I am a curious sort.
Not by any stretch of imagination or by creatively twisting the definition of the word am I “normal.” My actions, reactions, attitudes, and judgments are not normal – they are, politely, “different.” Strange. Unusual. Outlier. Odd. Unpredictable. Abnormal. Yes, you could say…
Then, I am the inquisitive cat with ears pointed to an unexpected whisper. The dog picking-up on a two-week old rabbit scent. The raised eyebrow when I learn Widow McMurtry buys her gin by the case, frequently. The silent alarms going-off when I see Clancy Peabody do something stupid when it’s in his best interest to do something, well, not stupid. People doing other than what I expect them to because I know them, or because it is a “norm” people aspire to, make me well…
I’ve admitted I am a student of psychology. Normal and abnormal.
Imagine my surprise thinking I have normal people figured out. You know, far and away the majority of folks. Then to find that normal people are not normal. Excuse me. That most “normal” people are abnormal. They do “things” contrary to what we as society define as nice, righteous, wholesome, expected, admirable, fair, whatever word or words crank your handle. All the qualities normal people themselves profess to consider “normal.”
My surprise has two legs. Those not normal, those “abnormal” folks are more normal than normal folks. Or at least they are dependably abnormal. I’m seeing normal people are undependably normal or dependably abnormal. Not talking hardened criminals or loony-tunes citizens. Just folks everyone (including they themselves) consider normal. If it’s in the playbook, God-fearing. Honest. Reciprocal. Fair. Trustworthy. Devoid of hypocrisy.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Babe-in-the-woods. It’s all a matter of degree. Sure.
My studies of normal and abnormal personalities, apparently distributed on a hazy continuum, are driven by my desire to understand the characters I work with when I write. Setting a plot, sketching a scene, I introduce a character. We both know what is to take place. I’m the mechanic. My character is supposed to be the vehicle, move the story, provide color. Believe it or not, nine times out of ten, even a marginally good character will get away from me, try to redirect his/her role, even replot the story. Psychology at play.
Ah, I hear you saying. “Your character is you! Your alter-ego. Your frustrated wannabes. Your Walter Mitty. Your Caped Crusader. Your Sam Spade. On a bad day, your Adolf, Caligula, Reverend Mister Davidson or Sadie Thompson, Darth Vader, or Joel Cairo.”
My characters begin as incomplete cloth. Pieces of always more than one real person (normal and abnormal as necessary) are stitched together before I imagine a new character into a story. I know what the role is to be. I know what kind of person I need for a role. Inside the first several paragraphs, a new character often shows itself missing an essential quality, motive, sensitivity, whatever. I can only provide that from what I’ve observed in my life, which is not always something I have myself experienced. The more psychology I introduce, the more the character begins to breathe and tell me what next is needed, evil or goodness, heroism or cowardice. Characters looking to develop review and select what they need from my psychological palette.
Existing characters are complete as-is, their fabric accurately sewn. Lately it seems however, that my understanding of normal and abnormal warrants review, ultimately, revision. Revision not affecting my caricatures, but my life. This discovery has been a disappointment. Disheartening. A curiosity.
Wants more work. More observation. I’m on the case.