How to Be an Unconventional Rule Follower

don’t read the directions

Here’s a thing about me: I prefer not to read directions. I’d rather have less information about how to proceed, because I like to figure things out for myself, or interpret things with my own weird brand of creativity. I don’t always succeed in the “figuring things out” part, which is why I still don’t know how to maximize the use of my camera. But this is a trait I’ve always had, and at half a century in, although I may have a better sense of when it’s a good idea to submit to instruction, the tendency to take a completely unexpected route to an expected or desired result is probably not going anywhere.  

I’m democratic about this, though. I invite you into my unconventional way of following rules and meeting expectations. Please! Be free! This frustrates people at first in my Pilgrimage classes: I give them an assignment with minimal instructions because that’s the kind of assignment I like to receive, and because it’s delightful watching people “free up” and get to express themselves as themselves. I believe in boundaries and guidelines, and I believe in observing them when they’re appropriate. But I believe in freedom, uniqueness, and creativity, too. 

You need to know all this because I’m going to start posting paid content on Substack on Saturdays that has to do with how I read the Bible (and how I view the Bible), and this here information might clear a lot of things up for you before we start.  

But also, this is supposed to be a Jenn Story and Jenn Stories are supposed to be funny or poignant and this is neither, and why would I mess with expectations like that? (See what I did there? That was a joke…) So here’s the story I usually tell about myself when I’m trying to explain what I mean by this unconventional-rule-following business. 

Once upon a time I went to high school. I was not a popular kid and I wasn’t even very self-confident, but apparently my tendency to meet expectations in the weirdest way possible was irrepressible, because I actually have a multitude of stories like this one from this era—in which my lack of convention embarrassed me deeply but I kept being that way.  

Every year at my school we had Spirit Week—usually in the late winter sometime. I supposed it was timed that way to help us get through the winter doldrums. This was the opportunity for everyone to dress up differently than we were required to during the rest of the year, and for creatives like me to really go nuts with costumes and such. Each day had a theme, and while some days appealed to my imagination more than others—for example in 9th grade I showed up in my great grandmother’s River Brethren (like Amish) outfit for “heritage day”—this week always filled me with delight as I tried to figure out the most imaginative interpretation of the themes. 

By the time I was a senior at my tiny little Christian school, my role as the smart weird one was pretty well cemented, so I didn’t even try to be normal. The first day of Spirit Week that year, the theme was “beach day.” It seemed obvious how most of the kids were going to dress, depending only on the body confidence of each. (I suspect my Christian school was not like your Christian school. Bikinis would’ve been frowned on—and plus it was probably February—but I think most other attire was okay for these one-off occasions.) 

But I didn’t have a ton of body confidence and anyway, where was the uniqueness in bathing suits and towels on beach day? So boring. As soon as the themes were announced, I got to work: 

First, I snagged some old white pillowcases we were never going to use again (because of what I was about to do with them). I cut each one in a curve down the side, sewing the sides back up and leaving a hole for my hand.  

Then I put those aside and went to work on a baseball cap. It was one I had bought in Washington, DC, as a middle schooler, and in hindsight it looked very MAGA-esque, so I’m not at all sorry for what I did to it, especially because I already didn’t like it by the time I got to high school.  

I found the sharpest pair of scissors I could (probably to my mother’s dismay) and began sawing at the brim until it was gone.  

Then I took the extra white fabric I had cut off the pillowcases and used it to cover the cap part of the hat.  

After that, I found some cardboard and folded it in thirds, lengthwise, and unfolding again it just enough so that it made a long tubular triangle. 

I covered the triangle with yellow construction paper and trimmed one end into a curve, closing it up.  

I attached (after much vocalized angst which did not endear me to my family members, as I recall) the open end to the hat where the brim used to be. 

Finally, I drew some eyes on the hat and some nostrils at the hat end of the long tube of cardboard. 

Have you guessed what I was making yet? 

The next morning I got up. I put on a white button down shirt, some white tights, and some white shorts. I took the two re-formed pillowcases, stuck my arms through them, and safety-pinned them to the shoulders and waist of my shirt. I put on the hat. 

And showed up for beach day as a seagull.  

Rules followed. Expectations met. Unconventionally. 

A drawing of a person with a bird face

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As far as I know there are no photos of this masterpiece (did I mention I frequently embarrassed myself?), so I made this scribble for you just now.