Finding Your Normal

Walking down the street the other day, I heard someone say something to the effect of, …and it’s just not normal. Well, not normal by our normal, anyway.

I wanted to go and shake the woman’s hand. Damn it, I wanted to hug her. In all my years of searching for normal, I never considered that I could just define it for myself.

There’s a running joke in our house where, when confronted with a problem, we ask ourselves what normal people would do. I live with this perpetual notion that I’ve missed a trick, that everyone else knows what’s going on and what to do in all situations, and I am a klutz that gets everything just a little bit wrong. My furniture doesn’t match and my clothes are never quite right for the weather. We sometimes use plastic bowls from the picnic set because we don’t have enough china. I use a jam jar as a toothbrush holder and I don’t own a pizza cutter. I’d rather walk to the next bus stop than wait more than five minutes for a bus. The list goes on and contains an oddity of behaviours and reflections on things I presume are a bit, well, abnormal. So I apologise for them, or worse still, I hide them.

When it boils down to it, though, normal is just a set of expectations that a group shares. And if you boil anything down for long enough it becomes nothing. (Right..?) Sure, sometimes normal is good for society, like the norm of regularly showering or covering your mouth when you sneeze. Public health aside, a lot of the other things we do are based on what we presume other people want to see. We think others expect certain things of us, and we go with it to make sure we don’t seem like a weirdo. It can be big or small, from how we spend our money and our politics to how we drink our coffee. (Confession time my caffeine aficionado friends: I often drink weak-tasting instant coffee. And I like it.)

The confident people out there might not get this. They live how they want to live and don’t care what others think. Maybe “normal people” are actually just confident people. There’s definitely something appealing about individuals who are passionate about their interests, however unusual, geeky, or off-the-wall. For sure, living your chosen life-style apologetically is more abnormal than most of the things you’re apologising for (with notable exception, cheaters, liars, or thieves to name a few). Probably no one is normal, just more or less confident about how they go about their day.

But for me, this hasn’t always been obvious. For me, there’s always been a fear of getting it wrong, a somewhat destabilising and debilitating worry of being considered weird that leaves me feeling awkward and uptight. And it’s probably not normal that overhearing a stranger’s out-of-context commentary on normality would make me reconsider this, but, well, it did and I’m not sorry. How I live is basically like everyone else, with its own brand of me splashed in. And it’s okay to be okay with that.

So I say to each his own normal, quirks and all.

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Oderwald, Standard Normal distribution with shading between -2 and 2, https://openclipart.org/detail/171054/normal-distn-shaded-inside-2s, 2012-07-05 accessed 24.06.17

The Jogger’s Nod

The oncoming stranger is 10 years older and 15 kilos heavier. The woman you just passed is five years younger and a head taller. The guy you glimpse up the road is your age and built like a bull. However, you know then all, in the tiniest of ways.

From their laboured gait to their red faces, they are like your joke mirror image at a fairground: distorted but recognisable. You know their legs are as heavy as yours. You know their hearts are pounding too. You know that they, like you, are part of a very special group. You know that they, like you, share the same secret.

Because none of us will win prizes. None of us will break records or earn trophies. None of us look quite right in the kit or quite comfortable in our chosen pass time. But, none of us minds. That is our secret. None of us worries or wants more than the sound of the pavement under our tired legs and the feeling of warmth radiating from our aching limbs.

We are the joggers of this world, happy to be out, happy to be doing something good for our bodies and our minds. We are lifted by the sight of a fellow jogger, who catches our eye, grimaces, maybe even smiles, and bobs their head in a way that says I see you. I feel it too. Keep going. Yes, however different our exteriors might be, we recognise each other and we nod, because we are the joggers of this world, and we stand united.

Photo on 20-06-2017 at 16.57

 

 

To-Do, Should-Do, Could-Do

I won’t lie: time scares me. From having too little to having too much, there’s nothing that gets me in a flap like a lack or an excess of time. From the when on Earth am I going to get it all done? to the what am I going to do with myself?, time is a tormentor.

