Ramblings: The irrational concept of "normal"

I started writing this in a moment of anger after reading different news stories a few weeks ago, and after some random conversations with different people decided to try to finish it today. It remains unfinished, as do most of my ramblings, but I think that is the nature of the subject. There is no real answer.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be a normal person, surrounded by normal people, living in a normal world. And then I realize that there is nothing normal about anything in this world. What on earth is normal about living in a country where religion dictates who you are or are not allowed to marry? What is normal about living in a world where a government decides to bomb part of its population into submission? What is normal about some people being able to eat copious amounts of an endangered species in one country while another country is literally starving to death? What is normal about someone deciding to walk into a school full of children and murdering them in cold blood for no real reason? What is normal about two people making fun of another person’s hair or clothes or weight or life just because they don’t consider him or her “normal”? None of this is normal, is it? There is no real “normal”, it’s all just a concept of what we perceive to be a way of living that doesn’t shock, hurt or scare us. In this case “abnormal” is everything outside of those boundaries that we have set.

This Merriam-Webster definition pretty much says it all:
a : according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle
b : conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern 

How boring is that? So basically in order to be “normal” you have to conform to something that you had no part in developing or setting up or deciding upon. As a conclusion, being normal is therefore just following the crowd; being just another white sheep in the herd. What happens if you weren’t born to follow though? What if you really were born as the odd one out, the black sheep that sticks out amidst the others. Are you doomed to spend the rest of your life trying to conform, even if you know that’s not right for you; or running away from the pack and having to live with your “differences”?

You know, this just gets more and more complicated as you delve into it. Because what is “being different to the norm”? That could literally mean someone who has different world views than most people surrounding him or her. Or it could be someone who thinks that murdering other people for fun is how life should be lived. Or it could be someone who thinks that having multiple husbands or wives is what marriage is all about. It could also be someone who believes that Satan exists and prefers to worship what is considered evil, rather than “God” who is supposed to be good. Or, quite simply, it could be just someone who wants to live their life happily without feeling that they should have to conform to something that they don’t believe in, and don’t want to be vilified for being “different”.

Back in my high school days I had an amazing English teacher whose words continue to inspire me today. He told me during a creative writing class that one should avoid using the words “nice” and “kind” as much as possible, because the English language is so abundant with words that describe something better than those two words that have practically become meaningless with overuse. I feel that the word “normal” has joined “nice” and “kind” in the category of words that don’t describe anything anymore. If I said that “the stars looked nice in the sky tonight” and “that person is kind”, would you feel any kind of interest in what I was trying to explain? However, if I said “the stars glistened in the blue-black sky more than usual last night” and “that person went over and beyond expectations to make me feel comfortable and at home”, you would probably be more interested in hearing more about both experiences. The same goes for “normal”. Technically, if I am explaining myself correctly here, “normal” doesn’t really exist, except maybe in our own minds.

On that note, I am going to continue to live my life in my usual way, however unconventional it may seem to others.

Ramblings: One Friday evening in August

Just a set of ramblings on a Friday evening at home…

I was walking to the shop earlier, listening to Fast Car by Tracy Chapman, and started thinking about how I always dream about getting into a car one day and just driving, no real destination in mind, just driving somewhere different. I don’t mean by that that I would just drive off and never come back, but that I appreciate the idea that I could just go off and explore somewhere new at a moment’s notice. Well, I could if I could drive. Not that the minor issue of not being able to drive has ever stopped me – trains and planes and buses are just as easy to get away on. In any case, all that got me thinking about freedom, and the freedom of being able to do what we want in life. I have that freedom, and I couldn’t imagine anything else nowadays. I always say this is my home, but a day could come when I just decide that I need something different. Maybe a beach house in Central America or Hawaii. A place where the sun shines more often than it rains and where I can walk around barefoot most of the day. Maybe another trip to India, or one to a country in Africa. I don’t know, thoughts like this always help me keep my inner peace in check. Even just the idea of still being able to go off on an adventure of some sort keeps me happy. I should start planning something for when it gets cold here, an adventure to a place where I have never been before and where it will be warm and full of hibiscus flowers. I’m a little obsessed with the beauty of the hibiscus. I don’t even mind going somewhere alone – the idea of not having to speak to people too much for a week or so is quite enticing.

It’s been a year today that I did my disappearing act and walked away from a life I had turned into a prison. What an interesting year, so much has happened and so much has been thought about. I know I will never regret what I did, even on those days when I have done a double at work and when my legs hurt and my brain just wants to sleep. Even when I only have one day off a week, and on that day just feel like staying at home and listening to my own thoughts as opposed to listening to others talk about theirs for hours on end. I love my life, there is no question about it. This is what life is supposed to be about, the freedom to do whatever we want. We are all responsible in some way for how our life turns out, so we may as well make it as fun as possible. On this day last year we were all waiting for a hurricane to hit the city… In a way it feels like so much longer than just a year to be honest. Many many moons have gone by since then. 

