It is men who make war and it is men who believe that is normal.
"The condition of alienation,
of being asleep,
of being unconscious,
of being out of one's mind,
is the condition of the normal man.
Society highly values its normal man.
It educates children
to lose themselves
and to become absurd,
and thus to be normal.
Normal men (continues Laing) have killed
of their fellow normal men
in the last fifty years.
To imagine that God approves of this.
To be elected you must be normal.
To be a teacher you must be normal
Unless you want to teach
against the grain,
Teach children to find themselves
And to value being taken seriously.
You must be conditioned
to be normal.
You must be brain-washed
To be so confused, so lost.
so absurd as to believe
that your life makes sense
when the world is being destroyed
by other normal people.
This body's heart is simply
not big enough
to forgive the
You don't know what you're doing!
And you certainly don't know
what I am doing!
Do you see that long cloud
On the horizon?
That is not a normal cloud.
It is not
a cloud at all.
It is the end
I encountered the quote from R.D. Laing's The Politics of Experience in John Hawkin's OpEd post,"Save the Children -- of America now."
I didn't post this poem right away but slept on it. The Laing quote is from 1967. I remember when that book came out. It was one I carried with me for a spell. It spoke to me, it helped me navigate a world that wanted to put my ass in a uniform and ship me off to Vietnam when I graduated in two years. On one level I was trying to figure out how I was going to deny them my ass, while on another level I was trying to figure out how to ask a girl to a dance. I knew that American-normal was broken and toxic, but it helped to have someone of Laing's stature affirm that . . . But the big existential block-buster question for me was, what was I going to do about it with my pathetic abnormal life. (I was only 16.) I don't recall if Laing answers that, and I don't have the energy to revisit the book to find out. (It doesn't matter.) Back to now: Is his quote still relevant? It's almost like I had to blow dust off it. If I owned an original copy of Politics of Experience I'm sure the glue of the perfect-bound spine would crack upon opening. My contorting his language in the second half the poem wasn't enough to sign off on a poem fashioned out of his quote. It felt cheap, like I was making balloon figures out of his meaning. It felt gimmicky. For me it is the last two stanzas that salvage the poem as a poem worth writing (and putting out there).
You don't know what you're doing! / And you certainly don't know / what I am doing! / Do you see that long cloud / On the horizon? // That is not a normal cloud. / It is not / a cloud at all. / It is the end / of normal.
"You" is the normal man with whom I have lost patience and with whom I have lost touch. And I stand by my assertion that he doesn't have a clue as to what I am doing! What I am doing, by writing these poems is doing something with my "pathetic abnormal life", which, on a good day, isn't pathetic after all.
What is the looming "end of normal" going to look like? Damned if I know.
(Article changed on Jun 05, 2022 at 9:50 AM EDT)
(Article changed on Jun 05, 2022 at 9:56 AM EDT)
(Article changed on Jun 05, 2022 at 9:58 AM EDT)