Sunday, May 08, 2011

Lighted Windows

The waitress, seeing me lost in thought, paused to wave a hand in front of my eyes. Not because she'd asked me anything. Gratuitously: simply because she'd seen that I was thinking. At once the old anger was ignited, and suffused me like a blush. I fixed a cold unsmiling gaze on her face, rocked with a rage so deep that I could do nothing but what I did in childhood: cut off my voice and my face, and present a perfect blank to the world, until I had control of myself again.

All my life people have done this. Seeing that I'm thinking something out, or exploring some emotion or experience with deep attention, they deliberately come and interrupt me. It's supposed to be funny. They've caught me, they seem to think, in a lapse.

If they knew the deep hatred their interruption lights in my heart, they'd back up even faster than this waitress did. In all the years I've suffered this persecution, I've never yet killed one of my tormentors. But there's always a first time, my pretties.

It's incomprehensible to me. If you see someone painting, do you step up to snatch the brush out of their hand? If you see someone working with power tools, do you go find the fusebox to switch off the electricity? If you see someone singing, do you take the opportunity to pitch a balled-up kleenex in their mouth? Why is thinking the one act of creative attention that it's supposed to be a harmless joke to ruin?

I have a horror of imprisonment, because I picture prison as a place where this happens all the time, where nobody ever leaves you alone to think.

Nowadays this sort of interruption happens so seldom that I can afford to hold no grudge; sometimes I don't even get angry. When I was in school it happened all the time, and I'm sure it still happens all the time to thoughtful children. I wish I could do something to protect them. I wish, at the very least, I could tell that that the day will come when they can surround themselves with people who would no more interrupt them because they are thinking than they would break a window because it was lighted. Someday, it will be rare enough to be worthy of a blog post. Hang in there, kids.


Zhoen said...

Those are people incapable of understanding the need for thinking. I pity them, but wish them far, far away from me. They are the same people who, when seeing someone dozing off in public will want to tie their shoelaces together, rather than throw a blanket over them and protect their sleep. Sad people, insensible of compassion or intelligence.

Dick said...

There's a fear thing at work here, surely. Thinking will get you into trouble. It will lead directly to book larnin', which will foment ideas, which will lead to heresy and sedition. That waving of the hand before the face of the reckless dreamer is intended to bring him or her back from the edge. "Oh, sorry, I was miles away..." "That's okay. Everything's back to normal now..."

Deb said...

Well said. I had forgotten that pain (I don't believe I think in public anymore :-)), but you painted it completely.

I dislike the devaluing interruption of "a penny for your thoughts" for similar reasons.

Anne said...

Somehow, even though I understand your annoyance, I want to defend the waitress. Perhaps she was feeling lonely and wanted some interaction. Perhaps she thought you looked sad and wanted to cheer you up. Perhaps she was just kinda dumb and didn't understand the importance of thought. Who wants to be a waitress, anyhow?

Jayne said...

Some people are just plain uncomfortable with deep thought. Some just like to be noticed. "How can you be in outer space when I am right here, in real time, before you?!"

My son is a great daydreamer. I love to let that process be. Some beautiful things come of it.

Makes me smile when I see that going on with my son, or others. It's a gift. ;)

Dale said...

Anne, I would have the same response, reading this, and I almost didn't post it because of that. And really this is not about that recent interaction, but about growing up in a family that valued thought and dreamtime, in the midst of a society that feared and hated it. The discord has had a lot to do with how I live in the world.

Thanks everyone!

Lucy said...

I don't think I'd ever do that, certainly not with a stranger, I think I sometimes bother Tom a bit when he's frowning, needing to check he's OK, which is stupid really.

I can't remember anyone doing it to me for a long time, I think I rather assumed their right to do it, so perhaps like Deb I've stopped dreaming or thinking in public as a defence. As a young woman being told to smile or cheer up, usually by complete strangers, was most maddening; middle-aged invisibility seems to have absolved me of that obligation. I have to say that that absent state is not usually, for me, one of deep thought but simply of distraction and, usually pleasant, idling, often replaying things in my head, but it's still a private space which one has a right to.

Dale said...

I don't think I'd ever understood before these comments, and others on Facebook, that I was exercising privilege, and particularly, masculine privilege, by thinking in public. I still intend to take it, but I'm holding it a bit differently now. Thank you.