Embracing the Unconventional

A column on discovery of passion and developing your story.

Growing up, I was taught to make something of my life, to seek adventure, to never live an average life. This has served as my own little life motto: never be average. My father taught me this all before the age that I could tie my own shoes, all before my grown-up teeth decided to come in, all before I realized those bangs needed to go. I dumpster-dove behind a thrift store with my dad shining a flashlight over the discarded toys, collected buttons and other leftovers from the bones of a burnt-down home, skipped school to go on treasure hunts, slept in flea market parking lots waiting for the doors to open, went to white tablecloth restaurants in pajamas, taught myself that nothing is embarrassing unless I make it embarrassing, and I grew up living, making my life into a story.

Out of living my own story, I found that I loved reading. My dad would read me a book before bed. Now, if your parents read to you before bed, maybe they would read Where the Wild Things Are, The Giving Tree, or Charlotte’s Web. I read them all too, but my dad, the unconventional man that he is, thought that the best way to get me to love reading was to throw me into the big kid world, to rip off the rose-colored glasses, and traumatize me with stories not suitable for my age.

No, he’d tuck me into bed and pull out one of the books off his shelves. He’d select a dog-eared, ancient, yellowing copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories and flip to “The Black Cat.” Now, if you are at all familiar with “The Black Cat,” you know that it is terrifying and probably not suitable for children. I would sit awake and think about my own cat tearing through the house – a horror that sat in my chest and thrilled me.

We’d read The Iliad –a monstrous ancient Greek epic credited to the poet Homer. My dad would stop to explain what was happening while I began to fall asleep to the stories of war and Greek gods and goddesses. He read me Of Mice and Men, Tom Sawyer, Oliver Twist, and lots of poetry.

I wasn’t raised on these pure, mom-and-pop books. Like my unconventional lifestyle, my passion for literature developed in a strange way. I learned to love reading through horror stories, through books with words I would never understand and still skim over when rereading them now. I’m happy to have been raised in a home where books littered the halls.

I think that our passions develop from unconventional experiences. I don’t know anyone who gets into their life passion in a regular way. Judy from science class is studying astronomy because something powerful and unconventional and out-of-the-ordinary happened in her life that made her see stars as something bigger. Tom from theater didn’t just see a play and think: “I could do that too.” There was a catalyst, something bigger than a chance occurrence, something that triggered this passion within us. The girl in your dorm is studying social work because she saw an injustice and has every desire to fix it. For me, it was growing up terrified of the stories I’d been read, the books I finished well after I was tucked in to sleep.

So many people are nervous, embarrassed, terrified even that if they live consciously, if they force themselves to never be average, they will lose something of themselves. And that something varies from person to person. Whether you’re afraid of losing respect or admiration or security, I can promise you, it’s worth it to live every day saying: “Never be average.”