On being /ˈnɔːm(ə)l/

Several weeks ago I met a man (who happened to be gay) who said his life was as simple as normal people’s lives. Two days ago, a note was added next to those words. “Define normal people. What is normal like?”

My brows furrowed. I was confused. I knew what it meant, in that context, but I wondered… Why emphasize normality? Why does it matter if someone is normal or not? I understood why he used that term, I think, yet I was a bit puzzled, and more so a few days later.

I was told I should learn to act a certain way, “like a normal person”.

I scoffed, half-offended, half-amused. I was upset. I was angry. I wondered why I had to hear that. Sure, it was not the first time the word was spitefully said to me. Still, I thought, what an awful thing to hear.

Then I realized, just now. It wasn’t really an awful thing to say, was it? What made it so awful? Why was being told I was (and probably still am) not normal so upsetting? What does it mean to be normal?

When I think of the word ‘normal’, I’m reminded of ‘norms’. Normal is being or acting according to norms. Oxford Dictionary defines normal as ‘conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected’.

To be honest, by that definition, I am unconcerned whether I am normal or not. Being unusual, atypical, or unexpected, not conforming to a standard, neither bothers nor excites me. Yet, although indifferent to both being normal and abnormal, I still took offense. Why?

Let’s think about what it usually means to be normal. Straight, able-bodied, healthy, having no mental or personality disorders. Now let’s think of the sentiments attached to the words ‘abnormal’ or ‘not normal’. Frightening, unnatural, wrong, unacceptable.

Despite my personal distaste in binary oppositions, I am, after all, a product of socialization and social conditioning. I don’t exactly strive to be unacceptable or frightening. Being offended was an understandable reaction, although I can’t say I approve of or agree on the meanings and merits of being normal.

It is too loosely defined, in my opinion, to have such a great effect. If being normal is defined by norms, wouldn’t it vary based on when and where the act or interaction takes place?

Of course, I believe that to a certain extent, social norms are useful and necessary, having much to do with roles that keep a society functioning.  What is too vague is ‘normal’ in its colloquial, everyday use, as insults, as praises, as assertions, as accusations.

Don’t people regard and react differently to conceptions of normality? Being non-heterosexual might be considered not normal, thus unacceptable and offensive by many. Yet, I personally consider queerness, in essence, as acceptable and inoffensive as heterosexuality.

Faced with another hypothetical statement of my abnormality, perhaps I should ask, “Normal in what way? By whose standards? In the statistical sense or the normative sense? Why is it a cause for concern? How does not being normal in this case affect our well-beings? How does it affect your attitude and behaviour towards me? Why does it affect you? How does it affect my attempts in reaching my own personal goals? How does it affect how I function in my life? Can you wait a minute? I’ll get a piece of paper so we can make a list to evaluate the pros and cons.”

On second thought, perhaps such questions would only take too much time, too much paperwork, too many brain cells, to reach uncertain results. Why bother? It would perhaps be more efficient, more time and energy saving, to just accept the statement of normality in all its vagueness, accept that it might be true or untrue, and say, quite truthfully, that, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Want

When we want something we can’t have, what do we really want?

That burning desire for the unattainable? An excuse to leave the things we have behind? The prospect of something better, something more satisfying? The assurance that there’s something beyond what we have right now? An option? A fantasy?

Expiration Date

Do all relationships have breaking points? If every relationship ends after the all too familiar last straw, what’s the point of finding new partners?

Maybe there is no point (shock horror), maybe the shelf lives are varied and among the milk and pastry you might find something that lasts long enough until you die or decide to only live with cats.

Maybe you should just step back, not think about it, and enjoy your meal. At least before the molds grow.

Tag Team

The constant, instant shifting of moods, from cold to furious to hysterical to morose to indifferent to composed to frighteningly chipper. Silence, tears, shouts, angry trembling, Stepford smiles, quizzical eyebrow raises, laughter, all jumbled, mixed, in sequence, in reverse.

The only reasonable unreasonable explanation is that there’s a tag team made up of parts of myself with different temperaments. Detached yet inseparable. I do wonder, when one takes a hit, who gets hurt?

