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.

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.

Christmas Without Santa

Identical to every Christmas Eve, Adam climbed into bed at precisely 10 p.m. and forced his eyes shut, determined to sleep before Santa arrived at his suburban home. All the familiar feelings flooded his mind–anticipation, glee, curiosity–but an anxiety lingered that he could not shake. Though he had clearly not done anything terribly wrong all year, the uncomfortable possibility that Santa might again skip his house tainted his thoughts. By some terrible twist of fate, the jolly old man had not delivered any presents in the seven years since Adam had moved to McGuire Street with his family. Adam spent hours contemplating this tragedy but still could not fathom any reason other than Santa’s own error. After all, their home had an ideal roof, plenty of sweets and even a roomy chimney.

xmas house

It simply had to be Santa’s fault and not his own; after 30 straight years of presents–even with questionable behavior–Santa could not possibly deem Adam unworthy.

xmas adam

While Adam mourned his own lack of presents silently, he felt terrible for his daughter Elizabeth, who in her seven years of life had not once experienced Santa. Every year Adam assured Elizabeth that on Christmas Eve night Santa would fill the living room with presents and every year Elizabeth awoke to an emptiness only partially filled by Adam’s own gifts for his daughter.

xmas living room

Of course it did not help that Adam’s wife had died in a car accident shortly following their move into the new house, which left Adam alone to care for his young child with only an accountant’s salary to help. Adam budgeted what he could to purchase gifts for his daughter but without Santa’s generosity his attempts were in vain; nothing could match the magical mornings with which he had grown up.

______

The week before, Elizabeth had revealed to her classmate Leah that she did not expect much that Christmas.

xmas chat

Leah immediately fell into a laughter broken only by Elizabeth’s pleas for an explanation.

“You actually believe that?” Leah said, “All that Santa mumbo-jumbo?”

“Of course,” Elizabeth said.

Leah chuckled again and leaned closer to Elizabeth. “I know a secret,” she said, “Santa isn’t real.” This time Elizabeth laughed. Santa not real? The thought was absurd.

“I’m serious,” Leah said, “It’s all fake. I watched my parents put out presents last year but they were all supposed to be from ‘Santa.’ There’s no way he’s real.”

Elizabeth stared back in bewilderment for several seconds while she carefully dissected Leah’s proposition. According to her father, Santa had stopped delivering presents only when he had begun to spend Christmas away from his parents. Her mother had never been alive for a Christmas with her so following Leah’s theory it would be Adam’s sole responsibility to provide presents from “Santa.” Elizabeth’s jaw dropped.

“My dad believes in Santa,” she said, “But he’s wrong. Santa was never real.” Once she recovered from her initial shock, Elizabeth began to form a plan in her mind. She spent the next six days focusing solely on her Christmas plan. Every day after school she went to her room, dragged the craft box from her closet and worked diligently until bedtime. During the day her mind raced with new ideas and at night she slept soundly from exhaustion. She thought of nothing but Christmas morning until the day finally arrived.

xmas elizabeth

Adam’s eyes shot open the second Elizabeth entered his room.

“Wake up Daddy,” she said, “It’s Christmas!” A familiar rush flowed through his body and his heart fluttered with excitement.

“I’ll meet you downstairs,” he said before pulling on his favorite reindeer pajamas and hurriedly brushing his teeth. The anxiety from the night before remained, but nothing could falter his Christmas spirit. Minutes later, he descended the stairs hoping to see anything but the scene he had arranged the previous night.

“He came, Daddy,” Elizabeth said, “Santa came!”

Adam turned the corner to a sea of color and glitter that filled his heart with a joy he had not known for seven years. Feebly wrapped presents spilled from beneath the tree while the two hanging stockings threatened to fall from their weight. Sparkles littered the floor and directed his eyes to the gifts’ labels which read “From: Santa” in suspiciously youthful handwriting. He glanced at his daughter, whose glitter-laden face bore a smile so pure he could not help but grin in return.

xmas final

The two immediately got to work unwrapping presents. Elizabeth eagerly fed gifts to her father, who discovered that Santa had chosen a distinctively homemade route that year. The room soon filled with crumpled wrapping paper and construction paper masterpieces disturbed only by the occasional beaded creation. When they reached the last present, a doll for Elizabeth from Adam himself, Elizabeth beamed and reached under the table.

“Wait Daddy,” she said, “I have one more present for you.” She handed him a small piece of construction paper and his eyes filled with tears as he read the carefully crafted words.

“Thank you,” he said, “Thank you for a perfect Christmas.”

xmas poem