TO RELEASE YOUR INNER ODDBALL
By William Hageman
Tribune staff reporter
ahead and question Hillary Carlip's assertion that she is "the queen of the
the evidence is simply overwhelming.
She was suspended from school in
3rd grade after she was caught smoking on the playground. (Hey, she was just in
character as Holly Golightly from "Breakfast at Tiffany's.")
began working at 14 as a juggler and fire-eater.
She was a "Gong Show"
winner. She has delivered singing telegrams. She fronted a fictional, all-girl,
all-ex-con band--actually a bunch of studio musicians who just pretended to be
a band. (The oddly true part: The "band," dubbed Angel and the Reruns,
had a cult hit with "Buffy Come Back," an anti-drug ode to Anissa Jones,
who played Buffy on the TV show "Family Affair" and who later died of
Carlip is one of those people who cultivate their oddness,
stepping off the path they're expected to follow, enjoying the inner eccentric
that we all have.
"I think, yes, it is in everybody. It's a matter
of allowing it," says Carlip, who was in Chicago publicizing her new book,
"Queen of the Oddballs: And Other True Stories From a Life Unaccording to
"I love the word `oddball,'" explains Carlip,
who lives in Los Angeles."
To me it's the sunny side of weird. It's
not freaky or crazy. It's about expressing, living in a creative way."
Ann Hetzel Gunkel
is a good example. She has a doctorate in philosophy and is a professor of humanities
and cultural studies at Columbia College Chicago. A Fulbright scholar, she teaches
and lectures around the world in ethnic studies, media criticism, feminism, postmodernism
and studies in popular culture. She has been referred to as the United States'
leading expert on the polka as an ethnic urban art form.
she scrapbooks. Almost obsessively.
started three years ago when she was collecting and organizing photos of her young
son. She was already doing work as a multimedia designer for educational Web sites
in her role as a teacher, she says. "And so my multimedia skills somehow
sort of collided with my obsession with documenting my toddler. Suddenly I entered
what I realized was this enormous underground world of scrapbooking."
then, Gunkel has completed dozens of scrapbooks, published more than 100 designs
in scrapbooking and crafts magazines and founded her own digital scrapbooking
firm (designbutcher.com). She has signed on as a product designer for the digital
scrapbooking company Scrap Girls, branched out into non-scrapbooking digital artwork
and photography (her work is in galleries in Chicago and Los Angeles) and had
some of her artwork published in a new book, "Scrap City: Scrapbooking for
Urban Divas and Small Town Rebels" (Sixth & Spring Press, $24.95).
this from someone who had no background or interest in scrapbooking a few years
perceived scrapbooking as a totally oddball thing that clearly would be busy work,"
she says. "I thought about people sort of in, like, `Little House on the
Prairie' garb, gluing lace doilies into a book. That's how I pictured scrapbooking."
she got into it, though, she found an outlet for previously unknown skills.
creative aspect of it really sparked something in me," she says. "This
is a whole side of me that didn't exist before I tapped into this scrapbooking
it took was that left turn.
think we probably all have it, that ability to switch gears and do something totally
different," says Dr. Patrick McGrath, clinical manager of anxiety services
for Linden Oaks Hospital at Edward in Naperville. "But I think that a lot
of times a lot of that is quashed as foolish or not important or too risky."
many people, Chicago attorney Chris Matern's avocation would fall into that latter
category. Matern, a partner in the downtown firm of Wolf, Holland and Matern,
travels to Urbana a couple of times a month for his escape: aerobatic flying.
flying is flying in unusual attitudes but in a controlled way, following FAA requirements
as to where you would go and how high you have to be," he says. "It's
not daredevil flying. Daredevil flying is reckless flying."
started going up with his uncle when he was a kid. Now, maybe twice a month, he'll
head to Frasca Field in Urbana and fly his DeHavilland Chipmunk, a 1950s-era British
be up in the air, have a great view, feeling the freedom," he says, describing
the rush he gets from flying. "Aerobatic flying is exhilarating. It requires
a great deal of concentration, and it gives you confidence to know that you can
control an airplane in any situation."
challenging. Just as eating fire or starting a scrapbooking business can be risky.
there's a thrill that people get out of doing these things," McGrath says.
"And that thrill is catching."
Carlip and Gunkel all agree that the risks are worth taking and that everyone
should pursue that little oddball in their character.
think that the quest for fun is hopefully never ending until the day you die,"
me, personally, it's tied with creativity," Carlip says. "The way to
start finding it is to explore creative expression. Writing. Art. Acting. Whatever."
suggests fishing around for a pursuit. Explore the Internet, attend classes or
lectures at the library, find something that pleases you, no matter how off the
wall it may seem.
can go into a home improvement store on the weekend and they'll have a How to
Tile class," he says. "And maybe that'll inspire you to do your kitchen,
and you do a good job and who knows where that'll lead. Maybe a friend will ask
you to help them do theirs. In a year that can be a business of yours."
rewards are many.
would want to encourage people to do this as well," Gunkel says of exploring
their eccentric side. "It really unleashed a whole new aspect of my life
that I didn't know was there. ... I mean, a whole separate creative life evolved
for me since deciding to do that. It wasn't part of my activity before. It's been
tremendously enriching. And even though it's very time consuming, it actually
feeds energy into the rest of my life."
you an oddball?
you have some interest, some quirk, some pastime that puts you on "the sunny
side of weird," as author Hillary Carlip describes it?
in an apartment with 87 cats . . . that's not oddball, that's crazy.
if you spend your free time training cats to wear derbies and tiny mustaches and
walk on their hind legs . . . yes, you're an oddball. And Q wants to hear about
asking readers to tell us about their oddball side, and how they cultivate it.
Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org and put "oddball" in the subject