What is “normal?”

Does every kid grow up wondering if they’re normal?  Some, I suppose, do, in hope; others do in fear.  I think that I did both.  I wanted to know that my hopes, dreams, and fears were normal — that others could identify with me, and I with them, and that I didn’t need to be afraid or ashamed of what went on inside my head.

I also wanted to be spectacularly unique and amazing.

Like a lot of other opposites that people experience in life, I tried to hold these things in tension and still function (a la Steinbeck).  I think I managed okay but life was more like bouncing between the opposite poles than maintaining balance.  I keep trying to convince myself now as an adult that I really am normal, that I’m not special, and that my life is just like that of so many others.  I’m not sure I believe me, though.

I was raised with a strong sense of exceptionalism: American exceptionalism, Christian exceptionalism, church exceptionalism, family exceptionalism.  Everything we did and were was somehow a gift from a benevolent God (which I mostly still believe) that we ought to be thankful for, because we were not like other people who did not have What We Had.  There’s probably truth in that somewhere, though it would probably not do to put too much weight down on it.  The rain falls on the just and the unjust.  My family was not exempt from hardship or dysfunction (though neither was it specially singled out to experience them).  We were a lower-middle-class family in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s who were pretty much like lots of others we knew (eve if we were also unlike lots of others we also knew).  I wonder if this is how scholarship recipients feel sometimes — like they have feet in two different worlds and didn’t really feel at home in either of them.  There was the world of the church: close-knit, Charismatic, lower-income, largely under-educated, recovering.  And the world of the family: close-knit, evangelical, upper-income (at least on the part of my grandparents), educated, with nothing obvious to recover from.

In any case, what was held up to us was the expectation of a strong performance and a good reputation.   I was always aware of who (and Who) I represented.  I could be like C and A, the senior pastor’s kids who could do no wrong; or I could be like M, who was shamed in front of the whole church for getting pregnant out of wedlock.  There wasn’t much in the way of middle ground.  We’d been given gifts, you see, and we were responsible to use them.  (Both my brother and I at different points in our adolescence expressed the longing to be average, because the bar was set much higher for us and it felt unfair.)

It wasn’t all bad.  We were loved, celebrated, inquired after, and provided for.  There were moments of laughter, tenderness, and gratitude that were all quite genuine.  Like most people, ours was, and is, a mixed bag.  The problem is in thinking that it isn’t.

I Must Not Tell Lies.

I lied a lot as a little girl, mainly, explains Geoffrey Wolff, because I didn’t realize that anything had happened to me.

I spent a whole season lying, telling fantastic tales.  I had 10 brothers and sisters.  I had a fireman’s pole in my house (I didn’t know at the time that it was called that) in which I lived with my 10 (or was it 12?) brothers and sisters.  I was not actually a girl, but a boy, I confided to my grandma’s next-d0or neighbor’s girl.  I frolicked naked in the woods after school (I knew that was bad, but not exactly why).   I told stories all the time, themes and variations that energized me and made me feel special.  I was 8, old enough to know that I shouldn’t lie, but old enough to do so anyway.

Unfortunately, the thrill I felt at having a secret life was easily overmatched by the gutting effect the telling had on me.  I knew deep and relentless guilt which kept me up at nights and caused me to avoid the one lunch lady in whom I’d confided.  (I thought for sure she knew about my lies; now I wonder if she even heard them, or even cared.)  It filled the small world of my elementary school existence with dread.  It still lingers, nearly 40 years later.  When I visit my hometown I sometimes drive around, visiting the landmarks of my childhood.  That house, that playground, those woods, all places where my imagination and innocent need for attention got me into trouble.

The weight of my sins eventually became overpowering, and I confessed to my mom, because that’s what you do.  It must have taken more than one telling because by that point I’d lost track of exactly who I’d told what.  She was disappointed, I think, and probably confused–how had this happened?  Why?

My parents’ rehab plan had me going back to (most of) the people I’d told stories to (including my third-grade teacher whom I called at home) and admitting that I’d lied.  This wasn’t as big a deal as I’d expected, and the relief I got from it was a kind-of absolution.  My mom was certain: I had confessed and received forgiveness and it was over and done.

Yet I feel wobbly even now, as I remember that little girl.  She meant well; she was bright and eager and imaginative, and carried a load that was too big for her frame.  I became acquainted with grief at a young age and did my best to blot out the memories of those days because my conscience was stuck and would not let me let them go.

 

A little bit every day

I am trying to write a little bit every day, whether or not I feel like it.  Today I’m also reading Steven King’s book on writing and am enjoying it.  Not only is he a very normal-sounding guy (given his horror track record), but also he gives helpful instruction about constructing your writing–help with paragraph breaks, use (or in his case, non-use) of adverbs, and things about dialogue that seem so obvious but that I’ve never seen written down anywhere (except for the Strunk book he keeps referring to, which I may have read but can’t remember anyway).  I wish my son had gotten such instruction in the craft of writing, since it overwhelms him and he never knows how to begin (or how to continue, for that matter).  Simple steps would probably be super-helpful.

I also noticed today that I’ve continued to remain mostly caffeine-free.  I’m not sure at what point my body started being super-sensitive to things like caffeine, carbohydrates, and non-hypo-allergenic earrings, but it definitely is and I am helped by staying away from them.  I can relate to Mary Karr’s comment that if she can’t over-indulge in things, she doesn’t want any of them, so discipline is tough to manage, especially regarding bread.  I love bread.  Love love love.  In heaven I will be a baker.

