If my son had a theme song, it would sound like nervous laughter. People often aren’t sure what to make of him.
Is he being sarcastic?
Is he being rude?
Does he even know what he’s saying?
Are those… dead bugs he’s displaying?
Hasn’t he worn that hoodie every day this week?
What’s with the stuffed monkey — isn’t he supposed to be some kind of genius?
Yes. To all of it.
My profoundly gifted son is full of quirks, preferences, and aversions. Some of them are funny. Many of them are frustrating. But all of them make up who he is and serve as reminders that he’s just… different.
I’ve written before about how gifted kids aren’t always the stereotypical nerds you might imagine, or are used to seeing portrayed on tv. They’re just kids, really, whose brains happen to work differently, and who are just trying to go about living their life as normally as they can.
But their normal isn’t always society’s normal, and as much as I emphasize that they’re not caricatures, they still don’t really… blend in.
Gifted kids – gifted people – are full of quirks. Sometimes they’re due to sensory issues, sometimes overexcitabilities, maybe asynchronous development, or just plain odd interests or hobbies. Whether we embrace them or try to hide them, these quirks are not only hallmarks of giftedness, they’re part of what makes our kiddos just so endearing (and sometimes difficult). Annoying, adorable, or enervating, for better or worse, these kiddos are just plain different.
For those times you need a reminder that different is their norm – or maybe just need to know that your kiddo isn’t the oddest one out there – here are 100 quirks and eccentricities of gifted people throughout history!
- Let’s start with history’s most well-known quirky brain – Albert Einstein, who did not wear socks. He bragged about this and how he secretly got away with such lack of civilization, that rebel, but also decided that since his big toe always made a hole in his socks, he’d just cut out the middle man and stop wearing them altogether!
- Pythagoras, a famous vegetarian, hated beans so much that not only did he forbid his followers from eating them, legend says that he was killed by attackers because he refused to escape by running through a bean field.
- Charles Dickens always carried a comb with him and fixed his hair hundreds of times a day.
- Dickens also slept facing north – he was convinced this improved his creativity, and kept a compass with him to ensure he was sleeping correctly.
- Edgar Allen Poe, admittedly not the most conforming guy as it is, refused to write on paper and instead wrote on scrolls. Stylish.
- Andy Warhol kept a mummified human foot next to his bed.
- Benjamin Franklin talked to himself.
- Dr. Yoshiro Nakamatsu, the inventor of the floppy disk, CD, DVD, and digital watch, believed that staying underwater long enough to nearly reach the point of drowning would stimulate his brain.
- Dr. Nakamatsu also had a bathroom tiled in 24k gold, which he believed blocked out television and radio waves, and where he liked to go and think.
- Another believer in the power of water, Ludwig von Beethoven would pour water all over himself periodically throughout the day while he was composing.
- Henry Cavendish was so shy that he would communicate with his servants only through letters. If he unexpectedly ran into one, they were dismissed.
- Cavendish also had a second staircase built in his home to help him avoid accidental interactions with the servants.
- Truman Capote refused to start – or finish – a work on a Friday.
- Capote also never allowed three cigarettes to burn in the same ashtray.
- Apparently very passionate about numbers, Capote would refuse to call anyone whose phone number added up to what he considered an “unlucky number”.
- Mark Zuckerberg only eats meat from animals that he kills himself.
- Honore de Balzac, the playwright, drank up to 50 cups of coffee a day. But honestly, how unreasonable is this, really?
- The mysterious mathematician Paul Erdos drank excessive amounts of coffee took caffeine pills, and even the occasional amphetamines to stay awake while only sleeping 4 hours a day. “A mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems,” he once said.
- Nikola Tesla worked from 3 am until 11 pm. This eventually lead to a mental breakdown, but once recovered he continued with the same schedule.
- Leonardo DaVinci, in a similar vein, followed the Uberman sleep schedule, which meant that he took 20-minute naps every four hours.
- Stephen King’s pillows must all be facing a specific way before he can fall asleep.
- Winston Churchill’s sleep schedule was such a mess that he often held cabinet meetings while he was in his bath!
- Emily Bronte was an insomniac and would walk circles around her dining room table until she felt tired enough to sleep. (Are you sensing a theme with all of the sleep quirks and how difficult it is to turn those brilliant brains off?)
- Thomas Edison would test interviewees by offering them a bowl of soup: if they added salt to their bowl before tasting it, he believed they made too many assumptions.
