I never thought I would be. Go back into ye olden times on this blog and several times you'll catch me saying I would never get a cell phone, and now the damn thing may as well be surgically atta--
Ah, yes. Phoney, not phone-y.
I don't have much going for me in this world. Very few marketable skills and not much desire to develop them; social awkwardness that has improved by leaps and bounds but it still apparent and sometimes very much so; alternating clinginess and aloofness, prone to depression, passive aggression, and an awful tendency to jerk my knee so hard I end up with my foot jammed halfway down my throat. Plus a myriad of other flaws and oddities I'd prefer not to enumerate so as to retain at least some semblance of self-esteem.
A friend of mine wrote this of me a few weeks back, and it's been percolating in my head ever since.
"Remember that one can be awesome without perfection. Your attributes include but are not limited to:
1/willingness to imagine others' experiences
2/generosity that welcomes others into your journey
3/narrative skill: you engage the reader
4/ a transparency that few offer, letting us see the unsteady and then the footings found. You model how to move forward through uncertainty. In doing so you validate our own worthiness even with our often more secreted tarnish and flaws."
She posted that. Publicly. In response to an incident where I did, in fact, choke on a foot. It humbled me--actually made me cry a little, that a friend, a friend who has gifted me with her presence for a grand total of perhaps ten hours over the past five years, would say such positive things about me.
I don't often imagine I have any impact on the world. On a grand scale, I know this for a fact: I don't. But I've come to realize, over years, that I do have an impact on the people in my world, and that realization (usually) guides my actions now.
As usual, my first instinct is to minimize any compliment given to me. Willingness to imagine the experience of others is an ingredient in empathy, which I view as a prerequisite for humanity. (I know, trust me, I know there's extreme danger in dehumanizing others, but it is so hard not to do it when those others have already done the same to you.) Basic empathy seems increasingly rare in the world of late, but it remains a baseline, at least to me. Being complimented on one's empathy is like being complimented on having a nose. Do you smell what I smell? Wow, you do, you're amazing! (Ummm...thanks?)
"Generosity that welcomes others into your journey". Again, empathy. And also: while I don't mind being alone, I really don't like FEELING alone, and I often feel much more alone in company than I do in solitude. It's self-serving, in other words, this "generosity". I need to connect. In as many ways as possible, and inviting you into my world probably has more benefits for me than it does for you.
Narrative skill, I engage the reader: awww shucks. Thanks. I try. I've made it a point to befriend people whose facility with the language vastly exceeds my own -- the woman who wrote these compliments is one such person. I also read, widely if not deeply, and I am far from averse to a little creative larceny. I think the same is true of most writers: we are squirrels storing up nutty facts and little nifty phrase-turn seeds we run across. But yeah, sometimes the guys in the sweatshop spit out something unexpected that causes me to gaze on it in wonder: that came out of me? wow. Then I clap a mental hand over my mental mouth and tell myself to stop being such an arrogant prick.
"The guys in the sweatshop" are how Stephen King imagines the mental minions who mould his ideas into workable prose. I'm no King -- not even a lowly count -- but I do marvel at his writing. It's simple, always, but powerful and oh-so-true to life. Read King in any depth and you will learn the lesson of Scooby-Doo: all the real monsters are human. But you'll also learn that challenged people offer perspectives and lessons we may not recognize; that Good is a force in the world just as Evil is; that sometimes you have to make a stand; that most people are really doing the best they can with what they've been given. Check out what this man learned from just one of King's works, his self-described "magnum opus" (that was before he finished The Dark Tower). But mostly what I have learned from King is the same lesson I have learned from many of the teachers I have chosen to place before me: authenticity. There is no pretension in King's writing. EVER.
Did I say authenticity? Hmmm.
"4/ a transparency that few offer, letting us see the unsteady and then the footings found. You model how to move forward through uncertainty. In doing so you validate our own worthiness even with our often more secreted tarnish and flaws."
I've marvelled and chiseled away at these two sentences, because they distil me to an essence. This woman's perception is almost terrifying. At the same time, I feel...well, a lot more uncertain, a lot more unsteady, and a lot less surefooted than I think I should after so much self-reflection. I know my flaws: why then do I so often choose to perpetuate them? Why do I still so often feel like I don't have the choice? I don't feel like I'm improving. I feel like I maybe understand a little bit more what needs to improve, and sometimes even how to go about improving it...but am I getting better? Really? I'm not sure.
But that whole transparency/authenticity thing is spoiled when I tell you this: there is much I don't tell you. Usually, but not always, it's because it's more properly someone else's story to relate if they choose: but all the same, it's a story with ME as a character, and the plot can leave me sitting on the edge of my seat. Amazing sensation if you're reading: not so much when you're IN the goddamned story.
There are seemingly always events going on in my background, which is someone else's foreground, and for almost eight years now most of those events have been mildly to gut-heavingly unpleasant. Nobody's fault: it's just life being life. But there are also events yet to come that, if they unfold, will appear to vindicate every person who has thought ill of me for quite some time.
I say "appear" because I am ACUTELY aware that people question my decisions, motives, and thought processes constantly -- and usually get them dead wrong. But explaining why they're wrong is often dismissed as "he doth protest too much". Some day I might go into detail on this, and if I do it would be the most deeply personal blog entry I could ever write: also, probably, the hardest. Teasing you like this is its own form of inauthenticity. But some things are simply too private to disclose.
And so I draw a curtain around some aspects of my life, just like all those people furiously curating their social media streams to a high gloss. I shake my head in contempt at those people, but I'm no better than they are.
I share a lot of funny stuff on Facebook. Some serious stuff, too. I do put a lot of thought into what I choose to share, which may be hard to believe when you see fifteen posts with my name on them in a single day. But if you saw how many things I ALMOST shared before the 'somebody might be offended' circuit breaker tripped....
I read somewhere (see?) that your first thought is what you were conditioned to think, but your second thought comes from who you really are, here and now. I have rarely related to something so strongly in my life. My mind is RIDDLED with first thoughts that would dismay you if you heard them. And sometimes you do: that knee jerks awfully fast.
But when it comes to things shared on my Facebook wall, those always go through second thoughts. Often third, fourthm and seventy sixth thoughts. Does that make them more or less authentic? I don't know.
I am just me. Often silly, often serious, most often one or the other at inappropriate times. Another friend of mine suggested to me just yesterday that I might be placed somewhere high up on the autism spectrum. High-functioning, she meant. Without a real diagnosis, I would never claim that....but I have wondered. I do own my flaws, which still startles people even after having done so for years upon years. I don't often own my wins, which still shames me after NOT having done so for years upon years. Part of me still hears a voice that never existed outside my own head telling me my life choices have been pathetic and I will never amount to a hill of beans. I'm going to be 49 in a little over a week. Do 49-year-olds hear those voices? Most of them seem much more successful, much more purposed, than I have ever been. Part of me is STILL waiting to "grow up", while it seems to me that others stopped waiting thirty or forty years ago and simply did it, alchemically. That particular philosopher's stone has eluded me.
I'm trying, folks. Trying hard. Look how hard I'm pressing this pedal! Look how fast those tires are spinning! Look how I'm...not...going...anywhere!
I said all that to say this,
I'm not a model to emulate. Believe me, I'm just...not. I appreciate the compliments, I know they come from a place of love, but I have miles to go before I sleep. Lifetimes, more like. Get back to me in a few incarnations and...I'll probably say the exact same thing.
Thanks for reading.