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Why Do You Pretend To Be Normal?

May 29, 2019 16 comments

A fellow blogger – Stevie Turner – published a post on Monday about the odd phrases that people have entered into search engines as a result of which they have landed on her blog. Her post is called ‘WordPress Search Terms,’ and can be found here – as with all her posts, I recommend it. I’ve often marvelled at some of the weird and wonderful things people search for. In my case, I once wrote a post for Think About Sex Day – yes, it really does exist – which gave me the opportunity to use the word ‘sex’ in the post’s tags, giving rise (or not, ahem) to countless disappointed people since then. I commented on Stevie’s post that my all time favourite was someone who had found my blog by asking ‘why do you pretend to be normal?’ I’ve always hoped that wasn’t aimed specifically at me, but there is always that nagging doubt, isn’t there?

At first I said to Stevie that I hadn’t tried to answer the question, but then I dredged the depths of my memory and realised that I had, in a post from June 2013, entitled ‘Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal.’ The post was written in response to one of the old WordPress daily prompts, back in the days when a) they still did them, and b) they were sensible. As you can see from the conversation I had with Stevie on her post, she expressed an interest in seeing my earlier attempt so, on the basis that I was guaranteed at least one reader, I agreed to share it again. Here it is – I’ll drop back in again at the end for a postword:

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STRANGELY STRANGE BUT ODDLY NORMAL

Daily Prompt: The Normal

Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt asks ‘Is being “normal” — whatever that means to you — a good thing, or a bad thing? Neither?’

This is a subject I’ve been struggling to write about for quite a while – since I started blogging last autumn, in fact. I think what has held me back from this is a twofold fear: firstly, that I would look as if I was trying to be an eminent expert, which I’d never claim to be on anything; secondly, it could be pretty dull. But the prompt has persuaded me to do it, so here goes. This is a companion piece to my earlier post today on Men’s Health Week.

Pretending

How do we define what is normal? What standards/criteria do we judge it against? Do we mean ‘conforming to societal norms?’ If you have a mental illness, like my depression, does that mean you are abnormal? Or if you are physically disabled, does that mean you aren’t normal either? Is ‘normal’ something to want or aspire to anyway?

Seeking inspiration, I tried looking in the dictionary. It said:

NORMAL, adjective

1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.

2. serving to establish a standard.

3. Psychology:

  • approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment.
  • free from any mental disorder; sane.

So there you have it. It’s a fair cop but society really is to blame for anyone who isn’t normal! I once asked someone on Twitter, now an ex-friend, to define normal and her off the cuff response was along the lines of ‘being or doing something that matches more than 50% of the population.’ That is, I guess, the societal norm approach. But why should you be considered abnormal if only 49% are like you? Where would – or could – you draw the line in such an assessment?

The reason we are no longer friends is that she decided I am an unpleasant, needy ‘attention whore,’ and that I am psychotic. And she said this in a very public way. Naturally, I strongly disagreed with this assessment but it makes my point for me: two people’s view of the same thing, or of each other, can be so different that the ability to define what is actually ‘normal’ must be subjective. In other words, it is different things to different people. To show how hard it can be to assess normality let’s consider her as an example. I know this is a cheap shot but I’ve waited six months for this so please indulge me briefly! Unless more than half the population has slept with over 200 people of both genders and posts pictures of their genitalia on the web to help them feel good about themselves, then by her own definition she is abnormal. And I’m pretty sure she deserves to be called an ‘attention whore’ far more than I do. But that’s just my assessment, and whilst those are true facts about her – unless she is a liar too – I’d imagine that she’d disagree with me. Not easy, is it?

Medication can be good for you!

Medication can be good for you!

