was an asshole that would never, NEVER do what I wanted it to. Which of course is ironic that now as an adult, I would let it do absolutely anything that it wanted if it had chosen to stick around. But it didn’t even give me a chance to negotiate, so fuck it. Here we are. Oh and I was named Clancey. Which I cannot convey enough that it is a really shitty name to have when 90% of all boys my age seemed to have been named Justin or Jason. Not a lot of boy name variety apparently in 1982. Oh. And… for whatever reason… no one told me when we as a society were going to stop wearing Zubaz and switch to jeans. SOOO yeah, the weirdness had a lot of multipliers that made being accepted super difficult and super hard to overcome.

Just before middle school, I think my Mom finally noticed my situation and tried something new. Now, I don’t want anyone to think that my Mother wasn’t sympathetic. She was. She saw what I allowed her to see of it. She did try to help me with it. And while she was wonderful and loving… setting up playdates for your ten year-old weird son via the other boy’s parents, did not yield the results she was hoping for. Instead my weirdness quotient raised. Dagnabbit. But she did care and wanted to help. It’s just not something that’s easy to fix or alleviate.

Then we moved. We traded in the farm community of Iowa for the snowy woodland area of Northern Wisconsin. The setting was different, the kids were different, the activities were different… however the weirdness was the same. And I was still a weirdo. Instead of not being someone who worked on a farm, I was a weirdo who did not hunt. Or ride snowmobiles. Or ride 4-wheelers. And I didn’t hate gay people which was like a super popular thing with kids in my middle school for some reason. In fact at one point I asked what was so bad about being gay? I thought this reasonable enough. My Mother has taught me there was nothing wrong with gay people, and she was a Pastor. So what was their beef with homosexuals?

I did not get an answer, just a new nickname: Faggot. Yeah, so that was awesome. Luckily when I asked what was wrong with Jews, faggot got replaced with Jew. So ya know, one step forward?

I couldn’t not be weird. I just couldn’t. I did try. I played football for a year. It was alright… but I wanted to read Spider-man & X-men comics more. My Mom got me a dirt bike… but for whatever reason, going to a camp where we made puppets seemed more desirable. I just fucking couldn’t not be weird. And I just couldn’t find a way to not be on the outskirts.

It went most of this way through high school. There were some small glimmers of hope. I was able to act in the plays which I loved. And punk rock and alternative music led to me seeing that somewhere out there were people that were also weird. I remember the first time I heard a They Might Be Giants CD. It was like the greatest sense of relief I’ve ever had. To this day, in my mind Flood is the greatest album ever made. It just made me feel like “Hey, there’s more than the shit around you.” They wrote a song about a rock and a string that’s beautiful. John and John understand weird. John and John saved my life.

There was also another hero that helped me get through high school: alcohol. Now here’s the thing about me and alcohol, I didn’t go to parties. Mostly because weirdos weren’t invited. No what I did was this super awful thing where I would sneak alcohol from my Dad, friend’s parents, and various other suppliers, and I would drink this alone in my room while watching movies or playing Final Fantasy games. And of course listening to They Might Be Giants. Yeah… that’s bad. I know. And it’s not something a lot of people know. But it’s how I coped. It’s ironic in the fact that I remember being laughed at for not going to parties and drinking, all the while knowing that as soon as I got home I was going to drink most of the night in secret. Yep, that was me.

This of course wasn’t healthy. Someday I’ll write more about this when I’m ready to reveal all of that. For now, know that I got it under control and am coming up on 3 years sober. Not sure if I was an alcoholic, but definitely a drunk that’s better off sober.

Eventually high school ended and I got to the land where weirdos shine: College. Dude. I am not sure I can ever express how much college saved me simply by letting me meet people who were also my kind of weird. Mitch Rasque, Steven Deau, and Michael Roy were the first three people that I ever felt truly got me and I have never been happier than when I first was called a member of the Four Fathers with them. Honestly… it was probably the first time in my life where I really felt a part of a group. The same with the slow friendship I built with my roommate, Jesse Sytsma. The countless hours I spent watching Seinfeld, Simpsons, and thousands of movies with Jesse Sytsma fixed me in ways I can only appreciate now.

But even with these friends and this group, I wasn’t comfortable with my weird. I had become so afraid to let it out that even where I knew it might be accepted, I still hid it. Lucky there was a friend from high school that tagged along to college and helped bring it out: alcohol. Yep. Finally I was able to drink the thing that eased my weirdness with people around!!! Now, in hindsight I realize I was still drinking to hide weirdness but for the first time I was around people where my weirdness wouldn’t have been rejected. But I couldn’t see that. I still was afraid of rejection and thought only through appearing to not be weird, would I keep the friends I had finally made. However while it did hide my weird, it actually turned it into something else: being an asshole. Yep. Instead of being a weirdo I became a drunk and angry asshole. Which I won’t lie was pretty cool for a while. I liked it since it gave me the opportunity to let out some of the frustration and pain that I had amassed over the years. And I was kind of a hit with people. I can specifically remember times being invited places because people wanted the asshole. They brought me out, got me drunk, and thoroughly enjoyed watching as the monster unleashed havoc.

