Tony-Time (Or, The Fine Art of Going Against the Grain . . . Naturally)

Have you ever encountered it?  You know . . . the tilted head, the accusatory look, the reprimand over approaching something in an unorthodox manner.

“You can’t do it like that,” they might say.  Or, “That’s just not the way it’s done.”  Or again, “Are you out of your mind?  Why would you even think of something so . . . so . . .”

Different?  Unusual?  Countercultural?  Weird?

 

Being different, going against the tried-and-true, can be hard to do, in large part because of the reactions of others.  Certainly, in most endeavors, advice tends to be centered around what has worked before, what methods have stood the test of time, what approaches and techniques have been replicated hundreds, thousands, or millions upon millions of times.

 

For writers, these “unwritten rules,” if you will, are numerous.  “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.”  (To which Churchill famously replied, “That is a rule up with which I will not put.”)  “Write about what you know.”  “Be sparing with adjectives, and especially adverbs.”  “Don’t split the infinitive!”  Not to mention following trends and generic marketing advice.  What’s hot?  What’s trending?  What are people reading right now?  I know, in the case of The Eye-Dancers, I was criticized at times for making the protagonists just twelve years old.  “Too young,” a friend of mine said.  “Make them older! And throw in at least one girl!” he added.  “I mean, four boys?  Seriously?”  But, in the end, I just went with the story I had–and it featured four twelve-year-old boys.  I wasn’t going to change that on a whim.

 

Anytime I am asked for advice on writing and publishing, I always say, “Write what you want.  Don’t just follow the patterns and trends.  Start your own trend.  Break new ground.  Write your story.”  But there is a caveat attached.  A writer shouldn’t start his or her own trend just for the sake of being different.  It’s not something that can be force-fed.  After all, if your story does naturally fit into an established niche, a “hot” genre or topic, more power to you.  If that’s the way the story came to you and if it’s the story you feel compelled to tell, and it’s honest, then it deserves to be shared with the world and enjoyed.  Altering a story for the sake of being different is just as disingenuous as altering it for the sake of fitting in.  Neither approach represents your true voice, the idea and perspective that are uniquely your own.

 

Being different, “other than,” cannot be an end unto itself.

Just ask Tony.

********************

Tony was one of my best friends throughout junior high and high school.  He was that rare teenager who seemed to have an “in” with both the brainy crowd as well as the jock crowd.  Tony could do it all–a solid, well-rounded student and a muscular athlete who played football and ran track.  But, more than anything, Tony was . . . well, Tony.

 

He had a way about him, a mastery, a comfort in his own skin.  He wasn’t arrogant–he just kind of glided down the halls, eased his way into conversations, and never appeared to shy away from anything.  He wasn’t loud.  He wasn’t obnoxious.

He was confident.

He was different.

But he was different in a manner that suited him.  He didn’t make an effort to go left when everyone else went right.  He just did.

 

I’ll never forget sitting next to him in Lunch one fall day in 1987, an early October afternoon replete with sunshine and the last, lingering warmth of the season.  We were in junior high, and I had brown-bagged my lunch, as I usually did.  Tony got a tray from the cafeteria, as was his wont.  And the topic of the NFL came up–specifically, the players strike that was moving on to its second week.

 

It was a PR disaster for the NFL.  The players didn’t want to play under their current collective bargaining agreement, but the owners were determined to put a product on the field.  The result?  Teams found players “on the street”–guys who had been cut or released, or who were never good enough to try out in the first place.  They recruited accountants and construction workers and teachers–any able-bodied young men–and some not so young–who could contribute in a pinch.

 

The outcome was predictable.  For the three weeks the “replacement players” competed, the quality of the game suffered.  There were shanked extra points, fumbles and bumbles, fluttering passes that missed their target by the proverbial mile.  It was painful to watch.  No one liked it.

 

Except Tony.

“It’s good to see pro players making all these mistakes,” he said during lunch that day, taking a bite into the thin cafeteria hamburger.  “Usually, NFL players are perfect.  They make all the kicks, are good with their assignments.  But these guys.  I mean, it’s like watching a game at the playground.  It’s kind of cool.”

 

I couldn’t believe he preferred replacement players to the real thing.  And yet . . . when Tony said it, it somehow sounded reasonable.  He wasn’t pushing an agenda, saying something for shock value.  It was just the way he felt, his retrograde perspective on the world.

 

It got to the point where I eventually called his views “Tony-Time,” which essentially meant anything that goes in the opposite way you expect it to.  Are you hot?  Tony-Time says you put on an overcoat.  Feeling full?  Eat a pizza!  Are you tired, lacking sleep?  Pull an all-nighter!

