When I was a little girl, I loved the muppets. We all did. We all do! There was something about the muppet movie that struck all the right notes in my heart. There was something so right about it. Like it was a guidebook on how to have the best kind of friends and how to be yourself and be okay with it. From the opening of the film, with Kermit the Frog singing the Rainbow Connection, talking about the lovers, the dreamers and me - we are hooked. He's singing about us - the odd ones.
The movie, for those who don't know it, is about a band of merry misfits on the road to Hollywood who all accept each other for who and what they are. Everyone is okay with Fozzie and his terrible jokes. With Miss Piggy and her diva-like ways. With Animal and his drumming and damn what the others think about them. But there is one scene in the film that slays me every time I watch it. It's where our heroes are gathered around a campfire and Gonzo, the Great - no one knows what kind of creature he is - begins to sing a song "I'm Going to Go Back There One Day" and I think it's one of the most beautiful songs in the history of songs. I am always weeping by the end of that scene. You know that Gonzo has finally found his place and his tribe. He doesn't have to try to fit in; he fits in because he's himself.
I write books for young adults and children. Most of my books have to do with characters finding their true tribe. That's what I find interesting about being a person in the world. And I love my weird, odd friends. Almost none of my friends are normal. (Sorry friends! I'm not normal either!) I have a high tolerance for their strangeness, their peculiarities, their eccentricities, their prickliness, their soft parts and their hard edges. I love them and I try to accept and respect them for exactly the way that they move through the world. Not that sometimes there aren't some rough spots or hurt feelings. But that doesn't have anything to do with fitting in, that's just the way we humans grow together and grow closer. This is why I wrote my latest graphic novel, Odd Duck, because sometimes the truest friends we have are the ones who are very different than us and who challenge us to the very core. That's what Chad and Theodora do to each other. But when you can really be yourself with no fear of fitting in with them or not, I think you are on your way to finding real contentment.
But it's not so easy for some people to bang the drum off the beat. People feel safe in groups, and in keeping up with Joneses, and I get it. We all want to feel accepted. I want to feel accepted. I just think that there is a way to do that without losing out on the very guts that make us all so incredibly individual and wonderful.
I remember when I was in middle school and everyone had a denim jacket. You couldn't have just any denim jacket, you had to have the right denim jacket. The right kind of flipped hair. The right cherry lip gloss. he right Vidal Sassoon jeans for school and gunne sax dress to wear at the bar mitzvahs. I marched along to the beat of that drum just as much as the others but sometimes i just couldn't do it. Conforming made me feel as though I couldn't breathe. And I looked pretty terrible.
I remember one day deciding to wear a fedora hat, my dad's short sleeve button down shirt, a vest and a skinny tie to school. I think I had just seen Annie Hall and was like, "That's a look for me! Forget this side barrette and feathered hair." It turned out that day was picture day.
"What are you wearing, CiCi?" said my friend, the perfect blonde with the perfect flipped hair wearing the perfect amount of lip gloss sporting the perfect outfit and sounding perfectly mean.
I was mortified. I totally forgot that it was picture day and now there I was stuck not wearing the uniform that all my fellow 13 year olds were wearing. But I somehow think that maybe it was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was liberating. It was my Gonzo the Great moment. I had spent a lot of time hiding things that I really liked, like science fiction (I hid all my genre books on my brother's bookshelf so that none of my friends would see those books in my room), and the arts (I had quit ballet and kept mum about going to the opera because it was this weird thing that I did and loved), and vintage movies (my middle school crush discovered my subscription to American Cinematographer and made constant fun of me about it). But after that picture day, I was just CiCi, the one who was a little bit weird. I went to comic book conventions with the nerdy kids (a lovely girl named Nicole who sewed me a Jessica 6 costume for the costume parade) then, because who cared anymore? I openly played D&D with my brother and I even DM'd a campaign for my perfectly blonde friend who I convinced to try it just once (she hated it). I started to go down to Canal Jeans company in the village (gasp!) (I lived in the Bronx) and went a little retro with the intellectual 8th graders. I started a running list of books to read that did not include Judy Blume or VC Andrews but Herbert, Vonnegut, Asimov, Bradbury and Voltaire. I even bucked the trend of my group of friends by auditioning and going to the High School of Performing Arts (LaGuardia) and not to the Bronx High School of Science like pretty much everyone else I knew did.
I remember that it was just such an effort to feather my hair and such a relief after I wore that tie to school, to cut my hair into an easy to shake and shape Joan Jett shag. It takes a lot of energy to not be your odd self. It's exhausting to put on a front all the time and to try to fit in. The secret is that you already fit in, it just might not be where you are currently hanging out. But you totally fit in somewhere effortlessly.
At some point, when you are a book reader, like I am, you start to notice that the person who goes against the group, the one who is the weird one, the one who gets exiled is the person who is the cooler person. The one who gets the better, truer friends. The one who goes on the amazing adventures. The one whose world opens the most. Just like the muppets. Or Luke Skywalker. Or Anne of Green Gables. Or Candide. The ones who try so hard to fit in are pretty much boring, or wrong, or not having that much fun in the end.
It seems to me that it's a fundamental truth that what you're missing out on by trying to fit in is the best time of your life. Of wearing whatever the hell you want to wear. Of having the friends that you want to have. The ones who make you truly happy. Of doing the things that you want to do. Of being yourself at all times.
That's why I'd much rather be friends with the odd ducks Chad and Theodora from my book (with Sara Varon) Odd Duck than their critics Gabe, Velma or Max. Chad and Theodora wouldn't really care what I did on their side of the pond. Chad would make me a music mix or a conceptual sculpture for my front yard and Theodora would bake me a cake. And then we'd all stare up at the stars together, thinking our wildly different thoughts quietly together.