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:


“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.


13 responses to “YOU CAN FLUSH TOILETS

  1. Jenn…u always had a gift for writing and I’m glad I can enjoy reading your comments all over again … And this time they are not “report card” related!!

  2. Jenn, hoping that “journaling” aka “blogging” will be cathartic for you and all your Long Beach buddies. Feeling/seeing your inner angst from the pictures you paint with your words gives great perspective to the age old question “what is normal?” And, while not a great distance separates us geographically, a sign such as the one that was necessary in Long Beach, makes it seem as if we live on different continents not different parts of the same island. Thinking of you and keeping you in my thoughts. Looking forward to the day when your blog includes details of the first flowers blooming in your garden and when you can look at a beautiful sky and appreciate its rainbow forgetting about the rain.

  3. Jenn – I’m so glad you decided to write in this forum about your experiences. Not only are you a fantastic writer, but I know how cathartic it can be! Blog on!

  4. Jenn I tried to imagine myself in my car after such a life altering event, faced with what seems insurmountable and I had real difficulty voting for one or the other. All of the above would have been a good choice too. Anyway, love that u r doing this. I feel closer to u already!

    • Thanks, Jodi. I often want to call you to chat and I wish I could when everything quiets down in the evening. Your comment helped me feel close to you too. 🙂

  5. Reblogged this on Our Old Normal and commented:

    Survey Results: The sign YOU CAN FLUSH TOILETS struck just more than half of you as funny first, then sad. It had taken me a few minutes to realize it was funny, but I was probably still in shock and also truly relieved (no pun intended) to learn that I could flush toilets!!!

  6. Jen, Your writing is wonderful!

    I can’t bring myself to call any of what’s going on in the aftermath of Stupidstorm Sandy as the New Normal. So many unfortunate truths have emerged since the storm from discovering that flood contents insurance does not cover basements (the place where all the floodwater goes) to the realization that so called conservative house members from the south do not think our area deserves the same help from the Federal government that they received after Katrina destroyed thier homes and businesses.

    On the other extreme, the kindness and selflessness I’ve seen from people in the aftermath of Sandy has given me a more hopeful outlook on Humans in general, or at least most of them.

    To make a long story short, I prefer the term
    The New Abnormal.


    • I love it! The New Abnormal. We have encountered so much crap and so much extreme selflessness–all of which is unusual, I guess. But at times it seems to me that we are just living through a stronger version of what we all live through every day on a smaller scale. Our experience has been like life illuminated by a floodlight–or hooked up to an amp. I feel like I’d better look and listen now because the lessons, while harder, are clearer and louder.
      By the way, Chuck, your selflessness was and is truly abnormal. Thank you for that.

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