The Art & Practice of Being Normal

Passport Day, September 2016

“Hide, hide, the cow’s outside!” “I ain’t afraid of no cow.” – final lines to a child’s joke, circa 1960s

I’m paid to be normal: compassionate, encouraging, yet normal. Because I work in mental health, and it doesn’t do for the worker to be even more distressed, and out of touch, than the client(s).

Assuming however that there really is such a thing as “normal” when it comes to human behaviour, and mental health, then I don’t really qualify. Not just because I have bipolar, and – all too frequently – crippling anxiety, but also because it’s hard to come across as normal when you’re the only Yank in the village. (1)

Thanks in part to policies about boundaries, none of the people who I meet at work get to see how I really live: messily, often lazily, and with more knick-knacks, pictures, and pencils than you could shake a stick at. If, of course, you just happened to have a stick ready for the shaking. (2)

In my opinion, there is no such thing as normality: what passes for it, is really down to how good you are at hiding.

Blurred round the edges: Sheffield station

Me, I’m not so good at it. This is partly because of an accent which, to your average Brit, sounds like I’m fresh off the peanut-butter-and-jelly boat. Despite 30 years’ effort at picking up the local slang, and practicing my “ooo” sounds, I cannot blend in unless I don’t open my mouth, at all, to speak. (3)

Then, there’s that slight tendency toward eccentricity.

Do you like my hat? 2015

What’s so great about normality, anyway? Isn’t that just a more grown up word for the “cool” that I briefly chased, before giving it up as the hopeless quest it was, back in junior high, and high school?

We recently made our leisurely way through the first three or four box sets of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. It was a funny, nostalgic trip down someone else’s high school memory lane, infinitely better, I suspect, than an actual trip back to not-so-dear old APHS would have been. Plus, all that Giles, Oz, and yes, damnit, Xander loveliness. Yes, I can see the appeal of Spike, and even Angel, but, to be frank, I have never been able to separate the supposed sexiness of vampires, from the fact that those guys are not just dead, they’re cold.

Body heat, folks! Where’s the love for body heat? Clearly, vamp fans have never tried sleeping in a house with no central heating, during a South Yorkshire winter.

Winter at our house, 2013 It’s not Michigan cold, but it’s still cold

Watching “Buffy” again reminded me that the initial hook, for me, was how accurate “BtVS” is at portraying just how miserable high school is, if you’re not part of the top 1% tier of the pretty, the talented, the athletic, and / or the “too cool for school” brigade. It’s especially horrific if you’re crawling along in the bottom 1%, sub-strata of the “too uncool, even for school”.

So un-cool, I was nearly cool. Except I wasn’t.

Awful though it is, high school can teach at least one valuable lesson: that life isn’t, and seldom ever will be, fair. Sadly, many of us sub-strata types were too thick to learn that lesson, at least, not for many years. Some of us never do learn it: due less to being thick, than continuously smacking our heads against a big brick wall, with the words “Tough luck, kid!” painted in big, angry letters.

A local author, Craig Hallam, likes to use the phrase “Embrace the weird!” I like it, and it suits someone who, like Craig, writes about Steampunk, and horror.

If you’ve ever been to a Steampunk convention, or just hung around a Steampunk net group, you’ll know that your average Steampunk does indeed embrace their weird. And why shouldn’t they? Or I? Or, indeed, you, oh gentle, and perhaps just a bit odd reader?

For starters, it’s a damn site easier than hiding.

Embracing my weird: with Gerald C Dalek, & Jake the Cat. 2004, just before it all kicked off.

(1) I’m not, of course: I recently discovered another American
(2) Why you have that stick, and what you plan to do with it, is not my concern: it’s yours.
(3) And a damn fine idea that would be, at times.

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About Sheila North

I am an author and ex-journalist, who has written novels, short stories, and poems. I also help facilitate a writers' group. Check me out on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sheila-North/
This entry was posted in Art, Bipolar, mental health, Nostalgia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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