Looking back at the dictionary definitions, I don’t really have any problem with the first two, which I see as being ‘situational’ definitions. But as you might expect I really cannot agree with the psychological view! Whilst those may be the standards used by clinicians to diagnose their patients, I don’t believe that people with depression or other mental illnesses are helped by being defined as ‘not normal’ in a social context. I function perfectly well in society. So do most others with this and similar illnesses. Of course, medication can be helpful in achieving that, but would anyone consider it wrong to take medication for an ongoing physical condition, such as diabetes? I think not. That ‘not normal’ description, taken out of context, fuels the beliefs and prejudices of people who don’t understand that there are different types of illnesses. It is a factor in creating the stigma that exist: having depression does not mean you are ‘psychotic.’ But it is easy for people to be led into believing otherwise in these days of mass consumption of mass media. Remember The Sun’s ‘Bonkers Bruno’ headline when Frank Bruno was admitted to a clinic suffering from a depressive illness? I rest my case!

As Men’s Health Week is just about to begin it is an appropriate time to ask, not just for men but for all those suffering depression or who are in some way not ‘free from mental disorder’: can we please stop being thought of as abnormal? Why should we or those who have a severe physical illness or disability be regarded as anything other than normal? Basically, that is an insult.

Ignore labels. I am me. You are you. We are us. We are all unique and special, in our own way. One thing you can do better than anyone else is …. be yourself. 

Who wants to be ‘normal’ anyway?”

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And this is me today. The concept of normality isn’t something I think about every day, but that line about being yourself is the one that best sums it up for me. We each have our own version of what it means to be normal, and it provides us with the reference points by which we live our lives. Why should anyone define normality for us? As I said in the original piece, it is to some – possibly a large – extent a subjective matter. How we perceive ourself must impact on our view of others, mustn’t it? How could we possibly remove that from our reference framework?

A triple of footnotes:

1. Men’s Health Week is coming up again. This year it runs from 10 to 16 June. I’m intending to do a post about it – it’s about time I reintroduced my Dates To Note series.

2. Apologies for the little piece of revenge I exacted in the original piece. It wasn’t very noble of me, I know, but it was all true and I did feel better for it!

3. The title of that original was borrowed from a song: the opening track of Kip Of The Serenes, the 1968 debut album by the Irish hippy folk band Dr Strangely Strange. In case you were wondering 😉

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2018: They Think It’s All Over…..

January 3, 2019 19 comments

Englishmen of a certain age will recognise the source of my title!

A number of bloggers have recently posted reviews of their blogging year, and how 2018 was for them. I wasn’t sure if I should do the same, as I’m far from being the most prolific blogger, and I certainly don’t have a massive following or readership. And anyway, I did a kind of ‘part way through the year review’ when I wrote On Further Reflection so there isn’t much point in repeating myself. What those posts have encouraged me to do is to look back behind the headlines of my post statistics and try to analyse what this tells me about my readers and what they prefer – and this does give me the opportunity to give another plug to some of my own favourites from my 2018 ramblings. I’ve already covered some of the ground in New Beginnings? which I posted on Sunday with a reblog of my review of 2015, so I’ll try not to repeat myself more than I already have!

I posted 51 times in 2018, but there was no regular pattern to those: they weren’t synchronised weekly offerings with a week off for good behaviour. Both April and August saw just one post each, whilst there were twelve in November and nine in December. So much for giving your readers a regular expectation of when they can see something from you! But, as I’ve often said (probably to justify this to myself) I don’t think of myself as being a significant blogger: I’m not seeking huge numbers, nor am I looking to monetise my blog. Some do, and I don’t have a problem with that. But it wouldn’t be for me – I wouldn’t expect anyone to pay me for what I produce from the deepest recesses of my mind!

I rarely reblog someone else’s post: I did that just once in 2018, and that was this one, to assist a fellow blogger in raising money for charity. Call me narrow-minded if you like, but I regard this as my space and want people to come here because they enjoy reading my words. There are plenty of blogs that exist solely to reblog others: there is nothing wrong with that, but are they clear on their motivation? Are they doing it out of the goodness of their hearts and the desire to help others? Or are they doing it so they can bask in the reflected glory of having a blog with loads of page views when they rarely, if ever, write anything themselves? And, if the latter, are they using this to make money for their site? That, to me, is dishonest and not what I regard as true blogging. For me, a blog is where we share something of ourselves, not where we push products at people – and especially not by using others’ work as the vehicle.

