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A Quest For Normal

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The term “normal” once implied unimaginative and boring types who sewed their own clothes (not that there’s anything wrong with that). No one wanted to be labeled normal unless they were in a doctor’s office. Times have changed dramatically, however, and given the mind-blowing pace of life today, and the erratic behavior that comes in its wake, describing someone as normal is now an accolade, suggesting they are down-to-earth, unpretentious, straightforward and authentic. Mind you, very few people live up to that description. We could use some “normal” detectives to suss them out!

The definition of “normal,” according to the dictionary, is conforming to a standard, one that is usual, typical or expected. That worked when there actually were universally accepted standards. But now that standards have gone rogue, how can we adhere to them?

So what has become the new normal, and what if any of the old forms remain? Clearly, and in my mind sadly, political correctness is here to stay as a norm. In New York City there are 31 legal gender terms, most of which are off-the-wall. Man and Woman came in at 17 and 18 on that list, which includes entries such as Two-Spirit, Pangender, Gender Blender, Non-Op and Androgyne. God forbid we describe someone incorrectly or generically. Imagine a pop quiz at school ensuring your child is up to speed on all these terms. Whatever happened to geography?

Social media as a spewing podium seems to have dug its heels into normality. Can you imagine JFK tweeting his venom during the Cuban missile crisis, or cursing out Khrushchev on Twitter? How about his staff recording images of him in the White House pool frolicking with questionable female guests? I don’t think so.

How about fake news? Another accepted norm now. And according to former mayor Rudy Giuliani, even truth is relative. Really? Hopefully that notion won’t stay long in the normal zone.

What about kids’ names? Remember when Barbara, Mary, Anne, Steve and John were the normal choices? Well, forget about that. Now you need to think outside the box and come up with edgy names like Saint, North, Apple, Brooklyn, Chicago, Rocket and Blue Ivy. Yup, those are the new standards for normal nomenclature. I thank my Memphis-born mother for not naming me South or Cotton, evoking the history of plantations in the South…

Then there are tattoos. They’ve become so ubiquitous and mainstream they definitely qualify as normal. Even I have a tattoo. (Mind you, not a sleeve, just a little porcupine on my wrist.) I bet drunken sailors on shore leave and their counterparts at Gold’s Gym are having their old “FUs” to society removed, disgusted to see tat parlors legalized and body ink proclaimed Body Art. Good luck 86ing them when newer norms usurp them and tattoos are deemed tacky once again.

Newspapers, magazines, hardcover books and even TV screens are fast losing normal status. Millennials read everything online and watch movies on computers, which is definitely a permanent norm, evidenced by magazines and newspapers going out of business or focusing on online content. (AVENUE, thankfully, remains in business, but has augmented its reality online.)

What will future bookcases look like? Certainly not a reflection of the owners’ range of interests or a clue into their personalities. Most likely they’ll just be like a cabinet of curiosities sans books. If they exist at all.

I remember when the bratty response “It’s not my problem” became the mantra du jour in the late 1960s, as the prevailing norms were radically changing amid the Vietnam War, birth control pills, student protests, civil rights marches and pop culture. That phrase was emblematic of a changing world, and the harbinger of a lousy status quo of entitlement and isolation.

I’m afraid only shades of former norms are still kicking around: walking your kids to school, walking your dog in the park, and walking to work, not to mention gardening, drinking, wearing a quartz watch, doing community service, and even having your teeth cleaned. Doesn’t sound seismic? The real truth is there is little evidence left of old-fashioned normal.

I would love to dial up my three closest friends each morning to relive the mistakes made the day before, if only to commiserate and laugh together. To dine only in unpretentious neighborhood joints, to stop hearing about money all the time, to toss my damn cell phone on a regular basis, and to spend more time on creative endeavors and connecting to other human beings.

Call me crazy, but I truly lust for times when normal was authentic and rewarding, even boring. Can I have it back, please?


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