Interesting People and a Collage of Weirdness

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” -Jack Kerouac

Like Kerouac, I prefer to surround myself with interesting people. People that devote their time to their own eccentricity and reject complacency. People that wear what makes them happy and say things that might not make sense to anyone but themselves. People that approach life with at once both an openness to its uncertainties and an urgency to not waste one moment. These people take YOLO to an extreme but do so effortlessly because to them, there is no other way to live. They feel things deeply because they have intentionally connected themselves to the world and those in it.

In the movie Her, the main character tell his artificial intelligence girlfriend that he often looks at people and thinks about the expanse of their emotions. He wonders how deeply they have been in love and how much heartbreak they have endured. Given, this man says this to a computer program that is only a voice, but his perspective is still worthwhile. Amid overwhelming waves of emotion like infatuation or grief, it often feels like no one anywhere has ever felt the extent of our complete surrender to our feelings. But humans tend to be pretty complex, so chances are that unless the person next to us is a sociopath, he has felt all the same feels we have experienced.

There is a certain beauty in this complexity that molds all the interesting people of the world together into a collage of weirdness. Spoiler alert: all people are interesting, but some people are more interesting than others. Or at least some people have discovered their interesting more quickly and fully than others. I love Eugene because the people there fulfill every level on the spectrum of exceptional weirdness. There are slug queens and roller derby stars, but there are also famous runners and maniac football fans. There are even white collar workers and horseback riding enthusiasts.

People in Eugene–and Oregon in general–embrace discomfort and deter conformity because their surroundings necessitate it. Though it is possible to live in Eugene and avoid all things hippie–Saturday Market, the Eugene Celebration, the Country Fair–it would be difficult to actively dislike these things. Their uniqueness and benevolence requires some respect, so most Eugenians provide it. The Eugene vibe moves beyond tolerance to a certain appreciation for abnormality that enables that same collage of weirdness.

The transition from a 500-person high school to a 25,000-person college has introduced all kinds of new, interesting people into my life, but I am still only one hour from my hometown. Right now, my interactions are mostly limited to those who also seek a college degree, and even more so to those in my major classes.

There is so much world left to see and so many people left to meet outside of this small town. People who have lived on the other side of the globe in situations I cannot fathom; people with brilliant minds and philosophies that understand the universe more clearly than distractions allow me; and people who simply have a story that deserves to be shared. This planet brims with curious people who do spectacular things. The only thing left to do is look for them.

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That One Time I Was Censored for an Article About Gay Rights

A little over a year ago, I wrote an article for my high school newspaper in support of gay rights. In that same paper, one of my co-editors wrote an article to support the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana. The day the paper came out, the principal told us that we could not publish the paper online until we made changes. I went to a Catholic school, and he did not believe that our articles adequately represented a Catholic view. Because they didn’t.

My assertions that homosexuality is normal and that marriage should be an obvious equal right were intentionally mild, but still entirely genuine. I could have used stronger language and more impassioned examples, but my intent was not to shock. My intent was to present a compassionate view on the subject that people might consider with an open mind. But my most fundamental arguments were still too disparate from Catholic belief. The principal met with us and expressed his concern.

“What exactly would you want me to change?” I asked. He responded the next day with a two page e-mail. Essentially, I would have had to change my entire stance on the normalcy of homosexuality, and to me that was unacceptable.

Instead, I discussed the fact that our newspaper was being censored at length with my teacher. For the sake of honest journalism and free speech, neither of us felt comfortable changing the story, so the paper remained unpublished. At least until this January, when my teacher informed me that in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, she had published the original paper online with only an added disclaimer. It was a small victory, but it allowed me to share my voice uncensored.

Today, a much bigger victory happened in Oregon. Gay marriage is finally legal, and it feels so right. There a few causes I support more wholeheartedly than gay rights. The need for equality is obvious. I struggle to understand how anyone could limit not only a basic human right to marriage, but also love itself.

Love may be the most ambiguous and abstract word in the English language, but everyone can understand its power. At the basic level, it is pure and transcendent. On a more complex level, it can overwhelm everything. Decisions based in love are often selfless and rarely destructive.

The fight for gay rights is a fight for love, and anything with that basis cannot be stopped. The ability to experience this historic fight is exhilarating, but it should have ended long ago. Still, I cannot wait to tell future generations about how I remember the day that Oregon legalized gay marriage. Obviously, they will be super impressed that I’m that old because gay marriage won’t even be discussed separately from straight marriage at that point.

I am elated that Oregon can now be an example of compassion and equality, and I am excited to witness the continued spread of love. Equality will prevail.

Reconnecting with Society through Books

Books have always been my thing. I started reading the Harry Potter series in first grade and did not stop until a week after the Deathly Hallows release in 2007. In between books, I racked up hours devouring Sharon Creech novels and other fantasy series. This helped secure my annual victory in “Tons of Reading,” an elementary school class competition to determine the most avid reader.

By high school, I had read Fahrenheit 451 and was well into Gone with the Wind. But then life became busy and my pleasure reading was limited. Still, I managed to read classics like Animal Farm and Brave New World through my classes, and I savored every word.

But in my interactions with other readers I have noticed a glaring hole in my book repertoire. I have not read some of the most essential stories that seem to grace every must-read modern classics list. Against all odds, I have missed Kesey and Steinbeck and Vonnegut. I have not even read the great American novel, The Great Gatsby. When I fail to effortlessly quote and discuss these books–due to the fact that I have not read them–I feel inadequate as a self-proclaimed reader.

Imagine if a runner did not know about Steve Prefontaine or Joan Benoit Samuelson or Mary Decker Slaney. These people defined the sport of American middle distance and distance running. They paved the way for every distance runner that would follow. And they should be celebrated accordingly. Of course I know all about these runners because running is such a massive part of my life, but so is reading.

Alas, there is only one solution, and that is to read these books. So that is what I will do. I now present my list of Top 10 Books I Must Read Before I can Consider Myself a Fully Functioning Member of Society:

1. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1972)

2. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)

3. Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey (1964)

4. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)

5. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller (1961)

6. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

8. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)

9. The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe (1968)

10. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967)

As I compiled this list, I noticed an alarmingly common theme: all but one were published within a 20 year period between 1952 and 1972. This also happens to be the time period where I belong. My father recently said, “You are a flower child.” I am confident that these books will allow me to better understand my flower child roots and the era in which they began.

Surprise! I have already started my reading journey. In a recent week of strikingly sunny weather, I laid outside and read about war and time travel. That’s right, Kurt Vonnegut, I can now say “So it goes” without fear that my fraud will be detected. And I am well on my way to understanding Ken Kesey a little bit more through the eyes of Chief and McMurphy.

I will track the rest of my progress here and add a few thoughts as I finish the big ten. But for now, I will delve back into the Oregon insane asylum until I emerge one step closer to fully functioning personhood.