Thursday, December 23, 2010

Too cool to be normal

I've known a lot of people who've endured the stress of a parent or friend asking why they can't be more "normal." When the topic came up with my kids the other day we started asking, "What is normal?" Of course, with an opportunity like that, the anthropologist in me can't resist speaking out.

Normal, even in statistics, is defined relative to a particular group. Collect the data from this group, then calculate the mean and figure out a bell curve. That's how it's done when you can precisely identify the members of the group in question. In the social sense, though, the group is much harder to define. Asking someone to be "normal" implies that they don't belong to the "normal" group. Usually, but not always, it implies that the speaker does belong to that group.

So the first thing I'm going to ask is why we use this term at all? I found myself using it a few days ago to talk about people who do violent acts - "they're not normal." I'm pretty okay with that, I guess since the group I'm defining is good citizens of the world. But believe me, I know my kids are going to run across "not normal" comments about their love of school, and their intelligence, and their love of good stories, and on that one I'm going to be ready to go into battle.

"Not normal" isn't always a bad thing. I definitely consider myself "too cool to be normal" - something I definitely associate with being a lover of science fiction and fantasy - and I hope my kids will feel the same.

If you have ever been a victim of the phrase, "not normal," use your writing as your chance for revenge. First of all, take pride in the fact that you're above average. And second, redefine normal in your writing. Use the word shamelessly in whatever world you've created, and think it through, making sure it means something utterly different there from what it means here in our world. In Cochee-coco society, it's not normal to seek privacy. In Aurrel society, it's not normal to cook vegetables (and only your pets would eat them anyway). In the Realm of Words, not saying what you mean isn't only "not normal," but against the law.

We all know people who use "normal" as a sword. It's time for us to give that sword a second edge.


  1. For a facetious answer to "What is normal?" my favorite would have to be something my sister-in-law said once: "Normal is a setting on the washing machine."

    I've never been part of the "normal" crowd unless I'm hanging out with a bunch of my friends, in which case, we've redefined the word. Something similar probably happens at SF/F conventions, comic cons, and other fan-based gatherings. Hundreds to thousands of people who would normally (haha) not be normal, are suddenly the standard and anyone else is mundane/outside the group. I haven't been to any cons yet, but when Serenity came out, a bunch of our friends got together to see it. The theater was filled with people who were big-time Firefly fans. There was no decorum. We cheered, booed, and groaned together at all the right parts. (It was so invigorating!)

    I love the idea of redefining what "normal" is in our writing. Though I tend to write from the angle of those on the outside. Probably because I identify with them so well. Sometimes normal is so boring. Yar har har! ;D

  2. My kids are far from normal, but as they say, the apple does not fall far from the tree. I've been there as the parent fighting to get them what they deserve and protect them from what they don't, so here's a {hug} for your struggles.

    There's a reason a common theme in my short stories and novels is culture clash. What's acceptable to one group is horrendous in another, and negotiating those traps can be overwhelming. Sometimes it's easier just to be yourself and let the definitions fall by the wayside.