Have you ever heard someone say something which has struck you as completely bizarre beyond any words, yet everyone around just nods their heads in agreement? It would be like someone saying that it was a shame it would be summer soon, because that meant that they wouldn’t be able to have salmon for dinner any more. I can’t think of any reason why they couldn’t, but the imaginary heads around the imaginary conversation are bobbing along in agreement. To them it’s normality.
That was just one example, and not a particularly good one at that. I was reading a David Mitchell column the other day where he was railing against the fact that we, as a society, had decided that it had been an awful idea avocado bathroom suites being fashionable. Everyone I know also agrees that avocado bathroom suites are particularly ugly, and an odd result of the era they came from.
What if, imagine this, you had never heard that avocado bathroom suites were an awful thing; one which everybody hated? What if you had had no opportunity to form any opinion, either positive or negative, on green baths? And then someone mentioned that everyone thought they were shit.
Common consensus is as consensual as common sense is sensible, yet both set as hard as concrete. Neither has any basis in reality, but we hold on to our tropes as a culture as if letting them go would tear us apart. Any sentence which begins with the word “Everyone knows…” is as likely to be true as the Queen is to have an avocado bathroom suite. I mean, it’s highly unlikely, but it could be the case.
Commonly held knowledge changes from group to group. In one group of people it is a commonly held truth that all men love football and put their penises in anything which moves. In another it is a commonly held truth that girls cannot play guitar in a heavy metal band, and that any who do are asking to be spat at and groped. Both groups are talking shit, and are ruining the fucking world.
Certainty breeds certainty. I can say to someone with absolute certainty something I know not to be true; unless they also know it is not true, or unless it raises an appropriate alarm bell in the back of their minds, they will take that lie to the bank and cash it as a truth. The fact that it will then bounce may or may not be a shock to them, depending on how well or otherwise they know my humour.
I try to avoid the mainstream these days; it’s just a place of sadness for me now. I hear people on the radio talking about their ordinary lives, and I cannot relate to them. The things they do, the ways in which they go about their business, the lives they live, the food they eat, the opinions they hold just seem to repel me. This makes me feel sad: I do not measure up to the things I hear described; as if I have failed. In reality I am experiencing a negative reaction to the assumptions they are making.
Whether it be the television programmes they have watched, the confusion they have about basic pieces of knowledge, the amount they pour their lives over social media, the music they listen to or the views they have about gender I find myself unable to engage with people telling me about stuff.
I am routinely accused of being contrary, and I am contrary. When it amuses me, when to be so is likely to be a set up for a joke. When I am not being deliberately contrary, when I just don’t get what it is that you are saying, because it makes no sense to me, I feel sad. And it happens all too often. I do not know why. I’m fortunate that technology allows me to avoid many unnecessary interactions.
Some people think it is normal to pierce their child’s ears at a very young age; some people think it is normal to openly and loudly discuss someone’s appearance and mental state, even if they can hear; some people think it is normal to enforce societally constructed gender roles; some people think it is normal to talk at the same time as everyone else; some people think it is normal to be nosey; some people think it is normal to have a takeaway on a Friday night; some people think it is normal to eat themselves to a standstill at Christmas; some people think it is normal to say everything as if asking a question; some people think it is normal to not know who the prime minister is; some people think it is normal to look normal, you know, not like some kind of freak; some people think it is normal to be scared to try eating something they’ve never eaten before, because they might not like it, and that would be bad; some people think it is normal to work late every day so that they can finish early on a Friday afternoon, just like everyone else; some people think it is normal to hate the people they fear.
I am not one of those people, but I can’t say that I never will be; no one thing is ever set in stone.
Look, I don’t know why I get as worked up as I do about this. I just do: it’s almost as if I feel like you are out to do this just to wind me up; as if your lack of understanding about the things which are so obvious to me are deliberate. It’s the kind of thing people say to me all of the time, you know?
I have already spouted off at length about how variable, how flexible and how specific the whole idea of normality is, and that it can never be relied on for anything. I understand that your normal is your security against this insane world we choose to call home. I just don’t like having it rammed in to my face. I have a daughter for shoving smelly things in to my face, even though I don’t like it.
When I talk about my life to someone, and they look at me in some kind of bewildered disbelief, I begin to see what I have been on the receiving end of for all these years. I begin to see how the life we have built for our family is not the perfectly natural state of existence that everyone else signs up to. I see it in the eyes of people who do not watch kids TV with their children, who do not read with their children, and who do not cook from scratch. Unfortunately, I like my life better because of it.