I’ve been watching an old English TV show on Netflix from the late 80’s called Wish Me Luck. Every time that I think that I have exhausted the WW2 fiction I always find something else that catches my eye and hooks me in. This series is in three seasons and is mainly about a group of British agents that are sent into France to join the Résistance. It’s pretty well done, although I will always find it weird when characters are speaking in English when you know you are supposed to imagine them speaking in French. Anyway, I started watching the final season when it struck me that it was filmed in the exact location that I grew up in in France. The views were the exact ones that I would see when I opened the shutters of my apartment every morning and the villages were the same ones I used to go through all the time, or very similar to those in any case. It was filmed in the middle of the Vercors, and the story line is basically taken from real life events that happened when the maquis in 1944, when they rose against the Germans and were squashed, as it was deemed more important to send aid to Normandy during the landings rather than to a bunch of French résistants. It’s a story I grew up hearing about and always one that I have been a little obsessed with, so it’s pretty cool to actually see it depicted on TV (and filmed on location). It makes me miss France a lot though… Maybe I need a little French escape soon too. Mountains o’ mountains of things

For the past month I have been wondering whether to give up on this novel for a while, and write more short stories. I’m thinking about a collection of stories on the LES over the past 7 years, more personal ones than fiction of course, just because I’m really inspired by the idea right now. I’ve been writing more poems again, and am quite happy with the compilation I put together a few weeks ago. But I’ve been really procrastinating about the novel and haven’t finished a chapter in over two months. Today I had the bright idea of maybe just using each chapter I have already written as a set of short stories as this would eliminate the worry of making sure the plot flows through each chapter correctly. But then today I read some of the chapters I had written earlier this year and they are better than I thought they were, and it gave me hope that maybe it still is a good idea and I just need to push on with it and finish it this year. I’ll see. I don’t think I can completely give up on it just yet. But in the mean time I will start on the other plans I have in mind and see what they turn in to.

For my Nana - an amazing woman

Last week was very happy/sad and emotional for me but uplifting at the same time. The sorrow I felt at losing one of my grandmothers was also countered by the happiness I felt to have had the chance to know and spend so much time with my Nana, who was such an amazing person and who lived such an amazing and full life. However close or far away I lived she was always there in my life, and always had something funny to say or do that would make me laugh until I cried. She had so many stories and anecdotes from days gone by, and I hope to be able to live such a full life as she did.

The service itself was simple and beautiful and I felt honoured to read a piece I had written for her during the service. Here is the piece I read, in honour of my wonderful Nana.

For Nana, the one and only little old crock

I talk to my father every day. I don't know where he is exactly but I know that he's around somewhere, listening to me, gently guiding me in certain directions. He has watched me make mistakes, fall down, pick myself up and carry on. He's also watched me succeed and make the right decisions. It's been 23 years since he left us, but there isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss him. Now Nana has gone to join him, and to join all of her husbands and boyfriends and sisters and friends who left us before she did. Whatever you may believe in, you know she is already sitting on a little throne-type chair somewhere, directing everyone and making everyone roll over with laughter at one of her jokes.

I'll always remember the time when I was a little child and wanted to send Nana a letter (even though she lived just a few doors down the street in Manton). If I remember correctly the postman thought it was funny that I had addressed the envelope "Nana Nicholls", that being because he knew her real name was Brenda, because he knew she lived down the street or because he just thought the name "Nana" was funny I will never know. But it's always been Nana. It did become "little old crock" at some point too, although I don't know if Louise or I started that one. Louise of course being the middle crock and me being the young crock. Although I'm not THAT young anymore.
I'm lucky. We are ALL lucky. Nana lived until she was 92 and we were all lucky enough to be part of her life and spend as much time with her when she was alive as we could. She was born in 1920! Lived through WW2, through the post war, past several husbands and still remained herself: funny, stubborn and classy. I have never known anyone (apart from my sister that is) who would make such a fuss about making sure her outfits were always matching. Even when we finally got her to wear trousers, she would only wear the posher type (unlike me, her granddaughter, who tended to run around in ripped jeans and holey jumpers). Even the orthopaedic shoes she had to wear after her operations had to be of the prettier kind! Nana wouldn't leave the house unless she felt good about the way she looked, and she always used to tell me that she didn't want to end up in hospital wearing holey underwear! She wore heels until she really couldn't anymore, and even then she kept them, you know, just in case she would be able to wear them again!

