By Guan Un, guest contributor


When I heard about &yet’s idea for Season of the Weirdo, my first thought was “Finally! A season of my very own.” That was closely followed by my second thought: that for me, being a weirdo is about love.

Here’s why:

“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.” –Don Miller, Blue Like Jazz1

For me, that encapsulates what a weirdo is, at their best: someone who loves something deeply, and wants to bring other people to understand something of that love.

I’m not talking about woo-woo, Meg Ryan movie, Princess Bride love. But love as a catch-all word for a careful attention to the craft, process, detail and history that make up the hobby/vocation/sport/interest/product that is the object of that love.

In this case, I think love helps us distinguishes that sort of deep-diving, all-encompassing interest from unhealthy obsession (see footnote below), and the gatekeeping and toxicity that can go along with it.

But why? Why do we even want to hear from weirdos who love something?

Firstly, when we watch someone who loves something, it compels us to watch. In a world where we are bombarded by insincere pitches tainted by commercialism, someone doing something for the love of it is separated by their intention and focus. I often think of this from John Gruber of Daring Fireball: “I never tire of listening to obsessive perfectionists, no matter the topic.”2

The video link that accompanies that Gruber quote is about Anthony Mangieri, who bought an oven from Italy for his pizza shop, decided it wasn’t good enough, ripped it out and rebuilt his own oven by hand. His pizza shop offers four pizzas, all variants of cheese, fresh tomato, basil, and tomato sauce. (One can only imagine the look of consternation if you asked him for pineapple on your pizza.) In other words, he’s a pizza weirdo.

When we see someone like that, our first question might be “Why?” What makes anyone pay such particular attention to one thing? But that question also draws us to weirdos. Sometimes I wonder if Bilbo Baggins is the patron saint of weirdos—like Bilbo, they’ve ventured out from their comfortable surroundings, returned from far off lands, and while some who will think they’re odd, others who will want to hear the stories of where they’ve been, and what they’ve brought back.

Secondly, not only do we want to watch weirdos, we want to hear from them because they can help us focus our attention on the details that matter.

One of my YouTube happy places is this: watching a person make a shot of coffee on YouTube for seven straight minutes. Why? Because that person is James Hoffmann, a former World Barista Champion3 and a coffee weirdo, if ever I saw one.

There is an aesthetic pleasure to both the near-alchemical process of making coffee—and Hoffmann’s soothing British accent—but as I’m watching I’m also asking “How?” How is he making coffee in a way that I can learn how to improve my shots at home?

One of the things I love about the world is that when you dig into almost any subject, you start to see the once-invisible details of that subject emerge. Where once you saw an overarching topic (like coffee), you start to understand there are subsets of that topic (espressos, pourovers, latte art), and each of those is like a fractal: with details in their details.

However, this sort of deep-dive can be overwhelming, as anyone who has gone down an internet search wormhole knows. But because a weirdo has been through this process, they can help you to sort the wheat from the chaff; they can help you to identify the details that actually matter, from the details that might be more superficial. If you are the weirdo who knows more than your customers, how can you help them discern the details, and reduce their overwhelm?

Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, a weirdo’s love can show someone how to love something. As in the quote from Miller: “it is as if they are showing you the way.”

How can you show someone else to get there—how to be a weirdo too? To draw out the Bilbo analogy—how can you give them the map of where you’ve been? How can you show them how to learn to take the first steps for themselves, the best beginner’s equipment for the trip, and just what adventures lie in store from acquiring a love of their own?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Who are the YouTube weirdos in our area of interest?
  • What details emerge as one digs deeper into the topic? How can we make understanding these details easier?
  • How can we provide a map to becoming an expert?

Guan Un is a writer and programmer and sentence weirdo based in Sydney, Australia. He writes a free fortnightly newsletter about beautiful sentences (ed. note: it’s one of our favourite reads), and can be found on Twitter at @thisisguan.