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Embracing Your Inner (and Outer) Freak

Updated on February 2, 2018
Joel Eisenberg profile image

Joel is an author, screenwriter, and producer. He has developed projects for TNT, CBS, Warner Brothers, FOX, Ovation Network, and more.

Isobel Varley, who entered the Guiness Book of World Records in 2000 as the world’s most tattooed senior woman.
Isobel Varley, who entered the Guiness Book of World Records in 2000 as the world’s most tattooed senior woman.

We Got it Going On

Tattoo artists know the deal. Their most extreme clients choose to stand out from the crowd. Those clients have their reasons, and that’s good enough.

What makes you any better?

Short answer: You’re not.

As for me, I have no tattooes. Marking my body is not my thing. Neither are piercings or other forms of self-mutilation. If you see a bias in that statement, it would be difficult for me to claim otherwise, though I do find such tribalism fascinating.

But consider this author’s predilections: I write a minimum of 5000 words daily, seven days a week. Throughout the process, I‘ll talk to myself (sometimes to test my dialogue, sometimes to fret aloud about upcoming bills), ponder random thoughts that enter my head out of nowhere, anticipate with a smile the next time I’ll have sex or a good meal ... or both, keep the TV blaring in the background while listening to loud music with buds in my ears, and sometimes even put the pants on if working from my home office.

Sometimes the underwear too. (C’mon, I can’t be the only one.)

I‘m 54, an early-riser, and couldn’t care less about propriety while my wife sleeps. I care even less about the Super Bowl or World Series. I watch professional wrestling, neither drink nor do drugs, and am addicted to Star Wars.

What makes me any better than you?

Short answer: I’m not.

We all got it going on.

42-inch tall Kalyn Heffernan was born with brittle bone disease. She is the emcee and public face of Denver’s Wheelchair Sports Camp, a renowned hip-hop group.
42-inch tall Kalyn Heffernan was born with brittle bone disease. She is the emcee and public face of Denver’s Wheelchair Sports Camp, a renowned hip-hop group.

Sensitivity vs. Self-Worth: An Unholy “Tug of War”

Nearly a decade ago, a friend of mine hung himself. His body was found in his office at a movie studio in Hollywood. He suffered from depression issues, had been on medication, and was unable to finance his film.

He snapped upon that realization. My friend had considered himself “different” for as long as I’d known him, and he believed he had to work harder than anyone else to get where he believed he needed to be.

The name of his proposed film: Hope Lost.

How do you compartmentalize your pain? Or, perhaps the more constructive question is this: What makes you happy?

Artists are considered by many mundanes to be an odd lot. And they’re right. We are odd. And so are they, to many of us. We should embrace our eccentricities. And so should they. No one is normal as that word is recklessly defined; there is no perfect. All of us, regardless of our most searing passions, make our day-to-day decisions based on our environment, and who we are inside.

As an artist, who I am inside is someone with a compulsive need to express himself.

Who are you? How do you channel your beingness?

And further, what’s wrong with you?

Do you worry about what others think? Why? Do you need to express yourself but are embarrassed to expose your ideas to the world?

Like Star Trek’s Kobayashi Maru, that there is a no-win scenario.

Robin Williams
Robin Williams

Robin: An Appreciation

We rarely saw him without a smile. When he performed, he rarely - if ever - left his audience without a smile.

That’s my appreciation.

In some ways, Robin Williams was among the most gifted of all performers. I’ve long held a theory that regards such extreme talent. There are some human beings who seem to transcend their natural limitations and flame-out earlier than most. As artists are frequently in the public eye, I’ll use the following selection as examples of my contention:

Robin. Bruce Lee. James Dean. Michael Jackson. Whitney Houston. Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Each of the above were, and continue to be, regarded as sublimely gifted. Each transcended their profession(s) and redefined what was considered possible. Their gifts surpassed their natural capability, not unlike a jet climbing too high in altitude and falling apart in the sky. These personalities all passed early, and no, I am not implying any law that supernatural talent must die young. There are more examples of the converse. Drugs factor. Alcohol. Recklessness. Depression. All artists are mad; studies have widely identified the relationship between madness - insanity - and art. I completely believe it.

