Nice Overcomes Weird

When I was a little fella I recall being sensitive in a tactile way, along with emotional sensitivity – a not-atypical predisposition which has been known to lead to outbursts of various kinds, fist clenching and foot stamping and the occasional feeling that no-one understands, that they couldn’t possibly understand, and that they aren’t even trying, even though it would be futile to try too hard at something so reeking with impossibility anyway. The realisation that there is no empathy sometimes and that sympathy, if done well, is elaborate acting, a convincing performance, is not a friendly idea to encounter. But there it is. Sometimes all people can do is try. And sometimes trying isn’t enough – or it isn’t very helpful, and you storm off.

The foregoing may suggest that I was constantly and stormily trying to assimilate my emotions into the personality of the well-rounded, mature individual currently sitting at this desk and glancing occasionally at the screen when my typing fingers need a rest. Not true. Mostly there was balance, harmony, equanimity. Or I hid the other things well. One or the other. Or a combination. But I wasn’t hard work. I was happy.

I was strange though. Not torturing pets strange. Not stalking a neighbour strange. Not even becoming a stamp collector strange. At the time I would say I collected stamps or coins or was interested in certain subjects, but I was never into them to the degree that real fans and aficionados and fanatics are. An interest in becoming a marine biologist meant a couple of shark posters on the wall; fascination about dinosaurs meant a few plastic figures and a book or two, and realising that the Tyrannosaurus Rex was cool (although it had stupidly stunted little hands and arms) and the Brontosaurus was bigger than two buses, which also was cool, but in a different way, and the Stegosaurus was like a giant frill necked lizard, sort of, and that was cool too, I suppose, in a frilly way; and stamps looked pretty in a couple of albums, but I could make no comment about them and most of those in my possession were worthless and postmarked and not collectible at all, by collectors anyway.

I never learned anything to put together with anything else I’d learned and make some conclusion of my own – a piece of data/observation/fact a plus piece of data/observation/fact equals conclusion (which may well be erroneous and silly, but at least indicates a willingness to synthesise new bits of information into a whole, to search for and create patterns, in short to make sense of the entire field of knowledge or speculation on a subject).

At about the same time as reading became important – or started to become more important – I developed an interest in diseases and disasters and later crimes and criminals. In some way, this development was a key in the formation of my personality. To read a bit about a number of subjects, as and when interest arises, is enough to present oneself to the world as someone generally interested in stuff – ideas, things, the past, people – and an enquiring enough mind pursuing these fleeting interests (passions would never be the correct word) has meant that from that point on, for the last few decades anyway, those who have favoured me with their time, their consideration, and their good opinions have often thought of me as reasonably intelligent. This is charitable. If anything it flatters another act, in this case a much more successful one than the sympathy performance I often rejected as a small boy; this time my own act: the pretence of intelligence.

What I have done, unintentionally over the years, I now understand, is to distance people from me, to create the space I needed, or felt I needed, so retreat was possible sometimes. This is not a shock realisation. It’s almost like scratching a lottery ticket and winning $5. No big thing, but makes you feel better. The effect of what has happened though is this: to most acquaintances I am someone amusing when I’m on and cold when I’m off and there’s not a lot else there. It means that there is a whole dimension to my life and the way that I live it which is buried – and don’t get me wrong, I like it that way. But it is amusing to think that someone who cries quite frequently in romantic comedies, and I’m not talking about the good ones (or should that be the less shit ones?) is often thought of as not possessing an affectionate side at all.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For a long time I consoled myself with the knowledge that I could and did relate to dogs in a compassionate and sharing way that many people would never see because people are arseholes and dogs aren’t and I was being discriminating. Now, I don’t resile from that statement, unfair as it may seem to some people, but possibly what has been going on is the feeling that it is somehow OK to be vulnerable in front of a dog, to nurse them through their little crises and enjoy doing and sniffing farts together, while it is just better not to allow people to see a vulnerable angle, albeit something possibly endearing, as people often don’t shut up about things, when dogs will shut up, of course, as they don’t speak English very well.

And none of this is getting any closer to what I wanted to write about when I sat down here what seems like hours ago. And most of it may be just pop-psychological bullshit, with the only novelty that I’m applying it to myself, and not to others, as is more typical. Or seems more typical. And that last bit may be untrue as well.

What I wanted to write about was looking after people. Placing yourself second and making sure that someone else is alright. As with most things in life, even apparently selfless acts usually have a me dimension, and when I put myself out for someone it makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m a good person, I suppose, and I feel like I deserve some praise, from me, if there’s no-one else around. That’s part of it. Can’t lie about that. But it is good to help others, just as a general idea, and it must be good for the soul (if such an entity exists). I was put in charge of some people at work for about a year a while ago and it was good, we had fun. I was the best boss I ever had. It wasn’t about me, it was about others, the group, and putting the group first was both the best thing to do and quite a pleasure. Looking back I realise that one of the things I got most out of the experience was being in a position to make other people’s day more bearable, even actively fun on occasion, and the very slight amount of authority I wielded allowed this to happen.

That’s it actually – authority. If a friend wants to talk you can talk and listen to their problems and make suggestions but mostly just listen. Occasionally you think of doing something nice for someone, and occasionally you even try, or start to try to implement an idea of something warm and friendly and personal, but you pull back as it seems weird and too personal or they let you know that some kindnesses might be straying into a private zone. Could be just a straight man thing here, not wanting to seem even a little bit gay, but I don’t think so. It’s authority. You can’t say, “Sit down and I’ll go and get you some chicken soup” – well, you can, but they can veto it, and there’s usually someone else more naturally filling the chicken soup position rather than a friend: parent, sibling, partner. Which brings me to coupledom, a state I am happily ensconced in right now. If Laetitia is unwell or feels like her head is about to explode or has had a really shit day, I have the authority. I can tell her to sit, and return with a cup of tea and rub her shoulders and tell her everything will be OK. I can listen, and do the man thing and offer advice – or not (usually ill-advised, gents) – and I can impose, but not in some power-hungry sense, the compassion I think I have always wanted to spread around and enforce, in the “enforced rest” sense: a benign dictator who dispenses hugs, whether others realise they need one or not.

It makes me feel useful, that this is my role and I’ll take it from here. And it isn’t weird. It’s the way things should be.

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Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 7:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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