(If you enjoy Singal-Minded, you will probably also enjoy the podcast I recently launched with Katie Herzog, Blocked and Reported. It’s available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and elsewhere, and the homepage is here.)
Weird people — what’s their deal? As a completely normal individual who has never been awkward or strange, I have always hoped to better understand this odd species. Luckily, I now have a great opportunity to do so, because the new book Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World just came out today. It’s by Olga Khazan, a very talented writer at The Atlantic, and here’s part of its Amazon blurb:
In the tradition of Susan Cain's Quiet and Scott Stossel's My Age of Anxiety, Atlantic staff writer Olga Khazan reclaims the concept of "weird" and turns it into a badge of honor rather than a slur, showing how being different -- culturally, socially, physically, or mentally -- can actually be a person's greatest strength.
Most of us have at some point in our lives felt like an outsider, sometimes considering ourselves "too weird" to fit in. Growing up as a Russian immigrant in West Texas, Olga Khazan always felt there was something different about her. This feeling has permeated her life, and as she embarked on a science writing career, she realized there were psychological connections between this feeling of being an outsider and both her struggles and successes later in life. She decided to reach out to other people who were unique in their environments to see if they had experienced similar feelings of alienation, and if so, to learn how they overcame them. Weird is based on in-person interviews with many of these individuals, such as a woman who is professionally surrounded by men, a liberal in a conservative area, and a Muslim in a predominantly Christian town. In addition, it provides actionable insights based on interviews with dozens of experts and a review of hundreds of scientific studies.
Olga has gratiously offered three copies of Weird to give away to Singal-Minded subscribers. If you’re U.S.-based, at least a free subscriber (I do check!), and want to enter the drawing for one, just send an email with the subject line ‘weird’ to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll pick three at random from the emails that come in by noon, Eastern time on Wednesday, April 8th. As always, one copy is reserved for a paid subscriber, so that’s one of the (COUNTLESS) benefits of signing up.
If you want to learn more about Weird, read on, because Olga answered a couple questions about it below. She also did a longer, more in-depth Q&A over at Walt Hickey’s newsletter that is worth checking out.
What drew you to this subject in the first place?
I have sort of always been an oddball. I was born in Russia, then my parents and I immigrated here as Jewish refugees in the 80s, and I grew up in West Texas. It was as jarring as that sounds. A lot of good and bad things flowed from that experience. On one hand, I can pretty much get along with everyone, and I can often see the “big picture” of a situation in a really clear way. On the other, I have intense social anxiety, and I always wonder if having this messed-up background means I'll never really “make it” or “get there” or whatever it is that writers want to achieve.
Anyway, I got obsessed with this concept of difference and what it means to be different. And I started interviewing all these people who are unique in various ways. They’re not all socially anxious -- I was just looking for people who were “the only one like them” in a situation. And I dug into the psychology behind that, because that's what I do :)
What was the favorite story of weirdness you encountered in your research and reporting?
It’s so hard to choose, but the person I keep thinking about is Emma Gingerich, who escaped the Amish as a teen and now lives a regular modern life near Fort Worth, Texas. She’s pretty much the definition of a heretic: She never agreed with many of the Amish teachings, despite being born into the religion, and she always longed for something different. She also felt very different from all the other Amish kids and had a really rough time socially. Then, without ever having used technology or really spoken English, she just walked out of her family’s farmhouse one day and started life over. She got a GED and went to college, all while working and learning to live on her own in the world.
Honestly, she just inspires me so much — it’s obviously incredible what she overcame and the guts it would take to pull off something like that. But also, I think she’s just such an awesome example of someone who always felt unusual and like she didn’t fit into her environment, and did something about it, and then had to figure out a new way to ‘be’ in the world. I realize that might sound kind of woo-woo and Goop-y, but I think that's something a lot of people have struggled with and had to sort out.