 

I still use the term, to this day, even though I haven’t seen Tony since we graduated from high school.  I especially say it about our cat.  He has a habit of doing things you wouldn’t expect.  “Tony-Timer,” I’ll say to him when he refuses the refreshing breeze of an open window in favor of a stuffy corner at the back of the room.  And he’ll look at me, knowing it’s a compliment.

 

And it is.  Because Tony made it seem as easy as breathing, as natural as the sun rising every morning.  Effortlessly opposing the mainstream.  Like the time when our tenth-grade English teacher told us we could write an essay on anything we wanted, and Tony wrote his from the perspective of a piece of paper feeling the pain of a sharp pencil point grinding into its surface.  He read the essay aloud to the class, and I remember thinking, “It actually sounds like the voice of a sheet of paper!”  Or the time when he decided to play quarterback in gym class one period but only allowed himself to throw left-handed, even though he was a righty.  No one thought it odd that he would try that.  It was just Tony, Tony-Timing.

 

And today, all these years later, Tony is still with me.  Not on the phone or in person, or in emails or texts.  But in my mind, my heart, in a spirit that, despite the protests of others or the criticisms of the crowd, urges me to press forward, to swim upstream if the situation or the job, or the story, warrants it.

 

Even if it means enjoying a few missed field goals and botched extra points along the way.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. magarisa
    Sep 11, 2018 @ 20:08:05

    Really enjoyed this post. We could all learn from Tony.

    Reply

  2. joannerambling
    Sep 12, 2018 @ 01:09:03

    A blood good post indeed, I liked it

    Reply

  3. K E Garland
    Sep 13, 2018 @ 16:39:11

    This is my most favorite of your posts so far.

    Reply

  4. kutukamus
    Sep 13, 2018 @ 19:49:49

    “..The voice of a sheet of paper” My, this is great!
    PS: And Churchill sure had a way with the three-word verb! 🙂

    Reply

  5. Ste J
    Sep 18, 2018 @ 00:11:25

    Writing a YA book where the main character isn’t a female who can do everything really well, now that is going against the trend. When there are less and less role models for boys these days it is refreshing to read about the troubles and the challenges they can overcome.

    I hate those books that manage to come out after a big hit that are really similar. How quickly can you knock out a less than competent rehash? I suppose some people would see that as a talent of sorts. The best writers capture the reader, irrespective of whether the path is tried and tested or not.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Sep 18, 2018 @ 12:10:04

      Thanks.:) And that’s a fair point–writing a knock-off/imitation of something already out does takes its own kind of talent! After all, an author needs to make a spin-off of someone else’s work come across as interesting and enjoyable to read. To pull that off, in its own way, is a commendable effort. But of course authors who go about things in this way are robbing themselves of discovering and nurturing their own unique voice and take on the world . . .

      Reply

  6. Anna Waldherr
    Sep 18, 2018 @ 15:54:00

    Really enjoyed this! 🙂

    Reply

  7. dilipnaidu
    Sep 20, 2018 @ 15:51:04

    Interesting post and well written.

    Reply

  8. The Eye-Dancers
    Sep 20, 2018 @ 17:39:03

    Thank you! Glad you enjoyed this.

    Reply

  9. Lyn
    Sep 23, 2018 @ 05:40:16

    A great blog post as always, Mike. I would have liked Tony. 🙂

    Reply

  10. Inese Poga artist, writer and life sciences specialist
    Sep 30, 2018 @ 13:29:44

    Practically any industry and any field of activity involves “rules” that somebody defined who knows when, and most people feel they should follow such unwritten rules or they would be assumed as outsiders, as non-compliant, as not-fitting in. The choice is always ours. While reading this post, I thought: well, isn’t it better not to bother with such rules, not to know them?
    If you want to be fresh and appear as a new direction in your preferred field, you should set your own rules, if any, and do that for yourself.
    I am frequently writing about not following rules in visual art because they take away the emotional aspect of creation and allow creating only technically perfect artwork. The same goes for any area in our life. Be the rule breaker, and you will enjoy a true creativity.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Oct 01, 2018 @ 19:07:29

      This is a great comment. And you make a wonderful point–sometimes it’s better not to even know the rules in the first place! Even knowing the rules in advance can sometimes curtail us. Indeed, we should make our own rules when it comes to art, creativity, and the creative process.

      Reply

  11. natuurfreak
    Oct 04, 2018 @ 21:06:01

    Heel knappe post

    Reply

  12. jjspina
    Oct 06, 2018 @ 01:04:15

    Enjoyable post, Mike. I am going to begin reading your book tonight. Will review it when I finish and share on Amazon and Goodreads. Looking forward to getting into it. Hugs

    Reply

  13. rmcalzada
    Oct 31, 2018 @ 13:00:14

    One of my favorite topics. A very well-written post. Thank you for sharing it, Mike! I can think of one or two Tonys I’ve met. They left quite an impression on me, too 😊

    Reply

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