My review this month is on The Beauty Of Different: Observations Of A Confident Misfit written by Karen Walrond.

“The Mad Hatter: Have I gone mad?

Alice: I’m afraid so.  You’re entirely bonkers, but I’ll tell you a secret: all the best people are.”

There’s a guy that goes to my gym.  He wears old school Raybans  the entire time he’s working out.  The glasses are the Risky Business Tom Cruise kind that are a tough look to pull off even now.  Tom Cruise couldn’t pull off that look now.  My gym guy wears a button-down shirt tucked into shorts pulled up really high over a tremendous belly.  He wears black socks and a sort-of loafer/slipper hybrid which can’t be good for his joints and he sports a fairly radical comb-over which isn’t at all improved by sweat.  He’s at the gym a lot, which is strange because he doesn’t actually look like a guy that works out, like–ever.  He gets on his treadmill or elliptical or bike and I don’t know what is playing on his i-pod but I do know that he digs it the most.  The guy sings out loud.  He snaps, claps, plays air guitar, even does a little head bangin’ every now and again.  He rocks out. 

I’ve never seen him talk to anyone.  I don’t see him chatting up the ladies.  He doesn’t wander around the free weights “fake working out.”  He just hits the cardio and he hits it hard for about 20 minutes and then he hits the road. 

I do know one thing.  The guy really doesn’t care what anyone thinks—for real.  At first I thought it was an attention deal—that he was really just a jack-ass, but now I think the guy is the real thing.  I’ve studied him at length quite closely and for quite some time.  He waves his freak flag, and he waves it high, and I’m a little jealous. 

Marilyn Monroe: “Imperfection is beauty.  Madness is genius, and it is better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

My mom used to order a fairly complicated drink.  It wasn’t some obscure thing like a Fuzzy Navel or a Skip and Go Naked.  It was essentially a giant martini on the rocks, but she wanted it how she wanted it, and explaining the details got to be somewhat tiresome–very When Harry Met Sally.  So my dad, on some occasion or another—birthday, Valentine’s—not sure exactly when, but he had the absolutely brilliant idea to have cards made for her.  The front of the card had her name—her nickname actually, which I cannot reveal for privacy purposes—and then the drink specifications on the back of the card—all the way down to the “side of ice.” 

On more than one occasion, I was right next to her at a bar when she handed her card to the bartender.  And I was mortified.  At the time, she was 55 so that would put me in my mid to late 20’s, and for whatever reason I was just uber-self conscious and would cringe and die whenever she passed the card. 

 “My God, Mom, don’t you feel like a dork??”

 “I’m 55.  I never feel like a dork.”

Was that true?  Could that possible be true?  Is that something I may be able to look forward to 10 years from now???  Will it finally be time to wave my freak flag and not worry??

  “Be yourself.  Life is precious as it is.  All the elements are already there.  There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle.  Just be.”

   Thich Nhat Hanh

Last weekend I went to a gala—not my evening event of choice, generally, but my grandma wanted to go and she’s almost 95 and I think you get to call the shots if you are 95.  Luckily, I got to invite a few of my pals.  The invitation said “black tie optional.”  The black tie optional gig is a toughie because there will be those people who have a tux or some amazing gown or have just been waiting for an excuse to buy one—so essentially they set the bar pretty high formality wise, so if you go for the “optional” option, you are basically underdressed. 

So, for the guys—easy deal—as always.  There’s not a lot of wiggle room with a tux unless you’re Jay-Z.  For the ladies—not so easy.  So there was a fair amount of texting and emailing amongst the gals regarding wardrobe for the gala.  We all eventually decided that you can never go wrong with the LBD. (Little black dress.)  And that’s true; if you are looking to blend in and “be a rule follower” then the LBD is the female version of a classic tux or a man’s blue suit. 

So there we are at the gala and everyone looks fab.  Truly.  Periodically it’s nice to see your friends out of their work-out clothes and “mom” outfits.  BUT, the entire wait staff at the party—(maybe 200 strong)– were all wearing LBD’s.  (And by the way they were all in their 20’s..whatever—not that anyone’s counting wrinkles…)  The only thing differentiating the wait staff from the guests was that all the darling waitresses had on red scarves with their dresses—like big scarves—almost like a wrap. 

Okay, so if you were going to a party in a little sleeveless black dress and it was a little chilly and you wanted to add a splash of color to your outfit and you had quite a little assortment of pashminas in your closet and you thought to yourself, “hey, self, red is kind-of a hot color, but I’m too old to wear a red dress so a red wrap with my black dress would be a great little statement,” there is a high probability that—based on your pathetic “can’t be different” wardrobe decision…you would have been mistaken for the gal passing around the bacon wrapped shrimp at this gala.  And I was NOT the only one.  That’s what I get for trying to fit in.

  Herman Melville: “It is better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation.”

There was a boy I was in love with in college.  I didn’t realize until years later that I was, in fact, in love with him and that he was an absolute gem.  My mother thought he was the repairman when she came to visit and he was in my apartment messing around with the stereo.  He was short.  He wasn’t particularly fit.  Every day he jumped in the pool with his wallet still in the pocket of his shorts.  He made me laugh constantly.  He was beyond smart.  He played music for me that I maybe would never have heard.  He was from Memphis and he knew about the blues—Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters.  He smoked cigarettes constantly.  He once wore half a watermelon as a helmet because his head was hot.  He got thrown out of school for at least 1 trimester if not 2.  I can’t remember why.  He wasn’t conventionally handsome or even handsome at all.  He wore gas station attendant’s shirts and strange wing tipped shoes.  He had a deep, raspy southern drawl and he looked half asleep even when he’d just woken up.  He wouldn’t have fit in back home.  He didn’t look like my “swimmer boyfriend” who was basically kind-of an asshole.  For a while there I was torn between two lovers—and TOTALLY feeling like a fool.  In the end I stayed with the swimmer—in his polo shirts and Vaurnets.  I’ve pretty much regretted it ever since.  I hope I can teach my daughters to understand the beauty of different better than I did.

Karen Walrond has put together a beautiful and immensely readable and sharable book.  Is sharable a word?  Who cares?  The lessons are invaluable albeit incredibly difficult for anyone.  It’s hard to let go.  It’s hard not to care.  It’s hard to embrace and love yourself let alone others not in spite of their differences but because of them.  

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