Yet it is constant and predictable. So I guess, time is not the problem. I am.

I’ve just been given a magical gift of time. Mutterschutz is the German welfare system’s way of wrapping expectant mothers up in cotton wool and sending them away from work up to six weeks before their due date. Like I said, a magical gift.

Six weeks is, however, quite a long time, especially when you know that the end of it is likely to involve both the most amazing yet most painful experience out there. Yet I didn’t have to take it, and I did. I could have kept working, but I chose not to. Because, while having time on my hands scares me, the way my time is likely to be used over the coming weeks, months and years is going to change dramatically. So I decided to figure out how to unwrap this present and use this donated time wisely, carefully and gratefully.

So I made a list. In fact, I made several.

I made a to-do list, naturally. Because, well, there are just some things that need doing to get ready. It’s more of a shopping list, because, despite trying to keep it minimal, there are just some things that these little beings need.

Then I made a could-do list. I thought about all the things that give me pleasure, all the things that I wish I could do more of, and I set them down in my journal. From reading, exercising and writing, to studying German and volunteering, they’re all things that are good for mind and body. They’re mostly selfish, but without being indulgent. And that matters to me. Spare time needs to be respected and used wisely, not taken lightly and discarded.

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So on the eve of my first day off, I covered three sides of my A5 jotter with schemes, plots and plans. I saved four new recipes to my phone for all the cooking I’m going to do. I did three of the things on my could-do list… oh. Oops.

Me being me, I’m going to find this wonderful thing – this time – a challenge. I can’t help it. I am, unfortunately, a tense, antsy, fluttery kind of person. I worry about worries creeping up on me when my mind is not active. But that’s okay because I’ve made some lists and I’ve got a plan.

I’m going to defeat my worries about time by meticulously planning my relaxation.

I’m going to fight my fear of time by carefully coordinating the minutes of fun.

I’m going to grateful for every second I get to do things for myself and my family because time is precious and too often taken for granted.

Plus, if today’s efforts at baking are anything to go by, there’s not enough time in the world to turn me into a competent baker!

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Slightly overcooked peanut butter cookies. Perfect for dunking in tea only 🙂

I Heart Mondays

Monday is a really underrated day. Seriously. Yes, you have to get up early after a weekend of lie ins. Yes, you have to go back to work. And yes, from here, Friday seems a long way away. But that’s just a symptom of our overly-busy lives. Really we should be glad that we both have jobs to get up for and weekends to look forward to.

That aside, I also love Mondays because of Monday evenings. Monday evenings are a legitimate time to do nothing. No one goes for Monday drinks. Monday is not an exercise day, a cleaning day, a shopping day or a work-late kind of day.

Monday evenings are about eating dinner and watching TV. They’re about calling family and nesting on the sofa. I almost never have plans on a Monday, never have to be anywhere or see anyone. I can be in PJs by seven and in bed by nine thirty and no one cares.

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Celebrate Mondays, if you can, because counting them off and wishing them away is no way to live.

Here’s to Mondays, the hard-done by day that just wants to be appreciated, every once in a while.

The Path to Organisation

It starts with a vision of the end. Perfectly organised and labeled files with paper placed carefully where it should. It is this somewhat pathetic need for all of life’s administrative documents to be in the right place, waiting to be plucked out of colour-coded files when needed, that inspires the task. The practical, pedantic’s dream.

To reach any end, though, a journey must begin.

The first, nerve racking steps, teetering on the edge of a precariously placed chair, involve the prising of dusty files off long untouched shelves. Hesitation takes over, a doubt about whether or not now really is the time to wade into these long-neglected boxes, these oft-spurned files, knowing that once you start, there’s no going back. Quickly, the motivation takes over, the vision of neatly presented folders and labels written in beautiful cursive reaffirms itself. It is time. Let the organisation begin.

