What Makes a Person “Normal”?

I’m asking, since I surely don’t know from personal experience.

Just like finding out what it takes to be cool, the search for a “normal” person is another somewhat abstract search in which perception determines the outcome.  Being normal can be seen as a bad thing, as synonyms may include “average”, “unexciting”, “boring”, “drab”, “dull”, or “unoriginal”.  But in a society where sometimes the desire to be noticed by being different becomes pretty obvious and predictable within subcultures (example: goth, emo, the regular cast of L.A. Ink, etc.), I have discovered a new appreciation for “normal” people in my life.  In fact, I see being normal as an admirable thing- though for me, it’s a pretty unattainable goal.

On the surface, my life would seem pretty normal and American.  Out of college, I got an office job, got married at age 27, and now I am having a kid at age 29.  I am not involved in anything that could be deemed crazy, extreme, or dramatic.  And it’s not that I made it a point for my life to appear so normal, it just happened that way.  But if my life was a reality show (which I would never sign on to- that means you, TLC), it would become obvious very quickly how my quirks alone would disqualify me from being normal.  Yet maybe that’s why America is obsessed with reality TV- because it breaks down people whom we may consider to normal, and we like that because it reaffirms to us that it’s normal to not be normal.

In preparation for writing this post, last Saturday during breakfast I had my wife help me think of the most normal people we know.  We were able to come up with four. One of them is a guy named Jon, who I work with.  So when I mentioned to him yesterday that he is one of the most normal people we know, he laughed and said, “Well it’s good to know that somebody thinks I’m normal”, implying “…if you only knew…”

So far, as I’ve asked people on facebook and in real life what makes a person normal, not one person has volunteered to admit that they are normal.  The typical response is to quickly search their family tree and circle of friends to find a candidate for normalcy, only to put the rare “normal person” in the same mystical category of unicorns and that flying dog thing from The Never Ending Story.

It’s just not normal to be normal.  And ironically, if you truly are normal, that makes you a little weird.  Below are The Rules of Being Normal, followed my some feedback from facebook on what makes a person normal.

The Rules of Being Normal

1) Look normal.  When thinking of normal people I know, I disqualified one guy simply for being “too good looking”.  And another for being under the age of 40 and having an ironic mustache. In the same way that Jesus’ physical appearance kept him from standing out from his Jewish countrymen, so must a normal person not be found regularly standing out from the crowd, in order to be considered normal.

2) Act normal.  Being relevant has a lot to do with it.  And well-rounded.  It means being able to participate in conversations that even when you don’t know a lot about the subject, you don’t make it obvious.   And you don’t have to always dominate the conversation by bringing up something bizarre in an effort to contribute and feel a part of the group- because that definitely alienate you instead.

3) If all else fails, keep someone close to you who is definitely not normal or a lot less normal than you. If my wife was weird, no one would ever know it because she’s married to me.  By simply being the “most normal” person in a group of people who aren’t normal, you by default become normal.  And that counts.


Nick Shell Friends, I need your help again with another post I’m writing. Think of the most normal person you know. Now, what makes a person “normal”?

October 27 at 8:02pm ·  ·  

    • Cyn Z.-  I think that depends…if you are referring to what society deems “normal,” then it is usually a very boring, uninteresting, mundane type of person…in my opinion. “Normality” has never been a good selling point for me concerning anyone…

      October 27 at 8:37pm ·  · 
    • Brad J.- goes with the standards set by society

      October 27 at 9:46pm · 
    • Amy S.-  I have no idea, but I’m curious to see what you come up with!

      October 27 at 10:07pm · 
    • Nickie R.-  maybe a good balance in life and no crazy extreeme ways of living? atleast this makes sense in my head.

      October 27 at 11:19pm · 
    • Ashley R.-  Yeah I think someone normal would be the you know 9 to 5 person, simple easy life, laid back.

      October 27 at 11:46pm · 
    • Jason L.-  its gotta be me Nick…I put my pants on like everybody else in life..I hold them up in front of me and a little low and I jump repeatingly until I have both feet in. I do this with my shoes on and a parakeet in my mouth every morning..now that’s normal

      October 28 at 12:00am · 
    • Tiffanie B.-  normal means 2 things to me either they blend in with everybody else & don;t stand out or you look at them & think they do what society thinks they should:)

      Saturday at 9:46pm · 
    • Benji R.- Normal person in my opinion must be someone who has respect and to be proud in themselves even in the different society or status..That’s very important for being normal.

      Sunday at 1:05pm ·
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Today is Copyrighted

Important Rule in Life: When someone asks you “what’s up?”, it’s good to have something cool or funny to say.

A good thing to ask yourself at the end of each day is “What happened today that makes this day different from every other day I’ve lived?”  So many of the days of our lives seem normal and insignificant.  As a way of making them seem more meaningful, I like to observe what makes each day special.  It makes future conversations more interesting. 