Burning, Burning, Yearning

A few months ago, a dear friend brought to mind an age-old question:
When we break up, where does the love go?

Ache

It’s fascinating how sadness and other forms of emotional distress are often accompanied by physical pain. The chest pain of sadness, the abdominal pain of anxiety, the headache of anger.

How are the physical and mental pain connected? Can one literally die of heartbreak or any other devastating loss? How does it all work?

Like Thomson and Thompson or Mac and Cheese

A: how is it that you keep going from one relationship to another?
A: and enduring the same kind of fights over and over again?
B: maybe I’m just stupid
A: or courageous
B: or a fucking idiot
A: or a fucking braveheart
B: well
B: it’s because of that high
A: what high?
B: that high feeling
B: being in love
A: ah
A: and the low feeling?
B: unfortunately, they go hand in hand

(…or Pinky and the Brain or Mulder and Scully or pre-divorce Sonny and Cher or Beavis and Butthead or or pre-Keene Act Rorschach and Nite Owl II* or pre-breakup/post-reunion Simon and Garfunkel or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde**)

*apparently Rorschach and Nite Owl II slash fictions exist in this world, to which I say, in the words of film-version Nite Owl II, “NOOOOOOOO!”

**awful 90s comedy home video that tainted my childhood innocence

What I Think About When I Think About Jumping

Last night I could not sleep well. Waking up every couple of hours, I was not fully conscious, not fully asleep. I had a few things in mind, and one particular thought constantly tormented me.

I thought of getting out of bed, opening the door to the balcony, and jumping off.

Worried, afraid, terrified, yet intrigued, I wanted to do it, but I didn’t want to do it. I could hear a click as I turned the key. I could feel the cold balcony railing with my hands. I could smell the faint scent of the grass below. I opened my eyes to find myself in the comfort of my bed, having been deceived by my senses. I stared at the door. Should I get out? Should I pull out the keys and swallow them?

It was not the first time this urge came to me. Once in a while it comes, with varying intensities. Sometimes it passes by, casually, like any other thought. Sometimes it stays for hours, haunting me, taunting me.

The urge to jump from high places, like many seemingly strange pathological behavior, is not uncommon. The French call it l’appel du vide, literally ‘the call of the void’. What a fascinating phrase, and how fitting! A seduction to emptiness, to nothingness, that I find so hard to resist. A temptation I try to resist in many similarly harmful situations.

I have often wondered about these destructive urges. Why do they come so often, in so many different forms? I don’t want to die, not yet, not of my own accord. I don’t feel suicidal. I don’t want to be harmed. Are they products of sheer curiosity? Simple ‘what if’ questions? But I don’t want answers, I don’t want to feel the consequences. Are they some kind of cathartic fantasy? But I don’t imagine myself feeling any relief or release. Why, then, do I fear the temptation of self-destruction?

I once pondered about Thanatos, the ‘death drive’ in Freudian thought. Is there really a primitive urge to harm oneself, to destroy, to take a step closer to death? If so, in order to survive, should one protect oneself not only against external forces but also against one’s own innate self-destructive nature?

Poe once wrote about what he named ‘the imp of the perverse’. The impulse to do the complete opposite of what is ‘right’, the temptation to do things one should not do. The desire, when standing upon the brink of a precipice, overcome with fear, to plunge and fall. “And this fall,” he wrote, “this rushing annihilation – for the very reason that it involves that one most ghastly and loathsome of all the most ghastly and loathsome images of death and suffering which have ever presented themselves to our imagination – for this very cause do we now the most vividly desire it.”

It would probably be easier and wiser to think of these urges as light symptoms of obsessive compulsive or some sort of anxiety disorder that may or may not be harmful. Accept them, dismiss them, or face them, with external help if necessary.

Sometimes I wonder though, might I give in? When the imp of the perverse on my side whispers in my ear, luring me, seducing me, might I answer the call of the void? Or would the void, the emptiness, the nothingness, remain a seductive, untouched mystery?

Faithless

If death means ceasing to be, if death means nonexistence, nothingness,
which would be more true:
Is life meaningful, because we go through it only once
or is life meaningless, because it leads to nothing in the end?

That is the Question

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

or

“Out of sight, out of mind.”

?

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