Since I have no particular insecurities plaguing me at the moment, along with exciting news that I desperately want (but am not yet allowed) to share–watch this space, I’ve decided to answer the IWSG’s monthly question:
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
The most painful moments in my life involved the cruelty of words, not physical punishment. I’d much rather go a few rounds in the ring (and have) then have someone I care about say something nasty. And, oddly enough, it was the people who were supposed to care about me–even love me–whose words cut me to the quick.
When I was a kid, I had a wide, diverse circle of friends (diverse in social group, not culture–there wasn’t a heck of a lot of cultural diversity in a northern Canadian town back then). The friends that hailed from the lower rungs of the social ladder tended to be the kindest, while the “popular” ones were easily the cruelest.
In my youth, I loved to make people laugh. I was a natural mimic and quick with a quip or witty observation, which made me fun to be around. But there was one popular girl who derided me for it. Right after I’d made her snort-laugh, she’d look down her nose at me and say with withering disdain,
“You’re so weird.”
Though I shrugged it off in her presence, that word haunted me for years. Weird. Wasn’t that the worst thing a teenager could possibly be? When my college boyfriend made the mistake of calling me weird as a term of endearment, I nearly bit his head off. He had no idea what hit him, or why I was so upset. To him, the word weird was as innocuous as any other, but to me, it was soul-destroying. (Dramatic, yes, but I was young.)
Behold the power of words.
I’m not sure at what age I began to take that power back, but I eventually realized I couldn’t give a rat’s ass if a stuck-up snob like that chick in high school thought I was weird. If the alternative was being ordinary, or even (gasp!) boring, I’d take weird any day. I’ve yet to meet a creative person who wasn’t a bit…different, but I’d call them interesting, or intriguing, not weird.
If only I’d known, back when that mean girl made me cry, that one day, hundreds of hopeful writers and entrepreneurs would take my classes to discover the secrets behind my success. When it comes to branding, guess what I tell my students?
“Take whatever got you called ‘weird’ in high school, and embrace it. That’s what makes you different. It’s what makes you interesting. It’s what will end up drawing people to you.”
And after that, I make them laugh.
The purpose of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. To see a full list of IWSG authors, click here.
Photo credit for J.H. Moncrieff, boxer: Marc Gallant
While all the high schoolers were into the “trends of that year”, I was the “boring” one, the quiet girl with her nose in a book, who always did her homework, who wondered about travel to other countries and never participated in the “herd mentality activities” they pursued.
I’ve since had the opportunity to travel abroad.
Not sure how many of my peers can say the same.
Happy IWSG Day.
Traveling, especially abroad, is probably one of the best things in the world. Totally worth doing your homework for.
I’ve always been one who wanted to be liked so did everything I could to not be noticed negatively. That has changed over the years, but is still a challenge for me. Weird wasn’t a bad word for me, but your experience resonates.
Hugs, Lisa. As women, we are raised that way. I hope it’s changing.
You took the words right out of my mouth……. “If the alternative was being ordinary, or even (gasp!) boring, I’d take weird any day. I’ve yet to meet a creative person who wasn’t a bit…different, but I’d call them interesting, or intriguing, not weird.” I think we all have a bit of Weird in us, but personally I’ve always seen that as a plus! It’s the imperfections in a person or objects that make them interesting!
I remember one of my teachers calling me a “sponge” because I would sit quietly at my desk before the first bell, just listening to all the conversations going on around me and watching my peers. I was beyond shy. I didn’t take offense at the label. It was dead accurate. These days, I find weird to be a complement.
It’s great that you didn’t take offence at the comment, Tamara, but why were our teachers also compelled to say such things? I had a few who said some nasty things–calling us scumbags, saying we needed doctors (as in psychiatrists, but in a mocking way, not a supportive one), saying we deserved to have the crap kicked out of us by bullies.
There’s so many teachers out there who hate kids. I’ve never understood it.
I was the weird kid in 1st grade who wanted to explain the metamorphosis of a catterpillar at show & tell (truth!). This got us a home visit from teacher.It was that bad.I was asked to use words with fewer syllables & accused of having an accent.Yep, I’m weird!
What’s so weird about that, Jo? I think that’s a fantastic topic for Show & Tell.
We live in a sad society when intelligence is seen as weird. But, I guess in my case, a sense of humour was weird. Smh.
