Normal vs. Happy
Part of a series on truth-telling in life and art. See the first post, Dare to Be Yourself, here.
It’s for anyone interested in what happens at the frontiers of common-sense. Do you stay safe or do you follow your heart?
Jeanette Winterson, taking about her book Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
Yesterday, I discovered my favourite living author, Jeanette Winterson, has a new memoir out entitled Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal?. After a moment of regret that my life no longer provides me advance notice of important developments in art and culture – a truth that has been a way of life for a decade, so I need to just need to get over it – I laughed.
What a perfect title for this series of blog posts on truth-telling in life and art. I wish I had thought of it.
Winterson’s first book, the one that put her on the literary map, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, is a fiction based in the truths of her childhood. Her latest appears to cover much of the same material. I am fascinated by the mere fact that Winterson wrote a memoir dealing with the same material. What needed to be said in a non-fictional form? Or has her life changed so much that she no longer sees the past the same way?
Her writing has always struck me as deeply truthful, cutting to the heart of her experience. Even in her less mature work, she wrestles with questions of identity (at least in what she calls her real books). Having written a fictional work based on her childhood, what made Winterson write the memoir? I am curious and will certainly be reading the book.
However, it is the title itself that I find most compelling, at least today. It sums up a core dilemma facing people who can pass for normal.
As a teenager, I had a denim jacket covered with buttons. One of them asked “Why be Normal?” If you had asked me then, I would have told you conformity sucked, that normal was for drones not individuals. The truth is, I wore it on my jacket because I wanted to believe it. I wanted to think that throwing off the constraint of trying to be normal would be okay. But, I wasn’t sure. I had a vague instinct that trying to be normal was a questionable act, but I believed I would be happy if only I were normal.
It was decades before I would truly see how deeply that wish to be normal had wounded me.
But hey, “Why be happy when you could be normal?”
Coming up in this series: passing, contemporary taboos, sneaky deep truth-telling, and more