The New Normal

Readers, this writer is prone to thinking too much. I spend a lot of time analyzing the world, myself, other people (those I know, and those I don’t …in overheard snippets on the subway, in diners and at the airport…) and today my laser sights are focused on what is “normal” behavior and how does that affect creative output?

At some point in the past I realized I was normal in some ways, and in others very much not “the norm.” As a kid in junior high school, I hung out with a strange bunch of friends and we played Dungeons and Dragons. (D&D is a fantasy role playing game.) We used our imaginations to escape our regular lives to become magicians, knights in armor, theives and monks for a few hours each week as we pillaged and fought our way through imaginary towns and dungeons. We were often required to come up with innovative solutions for puzzles and problems we’d encounter in our “travels” and learned to work well as a group (or our characters would suffer the consequences!)

Once I got to college, I was out of the “norm” again as I joined a select group of kids who met in a basement in the student center once a week to put together a poetry magazine called The Anthologist. We too used our imaginations to debate and decide which poems would make it into our esteemed publication and which would not. (We often played “guess the rhyme” with the worst submissions, for our amusement.)

Out of the original group of D&D kids, there were a disproportionate number of us who were artists. Some of us liked to draw, others of us liked to write, some composed music, and now as adults we’re still doing that. Out of the Anthologist group, every single one of (the four) of us have published novels, poetry, short stories or academic works. Two of the four are university professors of English Literature, another is an English teacher at the high school level, and then there’s me… living in the corporate world but a weekend-warrior writer.

If I look across my lifetime of romantic relationships, it’s chock-a-block full of artists. My first boyfriend (one of the D&D kids) was a fantasy artist, something he makes a living at to this day. In college, my most important boyfriend was a writer, who now has published two novels (with more on the way). I’ve also had very significant relationships with painters, who are of a moody sort that I can’t seem to shake myself loose of… but none of these people were or are normal.

And these days I have too many friends to count that are writers, painters, photographers, musicians, dancers and others loosely or closely affiliated with creating artistic output as part of their daily lives.

I’m thankful for all these people who influenced (and keep influencing) me creatively and shared their out of the box thinking with me. Those that were the most “out of the norm” taught me the most about not conforming to standard ways of thinking or what society expects. Still others taught me about the philosophical underpinnings of creativity (and are still doing so.)

This, in turn, got me to thinking about how creative ideas manifest themselves. For those who are more constrained by “the normal” ways of living and thinking, does that mean they are hampered from coming up with the most innovative ideas for their fiction, paintings, or music? One of my good friends, an author, recently said to me that he thought I was too inhibited in my thinking and that it might prevent me from creating the most dramatic stories and situations. He may be right, maybe in that sense I’m still too normal?

In today’s shrill sensationalistic environment where people have the attention span of ten seconds perhaps being outside the norm is what it takes to attract attention to oneself and one’s art. I don’t know.

How about you, reader? Is your art outside the norm, and if it is, has that helped you? If it isn’t, do you think that is a disadvantage?

I’m going to continue to cultivate my abby-normal self in my creative life to push the boundaries of my stories, characters and imagination. I’m going to keep embracing the quirky, the odd and the unusual in friends and those close to me. Maybe, if I’m lucky, even more will rub off on me.

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9 Responses

  1. hey! I always say the weirder the better! I try to live outside the norm, even if it doesn’t help my writing, (which I think it makes it more original) it definitely allows me to have more fun! cheers!

    • Hey L.A., I agree living outside the norm can give people a lot of freedom to express themselves however they want… I guess that was my friend’s point too. 🙂 Well, if you’re going to do it, have fun at it! (Hey, did Kim Kardashian ever return your phone call? You didn’t say!) C

  2. Living a normal life (whatever that means) has certain advantages. If there really is such a thing as normal, then that must be how most people live. Being familiar with the details and themes of such a life helps you create work others can relate to. I would think being completely out of touch and living in your own world would be extremely isolating.

    • Hi Charles, thanks for your comment.

      First, yes, living in your own world as an artist *is* isolating, but it is unavoidable for many types of artists while they are creating their art. Writers and painters come immediately to mind since we all must be by ourselves when we create.

      And there is a gradient, between being “completely normal” (although I’d agree I don’t have a good definition to provide) and “completely out of touch.” There is some in-between space where artists reside.

      I could go on and on about various artists as examples… for example Van Gogh was clearly isolated in his life, and had a disturbed psyche, but created art that most people can relate to (unfortunately for him this did not happen during his lifetime which was probably its own torture.) Who is to say “Starry Night” is the product of a normal mind? Maybe it is this askew thinking that helped produce such a work of beauty.

      Mark Rothko lived a pretty normal life. He used his art studio as an “office” and maintained what he called “banker’s hours.” He was married and by all accounts (outside looking in) he was “normal.” Except – he wasn’t. He was a severe alcoholic and eventually was so tormented he killed himself. He also happened to possess artistic talent sufficient enough to help drive a whole new modality of painting… abstract expressionism. (Along with Jackson Pollack, so don’t get me started…)

      Of course we also have Hemingway, Anne Sexton and Silvia Plath… all well known, all great producers of art… all mentally disturbed. Plath and Sexton were both married and living inside the “structure” of a normal life, but their lives were not normal either.

      On a slightly less sinister note, Andy Warhol was about as abnormal a character as I can think of… and yet he produced the Pop art movement. I doubt anyone that visited the Factory would say it was a place where normal things were happening.

      In any case, I liked your comment because -at a minimum – it opens up the dialogue…

      Carol

      • I was thinking mostly about writers. If you’re too far out there, the reader won’t be able to connect, and may not even know what you’re talking about. Most of the best writers probably have one foot in the normal world and the other foot in their own unique world.

        • If that’s the case, Thomas Pynchon must be totally out there… given Gravity’s Rainbow. And what about The Sound and the Fury – easy to relate to? Not sure. A great book? Certainly. Finnegan’s Wake? Incomprehensible by most.

          But … I agree, there is a straddling between the normal and the … less than normal.

  3. Being out of the normal makes a person to break away from the group. you break away from the group by getting away from the group mentality. You can do this by listening to yourself and living the way you feel as an individual. When people become more “individuals” then the society consists from many individuals than a mass of people who look alike. This is the first step to free a society. “Normal” is a blanket term for complicity-formality-barn mentality. Using your term “new normal” means to me “people who follow the way they feel about themselves rather than comply with the societal standards. What we call normal is the path paved for us, by others who expects us to follow it without questioning it or them. This is a very powerful article.

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