Being the weird one

I just uploaded a video to my YouTube channel, filmed last October in a French monastery called Plum Village. My friend Erlend (pronounced ‘Alan’) sat with me on the deck of a Vietnamese Buddhist master’s house and we chatted about various things. I thought I’d splice it together and share it with you.

When I returned from Plum Village, I had made three important life decisions:

1) I wanted to make YouTube videos again, when I previously thought I was done with it
2) I wanted to rent out my flat, instead of living there
3) I wanted to use the money from both those things to go travelling and see the world

I also, as a sidenote, became a vegan. This wasn’t even a decision; it required barely any thought at all. Someone explained to me one day that you can have a full and nutritious and healthy diet without involving yourself in the affairs of animals, and I had never realised that before, so I thought, “good, I should do that then”, so I did, and still am.

This explanation does not seem good enough for anybody who isn’t also a vegan.

Like (I assume) most people, I like to live my life exactly the way I want to live it. I don’t care much for doing things just because that’s how other people do them, or because other people would find my ways strange or different or challenging. I want to be allowed to be me. A friend of mine told me recently that she’d never met anyone who was so unwilling to play by the rules, to which I said something to the effect of, “I’m happy to play by the rules – so long as they still make sense after I’m done thinking about them”.

Inevitably, this outlook has presented obstacles.

I don’t think I’ve been out with anyone in the last four months of veganism who hasn’t, at some point, brought my attention to the fact that I’m a vegan. People are obsessed. They think about it far more than I do. Declaring oneself as a vegan is a sure-fire way to immediately transform all the non-vegans in proximity into some kind of nutritional science research team; suddenly I have to find myself fielding a debate about adequate sources of protein and daily requirements of vitamins and the natural behaviours of human ancestors when I don’t even care about any of that. I’m just happy doing something that works for me and I’m not sure why other people aren’t.

I don’t, after all, make anyone explain to me why they eat meat – and nobody would expect me to. It’s ‘normal’. I have (falsely) been led to believe that life is just like this and you have to accept it; you have ‘normal’ and you have ‘everything else’. If you want to be ‘everything else’ – if you want, as I do, to be vegan, or wear toe shoes, or go off and meditate twice a day, or make videos on the internet, or only own six items of clothing – then you just have to expect widespread commentary and criticism wherever you hang your hat.

Eventually, what ends up happening is that every time you walk on to a Tube carriage wearing your toe shoes, or whatever, you become immediately aware that everyone nearby is looking at you and pointing you out to their travelling companions and taking subtle photos of you with their phones, and you get so sick of being the focus point for people’s judgment that you just start dressing in a way people will ignore because you just want some peace and quiet. And as one final prod, the first time you see your friends in your new-look ‘normal’ outfit, they will often chuckle and say, “finally grown out of that then! Knew you would!”, oblivious to the fact that it wasn’t a phase, and it wasn’t a mistake, and it’s just been beaten out of me by people who don’t bother to be accepting when it’s easier for them to be dismissive.

When I went to Plum Village, it was the first time in my life I realised that there are other people in the world that understand it’s okay to be the weird one. It doesn’t have to be a big deal to be a toe-shoed minimalist vegan (or, as I was years earlier, a caveman-shirt-wearing minimalist musician writing a book about trains). Not everyone recoils when they hear about it. Not everyone reacts with hostility or demands an explanation, or looks at my plate with pity as though I’m undertaking some great self-inflicted suffering. It sounds silly, but I’d never realised this. I just expected to be pointed at all my life for making different decisions, oblivious to the fact that maybe the problem isn’t me, but the people on the other end of those pointing fingers.

It’s mental that I had to go all the way to a Buddhist monastery to learn that. I had to fly from London to France and stay with strangers and monks, with no phone or internet, just to find people who don’t lower their eyebrows when they hear I don’t want eggs.

The video I uploaded today is not about me being vegan. It’s just a video of me chatting for a few minutes with a friend I made at Plum Village. It’s very simple and unremarkable, but it’s a nice memory of a time when I felt very at ease and peaceful and free of the judgment of the world outside. I like having it on my channel as a reminder that people know it’s okay to be the weird one.

It IS okay to be the weird one.

Feel free to watch it here if you can find the time and think you’ll like it.

Speak soon,
Alex
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