Like today, I jumped in my Honda Element for the drive to work, and immediately I was taken back to the smell of the boys’ locker room from my high school in 1996.  But there are never dirty clothes in my car and I never leave the windows down (in the event it had rained during the night) and there’s no carpet in my car at all.  So why did my car smell like a sour milk sock?  I endured the odor for 22 minutes until I arrived at work when I took a minute to sniff around, but to no avail.

Six hours pass and I’m getting my mountain bike out for my lunch break ride.  And near the front of the bike tire, underneath my emergency hoodie, was a black-and-brown banana, wrapped up in a clear plastic grocery bag from Publix.  And then I thought to myself, “So that’s where left that banana!”  I’m thinking it had been there for around 16 days.  It was so rotten that it was liquefying and running out of the bag.  Good thing I keep emergency Wet Wipes handy.

That mildly entertaining story will become the copyrighted material of today.  It’s why today is different than any other day of my life.  Nothing too dramatic or life-changing.  At best, just a reference I can make at some point in the future in a conversation with a group of friends where the conversation topic is “smelly things”.  This day will live in infamy.  And comedy.

The Most Popular, All-American Summer Activities for Kids

Notice I left out the word “normal”.


Now that summer is here, I realize I keep having flashbacks of my summers as a kid. The ways we all spent our summers as kids were unique in their own weird ways. I don’t know what a normal summer for a kid is supposed to be like. All I know is the version of summer that my sister and I experienced between the summers of 1989 and 1999 to keep ourselves entertained in Fort Payne, Alabama.

 

Mmm... Sharkleberry Fin flavored!

 

In the summer of 1989 our mom was obsessed with making homemade popsicles. She bought blue and red plastic molds into which she poured a random substance and placed in the freezer. Four hours later when it was frozen, my sister and I indulged in the flavor of the day. It started out as an alternative to “all those sugary popsicles they sell in the stores”. So orange juice was the first flavor. Then chocolate milk. Then yogurt. By the end of summer it was Dr. Pepper and eventually my personal favorite flavor of homemade popsicles: sweet tea.

The next summer, in 1990, we discovered water balloons. My sister and I would fill up about 30 water balloons, place them in a bucket, and take them out to the trampoline. One person would jump as the other launched the balloons at them. One point for every hit. Then eventually flashbacks from all that fun with the homemade popsicles gave us a new idea. We put water balloons in the freezer.

Not to throw at each other, but to throw into the air and watch them fall onto the driveway. I think the point was to see how many times the balloon could hit the asphalt before the broken ice inside would cut through the balloon. At one point we ran out of balloons to play with so our mom let us use some medical gloves. We filled them up with water and stuck them in the freezer. The funny thing is, there’s still a frozen glove in our parents’ freezer as of today. One last survivor.

My favorite classic summertime activity would have to be the paper rafts. It all started one day in 1993 when I drew and colored a cartoon man about 4 inches tall. Then I was compelled to grab some scissors and cut him out like a paper doll. My sister liked mine and made one as well. Ultimately we had made our own action figures. So in order for them to live up to their name (“action” figures), we decided to make paper rafts for them. So we drew, colored, and cut out Tom Sawyer style rafts and taped our paper men onto them, folding the men’s backs so that they sit down comfortably on their vehicle.

 

Destined for greatness...

 

Now all we needed was a good river for our men on rafts. No need to looking any further than the nearest bathroom. We dropped the men into the toilet and flushed them away on an adventure. I clearly remember my sister waving and telling her paper man goodbye. Then we did the whole event over again later that day, only with improved, more detailed paper men. And again and again.

In fact, I really, really want to make a paper raft right now.

Like It, Love It, Gotta Have It Vs. I’ve Already Got One, Thanks

Fighting the urge to the live by the new American motto: If it ain’t broke, get another one anyway.

Like it? Love it? Gotta have it!

I can almost remember a time when I was a kid, where it was normal to really really want something for a long time and then when I would finally get it, my heart was content.  The newly obtained item gave my heart rest, and I was happy, as any kid should be.  Whether it was a new Nintendo game like Super Mario Bros. 2, or a bicycle, or a rare Ninja Turtle action figure like Splinter, April O’Neil, or Ray Fillet, I got what I had wanted for so long.  And funny enough, I never wanted a replacement after I received my prized possession.

But somewhere along the way, whether or not we can blame it on “typical capitalist American behavior” or the mindset of Generation X (I just barely made the cut- it’s anyone born between 1961 and 1981), it became normal to want a “new one” though the old one still works just fine.  Maybe just an innocent desire to keep things fresh.  Or maybe a potentially dangerous pattern.

My Italian grandfather was one of the most influential people of my lifetime.  Having grown up in an orphanage in Kenosha, Wisconsin (his mother died when he was young, and there were 12 kids in the family), he lived a minimalist lifestyle, only spending his money on his few children and grandchildren.  Hardly ever buying a new (used) car, new clothes, or new furniture.  Never buying anything name brand.