Having said all of that, I am much more likely to reblog my own posts, or rework older ones into newer versions. My logic in doing that is simple: many of these were written at a time when my follower numbers were smaller, and I doubt that many current followers will have seen these before. I do it because they said something I felt worth sharing again and, in all honesty, because I liked them. I make no excuses for doing this, but I do recognise that there are only so many times that you can mine through your back catalogue without putting people off!

I did produce some new stuff in 2018, though, and it is gratifying to see that five of my top ten most ‘liked’ posts of all time are from last year, with another one actually equal on ‘likes’ for 10th place but not showing in the list. I guess I must be doing something right! I realise that hitting the ‘like’ button is a facility only available to those who, as I do, use WordPress as their blogging platform, so I know that there is not necessarily a link between ‘likes’ and the actual number of times a post has been read. But it suffices as a reasonably good proxy most of the time, though not always: the post of mine which has actually been read most times – by a distance – dates back to 2017. This was written in support of a friend whose ex-wife’s ex-boyfriend (still with me?) had just received a criminal conviction for the most horrible of crimes. My friend is the focus of a group on Twitter and my post was widely shared and read as a result. If you haven’t seen He Fought The Law before by all means take a look: it is a little different from anything I’ve written before, or since.

But let’s get back to 2018! I think my favourite post of the year was that one in equal 10th place on the all time list. My 15 Nanoseconds was one I greatly enjoyed writing – it is one of my lighter pieces and I got a laugh out of it. Having said that, it only needs one person to follow that link and hit the ‘like’ button to move it into 10th place all by itself – which would be something of a pity as the post it currently shares that placing with is one that I regard as among my most important. Maybe I should make that list the top 11 – do you think anyone would notice?

What pleases me most about the popular posts from 2018 is that two of the top five are themed around Mental Health, whilst two others are very personal to me. There are links to all from the list on the right, but to save you having to work it out these posts are I Hope You Dance and For Mother’s Day (the two personal ones),  World Mental Health Day 2018  and Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, plus the outlier A Man Blogs, Aged 64 And A Half, which was written in a fit of pique when I felt that the blogging world was becoming sexist and ageist. I probably proved the blogosphere right in believing it should be for females and younger people when I wrote that!

So, what does this tell me about what people expect from my posts, and does it give me any clues for what I should be writing about this coming year? Whilst they may not have garnered the most ‘likes,’ my musically themed posts are important to me, so you can expect to see more of them. If I can get my act together there may even be some more #SaturdaySongs posts at some point! But let’s take this back to the very beginning: as I’ve often said (though newer readers may not be aware of this) I originally began blogging to share my experience of depression, in the hope that this would help others. It seems to have done that, and I still get the occasional email from people who have read those early posts: they are under ‘My Story’ in the menu at the top of the page, if you want to see them. Six years on, there is still so much that needs to be done to raise awareness of mental health issues and to help fight the stigmatisation which still, sadly, attaches itself to those of us who suffer. I am acutely aware that my own mental health is precarious and I could find myself in relapse at any time, and I think it is very important that as many people as possible are writing about these issues. Whilst that was my starting point I’ve never made this a blog solely on mental health: there are many others who do that far better than I. But it is a subject to which I have returned at intervals, and I will continue to do so. Only yesterday there was a piece in the paper about young people’s mental health and the problems involved in supporting them, so I believe there is an agenda already there for new posts. I’d like to think my small voice will help in some way, so expect more from me on this.

To end this review, I’d like to thank everyone who has read, liked or commented on any of my posts, either in 2018 or previously. Those interactions are why I and my fellow smaller bloggers do this: if we know that there is someone out there it encourages us to keep going. I don’t know how or where you found me, but I’m glad you did. If you’re a regular you have my heartfelt thanks for supporting me. If you’re new here, I hope you like what you see and will be encouraged to read, like and comment on more of my posts. And a final plug for my Facebook page: all new posts are shared there, along with a #SongOfTheDay and occasional random thoughts and funnies. It’s small, but beautifully formed, and I’d love to see you there. Who knows – you may even be encouraged to follow both this blog and the page, if you don’t already!

