Normal. That thing everyone thinks they are. That thing that everyone thinks they are not.
My daddy impressed upon my sister and me that individuality was the business. “It’s good to be an individual,” he’d say. And say, and say, and say. He didn’t like anything about what was considered normal in our world — he didn’t want work at the papermill, he didn’t want to punch a clock at all, didn’t want to keep regular hours of any kind, or do anything in general that was considered what a person does just because it’s what a person does. Screw manners, mores, and most people. Early messages stick with you.
But shoot — I consider myself pretty damn normal. I suppose that depends on the context in which it’s presented, but these days I like the simple things in life. Good books, good music, good work pursued and done, a few vegetables growing out back, and those I love around me as much as possible. Aren’t those the things that this life is supposed to be centered around? Aren’t those things the normal things? Funny, when I rewind 40 or so some odd years, I see that those were the things Daddy wanted at the center of his life too. He got them to varying degrees of success, because what was really at the center of his life, his addiction, erodes groundedness and goodness. Still, he tilled the soil to plant a garden every year. Still, he bought books, records, and worked a job most of the time. His own individuality was displayed in the way that he did those things. In the years since he’s been gone, I have asked a few people who knew him in ways that I didn’t. They are mystified by his actions, but are still impressed with his character and intellect, and, of course, his unwillingness to conform. Suffice to say he had a hard time. Suffice to say most everyone noticed.
It’s easier to go along. It’s easier to get along. There are some of us on the planet who can’t do it no matter what reward for doing so might be dangled in front of us. But I don’t think it has anything to do with what we do for a living, how we are raised, or our philosophies on what’s cool or what isn’t. Daddy grew up relatively privileged, was educated, was employable, but still was well on his way to drinking himself to death and had wreaked irrevocable damage on his daughters’ lives before he blew his brains out. No one understands it. I wrote a book about it and still scratch my head most days. No one quite understands how those who have suffered immeasurable difficulty can thrive, become truly empathetic people, and keep opening themselves to the world, either. But those people are everywhere. I know plenty of them.
I realize this might be heading in a direction that has nothing to do with the topic. Except to say that there is no normal. We human beings like to sort things. Hell, most species do. Put this over there and that over there and let’s keep it all neatly categorized so we know how to process it and move on to the next thing, don’t make me think too much and don’t surprise me and don’t make me take a clear-eyed look at anything because I don’t have time or the wherewithal. But we can’t sort people and we can’t sort life, can we? No. It’s absurd that we even try. Without yin there is no yang. All this offense against difference makes no sense to me. I taped a feather on the wall today like a teenage girl and hung my Academy Award nomination certificate in the room we call the library because it’s where all the books are. I also got Instacart to bring my Costco delivery to my door. And I don’t give a hell, as the red-headed boy on the school bus said when other young’uns were picking on him one cold morning when I was in fourth grade. I’m fine with those things. Which all adds up, at least in my mind, to say — look at me now, Daddy. Look at me now.
Peace and love and happy Wednesday,
PS – that’s him as a baby. It’s sometimes nice to remember that we all start out that way.