New Normal, Old Normal

A year ago any discussion about the future included speculation about what the “new normal” would look like. Those discussions have changed shape around the question “Is this it? Is what we’re living the new normal?” The answer to that question is yes because normal has always been a mirage, a fantasy, an illusion that life is in any way predictable. We try to make it predictable for our own comfort, because constantly paying attention to and emotionally managing a shifting world is exhausting. If we can find a routine for schooling or work or chores, then at least that small portion of our lives can just happen without us having to think to much about it. I now carry a mask with me and put in on in public places without thinking about it. I give people more distance. I spread out social contacts so that I can tell if I caught something before I have the chance to spread it unawares. I’m accustomed to random shortages, for some reason there are no pickles for three weeks, then they are back. I’m shifting my own book printing stateside so that none of my products have to traverse the snarled mess of global container shipping. All of these things do require a small modicum of attention, but I’ve become accustomed to giving that attention. It is normal for me to adapt on the fly to regular shifts in product availability, Covid numbers, and local mandates. All sorts of little things are less predictable than they used to be, but that lack of predictability has become predictable, and therefore normal.

My son was not diagnosed with autism until he was 18 years old. We went through all the emotions, regrets, relief, and fears which attend upon such a late adjustment in comprehension of what was affecting my son’s interactions with the world. I was baffled by how a kid could have full psychological/behavioral assessments seven times as he was growing up and not one of the supposed experts recognized the autism. He was screened for autism on multiple occasions and the result was “probably not.” The flaw was that those screening tests depended on me, the parent, stating the severity of behaviors and how disrupting the behaviors were to our life. The thing was, we’d already adapted to those behaviors, they were normal and manageable for us. That came across in the screening test. They were absolutely indicative of my son having autism AND they were entirely normal for us so that we thought nothing of them. Our household normal looked very different from the normal in other households. This continues to be true as my three fledgling adults are just beginning to flap their wings while depending on the security of the nest for survival.

I think about normal as learn and collect information for the accessibility appendix in XDM2e. I exchanged messages with a Game Master who has been blind since birth and was wondering how to deploy maps that they can’t see in their games to help their sighted players. In this person’s world being sighted is the oddity and blindness is completely normal. The same holds true for wheelchair users and deaf people. They know exactly how to navigate the world using their capabilities. Their normal is different from mine, but it is still normal. Just as my parenting normal has been very different from other parents I know. And my current normal is different from the normal of the pre-pandemic times. In fact the ability to create normal might be a survival trait for humans. In order to not be overwhelmed, we start classifying things as “normal” so that we can not be exhausted paying attention to them all the time.

I wish I had a grand conclusion to make of these meandering thoughts, but all I have to offer is that normality, whether new or old, is a strange and illusory thing.