Nana never gave up, until she just couldn't fight anymore. I spent literally every summer and more at Nana and Auntie Louise's until I moved to NYC. At 80 she was getting on the bus to Stamford and Oakham, doing some shopping and going to the library. She loved to be surrounded by the people she cared about, and she had a heart big enough to still care about the people who didn't act as if they cared anymore. There were times when I would turn my back and she would climb up on chairs to clean the tops of the kitchen cupboards, just because she couldn't sit still. There was another time that she didn't want someone to see she was at home, so we both hid behind the couch when this person knocked on the door and were giggling like children. I tell you, never a boring day when you were around my Nana.

I’m sad because I know I will never see her again. I’m sad because I know I will never talk to her again. I’m sad because I will never be able to laugh at how she would take her hearing aid out when she didn’t want to listen to people talk anymore, and how, with her hearing aid, she would still have selective hearing. I’m sad because I will never see her beautiful little old lady face again, and I’m sad because I’ll never see that amazing person who was behind that little old lady face again. But I know that she wouldn’t want me to be sad. She wouldn’t want anyone to be sad. We should celebrate her life by remembering all of the wonderful times we had with her, by laughing out loud at inappropriate jokes and by remembering how fabulous Brenda May Ellis/Hughes/Nicholls/Beeby etc was. I know where I get my mischievous side from and I hope, just like Nana, that I never lose it.

Always tell those you love how much you love them, and always live your life in a way that you will never regret you didn’t do something because you were too scared to. And last of all, because all of you here today loved my Nana in some way or another, I love you too.

(To finish off, a phrase that she would say to me every so often when we watched Eastenders together):

"Oh yeah… You know the woman who played Pat in Eastenders? She’s a lesbian you know!"

Words on Walls

Freedom & EqualityLove LoveNot Responsible For Your LifeClairvoyant PsychicImaginePeace_And_Love
R1-07710-0014Wrong WayDanger No SwimmingR1-06168-011ADefaced WallAlways
Love is LoveHigh times in the LordBooks love the kidsAvoid ApathyGod's giftKeep it evil
L'art c'est un motLove 3SmileRevoltI dream of loveJesus light of the world

Words, a set on Flickr.

Over the past few weeks I have been trying to sort through hundred of photos, both digital and film, to see if I can sort them out by theme rather than date which is how they are currently sorted.

I finished this one last night, a collection of words on walls and signs in NYC, Long Island, London. I am sure I will add to it as I am always taking photos of random words that I see in random places.

On one of my walks I was taking pictures of a mural on Myrtle Ave, in Bushwick going towards Ridgewood. The mural took up the whole of a deli wall, and said "Jesus Saves Brooklyn". A couple of guys stopped to tell me that "Jesus Saves" was actually a grafitti artist and that was his name. So there... If you ever see "Jesus Saves" on walls around town, it's not someone telling you that Jesus saves, just an artist signing off on his work.

Anyway, to be continued...


It was too hard to get out of bed today. I knew that the moment I stepped out from under the covers I was going to have to deal with life again, and I just wished, for one bloody day, that I didn’t have to deal with it. Just one day, world, just one day of peace and quiet and silence. A day away from life, where I can disappear for a time, be it into some oblivious sleep, some faraway country or just some dream world I concocted when I was a child.

I first learned what the word “oblivion” meant during my first week at Lycee Stendhal back in the 90’s. My English teacher, Mr Finn, had the words “oblivion” and its antonym (it could have been “consciousness” but I really can’t remember anymore) stuck up on one of his pinboards that were hanging on the wall. It attracted my attention, and when I finally had enough courage to ask him what it meant, I decided that it had to be used in my first book. I think I may have told Mr Finn that, and I hope that somewhere, somehow, he will see this and remember too, although he unfortunately isn’t here with us anymore. In any case, oblivion is one of my favourite words, and for a manic-depressive, also the word that will always be the best explanation of what we want to fall into during those times when we fall down, down, down.

What is oblivion to you? To me it is just somewhere where none of all this that we have to live with and deal with every day exists, and where we don’t have to remember or listen to anything or anyone, and when we come back from it, well, we won’t even remember that it existed anyway. Kind of like the characters in an episode of Lost. You don’t remember the island or anything that happened on it once you are away from it. But once you are there you are away. Maybe I just have a rosy vision of what oblivion really means, maybe it means just gone away for good, unaware of anything, in a catatonic state? I prefer my view. Oblivion is a soft, down-filled bed that I can sink into, like a fluffy white cloud on a sunny day in spring.

Merriam-Webster defines oblivion as being one of the following: “the fact or condition of forgetting or having forgotten; especially : the condition of being oblivious” or “the condition or state of being forgotten or unknown”. I still prefer my definition, it’s just more… Poetic maybe? In any case, this week I just want a day of what see as oblivion, and although I know that it won’t happen, it doesn’t hurt to dream.

