Sunday, January 30

the more things change…

…the more they stay the same. No? Maybe? Definitely? Discuss.

Friends were over for dinner Wednesday night for my birthday. One is a high school English and History teacher and, after talking about her kids and some of the brilliant and not-so-brilliant things they do, and her 50-hours-to-construct wall collage commemorating the Holocaust (it was her thesis – she’s an expert, a really real one), and how she is rarely tempted to violence but feels so inclined when one of the kids leans on “her wall”, she asked me if I’d be interested in joining her class one day during their creative writing module.

I raised an eyebrow, Spock-like, said sure, and the conversation carried on. But my mind stayed right there. Later on, before she left, it came up again and I said I was actually kind of juiced about it. She said cool and that we’d touch base when the time got closer.

Thing was, I was juiced. Juiced enough that, before I went to sleep, I even managed to brag to a friend online. The next morning she replied with a gentle and kind needle/compliment about how excited I sounded, and how I usually don’t sound like that. She said,

“I like when you get excited about things. You don't express that emotion very often when you write to me. I feel your passion for writing and for being honest … but rarely do I see that more childlike giddy sort of excitement. … It looks good on you.”

I replied,

“I was always a generally un-silly person. Not that I wasn't silly in a general sense. I was very silly about very many serious things, but I mean not giddy and excited, I guess. I was always subdued, never a dancer, voted best brooder in my senior acting class. In a Peanuts play, I would be type-cast as Charlie AND Linus.”

which would all be generally true, but it made me think. I thought about whether we really change or whether we just become more who we always were, with differentiation dependant upon variation in moral position.

Did my early nature and nurture result in a seriousness so ingrained that I was destined to be a brooder? Was there a Robert Frost moment somewhere back in my toddler days when I might have zigged instead of zagged and ended up being a class clown, or dancing fiend, or generally giddy person?

I was watching Zeitgeist: Moving Forward last night. It’s a doc-style film making a specific point, so it’s an echo-chamber, as much propaganda as information – I get that – yet many of the points are compelling. 

One of the points, a point that Noam Chomsky and George Carlin both make, is that the parameters of debate in the modern world are almost always set before the debate begins; that we never really get to talk about truly revolutionary ideas – one that could change everything – because the people who control the dialog and narrative don’t want us to talk about those things.

The other point that pricked me was how little of human life is actually immutable; how we’ve been convinced that everything is genetic and fated and just the way it is, and how little control we actually have; and how that isn't the truth The truth is that, even with genetics, the vast majority of it boils down to predisposition rather than predestination. Even if our code contains a predisposition to develop diabetes or cancer or broodiness or giddiness, it is absolutely not a predestination.

I didn’t have to be the sad clown. I could have been the goof, life of the party, dancer extraordinaire.  I still could – I believe that it’s never too late. Hell, I might have been predisposed to giddiness – the dogs can bring it out of me in a second – and was just detoured somewhere between Mom’s depression and Dad’s intellect.

But I don’t think so. I think my predisposition was to a morose, serious disposition, and I marched faithfully on that path from a very young age. I was always worried about being too silly and looking foolish. When Pearl Jam’s Evenflow came out, my heart strings twanged at the line “When he’s happy, he looks insane”. I think part of me was worried that Mom’s issues were potentially catching and that I had to stay sober to avoid presenting symptoms.

The proverb about pride going before the fall always echoes around in my head too, and I literally catch myself preempting too many giddy feelings at times for fear that I’m getting proud and will soon fall. I think that’s kind of sad, like I have a short-circuit, or allergies to giddyness – a too-robust, fear-of-pride immune system.

But I was never actually predestined to be anything. Just like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, there ain’t no such thing. Which means; I could change it if I wanted. Which means; I don't have to change if I'm good with who I am.

There’s a bad psychology joke: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.

I’ve decided that the lights above the mirror are the most important – the ones that illuminate us to and for ourselves – and that the truth we see in ourselves is more important than any thousand-candle spotlight or the shiny half-truths that other think they see.

So yeah, the opportunity to go to a high school English class and talk about creativity and writing does make me a bit giddy. If I was giddy all the time, it wouldn’t be as fun to feel like this. I may not have profound highs, but I also left behind the profound lows I used to feel. Fair trade in my books.

I’ll leave my dancing shoes on the metaphorical shelf then and stay the course for now. And if the time comes when learning how to dance seems appropriate, I’ll do what I always do – shuffle around for a while, then swallow and jump.

P.S. Yes, that was all over the place. That’s just the way it was this week, and I loved it.

P.P.S (Like this post isn’t long enough already.) There was a fascinating discussion regarding kindness and empathy on CBC Radio’s Tapestry today with UC Berkeley Professor of Psychology, Dr. Dascher Keltner. I think I’ll post on it in more depth, but if you follow the link, there’s another link to the podcast. It’s worth listening to.