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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?”

———

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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Glass Still Half Full?

November 20, 2018 8 comments

Having taken part in #NaBloPoMo in 2014 and 2015 I get two reminders in Timehop every day for the posts I wrote back then. In 2015 I re-shared a post originally written on May 5 2103, in response to one of WordPress’ daily prompts. It was titled ‘Glass Half Full?’

The link to WordPress still works, so I’ve left it in for you to see what others thought of their prompt, should you wish. Looking back at what I wrote several years ago, I wouldn’t have said this differently now, although the events of the past two years – in particular the UK referendum and US Presidential election, and their aftermath – do put a slightly more sinister context around my remarks about being bullied into agreeing with people. This is the original post:

 

Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da Life Goes On

Today’s Daily Prompt is the old question “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?” There is of course a third possibility, that it is neither of these:

Blinded by science!

Blinded by science!

but only a pedant such as I would even consider such a thought! Actually, the science of that is beyond me anyway: given that I am blessed with the typical Virgo’s mind – logical, structured, boring – it’s a wonder I was always so bad at science when I was at school. But I was!

I’m rather hoping that the question is intended to be taken philosophically, rather than scientifically. At least that gives me a chance of answering it! The usual interpretation of the two approaches is:

Glass half-full = optimistic, positive

Glass half-empty = pessimistic, negative.

So what? Who’s to say if either of those is right or wrong? Actually, I think there’s a lot to be said for being a pessimist – that way, your expectations are likely at least to be met, if not exceeded, and that should be a cause for happiness  shouldn’t it? So, following that logic (I told you I was like that) I believe this means that pessimists are generally happy people. Now, what was the question again?

Oh yes, whether the glass is half-full or empty. My answer is: it doesn’t matter. Whatever best suits you and your outlook on life is the right answer for you: no one has the right to judge you and tell you which way to think. Look at Twitter, as I do fairly frequently. How often do you see people there telling you that your attitude, approach or beliefs are wrong if you differ from them? That’s a matter of choice, not a reason to be judged. Unfortunately, those who are like that tend to be lacking in self-awareness and unable to debate sensibly – they just want to bully everyone into agreeing with them. So if they tell you what’s in the glass they must be right? Total crap! You have a right to believe what you want, however ‘wrong’ it may be when judged by societal norms. Other people can then choose to agree or disagree with you, to like or dislike you and your beliefs and attitude. The world isn’t about to be knocked off its axis because you have the temerity to disagree with someone or see things differently from them. Anything extreme is likely to be filtered out by the majority view anyway – whatever that is.

So, believe what you want to. Look at the glass whichever way you prefer. It’s your choice, and it’s what helps define you as a person. The answer to the question

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

has to be:

YES!!

………..

Back to 2018 again, and I expect you can see what I meant about the context that has built up over recent years. The UK referendum result was a surprise to many, including those on the winning side, but I don’t think anyone at that time foresaw how divisive it would prove to be. Voters on both sides are still being offensive towards those who disagree with them, and this is being led from the highest echelons of government down, as the whole thing becomes a farcical mess. Likewise the ‘election’ of Trump, via the crazy and unfair Electoral College system and despite his losing the overall vote by 2.8m. This was also a surprise to many, including the winner, and has also proved to be extremely divisive in what has followed.

One thing both of these events have in common is how we are bullied by those with whom we disagree. As I said in that original post, we have a right to our beliefs, even if they are extreme, and societal norms could be expected to counterbalance any extremism. But it seems that things are changing, and not just in the UK and US. Those two elections somehow gave extremists the belief that they had been legitimised, and there have been many further examples since then: the growth of support for the politically extreme in many European countries, and the recent Brazilian election spring to mind. My comment about the world not being knocked off its axis seems especially optimistic now!

I still believe that we all have the right to view that glass however we wish. I just wish there weren’t so many instances every day of – in particular – politicians telling us what we should believe. The obvious danger in that is that our leaders become authoritarian like Trump and, in her own beleaguered way, Theresa May are. I kind of hedged my bets in the 2013 post: that is becoming ever less possible to do nowadays. I don’t think I’m overstating it in saying that I’m frightened by the way the political world has moved in five years, or that I’m fearful for the future. But the last thing I would want to do is to bully someone into seeing the glass the same way I do: politicians – and quite a lot of others – could do with learning not to do that, too.

