Thursday, January 29, 2009

Feeling Normal?

I've always wondered: some people are so normal. Is there a pill for that?

From my high school days, when I was sweet sixteen, I would steal away to the school stairwell to read Sartre, Genet, and Dostoyevsky. I'd watch my classmates putting on mascara in the girl's room, the boys caught up in their hormonal angst, and the girls trying copiously to avoid any signs of theirs, all I could think was: what happened to me that I came out of the womb fist first, thinking about things like ontological rage. Of course, there is medication for that now, so Schopenhauer, or Moliere, need not apply.

There are places where Normal 101 is a prerequisite for job acquisition, and social networking. There are places where conformity is not only encouraged, but mandated. I grew up in a place, Bayside, Queens, where my neighbors honestly thought that surrealism was a sexually-transmitted disease. When I mentioned Nietzsche, the woman who lived above me asked "if you take Penicilin, will it cure that?" No, but you have to learn how to read that which, as James Joyce said, was written "in the language of the outlaw."

Here I was reading "Season in Hell," by Arthur Rimbaud," instead of World Book Encyclopedia in my bedroom in Bayside, thinking I must have been dropped off by some gypsies, and unable to decide if I was Joan of Arc or Allen Ginsberg. We have no outlaws anymore. For at least the past generation, the outlaws have taken all the government jobs.

Fast forward to 2009: here I am now, in the Bay Area, thinking I must have been dropped off by gypsies. How is it that so many advocate for diversity, but don't have a clue what to do with iconoclasm, free-thinking, and diversity of ideas? Think about this: where would we be now were it not for a handful of noncomformists---one guy in particular around whom a whole religion has sprung, and been practiced for two thousand years.

Feeling normal? I'm not either, yet I'm not invested in not being crazy. Back in 1971, poet Gregory Corso told me: "Janie, baby, if anybody calls you crazy, take it as a compliment!" Bless his soul. That's easier said than done. I don't know about you, but I have nothing but contempt for the folks who have made a career selling the great American normal lie. These are the folks who invariably hid behind their mother's skirts when somebody called them "chicken," and are actively hunting down chicken now--you know, the Ted Haggard types, some of whom are paraded through town wearing the scarlet letter of noncomformity.

If you're rich enough, of course, you're no longer called crazy, but "eccentric."

For one whose worst subject was math, I have always been drawn to the algebra of audacity. Lord knows, I've spent the better part of half my life trying to pass for normal, without success.

There is such an awesome preoccupation with normalcy; my word, if Galileo lived now and was afraid of being called crazy, we'd still think the world is flat. And, indeed, perhaps it is.