This is my art of peculiarity. The word “peculiar” is my own label for myself. I’ve been called many things in my lifetime.
Strange. Weird. Nutty. Crazy. Mad. Out-there. Eccentric. Dork. I’ve learned to deal with this labelling in some interesting ways.
But I’d like to think I practice a compassionate default position – that is, I don’t resort to name calling in retaliation.
It took me until my mid-thirties to the have the language to talk about this experience. My late 40’s have become about talking about this experience through the medium of comedy.
I used to embrace the word “eccentric”, but it was still someone else’s word for me. Recently, I decided that, given I still get these labels applied to me by people who should know better – I would embrace “peculiar” as my descriptor of choice.
Peculiar has appealed to me for a long time, but I’ll talk more about that later.
“Dork” was a high school label applied to me because of my love of English literature. I hated high school. Every day was a living nightmare of neuro-typical people telling me to be more like them, in the most cruel and unthinking ways.
It was as if this was there a sacred right to put someone down (because that other person somehow saw the world differently), placed under some mythical unicorn-like concept of “normal”.
I learned to say in response, “You know a dork is a whale’s penis?”
I would then go on to describe a Blue Whale’s penis, in detail. I often get laughs on stage when I say “You want to know how to get rid of a bully? BORE them to death!”
The reality was, in the pre-Google days, they wouldn’t have been able to confirm that it’s not just a whale’s penis – but any penis in nature generally. But they left me alone and that was the intention. To get them to leave me the hell alone.
This “topic de-centring” became part of my “art of peculiarity” list of coping techniques:
- De-centring. That is, putting them off their mean-spirited topic by either boring them with linguistics or further information about the name they are trying to use as a weapon. It would generally mean I would swamp them information and they would have nowhere to go with the abuse. I would take away the abuses power. The name caller would get bored and wander off.
- Laughter. I learned to take the label and act it out to make those calling me the name laugh. In almost Monty Python style. Ministry of Silly Walks (thank you John Cleese). That sort of thing. I didn’t understand other people. I had no idea about emotions or facial expressions and still struggle with subtle non-verbal clues when people talk to me. It generally takes me a while to figure out when they are being cruel. So, I choose to make fun of myself and make them laugh. While I am making others laugh, I am figuring out their intentions. Then I make choices about if I want to be around them.
- Avoidance (walking away). This works for me when #1 and #2 fail. It means if I think someone is negative to neurodiversity and only looking through the one-way mirror of their own way of seeing the world, I choose to avoid them. For me, simplistic name calling is something we should all grow out of at 8 years old. But sadly, some people continue generalist name calling until they die and often it’s a reflection of how they feel about themselves. A commitment to developing self-love is a long-term investment within themselves that takes considerable work to shift. If I haven’t broken the ice with them and are not on more equal and compassionate communication footing with them after a good dose of information and laughter; then I figure it’s not my battle, but their own. I wish them well, encourage them by talking about their strengths and walk away. This includes being comfortable if they decide to walk away from me or avoid me – it goes both ways.
Name calling can destroy young people’s sense of security and self-esteem so easily. It’s an act of violence that society does not take seriously enough. You only have to look at recent suicides from cyber-bullying to see this is in heartbreaking detail
My advice for those of you experiencing cyber bullying – block, ban, delete! This is a #3 situation.
I talk about this in my public speaking gigs and in my comedy. As many say in comedy circles, “punch up – not down”.
None of my comedy makes fun of the disadvantaged. I dislike comedy that mocks the experience of violence, difference or disability. I make fun of myself and my relationships with others. I make fun of the abuses of power that adults sometimes inflict on children as illustrated through my own story.
I haven’t made friends in the comedy world with that approach. But that’s okay because I am not doing comedy to make friends. There is still a view that comedy can do whatever it likes and because it’s a joke, mockery is okay. I disagree.
Many an abuser has justified abuse with “I was only joking”. I think when I get on stage I want people to walk out feeling better – not angry because of a joke about their culture, disability or experience because it was somehow the right of the comedian to mock their experience (when it’s obviously not the comedians own experience). That’s a bullshit excuse and I don’t accept it.
So, I’ll continue to be peculiar, de-centre, educate and make people laugh and walk-away in different combinations. One aspect of that is a pilot radio show I am currently writing. Centred on developing self-care strategies for remote life, it’s called “The Misfits” and will be developed with the help of my community radio station here in Alice Springs 8CCC.
So back to the work of the word peculiar. From Merriam Webster:
Peculiar comes from Latin peculiaris, an adjective meaning “privately owned” or “special” that is derived from the word for “property,” peculium. Those words are cognate with pecu, a word for “cattle” that is also etymologically linked to a few English words related to money. Among these are pecuniary (“of or relating to money”), peculate (“to embezzle”), and impecunious (“having very little or no money”). Peculiar borrowed the Latin meanings of peculiaris, but it eventually came to refer to qualities possessed only by a particular individual, group, or thing.
All of the above relates to me rather personally (I’m always broke!) but this is my interpretation of this:
I choose to call myself peculiar. I choose to own this label as my private and sacred cow of labels for myself. It is my commodity. My linguistic currency of choice, that I carry with pride.
This is my art of peculiarity.
P.S. I am starting to think the title of this piece should have been “A whale’s penis”!