Sunday, November 14, 2010


Over time, your surroundings become neutral.
Werner Ulrich

It seems that no matter what, your everyday experience becomes normal.

Of Course I Run
When Iris began running in January, she'd never run a mile. She wasn't sure that she could run a mile. She hated idea of running, let alone running itself.

Yesterday she finished a half-marathon with a time that placed her just about midway in her age group. She was excited and energized. She was enthusiastic about her next race, about moving on to a full marathon, about being a runner. Nowadays, she gets up and can't wait to head out the door and run. I dare say that she now cannot imagine not running. To run is now normal.

Life is rich with scenarios in which the incomprehensible becomes normal. My friend Jonathan recently cut all sugar from his diet. He didn't do so by sneaking in sugar substitutes (artificial nor organic), but instead simply stopped consuming sugar (even the stuff that plays Where's Waldo in the list of ingredients). In addition to dropping a quick fifteen pounds and feeling great, he's come to not miss sugar. No sugar is now normal.

Text Addicts
Life is full of things without which we couldn't carry on, and yet when they're taken away, we continue. From within you see an impossible situation; from without you see a ridiculous one. Rich folk who can't imagine the loss of their homes, automobiles and holidays. Alcoholics can't imagine getting through the night without alcohol. Foodaholics without food. Smokers without cigarettes. 80% of the planet without cellphones. Smart people without their Macintoshes.

Oftentimes, it's our belief that normalcy is somehow static that makes it difficult to effect change. It's not the things, but the the sensations we derive from their presence or sudden absence.

When you first stop (smoking, drinking, eating sugar, texting, driving a Carrera S, playing a custom Les Paul, doting on your kids), you experience withdrawal, not in the strict biochemical sense, but their are biochemical symptoms (any feeling has an associated chemistry). Sometimes the sense of withdrawal is so strong that you can't imagine going on that way, so you cave. However, people who continue don't succeed in overcoming the emptiness, the cravings or the longing of withdrawal. Instead, the withdrawal withdraws rolling back into the sea of emotion like a wave that has broken on the beach. The longing and craving are not overcome, they simply dip below the horizon of your past, as a new sense of normalcy rises above the horizon of your future. Not having becomes normal, natural, easy.

Still, we often imagine those initial sensations being somehow permanent, not just tonight, but every night here on out. We might even project them as amplified by time rather than diminished, as we would project our sense of fatigue after a second, third and fourth night sans sleep: if it's this bad today, how much worse will it be tomorrow?

All these tricks we play on ourselves. Yet the magic seems real, pervasively and convincingly real.

But it's not. It's just the last ditch effort of beliefs that have nothing left to lose.

Normalcy Enablers
Sometimes our sense of normalcy is wrapped up in the sense of normalcy we facilitate for others. This is something I've been wrestling with lately. In many ways I do a lot of care-taking. Not in the classic sense of mom bringing you comfort food when you're sick, but in the sense of taking care of things that others could do for themselves (but perhaps less quickly, less easily, or less effectively).

I like doing things for others, especially if my doing provides them significant benefit that would have been difficult to otherwise obtain: helping people out financially, spinning up new websites, solving technology problems, drawing up business plans, creating marketing materials, etc. I like doing simple things for others as well: preparing meals, picking up and dropping off, finding nice places for dinner. More than like, I find great enjoyment and satisfaction doing these things.

The struggle for me comes when my doing so becomes normal, expected, when people don't see what I've done as temporary patch, but instead as a lifestyle change, when the loaned car morphs into a gifted car, when the marketing people whom I've helped out in a pinch begin to send me routine writing assignments, when the IT guy whose crashed system I've recovered asks me if I've been running the regular backups on his systems, when the drummer for whom I've started to maintain a set of just-in-case parts assumes that I'll just be bringing a drum rug and throne to the next gig and leaves his at home. Each of these is a relatively small thing, and yet they add up as I become part of others' senses of normalcy.

I'm My Own Worst Enemy
I must admit that I am the primary enabler of this phenomenon. First, I like being helpful. Second, I don't use phrases like, "I did thus and such this time, but don't expect me to do it again!" Third, my own sense of independence is so strong that I simply can't imagine allowing a situation where someone has to bail me out a second time (let alone a third or fourth) and I project that sense of independence onto others. Fourth, I maintain an undercurrent of Southern Baptist judgment that I should put others first.

Even seeing this, I'm reluctant to stop enabling.

Just last night Iris and I were talking about the innocuous topic of food. Iris and I are amazingly compatible philosophically and practically, except in two areas: 1) response to visual and aural stimuli, and 2) food. Pretty much any food that works for Iris doesn't work for me and vice versa.

Iris can eat fatty foods all day long and never gain a pound. However, if she eats too many carbohydrates, her digestive system goes on strike. I can eat pasta ever night, feel great and drop weight, but fatty foods cling to me to like velcro. I like to eat infrequently and irregularly (only when I finally get hungry); Iris' variance in blood sugar levels mandates frequent, regular dining.

Being as busy as we are, preparing two of each meal has been impractical, so over the last few years I've opted to prepare meals in tune with Iris' diet and schedule. It's been working well for Iris and for me it's created an opportunity to experience being fat. In fact, I've made all this normal.

So this morning, sitting here in the Key Largo Starbucks, I'm contemplating how to go about reestablishing normal for me, and as a side-effect, for others. Half-baked and all, I'm sharing my contemplation with you.

Happy Sunday,

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, you just inspired me to look at my food again. I am not sure what works for me, but I guess that it's because: "flexible diet" works for me. - meaning not eating today something you ate yesterday, kind of diet. Food just before and after sleeping is good, but I haven't - yet - figured out how it works during the day.


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