Friday, November 8, 2013

Other Than That

 When the word eccentric is applied to characters or actual persons, you anticipate individuals whose behavior expresses significant departures from ordinary behavior.  

Milder departures from conventional behavior seem quirky, perhaps even notional, but you say this with your own idiosyncratic hierarchy of definitions, with notional at the bottom, eccentric way further up toward the top.

Now that you've progressed well enough along in your own behavior to have a sense of the growing trend away from conventional, you begin to picture a pattern, beginning with an overall curiosity related to how one should behave in various situations.  You took your clues from parents and older sister, some other family members, and then the various schools you attended and the various individuals with whom you established friendships.

No question about it, you were on your way to quirkiness during your elementary school years.  A shift in venue from southern California to southeastern New Jersey enhanced your sense of growing away from ordinary.  Other regional shifts, to New England, then to Florida, added to your sense of otherness, just in time for you to return to middle school and a number of classmates from whom you'd been separated for about five years.

Welcome to junior high school, puberty, and your "lost" generation of classmates, the prodigal returned, but once again tinted, possibly even tainted with otherness.  All this at a time when your recourse seemed to be ordinariness.  If you were ordinary for a time, perhaps the otherness would wash off.

Trouble was, your reading had begun in earnest.  The characters you sought were at some remove from ordinary.  You did not see it at the time, but your reading choices were driving a wedge between you and the ordinariness you sought.

There you were then, acute to your otherness, pursuing some standard of ordinariness from role models you chose from classmates, at the same time seeking characters who took you to emotional, historical, and geographical terrains well beyond the boundary of ordinary.

And your choice of friends.  Like you, they were outsiders, preoccupied with different notions of curiosity, of play, of tastes in food, music, reading, and art.  You were openly disdainful of brother and sister students who were good at math, got good grades because they were afraid not to, were uncommonly cheerful, were always neat in appearance, never brooded, always did their homework, and were never rebellious.

You were disdainful of individuals you assumed never smoked nor ever would, and of course you were disdainful of students who seemed only to read cheerful things.  A classmate who confessed to liking text books was openly shunned.  Classmates who rewarded for good behavior, and who were never sent to girls' or boys' vice-principal's offices became role models for behavior you wished to avoid.  

In similar fashion, you were every bit as disdainful of classmates who were merely rebellious; these seemed to you to be one-issue individuals, lacking the nuanced otherness of the true eccentric.  

To make the cut as an eccentric, you had to be either well versed in literature or music or science, get terrible grades in math and at least one other subject, smoke Camels, Gitanes, or at least Pall Malls, have passionate left-leaning politics, prefer espresso to urn coffee, be able to swear in at least four other languages than English, and have a secret crush on a classmate who was a polar opposite from you that you could speak of, but not by name.

Many of these traits have evolved within the smithy of your psyche.  Although you have come forth only yesterday as a person who is in large measure happy and positive, you cannot imagine having done so to this degree without many side trips into suspicion, darkness, alienation, and frustration, among the darker spectrum of emotion.  Thus you count yourself today happy and positive in the fact of your expectation that the unthinkable will come to pass.

The A-ticket to the playgrounds of reality and the writing life you follow is predicated on the existence of the unthinkable.  If you'd stopped at the boundary line of the thinkable, you might have achieved ordinariness.  

Your favorite of all characters would not be Wile E. Coyote.  You would not have, on countless occasions, joined him in solidarity each time he over-ran the boundary of a mesa or butte, found himself in mid-air, with nothing below him but a long drop to hardscrabble terrain below.

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