Agreed, Jim. It’s just that weird had such negative connotations, I guess. It wasn’t said in a nice way. “Interesting” would have been better, and I wouldn’t even call the qualities that provoked the name-calling imperfections. A vivid imagination (Debbie, another commenter), being a good listener (Tamara, same), loving live drama/theatre (Sadira, same), or having a sense of humour (me)–imperfections? If you ask me, the people who called us names were the ones who were flawed. 🙂
You are so right Holli. 🙂
I’ve always been a bit weird, I suppose you could say I have an over active imagination (personally I think other people’s are under active rather than mine being over active but that’s besides the point).
I used to hide it quiet well; now I don’t even try. It’s that side of me that makes it possible to sit in my pyjamas getting paid to write while those people who think I’m weird sit at their desk bitching and moaning about their jobs. And they think I’m the weird one haha
I was a target of the mean, popular girls in high school. I wanted so desperately to fit in, but No Weird Girls Allowed. Now, I love my weirdness and don’t give a fig about the post-high school “in crowd” (I guess that’s the society bunch). They’re so mediocre in their unimaginative sameness.
Sorry to hear, Lee. Thankfully, she was the only mean girl I recall (though I’m sure there were more–oh yes, just thought of one), and she was my “friend,” so nice enough most of the time.
I was usually the kid who stuck up for the bullied ones, which was why I was friends with almost everyone (though my smart mouth probably hurt people occasionally, without my realizing the reprecussions).
Willing to bet those women would kill to have someone as interesting as you in their circle now.
Exactly, Debbie! Good for you. All those people who might have thought your imagination was over active back then would love to trade places with you now.
Weird is often unique so yes, embrace it. (Unless it’s more creepy than weird. LOL) I remember one year in high school people could buy and send colored flowers to each other. One guy sent me a green one which meant “You’re weird but I love you anyway.” I adored that because I knew he “got” me.
Aw, that’s a great story, Diane. Thanks for sharing. Do you still keep in touch with him?
This really struck me – “…it was the people who were supposed to care about me–even love me–whose words cut me to the quick.” I’ve had experiences like this, as an adult, where I ended up hurt and confused by things those people – also adults – said to me. It never occurred to me that grown-ups would behave that way, let alone people who I thought were on my side.
Cruelty from those we love is guaranteed to hurt the most, because we actually care what those people think. I had a “good” friend in junior high who would suddenly say awful things to me. We even had a shoving match once that got fairly serious (I got so angry at something he said, I slammed him into a locker). I remember him telling me I was ugly once. He was definitely nastier with the insults than anyone who didn’t like me. Still not too sure why we were friends.
It are the “weird” individuals who make a difference in this world. Anyone can be a copy cat, but not everyone can see the world without blinders and possess sufficient courage to live in it, right?
So true, Roland. And beautifully said, as always.
That was a word that nearly was sear branded to me grammar school on through high school. Then sometime in college I gladly and proudly embraced it especially when I started dating a woman who was “weirder” than me or more eccentric than I was. “Different is lonely, different is strange, different is trouble for you only but I’d rather be different than be the same.” –Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas
That’s a great quote, Steven. Sad she died so young. 🙁
I’m glad you found someone who helped you appreciate your “weirdness.”
I just wrote a comment on someone else’s blog that I’d rather take a punch in the stomach than have hurtful, abusive words hurled at me. The pain that words can inflict lasts so much longer than the physical kind. We’re on the same page.
I agree, Lee. Cruel words have definitely shaped who I am, especially things said to me when I was younger.
Weird is good. High school is a master class in how to use language to crush others 🙁
Is it ever. Elementary school is a good crash course as well.
Amen! I so agree. When I was in high school I was different too. I was also a loner and I found myself reading books. They became my friends. Thank you very much for co-hosting.
Pat G @ EverythingMustChange
Nothing wrong with reading, Pat. I’m glad the books were able to keep you company until your peers wised up.
I can see from the comments above how many people’s experiences echo yours. Here’s to the weirdos, the odd ducks, the kids who go their own way and grow up to become creative, fascinating people. I was one of those weird drama nerds in high school, mocked by my peers for caring passionately about something other than fashion and sports. Later, I became a teacher and loved the experience of connection with those odd duck kids in whom burned a spark of originality. (I mean, every kid has that spark, but too many hide it under a bushel of nervous conformity.)
That sounds familiar, Sadira! As a teacher, I feel a connection with the kids who act out because they’re bored, the ones who are “troubled.” I think, “Hey…I know you.” The other instructors come to me for advice on how to handle them.
Your comment brings home how ridiculous high school is. Why would anyone be mocked for caring about something? Sheesh.
The dreaded cliques at school were merciless. I’m glad you got your power back, and that it fuels you today. I wouldn’t have met you otherwise. 🙂
Aw, that’s true, Anna! I never would have stopped writing, though. That chick may have hurt my feelings, but that’s as far as it went. It didn’t even stop me from making jokes.