From here, the only way forward is the elaborate construction of piles. Banking, insurance, certificates, bills, sentimental, recycling, shredding, and, annoying but necessary,  the dreaded ‘miscellaneous’ pile.

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And the only way to achieve success? Acceptance of the inevitable: you will create more chaos before you find the path the organisation. You will hesitate over which of the tens of birthday cards to keep and which to throw away. You will mix up the recycling and the shredding pile. Piles will merge gradually and the odd bank statement will find itself promoted to a degree certificate. You will regret starting this task about ten times in the first hour. Panic will take over…

There is too much mess, more than there was before. The realisation that our lives can be boiled down to magazine racks of dogged-eared paper, fitting neatly into categories provides a depressing and nullifying view of life. When did it get so complicated? Why don’t I have anything better than this soul sucking, frustrating task to do?

And then.

And then, just when you think there is no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel, the seemingly logic-less conundrum becomes as easy as a child’s first puzzle. The corners slot into place, and gradually the edges and the middle become obvious. From hidden chaos on shelves, to pandemonium on your living room floor, to orderliness before you, the path has been navigated; you’ve found your way.

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With promises of eternal tidiness and vows to file every letter from the bank the day it arrives, you place the folders back on their clean, sparkling shelf. You turn and admire your letter rack, your table, under the fruit bowl, down the side of the sofa and the bottom of your handbag, and smile smugly that, for the first time in a long while, they are free of papers, letters, documents and other modicums of your day to day existence.

And you vow, whilst trying to un-see the corner of an envelope sticking out from under the sofa, that this time, this time,  they’ll stay that way.

 

Bottle Neck at the Door

They are waiting on the other side of the door. They are outside, standing patiently in line, waiting for you to finally turn the handle. They are staying calm for now, but it’s bound to change. They all think they’re important, you see. They all think they’re the number one item that needs attention and so they are bound to start to jostle for position soon, bound to start elbowing here and there.

They are all the bits of life that need attending to: the bills, the plans, the E-mails, and the calls. They are the work that piles up: the day-to-day musts, the projects, the minor things that always slide until they become major. They are the bullet points on your to-do list, resenting the order in which they were added to the tenth post-it note this week. They are the deadlines, jumping up and down desperately to get your attention, filling you with a counter-productive dread that does more to demoralise than motivate.

And they are all there, right outside the door, desperate to get in.

They are all there, not prepared to wait until tomorrow, forcing their way into today.

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Turn the handle – Open the flood gates

See, you were warned – they are getting rowdier now, pushing and shoving, vying for attention. They all want in and they all fear not making the first cut. They know there is only room for so many on the other side of the door.

Still, it’s not like your sitting behind that closed barrier alone. There are already 101 things crammed into the small space that are the hours of today. Your eyes need match sticks to hold them open. You yawn more than you breath, yet you can not sleep. Not with the riot that is now going on, warning you the flood gates are about the burst at any moment.

And when they do?

What happens when we can’t manage it all anymore?

Well it’s only a small door. Realistically, only so much can get through without everything getting stuck. And when it gets stuck, necks twisted around the door frame, fingers waving desperately, trapped behind the door hinges, all we can do is pull free the important things.

We have to do what we can today,  weed out what really matters for tomorrow and leave the rest to fight it out amongst itself!

5 Things from 5 Photos

One: You’ve got to work hard at the climb to be rewarded with the view.20160402_170651

Two: Sometimes the nicest things are right in front of you. Stop looking and start seeing.IMG_1555

Three: We are all different: sometimes we stand out and sometimes we don’t, but we are always unique.

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Photo credit @ RDP

Four: There are not enough maps in the world to guarantee you’ll never get lost. Wander, go off piste and see where the road takes you.

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Photo credits @ RDP

Five: Just because it’s raining, does not mean it is bad. Beauty can be found where you least expect it.20160315_135257