I have long held to the view that the difference between eccentrics and ordinary people is not their activities, but the mindset that leads to them. Where ordinary people get overloaded and have mental breakdowns, eccentrics have reserved the right to determine for themselves where, when, and how they will lose their marbles. Eccentricity is the ultimate declaration of independence. It states in clear terms that while circumstances may be beyond my control, my reaction to them is not.
So when things get stressful, I go fly a kite. I don my Slytherin robes and watch an episode of “Dr. Who”. I pull out my Star Wars coloring book and a box of crayons. I try brewing a new beverage in my carboy or growing mushrooms in the storage closet. I buy an ant farm for my desk.
I’ll admit that the latter activity did raise some eyebrows. It wasn’t that our staff hadn’t brought pets to work before or even that some of those pets weren’t unusual. It was just that only two of us had ever selected insects… and both of us selected our particular pet at nearly the same time.
Mine was, in my opinion, the most rational. I had an ant farm growing up and remembered how relaxing it was watching the little creatures dig their tunnels through the sand. Each day, I would carefully tap the plastic to knock all of the ants of the lid, then open up the tiny container to add some flake food and a drop or two of sugar water.
Ant farms have, of course, advanced since then. The only option (which I located only after some seriously hard looking), was the Illuminated Ant Farm Gel Colony by Uncle Milton. Moist and filled with nutrients, it eliminated the need to provide my new pets with food or water. It also had a somewhat alien appearance which was enhanced by a small light at the bottom of the farm. But it worked… and it bothered my colleagues far less than the pet being kept by my coworker in the office next door.
The only thing endangered by an unanticipated escape of my pets was the rotting fruit that my office mate insisted upon storing beneath his desk. My coworker’s pet, on the other hand, had the ability to kill us all. It had come in on a plant shipment and, despite its clearly non-native status, had readily been adopted. (Most of us think it was an act of sympathy towards the egg-sack it was protecting.) Carefully tapped into a mason jar retrofitted with air holes, the large black widow had become a permanent fixture on the book cases. What would happen when the eggs hatched was anybody’s guess.
Over the next few weeks, both pet “projects” progressed. Occasionally, my ant colony required supplementation (a task made easy by the native colony raiding my officemate’s food supply). Her black widow required its own supplements: a diet consisting primarily of moths who had the misfortune of blundering into the greenhouse. But while my pets merely sustained themselves, hers grew.
Then, one morning, it happened. We walked into the office to find her jar swarming with newly-hatched black widowlets, many of which were tiny enough to escape through the make-shift air holes. It was quite clear to everyone that if something weren’t done, we were all going to die.
Reluctantly, my coworker removed the jar and took it outside. She was gone for a while and when she returned she explained that she hadn’t actually thought through what she would do when the babies hatched. When we asked about her solution she replied quite simply that in her panic over the grossness of the jar’s contents, she had done the only rational thing she could think of; she had dug a hole and buried it.
My ant colony fared much better, surviving well into the winter. They dug their winding way through the gel until, un-sustained by a queen, the last of my industrious workers bid us adieu. With sadness, I packed the farm away, nestling it in a drawer from which it would emerge the following spring.
True eccentricity is marked by a curious ability to see a pending disaster and reroute it before it can do any harm. It is a safety valve which helps to preserve one’s health, career, and relationships wholly intact. I am and always will be a proud eccentric. My coworker, on the other hand… well, she was just plain crazy.