It was a simple statement thrown out in a conversation so typical that it nearly went unnoticed. I’m not sure why this time it caught my ear. Then, within twenty-four hours, another chat fest and a similar statement. It may have been two such statements close together that did it. It may have been my viewing of The Odd Life of Timothy Green which includes a theme of being different. The words resonated with me, and I kept thinking about them.
The first statement, “He’s really strange, but I like him. It just works for me, I guess,” was innocuous. The second, “She’s a lot different but that’s what I like about her. I can’t explain it,” much the same. Two different people close to me made the statements. Both are open and accepting individuals. What seemed even more striking to me than what they said was how they said it, couched in apologetic terms. I wondered if I have ever done this. My background is in theatre and writing so I’m one of those “different” or “out there” folks. Aren’t most of us in the arts?
My awareness of this “apologetics” makes me sad because when you break it down, we are ALL different, all outside the norm. Frankly, these days there is no norm, and I’m ready to see us let go of this idea that there is a normal family, a normal community, a normal living situation, a normal job, etc. We are all painted from different palettes, and we should shine a light on those glorious differences not feel guilty for liking someone whose colors are brighter and bolder or in some way outside society’s expectations.
All this made me think about the role writers play in this. Media plays a huge part. We’re bombarded daily with images in ads, on billboards, and on TV of who we should be, what we should look like, what we should drive. With decades of indoctrination, what can individuals accomplish? Writers have an opportunity to reflect a new understanding and a new acceptance of people through the characters we create in all their uniqueness. As people, we need to stop apologizing, verbally and in print, for liking or respecting different. Whether you like someone who is conventional and traditional or someone who paints their trees pink and their buildings purple. I’ll admit that I love all my characters, but I’m drawn to the ones who paint outside the lines. Yet, I would never feel I had to apologize for liking someone conventional. I hope I have never apologized for liking anyone but in our PC world, we’ve unknowingly accepted this.
Perhaps, if people see a new norm modeled in literature, no one else will feel ‘strange’ for liking ‘different’. Perhaps, as writers we can make being ‘different’ just another norm. It’s definitely a worthy goal.