Girls liked it too. Not to get in to details or nothing, but the drunk asshole did alright. That’s all I have to say about that.

So being a drunk asshole worked for me in ways that being a weirdo never did. At least for a while. The thing about being drunk is you almost always go too far and pass the point of no return. You drive right out of the fun zone and into another place. After enough of this it grows old and eventually you’re alone again. Except this time you’re not a misunderstood weirdo but a dude with a real problem that needs to get it together.

I just was never comfortable being me. Because I could never find a place where me, the real weird me fit. I wasn’t sure I would ever find it or at the very least not anytime soon. But then I got lucky and met my wife and her kids. This was unexpected. I had no intention of dating a woman with kids. It just had never occurred to me that I could be that kind of guy. But somehow it happened. And here’s what I discovered: my weird fits with kids. At least some kids. Some kids dig the weird shit I dig. They like comic books and movies. They like X-men and Spider-man. They like Ninja Turtles, Legos, and all the video games I play. I know, this probably seems obvious. But it didn’t occur to me because when I was a kid it didn’t work. It didn’t help me connect with people. Jump forward to adulthood, and my weirdness helped me connect with my girlfriend’s kids and eventually brought me a family. What the fuck? How did that happen?

So being weird sucked growing up. And being weird made me an asshole as a young adult. Could being weird be okay as an actual factual grown-up? Here’s the thing I’ve realized: the best peoples are weird. And the best peoples don’t hide their weird. They just are it and it makes them the best peoples. I am not going to pretend I’m the first to identify or uncover it. I am pretty sure if I think back I was told this MANY A TIME. And yet it never connected. It seemed like bullshit, or at the very least the weird they were talking about wasn’t my weird. My weird was too weird. A non-functioning weird. But I was wrong. Now part of this is that the damn world changed. Nerdom became cool. Every fucking movie is about comic books and shit I liked as a kid that got my ass kicked. So timing is part of this, not going to pretend that isn’t the situation.

But it wasn’t all society that allows it to be okay now and for me to embrace it. It was also the reality of boredom. I get bored easy. Not like ADD bored easy, I can focus on things without medication. Just… I dunno. Like regular non-weird shit makes me lose interest really quick. Life and events have to have some pop and pizzaz in them to keep my interest and keep me involved. But that doesn’t seem to be the situation for everyone or at the very least most people don’t take action to liven things up. That’s where the weirdos come in. We show up, we make things interesting. We invest our energy and strange shit into a situation for the betterment of all.

At first it’s hard letting your weird show. For me it went against everything in my being. It was so anti what I had worked to do and be. And I can’t say I went all in at first. There were several times that I started in on something that would have been weird and fun, but backed out when the moment came. For example: there’s this annual fundraising my company does for kids based around fun(don’t everyone guess what it is all at once). I had this idea of challenging this big beefy dude at work to a fake arm wrestling contest where what was raised would determine the winner. I was gonna talk shit like an old school pro-wrestler leading up to it. And it was pretty funny, and he was onboard. But at the last second I backed out. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t ready to let my weird flag fly completely. This blog is another example. I still get fucking freaked out to talk about it or share. Literally right now my wife is trying to ask me what I’m doing and I can’t tell her because I’m not completely comfortable telling people it exists before it’s posted. I don’t mind once it’s out there, but leading up to it I’m like “FUCK NO! MUST KEEP SECRET”.

But I am getting better. Last week I hosted a conference call at work. I was feeling really bored at work and decided that instead of a regular call, I pretended it was a radio call-in show. I even wrote fake ads and sponsors. I think people dug it, but if they didn’t that’s fine. I liked it and wasn’t bored while I was doing it. And one day at work I went on a rant about all of the anxiety and feelings I had leading up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War. It was long, surprisingly detailed, and expressed an almost concerning amount of admiration for Captain America’s excellent beard(I am aware that he was Steve Rogers in the movie not Cap, I wrote that for the masses who may not be aware/understand the difference). But it actually helped me sort through my expectations before seeing the movie. It centered me to take it all in. Which by the way I had to do alone for my first viewing. I can’t really watch movies I’m excited about with other people without being… ya know… weird. It took me a while to realize this but now that it is known movies are more enjoyable for everyone involved. And isn’t that the point of embracing your weirdness? To make yourself comfortable and enjoy being you?

I can’t say that I’ve completely stopped hiding my weirdness. I’m discovering that a lot of it centers around performing or entertaining people in some way. I guess I knew I wanted to do that, just hadn’t figured out the venue or the how to. It is becoming more natural to be the center of attention and doing it without the aid of alcohol. And I think I’m getting a handle on how to get an audience engaged. I’m not great at it, but I’m learning to watch them and learn what lands and what misses. I’m trying to see what they want. For the first time I am finding that what people want sometimes is the weird I have to offer.

Good news. I have great deal of weirdness to share.

Good news. I have a great deal to share.

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