I always got the feeling when I was working in the full-time office world that – despite the diverse and disparate personalities that surrounded me in the newspaper business – I was always considered one of the worker bees who was a little … off.
Former co-workers can render their own opinions on this, but a few might agree that there was something a bit different about that Pruden guy (whether it was in a good or bad way is up for discussion). I distinctly recall this conversation between me and the day city editor at one newspaper who was filling in for the normal Sunday city editor.
Her: Scott, you’re not wearing shoes.
Me: Shoes? It’s Sunday. You’re lucky I put on pants.
Yes, I tended to spend Sunday shifts sans footwear because … I could. The day was traditionally a little more casual anyway, no one seemed to mind, and unless there was a huge news event, the office was devoid of higher level management types. And honestly, working with a sports desk known for making up off-the-cuff office games using office cubicles and a mini-football, how weird was being barefoot?
And in retrospect, I suppose it’s always been like that. For better or worse, I’ve been the person who sees things from a slightly off perspective. Even as a kid, and most certainly as an adult. And because I come off as “normal” in my outward presentation (I’ve been told “preppy” and “conservative” are words that come to mind when people meet me) it tends to throw people off when they read my stuff or hear what comes out of my mouth.
While it’s probably not done me any favors professionally – it always seems to be the stiffs and stuffed shirts who get the promotions and accolades – I think it works particularly well in my creative life. I’ve found good ways to channel that off-thinking to help spruce up even the driest corporate writing, and there’s nothing like being an unrepentant weirdo when you’re a dad. It makes life a lot more fun for everyone.
And of course, the fiction writing benefits immensely, so much so that a friend told me recently that a short story I played pretty straight wasn’t “Scott Pruden enough.” I reread it and realized I’d been holding back trying to keep the length from spiraling out of control, so little more weird in just the right spots eventually did the trick without adding excessive length.
Should you go out of your way to be the office weirdo or try to force the odd into stories? Not necessarily. But I’m sure we can all agree that all of us have personality traits and points of view that we keep hidden or camouflaged from those around us because of social conventions, workplace expectations, parenthood or peer pressure.
What I’m saying is that we are all still the people that we were before all those things conspired to make us want to tamp those unusual traits down. Letting them occasionally bubble up in your professional or creative life will keep both fresh for you and remind you that you – not “society” – are the one who decides who you want to be.