This way of thinking definitely shows up in my everyday life.  My wife jokes that I have more clothes and shoes than she does.  And it’s true.  Because I don’t get rid of them unless they’re literally rotted.  Like my old red running shoes I have delegated to only use for walking and riding my mountain bike on my lunch break.

It’s true that I own over twenty pairs of shoes that still look less than a year old.  But most of them are indeed at least ten years old, in actuality.  Because I have certain shoes I wear only if I know I will be outside or if there’s a chance of  rain that day.  Those are my “outside shoes”.  By wearing them instead of my “inside shoes”, it keeps my newer shoes looking new.

While I’ll never be as frugal as my grandfather (who when my mom was a little girl, reused dried out paper towels multiple times before throwing them away) I subconsciously try to imitate his lifestyle.

I can’t see myself ever buying a brand new car, knowing that it loses thousands of dollars in value as soon as the first owner drives it off the lot.  And I can’t see buying a different car until my current one costs more to repair than it does to actually buy another used one.

Not that buying a new car is any kind of moral issue, or that going on a shopping spree for a new wardrobe is necessarily evil, though it’s probably not a wise decision if it involves a credit card (I’m a Dave Ramsey fanatic).  But for some of us, that strand of “gotta get a new one” serves as toxic acid in our DNA.

It gets tiring hearing of men leaving their wives for another woman.  That’s definitely a familiar theme this year already in the media.  And while some could say, “What does to me if matter if Tiger Woods or Jesse James cheats on his wife?  Why is that national news?”  Because it does matter.

Not because we’re nosey.  But because in some sense, the reflection of the lifestyles of celebrities causes a subconscious call-to-response for the rest of us:  “Hey look, it’s normal, he did it.”

We have to either say, “No way, that’s not for me.  No thanks!”  Or “Well, maybe that’s not so bad…”

It shouldn’t be that hard to be happy with what we’ve already got, even if it’s not perfect.  And really, that’s a mindset that is often difficult to accept and adopt: Near-perfect is as perfect as life can really get.

Is the grass really greener on the other side?  Yes, of course it is.  But the irony is this: You’re already standing on the other side.  Somebody’s else’s “other side”.

You’re already standing on the greener grass.

"I don't care how... I want it NOW!" -Veruca Salt

Would You Define Your Life as a Comedy or a Tragedy?

The same question goes for the movie Garden State.

I have struggled for a solid ten years trying to figure out what makes things funny. Universally, seeing someone fall down (who doesn’t get hurt) is always funny, but I don’t know why. Defining what humor is, is almost impossible to simply and briefly put into words. What I can do is make a judgment call on whether something as a whole is a comedy or a drama.

One of my college professors taught me there is a clear way to distinguish between the two: Comedy involves a protagonist who in the beginning of the story is standing outside the borders of his society and by the end of the story is accepted into it. Therefore a tragedy is when the protagonist in the beginning is accepted as part of the society but by the end is expelled from it.

To test this theory on comedies, I will take Adam Sandler for example: Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Water Boy, The Wedding Singer, and Big Daddy all involve a character who starts out as one or more of the following: incompetent, poor, lonely, selfish. By the end of the movie, Adam Sandler’s character is accepted into the fold as these previous attributes are resolved. So I can see how the definition of a comedy works here.

For tragedies, I will take some horror movies for example: The Blair Witch Project, Skeleton Key, The Strangers, Quarantine, and Carrie. The protagonists end up either dead or in a really bad situation by the time the credits roll. So I can see how the definition of a tragedy works here, as death or loss of freedom is a way of being ousted from a society that the protagonists were once a part of.

The end of a movie ultimately defines it as a comedy or tragedy. Garden State, which is more a drama than anything, ends with Zach Braff’s character being able to overcome his dependence on his doctor’s/father’s misdiagnosed prescription of anti-depressants and feel alive for the first time as he moves back home to New Jersey, making new friends and finding love: That’s a comedy.

Using this theory, these other genre-vague movies would also be considered comedy: Fight Club, Forrest Gump, and Elizabethtown. And these would be tragedy: Into the Wild, Vanilla Sky, and One Hour Photo.

Life is comprised of rotating moments of comedy and tragedy. Times where I’m on the outside looking in and I get in (comedy) and times where I’m inside but am pushed out (tragedy). In ways big and small. But a person’s general perspective will cause him or her to see it ultimately as one or the other:

If life is comedy-in-progress, then life is me trying to figure out how to be normal enough to succeed in being accepted by my immediate society, eventually dying satisfied, knowing I’m surrounded by those who love me.

If life is tragedy-in-progress, then life is me already having everything I need and want in life but having it all taken away from me in the end, eventually dying sad and alone.

Big decisions, big decisions. I’ll go with comedy-in-progress.

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