We Americans haven’t got a clue about eccentricity. Not really. No, for a really good example of eccentricity you must turn to the people of the stiff upper lip and glassy vowels: the British. They know how to do eccentricity up properly.
Eccentricity is as much a part of English culture as Early Grey tea or Yorkshire pud on a Sunday. They even devote a whole day to it. Red Nose Day is all about indulging your inner eccentric to make money for a charitable cause.
Nowadays it’s quite common to see someone with vivid pink hair, someone wearing a chartreuse tutu in the middle of WalMart or someone dressing up as a My Little Pony. But is that true eccentricity?
I don’t think so. It’s a fad. One celebrity dyes their hair pink so all their followers, fans and sycophants do likewise. Does it make them truly happy? Maybe, maybe not. Does it make them self-conscious? Probably. Is it authentic to them personally? I doubt it.
No, to be a true eccentric is to be completely comfortable in your own skin. Like I posted on Facebook yesterday, “We don’t pick our eccentricities. They pick us.” To be a true eccentric you simply follow your fascinations. Whatever makes you feel excited, peaceful…or both. That’s what you do. Most importantly, you don’t give a fig what anyone else thinks.
You may not even realize you’re an eccentric at all. You’re simply living a happy, creative life until one day someone uses the “E” word about you.
I’ve been fascinated by eccentrics since my early twenties. By the ripe old age of twenty-two, I was sick, sick, sick of the buttoned-down, laced-up, rather unkind business world. Surely, there must be something better, I thought. So, following the advice of my favorite movie You Can’t Take It With You, “Do you like what you’re doing here. Oh, good Heavens, no. Then why are you doing it?” I gave two week’s notice.
What followed was a year-and-a-half that was supposed to be devoted to “finding myself.” But the first half was more about helping dad through chemotherapy. In my spare time, I read quite a lot on many topics, including British eccentrics.
One lovely man, Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson aka Lord Berners dyed his pigeons vivid colors, a tradition I believe his estate carries on to this day in his honor. It didn’t hurt the pigeons (I hope!) and it made him extraordinarily happy. (My local veterinarian laughed out load when I rushed our sick bichon, Delly, to her completely forgetting I’d recently dyed Delly’s ears vivid rainbow colors using food coloring!)
My favorite female eccentric was an Italian fashion writer, Anna Piaggi. No one has ever carried off wearing a lampshade for a hat with more aplomb than she. Regularly dying her marceled waves a lovely turquoise, she was always decked out for a fancy dress party at all times. Such was her love of fashion. And she didn’t care what anyone thought or, for that matter, that she wasn’t conventionally beautiful. She made you think she was beautiful through her eccentric couture and vivid make-up. Anna was simply being Anna.
And last, but certainly not least, there is Jennifer Paterson (pictured above) or, as you may know her, the dark-haired lady on the wildly popular BBC cookery show, Two Fat Ladies. (No, I’m not being insensitive. That really was the name of the show!)
The great thing about eccentricity is that, while you may first develop certain traits as a means to fill an emotional void such as the need for attention or to buoy ones self-esteem, it soon becomes so authentic and ingrained that you don’t even realize you’re eccentric at all. You’re just you. The you that makes you happy. Hence my premise that eccentrics may, in some cases, be the happiest and most well-adjusted of us all.
Which leads me back to Jennifer Paterson. What grew from a need to compete with her brothers for their parents’ attention, became the Jennifer we knew and loved on the Two Fat Ladies.
She had an authentic style all her own she refused to waver from…even for the BBC! Hair dyed coal black; gold ball earrings; vivid red beestung lips (think Clara Bow), long scarlet fingernails and, to the horror of germaphobes everywhere, beautiful rings which she plunged unhesitatingly into various batters and mixtures she preferred to mix by hand. For all that glamour, her “uniform” consisted of a fisherman’s smock or “tent” as she called it with capacious pockets to hold smokes, lighter and her glass of gin, slacks and espadrilles (a kind-of canvas sneaker) in all seasons.
But all of that paled in comparison to her personality. Eyes that looked perpetually crossed and a nose-pinched-shut British voice telling you not to skimp on the cream, butter and lard with cut-glass vowels. When she wasn’t telling the most outrageous (and quite true!) stories, she was waving her arms, brandishing kitchenalia, singing and dancing with a sieve on her head like the Tin Man.
The best part of the the Two Fat Ladies: It was completely unscripted. The Jennifer on-screen was the Jennifer at home, at work and at worship…for she was a devout Roman Catholic. And a true, rather oblivious eccentric. Oblivious to her own eccentricity, I mean. Jennifer was just Jennifer.
True eccentricity is so authentic, you completely forget about yourself. Pink hair is your trademark and gives you great joy when you style it in the morning and then completely forget about it for the remainder of the day. Rather like how C. S. Lewis describes humility. To be truly humble is not to even realize you’re humble. To be truly eccentric is not to realize you’re eccentric.
You’re just happy.
How many times have I been sniffing peaches in the grocery store, only to be startled by a hand on my sleeve. You see, I’ve been wearing a gold-and-black brocade-and-velvet opera coat on chilly days for the past sixteen years. To me it’s perfectly normal, but women just can’t keep their hands off it. They must touch it and I’ve had many enjoyable chats in that coat which is, apparently, eccentric to wear to the grocery store!
You might almost say that eccentricity brought my husband and me together. The man has an absolute passion for vacuum tubes. Yes, vacuum tubes. I’ve found them everywhere…his pockets, the living room, the dashboard of the car, the bathroom vanity, even the bed. He doesn’t just collect tubes, he knows how to use them too! His fascination with vacuum tubes was one of the first things he told me about himself when we met online. I was so fascinated, I wanted to learn more. So we got married.
He’s one of the calmest, happiest, dare-I-say-eccentrics you’ll ever meet in your life! (And he calls me eccentric!?! He should talk! LOL But maybe that’s because of my strong mid-Atlantic accent.)
So…what are you waiting for? Yes, you! Perfectly status quo, every-hair-in-place, just stepped-out-of-the-J-C-Penny-catalog people are boring. More importantly, I bet they’re not happy either.
It’s my belief we all have a secret little eccentric inside, just itching to get out. Don’t save it for the “elf” version of yourself or the “someday” that never comes.
What have you secretly always wanted to learn, do, be, wear, speak, recite, act out, write, sing, play, paint, make, decorate, mold, build, travel, ride…the list is endless!!! Maybe you always wanted to dress like a Roma (gypsy) and live on the road. Maybe you always wanted to raise goats or, or, or, I dunno, some exotic animal. Maybe you have a secret passion for Shakespeare or Gilbert and Sullivan. Spanish guitar. The bassoon. You always dreamed of being a poet, sommelier or cheese expert.
But you were scared people would call you “weird.”
Let me tell you a secret: One of the best things about being eccentric is that it weeds out the riff-raff in one flying hurry. Those who scorn your eccentricity and use the “weird” word are those you wouldn’t want in your life anyways. (They’re just jealous!) Worked like a charm for me! The so-called friend who called me “weird” because I was busily taking apart a music box to find out how it worked is no longer my friend…and I don’t miss her one bit.
Release your inner eccentric. You’ll be happier and mentally healthier and the world will be a richer place for it!