At such times, the usually talkative Norman finds himself at a loss for words:  “I don’t know how to stop somebody or keep them revealing these things,” he admits.  “But 99 percent of the time, people aren’t really looking for an answer.  They’re just looking for an ear.  And I don’t mind being that.

“I’ve just spend an hour and a half playing a show, telling them where I am coming from, and letting them listen,” he continues.  “So they just want to give me two minutes of where they are coming from and let me listen. I think that’s okay--I think that can be a really healthy thing."

The only time it ever gets a bit scary is when somebody doesn’t take “no” for an answer, when a person pushes past Norman’s boundaries.  “I’ve got certain parameters and accountability set up with my friends and we have drawn lines in terms of what I will or won’t do,” says Norman.

“Some people set themselves up for you to have to be really adamant with them,” he explains.  “People will say, ‘Hey, can we go get coffee?’ or ‘Hey, will you come stay at my house the next time you’re in town?’  Then I say, ‘No, it’s not a good idea.’  When they don’t accept that, it sets them up to be in a place where I’ve got to be firm.  So that can be hard.”

For Norman, a self-described “people pleaser” who never wanted “anybody to ever feel awkward,” it was especially hard.  In the recent past, he would muddle through an uncomfortable situation, “not being adamant, letting it be ambiguous--just for the sake of wanting people to feel okay about themselves.”

He has since learned that is not the best way to serve people.  “In essence, I was lying to them.  Even if I knew I couldn’t hang out with someone, I would say the contrary just to make the person feel better.  The way I see it now is, ‘Don’t lie and let them down a little bit at the beginning, rather than giving them false hope and letting them fall harder at the end.’  There’s been a lot of growing with that in the last year.”

Into the Private Places

Norman’s quest to be “real” extends even to his private life.  “In terms of some very real relationships with the people who are around me, it seems like the theme for my life at this point is that I want everything on the table--good and bad.

“I’m also learning that having everything on the table can make things incredibly hard at times.  There are lots of things that we have to deal with and work through.  A lot of relationships right now are stressed and strained--in healthy ways--and ultimately in good ways, where you learn so much about yourself.  But we’re not to that phase where we can look back at it.  We’re in the phase where we are looking at it straight on, and so that’s been interesting.”

The most personal of Norman’s relationships is with the Lord, and there, he is most free to openly express himself.  A majority of songs on “Myself When I Am Real” are love songs to God, a concept some critics miss entirely.

“Much of the criticism that I have aimed at me, in terms of the Christian community, is that in the songs that I write, sometimes you can just replace the word ‘God’ with the word ‘girl’ and it’s like a love song.

“But that’s what my relationship with God is like,” Norman explains.  “It’s a love relationship, so I write about it in the first person.  I don’t write about it in the third person.  When I am writing to God, I don’t say ‘God,’ I say ‘you.’”

Even “Beautiful You,” which has some wondering if Norman’s days of singleness are dwindling, is written about and to God:  “It speaks about the desperate need to be in a relationship with the God who made me.”  The chorus, “Please don’t go away” isn’t begging a girl to stay.  “It is about the realization that I would be nothing without Him.”

That’s how Norman prays and that’s how he talks to God, “so when I write a song, that’s how I speak.  And I hope that somebody else can plug themselves into that and speak to God through my songs.”