C’est Normal

Dominic Owen Mallary was a punk rock musician who died tragically at the age of 24.  As part of his act, he would routinely wrap his microphone cord around his neck for dramatic effect, but apparently one night he did so too tightly, possibly causing a loss of oxygen that eventuated into seizures and then death a few hours later.

Mallary, besides being a rather consummate musician for his age, was also a writing and literature major at Emerson College.   He was a prodigious writer (a book of his poems was published posthumously), and I believe this was pulled from one of his journals:

In 12 years of education the most important lesson I have learned is that what we see as “normal” living is truly a travesty of our potential. In a society so governed by superficiality, appearances, and petty economics, dreams are more real than anything in the “real world”. Refuse normalcy. Beauty is everywhere, love is endless, and joy bleeds from our everyday existence. Embrace it.

While Mallory’s short time on earth was, perhaps, a testament to refusing normalcy, his death may well have resulted from taking that refusal just a bit too far.  As a pilot, I tend to crave normalcy, because when things go just as they should the likelihood of unhappy endings is reduced.   I listen attentively to the steady hum of the engine, and the predictable shift in rpm when I change the pitch of the propeller.   Instrument pilots seek normalcy when they execute the “standard rate turn.” We train to “recover” from an “unusual attitude,” as though the unusual, or abnormal, is a sickness to be avoided.

French culture seems to be abnormally fixated on normalcy.   My sample size is small, but over the years in my psychotherapy office I saw two couples in which the female partner was French and the male partner was American.   In both couples, the French partner would repeatedly ask of her partner’s behavior, “Is that normal?”  The question struck me as odd, because I couldn’t really understand what made it so important. When I inquired, I was told that conforming to certain rules of behavior and dress was indeed an important element of the culture, lest others would think you were crazy, which, if you’re French, I guess is not such a good thing. N’est pas formidable!

Although drawn to the intellectualism and political verve of the French, I am happy to leave both conformity and escargot in the French countryside where I unhappily don’t reside.   Give me silliness or an unkempt dumpster-diver barking bizarre yet poetic responses to his imaginary tracker any day; perhaps it is the freedom to be different that makes me proud of at least that element of American culture.

I do recognize, though, that flying 10,000 feet above terra firma in a piston-engine driven vehicle is, in a sense, abnormal enough; if I, for one, was supposed to be there, I would be skinnier and sprouting feathers from my arms.  Because flying itself is more than a mere flirtation with abnormality, it makes sense, I think, to crave some normalcy while being somewhere or doing something that approaches our design limits.

Those who loved Mallory were devastated by the loss of such a young, talented soul.  Following the opening quote, Mallary went on to write:

I love all of you, all my friends, family, and community. I am ceaselessly grateful from the bottom of my heart for everyone. The only thing I can ask of you is to stay free of materialism. Remember that every day contains a universe of potential; exhaust it. Live and love so immensely that when death comes there is nothing left for him to take. Wealth is love, music, sports, learning, family and freedom.  

Sure, go ahead and wrap that cord around your neck, that’s what I say, but watch out for the jugular.   Keep that oxygen flowing, at least enough to try it another day.




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