I was reading Playboy over the weekend. Yes. Really. I love the articles. I appreciate the pretty pictures, too. Naked airbrushed ladies—what’s not to like?
Anyway, I got to the end of an interview with David Brooks, who is a conservative I don’t mind. (That means most far-right conservatives dismiss him.) He said something about change, how we really can’t change ourselves, only our environment and habits. But we’re always, essentially, the same.
It wasn’t a new or terribly deep thought. There was much more that was interesting and meaningful in the interview. (I certainly agree with his pessimistic/critical overview of President Obama.) It stayed with me, however, the idea of never really being able to change. My current situation demands change.
I’ve given change a lot of thought over the years. A lot. I’ve never approved of myself, and can’t ever recall a time in my life I didn’t want to be a different person—a different type of person. The only thing I accepted about myself without question was my sexual preference. In time I came to believe God or the Fates or whatever decided, “Look, this kid’s gonna be a mess. Let’s give him one thing about himself he won’t dislike.”
So, I was okay in that department. I honestly never understood what the big deal was—the gay thing. As I said to my mother once, “But it’s only sex. If I live a long life, I hope I’ll have more to remember than who I slept with.” She didn’t see it my way. At least not until it was almost too late.
Everything else? My basic personality, the person I always seem to have been? I did not like him. I did not like him when I was eight or nine—which is when I believe I more or less fully jelled. And I certainly haven’t grown any fonder of him.
By the time I was twelve, I was busy wondering, “What the hell is the matter with you, seriously?” In the catchphrase of the moment, I suppose I judged myself every day with an arch “Really?!
I was smart enough to know my childhood hadn’t been a picnic and surely had affected me. I was also smart enough to know others had it much worse and got over it.
It’s not that I sat around suffering my childhood, or feeling sorry for myself. It was more a matter of being kind of appalled by myself. And then shrugging. And then being somewhat amused. What twisted form of narcissism was this? I didn’t think I was much of anything, but I sure thought about myself a lot!
Aside from a rabid adoration of movies, I was without interests or hobbies. It’s not even as if I wanted to be in movies, or make movies or write movies. I was content to watch—rapt and inert. I loved to read but where did that get me? The more I read and understood, the less complete a person I felt I was. Where was motivation? Where was an innate sense of discipline. Where was self-respect? (Because I don’t believe you can have self-respect without motivation and discipline.)
And where were deep feelings for others? I wasn’t cold or mean. Quite the opposite, I was charming. The whole birds from the trees bit. I was selfish, but could be impulsively thoughtful and generous. I felt things sentimentally—crying over a movie or a book. But I seemed incapable of anything deeper. I thought. (I don’t know what I expected to feel deeply at the age of twelve.) I was profoundly lethargic emotionally. I didn’t have the gumption to become even a serial killer or a drug addict or a burglar.
I would sit on the stoop of my mother’s apartment in Queens and watch people pass by. I’d think, “They are real people. They have real feelings.” I was fascinated by the idea that we are all so separate; each one of us a little universe. I’d watch people walk on and away and still farther away until I couldn’t see them anymore. They hadn’t noticed me, but I’d noticed them. And whether they knew it or not, I’d been a part of their universe for a minute or two. It made me feel more connected. Maybe if I watched enough people, I’d catch what they had? Ah, but remember I told you I was smart about myself? I was. And even at 12 I knew “watching” wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I had to involve myself. But I didn’t want to. It was…too much trouble. Yes, as much as I longed for, or thought I longed for, or told myself I longed for “life”—I didn’t do a damn thing to achieve it.
I could have dealt with my mother, difficult as she was, differently. I could have made more of an effort with school guidance counselors and even one of those Big Brothers I had for a short while. (My mother felt I needed a male influence. I agreed. She simply didn’t know the sort of male influence I was seeking. My Big Brother was clueless as well—dumb, hot and straight.)
