Friday, December 9, 2011
Bully for us.
Some people seem to swim quite easily in these cold, murky waters--constantly plugged into the cellphone, laptop or iPad 2. Nothing wrong with that. I admire it, to some extent.
But what I'm really craving lately is some peace of mind. Or maybe just some peace.
At the risk of sounding like some strange kind of nut--a charge I gladly accept, since I have always felt greatly out of step with this world that values conformity and sameness above all else, even while it sometimes pretends to appreciate difference. Okay, that's a whole other thought there. "Digression!"
At the risk of sounding like some strange kind of nut, I will admit to not feeling very peaceful lately, even though peace is what I mostly seek. I'm not even sure what I'm about to say, but it feels like it could be a doozy since I haven't blogged much lately. I need to have clarity in order to blog, but that's ridiculous since writing really can help you sort things out. So in the interest of experimentation, I hope you'll bear with me as I sort some stuff out.
Here's what's been going on with me lately, and the things I think about. These will probably appear in random order, but will jump out of my head in the order that seems most crucial.
Went to lunch today with my wife in downtown St. John's. It was brutally cold after a wild and windy night in which (gasp!) our cable nearly got knocked out. I don't know how we survived at all. The TV screen froze several times when things got really intense, and we missed the last five minutes of The Big Bang Theory, just as Leonard was about to confront the guy who had bullied him in high school and still turned out to be quite an arse in adult life, someone who only wanted to use him for profit. Another digression. It's all digression.
My wife's father died 29 years ago today and I can tell that, for her, the wound is still as fresh as it was then. She was only a teenager when he passed away, and I can only imagine what that must have done to her mindset for the next few years. I won't dwell on it, but that was the reason I decided to put all else aside and just hang out with her today, doing things I thought she would enjoy. But the restaurant was crap. It was a place we've gone many times before and usually the service is quite good and the food generally acceptable. Today was not that day. The service was horrible, the seating was awful and generally speaking, it was not a great place for lunch today. Every time I asked for something, the waitress said, "No." She brought us our meal, which was passable, but the portions were incredibly small compared to what they used to be. I didn't complain, but I won't be going back there again, ever.
So why can't people just be nice? Why can't restaurants offer a decent meal at a fair price, served by a waitress who knows how to pretend to give a damn that you're sitting there? Sure, maybe she had a bad day. But it's like those drivers who take up two lanes with their SUV's or think the rules of the road and common courtesy don't apply to them--everyone can have a bad day, but that doesn't give you the right to ruin someone else's bad day. Stay home.
Now, I realize I'm risking ruining a few days of my own with this blog entry, so I'll put things in perspective. I'm a fairly even-keeled person. It takes a lot to make me angry--I mean really angry. I would never hurt anyone intentionally. I genuinely like people and, in fact, I'm in a good mood today despite the way people behave.
But I feel more and more that the world is becoming less kind to those who are kind.
Having said that, we stopped in at the Anna Templeton annual art and craft fair on Duckworth Street around noon today and the atmosphere was lovely and vibrant--I love hanging out with creative people. They have such a different take on the world, one that I find inspiring to behold. Sometimes I think I could easily have lived my entire world in such a culture, never having to breathe the musty air of an office of any sort. The first book I ever read was "Little Women." I was in Grade Two and completely on my own because I had finished my math assignments before everyone else (I did the entire year's work in a weekend and just presented it to the teacher as she asked for it). It was a sunny morning in November, and I chose the book because of the opening lines which presented Jo March and her sisters preparing for Christmas without the presence of their father, who was off to war. I remember wanting to be a member of the March family, which is why I liked Laurie, the boy next door who had similar designs. But I mostly identified with Jo because she wanted to be a writer, wanted to break from the restrictions of society, was always arguing against authority or putting on a play to illustrate the injustices of the world, the foibles of humanity. And then, near the end of the story, she publishes her first book, a copy of which gets delivered to her house. Before that, of course, her little sister burns her manuscript and Jo must begin again, but not before swearing her infinite hatred for the young scourge.
Where is this going? First, I admit that I had my own version of Jo's story come true today when I received the contract for Finton Moon, my first novel. I'm still that seven-year-old boy at heart. I read and reread the email from my publisher, even though I've known for a few weeks now that the novel would be published. As I told her, it's the difference between living together and being married. I won't explain--you know what I mean. But I've been working on Finton's story for so long--one that I'm sure has some of its inspiration in Alcott's story--that today was very much a special day for me. It was the best of times and oh yes, the worst of times. Publishing a first novel, with such great news coming just before Christmas. My first royalty cheque for Moonlight Sketches is in the mail to me. And then there's the darker side--that sad anniversary, that strange lunch downtown. And the bitter cold sweeping up Duckworth Street as we shuttled towards the car, having had to park at the very end of the street for lack of parking spaces.
