Friday, June 17, 2005

Trying on ideas... 

This is largely for my benefit, to see the words on the screen looking back at me, so I can get a feel for what these thoughts are that chase themselves round my head. There are no decisions, not really even any plans yet; this is a thought-experiment. I’m trying out ideas, seeing how they fit, what it feels like if I wear them. I might try a different idea tomorrow.

One of my heros may have been leading me astray. Carl Rogers wrote an essay included in his book 'On Becoming a Person' which he titled 'A Therapist’s View of the Good Life: The Fully Functioning Person'. Rogers wasn’t talking about some kind of template; his notion of the fully functioning person was, I think, simply the notion of a person who is fully in touch with their own being, fully aware of the flow of their own experience, of their own feelings. Not that the feeling “should” be this or that, but that whatever response a person has to a situation is accepted and received unfiltered by the lenses of past experience and inner perceptions, and not denied or suppressed or locked away behind defenses. It was that word “good” that misled me; the idea that there was a state to aim for that was “better” than the one I was in.

Elsewhere too in the book he wrote about the stages that people go through in counseling, writing in terms of a progression, as though one way of being is in some way better than, or more advanced, more developed than another. He didn’t put it quite like that, nevertheless, rightly or wrongly, I took away the message that there is some kind of ideal to aim for, and believed that it was “good” to strive towards that goal, that I would be incomplete or failing to realize my potential if I didn’t. But having an idea that one way of being is necessarily “better” than another is not always helpful.

So anyway. I’ve been struggling with non-acceptance by myself of some aspects of the way I live, thinking I “ought” to find ways to express the person I believe I am, trying sometimes to behave differently – but it hasn’t really worked. And through the fog, the idea is slowly materializing: if it doesn’t work, let it go. Choose instead something that works.

This is what hasn’t been working. I have two deeply rooted characteristics whose contradictions produce inevitable conflict. As someone who is sensitive (I can tick nearly all these questions) and empathic, I find I am naturally drawn towards connecting with people. But I’m also afraid to connect. It feels uncomfortable to say so, but essentially I'm quite a shy person. I put this down to the severe stammer I had all through childhood and well into early adulthood (the remnants of which still persist today. I simply never learned the basics of getting close to my peers, remaining always a little aloof, a little apart. I learned to be an island. Unlearning that is a non-trivial exercise, after fifty years. And this is the point: unlearning it wouldn’t necessarily be “right” or “good”. If I choose to stay that way, provided its my choice and I’m happy with it, that’s okay. It is, after all, who I am.

This is the conflict: to begin with, the desire to connect is uppermost, so I’m quite good at building rapport, even with total strangers. I barely notice their outer defenses but see through to the person within, and so we can get fairly deep, fairly quickly. But the closer I get, the more uncomfortable I become, and instead of strengthening the connection I’ll withdraw. It’s like two opposite magnetic poles – bring them too close to each other and there’s an invisible force pushing them apart.

That force can be extraordinarily powerful at times, and I'm sure I confuse and upset people because of it. The conflict can be cruel for both sides: cruel in that the initial connection can generate expectations in people that I don’t fulfill, cruel also in the torture it sometimes gives me. There’s nothing “right” or “good” in having close relationships.

Hell, I don’t know whether I believe that or not…

But that’s part of the logic behind the notion of focusing more on my work. It might be better for me to operate in an environment where close relationships aren’t called for. Open, accepting, friendly: yes, up to a point, but only up to a point.

This is only a trial. Constant whining about the job isn’t serving me at all well. It’s time to piss or get off the pot. Make a go of it or find something else. And since something elses are in short supply, I’ll start with making a go of it.

This is where the talk of stopping blogging came in. I’d got stuck because, taking as a starting point the desire to “be” a writer (or photographer, or whatever) I couldn’t take my job seriously. It just got in the way, was irrelevant, and I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for it. So if I’m going to take it seriously, I have to find a different starting point. Maybe by letting go of the idea of writing for a while, whilst I focus on the job, I can pick it up again later but without the conflict, without losing the ability to do a job well. Because it’s a hard fact that to survive I do indeed need to do a job tolerably well. That’s one mountain that’s not going to move. And if I find that taking work seriously and writing (I keep saying writing, but really I’m just using that word as shorthand for the whole creative self-expression thing) don’t go together, then maybe I’ll have to let go of the writing. Not with bitterness, although maybe with some regret – but I am prepared to let go of a dream if that’s what it takes to live without constant inner conflict. Letting go of a dream may be a price worth paying.

Like I say, that’s not a plan, just a thought-experiment…

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”

...more from Prufrock

No, that is not it, at all...

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