But I was already—how to put it—fatigued by life. I’d been nowhere, experienced nothing of consequence, and yet I was as tired as Garbo in “Camille.” And like Miss G. I didn’t mind being alone. I often preferred it. At times, the simplest question, “how are you?” seemed to me like a gross invasion of my privacy. Why did I have to explain myself to anyone? This quirk hasn’t been easy on people close to me—people I’ve lived with. Maybe it goes back to all the different “placements” of my childhood—the requirements expected of me in each new environment. No matter, it’s an unpleasant attitude.
Leaving home at 15 wasn’t a big deal. It had never felt like home, anyway. It was an inevitable consequence of lethargy. It was the easiest thing to do. And I knew just what I’d be doing, so no surprises there. I wasn’t unhappy yet. In fact 15 to 24 were the happiest years of my life. Sure, I had my periodic musing—“what the hell is the matter with you?” But it was the 1960’s and 70’s. I was young and cute and in New York. I had no money but I didn’t need any. A smile worked. I was indolent—reading, watching TV, listening to the radio. Usually all at the same time. Eventually, my indolence palled. I knew I had to move on. I did. I tried.
In all the years that followed, I can count on one hand, with maybe a finger (or two) left over, the positive, comparatively adult decisions I’ve made in life. They were difficult, I was full of fear—my usual state—but I tried to change. Yet I didn’t. I made the decision—this “right” decision–and then stood aside and allowed myself to be prodded along.
I was often prodded into quite reasonable facsimiles of motivation, discipline, and a pretty good work ethic, despite chronic procrastination. In the end, however, I found myself always forcing those who cared enough, to enable me—treating me as a fully functioning adult was a path to disaster. I would only allow so much of that! (I am the strongest weak person you’ll ever not meet.)
In at least one case, my best interests were not truly tended to by my enabler, but I had plenty of opportunities to turn that situation around. Did I? Not on your life. Self-sabotage was my middle name. I fell, eventually, into a steaming pot of resentment that looked like comfort food. Staying was killing me. Going was certain death.
Now I am gone from that situation, more or less. Am I dead? Not quite. But I haven’t felt truly alive—or in any case as alive as I ever allowed myself to feel—for at least ten years.
I’d like to say I had hoped to “change” once I was free of my responsibilities. That would be a big fat lie. I’ve never “hoped” for anything meaningful.
Okay, once I did hope. And I got it. I haven’t treated it very well. Certainly not in recent years. Or ever, perhaps. I don’t know. I did behave like somebody with a heart, when I hoped for B. (Shit—I behaved like Lana Turner—hysterical phone calls to airports, opening his mail and all-around messy, romantic disarray.)
Certainly, despite some rough years at the beginning, B. came to treat me like somebody who did indeed have a heart. Unfortunately, I also encouraged him to treat me like a boy with a slight learning disability—though I was a full grown man and not at all disabled. And then I resented that.
Never enough resentment to change, needless to say.
At no other time in my life has change been as vital to me, to B., to the few friends who remain, as it is now. And never have I been more resistant. I play the age card (but I’m not that old.) I play the helpless child card (I am way too old.) I sit silently in my room cluttered with dead-movie-star memorabilia. I read. I watch TV. Do I attempt anything constructive? No. Do I even speak at this point? No. Over this past weekend I don’t think ten words passed my lips.
I feel perhaps, at this point, B. is relieved, though hurt, all the same. I’ve said nothing new in years. But I am his and he is mine. Can I ever grow up? Can I ever alter our environment and habits? Is it all my fault? Can this marriage be saved, dear Ladies Home Journal?
So…I know at least one of you out there found a recent post of mine depressing, though it was not at all personal. (It was about Obama!) I replied saying if I’d written what I was feeling, you’d all kill yourselves or track me down to put me out of my misery. I don’t expect any suicides, but I will let you know I’ve put myself in witness protection, just in case anybody’s feeling the mercy-killing thing.
There’s no neat round-up to this post. This is what I’m feeling. This is my outlet. You are my hapless victims. I love you all, despite the battering I’ve just delivered.
If I was in better shape I’d do a column about that monumental egomaniac—and perhaps dangerous “medical adviser”–Suzanne Somners. She diverted me on CNN’s Piers Morgan the other night. Those lips, that face, the self-love. OMG, the self-love! Gotta admire it, grisly though it is.
Till next time, better times, I hope.