The new normal is the old normal, even in publishing

Thomas over on “the quiet voice” talked about being normal, and it made me think. I know, I know, rubbing my two neurons together like that is probably not advisable. But it made me think about how we deliberately or unconsciously try to fit into our environments.

And isn’t the essence of that desire the desire to be liked? In “Doctor Glas”, the Swedish writer Hjalmar Söderberg has a famous passage. Well, famous within the duck pond of Swedish literature. It is probably not famous in the English-speaking world. But in Sweden, everyone with a smidgen of education would know the quote. And it says:

“Man vill bli älskad, i brist därpå beundrad, i brist därpå fruktad, i brist därpå avskydd och föraktad. Man vill ingiva människorna något slags känsla. Själen ryser för tomrummet och vill ha kontakt till varje pris som helst.”

This can be translated as: “One wants to be loved, in lack thereof admired, in lack thereof feared, in lack thereof despised and loathed. One wants to give people some sort of feeling. The soul shudders before the void, and wants to have contact at any cost.”

Doesn’t all our lives, being the social monkeys that we actually are, and being the herd animals that we are, circle around our relation to other people? Doesn’t the successful life mean the life where one is loved, admired and respected by others? Isn’t it a failed life if one is ignored, feared, or despised?

And isn’t that the essence of the need for normalcy; the need to be liked by other people? Isn’t failure to be liked, respected the cause for much misery among people, and the root of crime and everything? Isn’t failure to find a context where you can be a well-integrated little part of a community the reason for most of the problems people have?

And to think that for children and teens, the best solutions that the adults have come up with is to force them to go to a place where they can find no such context and thus prevent them from finding the balance with the group that allows them to be liked and admired and well-adjusted.

***

The wannabe-intellectual in this ivory-tower of my dreams and lunacy have been toying with a project for a while that seems like such a pipe-dream. With the advent of modern publishing, i.e. digital publishing, it seems to me that just about anything could be published.

Why not experiment with the medium, and see what is possible? So, once every month I spend about fifteen minutes thinking along the lines “wouldn’t it be wicked if we got a bunch of young peeps together, peeps that had brains on their shoulders and an ability to write, and then make something like a journal”.

Of course it is a pipe-dream that at best will be met by a paternalistic pat on the head, sort of like “aren’t they precious, the little ones, so we’d better encourage the effort. One day they might have something useful to say”. Who wants to hear sixteen-eighteen year olds discuss points of law, international relations, and the essence of society from a certain point of view? Right. I said it was a pipe dream.

We are to be propagandised to, not listened to. We are to deliver pamphlets and parrot the lines adults have made us memorize. We are to lend a certain glamour to a campaign. If the leader appear youthful and vigorous, it is good. But we’re not actually supposed to have views of our own, and if we do have them – those views are coloured by our inexperience and youthful stupidity. This is a country for older men. Their wives get to look pretty at the photo shoot, and make tea. Their kids should be seen but not heard.

That sounds a bit harsh, but it also a bit true. When I go out on the wild internet as an anonymous moniker without back story people tend to listen to me at least. When they find out about my age, the will to listen often drop away, except for in a few narrow bands of my own life and experience. There are actually people who will say that my brain is not properly formed due to my youth. That’s a nice way to dismiss all that I say. I’m not finished; I’m still a working prototype of what will be. I’m a life in beta-testing, as of yet.

So, the project in my head is probably something for after University. If I’m still interested in it. But, also, since everything tends to coalesce into rigid forms after a while, it would probably also be too late because the digital publishing medium would have settled into proper genres and orders, and what I hope to do would be much more difficult because it would buck trends and upset hierarchies.

Things would settle into a new normal, and any attempts to upset that, or try something new would be about upsetting the contexts of people who have formed a context where they get their affirmations, and who would want to upset the serious business of being liked and respected by the peers?

***

It is Wednesday, and our house guest have crawled out of bed, and have eaten breakfast, and have gone into London for that interview and won’t be back until this evening, and tomorrow morning he’s going to head back to the area around Southampton, and things will be back to normal again.

It is funny how guests can upset the habits and normal functioning of lives; how you adapt to this foreign personality that plops down into the old and worn context that has, over time, been adapted to fit like a snug glove. It becomes like a stone in the old favourite slippers.

