*Normal* A story of change

“Jeffrey doesn’t like change.” My father said this (in my presence) to my mother as our family contemplated moving to a new state. I must have been twelve or thirteen years old. Prior to this, I was unaware of my aversion to change.

Brief aside #1: Please don’t call me Jeffrey. My father is permitted to because he picked out the name. The only other person in my adult life who called me Jeffrey was a woman I lived with for two years—a period I associate with low self-esteem and doormat tendencies. Hearing “Jeffrey” sets my teeth on edge.

He’s an astute man, my father. Based on my memory, both of my brothers supported the move. I guess my mom did too. I vocally opposed it. I had carved out a niche where we lived. With a circle of friends, surprisingly large for a tiny, immature, odd kid with undiagnosed Tourette Syndrome, I knew I would struggle with a fresh start. I pitched the proverbial fit.

We never moved. I don’t know any details about this. Maybe my father didn’t get the job; maybe the offer sucked; maybe my parents didn’t want to uproot the life of their struggling son. No idea. I’m happy we stayed put. I recall my younger teen years as a generally happy time.

I have a smartphone. Yes, like everyone else in the world, I own a smartphone. I only bought it two years ago. Part of my aversion to change. In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, I carried a cellphone for work. Back then, smartphones were just getting started; I carried a flip. And then I took a break. From 2006 through 2017, I went phoneless. During that time, I missed the smartphone revolution. I missed out on some key developmental milestones.

Texting: I text like an old man. When I got my phone, I vowed to become an adept texter like my kids and millennial coworkers. I forced myself to use my clunky thumbs when I wanted to use my pointy fingertip. My speed never built beyond a slow plod. While some of you write whole blog posts on your phones, I can’t even respond to comments. A paragraph on a cellphone takes me about fifteen minutes to write. Better to just wait until I have my laptop handy.

GPS mapping: You don’t leave home without directions. That’s how I grew up. Starting about five years ago, on car trips, my kids would say “Oh, there’s a Cracker Barrel in thirty minutes.” I marveled at their ingenuity. I began to see the possibilities of carrying a phone. I’m still learning the ins and out of Apple maps. “Hey Eli, how do I make my phone show what exit we’re taking?”

The other issue is eBooks: When my kids first entered the world of devices, we got them each a Kindle Fire. This must have been around 2009. After a few years, they moved on to iPods and then iPhones. A bit before I got my smart phone, I got a hankering to start borrowing eBooks from the library. Using one of the eight-year-old Kindle Fires lying around my house, I borrowed two. Orwell’s 1984 and book-two of Julianna Baggot’s Pure series. Then my Kindle died and I switched back to real books.

Brief aside #2: In the Pure series, a dystopian young adult trilogy, Baggot makes constant reference to Bruce Springsteen’s song Thunder Road seemingly for no reason at all. It has nothing to do with the story. She never mentions the song title, she just drops multiple hints about the song by mentioning recognizable bits of the lyrics. Finally, deep in book-three, I sent her an email, “What’s the deal with you and Thunder Road, anyway?” Her husband responded. “Julianna sang that song as a lullaby to her children. The song holds a special place in her heart.” Mental eye-roll on my part. I liked Baggot somewhat less after that.

Last week, I read an eBook on my phone, my first. I expected this to be a horrible experience. I have an iPhone 6. As far as iPhones go, this is about as small as they get. I figured I’d have about fifteen words on the screen at a time. My experience wasn’t like that at all. In fact, it seems like a rather nice way to read a book. I was shocked at how small a font I could comfortably read on my phone. I would never have even tried this, except blogger Mark Johnson gave away free copies of his memoir, From Fertile Ground, on Amazon. He read my book and left an overly generous review, I thought fair-play suggested I should read his book as well.

And now I read eBooks.

I didn’t know what to expect from Mark’s book. As a blogger, I know him as a careful writer who obviously spends time looking for the best words to convey his meaning. The result is clean, clear story telling at a languid pace. I wasn’t sure how this would translate to a book-length memoir.

The narrative that runs through my brain—for how long, fifteen-years?—is that I’m not a real adult. I don’t know where this comes from. I own a home, I’m happily married, I continue working at a successful career, raise children that I like, read books for entertainment—it all seems very grown up. But deep inside, I still feel like a teenager. This is pretty clear in the five hundred essays I’ve written over the past eight years. My hopes and fears come across as adolescent and insecure. Like I’m still nursing the wounds I sustained in middle school.

Reading Mark’s memoir, I found myself comparing our lives. He got out of college, got married, started a family and a career. After college, I drank beer and played in adult soccer leagues for more than a decade. Mark saved money, I squandered mine in bars. Mark retired in his fifties. I’ll be fortunate to quit working at seventy. Mark is only five years older than I am, yet he seems like he’s from a different generation altogether. Even the pictures in his book show a well-dressed, groomed man. I secretly take pride in skipping showers for days. A highlight of my week is wearing jeans to work.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Mark’s book. The writing is first rate. His story contains excerpts from his grandfather’s journal, his mother’s letters and his day-to-day story of working through the grief from his mother’s death—something easily relatable for me. It tells a three-generation tale of middle America. It’s insightful and enjoyable and upbeat. I highly recommend it.

