Are you normal?

“Are you normal?”

That’s the question that my favorite magazine posed last month, but February slipped away before I could share a few thoughts. Better late than never, some highlights from Esquire’s celebration of “Weird Men.”

— What do Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito and Bob Dylan have in common?  Evidently, each is weird enough to merit a feature profile. Keaton? A control freak, of sorts. The other two? Yep. Definitely eccentric.

esquire.feb2014—  Who else is weird? A partial list: Mickey Rourke, Neil Young, Christopher Walken, Little Richard, Jared Leto,  Richard Simmons, Any Man Who Wears Overalls, Dennis Rodman, Tom Cruise, Ozzy Osbourne, The Cast of Duck Dynasty, Johnny Depp, Any Man Who Has Dated a Kardashian.

—  Is there a difference between being “weird” and being “authentic”? Yes, probably. Weird is often scary or dark. Authentic is more about quirky or eccentric. As long as you’re consistently odd, without projecting a harmful aura, you’re probably normal enough.

—   How normal are YOU? Esquire asked a thousand men in America to answer about a number of questions about themselves to determine what behaviors, attitudes and beliefs qualify as mainstream and common these days. By comparing your answers to findings presented in a series of pie charts and graphs, you get an idea where you stand. Some examples:  How much do you enjoy shopping for new clothes? Shopping for a new car? Watching sports on TV? Watching a show about cooking? How many people do you consider close friends? And, when was the last time you picked your nose, applied cologne, dyed your hair, farted loudly in front of other people?

— With the passing of John Wayne and the demise of the Marlboro Man, writer Richard Dorment explores what being a man is all about these days. Born in 1979 (which makes him about 35), he wonders what to tell his young son what it means to be normal.

I’m garden-variety—but when it comes to my interests and hobbies, in the ways I like to spend my time, I’ve never been like my peers in the ways that most of my peers seem like one another. I could not tell you the channel for ESPN on my cable box if my life depended on it. I have never camped, fired a gun, or played video games with any great passion. I am indifferent toward cars, uncomfortable with gambling, and have never, ever felt the need for speed. I find golf and strippers and most classic rock a little depressing. I prefer empty bars to crowded ones and Irish exits to goodbyes, and I can say without qualification that Taylor Swift is not half bad.

All in all, this take on “weird men” provides a great window to explore the question of what is normal. I found the whole discussion fascinating, surprising and affirming all at once.  It’s what I have come to expect each month from Esky.

And for the record, my answers to the 40-question survey indicate I’m normal. Mostly.

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Meet my mom: Guest blogger

If the word “journalist” makes you think of an aggressive, cynical person, let me introduce you to someone who’s completely the opposite. Taylor Smith is an extraordinary young woman who aspires to tell people’s stories (their challenges, triumphs, hobbies and occupations) and who breaks down barriers in the process, through showing genuine interest in her subjects, young and old.

I first became aware of Taylor when she submitted a summer internship application to The Oregonian. She didn’t have quite enough experience to be competitive, but I remembered the essay she wrote as a young college student, an only child, striving to find her way in the world after losing her mother at 13 to ovarian cancer and then her father at 18, a few weeks before high school graduation and Rose Festival coronation. (Her peers at St. Mary’s Academy had chosen her to represent them on Portland’s Rose Festival Court in 2008.)

taylor-smith

Taylor Smith

Taylor applied again and was selected for a one-year internship. When she was assigned to write feature stories for the Hillsboro Argus, we became colleagues. She recently left us to pursue other interests but during that year in Hillsboro I was mightily impressed by Taylor’s radiant personality, her gift for putting people at ease and her unwavering faith. With her permission, I’m republishing a piece she recently posted on her own blog (taylorstaste.org) about her mom:  Karen Lynn Flego Smith.

Says Taylor: “I wrote this when I was living in Italy in the spring of 2011 – a time when I have never felt more healthy and also the first time in seven years when I let myself remember her, miss her, and realize that there will be a day when I will see her again.”

“WHEN WE WALK”

My mom making German pancakes, her speciality.

My mom making German pancakes, her specialty.

5’10”, blonde, red-lipstick-wearing woman.

