Individual Weirdness

Photo of caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland, created in Christmas lights.
by Joshua Coleman/Unsplash

Yesterday, I posted a review of Felicia Day’s Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears and Unleash Creativity. I’m following that with a post about the perception of weirdness, as I like how the book put into words what I’ve felt about the word “weird.”

I’ve certainly tried to fit into what seemed mainstream. But, as I’ve grown older, I’ve become more comfortable with what makes me different than others. And I’ve shifted what I consider to be “cool.” I used to think it was dressing in a trendy way and acting in a certain way.

However, is it cool to conform to what most people are doing? Or is it cool to not follow the popular trends?

“We’re often called ‘weird’ for the very fact that we defy stereotypes in some way.” — Felicia Day

I’ve called things “weird” as a way to describe how bad they were for being different. I’ve heard family and friends do the same thing. Granted, some things are different and scary and intimidating. A species of nasty, tentacled aliens who want to wipe out all humans? That fits the bill.

But I’ve tried to reduce using “weird” as a go-to label when meaning it in a negative way. Because weird can be very interesting. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had many weird moments, and the book is lots of fun. Surely, it has inspired writers and artists to create their own wonders. To go down the rabbit holes of their imaginations and see what they can come up with.

“Our weirdnesses are the most fertile places to start when we want to create.” — Felicia Day

While reading Embrace Your Weird, I nodded at several parts. The idea of seeing our differences as positives. Of trying to be comfortable with them. Of taking walks with them, having a drink together, playing games, getting to know each other better. Those weirdnesses can generate ideas in working on creative projects.

As a writer and illustrator, of course I’m going to encourage people to take a shot at creative projects. It can be fun to move from spectator to inventor. If you don’t want to show the results of your inventing to the world, you don’t have to. Believe me, I have created stories, poems, and drawings that I’m not going to post on this blog.

But if you’d like to share, then put something silly in the world — as Shel Silverstein suggested. Or something scary or adventurous or melodious or dramatic … and so on.

If it wasn’t for creators who took what came before them and explored their media in different directions, would there be The Wizard of Oz? Abstract art? Terry Gilliam’s movies? Ursula K. LeGuin’s books? Dr. Seuss’s books?

The list can be much longer. And I’m glad those artists created works, so we can enjoy their individual voices.

Shel Silverstein

I’d like to include posts about some of my inspirations. Feels good to share these with you lovely readers out there, and to give thanks to the folks who have influenced my writing and drawing.

First post of this kind is to Shel Silverstein, whose work inspired me to put poems and illustrations together into The Dancing Fish. The poems in that book started many years ago, as ways to entertain my two daughters and to post on my old blog. Shel Silverstein’s books influenced what I wanted: poems to make my daughters laugh (or at least smile and give a little giggle).

After I wrote poems for a few years, I put the poems aside. They remained out of sight until I had the idea to create drawings to accompany them, and all of that would be placed into a book.

Of course, a shining example had been around all along in Silverstein’s books. But I hadn’t considered such a book until last year. The long delay between writing the poems and starting the book caused me to look at the poems with fresh eyes and recall the joy of writing them.

I loved Silverstein’s silliness, his turning something around and looking at it from different angles. We’re so used to falling down, but what if it was possible to fall up? If you bent down and looked around, you’d see everything in a different way (“New World”).

And I loved the playfulness of drawings to extend the fun of the poems, and to me the magic is in the expressions of the people and animals. From scared Santa running from a hound (“Christmas Dog”) to a worried guy peering at cantaloupe through a microscope (“Nope”) to pleased animals looking at the guy in a cage (“People Zoo”) — all are drawn with such humor that you can’t help but smile, even with scared Santa. (All these poems are in Falling Up.)

Silverstein’s fun could be subversive at times. The challenge of selling hats to the peculiar people in “Headless Town.” An odd gumball machine with an eyeball in it (“Gumeye Ball”). A very strange order in a restaurant (“Who Ordered the Broiled Face?”).

He suggested that being too good would be boring. “Camp Wonderful” is described as such a nice place, but the poem’s narrator ends by firmly stating “I know I’m gonna hate it.” Instead, there’s enjoyment in at least hearing about naughty things, as the narrator of the “The Pirate” lists the dastardly deeds of Claude the pirate, then expresses the wish to sit next to Claude at dinner, presumably to hear his juicy stories.

Silverstein is directly inspirational in his “Put Something In”:

Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-grumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
‘Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain’t been there before.

A Light in the Attic, 1981

And that’s what I wanted to do with The Dancing Fish. Put something goofy into the world. An illustrated poetry book inspired not only by Silverstein, but e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, and more. A book that will hopefully bring smiles and laughs to readers.

I went in different directions with my drawing than Silverstein. I like cross-hatching as shading rather than his stippling dots. While Silverstein used black as a single color, I liked the variety of different grays in the mix. I’m not even close to Silverstein’s talent of drawing expressive faces, and I think mine are rather plain by comparison.

Youtube has fun animations of Silverstein’s poems:

“Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too”

“Sick”

“Where the Sidewalk Ends”