Thank you, as always, for reading, and here’s to a great 2019!

On Further Reflection

November 30, 2018 25 comments

A reflection of the blogger?

Two years ago today I published a post called Reflections, in which I mused on why we blog, and what it means to us. Having been reminded of this post I re-read it and it seemed time to revisit and update it. For those who won’t have seen it before I’ll share it again now and then update at the end of this post. This is Reflections (Mark 1):

“It’s a funny old game, this blogging lark, isn’t itWe sit at home (other locations are available) in a kind of self-imposed solitude, thumping away at the keyboard while we spill out the contents of our mind. Then we hit that magic button marked ‘Publish’ and those thoughts can be seen by anyone in the world with access to the interweb. Doesn’t that strike you as a little strange? It does to me. Why do we do it? Are we all self-obsessed narcissists? Or exhibitionists?

It’s a given that we all had a reason for starting our blogs, and those can be many and varied. I won’t bore you by repeating yet again why I started – if you don’t know, but want to, just take a look at my ‘About Me’ page and all will be revealed (there’s a link to it in the top menu, just for you). Many of the blogs I follow have started for a similar reason to mine, but then again many haven’t. And therein lies the beauty and magic of it all, for me anyway: the sheer variety of the blogs I follow keeps me entertained, amused and in some cases instructed on a daily basis. I follow many of these because that blogger has also chosen to follow me and I deem it a courtesy to return that compliment – the likelihood is that we have interests in common and I will enjoy their blog too. There are two main reasons why I don’t follow back. The first of these is where I deem the following of my blog a blatant attempt – usually, but not always, by commercial concerns – to widen their own ‘fanbase’ by indiscriminate following of blogs they clearly have no interest in reading. Sorry guys, but you are very easy to spot! The second is…I’ll come back to that later (I’m such a tease!).

Something prompted me the other day to take a look at my blog’s statistics year by year since I first started this, back in late 2012. I was particularly taken by the stats for this year to date and how they differed from previous years. You’ll notice the link on the right to BlogSurfer – I added this not long after I started at the suggestion of the remarkable Cyd (see Thank You for more on her) and it resulted in some great stats in terms of page views up to 2015, when its influence waned dramatically. The total viewing figures for this year are only about a quarter of those for the peak years of 2013-4, but I don’t care in the slightest. Why? Because I can be pretty sure that the great majority of this year’s views have been from people who actually wanted to read my words, rather than by those who just dropped by in passing from another site. BlogSurfer has prompted just 18% of views this year – in 2013 it was over 90%. The other really revealing stats are that the total number of ‘likes’ this year is around 50% more than the combined total for all previous years, while the number of comments is 250% more!

Isn’t that why we do it? That apparently solo activity is actually helping us to communicate in a way that modern technology allows, and in a way that just hadn’t been imagined when I was younger. I don’t know about you, but I thrive on the interactions my blog generates, and these become a kind of addiction. The more I get, the more I crave. If you look at my blog posting habits, you’ll see that, apart from #NaBloPoMo in 2014 and 2015, my previous activity has been much less frequent than of late. This has also encouraged me to become much more active in commenting on others’ blogs – as some of you can attest! For me, 2016 has been the first year that blogging has really felt like being part of a community. I used to interact with some in the earlier days, but most of them no longer blog much, if at all. Several of you are now Facebook friends – people can deride that, but I see it as a mark of trust and friendship and I value it. If you look at my Facebook friends (my proper name is Clive Pilcher) you’ll see some familiar faces – including Cyd, whose daughter has left her page open for us to drop by and remember her. And if we aren’t already friends on Facebook, I’m open to offers….