It was also a week when it cost us a thousand dollars to fix a problem with our car. Easy come, easy go (sort of). A week of having to get our toilet taken apart and practically rebuilt by the plumber because the dang thing didn't work. A week of much much.
And here I am, having written so much and not really sure what I'm trying to say.
The university semester is winding down, and I'm getting tons of emails from students who want meetings or a few wonder if I'll read their revised paper or whether it's okay if they pass in the paper that they didn't submit back in October when it was due. People wanting reference letters. Emails upon emails to answer.
I also had a three-hour meeting with my editor. Lots of work to do. Enough said.
And there are many among my friends who have had a difficult week. I won't go into detail, but suffiice to say that I feel for them all and wish I could help them all. So I try. The only thing I really have to give--the thing that is most precious to me of all because I am constantly aware, like Tristram Shandy, of the ticking clock that pursues me through life--the only thing I have to give is my time. And so I give it. It's not much, but it seems to help a little.
And Christmas is coming, in case you haven't heard. I'm not one of those people who despises the season. I'll blog about it another time, I'm sure, but the fact is that I love Christmas--I love its difference, its reminder to slow down in life, to be kinder to one another, to light up the world with our song and lights, our laughter and dance. To me, it's not a religious holiday, despite its moniker. It's a time of hope. A reminder of the best that we are capable of. There's a dark side too, which for now I choose not to acknowledge in this entry.
But, above all the hustle and bustle and noise, noise noise, is it any wonder that I feel strung out, that I can barely sleep when I put my head on the pillow, that I hear above it all the ticking of that clock, like some hook-handed pirate in one of my favourite adult fairytales.
All boys grow up except for one.
Maybe what I'm feeling is that pull towards growing up--something the world keeps reminding me I should have done years ago. But I simply refuse. So I write. I choose to be artistic. I choose to express myself. I choose to kick at the darkness. I choose to laugh in the face of inadequate service and treat the feelings of my fellow creatures as if they were important. Because they are.
Occupy. Occupy. Occupy.
I'm sick of it. Sick of the protesting. Sick of the need to protest. Sick of those who protest against the protesters. Can't we just give people what they want and call it square and fair? They're not asking for the moon. Among other things, they're asking for jobs.
Oh, how greedy is that! How unfair that they expect jobs and affordable housing and three square meals a day and the chance to send their children to a good school and not have to worry about whether they can afford books or pencils or lunch, or whether they're being bullied without the parents' knowledge. Or whether they actually are bullies themselves. Strange how it all comes back to "The Big Bang Theory."
I think that episode of the returning bully struck a particularly raw nerve last night. (I'm aware of the over-simplification here--but I'm also aware of the public's propensity for over-complication. It comes down to mutual respect and human dignity.)
I've never been bullied per se. Not in high school, not by guys bigger than me or people who wanted to steal my lunch money. But, as a writer, artist, gentle soul who wants only the best for those around me, I sometimes feel that the world is a bully. Life in the twenty-first century is a bully. Advertisers are bullies. Banks are bullies. Teachers can be bullies. Other writers--the ones who judge you badly and even turn their backs--if you're not a member of their clique, or haven't won the right awards or written the kind of work that they would have written--they too can be bullies. Even those artists who insist that the world owe them a living can be quite tyrannical and self-righteous. The world owes us nothing, but we owe much to the world.
Getting closer to a point here?
I think so, but I'm still unsure of what it is. I think I'm just tired. I feel like Charlie Brown who is generally happy with life but feels a little bit too much of the sadness and commerciality of it all. It's not a phobia I have, though. I genuinely feel that change for the better is possible. I see good things in the world, good people, even great people, who act with the courage of their convictions and bring light to an all-too-dark world. I don't even fear that the darkness is winning. It's not really about that. I think that if we're still alive and have some hope for humanity, then we're actually winning.
That might sound hopelessly optimistic, but maybe that's just what I am. I know that "in the end dark is right," but I also believe that the night is "good" and "gentle" as it is infinite and harsh.
This blog entry changes nothing. It does get some stuff out of my head. And that's enough for now.