Normal Is An Illusion. Be Your Weird Self.
A good friend of mine, Everton Bell-Chambers — a dancer, among many other things — has a tattoo that reads “normal is an illusion.” He’s right. The whole concept of what’s normal is constantly shifting, from one day to the next, from one location to the next, and depending on who you’re talking to, what you’re talking about, and how you’re saying it.
A man in a pinstripe suit, for example, looks pretty normal. But as soon as he starts talking about smoking really strong weed and surfing, he seems a bit less normal. Transport him to 1965 Uganda, and the scene really isn’t normal at all.
The whole notion of normal is in a constant state of flux to the point where it could be suggested that ‘normal’ doesn’t even exist other than as an agreed cultural hallucination that we all buy into. Like traffic lights, queuing, and shaking hands instead of bowing or even clapping as a greeting.
Yet our perception of what’s normal plays tricks on us and there are people who are well versed in manipulating our perception so that the normal seems unusual, and the irregular seems completely unremarkable. We notice the man dressed as a woman, or the two men kissing, or the black youths loitering in a predominantly white neighbourhood. Yet we seem strangely oblivious that the President of the United States is an unqualified, openly racist, sexist, hateful man who incites violence against journalists and women, or that the political elite now openly lie, are quite obviously incompetent and don’t even attempt to hide it. Or that billionaires are sending sports cars into space on giant rockets. Or that there are literally thousands of people in the sky at any given moment. Or that mass opinion is manipulated by disgusting old men who own too many newspapers. Or that we drink fluids produced by other animals and spread substances excreted by insects on our toast. Or that obvious, extinction-level catastrophes such as global warming barely raise an eyebrow yet profit warnings send shockwaves around the world.
The mainstream world is a bizarre and surreal place but, for some reason, we are blind to this and spend most our time trying to fit in, to not rock the boat and be normal. We don’t want to stand out, or get noticed for the things that make us unique and exceptional — special — lest anyone think we’re a bit odd.
But let me ask you this. With Donald Trump in the White House, Russia hacking everyone’s sense of reality, and the Internet of Things turning our toasters into spies for the advertising industry, what better time is there to fling off the illusory cloak of normality, step up and do your thing? When normal is really a load of nonsense, could there possibly be a better time to embrace our unique human-ness and be openly and unashamedly strange?
Trying to be normal is like trying to encourage an amorphous blob of blancmange to be a cube. We’re just not designed to do it. We have weird dreams, for goodness’ sake, and they’re very not normal. We doodle, whistle, dance and paint, none of which is normal. We were built to be unusual, to run around with our coats hanging off our heads pretending to be Superman, to lie down and roll down the hill. We get weird kicks watching YouTube videos of people stroking brushes and cutting soap. We go to the office by day, but by night we build miniature towns with working railways in our lofts. We know all the words to songs by obscure Scandinavian folk bands. Some people bake miniature cakes. Tiny, edible, perfectly formed miniature cakes.
Some people play the spoons.
People are weird. You are weird. Because you are a unique, individual, human being. Yet in the morning we all wake up at a set time, put on our uniforms of normality, join the other humans pretending to be normal, and go to the office where we undertake normal actions that we all kind of agree are normal, despite the fact that underneath we are all amorphous blobs of blancmange dying to ooze out.
We are not meant to fit in, we were built to stand out, to discover our unique talents and skills and idiosyncrasies and sing them from the rooftops. We are meant to sing karaoke at 10am. We are meant to run through the farmer’s corn fields. We were meant to eat apples with mayonnaise. We are weird. All of us.
Normal is a façade. Normal is a lie. And the more normal someone pretends to be, the more fucked up they generally are. That means our world leaders. That means the businessmen holding society’s purse strings. All of them closet fuckups, and most of them not doing a great job at hiding it.
But the weirdos dance-walking down the street, whistling fancy tunes, and doing improvised street theatre? They’re the sorted ones. It’s the Hare Krishnas with their orange robes who are the ones with their heads screwed on. The old cat lady with the purple hair and the crazy eye makeup – she’s the one we should be chatting with. The man who thinks space lizards are living among us. The poet under the tree reciting haiku. The girl playing the ocarina. The man carving spoons. The elderly gent who collects bottle tops. The woman with the wonderful hats. The boy who has spent all day being a robot.
It’s these people we should be paying attention to. We can learn a lot more from them than we can from the stockbrokers and the double glazing salesmen. These are people who live their dreams in public. Their imaginations spewing forth like rainbow fountains, fizzing around them and making the world infinitely more interesting than the bank manager, or the driving instructor or the traffic warden.
Grayson Perry’s got it right. Iris Apfel has too. Brian Blessed. Lady Ga Ga. Zandra Rhodes. Vivienne Westwood. Jeff Goldblum. Quentin Crisp. Nicholas Cage. Eccentric. Brilliant. Connected with themselves, dancing through life and not ashamed to share their uniqueness with the world.
Salvador Dali, Howard Hughes, Oscar Wilde, Hunter S. Thompson, Quentin Tarantino, Bjork. All making the world a more interesting, more colourful place by simply choosing not to hide their true selves under a veneer of normalcy.
How can anyone contribute when they spend their time trying to hide the thing that makes them special? When they suppress their weirdness, their unusual talents, their humanity? What could you offer the world if you didn’t care what people thought of you? If you could be free with the weirdness that you’ve kept bottled up this whole time? What could you make? What could you build? What could you do that others would find interesting, or useful, or helpful? Where would you go? What skills could you nurture? What could you share?
We spend so much energy being wary of, and avoiding, the ‘other’, but we are all the ‘other’. We are all oddballs play-acting at uniformity. We are all stifling our voices by trying to sound just like everyone else. We could all be condors if we just decided to spread our wings.
What will it take to free ourselves from the shackles of normalcy and embrace just a little bit of our weirdness? And then a little bit more? What kind of crazy kaleidoscope would the world be if we just did what we were designed to do, became ‘characters’ and let our strangeness flow?
What little thing can you do tomorrow to set your oddness free? What colour will you bring to the world?