23 November

In Praise Of The Different: If You Try To Be Normal, You Will Never Know How Amazing You Can Be.

by Jon Katz

If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be,”  — Mayo Angelou.

Someone posted a message on my blog the other day suggesting I was not “normal” because I gave food and snacks to people who weren’t needy and brought presents to friends in the night because I loved to suprise them in the morning and they loved being surprised.

“What kind of a person does that?,” he asked with great scorn and pity. Well, not a normal one for sure.

His was a voice that is very familiar to me, I’ve heard it all of my life. His name is not important, just another roving ghoul on social media.

He couldn’t have known it, but he had picked the wrong target. People have been calling me abnormal my while life, and this is because I am not normal, I have never been normal, and will never be normal.

I accepted this early on, and have never looked back.

Maria, the love of my life, has also never been normal, and has been tortured for it.  Normal people don’t re-home spiders and moths and kiss trees.

We celebrate our abnormalness now,  it is a foundation of our love.

Nothing could make me happier than being abnormal as I grow older. It did used to hurt.

I think abnormal children grow up to be amazing adults – writers, artists, scientists, Mother Teresa (who was quite proud of her obvious abnormality.

Abnormal people try to change the world, normal people don’t see anything wrong with it.

I have no normal friends, no normal person would have me around for long. It can be lonely at times for the not “normal.”

When I was a child, the worst insult the bullies and the impaired could throw at people like me was that we weren’t normal. It was a universal way to attack the different.

They wrote this on message boards, on school walls, they shouted it in the school yard.

“If you are different from the rest of the flock, they bite y ou,” wrote Vincent O’Sullivan in The Next Room.

And I wasn’t normal.

I was a bed-wetter, I hid from gym, skipped school two or three times a week, hung out in cemetries after school, peed my pants in school, never did my homework,  and was routinely smacked around by the bullies, who I called (sometimes to their faces) peckerheads.

People just couldn’t tell me often enough that I wasn’t normal, including many of my teachers, and my father. He was upset at his youngest spawn generally, and mortified because I couldn’t play sports.

I see now that they were all correct, I wasn’t normal, but it wasn’t until much later that I learned that the abnormal were among the most successful and creative and innovative people in the world.

They are, to be honest, the people I love the most and am the most comfortable around. A lot of my readers are not normal, and we recognize one another right away, even in e-mail.

Thomas Edison was notoriously abnormal, and I bought this re-creation of the first light bulb to sit in our dining room as a monument to the stubbornly abnormal geniuses of the world. Did anyone on earth call Albert Einstein normal? Just think of that hair.

Winston Churchill dictated books to his secretary at 3 o’clock in the morning while smoking a cigar and walking around his mansion naked. People called him many things but no one called him normal.

One person, a woman working as a librarian at the Providence Public Library, East Providence Branch, read some of my writing when I was eleven or twelve and she told me I  would be a book writer one day and and my  books swould be on the shelves of the library.

This prophesy turned out to be true, and I made sure to do a reading at the library when I was on a book tour. She was dead by then, but I never forgot what she told me:

“Don’t be afraid to be strange and different,” she said, “that will be the greatest gift of your life.”  Those are the ones who stand out, she promised. I have failed in many ways, but not in that one: I do stand out.

Her words never left me.

At the time, the bullies and peckerheads had pretty much convinced me that I was a freak and would never have a “normal” life.

I still don’t know what that is, but it doesn’t matter any more. Online, I see young kids bullied and ridiculed all the time for being different, and noone still does much of anything about it.

It’s a finger in the dike, but whenever I get the chance, I tell a young and abnormal kid – we recognize one another – to hang on. It becomes normal to be abnormal, I say, and abnormal to be normal.

But I also warn them: Peckerheads and Toothless Ducks will follow them wherever they go, from elementary school to social media.

Don’t, I say, let them get you down. One day, you will look in the mirror and love who  you are.

And pleae, do me a favor. Think of the children. Many really need to hear that not being normal is all right. It all evens out at the end.


