It’s better to feel normal about being abnormal

Posted on January 23rd, 2013

I like Henry Miller’s mind. I’ve written about it before. He expresses without apology. His writing just…goes there; it cuts through and doesn’t pause to deliberate fruitlessly. It feels like freedom to just read his work.

Image by Jody Rogac

Image by Jody Rogac

I came across these Henry Miller quotes just now. It’s from an essay he wrote on the musings of psychoanalyst E. Graham Howe. Miller dissects some of Rowe’s thoughts on normality, and surrender, that I rather like:

“‘Normality,’ says Howe, ‘is the paradise of escapologists, for it is a fixation concept, pure and simple.’ ‘It is better, if we can,’ he asserts, ‘to stand alone and to feel quite normal about our abnormality, doing nothing whatever about it, except what needs to be done in order to be oneself.’

Yes, we must stand alone in order to be ourselves. And, yes, it’s the most challenging thing in the world to do. It’s my greatest ambition… to be truly, bravely myself.

As Miller goes on, a little aloofly:

It is just this ability to stand alone, and not feel guilty or harassed about it, of which the average person is incapable. The desire for a lasting external security is uppermost, revealing itself in the endless pursuit of health, happiness, possessions an so on, defense of what has been acquired being the obsessive idea, and yet no real defense being possible, because one cannot defend what is undefendable. All that can be defended are imaginary, illusory, protective devices.

Indeed, pursuing stability via external cues (like health, hello!) is just a way of side-stepping the awkward unanchoredness of our abnormality.To be cool with our individual abnormality is to be brave and present. Miller writes:

For the awakened individual, however, life begins now, at any and every moment; it begins at the moment when he realizes that he is part of a great whole, and in the realization becomes himself whole. In the knowledge of limits and relationships he discovers the eternal self, thenceforth to move with obedience and discipline in full freedom.

Yes. Full freedom. Plus one more comforting truth:

Life, as we all know, is conflict, and man, being part of life, is himself an expression of conflict. If he recognizes the fact and accepts it, he is apt, despite the conflict, to know peace and to enjoy it. But to arrive at this end, which is only a beginning (for we haven’t begun to live yet!), a man has got to learn the doctrine of acceptance, that is, of unconditional surrender, which is love.

Surrender is the only way. And it tastes like love when you can actually get your hunger around it. So I accept surrender is love. I also accept love is all there is…what about you?

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  • Courtney

    Beautiful

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  • seeker

    I also enjoyed this post, thanks Sarah, there’s a lot to acknowledge there …

    Christina, I just read your No Yogo blog post and found it really funny. I admire your writing style!

    :)

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    Christina Reply:

    Thanks so much Seeker! Really appreciate it :)

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    seeker Reply:

    arggghhhhhhh ‘trail mix’ – hilarious!! rather brilliant! ok i’ll shut up now … and keep reading!

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  • seeker

    “Announce you have no interest in (at my age, this is my example) marriage, house-buying or childrearing, and watched what people do. First they disbelieve you, then they squirm, then they actually get angry and convince you that you’re deluded and don’t know your own mind. Which is funny… my own small life in no way affects their, but the violence of their response is completely disproportionate to reality.”

    i hear ya! i sometimes get this passionate you-don’t-know-what-your-missing style of trying to convince me, and i also get unwarranted pity, or a ‘awwww poor you’ kinda exclamation??? …. but more often than not i also see a very unsteady discontent with their very own lives?!
    me i’m happy as that proverbial pig! :)

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Holding mirrors up to their own fears!

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  • seeker

    … and was Miller a yogi?!

    wow, that’s just what it’s all about …. i feel so lucky that i get it … am pretty happy bout that! :)

    he”s talkin’ yoga … my talk! :)

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  • Maryann

    I know whet you mean Mia. When I also state I am happy by myself and am not looking for partner all but my family simply don’t believe it.

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  • http://www.livehealthysimply.com jessica nazarali

    Thank you for this Sarah – this post was just what I needed!

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  • http://www.sharnanigans.com Sharni

    love this Sarah. What I loved most 1) your “Hello!” comment (re, health!) and his comment that we are an expression of conflict. Makes sense.

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  • helen

    Why why why did you choose this post today. Today, the day when your long awaited print book hits the shelves. You did the work, you deserve the rewards that come your way.

    Does today’s post hint at something deeper? That your work on the shelves is not you being ‘truely, bravely myself’.

