Most people have an innate desire to be known for something, no matter how big or small. Some great authors have earned their adjectives by establishing themes that we see in later literature and in our lives: Orwellian, Kafkaesque, Tolstoyan, etc. But sometimes, people we may see every day but don’t interact with much, like classmates, have quirks that make you remember them long after you’ve forgotten your other peers. I knew a kid in high school, for instance, that drove a bright yellow Nissan Xterra. I haven’t seen him in six years, but even today, every time I see a bright yellow Nissan Xterra (which are more common than you think), I’m reminded of this random guy I spoke to twice in my life.
“My goal in life is to become an adjective,” said Leonard Bankhead, a character in Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot.” The adjective “Bankheadian,” Eugenides writes, means “of or related to Leonard Bankhead … characterized by excessive introspection or worry.”
While driving a canary yellow SUV is much different than writing “1984,” as a bad columnist for a college newspaper, the best I can offer are little idiosyncrasies. Before I heard Eugenides’ “adjective” line, I tried to articulate a similar sentiment to my friends. I said, “One of my goals in life is for people to see colorful socks and think of me.” I’ve been told this is sad, that I set low expectations for myself and that I should seek to make a bigger impact on the world than by just wearing socks. But these people are missing the point. I wish to leave an imprint on someone that will last longer than my time with him or her. It would be great if people remembered me because I was astoundingly intelligent or really, really, ridiculously good-looking. But I was graced with no extremes of human qualities. So I make do with socks.
Idiosyncrasies are important character traits. People speak all the time about how we shouldn’t conform to social standards, and that we should go against the grain. Fuck that. Life shouldn’t be a constant struggle against doing what everyone else is doing. It’s about carving your own niche within society, creating a person who is simultaneously different enough to be noticed and interesting, but not going out of your way to be different for the sake of being different. This is what an idiosyncrasy ends up being. It’s not a total embrace of something weird just so you have nothing in common with anyone else, but a small quirk that makes you stand out a little bit from everyone else.
So become an adjective. Have your actions allow someone to say, “That was such a so-and-so thing to do,” even if you never hear it. Leave an impression on people so profound that they’ll think about you years after the last time they saw you. It’s all a part of character building, of becoming a person with whom you would want to be friends. I’d rather be known for something small and seemingly unimportant than not known at all. So hopefully the next time you see someone with cool socks, you’ll think, “How Fessendian.”