Mark and I have some catching up to do today, don’t we?

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14 thoughts on “The new normal is the old normal, even in publishing

  1. There’s no reason it should remain a pipe-dream. Never before have people been so able to easily to disseminate their opinions and thoughts. If you never sow the seed, you never grow the revolution! This world needs shaking up and it’s for your generation to start the job – there’s enough dissatisfaction among the older generations with the status quo that young people may get more support for change than they expect.

    Of course your brain isn’t finished yet and that’s the beauty of being your age – you’re old enough to see how you want the finished design, and young enough to be able to influence the construction!

    As for house guests there’s an unwritten rule that states that after three days they should be thinking of leaving :).

    • But that charge, “the brain isn’t finished”, is used to dismiss ideas and knowledge and understanding. I guess neurologically it could be true. I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know. But does that unfinished bit change the nature and value of the knowledge residing in the brain? Does the perception that the sky is blue, or that the earth is round, change nature because I’m not fully grown? Is knowledge and facts different when I say it rather than when say some fifty year old say it? :)

      • No, the fact that your brain ‘isn’t finished’ (ridiculous phrase, and entirely misleading) does not in anyway negate your ideas or perception. Lack of life experience may mean your perceptions are missing crucial knowledge of the way the world works – but I’ve met teens with more life experience then some 50 year olds. It all depends on the individual.

        I don’t think your idea is a pipe dream. I think it is something you can do, and maybe should do (only you can decide what you ‘should’ do, but I’d love to see this done).

        As far as things getting set in their ways and bucking the trend, etc – things that buck the trend, shake up the status quo and challenge the norm are needed. One of the gifts of youth is that you have the energy to shake things up and are at the same time not yet stuck in a rut. I say use that. I wish I had known how to do so when I was a teenager – I didn’t, so I’m fighting my own rut and my lack of energy to try and do it now. If you know a way to shake the world, go for it. A little bit of shaking keeps the world from stagnating.

        Neurologically: The brain of anyone under 25 is unfinished in the sense that your brain keeps growing and adding neurons until you are around 25. But the brain is like a muscle- use it or lose it. The reason for the famous idea that teens aren’t good at risk assessment or logical thinking is that most teens are given any opportunity to take risks or think logically – they are expected to parrot what they are told and do what they are told. When a person gets a chance to start using those parts of the brain, they start growing. People talk about teens brains as been ‘unfinished’ as if the brain was a machine, useless until every piece is in place. Which is ridiculous. Many teens aren’t finished growing yet – but you still use your body, even though you may gain another inch or two. Your brain is ‘unfinished’ in the same way – there and fully functional, but with the possibility of becoming more. If you have been thinking for yourself, making decisions for yourself, and learning from that experience, then your brain may be more ‘finished’ then the brain of some people twice your age, because their brains stopped growing before they had a chance to get that experience. (Seriously, I know people in their thirties who cannot wrap their heads around complexities of real life and insist that a simple solution will fix any problem – they never learned to think through complex ideas when they were younger, and now they probably never will. THAT is an unfinished brain.)

      • No, the nature and value of what’s already there doesn’t change. You might in future learn why the sky appears blue but that won’t change your perception of it. But the way you use your brain will influence how it grows, just as the way you use your body influences how your body grows. If you build stone walls for a living for example, you’re liable to grow extra upper-body strength. Similarly if you specialise in a particular way of thinking then your brain will tend to optimise itself for that. I spent too much time thinking very logically as a youth with the result that now, philosophy tends to cause my eyes to glaze over :). Don’t get hung up on what is or isn’t “normal”. You’re blessed with a powerful mind, let it run free!

  2. Hey, I’m reading this, right? What Richard said. Don’t let your mind be medusa-ed by someone else’s expectations. Now’s the time to do these things for the very reasons you said; you can get away with it now, and you might be surprised at what happens.

    • I guess I’m trying to ask if not everyone isn’t bound by the expectations of others. It’s part of the “being normal”-process. “Being normal” is only relevant in relation to other people, isn’t it? Also, being unique and seperate is also relevant only in relation to other people. It’s a comparison, right? This is normal, this compared to normality is not. This other thing is unique, because compared to what is normal it is different.

