I've been thinking about what it means to be normal. When I was a teenager, of course I tried to be weird. I was just thinking the other day about how going to Goodwill and finding hilarious clothes and actually wearing them to church, work, etc was a form of entertainment (what would YOU do for good clean underage fun in this town?) I was home-schooled so that made me automatically weird, and even among the homeschoolers, I felt like I was somehow more cosmopolitan and open-minded than the rubes with whom I rubbed elbows, so I flouted custom among that group as well. Then I went to a weird college full of weirdos in a weird town, and then joined a weird church full of weirdos. Now that I am a venerable 25 years of age, I am increasingly uncomfortable with standing out and drawing attention to myself, but in this last year of working in a public school, I've realized just how much suppression that it would take to totally blend in.
Instance, briefly, instance, you say. Simply eating lunch with other teachers is usually a little nerve-wracking. I try to be as discreet as possible with my usually weird food.
"Um, well, it's a tapenade, made with olives, anchovies, and... yeah, you probably don't want any."
"It's called kombucha and it's... well, it's tea."
Basically anything I've made myself, unless it is macaroni and cheese, attracts comment. That's just food. The disjuncture between my beliefs about education and the small town public school status quo are too great for me to even begin to complain about, so I've just kept my mouth shut this year (knowing that I only had to do so for a year anyway.) I could not remain quiet when I read a book about dinosaurs to second graders in which they learned that "pterodactyl" meant "flying lizard," and I hope the teacher did not notice when I told them that it actually meant "wing finger." But I did proudly succeed in repressing my scorn for the sloppy epistemology of the"fact vs. opinion" lesson.
It is difficult for an obviously pregnant woman to blend in when simply walking down the street, and so I daily find myself surprising people when I tell them that I don't know the gender of my child. For some reason, this is radically weird now, and when inquiries are made, I usually have to further explain that our caregiver is a home birth midwife who doesn't order routine ultrasounds, which seems to blow a lot of minds.
Part of it is just living in a small, Midwestern town. Tapenade, kombucha, midwifery, and religious ceremonies in other languages with incense and bells are not really worth commenting upon in more progressive communities. But on the other hand, sincere belief in traditional morals, in revealed religion and its pious practice in young, well-educated persons would attract attention if exposed in those places.
I am reading Montaigne right now (who, by the way, I think is the best philosopher to read in the bathroom, and the one who would most approve of being used in this way) and just finished an essay on Custom this morning. He spends a long time cataloging many shocking (to 16th century Europeans) customs of other peoples, in order, seemingly, to show that it's all relative, man. Humans can pretty much get used to doing anything with the force of antiquity behind it. One might expect that having undermined absolute faith in the customs of one's native land, he might continue to advise the clever non-sheeple to scorn conventions and do whatever they like. But in fact he quotes many ancient authors in order to argue that one should have the utmost respect for the customs and laws of one's country, perhaps even to the point of dying for them. He doesn't usually speak in glowing terms of Christianity, but he admires it here for enjoining us to "give to Caesar:"
The Christian religion has all the marks of the utmost utility and justice: but none more manifest than the injunction it lays indifferently upon all to yield absolute obedience to the civil magistrate, and to maintain and defend the laws. Of which, what a wonderful example the divine wisdom left us, that, to establish the salvation of mankind, and to conduct His glorious victory over death and sin, he would do it after no other way, but at the mercy of our ordinary forms of justice, subjecting the progress and issue of so high and so salutiferous an effect, to the blindness and injustice of our customs and observances; sacrificing the innocent blood of so many of the elect, and so long a loss of so many years, to the maturing of this inestimable fruit?
Even God himself accomplished his victory by submitting to the governing authorities! He later says that even in silly things, like fashion, "the wise man ought, within, to withdraw and retire his soul from the crowd, and there keep it in liberty and in power to judge freely of things; but as to externals, absolutely to follow and conform himself to the fashion of the time."
Does that sound like good advice? In our culture, we've been taught that the "externals" are essential expressions of our personalities, and in fact that we develop and maintain our Selves by displaying them to others through our consumption of material goods. So now the "fashion of the time" is so diverse that there is plenty of room for "the wise man" to dress however he likes. I suspect that among the nobility in 16th century France, there was rather less freedom to be eccentric. (Although young people have always shocked their elders!)
What do we lose by conforming ourselves to the fashion of the time? The oh-so-predictable rebel in me immediately objects that I oughta be able to do whatever I darn well please if that's what I BELIEVE IN, man! But looking back on my little eccentricities, mostly sartorial, but concerning religion or food or education as well, I find few of them to have been maintained solely for and through sincere belief in some good. Obviously dressing weirdly had very little to do with integrity and much to do with calling attention to oneself. My vegetarianism was founded on an immature yearning to be moral and unique at the same time.
Sometimes I think I did the right thing out of a kind of right opinion, but not through true knowledge that such a thing was good to do. I think that converting to Orthodoxy was the right thing to do, but I am not at all sure that I did it for the right reasons. I know that I acted the fool along the way and caused all kind of commotion in my family. This did not pain me at the time but it does now, and I think it should have then. I could have done my thang in a quiet, respectful way.
The other day my mom asked if our midwife (who delivered my mom of me + four others) was still wearing Birkenstocks with socks. "Well we've only seen her in the winter." "That's what the socks are for!" She started telling me about a pair of Birkenstocks that she used to love. I commented that they were very comfortable and I'd like to have a pair, but I didn't want to look like too big and fat a hippie.
"I'm surprised! I thought you didn't care what people thought about you!"
In TMI pregnancy news which nobody else really cares about, but which I'll go back through my archives to remember some time, I am anemic! Not like, slightly anemic, but 10.6 of some hemoglobin unit/a desirable 16 of that unit. I said I would beef up my raw liver intake. (You know you're crunchy and weird when you gross out your midwife!) She said I'd better take an iron supplement. I wonder if it's because of the last six weeks of politeness and restraint in the meat department. Also, the baby is lying posterior (face up,) which is okay at this point. It's okay to deliver that way too, but it's something you can try to fix by wiggling your butt in the air, so I guess I will go try that.