That awkward feeling of being alone when surround

It's been over 2 and a half years, and most of the time it doesn't get to me. You know, you are in your comfort zone, you go to the places where you feel at home, the triggers that pushed you to have a drink are long gone, and you feel that you are past all those issues that you had to run away from before. Your friends drink around you and it doesn't bother you. I mean there is always a cab two steps from the bar to take you home once everyone starts to annoy you, right? I even work in a bar now, and never think about doing a shot, or having a drink after work. It doesn't even cross my mind. I serve people drinks, talk to them, have fun, listen to good music and go home after work.
I've honestly found that this last year has been easy to deal with without alcohol and cigarettes, even during the worst moments at my old job.

And then you get caught unawares. All of a sudden you are outside of that comfort zone that you created, away from the cabs that can take you home, and the bar stool you always sit on and literally hide behind. That happened to me last night. I spent the whole weekend having an amazing time, with my close friends, seeing some absolutely wonderful live acts, feeling inspired and just really happy. It was during the final party, the last DJ set at Asbury Lanes, and everyone was happy and getting drunk and I felt so strange. All of a sudden I had a crazy urge to down a huge glass of vodka and smoke a cigarette. I'm not talking about a slight wish that I could have a drink, I mean a full-on I want to be as drunk as everyone else now because otherwise I am never going to feel like I am OK standing here. Everything felt totally surreal, like I had been pulled from one dimension to another without warning, and had this intense feeling of not belonging, even though I was surrounded by people I love. I just wanted to disappear into the crowd of dancing people and dance like crazy. I wish I had, I would have been happier. But I couldn't, I just stood there feeling awkward, and then took it out on one of my closest friends because he felt like having a drink.

I suppose I just need to remember that it's OK to be awkward, and it's OK to say that you feel awkward, but also that it's OK to not care about feeling awkward too. The only reason I felt awkward was because I felt like I was different, the odd one out. No one else noticed, everyone was too busy having fun. And I feel bad because I never wanted any of my friends to feel bad about drinking in front of me, because it's my own choice to not drink anymore, not anyone else's choice. And there is no need for me to make anyone else feel bad, just because I feel bad myself. But, I honestly also believe I am way too hard on myself at times... It's tough.

Now I am back home again, and everything is back to normal again. I feel lucky that I have such wonderful and supportive friends, and such a great life.

Now time for some serious ATP and other writing, just needed to get that off my chest first.

The walls are starting to crack...

The title of one of my favourite Secret Machines songs...

By using that title I don't mean that I feel everything is falling apart around me, but more like I am pushing the walls I have surrounded myself with for so long outwards. This tends to happen at undetermined moments of my life... I build these walls, brick by brick, and then feel an intense need to fly away, just to rebuild yet another wall. This time I don't feel like going away, I just want to give myself the chance to be free again.
After two amazingly long weeks off work I finally feel like a normal person again, with dreams and plans and hope. I don't want to go back to the ball of stress I have been for so long now, assuming that I need to work like an insane person, because that is how life should be lived.
So I have made the decision to go back to work a free person tomorrow. Whatever happens will happen, but it's time for me to break away from the mold I cast for myself.

"I can leave I can leave by my own power
Go ahead tear this old tower
The rooms already outgrown
Just don't tell me what don't exist
Outside where the darkness sits
When the ground starts trembling through"

The Past is the Present is the Future

I often feel nostalgic and remember stories from the past. I think of those people who were once part of my life and who have now disappeared, off into their own lives, living happily ever after (I hope). I often imagine what these people may or may not be doing, making up stories and wondering if I will ever cross paths with them again. Of course, not all the people I ever met in my life, but those who were part of it in some significant way or another.

Before the age of the internet, I would probably have never seen, or heard from these people again. With the amount of times that I have moved, and also the fact that I changed my surname back to my father's surname the day my mother divorced my stepfather, it would have been impossible for people to find me. In any case, where would you look? In a phone book? Where would you start?

But nowadays we have all the means in the world. Type in someones full name in Facebook, and if they are on there you are bound to find them. Do a few searches on Friendfinder, or other, and you will probably find old school friends. Who will then tell you what became of so and so, etc etc. For a long time I had wondered what had happened to my dad's friend Denton. In the mid 80's he was the lead singer of the band The Janitors, and one year my dad took us to Sunderland with them, when they were on tour. I really really wanted to find him again, and felt like I had looked all over... And this year we found him on Facebook.

Another friend recently found me on Facebook, and I found another, very old high school friend through a French school site. It makes me so happy to rediscover and get to know these people again. These are people who knew me growing up, who saw me become who I am today. People who are not only interested in what I have been doing over the past 10-15 years, but who are also interested in WHY I did this, and decided to do that. And I feel the same way about them.

This all makes me so happy. It's honestly been a saving grace for me over the past few months. I may live in the past, but it is definitely part of my present and will follow me into my fture.