      • Fair enough. I’m just saying that in this in-between time, while self and online publishing is trying to figure out it’s place in the world, and print is nervous (maybe), it may be the time for something outside the norm, like what you suggest. And it is when times are ripe for something new that new projects find a foothold. There is no way to know if it is one of those times or not, except to give it a whirl.

  3. I’m not sure I am in total agreement with Mr Sodafountain :p
    That statement starts off reasonably, expressing an eternal verity, but then lapses into what I am sure was intended as a bit of mischief. Yes we want our existence to be registered, but only a total scumbag WANTS to be despised.

    As for “the will to listen” dropping away… That’s their loss, Colin. And it is a considerable loss for those who are blinkered enough to think only age is worth respecting and listening to.
    Of course you are young, and in consequence your thoughts seem, sometimes, naive and “nascent” – but that is the joy of intelligent youth. Listening to you thinking, hearing what you have to say, is every bit as interesting and (sometimes ;) ) a lot more rewarding than looking at beautiful young bodies.
    Imagining (I don’t obsess about it, don’t get me wrong!) how you will develop in thought and intellectual capacity is a pleasure – the world needs more decent and intelligent minds, and yours is one such.
    Pay no heed to the fools who dismiss you for your youth. As I said, they are the losers.
    I find it very easy to love who you are.

    • I agree with Tony. You are an articulate and creative writer who deserves to be heard. I do not like ageism whether it pre judges a younger person or an older person. I try to treat people with dignity and respect no matter their age. As the saying goes, “minds are like parachutes – they only function when open.”

    • Well, the main character in the novel was trying to justify why he should ethically be able to kill a horrid man whose wife had been trapped into a terrible marriage of convenience. He was smitten with the lady, and he was a medical doctor, and he tried to reason himself into a murder. And I’m not sure he’s wrong: if you lack love, or admiration, or even fear – what else is there but to become loathed and despised? At least if you were loathed and despised you would be something. Not nothing. Not invisible.

      • only a very sad and warped mind could see that – being despised, rather than ignored/unnoticed – as a desirable thing. most people who are famous for having done what the majority consider despicable things manage to fool themselves that what they did was good.
        hitler did not Want to be despised, he wished to be hailed as a saviour of germany, a builder of a greater german future. the greatest tyrants thrive on adulation.
        some, certainly, get off on instilling terror in others, but that does not mean they welcome being despised for having done so.
        i’m not saying there are Not people who would welcome being despised – just that they would be a very small and loopy minority :)

  4. Not being noticed has been the story of my life. I am neither loved or hated. Age hasn’t changed anything in that regard. I can remember going to a nude beach when I was young. A really cute young lady asks if she can throw her towel right next to mine so we look like we’re together so nobody hits on her. Well, she at least noticed I existed, even if the thought that I might hit on her didn’t seem to be in the realm of possible.

    I have heard that peoples brains do change with age. You become less impulsive. I’ve never been one to think that the older brain holds the better opinion; just a different opinion. I prefer to read young people because they see the world without the constraints of the previous age. My thinking is embedded in the constraints of a world that has largely disappeared, a world you have never experienced.

    I would whole heartedly encourage you to explore what can be done.

    With respect to you I have to remind myself that you are only 17, that is not at all obvious in your writing. I know people twice your age who are more impulsive and far shallower in their thinking.

  5. I’m not sure how I feel about age, mine or anyone else’s. I was shocked by how young you were when I first stumbled on your blog, but now you’re ‘just Colin’ and your blog posts are interesting. :D

    Re your thoughts on what drives human beings, I have to agree about the need to be loved, accepted and admired. I guess we all want to feel special, even as we bask in the warmth of belonging. My only caveat would be that I don’t want to be loved, accepted or admired by just anybody. I want to be liked by the people I like. :)

  6. People often say that “you’re only as old as you feel”–Jennie Ruth’s parents are much younger than mine, even though they were all born in 1947. My mom got on better with Jennie’s grandmother than with anyone her own age. I often feel like a teenager myself, perpetually angry as they are in the rural South, struggling against a system that devalues and dehumanizes me, and as you say, my life is a constant beta test. Always rehearsing, never arriving at opening night. If I were ever to arrive at a destination, I might grow old and die suddenly, overnight.

    Physiologically speaking, kids’ brains are fully formed at eight years old, but they continue to evolve for the entire life. Yours is fine.

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