- Mary Shelley kept a boa constrictor in her writing studio and wrapped it around her shoulders while she worked. When it began to squeeze, she allowed herself to take a break.
- Ezra Pound breathed through his nose until it was time to write – then he would breathe exclusively through his mouth.
- Leonardo da Vinci makes another appearance on this list because the left-handed dyslexic polymath wrote backwards in all of his notebooks.
- Salvador Dali, when asked for an autograph, would keep the pen of the fan who asked!
- Nikola Tesla would not touch anything round.
- Demosthenes, an ancient Greek statesman, rehearsed his speeches in an underground hideout for long periods of time, often with stones in his mouth, and sometimes shaving half of his head to ensure that he wouldn’t speak before an audience until he was ready.
- Ben Franklin would spend up to an hour, every morning, standing naked in front of his open window. He called these “air baths.”
- Winston Churchill also loved spending time in his birthday suit. Not only was he known to dictate letters and conduct business in his office in the nude, he met Franklin D. Roosevelt while completely in the buff!
- Conversely, Ulysses S. Grant bragged that no one had seen him nude since his birth, as he just preferred to remain dressed.
- Alexandre Dumas color-coded his writing – blue for fiction, pink for articles, and yellow for poetry.
- John Quincy Adams greenlit an expedition to dig into the earth and discover the mole people he believed lived beneath our surface. To his credit, he wanted to form a diplomatic relationship with them.
- Tesla – back again – would curl his toes 100 times every night before he fell asleep in order to boost his brain.
- Jane Austen was known to continue daydreaming about her characters years after a work was finished.
- Composer Igor Stravinksy would start each day with a 15-minute headstand. Also to boost his brain.
- Charlie Chaplain loved to throw custard pies and nude women. There’s no known explanation for this.
- Ernest Hemingway would share his daily writing goals with his six-toed cats. He refused to discuss plans with normal-toed cats, as he believed they were poor listeners.
- William Wadsworth, however, read his poems to his dog. If his dog got agitated or barked, Wadsworth would go back and tweak the poem.
- Nikola Tesla, the lovable quirk who can’t keep himself off this list, once invited Mark Twain over. Tesla had just completed his high-frequency oscillator and Twain was troubled with constipation, and Tesla was convinced that he could help if only Mark would stand on the oscillator. Funnily enough, after only 90 seconds, it worked!
- Marlon Brando was such a fan of flatulence that upon receiving the gift of a fart machine, he exclaimed, “I’ve found God!”
- Michelangelo wore his boots for such long periods of time, even wearing them to bed, that when he finally did remove them his assistant said that his skin came away with them.
- As you can imagine, leaving his boots on for so long meant that Michelangelo rarely bathed.
- He also hated speaking with people and was known to walk away mid-conversation! Although I’m sure the person he was speaking to was grateful.
- Beethoven was also a hygiene hater. He got so dirty that his friends would take his clothes away and wash them while he slept!
- Emily Dickinson was a hermit who would often only speak to guests through a locked door.
- Lady Gaga is so afraid of ghosts that she spends thousands of dollars on paranormal investigators and ghost-hunting equipment.
- Marjori Desai, the first Prime Minister of India’s non-Congress government, drank his own urine. Every day.
- Ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes would defecate in public.
- William Faulkner preferred to type with his toes – and kept shoes on his hands while he worked!
- Sir George Sitwell had a sign upon entering his estate that read, “I must ask that anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way, as it interferes with the functioning of my gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night.” I may actually try this one.
- Franz Kafka ate a pineapple upside down cake anytime he finished a story – and wouldn’t share a bite with anyone.
- Tesla makes the list again for his obsession with pigeons. Towards the end of his life he lived in almost total isolation… apart from the pigeons he would cover himself with.
- Alexander Graham Bell kept his windows covered at all times. He wanted to protect himself from the harmful rays… of the moon.
- Quentin Tarantino writes screenplays with mostly felt-tip pens, but will make the occasional exception for his ex-girlfriend’s 1980’s word processor. Vintage.
- James Joyce kept a pair of doll underwear in his pocket.
- Steve Jobs cried. A lot. Over just about anything.
- He also refused to put a license plate on his car.
- Mozart wrote graphic, expletive-filled poems to his mother – who responded in kind!
- Elon Musk read for up to 10 hours a day as a child. This one also seems totally acceptable.
- Einstein, being either thrifty or green, would pick up used cigarette butts off of the streets and use the leftover tobacco he found in them for his pipe.
