My dad took fairly frequent out-of-town business trips when I was a child, and he would always bring me back a souvenir. I don’t remember what any of them were, except for one. That gift was a book, secondhand, the original Guinness Book of Superlatives, published in 1955. I have a feeling it was a desperation move for him…he needed something for me, and a used bookstore was all that was available.
Well, I loved it, and I pored over it for months. By that time, the book was three or four years old, and I pestered my dad for a new one, with updated records. The book would become The Guinness Book of World Records, but it wasn’t yet, and there weren’t new editions every year. Oh how I loved reading about the largest multiple birth, maximum number of fingers and toes, largest human, smallest human. Yes, it was gruesome in spots. A little like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. I was less interested in superlatives in the inanimate world, like the longest road, or bridge, or whatever. Contests were okay, like longest beard or fingernails, because that had the aura of the crazy and grotesque about it. I don’t recall if they had categories like “longest egg toss” or “youngest person to bicycle around the world,” but for some reason, I was least impressed by anything you had to really try for and put a lot of effort into. I liked the naturally weird, not so much the unnaturally difficult.
I was always attracted to oddness, because although I looked normal on the outside, I felt quite different on the inside. I knew from an early age that I was something of an odd duck, and so I searched the world (via the Guinness Book of Superlatives) for confirmation that my peculiarities weren’t that odd after all.
As a young child, I didn’t know it wasn’t unusual to be weird only on the inside. I thought I was the only one in the world. I thought you at least had to dress differently, as the beatniks did, in order to be different. I learned in adolescence and young adulthood that internal weirdness is a human trait waiting to be discovered in everyone.
When I was in my early twenties, a friend told me her boss’s husband had died in a car crash. The boss was doing okay, my friend said, in part because she believed the violence of her husband’s death would cause him to be catapulted into a higher spiritual realm. I laughed out loud, then clapped my hand over my mouth. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but what an amazing thing to believe!”
By my laughter I did not mean I looked down on her boss for that belief. I meant I was amazed and somewhat delighted by the it; I had never thought of the possibility that an accidental, violent death could improve the quality of your afterlife. Who knew, maybe it was true. Considering all the violent ways there are to die, it seemed like good cosmic justice. The truth/untruth of the belief was irrelevant; either way, it was an expression of faith I felt needed to exist. I appreciated her having the belief.
John Lennon was always my favorite Beatle, because he was the weird one, the one whose ideas, hit or miss, never failed to intrigue, and usually got him in trouble. Once he and Yoko got together, they fed each other’s weirdness, and we were treated to Bagism, the Toronto Bed-In and other such spectacles. Silly and mockable? Kind of. What elevated their actions in my eyes, though, was the reaction against them. Not laughter or simple scorn, but deep, deep anger and hatred that didn’t match their actions at all. Lennon and Ono were doing performance art as social commentary, and this pissed people off mightily. I couldn’t wait to see what they would do next. I would never be able to do what they did, and I appreciated that they had done it for all of us.
Thinking differently from all around you is not something you can force; rather, it’s something you can’t help, that singular way you look at and believe the Universe. It’s not something you strive for, like egg tossing; it’s something that’s just there, like your stomach or your fingernails or the dirt beneath your fingernails, only it’s magic.
In Speculativemartha’s Book of Superlatives, I would include, among others and in addition to the above, Beatrix Potter, Abraham Lincoln, Julia Child, Jesus, Samuel Clemens, Phillip K. Dick, Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Steve Jobs, Georgia O’Keeffe, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein. Weird ones all. This list I’ve given is partial, and doesn’t include any among the living. In the living section, there would be many more, including myself, my family, friends, and neighbors, and I would probably include you, the reader, as well. With your permission, of course.