All of the memoirs I read are written by broken souls. People who drink too much and use drugs. People who suffer from various mental illnesses. People compelled to run long distances but don’t know why. People who live in excess. Reading Mark’s memoir, the story of a normal person, has left me a little confused. I found it hard to understand why certain scenes didn’t include getting drunk or crawling back into bed to escape a foul mood. His memoir is a glimpse into a psyche I know exists, but I don’t feel. “Normal” shouldn’t seem so exotic to me. I live my life around normal people every day. But seldom, if ever, has someone done such a good job of describing it to me.

Returning to where I started. No I don’t like change, but sometimes change is something to strive for.

33 thoughts on “*Normal* A story of change

  1. I know that “normal” exists, but my life has never been “normal”. I’ve tried for it, but that’s not in the Great Plan🤷🏼‍♀️
    I’m a pointer finger type and my daughters poke fun at me all the time. I do NOT know how I’m able to do all the typing I do on my little Samsung with just one finger. Maybe the previous nerve damage protects me.🙄🤦🏼‍♀️😂😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • For me, everything *looks* normal, but it’s never felt normal. Then I thought I just didn’t know what normal felt like. This book was a little eye opening for me. It’s possible that the topic hit me differently because I was reading it on a phone rather than in a book. You write your whole blog posts on a phone? That would take me all week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ben breaks things. Daughter recently got a laptop because she needed it for part of the orientation stuff with the hospital when she got hired.
        I’m sure I could borrow it, but I’d rather not. I do EVERYTHING from my phone. I make do. That should be my life motto… “I make do”😂😂😂

        I write my posts in bursts throughout the day. To just sit and write it would probably take me forever.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Normal? Why be? My dearly departed husband/partner Max Middleton used to say that change was a sacred experience in that embracing it was an act of profound meaning. That to fight change was profane. I mean if you think about it…fighting change takes a lot of mostly fruitless energy whereas embracing it makes us fuller, more intricate in our abilities and definitely part of a collective, yet deeply personal evolution. Of course we are known as creatures of habit but not all habits are good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not that I’m looking for normal, but the peace of feeling normal, mostly around other people where I feel anything but normal. I agree with your husband about change. I know I resist far too much, but I also think there are important areas I’ve changed dramatically over the past couple of years. All of this talk of change reminds me of “The Parable of the Sower” by Octavia Butler. In this novel, she invents a religion around the concept of change.

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      • It is only your “normal” that should matter for you. That being said I’ve never met a normal person… We all have our quirks. It’s in accepting these in us that might make us feel at ease.
        Honest Self reflection allows us to make peace with ourselves. 💗

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been journaling a lot lately. I am suddenly compelled to write a memoir of my own after reading this. I struggle to write a post yet I can write pages of thought. As I look back I see how I have stagnated and I feel like I am not a real adult. I have just started recently pushing out of the same and looking towards something new.

    Mark’s book sounds interesting. You write a very good review. I still do not know if I could read a book on a device. Although I never thought I could listen to one either and I have found that I really enjoy that medium.

    I am also a point typer. I have found voice to text which has saved me hours of time trying to send a message. One day I may be able to type as fast as my kids. Doubtful – they are pretty astounding texters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A couple of years ago, while driving the car I asked Eli to send Susan a text. It was a little involved. He picked up his phone and then put it down again. I said ‘are you going to send her a text?’ He already did. I’d be happy to go 1/4 that fast. Do you journal long hand or on your computer? Can you turn those into posts? I consider my blog slightly more organized journaling. There’s definitely a lot of free-writing involved.

      Liked by 1 person

      • They are so fast. It would take me at least three full minutes to get out the same message my kids can send out in thirty seconds. Crazy!
        I journal on my computer now. Seems impersonal, but it is password protected. I journaled in notebooks for years. Then, when I was an adult and had kids of my own, my mom told me she read my journal when I was a teenager and read how I professed how much I hated her (I was probably really frustrated, but she couldn’t separate the teenager’s angst). Anyway, after she admitted that I was appalled at thinking someone might read my journals if I were to die suddenly. Without context, would I appear as a hateful person? So I threw them all out. Drastic choice I guess, but I really didn’t write those for anyone else to read them. Any piece I would choose for someone else to read would be tailored in a certain way. I could never post that stuff on my blog now – my parents follow it. They love to hear stories about the kids. If I were ever to write an introspective blog it would have to be separate. Maybe I will go that route one day!

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      • See this is why I’ve blogged every secret I can possibly think of. When I die, no one will stumble on anything I haven’t already told everyone. I’ve done two anonymous blogs in my life and there were really freeing. They helped me work out, in a public forum, some things I wasn’t comfortable talking about. You just gotta give me the url. I’m often caught off guard by learning that someone reads my blog. It always takes me a few more get-togethers with that person to get used to the idea that they know everything (especially people at work). But my TS is getting pretty bad recently and it’s helpful to not have to talk about it because people already know about it.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I can’t text fast either. A keyboard and all fingers is always preferred..
    I can’t quite get the hang of ebooks or kindle. I’ve never read an ebook!
    And change… No one actually likes it. It’s like coffee, or raw kale; you can grow to like it, and once you do it’s pretty good, and it’s good for you. Probably.

