Normal’s Just a Cycle on a Washing Machine

By the time this goes to press, we will have survived the political conventions, the Olympics (without doping or Zika, hopefully) and most of the triple-digit heat. People will be streaming back to town back to their normal lives. Whatever normal is. Nobody’s quite sure these days, although a whole lot of people feel like the whole world is spinning out of control.

I was in college during the ‘60s for the student revolution, the anti-war movement, civil rights protests, and drug culture, which rocked not only our nation but much of Europe as well. Political assassinations, the moonwalk, hippies, psychedelic music, and drugs made my senior year on campus very different from my freshman year. My parents’ generation was pretty sure the sky was falling, and they had lived through their own cataclysmic coming of age with the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and World War II. People protest that these times are much more frightening because of the sheer violence and the globalization of problems with social media.

Is this worse than those times? Hard to say. I grew up doing bomb drills under my desk at school in the ‘50s, when some people had fallout shelters. There was the Cuban Missile Crisis when, at my school, we all went to pray because we thought the Russians might nuke us from Cuba. None of this was as harrowing as what Jews experienced during the Holocaust, or what so many people across the planet endure on a daily basis. We can just do what we can in our own orbits. Long gone are the days of my childhood when news came on in the evening for 15 minutes. Fear is paralyzing and bad news (“if it bleeds it leads”) is now broadcast 24/7.

What is normal now? Even going to the loo in public is a bit confusing. The mudslinging from the campaigns has revved up. How many terrorist attacks, stock market events, race related and law and order incidents, and extreme weather conditions will we have suffered through in just the past month? Add to that whatever stress is going on in our personal lives or those of friends and family, and yuck. No wonder so many people put their faces in their phones and go on scavenger hunts for Pokémon.

So much upheaval seems to be happening that, old history buff that I am, I began to gather columns I’ve written through the years, starting in the ‘80s in the halcyon Reagan era when I first began writing about moving to Dallas and raising a family in “The Bubble,” and continuing into whatever this era is, to see what patterns have emerged. In my new book, Normal’s Just a Cycle on a Washing Machine, which draws from my columns, what I noticed is that not only in my personal life but in society as a whole it’s always, “wash, rinse, repeat” with those crazy spin cycles that propel us in new directions.

I began writing on my new IBM Selectric typewriter (before computers) about family life: stirring supper in my kitchen, talking on a phone with a 20-foot cord, planning carpools (before cell phones), sipping homebrewed coffee (before Starbucks), and peering out the window at kids riding bikes without helmets, with the dog running around (before leash laws). In one column, “Yow the Dow!”, I bemoaned the world and the overheated economy, because the stock market had just broken a new record at 7,000. As technology changed, so did my life.

Then one year my bubble burst. In my next cycle, my kids and I both started dating at the same time; in 1995, I wondered aloud to a friend and songwriter why my life couldn’t just be normal. I’ve had a lot of advice in my life but hers was the best: “Honey, don’t go looking for normal, normal’s just a cycle on a washing machine.”

And so it is. However upset we adults may be about politics, social media, or the economy, there is still picky eater syndrome, the dog ate my homework, teenagers sneaking out, traffic tickets, and backed up plumbing. We worry about the world we are leaving to our grandchildren. But whatever it is, it will be their normal just as the ‘80s was for my children, the ‘50s was for the boomers, the ‘30s was for the Silent generation. Always, always there is strength in community, power in dialogue, hope in genuine concern, and something in the everyday to make us smile.
To learn more about Len’s book go to www.lenbourland.com.

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