Sociopathy properly understood
Currently ("currently" here is a word meaning "sometime near the middle of January 2019" so yeah I'm slow to post) reading yet another Brené Brown book, this one called Braving the Wilderness, and like her other books it's about belonging and vulnerability and how we don't need the first as much as we think but very much require the second and -- wait, I've got that wrong.
We do need belonging, but not the way you'd normally think of that word. Not in the usual sense of trying to fit in with a group, or being accepted into an existing society of fellows unless they're secretly a bunch of annoying but well-connected jerks.
Or, in her case, to be accepted into the cheerleading team back in high school.
Me, it was both being accepted by the cool kids but also making it and being accepted as a musician despite hailing from a different social-economic background than most mainstream pianists. I was an ordinary kid from the grubby suburbs. You know the place other people always made fun of? I lived there. We were the Newfoundland of suburbs. The kids who participated in the music contests weren’t necessarily richer than us, though they probably had a bit more discretionary spending at their disposal than I did. But they lived in Sillery or Ste-Foy, the nice areas we couldn't or wouldn't afford. Either way it wasn’t my fault where my parents had chosen to live. But I got punished because of it regardless by being sneered at and never accepted into the group. The other pianists were polished and sophisticated, something I’ve never felt.
No, not even now.
I was always a bit raw. I do appreciate that my physical features allow me to clean up alright. I can walk in heels, and evening gowns don't look comical on my frame. I used to make a living in television, dammit. I can make myself look good and polished. But it’s not me.
Me is feeling comfortable in an ugly old fleece because it’s minus stupid outside and jeez, you know. It’s having my hair in a ponytail because I’m training twice today and why bother doing anything else with it? It's a mess of frizzes when I try too hard, and the blow dryer makes me sweat. Makeup is just stupid. Why not spend the time and money eating well and exercising instead? Oh sure, when you need to make a super duper impression under very bright lights like that time they asked you to be on the cover of Time magazine, go ahead. The point is not to look natural when natural means "slightly dead-looking". The point is to be natural and to let others see you that way. IRL, like the kids say. A little touch of blush here and there, if you insist, alright. But come now. Blue on the eyelids? On what creature is this normal?
Your face tells the story of your life, and it's the one you should be wearing instead of hiding behind three layers of concealer and whatever they call that powder that sits on top and makes your face feel like a slightly overgreased pancake. Let yourself be seen, even if the story of your life includes episodes you'd rather not think about just now thanks very much. That's what gives your expression depth and meaning. Wear it with pride, and to hell what Cosmo says.
So anyway, to make a long story short(er), I don't spend too much time polishing my exterior shell. It's clean and tidy, and I wear clothes that don't make me uncomfortable by their cut or poor tailoring, but that's about it.
Back to Brené Brown. She starts the book with a quotation from Maya Angelou (I really need to read everything this woman wrote, too) about the freedom that comes from belonging only to oneself. Brown used to disagree with that quote pretty strongly, but now she gets it.
Funny, because I got it right away.
"You are only free when you realize you belong no place - you belong every place - no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great." That's how Angelou said it in a TV interview back in the early 1970s.
I say I got the point of the quote right away, but that's only if you start counting from a few months back. If you start counting from when I came out of the womb or, if we're going to be generous, from when I came of age, er. I took a bit longer.
I have spent a lifetime and a half struggling to belong. In a family that didn't feel like one. In a school where I either got ignored or bullied. At jobs I cared about so much I alienated everyone else by trying to win everything and beat every record. In relationships I killed with way too much attention and subservience. I would bend over backwards so many times I had no idea what time zone I was in anymore. That's how far I'd go to fit in and be accepted. Because that's what I thought one needed to be happy; to fit in with the cool kids and be accepted as one of their own.
It was only recently, in the last year or so, that I discovered that sometimes the best way to be the best you can be is to stop giving a fuck what people think or feel. I'm 48 now. It's been a long trek going the wrong way trying to achieve goals that wouldn't make me happy if I succeeded not that I had any chance of doing so.
So now I'm learning to be a bit of a sociopath. Not the kind the police need to worry about, obviously. But the kind that motors through life not paying too much attention to what other people think or say.
By the nature of my work I often wind up pissing people off. I have strong opinions about topics people care about. Like Donald Trump and his terminally ugly band of supporters. Or institutional daycare for babies under the age of two. (Not sure which one I despise more.) I'm also not keen at all on the segregation of humans; I don't understand why we park kids in their own buildings while older folks get dumped in retirement homes full of other old people. Why not mix them up, like they do in some European places where they give highly reduced rent to college students in old folks homes in exchange for them mingling with regular residents and performing odd jobs for them, like helping them write letters or just spend time chatting over tea. When I talk about this I often get a wallop on Twitter to the effect that in this busy day and age nobody has time for this sort of stuff anymore and come on, be realistic and stop dreaming in technicolour.
But I like technicolour.
I'm happy to have others who like technicolour as much as I do to hop on my merry wagon and travel along with me. I'm also OK with people reading my stuff just to argue with me - though I would be eternally grateful if they actually did try to understand what I was saying before they started shouting. That'd be real nice. But I don't need it, and I certainly don’t need them.
Any of them. I don't write for an audience. I write for me. I'm delighted to have an audience. But it comes after the work, not before.
That's the hardest part of trying to belong by not trying to belong, to be perfectly honest about it. Most of us who enjoy the work we do also enjoy feedback about same, especially if it's positive. But sometimes negative feedback is enjoyable too, if it makes you better at the work you already enjoy doing. (Pain to the ego is usually temporary. Right?)
Not having feedback on the work I do because it's not out there yet, wow, that's hard. Years of daily blogging have made me very dependent on visitor statistics and other social-media metrics for validation. Love or hate my stuff, whatever I don’t care, but at least engage with it. That way I'll know I've done something alright.
But all this stuff I've been writing these past few months that's sitting quietly in my files waiting to be edited and submitted somewhere? I have no feedback on that. And frankly at the moment it's kind of OK, because the truth is I'm scared shitless of what the feedback would be if there was any. I mean, what if my fiction is no good? What if it sucks? Worse, what if it doesn't suck enough to be interesting in its suckiness? What if it's just, gasp, boring?
To say this feeling makes me anxious would be a fine understatement. But somehow I have to put that anxiety aside and keep plugging away and not - repeat, NOT - sneak out to the megaplex and watch something explode on screen while I stuff popcorn into my maw. (Mymaw, a popcorn mymaw, popcorn mama, can't stop thinking of possibilities. I have issues.)
No. I have to keep plugging away, doing the work I was put on this planet to do. And do it for me, like a proper sociopath should.