The following was first published as a guest blog post at The Self Improvement Blog.
Some of the most inspiring people I’ve encountered are some of the oddest.
I write songs, stories, and shows about oddballs in history. My subjects are real people who either beat the odds or got off the beaten track. The folks that make it into my songs might have marched to a different drummer, taken the road less traveled, or bucked the mainstream to stand up for their own views. They all make the hard decisions: the ones that are frowned on by their community. And by taking on a role that is different, and therefore threatening, they make more of themselves than they could have otherwise.
Oddballs bring me hope when I feel like I am doing it all wrong. Their examples assure me that just because my community may not understand my decision, doesn’t mean it isn’t the right one for me.
Here are some individuals who have inspired me so much that I had to write songs about them.
Victoria Woodhull (1838 – 1927) was the first woman to run for President, though nicknamed “Mrs. Satan” by Harper’s Weekly. She was also pioneer of the woman’s suffrage movement (though hated by her fellow suffagists), the first woman to have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, the first woman to start a newspaper, and an advocate of free love, which at that time meant a woman’s right to choose to marry and divorce. And her life started in squalor and abuse.
Dr. Emanuel Bronner (1908 – 1997) was the creator of the iconic Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. Descended from fourgenerations of German soap-making masters, Emmanuel Bronner came to the United States to find persecution, involuntary commitment to an insane asylum, and poverty. He tried to preach his spirituality–defined by his signature phrase “All-One”– but couldn’t find an audience. So, he decided to use the skills of his youth to spread his beliefs. He printed his ideas on soap labels and mixed soap in his bathtub with a broom. Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap caught on with the camping and hippie set. Soon, after inauspicious beginnings and based in an unlikely marriage of preaching, soap, and commerce, Dr. Bronner’s family company became a natural soap empire.
Todd Robbins ( 1958 – present) is a legendary sideshow performer in New York City. My friend–who happens to be a clown–described a show of his where he took a lightbulb, a fork, and a knife onto the stage. He cut the lightbulb into small, bite-sized pieces of metal and glass. Then he put each piece in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. Though I thought it had to be a trick, Robbins actually consumes lightbulbs. He trained for years to be able to eat them, which involves a lot of chewing. Once I sent him my song inspired by him, Robbins invited me to come see him eat lightbulbs for real. At the show I attended, he ate the lightbulb like an apple. Todd also eats bicycles, swallows swords, and hammers nails into his nostrils. He uses his odd skills to light up the lives of his audiences.
I never expected I would find myself in a similar position to the subjects of my songs. I don’t eat lightbulbs, I’ve never made soap, and I don’t expect to be running for president any time soon.
Then I moved from New York City to New York Mills–a town of 1000 people in rural west-central Minnesota. Immediately, I was the oddball. I had to learn to be the one that everyone stared at, to be the one that didn’t fit in.
I was lucky to have studied my song subjects so carefully. I used them as inspiration. I got comfortable with my “outsider” identity and reached out to my new community with a self-deprecating sense of humor about my city ways. Soon enough, I became the funny New Yorker. People laughed with me about my increased volume, my propensity to take the Lord’s name in vain, and my inability to talk for an hour about the weather before getting to the real purpose of the conversation.
Here’s my song “Love to Love” about Victoria Woodhull.
Today I’m my town’s very own New Yorker. And I like it that way.
What oddballs have inspired you? Tell me at www.elisakorenne.com/blog.