Forgiveness

Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.  I believe in the need for ongoing forgiveness (at least, for me toward others) because the one shot never seems to take sufficiently.  It occurred to me yesterday to think about what I actually wanted from this person I struggle to forgive, and I realized that what I wanted was for her to be–to have been–a different person.

That’s neither fair nor likely, but it might be possible for her to become a different person.  Do I believe that people can change, can transform?  Sometimes.  And yet I know I keep wandering the same paths of heart and soul and it always seems like familiar ground.  I am becoming more myself, which is both good and bad, and keep uncovering layers of sin and sadness in my own self.  As Eustace knew, you can’t un-dragon yourself.

So what does it mean, then, to surrender to the process of transformation?  For me, I think it means that I don’t spend all my free time wondering and thinking about what ought to be happening.  It’s never helped me before; I can’t think my way into a new self.  I am trying to practice being present to myself, to practice not thinking too far ahead into the future.  I am trying to stop trying harder and to relax into myself.  After all, I don’t really know the ultimate form I ought to take, so I may as well stop trying to shape myself.

Again.

I am intrigued by the idea of therapy — the idea that talking to someone who’s really listening (and asking good questions) can help develop a stronger psycho-emotional core.  It’s like pilates for your emotional gut, and having a good coach is important so you don’t end up lifting with the wrong muscles.

I am intrigued by therapy and I’ve started up again after about a year’s hiatus.  Actually, I’ve been in and out of therapy the last 13 years or so.  On the whole it’s been helpful, though I still wrestle with the caked-on, baked-on, stuck-on mess that is my posture towards life, people, and God.  But just, as they said in Jaws, when you think it’s safe to go back in the water, the therapist, during a pause in my vague monologue, says, “You look sad when you say that.”  Crap.  I do.  I am.  And then she notices Out Loud the tears I am holding back.  I was not expecting to be quite so undone on only the second visit.  Crap.

But at the same time that I’m trying to figure out how to do this therapy thing without my naked emotional butt hanging out, I’m excited.  Here, I think, is someone I can trust to manage the process for me so that I don’t have to do it myself.  Here is the opportunity to be present to myself and my life and all the irrational things that I do and am.  Maybe I don’t have to hold all the pieces of my story together myself.  Maybe I can entrust that to Someone Else rather than needing to be subject and object in my own life.

So here’s the thing…

I hate my writing voice. I love the idea of “writing,” of being an “artist,” but I’m pretty sure I can’t pull it off. And as self-absorbed as I am, it feels pretentious to make a claim to art.  I’m good at starting things but lousy with the follow-through, so even if I get excited about a writing project I’m sure it will die of neglect sooner or later.

I do carry around with me in a small hidden place that sense of yearning for something. Is it art? (I’m sure it’s not science.) It might be more akin to a desire to be fully alive—to be more-than, to be a part of something bigger. I guess that’s purpose, and I’ve never felt like I had one, at least not viscerally.

I want one. It seems like some people have this “thing” that both pulls and drives them, labels them, or in some way gives them an identity or thing that they’re known for.  I long for that.  For significance, in spite of (or maybe because of) the fact that I’m basically a shallow person invested deeply in my own self-preservation.

bacon

if i ran the world, there would be more bacon.  even for folks on food stamps.

oh, the weather.

it’s another one of those dreary days that are disappointing not simply because they are grey but because they are supPOSED to be sunny. it may as well be cold for all that. i have no desire to go outside and feel the weight of it pressing on my mind. ugh.

and it’s not even a really depressing sort of weight but the sort of feeling you get when you just don’t care one way or the other but kind of wish you did (care, that is). i feel indifferent. not angry or sad, not ebullient or even cheery; just matter-of-fact. just there. apart from george bush i really can only blame the weather.

i think the weather is more important to people than we’re willing to let ourselves believe. i think of it as conversation fodder or filler, but on days like today i have to be honest with myself and say that it would be a better day if it were sunny. like it was promised. i know we’re supposed to be content in all things and at all times, but i would be contenter if it were sunny. or if it just went ahead and rained already. i know it’s coming; i don’t appreciate being teased.

morality quiz (from the article)

i just took the sacredness quiz that the above article linked to and i’ll see if i can paste the results here.  My values are the ones in green.

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And 

interesting that conservatives are slightly more willing to harm someone for money in both graphs (but only slightly — don’t be too proud of yourselves, liberals!) but less willing to do something that violates their values in the other four categories.  maybe that’s because the harm category also includes suffering short-term personal harm, which i admit i’d be willing to do for money (depending on the harm in question).  i used to think that everyone had their price, myself included, but after taking this test i’m not sure.  some things i wouldn’t do for money b/c i just don’t care enough to respond.  you might say that the prior price is that the action would cost me time and energy which i’m not willing to expend.  for instance, i don’t care one way or the other about throwing a tomato at a politician i disagree with (even if, according to the test, i could guarantee i wouldn’t get caught).  i just don’t care enough to expend the energy.  but i think i’d be willing to listen to music i hate (probably country or death metal or contemporary christian music from the 80s) at high volume for 24 hours w/o sleeping for money.  in this case the effort i’d have to expend is minimal (you just endure) and it’s kind-of a competition which would easily suck me in.  so i’d be game here.
 
what about you?  what would you be willing or unwilling to do for money?

the invisible blog roll

i just linked to a new blog i’m starting with a good friend, and while wordpress says i am linked, you couldn’t prove it by me.  i can’t find the link in any obvious sort of place.  so that’s helpful.

i blame george bush.