We often come undone when we start comparing our quirk-infested selves to so-called normal people. Instead, we should celebrate our insanity and put it to work for us.
I used to despise myself for the things I thought were weird and out of place. The windmill hands. The inability to sit up straight in a chair. My big nose and ears. My laughter toward things others would consider serious and even tragic. My tendency to tell stories that are way out of context with the conversation around me. My inability to feel at ease in a room full of people.
In hindsight, I wasted a lot of nights worrying about all these things. I was certain nobody else had the strange behaviors I had and still have.
As I get older, I realize two things:
1. A lot of people have the same strange behaviors as me, including the constant pacing and talking to myself.
2.) People who fail to act out of the ordinary at least once in awhile bore me. Our quirks make us interesting. Our funny dress and way of talking can brighten up someone else’s otherwise ho-hum day.
I didn’t fully appreciate these things until I started working with my current boss, Derek Slater. One of the first things I noticed about him three years ago is that he was different from many of the editors I’ve worked with in the past. Journalism is a career inhabited by a lot of misfits who don’t always know how to walk in step with the rest of the crowd.
I’ve heard editors complain bitterly about how difficult these people were to work with because they were always off step with the newsroom machinery. They tended to ignore deadlines. Their writing wouldn’t conform with standard journalism 101. The people you report on can be infuriating to deal with, pulling tantrums over quotes they give you once they see the absurdity of their words in print.
I used to be one of those editors who couldn’t deal with these people, even though I was every bit the infuriating misfit myself.
The thing I immediately noticed about Derek is that he enjoys all of the above. To him, the folks who don’t behave and wait their turn to speak are simply interesting and entertaining. They help keep the world spinning.
Which is probably why I’ve lasted in this job. Not that I haven’t pissed him off more than a few times. And I don’t think he particularly enjoys it when people ignore deadlines.
I knew a reporter once who was always maligned for his aloofness. He would come in at strange hours, file stories and leave without telling anyone. His stories would just appear in the queue out of nowhere. He wore the same stained pants all the time. One day, he went into a gun shop to take lessons in how to handle the weapon. He pointed the gun at his temple and shot his brains onto the people and things around him. I was not kind to him back when I had the chance.
I sometimes wonder if more compassion for this kid — acceptance of his weirdness — would have made a difference.
My speculation is that not fitting in was too much for him in the end. He wouldn’t be the first person to end it for that reason. He won’t be the last.
I was lucky. I learned to see my misfit ways as a saving grace, the thing that gave me the strength to accept the strange and out-of-place things that have littered my life.
I see it as a gift, really. Like many gifts, it comes with a lot of baggage and can make my life and that of those around me unmanageable at times.
But when properly nurtured and controlled, it can help you make the big differences that make life worth living.