  1. If being kind and generous is not normal, then we need many more abnormal people in this world. What a sad soul that person must have.

  2. Jon,

    You saying to think of the children hits home for me. I grew up as a deaf child in a hearing world and tried to hard to “fit” in with everyone else. Back in the day my hearing aids were huge and I wore them strapped to my chest with wires dangling from big around things attached to my ears. Kids would make fun of me and I’d do everything to not stick out like a sore thumb.

    As I looked back on those years I realized shrinking my soul to fit in was a mistake because I ended up taming my spirit too, but I completely understand why the little me did it.

    It took me until my forties to realize it’s okay to unfurl your soul to the fullest and embrace who we are. Better late than never!

    Now I am a full fledged rebel who could care less what others think of me or my lifestyle (living in a tiny camper roaming the land) and I love it. : )

    Thank you so much for reminding us all to think of the children. Yes, indeed, think of them because they need to hear it’s okay to be a rebel and to stick out like a sore thumb.

    Happy Thanksgiving,

  3. I will never be able to be a vanilla in this world of so many flavors. I didn’t know it at the time, either, when I was young, that being different would actually save me – save me from a life of mediocrity, save me from wallowing in self-centeredness, save me from a life of mere accumulation of things. Being different saved my life, and finding my army of weirdos and freaks (all of us different) has led me down so many interesting life paths, and opened my heart to the kind of love that the “normal” aren’t able to give. I do love who I am! Thanks for being different, Jon!

  4. Love this piece, Jon. Ironically, I spend a lot of time trying to be less normal—to think in new ways instead of the same stodgy way. normal can be so boring and limiting. “Always, already thinking,” is a phrase I learned in some transformational work years ago. I’m so glad you and Maria are not normal, and I strive to be more like you. It’s why I read your blogs. Thank you.

  5. Hey Jon, I’m reading this in bed at 6:30 in the morning. What a great way to start the day! Maybe abnormal is the new normal? Love it.

  6. Too funny! We just played a trivia game at a holiday party on Sunday. One of the questions was who had the first lighted Christmas display. I said Thomas Edison and I was right!
    I guess that I am not normal either. My sister in law asked me who my best friend is. I said I didn’t really have one, but I I do have friends. She has best friends. I often go and do things on my own and be my own friend. My husband is probably my best friend. Love this.post. I’d rather not be normal after sll@

  7. great writing again, Jon! I never felt *normal* growing up……and it took me (I still work on it) a long time to realize that I was being compared to everyone else…….and just never quite fit the mold of what everyone *expected* of me. Learning to not allow myself to succumb to trying to be what everyone thought I should be…… but to be my own person (abnormal?) has been, and still is, a process. Diversity, in its many shapes and forms, is not often embraced with open arms. And I agree, this diversity should be nurtured, in children, especially.
    Susan M

  8. I love this piece. I grew up with a very wise Uncle Steve. I too was tagged abnormal, his response was… Everyone’s “normal” is different, you’re just not “typical” and guess what, that’s what will set you apart from all the typicals of the world. Then he picked up my chin, looked me in the eyes and said “ Now go shine and never lose who you are just to be typical. I was 8 yrs old then and I’ve never forgot that. My journey so far has been rich and anything but typical! Thank you for all of your wonderful writing!

  9. This takes me back to my teaching days when my little students would tell me they loved me because I wasn’t like a ‘regular grown-up’, but instead was just a big kid…and that I ‘got them’. Now I run a gallery/gift shop in my ‘retirement’ and love being able to wear what I want as I work with, and encounter, so many others who aren’t ‘normal’ either. The arts have given me just another reason to keep on living…retirement was boring! 🙂

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and Maria, and all the critters!

  10. NORMAL IS SO BORING! Safe maybe, BUT BORING! I am privileged to know a 6 yr old girl who carries around a bag of ROCKS instead of a doll or stuffed animal. she can tell me why each rock is important to her! SO DELIGHTFUL!

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