My Mind’s Eye – Looking Back and Ahead

September 10, 2018 11 comments

For the second episode of my resharing from the posts I referenced in 300 Not Out – A Retrospective here is the post originally written as My Mind’s Eye. This was first posted on 14 July 2013, and is notable for me both for the fact that it was in response to one of the WordPress Daily Prompts – back in the days when they were sensible and helpful – and for the time in my life that it represents. I’ll be adding a few words after the post, but firstly here’s the original:

Daily Prompt: Opposite Day

“I hadn’t planned on posting again so soon after two posts in the past three days, as this is my 50th post and I wanted to mark it in some way. It is a bit of an event for me, as well as a surprise that I’ve kept going at this, so I’d like to thank you all for being part of my blogworld – especially those who have endured this since the early days! As you may have noticed I’ve rather taken to WordPress’ Daily Prompts in the past couple of months and today’s gave me an ideal opportunity. So here I am again! With its theme of doing the opposite of normal, the prompt reads:

If you normally write non-fiction, post a photo. If you normally post images, write fiction. If you normally write fiction, write a poem. If you normally write poetry, draw a picture.

I don’t think I’m capable of writing fiction or poetry so what I do must therefore be non-fiction. It is all true, certainly: I don’t believe in being creative with the truth (i.e. lying) or in jazzing things up for effect or to draw attention to myself. So that must mean my challenge is to post a photo. I wanted something with some meaning, something which was symbolic for me, and this is what I chose:

The London Eye

The London Eye

iPhone pics 029An odd choice? Not for me. I took this on a grey evening in May from the walkway at the Southbank Centre in London. I was there for one of my bucket list wishes: to see Steve Earle in concert. You may not have heard of him but he’s been one of my favourite artists since he started, which was c.1986 I think. But that’s not why this picture has meaning for me: the reason I am attached to this is that it symbolises my future.

That probably sounds strange if you don’t know the background. For all but two of the past thirty-eight years I’ve commuted into London to work. When I retire in September I plan to make London a place for leisure and enjoyment, rather than work. As I don’t have much of a head for heights, but have always liked aerial photo shots, I want to go up in the Eye to conquer my fear and to take my own aerial pictures. To me this symbolises my future: looking down over the city where I have spent so much time will, I’m sure, give me a feeling of taking control. And what is retirement if not an opportunity to take control of my life and ‘do it my way?’

The Southbank is one of my favourite concert venues. The architecture is hideous – Lasdun’s concrete period – but the two main halls are beautifully appointed with superb acoustics. As this would be the last time I was there before retiring and making my epic voyage on the big wheel, I took a few shots to remember the evening by. That is the one I like best, but I’m also quite fond of the view across the river:

iPhone pics 008

And of the cute little busker:

iPhone pics 012

And the view from my seat (I booked late!):

iPhone pics 021

These photos are a memory of a great evening and of some fabulous music, and a lead in to the rest of my life. I’m looking ahead with a great deal of optimism and marking this new stage in my life with a ‘flight’ or ‘rotation’ on the Eye is, for me, a perfect way to do it. I may even do this on my 60th birthday, to celebrate the occasion. And there are reduced rates for the over 60s 😉”

Back to the present day. Life has a habit of throwing curve balls at you, doesn’t it? For the first couple of years of my retirement I really did enjoy London- concerts, the theatre, museums, galleries and even a bit of shopping. Not to mention my very regular visits for a few seasons to Leyton Orient, including a great day out at Wembley for the League One playoff final in May 2014 – even if the result went the wrong way. But my health has turned against me, and a long term condition has severely restricted my ability to get out and enjoy myself. It’s not life-threatening or anything serious like that, but I look back at that post ruefully, thinking of what might have been and hoping that those plans and intentions can be restarted at some point. I mentioned that I was aiming to take control of my life after retirement. That phrase has, to my mind’s eye, been seriously devalued by its appropriation to support the Brexit campaign. I had no real idea what my future would hold, though I had hopes: those who (unlike me) supported Brexit have no more idea what it means than I did! But my post resonates with me now perhaps even more than it did when I wrote it.

I did get to visit the London Eye, and will be sharing again the post I wrote about it as the next instalment in this extended retrospective. Its significance for me still remains, and one day I intend to pay another visit, and take some more photos to mark the event. Revisiting my previous post has reminded me how important our memories are for us, and also how important it is that we keep making new memories. Life is too short not to!

As a sign-off, I’m correcting my oversight from the original post. As those of you of a certain age – or with a good knowledge of great pop music – will have recognised, I ‘borrowed’ the original title from the Small Faces. I really should have given them the credit for that so, by way of apology to the sole surviving band member, here is two minutes of magic:

 

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