Monday, August 28, 2006

Small town, big city

I seem to have hit a nerve with Chris:

I'm one of those people who says they're going to do things and then doesn't do them. It makes me feel really awful, too...

The trouble is, when I say the things I do, I'm totally sincere at that moment. But my state at any given time is mostly independent of anything else going on in my life -- I live most moments as if nothing led up to them and nothing will lead out of them. I basically don't have the brain power to spare on thinking of things as causal chains all the time. So when I'm talking to you, that's all I'm doing. Nothing else.

With that disconnect, it's easy to say things I don't mean or plan to follow up on. At the time I'm totally open, honest, and sincere. But when I step back into the flow of my life, some things get washed away...

So the next time someone doesn't do something they said they would, maybe consider going a bit easier on them. Because they may have hurt themselves more than they did you.

The Dandy, however, understands what I mean.

I am invariably shocked by people who don't do what they say they are going to do. Despite decades of exposure to this kind of behavior, I still don't get it. If I'm talking about doing it, either I will actually do it, or the consideration of doing it will be the journey in itself, with its own important (and measurable) results.

First of all, Chris, I think you're being too hard on yourself. From my admittedly limited experience of you, I have observed that when you say you're going to show up, you show up. When you say you're going to write something up, you write it up--in an inexpressibly lovely way, no less. You obviously have little experience with the true Art Flake. Which is fortunate for you, and I do not recommend acquiring such experience.

But the thing I noticed about both Chris's and Dandy's comments was that you guys know yourselves. Do you have any idea how rare that is, to meet people who don't spend a great deal of mental energy lying, to themselves and other people, about what kind of person they are?

One of the things I loved about living in a very small expatriate community in Mexico was that it was impossible to avoid getting to know everybody around you. I had friends from at least eleven countries, ranging in age from three to seventy-two. In that sort of situation, you not only have a much greater range of perspectives on the world to apprehend, you learn what you can realistically expect of people. And then you can roll with the punches.

For example, if Herbert suddenly explodes in a red-faced, violent rage about some trivial and irrational thing, you will not get terribly upset about it, because everybody knows that Herbert has anger issues, which are quite probably biologically based, and thus more cause for compassion than fear or censure. If Gretchen goes around telling everyone in town that Serena is an irresponsible thief who trashed her house, everyone in town goes around reassuring Serena that they all know what Gretchen is like, and nobody believes her. And everyone knows that Sophia is a rotten mother, but that it's probably not her fault because she still hasn't dealt with her own childhood abuse issues, and Sophia hooks up with a guy who grew up with a psychotic mother, and thus is the perfect person to take on a shell-shocked wife and her already-damaged daughter. To each their own complimentary dysfunction.

What I learned from living in such a community was that 1) you can't change people and 2) they're all perfect in their imperfections, and manage to muddle along somehow. It was particularly instructive to realize how difficult it is to intervene in an obviously screwed-up situation. I saw, firsthand, some of the most mind-bogglingly bad parenting styles imaginable, and even though the parents in question were relative intimates of mine, there was very little that could be done about it. I could drop a few suggestions, and provide a little clandestine love toward the neglected brats in question, but mainly the parental wound-infliction was inevitable. You saw that this kid had her life's work cut out for her, getting over that--and that, more or less, this is true for all of us.

The difficulty I had, in moving to the big city after this, was that you don't have the luxury of being able to observe people at close quarters over a long period of time, before deciding whether to put any effort into a friendship. There are just too many of them. By and large, you have to go on instinct. Or at least, I went on instinct the first three years I lived here, with very terrible results. Now I'm stepping back and re-considering my method of forming friendships. And until I have a group of friends whom I know I can rely on, collaboration is out of the question.

One of the mistakes I've made, I think, is in using a project as a short-cut to getting to know people. That's what they tell you in all the 'self-help' literature--volunteer! Volunteer! But I think what that means is 'volunteer to do something you have no personal stake in.' Because when I volunteer to do something art-related, I'm investing far too much of myself, too quickly. And thus I am placing my career trajectory repeatedly in the hands of Art Flakes. Shudder.

So it's not really a question of anyone having to change. Chris, you go right on ahead talking big and doing whatever you do; I won't abuse you for it. It's merely a question of me taking the time to learn what I can expect of someone, who I can work with, and who I need to avoid.

1 comment:

Chris Rywalt said...

I don't know if I would have gone so far as to say you hit a nerve; but thinking about it, maybe you did. I tend to think of my life as being like me, driving down the highway, throwing empty bottles out the window. Most of them smash into pieces. Every so often one of them doesn't. And I spend a lot of time thinking about all the ones that smashed, and I tend to forget -- or downplay the importance of -- the ones that made it.

The metaphor's not the best. What can I say?

As far as the true Art Flake, I'll admit first that I don't know any (and I'm happy with that) and second that I'm sure I'm not the least responsible person in the world. I try to do what I say; it just doesn't always work out. I know that's better than some people.

As far as knowing myself, though, I think I can argue that. I have a great story I can tell people about who I am, and as a story it's consistent and seems to fit the facts, but really, it's just a story. I don't think I know anything about myself. I often surprise the crap out of myself, and I don't mean that in a good way. Let's put it this way: Most people like to think, if they were offered the position of concentration camp guard, that they'd turn it down, maybe even join the Resistance. But, really, most people would take the job and do it fairly well. Metaphorically speaking, I've surprised myself by taking the job, and more than once. I think people find comfort in believing these good things about themselves. I know I don't have that comfort.

And that's really about all I know about myself. We're all delusional to some degree.

I really like your Mexico story. I think there's a dark flip side to it -- I see the edges of it living, as I do, in a small suburb -- but the bright side is good.