Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Everything but the Gift

I was flustered, on Monday. At our staff meeting what I finally said sounded disagreeably shrill in my own ears. I get off-balance, and reach to speak out of my weaknesses rather than out of my strengths: out of my fatal facility with generalization and gift for specious phrase rather than out of my thoughtfulness and openness. It has plagued me all my life. That evening, during a practical exam, I stammered my way laboriously through stuff that I have known by heart for months. Afterwards Andrea, always my testing partner, said, "I was thinking, come on, Dale. I know you know this stuff!"

Tele had brought her evaluation of my massage, and it was warm and sweet and glowing and yet -- yet I hated it. After my day's humiliation I wanted one thing, and only one thing: respect. The only evaluation that would have pleased me would have been one that was awestruck, if not fearful. I didn't want to be a kindly, safe-feeling, nurturing older man. I wanted to be an object of fear and desire. Heathcliff, not Edgar Linton. The ache to be taken seriously was physical, crawling somewhere along my diaphragm and up my ribs. I wanted to be formidable.

Heathcliffs, of course, don't give a damn about being formidable. The desire to be formidable is an unmistakable, universally understood proof that in fact you are not so. That you are Edgar Linton, accomplished in everything that doesn't matter, forever on the wrong side of locked doors, the owner but never the master -- the archetype of the cuckold. You gave me everything but the gift.

There's nothing to do, of course, but nothing. Be still. Let the desire settle, little by little, like stirred up mud settling to the bottom of a pond. There are times when all doing is useless. This is one of them.

But you see, this sometimes lurks behind that apparently innocent yen to express tenderness. That's why for me it's often important to let it be.

I have never found it difficult or awkward to express affection; it's my normal mode of being. I have to watch myself lest I absent-mindedly say "love you, hon" to people at work, people behind counters, people pouring my coffee. But that's a different animal than the desire to cross boundaries, to crowd people, to insist on a level of attention beyond the ordinary. You see it in wound-up little boys, when they're pestering, being loud and intrusive, flinging themselves against people, making absurd boasts. It's the pack-animal's craving for the alpha position. Make me leader of the pack, or slap me down, but don't ignore me!

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