Embracing the Weird

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When I was a kid, the most hurtful thing another kid could say to me was “You’re weird!” I often prompted it with a goofy face, an out-of-place remark, or an ill-timed laugh, all of which seemed perfectly normal to me until someone suggested it wasn’t.

At the time, I took the remark as an insult. It meant that I wasn’t part of the group; that I was different, and my mannerisms and sense of humor were out of step with “normal” behavior. When you’re a kid, all you want to do is belong, so I made a conscious effort to be less weird. Fortunately, it didn’t work, and I have my parents to thank for that.

Thinking back, the greatest thing my parents did for me as a child was give me the freedom to explore, experience, and express. I realize now that what other kids viewed as weird was a glimpse for them into a world that was a lot different than the structure of their upbringing. Maybe I was always destined to be a contrarian, but I learned at an early age that I was more interested in the peripheral than the obvious. For instance, like most kids, my first counting lessons came from Sesame Street. While the main attraction in this animation is the catchy Pointer Sisters song, the surreal images are what resonated with me the most:

As an only child, I enjoyed exploring the depths of my imagination to pass my time alone, and my time spent with others was often with my parents and other adults, who rarely dumbed-down or tempered their conversations and activities just because I was around. This, I think, broadened my horizons at an impressionable age and made it easier for me to find value in a whole host of creative outlets that my peers weren’t experiencing quite yet, from music to film to humor. Most of the time, I was tapped into my own creative well, but every once in a while, something like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse would cross into the mainstream and establish a brief common ground of weirdness between me and my peers:

As I got older, I was relieved to discover that I wasn’t alone in my odd proclivities, and I gravitated toward people with similarly strange interests and off-beat sensibilities. And that lead to discovering even more fascinating examples of creativity, some of which even I would admit are pretty weird. The thing is, thanks to my childhood, I was ready and willing to recognize them all as valid and essential forms of human expression. Furthermore, I learned that the most interesting art takes some digging to find and patience to appreciate. Even today, we’re still grappling with the creative genius of avant-garde artists like John Cage, who confounded people more than 50 years ago with his broad definition of music:

It’s my goal with this blog to celebrate the endless limits of human expression through all of its creative forms. Specifically, I’ll be focusing on the music, film, literature, and art that falls outside the recognized parameters of the mainstream. Call it avant-garde, experimental, or DIY—if it’s off-beat, strange, abstract, or hard to define, I’m into it. On occasion, I’ll also be sharing my own creative endeavors and will be encouraging you to do the same.

To be clear, I’m not a critic. While I respect intelligent artistic criticism, I’m more interested in the discovery and sharing of creativity, and will leave it to you to decide whether or not what I share is worth your time to explore further. I do hope, though, that some of these posts will spark lively (yet respectful) conversations about creativity and that age-old question, “What is art?”

Now, let’s keep it weird!

Christian Williams is Editor in Chief of Utne Reader, and he also paints and makes music.View and listen to his work at www.christianwwilliams.com.

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