We live in a curious time.
We may be the first civilization, that has for the most part mastered and educated its citizens in the art of reading and writing. We should also admit however, that as a modern and a progressive global civilization, we should not be too quick to pat ourselves on the back for our efforts. We may be darn good communicators, but we seem to miss the thesis of being alive.
It seems that our ‘free’, but somewhat expensive education system, has done such a great job nurturing us, that we seem to have no glimmer of understanding who we are, and so we conform our lives to what we think society wants us to be.
We know our roles and we live them out.
We understand obedience, as we raise our hands to ask permission to pee, watching our manners and minding our business. Somewhere during our turbulent adolescence, we came to the somewhat unnatural conclusion that it was far too difficult to swim against the current. We regrettably decided to follow our peers and retreat with the comfortable flowing waters.
Today we do what we are told.
No one asks us anymore who we want to be when we grow up. We are grown up.
We were once asked, long ago, to decide for ourselves as to what we wanted to do with our lives.
We were asked to make a decision, hastily, at a time when we were very unsure of ourselves, and equally ignorant of all our options. We didn’t know enough. We haven’t lived enough. Yet, we are expected to live with our direction. We chose our given professions. We groomed ourselves into who we are today. We are simply asked to be content with our lot in life.
We tell ourselves that we have to remain obedient to our choices. This is what it means to be normal. It is after, all we have ever known. It’s all we know we can do.
But why is doing more important than being?
Who says that you can’t change your damn mind? Why can’t we change who we are? Why can’t we do this today or tomorrow?
Technology changes. Society changes. Progress engulfs us.
Everything is in constant and obeys the laws of perpetual motion. So why do we remain stagnant? Why are our lives eternally bound to a monotonous existence?
There is a beautiful film that came out of Africa, which is probably why you haven’t heard of it or seen it, and you perhaps never will. After all, how could you, when it is ignorant to assume an entire world can fit into one Foreign Film category.
The First Grader
The film is a mystifying story about an old man, who was denied his chance to learn to read and write, because the British Colonial power, that controlled his country for years, denied him this unnecessary privilege.
He didn’t have the right skin colour.
He finds himself now, living in a free and independent Kenya, where education is offered to everyone, yet as he enters a kindergarten class for the first time, the people of his country believe that he is outlandish, and doesn’t belong there.
He is not of the right age.
Have you ever noticed that art classes are just an after-thought in most of ours schools, and in most of our minds? Yes, there are a few exceptions. A few scattered, designated art schools, do cultivate new and emerging artists, but that is precisely what is wrong our culture. Art has been relegated to the passing time of a recess. It has been told to wait outside.
We decided, or it was decided for us, that art serves no real purpose and has no lasting importance to our lives. Art has no value, except in as much as it entertains and bridges those awkward moments of silence we so desperately try to avoid.
You and I have been told, repeatedly and relentlessly, to the point of exhaustion, that we need to be normal, because it is far too dangerous to fly too close to the sun.
We have built a god of science, modernity, and progress.
Charlie Chaplin saw this in his film Modern Times. We praised his genius at the time, but never listened.
Every day, we wake up with the often unconscious intention to simply blend in and accomplish nothing out of the ordinary.
Don’t fuck up. Don’t make a ruckus. Shut up. Keep your eyes down.
We love living life in the middle of a crowd, unseen. We don’t want to lead. It is so comfortable on the inside. It is so cold and uncertain to be an outlier.
We are nestled in the middle along with everyone else. We don’t want to be noticed. We don’t want to stand out and be different. We wish to be left alone. We just want to earn our daily bread, kick up our feet, and wait for our turn to fly to our next vacation.
Are we happy?
Only you can answer that. I’ve searched my own soul for the answer.
We give our children standardized tests to prove that they are literate, and normal. They are ready to resume their life of mediocrity.
Students climb their way to the precipice of the honour roll. They earn their high school diploma, for what? To become part of a bell curve at some higher institution of learning?
How quickly have we let go of our dreams, and settled in for the menial tasks of a good job? We satisfy our sexual urges. Fawn over Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We chase after them like a fox who pounces on a rabbit. But at what cost?
When we do things, does that bring us more happiness than being?
Right. There are no standardized tests for just being.
Remember when you were young and you would listen to your favourite music because it was beautiful, and precisely because there was nothing you had to do with it, except to listen? Remember drawing pictures as a child for no particular reason, simply because you wanted to bring colour to a paper and express something?
Where is that child that we were so fond of?
Do we ever remember the games we were fond of creating and how often we relied on our imagination. We would make things come alive out of nothing. There was no tangible expectations. There were no norms to follow.
We were never meant to be normal. So what happened to us?
Why did we willingly give up our innocence and our child-like wonder in exchange for comfort and sameness?
What has it gotten us?
Being normal is a chronic illness.
Being normal is a treadmill. The belt, winds and winds our life, for hours and hours, giving us the illusion and perspiration of imagined progress. But in the end, it leads us nowhere.
Why don’t go outside? Why don’t we engage our universe?
It’s too cold. Too wet. Too unpredictable. It’s not normal.
If you go outside, you might just end up being somewhere.
Somewhere, where there is nothing to do, except to live, be happy. A place where you will not encounter many fellow travellers.
A place to be abnormal.