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  5. This is one of those times I wish I could communicate with you in person, Jeff. I admire the raw emotion you bring to every post; this one has special meaning for me. Not just because my book moved you–and you have chosen to write about that–but because I felt like an outsider throughout my thirties, living as a closeted gay man afraid my family and the world would reject me. At that time, I felt anything but normal. Other than that, I suppose I am a rather traditional guy, quite settled in my sixties. I am thankful to have bloomed late vs. never and found peace through my writing. At any rate, our blogging relationship (and the grief I shared in my book which has resonated with you) has bonded me to you across the miles and I am grateful for that. One more thing. You may feel “less than” on many occasions, but I hope you find greater peace with that. I admire you as an outstanding writer and for the meaningful relationships you have created with your children. Both are tremendous gifts. So is your review of my book. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your paragraph about living like an adult but feeling like a teenager rang true for me. Embracing change has been a theme for me over the past ten years and it’s *always* hard but it’s always been worth it. Something for me to keep in mind for the near future especially, thanks for the reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, your change involved a whole different continent. Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? I do and I think it’s a big part of the problem. My wife asked me to explain her company’s financial to her this morning and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to understand them and she would find out that I’m a fraud.

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      • Oh I *definitely* have imposter syndrome, which is what makes the next big change scary (job hunting). But I just can’t stay where I am, I’m dying a little inside every day. But it’s been done before and can be done again, just trying to keep telling myself that. I try to remember a former colleague (since moved on) who always sounded so knowledgeable and self-assured, and while he did know a lot, he was also a master at ‘fake it till you make it.’ I suspect a lot of people are the same.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. When I read your posts I sometimes feel that you and I are on the same wavelength about some things. Sometimes a sentence in your post will say to me – that’s the post I’m trying to formulate. This time one sentence screamed out – he stole my line, the one that’s in the post sitting on my computer that will probably never get published.
    Here’s the line you wrote – “I’m still nursing the wounds I sustained in middle school.”
    My never to be published post is entitled “What Mask am I Wearing?”
    Why won’t it get published, you ask? I am no longer sure why I am blogging, as I have strayed so far from my original intent and, the middle school wounds I hide behind the mask I’m wearing, tell me no one really cares about what I have to say anyway. Plus, editing blog posts is a time consuming business!
    I text slowly with my fat pointer finger. When I read I often use a Nook or Kindle but read so fast I feel I couldn’t scroll fast enough on a phone.
    And in my mind, no one is normal – but that could be a blog post I could write also.
    Great post, Jeff. You always tie in so many pieces into a neat, meaningful package.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I once had a writing instructor give me a hard time about writing an essay with lots of subplots. But I learned essay writing from David Sedaris and he does that so I do too. Personally I think lots of people like to read about our middle-school insecurities. When I published my memoir, I did a well attended reading at a local arts center. A bunch of people purchased my book. And then I started getting emails from all sorts of people telling me that they have the same ‘problems’ as me. I know there’s a big population that rolls their eyes at our self-possessed blogging, but there’s a big population that doesn’t. Do you like writing? Then write. I edit as I write, so I don’t need to go back and edit as an activity (which I wouldn’t like). I blogged for a long time with a really small following. That frustrated me, but I still felt really good having a website out in the world with what I consider quality writing. You’re a strong writer. I think it’s worthwhile to keep blogging.

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      • Your blog site promises…everything. Mine was supposed to promote my book – eye roll. and promises autism. Amazing that I more than doubled my small following when I started posting about random things. I’m not sure I even like writing, which is the real problem. The jury is still out on that. I liked sharing other people’s stories in my book. Attending too many book marketing meetings messes with your head. LOL Thanks for being a cheerleader.

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  8. Normal. What a concept.
    Kindle. What an invention.
    CDs. Will they catch on?
    Published Memoir… Urrrgh.

    I enjoyed this, Jeff. It felt like you were throwing out handfuls of seed for birds to peck where they would. Kind of like blog tapas. The Urrrgh is the indigestion resulting from thinking about converting 500 posts into a book.

    Urrrgh.

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  9. Maybe I’m wrong but I feel like most of us live life feeling like we’re still in middle school on the inside. I know I kind of do. I remember when I was in middle school, one of my friends had a family friend who was in her mid-twenties. I was at their house one day and the family friend made the comment that she still felt like she was 12. It was so bizarre to me at the time but I kind of get it now.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I sometimes if anyone thinks “I am completely normal”. No…I think we all believe we are unnormal. I do. You don’t need drinking/drugs/carousing in your background to feel like you are not normal. My belief is that we are all kind of messed up in the head, feeling like we don’t measure up in some way. Maybe that’s the source of my religious beliefs. I know you are not a religious person, but in my world, God knows how messed up we all are and accepts and adores us because of it. We are human!

    Liked by 1 person

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