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This is me, Kelly Hevel
Monthly Archives: April 2012
In a recent session of Playing Around Online, the workshop I’m running with my partner Melissa Dinwiddie, we focused our attention on limits and barriers. What began as a discussion of overcoming limits led to a discussion of the limits we place on ourselves and the perceived barriers thrown up by criticism or simply lack of praise from others. The Playing Around Online group is made up mainly of artists, but I think something we all struggle with is: who should we listen to when we ask for constructive criticism? Who are we trying to please? Do we care what others think? Should we?
What I heard from workshop participants was disappointment at not receiving more enthusiastic responses to their work, frustration at not being understood, and discouragement because they felt their work was not valued. I was still thinking about these reactions as I read We Are All Weird by Seth Godin, and was struck by his definitions of “normal” and “weird”:
“NORMAL is what we call people in the middle. Normal describes and catalogs the defining characteristics of the masses. Normal is localized–being a vegetarian is weird in Kansas but normal in Mumbai. What’s normal here is not what’s normal there. Finding and amplifying normal is essential to anyone who traffics in mass. Over time, marketers have made normal a moral and cultural standard, not just a statistical one.”
“WEIRD are what we call people who aren’t normal. Your appearance or physical affect might be unusual by nature or by birth, but, like me, you’re probably mostly weird by choice. Different by nature isn’t your choice, and it’s not my focus here. Weird by choice, on the other hand, flies in the face of the culture of mass and the checklist of normal. I’m interested in this sort of weird, people who have chosen to avoid conforming to the masses, at least in some parts of their lives.
He goes on to say that our society is shifting from a focus on the normal to a focus on weird. The bell curve of normal and weird is flattening. There are fewer and fewer people in the middle and more and more people on the fringes. As I read, I felt such a profound sense of relief. If he’s right, and I believe he is, this means that at some point there will be more people outside the normal/average range than inside it.
THE OLD NORMAL THE NEW NORMAL = WEIRD!
It will be normal to not be normal.
That’s all well and good, but what does that mean for your art, your writing, your artisanal cheese made from hamster milk? Simply this: if you are not selling your work, getting the praise you hoped for, or the web traffic you desire, it may simply mean that you have not yet found your pocket of weird.
No one achieves universal acclaim, and if Godin is right, soon even those who receive the most acclaim from the biggest segment of the population will find that the majority of the population is ambivalent to them.
As an example, I will own up to my own dirty little secret: I have issues with Cezanne (there, my dirty little secret is out). Does that mean he is not a master? No. Does that mean I am wrong in my dislike of some of his work? No. I am not wrong, and he is not a bad painter. I am just not one of “his people”, we are not a match, Cezanne and I.
We have to become discerning about who’s opinion we listen to and the value we place on our work in terms of money, in terms of praise, and in terms of its validity. We must judge its success by its value to our weird little segment of the population, not the middle which is shrinking anyway.
Do your thing. Lots of people won’t like it. That is normal, you have now located that shrinking portion of the bell curve. But keep looking. Somewhere out there is your pocket of weird.
People often tell me that I’m brave because I moved to Istanbul. Last time I was on vacation I had another of those conversations but this time, surprisingly, the person telling me I was brave was someone who had done the same thing: moved her life from America to Turkey.
I am always a little mystified by these conversations because I honestly don’t feel brave. Am I brave? Really? Why does everyone think that except me?
Granted, part of the answer lies in the fact that I’ve been here for almost five years; I know how this expat thing works.
But did I ever feel brave?
The real question is, did I ever feel at risk? Well, honestly, no. The reason I didn’t is partly due to my perception of risk. To me what is risky is not living your life, not doing what you are meant to do, not using the gifts that were given to you. In short, wasting your abilities, your time, your life.
So when I came to Istanbul and felt that it was the place for me, any more time spent in the “wrong” place felt like the risk. It was time to get busy and start doing what I was supposed to do: build my life in Turkey.
So it’s a trick question: to appear brave, you just have to know so strongly what you want that doing anything else becomes impossible. You may not have all the answers. Your precise destination may be unclear. But you know your purpose.
“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid” (Basil King) is one of my favorites quotes. I love the idea that by stepping out an army will rise up behind you. I always get such a strong visual image of someone striding purposely forward and an army cresting the hilltop behind them. But know this: when you are sure in your heart, you don’t need an army. You are enough.