I said I’d go back to the second reason why I wouldn’t follow a blog back. It’s a fairly simple one. I’m very fortunate to have English as my native tongue: it is probably the most widespread language worldwide, albeit with localised variations. I enjoyed learning languages at school and studied French and German to our A level standard. But that was more than 40 years ago and whilst I still recognise many of the words I can’t claim sufficient skills to read the languages now. I’m ashamed to admit it, but if your blog isn’t written in English I wouldn’t understand it. Until now, that is. WordPress has recently been promoting a widget for Google Translate, which is claimed to work in over 100 languages. I’ve added the widget – you can see it on the right. Isn’t this wonderful? If every blogger using WordPress added this to their site we could access so many more blogs than we can at present, and those of you that I haven’t followed back could open up your blogs to those, like me, who can only deal in English! Blogging is a global activity, so it seems a no-brainer to do this. My blog has been read by people in around 200 countries – I’d like to read yours too, then this community can truly become a global one! The support of the full worldwide blogging community can mean so much to so many, and I hope this little widget is widely adopted.

So, that’s why I do this and why it is a valuable part of my life. How is it for you? Do tell, I’d love the interaction ;-)”

Whilst revisiting that post I thought it only right that I should take a new look at my stats. Broadly speaking, 2016, 2017 and this year to date have been fairly similar in the numbers of total views, actual visitors, and likes. But there has been a fall in comments. Is that something others have experienced, or is it just me? Maybe it is because (like this post) I have reworked quite a few older pieces that current viewers won’t have seen, but there aren’t enough new viewers who are active commenters? Or, looking at the pattern of new followers, perhaps I’m attracting more of those who are looking for a follow back to boost their own numbers? With a few treasured exceptions, I can’t recall any comments from a fairly large percentage of those who have followed in the past year. But then again, I haven’t commented on many of theirs either: that works both ways, folks! Or, to take the obvious answer, maybe I’m not writing the sort of pieces that would encourage people to comment on as well as like a post. An interesting thought for discussion, perhaps? And it comes with an invitation to add your comment to the discussion: as I said in the previous post I, and I suspect most of us, thrive on the interaction with our readers.

I also mentioned in that previous post that I would welcome the addition of the Translate widget on blogs that don’t publish in English. I can understand your wish to use your native language but English (and the American version of it) is very much the universal blogging language and making the translation available would widen your readership. Many of the blogs I follow are posting in English even though it clearly isn’t their first language. I admire and applaud their efforts but there are still a few following me who don’t publish in English: they are better educated than I, sorry! Please, please add the Translate widget if you don’t publish in English: I’m sure it would be of benefit to others as well as me.

Another change from two years ago is that some who were regular bloggers back then seem to have dropped out. I know of some who have gone through some big life changes which have meant that blogging became far less important to them, and have every sympathy with them. But others just seem to have wandered off into the ether. I don’t know about you, but there is something comforting to me in seeing a new post from a favourite writer, and it’s always a little sad not to see them any more. But there is no shortage of new (or new to me, at least) blogs out there, and hopefully over time I’ll build the same relationship of mutual support with them that I had with those who have gone AWOL. That is, after all, the sustenance on which bloggers depend.

A new development for me is that I started a Facebook page as a companion to this blog: my reasons for doing it are explained here. This is quite possibly just a vanity project, and it currently only stands at 32 ‘likes’ anyway, but it gives me a space to post things that I wouldn’t otherwise write about. There’s a #SongOfTheDay, which from tomorrow will become a #ChristmasSongOfTheDay – I’ve done this for several years now on my Twitter account and on Facebook, and have written catch up posts here: but if you want to see the daily posts then the Facebook page is the place to go – just follow the link to the right. And I also do a kind of Advent Calendar – not the usual sort! – on my Instagram account. If I can, I link these to the Facebook page but the technology is a little erratic so do follow the link to the right for Instagram if you’d like to see my more irreverent (or just downright smutty) side.

Do you ever take time out to reflect on why you blog, on what it means for you and your readers? I can recommend it: it can be an enlightening experience. Then again, as a great philosopher (well, Johnny Nash, actually) once said: ‘There are more questions than answers,’ and it does feel a bit like that inside my head at the moment! What do you think?

 

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