What is normal? Am I normal? Is there a normal? As writers we are taught to never use the words “normal” or “regular.” Everything is relative. One person’s post-storm wig-out is such a close cousin with another’s chill-out that it becomes tricky to tell if the proper response is to console or congratulate. I myself am not always sure which reaction I would prefer when sharing a storm-related anecdote, probably because I am experiencing such contradictory and yet inexplicably compatible emotions.
Friends assure me I have the right to all these fluctuating feelings. But as I’m still awaiting a settlement letter after three and a half months, and I need to come out the other side a fully functional, relatively normal human being, it might be helpful and would definitely be interesting for me to understand what is “normal” in a socially relative sort of way. I am hoping you will help me by sharing your opinions through this interactive blog. My judgment is surely askew because of something we here in Long Beach have been regularly and somewhat irritatingly calling “the new normal.” I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that in order to understand our own untenable situations we have simply renamed the same human condition that has plagued and inspired us since a raindrop first hit a head.
I admit, all this talk of “the new normal” in the City by the Sea, recently rendered the City In the Sea by Superstorm Sandy, is supported by numerous, unfortunate, and often humorous examples.
For instance, at one point in November, one of the electronic signs that had formerly been used to announce routine construction or shuttle bus service for seasonal 10Ks, Polar Bear dips, and beachfront fireworks shows popped up at the corner of Park and Grand. The latest event worthy of going up in lights, it seemed, was:
YOU CAN NOW FLUSH TOILETS.
“Ooohie,” I thought. “You can?! Excellent!”
I was half a minute into a pleasant daydream about digging up the plastic bags of surreptitiously produced human waste I had buried in what had been my little strip of a rose garden and releasing the contents into the toilet, when I realized: that sign was not normal. It is not customary for a small city to make public announcements about such personal, if indeed local, events. In fact, the message it conveyed was comical! But for a few moments, it had only seemed like a prime nugget of practical information, to be stashed and shared with neighbors like the precious commodity it was in those first days.
The sign seemed normal. The new normal. Prior to deciding, “I should take a picture of this before the traffic light turns green and post it on Facebook because it is funny,” I had already thought, “I should text all my Long Beach friends and tell them to flush! They will love me!!”
And they would not have laughed. The new normal can be very serious. In this sense it is not all that different from our old normal. This is not to say that the Sandy-induced “new normal” is not actually new, or different, or something to become sarcastically incredulous about, or that the situations we storm survivors find ourselves in are not in some cases severe, in most cases all-encompassing, and in all cases not the brand of normal that prevailed pre-October 29.
But isn’t it true that there is nothing new even under the Long Beach sun? Isn’t this normal just an iteration of the old–only wearing a new seawater-soaked, sand-encrusted, battered, beaten coat donated by Sandy? I and my barrier island buds are the same people with the same hang-ups solving similar if sloppier and more expensive problems.
I remain lax about exhaling, continue to agonize over deadlines, and still lose sleep over household funding. I have even more opportunity to parse out possibilities for achieving absolute perfection, and constantly worry that I am sucking everything and everyone dry even though that’s exactly what we need in this waterlogged city.
My old normal. I’m as me as ever, with the enhanced feature of being able to think about flushing with earnest enthusiasm.
It is hard to evaluate normalcy these days and because everything seems a bit skewed, I can never be certain if I am responding appropriately to events and situations. To that purpose I will be including surveys in my blog so that you can input your take on storm-related developments I have responded to with an excess of emotion. Evaluating the expediency or effectiveness of my responses when everything seems so overwhelming has been, well—overwhelming. I have only made it through with the help of my friends, my dog Lucy (whose unvoiced responses to bothersome stimuli calls to mind the last poems of Emily Dickinson), and my poor husband who could bottle himself as Jenn’s Own Emotional Metamucil. It is time to spread the wealth. Today you will find the first question, just a weak warm-up for more pressing questions.
Thank you for participating. Responses will be reviewed and compared with my own. I will be requesting further assistance as I prepare to reassimilate.