But death can indeed be a side-effect, as can be uncontrolled addictions. Chemical imbalances may well have something to do with the enigmatic processes of creation.

Robin was a mess. I’m a mess. You are too. No disrespect intended; I state the thought in the context of nobody is perfect.

My favorite quote about art is the following, from The Middle Years, by Henry James: We work in the dark - we do what we can - we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

Certainly, however, one does not have to be an artist to be a freak. We’re all freaks. Check out the documentary below, and then allow me to elaborate.

Freaks: Perception and Reality

Scientists are uncertain as to the reason for prodigies. A three-year-old boy who can play the best of Beethoven on his piano. The young autistic girl who can verbally answer multi-function math equations quicker than a calculator. The ability of some, including Taxi actress Marilu Henner, to recall every specific life event with its proper date and time.

We don’t know why some are so gifted ... and maybe it shouldn’t matter. Such inexplicable abilities make one unique. Acknowledged. In fact, we’re all unique in our way, but do we spend all day analyzing the reasons?

I doubt it. But many of us struggle to accept our differences for sure.

Tod Browning’s 1932 classic film, Freaks, is legendary in filmmaking circles. Browning used real-life freaks, as had circus impresario P.T. Barnum before him, to star in a controversial entertainment venture. There was no concept of political correctness at the time; those who were physically different were called “freaks” as a blanket for their disabilities. The film was about a beautiful woman named Cleopatra, played by Olga Baclanova, who devises a plan to attain the inheritance of a circus midget. She seduces him, he falls for her ... and when she runs off with her true love, the circus strongman, the other freaks join the spurned lover to plot their revenge.

They’ll do away with him, and turn her into ...

“One of us. One of us.”

The freaks are the entities who own the picture’s humanity; the beautiful Cleopatra is the monster.

In 2018’s The Greatest Showman, Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of the legendary P.T. Barnum may have been Barnum-light, if referenced to the real personality, but the characterization worked for audiences. The film has become one of the highest-grossing movie musicals of all time, unadjusted for inflation. Jackman’s Barnum may have had some warts, but he’s a man who was certain to overcome any moral quagmire within Act Two. The freaks he exploited became his true friends. More than that even, they become his family. And Phineas Taylor Barnum will fight for them until the end of his days.

Though the film did not represent real life - Barnum was considerably more complex but that’s a story for another hub - its positive message resonated:

It is okay to be different. Sometimes, it’s even preferred.

More than Relatively Horror

I have a special friend. He writes science fiction novels and suffers from hydrocephalus - fluid on the brain. This gives him, a truly brilliant guy, a physical appearance that matches his intellect.

His head is larger than most.

He’s been through his share. His favorite film of all time is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and he particularly responds to one of the film’s more enduring themes:

Don’t dream it. Be it. Anything is possible, even for those who may be a bit more unconventional than others. And so my friend is now nearly finished with his fourth novel.

The pansexual vampires of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, beginning with 1976’s Interview with the Vampire, put the literary world on notice:

Being an outsider is okay. Anne’s particularly progressive first published work influenced generations of readers who could not find their place. It was now fully acceptable to be gay, bisexual or transexual. Such was implied in the novel, and furthered over the years by the author herself in numerous interviews and social media posts.

Stephen King’s Carrie and Brian De Palma’s screen adaptation of King’s novel were models of outsider culture. The adaptation, thankfully, respected the source material. In the movie, the ugly duckling outcast turned against her religiously zealous mother to attend her high school prom. The act represented the bullied Carrie White’s first stab at normalcy. Mother, though, begged for her to stay, and she warned Carrie: “They’re all gonna laugh at you.”

