Not Normal

The cupid’s bow lips I part to speak to you

are not normal


your lips are thick and plump top and bottom,

so juicy they’re forced to part involuntarily

And if yours are a thin straight line, perfect for applying red lipstick,

the colour you choose which is slightly bluish to match your fair skin which is not normal

And if your lips are bright berry like electrolyte flavoured drinks,

And yours are pink glass wedges of grapefruit flesh

And your lips have deep brown edges like melted chocolate biscuits either side of toasted marshmallow pillows

I chew on mine and tear at the thin skin that holds them together and that is not normal

It’s a habit I’ve got in,

Normal is the coffee order you place each morning,

‘What’ll it be today?’

‘The normal’

It’s handy for your barista to remember your name and to perform the ritual with knowledge and skill, an exchange that is pleasing and mutual

But a normal order is not you, or me, or the person sitting next to you.

Box jellyfish are making their way south

And the fish are disappearing

And if my lips are made in little mountains like this

And if yours turn down at the edges like a sad clown

each tiny part of life

and each of your three kids

can be made a bit different

Normal is

A thing

Made with the carpenters square,

clean geometry, set right

a metaphor taken from Latin language

to describe the English idea of average,

reliable, same, the healthy ordinary majority

The word normal comes with inherent judgement

preference and perspective of what is regular and most close to perfect.


Art that is designed by minds

who cannot draw themselves as perpendicular lines

who see their world as always realigning to accommodate changes to their environment

These artists might in their expression

bend us too, their audience

tilt us to momentarily capture a different view

and understand

that normal

is a truth on which living things can’t settle and be still,

and the peaches we ate in summer ripened slightly earlier this year

Fraser Island burned in what was meant to be a wet La Nina year

right angles can be tilted and interconnected to make hills and valleys and diamonds and triangles,

tiny shifts that turn us all from uniform bricks

into dynamic shapes

we turn to tesselate with all the other figures

that make up the community we live in

Artists might reveal to us by their impressions

That human life arrives at all degrees,

Right angles can spin out in all directions out from squared edges

Common standards

Established order



Are all ideas that are useful when we try to understand phenomena

Like the changing of the seasons or our size of shoe

so we can order some new ones online from our bedroom

We can learn about the way things are in nature and in human made systems

Normal is information we collect order in order to understand when things are off kilter

Standards make life and work and caring for the environment easier


Normal school prepares a standard set of things for learning

that support a normal child to fit into the normal way of life

if the child has been normalised right, it will win her a normal job at the supermarket or the supreme court, she’ll nab a normal partner and be set square for a normal life thereafter

when things don’t turn out the way her normalness predicted

Art reveals that

Normality as a principle

a wish,

a dream to aspire to

is problematic

and makes life for someone who doesn’t pass the normal test

a little harder

A book she reads skews the frame she looks through

gives her permission to throw everything she ever thought she knew out the window

Which makes her feel better

standards and order

are made to serve specific people, their point of view, their aesthetic pleasure, and perceptions of value,

Plants and animals oceans and rivers,

wind and fire and organisms in the soil that grows our vegetables

are readable

their normality predictable

but knowledge about living things is not fixed

it’s a principle from which to notice certain and constant shifts

the normal we ascribe today will change when the climate is no longer suitable to grow tomatoes where we used to

Artists reveal to us that the things we assumed we knew, are unstable,

Art can melt us into awe for the impossibility of order or knowing it all


might prepare us to enter change

with grace


desperation to establish a new set of standards that will keep us safe

The new normal

Is to reconfigure order

eliminate confusion

Disillusion compounds when the earth shifts again and we measure up and find things have bounced out

Two lines not quite set right

I listen to the rhythm of waves, a normal pattern, that is ever changing

one generation of us will give birth to the last

the repetitive lap of the ocean tells me

that one generation will give birth to the last

Salt water contained in cupped sand sucks,

taking back nutrients from its own ancient deposits

Long after we are gone

And when the ice is all melted

The waves will lick the doorsteps

of concrete and glass structures built along the shore

slowly worn down

like cliff faces were carved before

where ancestors once sat at desks

And documented ancient thoughts on keyboards and screens

new organic forms, hollows, caves, circles and lines, made over time,

Inside what they left behind

Sun and waves burnish

concrete sands


steel sands


For centuries

Long after we have gone.

A new normal is a compromise,

change came and it was uncomfortable

this idea

will leave us ill equipped to manage when the floods rip though our town more frequently

When the face of Australia is no longer white of features from the British isles or,

somewhere nearby in Europe,

But rather a face that is Aboriginal and Sri-Lankan and Chinese and Sudanese and Russian and Indonesian and Moroccan and Israeli and Thai and Maori and Vietnamese and American Indian

And the person who teaches you standards in normal school might be living with a disability

And your Dad might love another man, and your best friend of 20 years might tell you she’s queer and you might be heterosexual but be missing an ear,

And I might live in a house, on a street with a dog and three kids and my dream kitchen but I might also have had it modified to accommodate for my youngest child who lives in a wheelchair.

Driving home from work

a song comes on commercial radio, it describes the way you love me so precisely that I weep out loud with no one to hear me

besides all the tiffs about how you do laundry

and the way we behave like children, chuck tantrums

it’s embarrassing

surely our friends’ love for one another is mature, more sexy, more ordinary

But hearing our story sung as a ballad

I see our collaboration and efforts to care for each other,

The way we figure it out,

a piece of duration performance art we’re making,

and something of value we can be proud of

The next song sings of bling and bitches in string bikinis and the next song is love made stupid by long distance and another sells anti-love, self-love, love for the mother or an ode to the father who never was or a lullaby to the

baby who sucks at her breast or love to breasts themselves or love for freedom or love for the rivers or the hills or the sprig of flowers that showed up on your door step one morning when you felt like you had no love left, or

love to the old man who begs for coins on your street or love to the dog who knows you best or love to God who made you or love to drugs who made you – love is not simple or normal or same, and neither is anything or

anyone or any time or any place or any way we engage.

Kate McDowell

Kate McDowell is a Writer & Performer based in Lennox Head and holds an MFA from the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Writing for Performance. Her Masters research study focussed on collaborations with neuro-diverse artists and accessible training in physical comedy. Kate is Program Director for Sprung! Integrated Dance Theatre and is currently an Artist in Residence with Back to Back Theatre (Geelong, VIC), undertaking a mentorship with AD Bruce Gladwin.

Kate is commissioned writer and performer for a new work with NORPA and the Catholic Schools Office in collaboration with local disabled artist Alice Boscheinen to be premiered in 2021.

In 2018 Kate’s full-length site-based solo work Wonderbabes premiered with NORPA and the Lismore Quadrangle, and in 2016 Kate was Assistant Director and Stage Manager for NORPA’s Dreamland.

Photo Credit: Kate Holmes

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