Your poor boyfriend!
I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone is weird. Some are just dangerously weird. The rest is cool. Be weird!
Thanks, Alex. I’m still not sure what’s so weird about making people laugh, but whatever.
Great photo of you. Whoever said, “Words will never hurt you,” was a big, fat liar. I know no stronger force on Earth. When someone intentionally sends a verbal dagger at you, it strikes, hard. You can rise above it, but it takes courage and a strong sense of self. The slogan for Austin, TX is “Keep Austin weird.” I think we creatives need to adopt a similar slogan. What makes you weird makes you unique, and successful.
Great post today. And, congrats on all your successes!
Thanks so much, Mary. It’s true–words can hurt so much more than physical pain. Even knowing they stemmed from another’s insecurity or emotional issues doesn’t always (or ever) make it better.
Keep Austin weird is a damn good slogan.
Ah, weird is a label I’ve been stuck with many a time. I don’t know if it was because of my personality or my upbringing, but I learned at a young age to accept my oddities and whatever words come with them. Oh, it still stings when people emphasize how abnormal I am, even when it’s well-meaning teasing. But whatever. It reminds me a bit of critiques on my writing. I’ll analyze what was said, see if I can use it in any way, and dismiss it if not. Doesn’t mean I’ll change my writing style because of it. 😉
From what I know of you, you’re amazingly creative, caring, talented, and fun. If that’s weird, I wish more people were weird like that.
I’d rather be weird than stuck-up and mean!
True. Not to mention weird is totally in the eye of the beholder.
Oh this is perfect! Take whatever made you weird, embrace it, use it. I love this advice. Thanks so much for co-hosting this month!
I’m glad you love the post, SE, but I can’t take credit for cohosting this month. I’m no Alex Cavanaugh, master blogger! 🙂
Love it! Reminds me of the Joss Whedon quote up in my classroom: Whatever makes you weird is your greatest strength!
So true! We need to take that word back and make it ours.
I’m there with you. If only our younger selves knew that being “weird” is so much better than being like that snubby girl.
Indeed. I’d rather be funny than a b*tch. 😉
Your post was beautifully written. It moved me and I connected. I agree you understand the power of words. And you know, you are right the ones closest to you truly teach you the power of words. I grew up in a loving environment but the fat kid. Words stay with you all your long after bones have healed. I have taken some of my power back but still struggle with other areas especially after encountered nasty later in life from someone I cared about and thought of as family. That one I haven’t figured out how to get t power back yet.
Wonderful post. Thank you.
Happy IWSG Belated Day. I did not get through all my rounds yesterday and then life happens so catching up today if possible. Thanks for visiting my blogl.
Thank you for your kind words, Juneta. I’m so sorry you suffered through teasing and bullying, and encountered it later as an adult as well. I’ve certainly had my share of “false friends” later in life too. We expect better of adults, but sadly, not all of them deliver.
Your power will come back to you. Hugs.
Wonderful lesson! There were plenty of reasons people called me weird back in school, so I think I have lots of good material to work with today.
I think we can agree that a lot of people in high school are creeps.
What a wonderful account, JH! How you turned the power of words around! From being negatively affected by them to positively affecting others. You keep amazing me.
Plus, I like how you made the term “weird” so powerful in regards to branding. You are right, the very thing that made me different when I was younger (the importance of “being different” and travel) could be called my niche now. Inspiring!
I really love that photo of you near the ring as well! I’m glad no insecurities this month and can’t wait to hear your exciting news!
Aw, thanks so much, Liesbet. You always have such kind things to say, and it’s always appreciated.
I was called weird in Jr high and in high school. Teased for my red hair and being so skinny. At a recent high school reunion a few of the mean girls told me they were always jealous of me. I’m still shaking my head about that one.
Well, of course. Red hair rocks! A lot of people pay big money to get that red hair, but you got it for free.
When I had an experience like that as a child, my mom told me that weird was better than boring. I’ve embraced that wholeheartedly, so now we can be weirdos together 🙂 @mirymom1 from
Yes, exactly. Who wants to be boring? Or the type of person who goes around calling others weird, for that matter?
If someone said to me, “You are so weird,” I’d pump my fist and say, “Yeah!” Of course, I’m not in grade/middle/high school and can embrace my weirdness. Since you’ve read my post, you know how I feel about bullies. Keep on being weird. You’re in a great group.
If being weird means being funny, I don’t have much choice. 😉 I can’t take life 100% seriously. I’d go mad.
Hopefully adults have a little more tact than teenagers. But then again, maybe not.