Giving Up Normal

I wanted to take the time to write a post today rather than recording an episode for the podcast. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. I didn’t feel like trying to talk over my noisy muffler (which I should be getting checked out).

  2. My girlfriend is sleeping just a few feet behind me.

  3. I spent last night painting miniatures instead of recording.

I’m a terrible human, my willpower sucks, my time-management skills swallow, blah blah blah, self-loathing and self-pity.

Now that that’s over with…

I’m feeling inspired to write about what it means to be normal, and why I have to give that up. Being a writer, I’ve learned that when inspiration strikes, you launch all your harpoons at that motherfucker, drag it back in a net, and eviscerate it until you get something useful out of it. Did you know my novel is pretty violent? Can you tell I’ve been working on it all morning?

So what’s normal, really? It’s not average. It doesn’t meet the mathematical requirement for a statistical mean or a representative image of a population. No, normal to me is what I perceive others to have; more specifically, it’s the things I think they have that I should. Not all others, mind you, just the ones I feel are doing better than me. They have things like a full time job, their own place, a stable notion of what the future holds, bi-weekly nights out with friends, a car that works properly, an ability to live in a town with no future without it grinding at everything inside them…it’s a long list. And you might be reading this and think “Yeah, these things are pretty normal, what’s he complaining about?” or “That’s a very skewed and unhealthy way of looking at the people around you and he should probably get help.” Both are probably valid.

There’s always that nagging feeling that I’m not normal, and worse, that I should be. I’m 26, squatting in my mom’s basement (it’s a nice, finished basement with an actual room, and I didn’t even have to sneak in). And instead of feeling lucky and grateful that I have access to a space to live rent-free, I tell myself I’m a loser because I don’t have my own place. Sometimes I imagine people in the street shouting: “Look! A momma’s boy! Get him!” and tackling me to the ground. But in the real world, it’s always the little details that make the worst reminders. I don’t really invite people over, because I don’t have my own space to host in. I don’t understand adult things like utilities, property taxes, and home insurance beyond an intellectual level. And before you figure out a way to phase through the screen to clobber me over the head, let me say this.

I’m grateful.

It doesn’t roll off the tongue, probably because I’m a pessimistic, stoic(ish) person who doesn’t realize how good he has it. So thank you, mom. Thanks to you, I have the freedom to pursue my dream, which far outweighs the number of imaginary people judging and screaming at me.

Ok, so now that I’ve completely alienated you, the reader, let’s talk about the meat of what this post is about. Giving up that idea of normal.

I think the seed of this idea was planted the first time Facebook threw a trailer for the latest Van Gogh movie into my face. Burgeoning artists like to compare themselves to the greats. We take these things that make our lives more complicated, these choices that are like throwing caltrops in front of ourselves, and justify them by saying “Look! The greatest artists in history did this too!” I’ve used it to justify a drinking problem, my isolationist tendencies and my obsessions, among other things. Even just now, listening to the trailer as I write this paragraph, I pick up on things Willem Dafoe says and think “I’ve said that too! I must be a real artist!”

That’s a dangerous thing to think. Because if you look hard enough, you’ll find a way to justify all your shitty behaviours through comparison with some great figure. But that’s not the idea that seed has led to. What I really get out of something as simple as a movie trailer is more than just an excuse for the rougher parts of myself I don’t want to correct. It’s the realization that the path I’m on requires sacrificing normalcy. If I really wanted to be normal, or at least reach this idea of normal that I’ve convinced myself actually exists, I could. I’ve got a college education, a marketable skill, and numerous advantages (including being bilingual in a country where that really matters). I could get a job that pays a decent amount, enough to pay for a place to live that’s my own, to get a car that works, and whatever else constitutes normal (in Quebec, that would be the state-mandated, yearly trip to Cuba). It’s doable, and definitely easier than what I’m trying to do now.

But then what am I left with?

After I’m well into the job, my car’s paid off, and I can start thinking about getting a house, where am I?

Normal.

Normal means writing less and less, as the demands of regular everyday life take over. I stop getting up early before work to write. I stop writing the minute I get home from my day job. I read less about the craft and the publishing industry, and more about politics and the next Marvel movie. I put my novel in a drawer, forget about it, and don’t even think about writing the next one. I don’t even pay attention as the creative flame withers and dies, reduced to a smoldering pile of embers. A pile that might flare up every five years or so, when I realize what I’ve given up.

I think about that normal, and it scares the shit out of me. It scares me but makes me thankful. Thankful that I can spend nearly every day writing something, anything, no matter how fucking hard it is sometimes. Thankful that I’m in a position where I can put myself in a bubble, shutting out everything that doesn’t have to do with writing for just a couple hours a day. That despite all the uncertainty and the failures I’ve had along the way, I still allow myself to dream, and have the discipline to work towards my dream daily.

And if all I have to do, in order to pursue that, is to live my life in a way that may cause some people to judge me harshly?

That’s a sacrifice I’ll gladly make, no matter how many imaginary normal people tackle me in the street.