Walk with me. Trade shoes with me. Take a sip of my coffee when I’m not looking. Tell me what you were like when you were twenty, about your first crush, the time you drank Champagne from one of your gold-sequined high heels.

Let me tell you a secret. Can I sneak into your room tonight and crawl under the covers with you?

People tell me I look like you. Every so often, someone calls me Karen instead of Taylor. It makes me smile, but I’m no you. I’m me. I’m the girl who loves to smile, who wets her pants when she laughs too hard, who misses her mom.

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Baby Taylor

No grief, sorrow or mourning anymore. It’s no miracle, it’s just the way you raised me – to see joy in every sunrise, life in every breath and possibility in every tomorrow. It’s not optimism; it’s the way the world was meant to be experienced. You told me that. I remember it clearly.

I remember a lot of things, but it’s you that is hard to recall sometimes. Your image is fuzzy, right around the corners of your lips and the white tips of your fingernails. I can remember the exact address of the San Diego Zoo, the Pythagorean theorem, the names of my second cousins, but I can’t quite recall the sound of your voice. I desperately want to, but it’s hard.

It’s not death that’s hard. It’s not the photos of you that bring tears to my eyes. What hurts is that there are days when I want to walk with you, Mom, days when I want to look into your eyes and see that we would almost be a mirror image of each other.

Me and Mom

A young entrepreneur and her mom

I have this dream that keeps fluttering through my mind. It’s just you and me in the middle of the sidewalk, the breeze gently blowing through our hair. You glance at me, lean over, and whisper in my ear, “I’m proud of you, Tails.”

What you don’t realize, Mom, is that it is I who am proud of you. Proud to know the years you spent fighting to stay alive, proud to speak with those who remember your kindness, proud to say that I am your daughter, and that you left me on earth with those who would be kind enough to love me as if I were their own. There is such joy in knowing that you and God had planned that for me all along, even if my story was to be woven with loss at an early age.

There might be a time when I forget what your shoe size was, your favorite color or what type of car you drove, but no amount of time can ever cause me to forget that I love you and that I look forward to seeing you again and taking that walk – a walk I long to remember.

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Me and Mom.

Best actor could be my least favorite

We’re just hours away now from the 2014 Oscars and I’m bracing for the possibility that my least favorite actor may very well walk away with the biggest individual award of the night.

Yes, I’m talking about Matthew McConaughey and the Best Actor award. Don’t get me wrong. He was excellent in “Dallas Buyers Club,” which Lori and I finally saw last weekend. In fact, it’s the best role I’ve seen him in, far surpassing the redneck sheriff he played in the dark comedy “Bernie.”

Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff.

Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff.

My dislike for him is irrational, I know. Obviously, all you can do is make a snap judgment when you see a celebrity interviewed on a talk show. But he’s always struck as full of himself — even for an actor. And, worse, unaware that he comes across that way — unlike Alec Baldwin or Jack Nicholson, both of whom seem to embrace their smug personas.

I’ve gotta give McConaughey his props, though, along with “Dallas Buyers Club” itself. I walked into that movie totally not knowing what it was about — something I attribute to my lack of interest in McConaughey films. I left triply impressed, not just by ol’ Matthew, but by Jared Leto (a total lock for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the transgendered Rayon) and the story itself.

dallas-posterHow did I not know it was about a homophobic rodeo cowboy in 1985 Dallas, who contracts the virus that causes AIDS from a drug-using prostitute and is told he has 30 days to live? How did I not know it was about a real-life dude named Ron Woodruff, who travels to Mexico to smuggle in drugs not approved by the FDA and sets up a buyers’ club to distribute them to others with similar diagnoses? Maybe it was better that way, going in with no expectations and leaving with genuine appreciation for McConaughey as an actor and for the film as a whole.

Truth be told, I’d like to see Chiwetel Ejiofor win tonight for his riveting performance in “12 Years A Slave.” He conveyed so much with just his eyes and face — dignity, pain, hope, humiliation — in making us confront the brutality of slavery in a way that I don’t think has ever been matched on the big screen.

But after seeing McConaughey inhabit the role of Woodruff, I won’t be surprised if he’s called up to the stage to accept the gold statuette. If that happens, I hope he’ll seize the moment to say something worthwhile.

Photograph: baz-art.org