At the beginning of every residency during my MFA at Spalding University, the Director of the program, Sena Jeter Naslund, would welcome us home and remind us that “we are all odd ducks here.” To me, Sena’s greeting always felt like the perfect “Welcome Home” speech.
We weren’t un-odd, or de-oddified, there at the residency. I can attest that we were each and every one odd. We didn’t become in-liers rather than outliers, nor did we fit in with one another like a magic puzzle. We were odd ducks, together. A brace of odd ducks.
Those of us who are “unconventional” often share this experience in common: Folks suggest that we’re rebels, that we defy conventions, just for the sake of being different. We odd ducks laugh at that. We do! Because we aren’t different from ourselves. We just don’t accept the convention simply because it’s the ‘done thing.’ We do what makes sense to our perception of the world. If that looks unconventional to others, we can’t help that. That is, as the saying goes, their problem.
In a memorable conversation I had with Sena, walking together on the streets of Buenos Aires, she said that as a child she’d tried hard to fit in, not to be the odd duck. And then gave it up. I’m not quoting her exactly on that. But that was the point. (I can be forgiven for not remembering with precision. I had a major stroke about ten days later! Hole in the brain.)
The truth is, I grew up as an outsider. That’s not entirely unusual for a preacher’s family. We were outsiders, having come into whatever town we currently lived in long after all the friendships had been established. We were outsiders.
But I was an outsider among outsiders. Four brothers and me. I was the only one, in a family of seven who had a bedroom all to herself. I was the family “outsider.” The odd duck in a family that was an odd duck family.
Accepting that fact took a long time. Once I did, though, I could stop fighting to fit in. Not-fitting-in is evidently the way I fit in. I don’t understand that, but there it is.
So, yes, to others I’m an odd duck, I guess. And so shall always be. But this reflection by Keith Johnstone, in his marvelous book, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre, is, perhaps, what set me free to be, at last, just me:
Suppose Mozart had tried to be original? [or unconventional?] It would have been like a [person] at the North Pole trying to walk north, and this is true of all the rest of us. Striving after originality takes you far away from your true self, and makes your work mediocre.
Are you an odd duck too? Use the Comment section to tell us something of your Odd-Duckness! Let’s get all the odd ducks together here, quacking happily.
Be at your own North Pole, you odd ducks!