The Year of Being “Extra”

Angus isn’t high maintenance. He’s extra!

It came to my attention recently, receiving “Extra” is considered a good thing. (Thank You Great Day Houston/Princess T and Princess Pham – 2019 Hot Toys) It seems reasonable giving extra is a good thing too. But what about being extra?

Someone else started me down this rabbit hole first. I have to give credit to Louis at the blog, Learning to Write and his post “The Institutionalization of I – 90”. He found a new interest and wasn’t spending as much time on his blog. He mentioned the saying “jack of all trades, master of none.” I’m just going to come out and say it. I hate that saying. Why? Because I’m one of those people. My younger daughter told me not too long ago, “Geez Mom, you’re so extra!”

My husband calls me Rick, after the proprietor of the Las Vegas pawn store featured on the History Channel. Yeah, so? (Karl’s saying. I think I’m going to start using it on him each time he calls me that. Nothing personal against Rick.) I like knowing stuff. Why? Because there is a world (and a universe) out there full of interesting things, and I’m curious. I’ve also learned as I’ve gotten older, trying something new, even if I’m not good at it, is an opportunity to learn and grow. Growing isn’t just for the whippersnappers you know.

How Extra am I? Let’s just throw it all out there this one time. Take a deep breath before you read this. I started off drawing then grew into oils, watercolors and mixed media (fine art); discovered reading and read lots of books; enjoy history; played steel guitar and piano in my youth; like more than one genre of music (at least 6 of them); sew, knit, crochet, make jewelry and play with resin; cook and bake; dabble in photography; worked for more than 10 years as a graphic designer; have a telescope on standby for amateur astronomy; and last but definitely not least, I write. Are your eyes glazed over now? I’m sorry. I tend to have that effect on folks, and that’s without giving them the full list of things I like to do. People seem to think I have lots of time on my hands. No, not really. I’m also a caregiver, remember? This is a lifetime of accumulated skills and interests. Because I was driven to do these different things, I made time for them. I also descend from people who do/did some of these things. (My paternal grandmother was a wonderful cook, sewed and reupholstered furniture for a living.)

So, what’s wrong with being Extra, really? Since I hope we’re all friends here, let’s be honest. “Extra” people scare the crap out of everyone else. They’re ones who got burned at the stake for being witches, and persecuted by the church. I hesitate to call myself a genius, but I can certainly identify with some of them. (I remember being given an IQ test in school once and didn’t do that great. Eh, I thought the questions were stupid nonsense totally lacking logic.) Let’s start with genius #1, Leonardo di Vinci. Dude liked both art and science. Was he recognized as a genius during his lifetime? Not so much. Being burned at the stake and other unpleasant punishments were still a thing during his lifetime, if you made others feel inferior. Galileo got put under house arrest for inventing the telescope and having the nerve to report his observations, that the solar system doesn’t revolve around us. Nicola Tesla weirded out many with his out-of-the-box ideas, unless he allowed others to use his crazy to line their pockets. Einstein’s father and educators thought he was as dumb as a box of rocks. Didn’t stop him from coming up with the Theory of Relativity or becoming the Father of Modern Physics.

I’ve mentioned my habit of spoiling movie plots for my family. I figured it out pretty quickly while watching The Incredibles 2. Why? Because I could identify with them. Same with Syndrome in the first movie. The kid had a superpower. It was his brain. Let’s see, what was his favorite saying? “If everyone is special, then no one is.” Here is the conundrum for those who are Extra. None of them asked to be that way. To quote Jessica Rabbit, “I’m not bad, I was just drawn that way.” But since we make others uncomfortable, we have to hide a lot of it, or have very few friends as a result. Perhaps introverts aren’t drawn that way. It’s a choice they’re forced to make if they want to be true to themselves. Like Sasquatch, we learn early on to hide behind rocks and stay mischievously out of focus. (Futurama) No wonder a few of us become super-villains!

That list of things I like to do is long. However, I don’t know how to do everything. I did consider a career in Astronomy while in high school. What stopped me? Fancy-pants math. I don’t have the patience for the complicated stuff that takes pages of paper to solve. It’s not my language, and I’m OK with that. Unless I happen to get bored with my current interests. I might reconsider at that point. Trying extreme sports? Breaking a Land Speed Record? Are you nuts?! Then again, writing this post might be the equivalent of jumping off a cliff in a flying squirrel suit, without a safety parachute as backup. (Yeah, those folks are Extra, too.)

We’re approaching the end of the year, and everyone knows what that means, once the frenzy of holiday shopping is over. New Year’s Resolutions. Sure, you can try to achieve the usual goals of self-improvement. (Heck, I’m might do one or two of those, like getting back to walking the dogs first thing every morning.) I’m throwing down the gauntlet, here. I dare the rest of you to be Extra, too. Want to be special? How about earning it? Get outside your comfort zone and try something you don’t think you’ll be good at. You might surprise yourself. If not, keep at it until you are good. Then pick something else, and start over. Notice, I didn’t say “master it.” In my humble opinion, if you get good at something, you mastered it. To be truly Extra, take the Yoda approach. “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Afterward, put down the electronics and try some real social media. You know, a conversation with real people. Tell everyone you meet about your new interests and revel in the perverse pleasure of watching their eyes glaze over. Be prepared to listen politely when they get their turn, then vigorously debate why your interests are as good as theirs. You might both come away with a new hobby, and a new friend. Hey, don’t leave the kiddos out of this. When they get tired of playing with their “Extra” toys, encourage them to be Extra as well.

(Did y’all notice the word politely a moment ago? Might not be a bad idea for most of us to add the goal of being Extra Polite more frequently. Until it becomes an ingrained habit.)

Of course, since this is technically a writer’s blog, I’m also going to throw a challenge out there for both writers and readers. If you’ve never written a book over 50,000 words, dig deep and come up with at least one epic. Only write epics? Try a short story or novella. Developed your writing chops with fan fiction? (Jane Austen, Star Wars) Great! How about playing in your own worlds, with your own characters? Don’t worry about chasing trends, or if it’s your usual genre. Write that one story that has been calling to you and put everything you have in it, including excellent craft. You know, the technical stuff like grammar; extensive vocabulary, also known as coloring with the big box of crayons; proper sentence structure and punctuation; excellent plot (surprise me!); well-placed hooks and cliff-hangers; characters with depth; show, don’t tell; a satisfying and well-earned ending. That’s how you attract Extra readers to your work.

Readers, try something new. If you have never done so, read something challenging. I highly recommend Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. I read it 3 times in high school, for fun, starting my Freshman year. By the third time, I fully understood the story. It’s a classic for a reason. After you read it feel free to engage with me in a book discussion. Let’s see how much of it I remember after more than 30 years. For those of you who have watched Outlander on Starz, did you ever read the books? (I did, in the 1990s, when they first came out.) Don’t think you like to read? Whatever you do, don’t shortchange your children. At the very least, read with them and make sure they see you reading every once in a while, too.

Happy Extra New Year!

Kristal DeJong

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