    I would love to see a true, brave sarah this year. Lose some readers, who cares. Just be gloriously ‘abnormal’ doing so!

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    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah WilsonSarah Wilson Reply:

    Ha! No, not at all. My book is very much a true expression of me. At least one of many. Thanks for the encouraging words. It’s my wish, too.

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  • Mia Bluegirl

    You guys are awesome :)

    I am always reminded of watching American Beauty in my high school English Lit class and having a big argument with the teacher. He claimed Lester was a sad middle-aged man having a mid-life crisis with his hot car, new musculature and jailbait crush. I argued that he was living his dream and good riddance to the “proper” life that left him feeling empty. This was such forshadowing for my later life. :)

    Jokes aside, though – could you really do it? Give up your thirst for stability and surrender to the fuck-it factor? Could you really live by the seat of your pants, not planning, knowing that you could get really sick or really well tomorrow and truly believe that neither possibility would change you? Could you let go of trying to control everything and just… live?

    Cos, for all my Helen Keller quotes and minor acts of rebellion – the idea scares the absolute shit out of me!

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    mw Reply:

    Difficult if you have children .. or people who love you ..
    And we all have a few of those.
    These are questions which affect us all differently at different stages of our lives.
    People experience The Dark Night of The Soul at different times.
    I went through it at an early age .. I have friends that are hitting it now.
    None of us are immune.
    One can try these shifts out and emerge through the other side relatively intact.
    Do it young .. it’s what youth is for.
    All the Best

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  • Grace C

    Sorry, but this naiveté is downright staggering. Henry Miller was a misogynist and anti-Semite of the lowest order. A gifted writer, granted – but an rather overactive hater of women and Jews, among others (a YOGI??! Good God, what planet are you on, ‘seeker’; and as for comparisons with Krishnamurti – suffice to say that’s right up there with Norman Mailer/Gandhi).

    This may article may give you a little insight; and if anyone’s an appropriate advocate for those who believe themselves labelled ‘abnormal’, it’s Jeanette Winterson: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/books/review/renegade-henry-miller-and-the-making-of-tropic-of-cancer-by-frederick-turner-book-review.html?_r=4&

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  • Sarah Lynn

    I loved this post.
    One of my favorite quotes is:
    The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well.

    We are all abnormal it is just the question if you’ve come to realize it and to be able to say/think: oh well. I am going to enjoy my abnormality, in which way i want to express it!

    It is actually the thing that makes me special! :=)

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  • http://dogrosehealing.com.au Kelly

    “‘Normality,’ says Howe, ‘is the paradise of escapologists, for it is a fixation concept, pure and simple.’ ‘It is better, if we can,’ he asserts, ‘to stand alone and to feel quite normal about our abnormality, doing nothing whatever about it, except what needs to be done in order to be oneself.’

    Truth, pure and simple! What a way to live your life!
    Love it! Thanks for sharing.

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  • http://www.nmah.com.au Ziggy

    Isn’t it amazing how we struggle between the need to fit in and the need to exert our differences? The eternal struggling of belonging versus independence.
    Smiles and abundant health, Ziggy

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  • Jax

    Today, while volunteering at Melbs Big Day Out, I was asked by a sweet old man if I am married. No. Where is my boyfriend? No boyfriend. Am I single? Yes. You must be unlucky. No I said. I am lucky I never settled.

    He hi-fived me.

    My mother is proud of me because I refuse to settle.

    Sarah. Your blog makes me happy because I now know I’m not the only one.

    Our lives are our own. They cannot be compared…

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  • Lopsy

    Thanks Sarah…

    Once again, your post touched a soft spot but made me feel better about the choices I have made.

    Cheers from London!

    Lauren

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  • http://www.lucentimagery.com lucent imagery

    I adore these quotes Sarah. I have always been abnormal and proud of it (except in those moments when we all have a little tumble of course). Just today I was speaking with my mum and saying “why is that I’ve always been comfortable to turn away from the popular people or do my own thing that is authentic to me, even from a young age?” It is not a question I’m asking with ego, but genuine curiosity as to how it has always been in me. These days I’m even more abnormal and still proud of it – a legally blind woman who pursues photography. Oh, and not having children. Luckily I married a man who has no interest in fulfilling other people’s expectations of the normal progression of our lives and doing exactly what’s right for us. But despite my confidence in being abnormal, one still can’t help but be aware of it at times – like a baby shower!

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