She was right. They all did laugh. It appeared Carrie had a very real chance to be normal (there’s that horrible, grossly unfair word again). The fact that she took revenge against, well, everyone, was all the more sad because it didn’t have to be. Didn’t have to be, that is, if the normals were as human as she.

Carrie was an outcast. All she wanted was to be accepted. To be loved.

Freaks are like that sometimes.

Blurred Lines

The film bios of The Elephant Man and Mask were respected efforts that were awarded by various film guilds. More importantly, they were both commercial hits as well as critical.

The Elephant Man’s movie poster utilized a telling quote from the film: “I am not an animal. I am a human being! I ... am ... a man!” Perhaps no other quote in pop-culture history has better elucidated the struggle of the different.

As for Rocky Dennis, Mask focused on the unbreakable bond between mother and child, and the boy’s continued quest to fit in with his peers. Films about outcasts may be stables in the Hollywood business, but Rocky was something else entirely. He was not necessarily a paragon of virtue, nor was he holier-than-thou. He was just a kid, with all the shadings that implies. He looked different. Rocky was no shirking violet; he did what he had to not to meet their approval, but for them to meet his. He was already accepted by his family and “extended motorcycle family.“ It was everyone else who had an issue.

Andre the Giant, real name Andre Rene Roussimoff, was an attraction of another sort. Diagnosed early with acromegaly (gigantism), he became among the most popular professional wrestlers in the medium’s history. The subject of an upcoming HBO documentary, Andre became a worldwide attraction. He was beloved, and monster boxoffice, despite a late-career heel (bad guy) turn that drew a legit 70,000+ fans to Detroit’s Pontiac Silverdome. HIs opponent was Hulk Hogan. On the record was Andre’s undefeated streak vs. Hogan’s championship. In the pro wrestling world, Andre had long been billed as 7’4” (he was four inches shorter), and the Silverdome crowd as in excess of 92,000. Still, no one would complain about the financial success of this main event of Wrestlemania 3, to then the most successful U.S. wrestling card ever. In 1993, Andre the Giant passed away of a heart attack. He was 46 years old.

Andre used his unique appearance to earn millions of dollars for himself and his promoters, he raised awareness of his disease, and he briefly became a popular actor with notable roles in television shows such as The Six Million Dollar Man, and features such as The Princess Bride.

He embraced and exploited his difference. No one would have messed with him anyway.

A classic quote from David Lynch’s classic 1980 film version of “The Elephant Man.”
A classic quote from David Lynch’s classic 1980 film version of “The Elephant Man.”
Joseph Merrick, the real Elephant Man.
Joseph Merrick, the real Elephant Man.
Two images of the real-life Rocky Dennis, later played by Eric Stoltz in the film “Mask.”
Two images of the real-life Rocky Dennis, later played by Eric Stoltz in the film “Mask.”
One-sheet of the 1985 biopic, “Mask,” that deliberately did not showcase the appearance of the main character.
One-sheet of the 1985 biopic, “Mask,” that deliberately did not showcase the appearance of the main character.


I think of Apple products and Steve Jobs when I consider examples of successfully defying convention. Freak defy convention every day of their lives. I think of other great entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Richard Branson, whose restless minds changed the world. I think of geek culture and cosplay, of San Diego’s annual Comic Con International, for example, which sells over 130,000 tickets yearly. Geeks are no longer outsiders. The entertainment community has come to us, and its financial success now depends largely on our approval. We’ve been to the moon and have a rover on Mars, thanks in part to Star Trek and science fiction writers who inspired us to believe anything is possible.

Fellow freaks, be like Superman. He‘s made a career turning negatives into positives. On balance, he‘s comfortable and confident in his alien skin.

Yeah. Be like Superman.

The real Super Freak. Like him, or like the young student below, you really can do anything. Unlike most who simply consider themselves normal.

Thanks for reading.

One of us.
One of us.

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