Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Love And Hate And Other Chimps



My dad's recovered enough from his back surgery so that today we were able to take a walk. I was explaining to him that I'd recently figured out the main reasons why the past few years have been so hard on me, despite my finally beginning to get my art and writing out into the world.

For whatever reason, I have always admired artists and scientists more than any other type of person, and I have always mentally linked the arts and sciences as being representative expressions of a particular quality of mind.

I spent my whole damned life sitting in my room studying the arts, going to school for the arts, thinking that if I ever got to be good enough, I might be allowed into the world of the arts. I lost the sciences when I lost the university system, but the arts I could do on my own.

And I thought the world of the arts was going to be The Arts. That once in the door, I would bask in the glow emitted by my superiors, contaminating myself with their glorious radiation until I, too, was luminous. We would do the art and nothing but the art!

Well, yeah, as far as it goes. But it turns out that the world of the arts is like any other human endeavor -- it is primarily social. The arts serve an organizational and focal function, and are frequently central in the lives of individual participants, but the actual world of the arts is a club, or a gang, or a trend, or a hangout far more than it is an activity.

"The thing is," I told my dad, "I feel like I've pissed some people off just by showing up to play."

Dad got a little solemn. "Well, there's something that I think nearly everybody pretty much knows instinctively, and I don't think you do," he said. "Every group of human beings is going to be more concerned with hierarchy than anything else, and just about everything they do is about figuring out who goes where."

I was not prepared for this. I mean, I heard it and it made perfect sense, but. If you had told me ahead of time in a way that allowed me to actually understand? I might have simply evaporated from terror on the spot. I certainly would have wondered if it would be a good idea for me to follow the path I've taken.

I am not good with groups. I strongly prefer to interact with people one on one, as equals. I assume that I am on the outside of any group, and above the top or below the bottom of any given hierarchy. I am very emotionally vulnerable, and have a desperate need for affection and attention. I have very poor boundaries. I am quite naive about a lot of things, particularly sexual things. I do not expect to flirt or be flirted with; I expect to be treated as a neuter by women.

And there is no way to say this without sounding like a caveman, but you know what? I'm a primitive motherfucker. I expect men to behave as though violence is a natural arena for contention -- in other words, if someone's acting like a dick it means they think they can fuck with you, and if you let them keep acting like a dick, they will escalate to violence -- dickishness is just the soft edge of violence, and pulling it out is starting a fight. So men are polite to one another if they aren't interested in fighting. I mean, this is how it is, right? Right?

Guess what.

There are some folks I have run across that have been snipey, snipey, snipey, nasty, guilty apology, snipey, apology, etc. And I never believe they're being rude to me at first. I think about it, I ask any witnesses for opinions, I grill the missus, my dad, the hon. Richard Talleywhacker for their opinions before I feel anything but hurt.

This is a pattern. It's not just my writing, I've gotten this reaction with my prints as well. It has repeated four or five times in the past three years, and it honestly seems to be antagonism based on my ability or my modest successes -- people who actually dislike me on a reasonable personal basis don't behave this way.

And this comes from people who are hypothetically on my team, and who are in positions where we are supporting one another. People who are poorly served by their antagonism. It feels like a betrayal to me, it makes me wonder what I've done to deserve it, and it has cost me more topsoil over the last three years than anything else.

The only way I can cope with these situations is to emotionally place those people outside my circle, to say, 'I work with them, but they are opposed to my best interests, and in any emotional conflict they are regarded as opponents. I will not choose to hurt them, but I do not actively support their interests.' A friend who hurts me? I can't do anything about that. An enemy? That I can understand. It makes me feel coarse to categorize people in this fashion, but it is also invigorating. Necessity!

I need to recognize when people are actually being rude to my face. I've put up with things from people in classrooms and labs that would have gotten them terrorized if they'd tried it on the street. I absolutely will not pull any tough guy crap around this, but I shouldn't be taking shit just because I'm scared of being a bully.

I need to make room for this so that I don't shred myself every time someone fails to love me to a sufficient degree. It ain't their job to love me.

And too much love is hard to accommodate, too. Oh, it's turning out I ain't neuter. I need to be conscious of this. Not hitting on women and not cheating isn't the same as being sexually continent, and I prefer to be the latter.

For instance, did you know that some women interpret genial, good-natured bullying as a form of flirtation? And here's one I only figured out about six months ago.

I talk to people one-on-one, remember. Most of my friends have been women. If a woman and I are pals, we will spend a certain amount of time talking by ourselves alone, and that is a sexual safe-zone. I assume that sexual neutrality.

But recent readings and reflections suggest to me that when a woman goes into an isolated location with a man, much of the time she's going to be very conscious of being either vulnerable or available, and she's not always going to feel comfortable about that, and sometimes she's going to feel entirely too comfortable about that.

I am not going to go into details, but based on those two revelations I can now see how I have been a horrible, baffling tease at times. I don't want to be that kind of rotten person! I didn't even know you could do that to girls!

On the other hand, a little harmless flirtation isn't something that should cause me to bolt like a startled horse, writhe in guilt at my unfaithfulness, or fall hypnotized with my mouth hanging open. I'm gonna get flirted at, I may as well learn to enjoy it.

Having people look up at you and go, "Ooooh!" is a drug. When those people are attractive women, that drug is freebased. I am officially hooked, and I now need a certain amount of admiration in my diet. It makes me feel gross, but there it is. I am now doomed to go out into the world every once in a while and impress girls if I don't want to wither and die.

But having people admire my talent also feels kinda wrong and creepy. It's a freak show feeling, as though what's being admired could be easily detached from me and idolized on its own. I suspect this is how it feels to have an admirable bosom. It's fun, but you can get too much of it and it could lead to feelings of disrespect toward the admiring, and that sucks. Who wants to be admired by people they look down on? Defeats the whole purpose.

So, basically what we're facing here is the collapse of my previously-adequate Jane Goodall posture, where I regard humans as a fascinating alien species demanding compulsive study despite the obvious dangers involved. I have set down the clipboard, and set out to establish my place in the troop.

Pray for me.

3 comments:

ada said...

1) I guess the Jane Goodall thing explains why you've been oblivious to or maybe not wanting to be part of our Taos Toolbox class's group email interactions.

2) I've seen where people I know who grew up in rough neighborhoods and then become socially middle class, that these people rub middle class from birth people the wrong way and vice versa because they don't understand each others' rules and are communicating things they don't actually mean.

cathschaffstump said...

Ada, it's true that those of us who have become middle class and have learned to play by the rules can't fake it all the time. We do make mistakes.

But the "middle class from birth" folks also rub us the wrong way from time to time, so it's all good.

Sean, I'm glad you're thinking about joining the conversation and becoming more comfortable about reflecting from within relationships, rather than watching from the outside.

Sean Craven said...

Ada, there are two factors involved in my lack of online participation. First, when things were bad, I was behaving in a very flaky fashion online, I was feeling very weird about it, and so I intentionally withdrew for a while. It's sort of a hard thing to explain when it's going on...

And in addition, I am a complete ignorant Luddite when it comes to how these communications work. If someone's name suddenly appears on my screen, I flap my hands as if it were a bat and unplug the big box in case it thunders.

I'm trying to get over that, though. I'm gonna get a webcam and everything.

And Catherine, when I reflect on the situation it's hard for me not to feel like a stray cat -- I already feel more like a part of the writing community than I've been of anything before in my life.

But you know how it is with a stray. One day they'll let you get right up next to them, and the next they're out in the bushes, just looking at you.

Feral is as feral does.