|While working on
Armed America and then
War Paint I learned a lot about
perception -- what we think of when we think of "us" and "them", and
more specifically "not us". A reporter from Canada asked me if gun
owners were normal people -- and I'd never thought of that before what's
"normal"? Our perception of what normal is is something indelibly
intertwined with who we are -- so asking "is someone normal" is asking
"am I normal?" I realized something in the few seconds after that
question was asked -- one of those thing is that I'm not normal. I don't
have a dining room table, my mom thinks that's insane. I have a home
theater where most people have a dining room. Periodically throughout
the year, my mom will ask if I feel grown up enough yet to get a dining
room table. Gun owners, I realized, in that moment, were probably more
normal than I was. There are far too many rare subsets of "person" that
I belong to to make me "normal" -- which is only to say that I'm
probably not an adequate representation of "mainstream America" -- and
what published author is? Already I've bubbled out of that norm. I'm not
like most Americans. And most Americans are not like mainstream
restoftheworld -- so they're not really normal either
(something that was born out in spades by the overseas
publication of Armed America).
Among my peer group, my friends, other photographers
without dining room tables, I'm exceptionally normal, though
probably a little under-educated. I realized that in
probably any single-interest group large enough you'll find
some people who look like you, and some people who don't.
"Well," I said (to the reporter from Canada -- are you
still with me?), "I don't suppose they're any more or less
normal than most other groups of people who have only one
thing in common ... like, people who own rocking chairs." I
tried to think of the most "normal" thing I could think of
that someone would own. A few months later, I found that
line coming back to me in the still watches of the night
more than anything else I'd said to any other reporter.
People who own rocking chairs. So I started asking my
friends, "do you own a rocking chair?" These answers fell
into two categories, people who said either "yes" or "no"
and people who launched into a 20 minute nostalgia
hallucination about being rocked by their mothers or sitting
on the front porch with grandma. The rocking chair seemed to
have far more cultural cache than I'd ever suspected.
I have a rocking chair, it belonged to my Aunt Ella,
who was the sort of aunt your family chooses as an aunt
rather than the type that is thrust upon you by blood and
birth. It's actually in the room with my giant t.v. -- where
my dining room table ought to be.