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.