(Listening to this song while you read this, is strongly encouraged)
Why is a sixty-one-year-old, straight white male writing about a song celebrating being queer? I am writing because being queer should be celebrated by straight white males. I am writing because I want my fifteen-year-old granddaughter to know she is perfect just the way she is… I am writing because this song is magic.
I discovered Katie Pruitt a few months ago when I heard her EP, “Ohio/ After The Gold Rush”. When I heard her sing After The Gold Rush, I felt like it was the first time I had really heard that song. And then I fell into a Katie Pruitt rabbit hole. I listened to everything she has released, multiples, of multiple times. her music has been front center for a few weeks now.
Normal, is from her album, “Expectations.” This entire album is a gift, every song has its own magic and story, I can’t wait to hear what she does next. She is a part of something really cool happening in Nashville.
I had completely forgotten the pull that Nashville could have on my heart… fourteen-year-old Rusty’s crush on Tanya Tucker. Listening to Tanya those many years ago is what helped me through my parents’ divorce and over the last little while I have found beautiful reminders in Joy Oladokun, Brandi Carlile and Katie. Each of them have dropped little goblets of magic into my soul. The power of music can help you face or unlock things, it can help you learn, and it is awe inspiring. Even at my crazy old age, I am learning.
I recently watched Katie on an episode of “The Caverns Sessions”. What a beautiful setting, and while she sang “Normal”, the tug of words began to swirl through my mind. Words for my granddaughter, words for my younger self and words that heal.
Wasted and worn out and wonderin’, “Where do I fit?”
And scared as hell ’cause I knew I was different
I think that most of us have experienced the hammer of society trying to pound us into shape over the forge of normal. There are some of us who no matter the pounding, could not find our way to normal. I have never felt acquainted with normal; I may never understood normal.
To want what normal girls should?
God knows life would be easier
If I could be normal, then trust me, I would
There was one time in my life when I believed, I knew what normal was. It was in 1969, I was eight years old and living in the most barren place you could imagine. There was no kindergarten. I went to first grade in a two-room schoolhouse. My first-grade class was me, a third grader, two fifth graders and two sixth graders, one of the sixth graders was my older sister Roxi. She is the one who took this picture. That’s my mom, my sister Robbi is in front of me, and Renee is on my mom’s left. None of us have any idea what was on her hand…
That was it, that time, a little slice in my life where I felt like I was normal.
Not long after this picture was taken my parents took me to visit the School for the Deaf and Blind in Great Falls, MT. I remember making my dad mad cause when we stopped at a stop sign in the city and then started off again, I yelled STOP, which he did. I opened the door I was sitting next to and closed it again. My dad asked what that was all for and I responded, “I had to let Paul in.”
Paul was my imaginary friend.
At the Deaf and Blind School, I found out I was different. I found out that most people see the world much differently than I do. I was born with an optical nerve disorder that prevents it from properly aligning the images that each eye is sending to it. I have a very distinctive squint of my left eye that resembles something of a perma-wink. I have figured out ways of coping and how to work with the tools I was given. But I have never succeeded in being normal, this world was not designed for me.
But when that picture was taken, I had no idea that I was any different than you.
Marchin’ in line in the halls of my Catholic school
Seven Hail Marys if I copped an attitude
And God was a word I had spoken but I hardly knew
Kneelin’ down at the altar with no clue who I was talkin’ to
Stumblin’ ’round Athens with frat boys in hot pursuit
Left me starin’ at the ceilin’, pissed off and feelin’ used
In second grade I had to ride the bus to town. School was a huge building and had every grade, some grades even had two classes each, instead of six students there were at least a hundred… I was the only kid who could not close his desk because his books were four times the size of everyone else’s. They were bigger than coffee table books. I was humiliated but I was also grateful for those books, they made it possible for me to try and keep up. Even in the front row I can’t see the board, but everyone in class knows when you pee yourself. It didn’t really matter though, we moved after third grade, and after fourth grade… I never had access to those big books again and I was both relieved and disappointed. It made it easier to blend in and look normal but lots of things went by without me seeing them, lots of things. I spent a lot of time being scared as hell because I was different.
When I watched Katie singing this song, it struck me that her struggle with “normal” was not that different than mine. She cannot change who she is any more than I can. She should be able to live in a world that is designed for her. No one’s story is the same as another’s but neither of us knows what its like to be normal.
“Did they want what’s best or did they want what’s easiest?
‘Cause I tried my best, but God damn, was I curious
And she had me high as the sun on a Saturday afternoon
With no way to unsee this side of me that she introduced”
I have never really talked about my eyes, not in depth, with anyone. I have tried but I am so used to trying to compensate, that I just hide it, even from myself. Writing it here, right now. Scared as hell cause I know I am different…
We lived in twenty-nine places by the time I was sixteen and in some way that may have saved me. I blamed being new for not fitting in but honestly, I didn’t fit in because I can’t see. I am not blind, I just can’t see a baseball until its about ten feet away, the time it takes my eyes to focus eliminates most sports. When given the tools I excelled academically but those were tiny windows that closed soon after they were opened. Through it all I have joy. I overcame all of that, I have had several weird and wonderful careers, and I am writing the next chapter now. This may be the best of them all.
“The world told us to fit in, but we did the opposite
The world told us to fit in, but we did the opposite”
I thought of my granddaughter Sophie as I watched Katie sing. Sophie is fifteen and just starting to write her story. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be fifteen, right now. Sophie reminds me so much of myself, smarter than most people, trying to embrace her differences and trying to fit in. I want her to know that her differences are her strengths. I don’t want the world to force her into their version of normal. It took me decades to understand that our beauty is derived from what sets us apart from normal. I will continue to encourage her to write her story in any way she sees fit and ignore the noise and the pounding to conform.
I thought of my daughter as I watched Katie sing. I can never go back and be the dad that I should have been. I can never erase the rigid life I tried to convince her was real. I can never encourage her younger self to forget about fitting in and just be Elaine. I remember the joy she faced each day with, but my rules got stricter, and her joy grew quieter… her dad was so busy keeping them alive he didn’t see how much Elaine trying to fix things cost her. I want to be a part of her atmosphere as we grow older. I will remind her that I named her after Evenstar and she just needs to shine… Trust me, I would.
I thought of Atlas, Emily, and Taya as I watched Katie sing. They are all striving to understand their place while grasping for all the beauty they can find. None of my friends are “normal,’ and for that I am grateful. They put up with my way of using way too many words, but hopefully I give them a bit of hope in pursuing who they can be. They are brilliant lights that give me hope for the stories to come. Here’s to ignoring normal and embracing the perfection of how perfectly different we all are.
Thank you, Katie Pruitt, for making this old man cry. Thank you for giving me a piece of your magic that let me open a door that has been closed for fifty-two years. Thank you for being your best self and telling us about it. I am a different man today because you followed your dreams.
I have watched so many people try and avoid being normal and so many of them gave up, myself included. Today I could care less what the world thinks of me, and I am content to just listen, learn and grow. Life can be joyful and full, regardless of how normal you are. We are all just the way we should be…
Embrace that and shine…
Listening, learning, and growing…