We seem to have a shortage of truly unique individuals in the world today. As a society, we tell each other to embrace our uniqueness. We spout off random quotes found on the internet about the beauty of being different. But when push comes to shove, we tend to look down our noses at the people who actually take that advice to heart. It takes a strong person to be true to themselves in the midst of constant societal scorn. But, if you look close enough, you’ll find them.
In 2010, Peyton and I moved to the Austin area and we immediately fell in love with this place. There’s a totally different vibe here than in the rest of the state. The rules of life that seem to govern the rest of the state are only a slightly annoying buzz in the background of vibrancy that is life here. People are more laid back. People do their own thing. There are plenty of liberals and plenty of conservatives, too. There are street festivals for every occasion and music on every corner. There are rich and poor, old and young and everything in between. And there are hippies. Lots and lots of hippies. But it’s this odd, mish-mash of all sorts of people that makes Austin the cool and hip place that it is. It’s that conglomeration that makes the people here truly latch onto the city slogan of Keep Austin Weird.
Vince Hanneman is one of these Austinites who have embraced the weird. Here in the weird capital of the world, Vince has titled himself as the Junk King. In his backyard, he has spent decades building the Cathedral of Junk and he allows people to tour it for a small donation. When you pass through the back gate, the first thing you see is a tower, at least 3 stories high, made from everything you could ever imagine. There are surf boards, Barbie dolls, hula hoops, old typewriters, bowling balls, tires, bicycles and a myriad of found objects all woven together to create this shrine to man’s excess. Towards the back, there are stairs that lead up to the 2nd floor and there’s a rope ladder that takes the brave ones to the 3rd floor where there is a full drum set just waiting to be played. He even has a concrete throne with a mosaic of glass beads and a “stained” glass window made from the bottoms of bottles. It is a perfect homage to a man whose only desire in life is to create his art. And thankfully, he lives in a place that allows and encourages him to do just that. He’s keeping Austin weird.
This idea of weirdness is not just embraced in the middle of the Lone Star State. In 2015, Graham Moore won an Oscar for the screenplay of The Imitation Game. Now, I’ll admit, I’ve never seen the movie and don’t know a lot about Mr. Moore, but something that he said in his acceptance speech rings true to everyone. He said, “When I was 16 years old I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I am standing here, and I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird, stay different…” The idea of “staying weird” has been like a broken record in my head ever since then. I like the idea of shrugging off the more constricting rules of societal conformity. It’s something we need to encourage more and something we should all strive more to do.
The problem though is that the notion of accepting weirdness is, well, weird. We’ve been brainwashed our wholes lives into believing that weird isn’t normal, that weird is bad, that weird is undesirable. But, isn’t it the weird people who make life interesting? I imagine that those people society deems as “weird” lead much more fulfilling lives than the masses of people who suit up every day in a coat and tie and follow each other like lemmings into the corporate world where everything seems so whitewashed that everyone looks the same. Contrast that with those who march to the beat of their own drum and wow – what a difference it is. Those solo marchers add variety and intrigue into our otherwise mundane lives.
It seems to me that we should encourage more people to be like the Junk King. I’m not saying that everyone needs a 3 story junk cathedral in their backyard, but then again, why not? Do we really want to live in a neighborhood – or world – where every single house and yard looks just like every single other house and yard? (and yes, that’s a metaphor for people!) I mean, who are we to judge that which makes another man happy? Our time here is so limited, why do we spend so much of it insisting that everyone be the same? Thoreau said, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” I’m with him. As long as you’re not hurting other people, then dance to your own music. Do what keeps you happy. Strive to stand out from the crowd. Stay different. Stay weird. Stay beautifully and magically weird.
Peyton with the Junk King – 2011