The Rest is Best
By Lorna Foreman
Plain old, eccentric behaviour
I remember when I was growing up, I confidently informed my mother and father that when I grew up, I wanted to be intelligent and eccentric. As I was only about 12 or 13 years old at the time, I really doubt if I even knew the actual meaning of the word ‘eccentric’ — although I vaguely recall my parents mentioning, after returning home from some family event, how eccentric one of my cousins was. Patricia, who they were talking about, was my very favourite cousin and sufficiently older than I was, and I looked up to her with great admiration and awe. I deliberately set out to also be considered eccentric. I must have driven my parents crazy — especially the ‘eccentric’ part. The intelligent part I tried enhancing by reading a lot of classics — some far more advanced for my age.
Did I succeed? Well, yes, I did — to a degree. I have always felt a little out of place in our society no matter how hard I tried to fit in. Was it because I tried so hard or was I naturally, a little different? It was more difficult during the high school years, but now I have accepted that fact about me, so perhaps I was successful after all. Most of my friends at that time could be clumped under that same heading. Does it matter, really? No. I did wonder though, just what constitutes being an eccentric.
Dictionary definitions are something I absolutely try to avoid, but this time (so please forgive me) I will mention some: quirky, strange, nonconformist, unconventional, to name a few.
As an artist and writer, I meet and know a lot of people filling most of those descriptions, so I actually managed to fulfill that part of my childhood aspiration, which I must admit now, was a very strange one. A few of my friends pointed out that being a collector of animal skulls (à la Georgia O’Keeffe) and having owned at one time a fairly large boa constrictor, people might consider me odd. Can’t argue with that.
English society has been known for years for the eccentrics in it and they are happily accepted by everyone, which is what makes English society so interesting. It just seems to fit — you’re British — then you must be eccentric. It makes England a wonderfully interesting place to visit.
On the other hand, North American society — and this is strictly my point of view — is quite different and yes, there have been and certainly are, some people who just don’t fit in.
Remember, not fitting in is not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, criminals could also fit some of those descriptions, but a ‘good or interesting’ eccentric should probably only make someone laugh or roll their eyes. Perhaps, we all had a relative that the rest of the family was known for some crazy behaviour.
Deciding to become eccentric at the age of thirteen was a daring road to take some sixty-plus years ago. Even then, the teenage years are all about trying to fit in at all costs. I just didn’t try and my friends tended to be of the same leaning. The one time I actually attended a class reunion, I was disappointed to find that none of those friends, actually attended. I wonder why. Oddly enough, I married one of those eccentric friends when I was forty-eight years old…it was a perfect match.
And not just teenagers, but adults as well, strive to fit in; to create successful careers which probably includes a lot of trying to ‘fit in’. My experience, though, is that even the most conservative person in the most conservative career, usually shows at least one off-the-wall characteristic — it was what made them great to know.
Years ago, in the days when everyone smoked cigarettes and could do it anywhere, I knew a man who when he attended meetings, would smoke his cigarettes exactly to the same length and then line them up in a row in the ashtray. Today he probably would be labelled as having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder otherwise known as OCD — we didn’t use that description those many years ago. So, are we starting to label behaviour that really is just a little different and then try to treat people for this disorder? I certainly hope not, as it would make the world a very boring place. By labelling what could just be slightly eccentric behaviour, indicates something undesirable that can be fixed. Unless it is greatly interfering with the person’s life, why try to change him or her?
Frankly, I am weary of some things perceived as needing to be ‘fixed’. Give me just plain old eccentric behaviour any time.
Lorna Foreman is a self-described 50-plus writer, author and artist who lives in Cornwall.