I’ve been struggling with my blog. Not for a lack of subjects, but rather for a lack of voice.
I’ve been jumpy and unable to concentrate, constantly looking over my metaphorical shoulder to see if I’ve overlooked something more important and urgent than attending to these words.
Yet I can’t see anything there beyond a gathered phalanx of self-destructive messages:
“Who do you think you are?”; “Stop trying to be so clever!”; “What makes you so special?”; “What right do you have to pontificate?”.
This experience does seem rather personal but I don’t imagine it’s unique to me. Its insistence tells me it must be what I’m required to address.
What follows is a mixture of fantasy and reality but I hope it’s interesting and useful nevertheless.
The source of self-condemnation
The root of those dismissive messages is not hard to find. Just recently a revered family figure responded to a thoughtful remark of mine by dismissing it to the assembled gathering: “Don’t take any notice. It’s only Christopher.”
And so it is . . .
And only Christopher has his complement in only Jason, only William, and only Andrew; in only Susan, only Sarah and only Britney.
And it’s no coincidence that ‘only’ rhymes with ‘lonely’. There are many lonely gifted people, absent-mindedly kept at arm’s length by the society they strive to subscribe to and support.
Down the street
As I write, my mind offers up a visualization of my inner experience of being haunted by these messages.
I’m in a terraced street, narrowly enclosed by nineteenth-century red-brick and rigid sensibility.
It’s the kind of street that led to these words from William Blake:
“I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
“In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.”
Yes, ‘Blake’ is an anagram of ‘Bleak’.
I am being driven out of this street by thousands of contemptuous words. The letters race at me, jeer at me. Sentences form and chase me, teasing me as if in a cartoon.
Feeling hurt and betrayed, I see I’ve been marked as a foreign body, an intruder. I try to explain but already I know the assaultive words are in service to the society of the street. I must be expelled to maintain the homogeneity of the larger society ‘they’ call ‘us’.
“You’re not one of us!” The words are never said but fill the air as I’m pushed from the street. I feel the pain of separation but it’s not my connections I’m being parted from. It’s my efforts at forming connections, my struggle to fit in.
I never really belonged. These houses were built for those who fit.
And I am unfit.
The imagery fades, its point made. But I can’t stop thinking . . .
It hurts, this virtual exile, but my gifted nature compels me to see through the pain so as to make sense of the experience. It’s odd. I’m being kicked out but I don’t feel like a victim. It’s as if I’ve been given my freedom.
The mutual pursuit of authenticity
Suddenly I see I owe a debt of gratitude to that persistent stream of incomprehension and dismissive disinterest.
By driving me away it protects me from work which, though honorable, I am not suited for. It defends me against relationships doomed to failure. It contains a certain knowledge of the universal benefit of rejecting that which is incompatible.
The fact that the messages are sharp and I experience pain is just a designed-in feature of human nature. It’s a quality that ensures that variations will be forced out into the open.
There they will either thrive or die but at least they will do their part.
We’re always ready to settle for a little comfort so it takes a lot of pain to move us. Especially when the future is unknown. It’s not as if there’s a guarantee of a place where “only Christopher” or “only” anyone else will feel as if they belong.
Nevertheless, we do belong. In the universe, on this planet, at this time. We are that special – and no more.
Just like you.
Your experience of ‘only-ness’ will be different from mine.
Perhaps you were accused of: “Doing a Jonathan” or: “Just being Gemma”.
Possibly your mother said: “Paralegal” every time you said: “Artist”.
Maybe you were condemned as “fresh” or “above yourself”.
The variations are endless. But the message is the same as to the Ugly Duckling:
“Quack! Quack! Get out!
Quack! Quack! Get out!
Quack! Quack! Get out of town!”
Do yourself a favor. Hear the rejecting quacks and don’t try to distort yourself into being a duck just so you can stay.
Better for everybody to be a lonely swan on the lake than a scorned mallard wannabe in a miserable puddle in the gutter.
And it might just turn out to be better than you think . . .
See you at the swannery!