Friday, December 27, 2013

That's not Normal

“Normal is not something to aspire to, it’s something to get away from.” – Jodie Foster

“That’s not normal.”

Have you ever heard someone say that? I hate it when I hear that.

Well, tell me what is normal. By all means, enlighten me.

Is there a blanket definition that is supposed to apply to every single person? Is it a state of mind? Or one of circumstance? Can your definition of ‘normal’ possibly apply to me, when you haven’t walked the path that I have, experienced the life I’ve lived, the choices I’ve made? The problem a lot of people have (including me) comes in that they compare their insides to everyone else’s outsides. Some people look so put together, so perfect and polished that we can’t help but admire them. We appreciate them from a distance and think, “Wow, they’re so normal.” And then we wonder what they know that we don’t. We wonder what the key is for their normalcy.

Let’s talk about this for a minute.

One morning in middle school, my best friend’s mom was driving us to school. Her mom’s hair was in curlers. She was still in her pajamas, windows rolled down, had a cup of coffee in one hand, cigarette in the other. My friend was so embarrassed she was hoping for one of those earth-opening-up-and-swallowing-her-whole moments. Sadly, they never happen when you want them to. When her mom pulled up to the curb, my friend said, “Mom, duck!” Her mom immediately started quacking. Loudly.

A friend I made in college (I was slightly less socially awkward then) used to have to roll the joints for his parents. He said the trick when you were licking the paper was not to use too much saliva because that made them hard to light. You had to use enough to get a good, tight stick, but not so much as to make them soggy. But they were such good parents that they made him go outside when they were smoking because they didn’t want him to see them doing drugs. This was his normal. Does it confuse anyone else, or am I the only one?

A female former student of mine (and I have permission to tell this) was not allowed to wear skirts or dresses. Her mother thought they were immodest because the wind could blow them up, or a frolic on the jungle-gym or monkey bars could reveal her underwear. Even worse, a boy could wriggle under them, as had once happened to her, and look up her skirt and see her underwear (although, according to the daughter, what apparently really scarred the mom in that case was that she wasn’t wearing underwear). When this student was in my class as a freshman in college, I hadn’t noticed that she wore dresses or skirts almost all the time until she wrote her memoir paper. Then I paid attention. She did wear jeans or shorts from time to time, but being on her own she could finally wear dresses.

She could redefine her own normal. She found the key.

Whatever you grew up with is normal for you. Just because you do something differently from someone else doesn’t make you (or them) abnormal. Now, there are things you may do that make you weird, but that’s an entirely different conversation (and for the record, weird is not a bad thing, either).

Normal is an illusion, people. It’s a perception. It doesn’t exist. It’s an overlay, a filter, that people often wish for in their own lives or assume someone else has in theirs. “Normal” is external. We like to classify people as “not normal” because in some sick or twisted way it must make us feel better about ourselves. It’s deflective: a pitiful attempt to shift the focus off of us and on to someone else, even for a moment.

The truth? We are all abnormal (or does that make us all normal?) because we are all weirdly skewed by the ways we were raised. We can’t piece out that definition and say it applies to some but not to others. You learn your own personal kind of normal when you’re young, but you can always change it. That’s what is so deliciously magic about it. It’s fluid, malleable.

When you’re young, its boundaries define who you are. But when you grow up, you define it with yours. Isn’t that incredible? So few things in life can we define on our terms. This is one. Seize it. Hold it tightly to you. No one can tell you how view the world around you anymore.

That magic now belongs to you.

That’s not normal? Good.

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