- That’s not the only thing he picked up. Albert Einstein also picked up insects from the ground and ate them. Live.
- Nikola Tesla (you didn’t think we were done talking about him, did you?) was so averse to pearls that he once sent his secretary home for wearing them.
- Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe believed a dwarf named Jepp possessed psychic powers and would pay him to sit under his dinner table during meal times.
- French King Charles “The Mad” believed he was a wolf made out of glass. He not only chased people around his castle while howling at them, but he also would not allow anyone to touch him for fear of shattering.
- Andrew Jackson constantly challenged people to duels and is believed to have participated in hundreds of them.
- Martin Luther reportedly ate a spoonful of his own feces for “health benefits” from time to time.
- Victor Hugo would have his assistant hide his clothes in an effort to force him to meet his writing goals.
- Cisco Systems co-founder Sandy Lerner is such a fan of jousting that she breeds her own horses and wears Elizabethan costumes while practicing.
- Our friend Nikola Tesla would walk around a building 3 times before entering it.
- He was so obsessed with the number 3 that he also ate his meals with 6 sets of 3 napkins.
- Georgia O’Keefe, while surrounded by views and space on a ranch in New Mexico, preferred to paint in her car.
- Former emperor of China Zhengde loved playing shopkeeper so much that he had an entire fake city block built.
- Howard Hughes is another famous brain known for multiple quirks and mental illness. He once lived in his screening room for 4 months, surviving solely off of chocolate bars, milk, and chicken.
- Other times, however, Hughes would enjoy a steak meal with 12 peas of equal size. If the peas were not uniform, they were sent back to the kitchen and replaced.
- Lord Byron kept, ahem, hairs of his lovers in a file, which remained at his publishing house for more than 100 years after his death. Whoever kept that file should also be on this list.
- Less strangely, Lord Byron kept a live bear in his dorm room as a pet… and tried to get it a fellowship.
- Agatha Christie would write anywhere but at a desk.
- She also fueled her creativity by eating apples in the bathtub while examining crime scene photos.
- Virginia Woolf wrote standing up – though only to prove to her sister, a painter, that her work was not any easier.
- Sigmund Freud, while delving into the depths of the human psyche, was addicted to cocaine.
- When he wasn’t looking around for stuff to pick up, Einstein would play his violin for birds, while tears streamed down his face.
- Stephen King hates adverbs. Passionately.
- Andy Warhol kept more than a human foot – he was a bona fide hoarder.
- Pablo Picasso disliked discussing his art with fans so much that he fired a small revolver loaded with blanks whenever he found them to ask too many questions.
- Abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky had synesthesia and heard certain colors “hissing” at him when he tried to mix them.
- Leonardo da Vinci loved birds so much that he would buy them at markets just to set them free.
- Hans Christian Anderson carried a coil of rope with him everywhere he went, in case he was ever caught in a hotel fire.
- Sir Francis Galton, a prolific scientist, carried a brick with him regularly, in case he found himself in a crowd and needed something to stand on.
- Composer Gioachino Rossini wore a wig due to being completely bald, which seems reasonable. However when it got cold outside, he would pile them on and wear 2 or 3 wigs at once!
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was convinced that Harry Houdini had actual magical powers – no matter how much Houdini himself insisted he did not.
- Henry Ford was pretty uninterested in food, preferring instead to gather roadside weeds to be prepared and eaten.
- Salvador Dali is featured again for this gem – he carried around a jewel-encrusted cigarette case filled with false mustaches, which he politely offered to his friends.
- German poet Friedrich Schiller could not work without the stench of rotten apples sitting on his desk.
- Architect Richard Buckminster Fuller worked on a scrapbook of his life for almost 7 decades until his death. If stacked, the scrapbook would be roughly the size of the Empire State Building.
- Steve Jobs would eat only one or two foods, such as carrots or apples, for weeks at a time.
- He also believed his plant-only diet negated body odor. According to his coworkers, it didn’t.
- Oscar Wilde is rumored to have once walked a lobster down the street. On a leash, thank goodness.
Whew, there have been some brainy and bizarre people in our time! Now your kiddo’s bug collection or qualms with their food touching don’t seem quite as hard to swallow, huh? Hopefully you got a good chuckle from this list and remember it the next time you hear the nervous laughter from a stranger. More than anything, though, I’m dying to know – what are your kiddo’s quirks?