Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Being me

I returned from a long weekend in Ft. Lauderdale to find virtually every leaf on my property lying in a slightly sodden mass upon the lawns. Autumn has well and truly come – well, it had done so some time ago, but there is nothing like a few days in sunny climes to sharpen the perception of winter’s advent here in New York.

My trip could not have been smoother or more enjoyable. Every flight arrived earlier than scheduled; I had terrific books and magazines to read; my iPod performed flawlessly and seemed to magically select all the songs to which I wished most to listen. Nguyen, my old colleague (and more), from National Upsy Daisy and his long-time partner Mark were great hosts – and Nguyen himself proved to be a great Vietnamese cook. They live in a luxurious condo; the bed assigned me was beyond comfortable and, all in all, it was a perfect trip if you don’t count the generosity of an anonymous fellow passenger in sharing with me his or her cold, or at least a plague of some sort which I hope is merely a cold. As drawn as I am to Fashion, I am not so much her slave as to desire a dose of the H1N1 phenomenon, particularly when I am scheduled to fly for California for a month’s visit next Monday.

So limited is my circle of human connections these days, that I found it quite a revelation to be with such a social pair as Nguyen and Mark. I attended a party at which there was quite a number of longstanding couples, all of whom seemed quite happy and content, and I found myself forced to contemplate a number of things concerning myself, that I had pushed into the background of my mind. Most of these thoughts revolved around issues of how much I want to be ME, and how much I want to be US – whether “us” refers to a partnership or an entire social circle. I guess, since I have no control over the thoughts and behavior of another, I am thinking what areas of my behavior I am willing to give up or subsume, and what areas I will not sacrifice. In many ways, I am a born loner – all the best times, in terms of thrill and excitement and something to talk about, have happened when I was alone, at least in the sense of not being involved with a companion – often there were lots of strangers along the way. But for day to day pleasure, nothing has exceeded the happiness and contentment I found with Tumwell, with Mustafa, with Babu – or even when spending times with non-partner-type friends: Emily, Barbara, - or those in a half-way status like Nguyen. In a way I guess I could make an inexact analogy with getting high – when one is high, things are fun, exciting, thrilling, but there is no meat there and lots of negatives, similar to the loneliness – and even, sometimes, despair - I feel when I am alone too much. When one is not high, (and not suffering the ill effects from the last binge), one has good feelings of stability, better relations with others, respectability, security and reliable friendships and so on, but one much more rarely reaches the heights of feeling. A friend of mine compared the two conditions to rocket fire versus a warm fire in the fireplace.

There is a big difference though between high and not high as opposed to being alone or together: with the issue of being high, you are or you aren’t – there is not the spectrum that exists between me and thee in social relationships. Narrowing relationships to partnerships between two people, there is a continuum along which one constantly dances, however subconsciously; every word and action is to a degree measured against the retention or moderation of relations with the partner. People who say EVERYTHING that comes into their heads are generally considered psychotic (and left alone); people who ensure that nothing spontaneous ever emerges are the dullest and unhappiest creatures on earth, people who demand such suppression of the partner’s spontaneity are never really satisfied and never know why things so often go wrong in their life, since they are never wrong, and yet people are unwilling to recognize or reward this marvelous fact.

One thing I like about Nguyen is that he is pretty outspoken in a good-natured way, and a couple of things he told me about myself were extremely useful in assessing how I put people off unintentionally. Nguyen likes me, he wasn’t criticizing me – in fact, he was discussing this in a spirit of saying it was something that made him laugh, and ours is a friendship where I do the same for him. It is good to know one’s habits as seen from another’s viewpoint; this way one can choose to modify them or not, and more importantly, one can better understand the reactions one gets when one is not aware of having said anything extraordinary. I do not wish to offend or attract someone based on misperceptions of my feelings or opinions, which might be created by verbal or physical habits that are not important to me, and that I am not conscious of having. Also I might want to be aware when I do things, which when done once mean nothing, but when repeated overmuch, create a perception that I do not wish to create. So I am wiser, but not sadder, which is a precious and rare thing. One of the things that Nguyen noted is that when I have to explain or repeat something, I get louder. I did not know that, but I can see where it makes me sound irritable (which I can be) or intolerant (which I sure hope I am not). This is something of which I am definitely going to try to be aware, particularly when I am talking to someone I do not yet know well.

A problem when one is alone too much is that one develops habits like this and once something is a habit, changing it can feel like suppressing “the real me” when really it both causes folks to miss the other, better parts of the real me, and it is not suppressing me, but merely allows me express myself in a way that the expression is received as actually intended. When no one tells me how I appear to others, then I do not understand the responses I get.

Well, all that aside, I realized I haven’t thought much beyond the immediate goal of meeting someone to care about. I haven’t thought about the life I want to have afterward. To a large extent, this will be determined by the other guy, of course. But there is still much that is about me; what do I want to do? I won’t be billing and cooing twenty-four hours a day. And meeting someone may not happen for a while or at all. What I want to do can start now, and be modified as necessary when someone else appears to join me. I am not talking about filling my time; I have plenty to fill my time. I mean more in the sense of having an aim; to what end to I wish to devote my time?

All the activities I thought I would be doing when I had time, I find I am actually doing less than when I worked. Gardening, home repair and enhancement, and – yes – blogging – well you can see how that last item has gone. Suffice it to say that I have done even less among the other activities. I do find I am reading much better quality stuff – I read and loved a book of Alice Munro’s short stories for instance. I find that I am a little impatient with the lighter weight fare I was reading when it was a matter of grabbing the hour to read here and there. I have spent so much time prior to retirement thinking, “I hate my job! I hate my life!” and now I am faced with having to think what I like. This is an exciting prospect at times, but can be a little scary too. I guess I am like a candidate who campaigned against the bums in power, and never thought what I’d do once I won.

Which reminds me; it’s Election Day and I have to go vote. Then I have to stock up on groceries and make an appointment to get my winter tires put on. See: I have plenty to doI just need to decide who I want to be.

Other than that, I’m good…