Normal. Dry. The way my mouth feels in the morning straining from the tip of my tongue to the base of my throat. Thirsty but no desire. This dry strictness stretching around my cramped jawline which at five in the morning reminds me to hold the tip of my tongue to the back of my teeth.
I can’t help but untether the skein of yarn called normal. I’ve never felt the qualities that makes one a normal person, let alone, a normal woman. At the same time, it seems that many people strive to be normal. Perhaps a desire to fit in, to not stand out. But that doesn’t seem quite right. And if you asked me if I wanted to stand out, I would tell you that I don’t. It’s not completely obvious to me what normal is and why, at times, I cannot feel it and, at the same time, feel that I look it. I’m dangerously close to getting the dictionary out and quoting its contents for how normal is defined. But I’ll keep my fingers tucked and focused.
I may refrain from quoting a dictionary, yet a good place to start is what comes to mind without hesitation when I think of normal. First, there’s Normal as every day, as routine, and then perhaps elevated as art. Preparing food is routine. Growing food? Routine. Brushing teeth, every day. I realize not everyone may see growing or preparing food as routine, and maybe, brushing teeth is not an everyday activity for some. But for me growing food is habitual, beautiful, and calming. Using my hands instead of staring at my laptop screen, plunging hands into dirt, and watching a seed become something I pluck to eat with my partner later or give to a friend is anything but normal. It is absolutely every day, routine, sometimes, perhaps, boring. But with my in-the-moment eyes growing food becomes mystical. Preparing food takes me from the mystical to the grounded and tangible process phase. I sway through the kitchen indulging in each ingredient, slowing down each step, intoxicated by the process and outcome. I have to prepare food to eat it and I can make it the most mundane task or the most fanciful where I start to feel like a conductor of ingredients attempting to make the next symphony.
Then there’s when the everyday becomes highlighted with depth and meaning and sub-context – like routine and daily actions. My morning routine falls under normal perhaps (and for the simple fact that it is a routine and every day). I rise at 5am Monday through Friday. I write and meditate for twenty minutes each before moving into getting ready for work. This is a normal morning for me. In pre-COVID days washing hands was just something I did – without my current level of frequency. But now, each time I wash my hands (amongst the 20ish times this takes place in one day) I have attention on the act. I have attention on the act before I’ve even done it where I’m reminding myself. Then, while washing, I’m now counting seconds like a girl playing jump rope. It’s been said that where there is a lack of discernment there can be no awareness of gratitude for a special effort or moment. Other activities fall into this camp of normal, or even habitual behavior, but for other reasons (due to my gender). Walking at night alone can move from the everyday normal into everyday highlighted. I’ve been trained to walk with ears and eyes peeled open and tuned in.
Perhaps, then, a lack of normalcy, is a lack of routine. A lack of the everyday. If each and every day was uniquely different with no routine whatsoever, even that would eventually find a normalcy since the one strain of routine would be that nothing is routine. My early experiences of a COVID life showed what it could be like without much normal happening. My work seemed to change daily being in emergency food response where I found myself immersed in reactivity. Each day was almost like a new day – and that is an exhausting place to exist. Unknowns pranced around and mocked me – and still do if I’m being honest. My partner and I also decided to move into an entirely new neighborhood – so different that it felt like we almost moved cities. But I noticed that after about a month in a place of what seemed constant change, I noticed that I found comfort and routine in not knowing, in the lack of consistency. The lack of consistency and routine really did become the routine. Mind you, the ramifications of this had mental and emotional implications. I slept a lot in those days. I ate less. When the weekends came, I couldn’t move from my home, specifically the couch. There were a few times that I ventured out on a bike ride, and afterwards, my body would fall into exhaustion for several days almost feeling like I was getting sick. Some research states that it takes only three weeks for our minds or bodies to form new habits. We may itch and refuse at first, but our survival instincts find a way to normalize.
death claws at my eyes
curved spine, afraid to be tree
cowed by doubt and stern (man)dates
pummel crisp, precise rain beads.
If normal is something that has become routine, standard, or usual could it also become art, become beautiful within its usualness? If for just a moment, that thing was discerned out of other things like a spotlight shining down and casting darkness around everything else. I say yes. Visual and prose artists across time depict the routine as something beautiful and unusual. They highlight snippets of life and nature and bring it to life for us. Many artists come to mind here, being that most are doing just this. They take the usual and make whole new worlds within microcosms. Even those that don’t consider themselves artists still see the normal as something extra ordinary. The Appalachian Mountains, Mt St Helens, Crater Lake, Ozarks, Arctic, beaches, sun sets and sun rises. These are, honestly, every day and normal within nature, but for most people, these are seen as magnificent and anything but normal. They’re places, or moments, we’ve deemed special. Every winter I plot out the camping trips, hiking trips, biking trips in anticipation of the warm (and dry) days of the pacific northwest. Every trip, every ride feels anything but usual. I’m taken by the perfectly blue sky dotted with puffy clouds, the regular chirp of birds swirling around me, blooming flowers along the path, and rolling hills of dirt, trees, it doesn’t much matter.
