Pickles for breakfast

"At least you're not a vegetable -- even artichokes have hearts."

image: Guardian UK

I was years late to the game when it came to seeing the movie Amélie… but thirty seconds in, I was mesmerized, and then elated, and then addicted, and here’s why. The opening subtitles read something like this:

“Amélie is six.  Like all little girls, she’d like to be hugged by her daddy (a doctor), but he never touches her, except for a monthly check-up.  The thrill of this rare contact makes her heart beat like a drum.  As a result, he thinks she has a heart defect.  Declared unfit for school, Amélie is taught by her mother.  Deprived of playmates and slung between a neurotic and an iceberg, Amélie retreats into her imagination. In this world, LPs are made like pancakes.  The neighbor’s comatose wife has chosen to get all her life’s sleep in one go.  Amélie has one friend, Blubber (a pet fish).  Alas, the home environment has made Blubber suicidal.  Blubber’s suicide attempts destroy Mother’s nerves, and a decision is made (the fish is set free in a stream as Amélie looks on, heartbroken).  To comfort Amélie, her mother gives her a used Instamatic.  But (when a car crash happens nearby as she’s taking pictures of the sky) a neighbor fools her into thinking her camera causes accidents.  Having taken pictures all afternoon, Amélie is petrified.  She stares at the TV, racked by the guilt of causing a huge fire… two derailments… a jumbo jet crash.”

Okay, so upon reading that back, it actually sounds horribly depressing.  But if you’ve seen the movie, you know the words’ juxtaposition with brilliant camera work, an accordion-heavy score and an air of jaunty, childlike imagination make it about the most charming thing ever to appear on a movie screen.  Incidentally, Amélie grows up to live a beautiful and textured life.  And yes, while the gamine and gorgeous Audrey Tatou’s last name may as well rhyme with “Mepburn,” her Audrey-ness isn’t the only thing that makes the Amélie character compelling.  What makes her compelling is the fact that she is weird as hell.  You find yourself championing her, sitting on the edge of your seat hoping she’s about to do something even weirder and somehow more open-hearted than she just did a minute ago, and she never disappoints.  If she were an actual person in the real world, sans French narration, English subtitles and whimsical musical score soaring overhead and swooping in at just the right moments for dramatic effect, most people would pay no attention to her whatsoever, or perhaps just smile politely at her in the supermarket and quicken their pace a smidge.  Because homegirl is sweet but insane, and that is why I love her. 

Maybe I’m just looking for validation.  In fact, I’m sure I am.  Living a 9-to-5 professional existence, we have our quirks — because we’re human — but we exert serious control over the select audience that gets to witness them.  We stick to the dress code, keep personal conversations short, and mostly just dig in and get the job done.  We hide our weirdest weirdnesses, or at least do our best to water them down and make them office-friendly.  We’re alternate versions of ourselves… doppelgängers in suits.  Nowadays, I sit here mostly barefoot, staring at my Judy Blume wall, cranking out a hundred or more pieces of writing per month, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that I am batshit crazy.  We all are, really… some of us just get to be a bit more free about it.  And let me tell you something: it is awesome.

There are liabilities, sure.  We have to anchor ourselves to something to keep from spiraling into total insanity — we have bills to pay, families to take care of, friends to catch up with, obligations to fulfill — and living whimsically is a luxury we have to enjoy in small doses.  But aren’t those doses amazing?  Particularly when they’re super strange and we realize someone we know and adore shares or at least appreciates those things about us?

Yes, I live in a city that incorporates the very word “weird” into its somewhat-official motto.  I consciously moved to an environment that’s more accepting of bohemian culture and left-of-center living than most places are.  I admit it’s a bit of a sugar bowl, and I’m sure that’s part of the reason I’ve been able to let my hair down so much since I got here.  I remember writing a journal entry back when I was in college about how I felt like I had a stronger sense of gravity within myself than anyone I knew; I felt too centered, too anchored, too fearful and rational and orderly and square.  I actually felt weighed down by my overwhelming empathy for everyone around me and my worrisome nature in general.  I’m sure it stemmed from saying goodbye to way too many people in my family way too soon and dealing with things that no child ever should (the thing about Amélie’s dad, by the way, blessedly isn’t something I can relate to; my dad in particular is a phenomenally warm and amazing person, and I’ve never not been aware of his love for me.  Truly — I couldn’t be more thankful for it.)  Somehow, over time I managed to shake it all out to some degree, and just start living life almost in reverse, having fewer cares as an adult than I did as a kid.

I hope, though, that no matter what age, everyone out there has the opportunity to make a choice about where to land on that continuum and spend most of their time.  I like routine, but it freaks me out sometimes.  Yes, there’s work to be done and responsibilities to manage, but every once in a while — well, more than every once in a while — it’s grand to eat pickles for breakfast.  It’s good to take detours and sing to ourselves (okay, I do that every day) and live in our heads and be weird as hell.  Because in the end, as per Amélie, that’s what makes life rich.  That’s what makes us real.  And when we find other souls who get our oddities and want to enjoy them alongside us — when we stop feeling the need to apologize for things that require no such thing — well, that’s life at its very best.



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