Things I Refused To Learn 1: Standing Out
In school, I wasn’t the most popular of people. What I mean to say is that almost no one liked me. I don’t blame them, really. I was loud, obnoxious, chubby, socially awkward, I talked at length about stuff no one cared about, and I did a lot of weird shit without thinking. I guess I should give an example just so it doesn’t look like I’m trying to score sympathy points with false introspection:
I really liked to chew on the tender bit of a straw that comes just above the joint between segments. You have to kind of peel away the grass-blade bit that is on the outside of the top segment to get at the chewy centre, but I didn’t mind. In retrospect, maybe people wouldn’t have derided me for it if I hadn’t also brought bundles of the stuff into the classroom to peel and chew… Maybe. Stuff like that.
“That’s not so bad.” you might say. “I did that kind of shit when I was in first grade, too!” might be your next choice of words. I was fourteen.
Now, of course, I’ve grown up and things are a lot different. Thanks to the lessons I’ve learned through my adolescence, I’m loud, obnoxious, gangly, socially paranoid, I talk at length about shit if you give me half an indication you might find it interesting, and I don’t do quite as much weird shit without thinking. I’ll think about doing it and then think better of it.
When I was a kid, I didn’t stand out like a sore thumb. Once, before my skin had hardened, I smacked my thumb with a hammer (by accident. I wasn’t that crazy). Most of the skin on the upper half of my thumb actually loosened from the flesh of the finger and hung around it like strips of tiny, pink baby-venison. That’s the kind of thumb I stood out like.
Laboured, overly verbose similes aside, I was a bit of a strange one. The kind of kid who caused all kinds of upset and confusion in classes but rarely actually got into trouble for it because the teachers felt sorry for me. To this day, I’m convinced some of them must have thought I was a bit… Special. I was completely unselfconsciously doing these things never thinking about the fact that someone might find them untoward.
A lot of people thought I did it to be the centre of attention. It has all the hallmarks of someone starved for attention, after all. There might be an element of this in it, but I still refuse to believe that’s the whole explanation. See, as I passed through my mid-to-late teens I started craving the ability to not stand out. I tried my best not to talk loudly at length about whatever jumped into my mind or tell jokes no one got because they weren’t privy to my own though processes (Sometimes, I’d try to explain my jokes, which just made them worse). I tried not to let my enormous energy out. Sit on your thumbs, hold your tongue. Sit on your thumbs, hold your tongue. I wonder if I can do both… *bends* Ow, no. That was a bad idea. Why are they all looking at me funny?
So now I hold my jokes back if I gauge the audience not to be right for it. I don’t go on at length about coffee if I’m talking to a Starbucks customer/ employee. I try to keep my volume down. If I see a table and think I could probably jump it, I don’t jump on top of it, thump my chest and go AAAAaaaAAaaaAAAAAA!!!!
So I suppose I finally learned my lesson. I don’t stand out as much, so yay!
But I haven’t. And I do. Maybe not like a bloodied stumb of pinkish venison (what the hell am I on?) but certainly like a regular ol’ sore thumb.
It might take five minutes. Ten minutes. It could even take a whole day if I’m being really good. But sooner or later I will betray myself. And if I don’t, I’m standing there looking at that table going “No, Magnus. Don’t do it. You’ll get up there and once you run out of breath or your chest starts hurting, you’ll notice everyone looking at you. Maybe one or two will laugh. The rest will think you’re an attention-grabbing dickhead. You’re better off not doing it. Just stand there. Stop shaking.”
So what have I really learned? I suppose nothing. I still stand out, and when I stop myself doing something, I stop myself for what might be the wrong reasons alltogether. What if I did go on the table, and someone joined in? What if it turned into a delicious Tarzan-fest and we all turned out to have a fantastic time? Because that’s what I want. I want people to have a good time. And if I sometimes fail and people think I’m an attention-grabber, maybe that’s worth it.
I suppose now that I’m an actor, I have an outlet. I get to dress up in crazy outfits and frighten, delight and excite children (and some parents as well) for my work. This is making me realise that the lesson I never learned wasn’t what I need to do to not stand out, it’s that standing out is OK. And if you hold back who you are, how are you supposed to find people who think and act like you? HOW?!
And as long as you’re not standing out just for the sake of it. I still feel offended when I see people who do their best to convince people that they’re “original” and “peculiar” when really they’re just looking to create a media storm. Not that anyone would do that!
(For the record, if you click the link on that picture, I find the latter of the five interpretations most likely.)