Becoming A Judge

When I still harboured pretensions in the direction of a career, one day, maybe, in history, I recall university teachers occasionally referring to we students as historians. This made some sort of sense to me, in a theoretical, abstract sort of way. In the same way you might write something like “a lack of evidence presents certain challenges for the historian” and mean all historians, and ,by extension, yourself, as a researcher or one practising history, without feeling like you’re being too much of a wanker, and certainly without leaving oneself open to the charge of playing at the real adult’s role. That’s the way I felt, anyway. As if it was a kind of figurative dressing up, not real, confected. And when the proper adults patted you on the head and said you were a historian too, well, it felt inauthentic and somewhat embarrassing. Others didn’t seem to share this problem. And some of them are probably historians now – and I’m not. Perhaps there’s something in that.

Recently we stayed at a very fancy hotel, and I’m sure the thought crossed my mind at one point, when I was talking to someone on the front desk, that I wouldn’t keep the very helpful woman long, as I knew she had proper five-star hotel guests waiting.

The sensation of pretending is one I often deal with and think about. It’s something I create too, not doubt, but then I am also more analytical, in the sense of breaking things down, and think more, in the sense of dwelling and worrying and allowing ideas and feelings to play their corrosive role, than most people. It could be said that I think too much. Certainly it could be said that I do too much of this kind of thinking.

And thinking is important. Really thinking: hard thinking, about people and situations and what might happen, and an awful lot about what has happened – the kind of impotent thinking which amounts to nothing and can change nothing but you still do it, because you can’t let it go. This sort of thinking is very useful, I have realised, for a writer. You need to be thinking all the time, which sounds a bit trite, but I’m talking about properly considering ideas and weighing things in your mind, not idle speculation (although there is a bit of that too, I suppose). More importantly though, you need to be thoughtful. Being thoughtful is a state of mind, or a personality trait, or an attitude, or something like that, and I’m sure it can be cultivated in the not particularly thoughtful, but fundamentally you either are thoughtful or you aren’t. And when you are you consider ideas and points of view; the term is often used in place of considerate or kind, and people usually mean you put others first or wonder what their feeling will be, and possibly relegate your own feelings in comparison, and those ideas are all part of it. But it is being generally open to ideas. To be watching with your mind. To hear a conversation between strangers and wonder who they are and why they might be talking to each other that way. To listen to dialogue and imagine it on a page and wonder why you don’t write dialogue that way and how you might in the future. To hear a contrary view on a subject, even something you strongly disagree with, and to force yourself to imagine how this other take on things is formed and why. You need to be receptive to data and stimuli and open about interpreting and attempting to use what you observe.

This makes sense to me. Writers are thoughtful. I am thoughtful. But that does not mean that I am a writer. It still feels a bit like playing dress up. Like pretending. Doing some writerly things and hoping that some metamorphosis will come, one day, and suddenly it won’t be pretend any more. (I wonder if I’m waiting to get paid for something before it seems real. If so, the wait could be a lengthy one.)

And I look around me. I see people with bugger all talent who do jobs which pay well, and they have material advantages I have never had, not that I’m materialistic (easy to say, but it’s true), and we would all like to be comfortable, and I see people who reap the rewards and seem to not entirely deserve them. And yes, I’m a mite envious. (Not quite the same as jealous, which could include taking away their happiness or success; envy is just wishing you had some, or some more, yourself – in my definitions of those words.) There isn’t even that much envy – it’s more a sense of mild bafflement at how people end up. But in this frame of mind you compare. You compare people and circumstances, and you think, yeah, well I could have done that or got one of those if I hadn’t sacrificed time or money or energy to write (and you know that’s crap, but the thought occurs very briefly, until you laugh at yourself and tell yourself not to be a wanker, and you admit to yourself that you didn’t mean it, and you were just being thoughtful, which is important for a writer, and then you tell yourself to stop trying to be funny, and so you do). Then you realise, as I did today, that what you have become is judgemental. Being judgemental is a defence mechanism when you think it’s all unfair and I’m really better than this, you know. I’m better, you’re worse: I’m judging you, implicitly, and of course I’m judging myself too.

The only consolation is that I never let myself get away with anything for too long. And my instinct for seeing another person’s side always overrides my desire to cut them down a little bit, if I think of them as a rival. And I tell myself that I have no rivals, which is partially true, for I am an individual and need to focus on doing the best possible job of being me.

Which sounds like a different kind of wankery as well.

So, a judgemental wanker. This is what I’ve become.

Published in: on December 13, 2012 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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