I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s been a difficult winter. The past few months have been full of heavy psycho-emotional challenges, severe enough that at times they’ve led to physical and financial challenges. Not a fun time. I’m very relieved to see signs of spring.
Through this, I’ve been thinking a lot about normalcy; what it is, why we’re encouraged to fit into it, how we feel when we don’t. Right from the time we enter our first institution, school, we’re encouraged to abide by a norm as prescribed by others and punished when we don’t. I spent a memorable portion of the second grade in the corner or occasionally in the hall. It’s not that I was a bad kid; I just didn’t see the rationale behind the rules I was expected to follow. Like, why should my verbal communication be suspended just because the teacher’s talking? It took me a long time to relearn that what I have to say is just as valid, that I’m just as entitled as the next person to say what I’m thinking. But it’s not something we’re encouraged to do.
Although I learned to play the school game okay, the only way I got through it was by keeping overstimulated with extracurricular activities; writing, music, theatre, art. If I’d been stuck with nothing but classes, I wouldn’t have survived. I’m just not built that way. Not that I’m abnormal, you understand, just easily bored. Personally, I was quite ecstatic the first time someone told me I was “eccentric,” but depending on the circumstance, I might not always be so pleased.
I suppose by now, I’m either supposed to have settled into a business career or given birth to two point three children. Having done neither, having no desire to do either, isn’t “normal.” Some people think that by my age, I should’ve outgrown any childish whims of an arts career. I recently overheard my mother say to my uncle that I don’t work a steady day job because I “don’t like the nine to five.” No mention that in the last ten years every steady day job I’ve had has led to clinical depression and that the last one gave me chronic lung infections and IBS to boot. Some of us just don’t function well in steady state; some of us are all-or-nothing workers. Hence my penchant for creative and freelance work. I have no qualms about doing twenty hour days, as long as I see some relevance, some point, to the work.
To quote a Douglas Coupland title, “All Families are Psychotic.” Well, to put it more politely, let’s just say that “normal” seems to have a very broad range in its application to the family project. For instance, when middle-aged children start saying their parents are suffering from dementia, how is that state defined? What is normal to the natural decline of the aging process and what constitutes an abnormality, a problem? And where can we draw the line between what the aging parent is experiencing and our perception of that? How can we know where our judgement is valid and when it’s a reaction to our own fears of aging, our own mortality? Who’s to decide what normal is, when we’re all in the same boat and facing similar anxieties?
A close friend of mine has experienced a variety of medications intended to create a chemically induced version of “normal” for individuals whose brain chemistry isn’t considered such by the medical profession. Generally, the meds make him lethargic, zombielike. Is that normal? Decidedly not and it certainly isn’t his normal. Whose idea of normal is created by playing with brain chemistry? Arguably, if someone is causing themselves or others harm, some version of chemical control may be desirable, so society can sleep at night, so we know our loved ones aren’t in the bathroom slashing their wrists. But when an individual isn’t exhibiting these actions, what’s to be gained by making them feel controlled if they don’t want to be?
As I said, it’s been a difficult winter. But my twenty-year-old cat, the one I didn’t think was going to see another spring, has. On our most recent visit to the vet, I noticed tulips breaking the surface of the cold ground and daffodils blooming. I quietly celebrated, congratulating him, telling him that soon he’d be able to enjoy the sun on the balcony again.
What’s sustained me through the winter has been kids TV shows. The world is much brighter, simpler and easier to take, when I start the day with “Tractor Tom” or “Yoko, Jakomoko, Toto” along with my morning coffee. This behaviour might indeed be perceived as eccentric and I doubt I’m the “normal” demographic, but five or ten minutes of something funny or poignant, and often quite insightful with regard to human emotion, certainly isn’t harming anyone.
I moved my geraniums out onto the balcony on the weekend and have plans to put in vibrantly colourful flowers this year. I still have lots of work on my plate, but at least I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and am beginning to think about summer plans. I did some vocal practice last night for the first time in a long time and man, did that feel good! I need to get my time reorganized, so I can get back to working out again and playing piano regularly. I’ve been so swamped with paying work and family matters, that I’ve gotten very little writing done. I have to remedy that. I have projects mounting up and too little time and energy to complete them. Years ago a palm reader informed me that this would a breakthrough year for me. I plan on making that true. Happy spring!
© Catherine Jenkins, 2004