Normal and ordinary are seen as objects, actions, moments in time that have no distinctive features. I could make anything normal considering its subjectivity. I can also make anything not normal. A grand disservice is made, however, when normal is applied to cultures and people. White dominant culture is situated as normal, but to say it is featureless, like normal insists, is a grave mistake. To tell myself, or to white people generally, that I have no defining culture makes us sound ordinary or (subjectively) boring or too plain (“not like those other cultures”). But this isn’t true. I have a culture personally and there is a white culture. It might get tough to see since it’s part of the dominant culture and so is usually all around us. As a white person I may trip over it from time to time or if I’m looking with an anti-racist lens, I might step over it all the time in its pretend camouflage.
To be something truly featureless is to be something other than normal. Defining people, places, and objects as normal attempts to take away its defining features and its potential, underplay its power, or even repress power. Dangerous when talking about humans and disappointing what talking about places and things.
Normal only exists because standards and comparisons have been established to make it so. Ordinary and normal can slip by without notice (typically only for people/places/objects that fall into the deemed normal categories). Normal is a lack of seeing something for what it is or could be. Honestly, I’d like to take it even further and say that normal is make believe. It is socially constructed. Giving definitions and parameters to normal ostracizes and excludes some while giving power to others. Normal allows some to feel good and others to feel bad. Normal creates anxiety to maintain a sense of being normal in front of others. Or what they perceive as what the norm is.
Pushing further, normal creates a hierarchy of perception and standards for hair, skin, brain, home, streets, talking, behaving. It instills good or bad, pleasant and unpleasant, pretty and ugly. Normal is the median between these opposing ends to which we grade ourselves on a daily basis. Normal besets pillars of anxiety and hate. It insinuates a lack of change, a decree of sameness, unchanging non-change. Saying, “I don’t want to be normal” connotes normal as boring. Normal can also be flipped on its head when the radical becomes normal. Here, I think of what has become prescribed resistance (the usual tools in the activist toolbox) or what has turned from a movement to a fashion trend (capitalism at its best). These things can become normalized so that it actually becomes assimilated, and ultimately acceptable for those with the grade sheets of Normal. Part of the fold, it pleats as it’s supposed to.
The power of normal folds over and over again continuing its normalization programming. Horrible things can begin to feel usual (this is usually reserved for those either in a power position or those that have become assimilated into the constant imagery). Warring nations and people killing each other over so-called safety or power, privilege, and identity. Whiteness, misogyny, thin, able-bodied, heterosexual, Christian. Normal is when people fit their pre-disposed characters spoon fed to us by media. Normal is, normal does.
I am normal in many ways. In my teenage years, I strove to not be normal even though I also had no patience or understanding for some not normal dispositions. Then there were times that I went through life wishing the parts of me that were normal were something else, anything else, while still looking down on others not-normalness. I didn’t realize the amount of judging that I was heaping on others, let alone myself. Standards that I strove to keep up with and judged others who didn’t seem to be keeping up slowly took their toll mentally and emotionally, so, I worked to see the world in new ways, laying judgement to rest in the last backyard I officially had. Asking someone or yourself to be normal is subjective to, usually, white dominant, heterosexual, and able-bodied standards. Being not normal is not definable enough given the applied connotations of it: being not boring, or not plain. It’s too simple and even more, is still within the normal paradigm which we desperately need to hop off that merry go round. I do not strive for a not normal. Espousing normal as boring is actually quite normal. Being not normal is another arm of normality and assimilation.
I strive for an anti-normal. Anti-normal is resisting normalcy, and what it implies, entirely. Anti-normal asks for a paradigm, new definitions and ways of being and seeing. Not normal is being against normalcy within the constructs of a normalcy paradigm, while anti-normal is creating a new system and simply doing away with normal.
Anti-Normal. Wet. Empty. The way my mind feels when I’ve slowed down to walk next to the snail. I’m no longer thirsty. I move meticulously, somatically, with hair unfurling ears.
slow knots push out wails
fully wadded within heart
shaped scapulas stretch
out long tethers rounding and
whooping, “bruising in the dawn.”