Several years ago, an acquaintance called and asked me if I would be willing to take a short poll about Winthrop. I said yes. He asked me several questions and ended with the big one, “What is it you like best about Winthrop?”
I thought for a few minutes. “What I like best about Winthrop is that you can be as weird as you want to be, and as long as you don’t hurt anyone, nobody bothers you.”
The man laughed. For reasons that I won’t go into, he knew exactly what I meant.
Now, I realize this sounds like faint praise that perhaps doesn’t acknowledge Winthrop’s other fine features: its lakes, its woods, its library, its schools. It is also a safe town with a responsible and pragmatic police department. These are all important things.
But the freedom to be as weird as you want to be is a very great freedom indeed. This means you never have to worry about keeping up with the Joneses. Or anybody else for that matter. If you wear scummy jeans to Hannaford or to Rite Aid or to the library, nobody gives you a look that indicates you should have thought twice before stepping out of the house. You can drive an old car. You can bike all over town, and people think it’s cool. Heck, you can even ride your bike through the drive-through at the Credit Union, and the teller will smile at you. (I mention the this because unfortunately, Winthrop is not a biking community where such transactions are taken for granted.)
Another biking story. One day, I rode my bike in the rain to the Winthrop Food Pantry, where I was volunteering. When I got there, I was a little dishevelled, and I went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and fluffed up my hair. Unfortunately, I did not look at my backside until I got home, where I discovered a line of mud that went from my butt all the way up my back from where the rear tire had splattered me. Nobody said a word. Nobody even gave me a funny look. They just came along with me to select their food.
Do you make bread and crackers? Good for you. Do you buy most of your clothes at thrift shops? So what. Are you a liberal black man in this mostly white and somewhat conservative town? Then you just might get elected to the State House of Representatives.
I credit this live and let live philosophy, which can be found in many other towns in Maine, to our Yankee heritage, which encourages a high tolerance for eccentric—aka weird—behavior. Again, as long as you don’t hurt anyone, you are free to be as unconventional as you want to be.
In Frugalwoods, a blog I follow, Mrs. Frugalwoods wrote about how she has had to work through worrying about what other people think and about living up to societal expectations. Because of this, nothing she did was ever good enough, and she writes, “I was stressed, anxious, preoccupied with doing ‘the right thing,’ and out of touch with who I really am and what actually makes me happy. I wasted so much time, energy, and creativity worrying about what people might or might not be judging me for.” At the ripe old age of thirty-one, Mrs. Frugalwoods has made much progress with this ultimately self-defeating attitude.
Mrs. and Mr. Frugalwoods are considering a move to Vermont, another Yankee state that has a high tolerance for eccentricity. The Frugalwoods dub themselves as “frugal weirdos,” and I’ve no doubt that Vermont will let them be as weird as they want to be.
Just as Maine would.