I woke early this morning, before the late summer sun had had a chance to burn away the clinging mist. Rain happens close to the ground here, sometimes, and the sound of steady dripping from the leaves of trees belied the clear sky that arched beyond the silvery gauze of humidity. That’s something I’d forgotten about, living in a desert town for so long. I look over, across the porch, to where my journal sits on the table. She was privvy to some strange thoughts this morning, as I waited for the mist to burn away and the fog of sleep to clear from my brain.
The Compassion of Perspective
What does it mean to put someone up on a pedestal? Do we imagine them better, attribute to them qualities they do not possess, at least not in the fullness we imagine? Is it a matter of expecting them to be better than they are in simple terms, or are we measuring them against a standard they have no way of attaining, a thing we have created in the privacy of our minds? I am not innocent of this. I’ve done this–I tend to see only the best in people. I see that of which they are capable, not that which they are or what they are willing to be. It is sometimes unfair–to whom it’s unfair, I’ll leave you to judge.
Sometimes, that pedestal only brings them up to a standard I choose to live by. In other cases, it is the elaboration of a beautiful facet of who they are, and I extrapolate that beauty to their entire being. Perhaps I seek someone to admire, someone for whom I might work to be worthy. I only ever see this in hindsight–and that is a flaw I am willing to own. It’s a major hampering aspect about me, but one I’ve not yet found an effective way to change. I won’t claim that this makes it right or fair or better than any other way of being. Because it doesn’t. This is just my way of being emotionally and intellectually honest with myself, and with you.
Human beings are complex creatures, and my brown study of my own soul often leads me to examine how I interact with others. I seldom enjoy the conclusions I reach, but I think such brooding can be constructive, and I should not turn away from it simply because it doesn’t show me a favorable reflection of myself. I ought to know better than to artificially elevate people–for any reason–by putting them on a pedestal–of any height.
Psyche’s Pedestal Makes Me Bitey
That’s because, for as long as I can remember, people have been putting me on one. It’s happened often enough that I even have a particular name for this kind of elevation. The story of Psyche and Eros describes a woman so beautiful she made the goddess of love jealous. But no one would marry her. People left her alone, and I cannot even imagine how lonely her life might have been–oh, wait. Yes, I can. Psyche’s Pedestal is what we do to people who are too much of anything we deem socially awesome. They’ve got so much of quality x, that we avoid them. They become frightening, rather than simply admirable. You can see this at work with physical beauty, intellectual acuity, talents of many varieties.
It’s not that I want someone to put me down, but I’d pay dearly just to have someone who sees me and loves what they see. In a way, I’ve already paid a heavy price, just looking for someone who’s not going to shove me up on that pedestal and make of me a thing to fear, to be distant from. I’m not claiming unearthly physical beauty, although you might say that beauty is an incredibly subjective thing. I’ve never aspired to be recognized in that way. What people seem to fear is my penchant for words–both the fact that I write and the fact that I am a writer. When it comes to that, I wouldn’t assume that I’m any better than the people whose writing I have always used as benchmarks of quality.
But my opinion of myself is not what I’m talking about. It’s lonely here, and I wish someone would come along and help me trample this plinth into the dust.
Dangerous at Both Ends, and Crafty in the Middle
Recently, a number of people I know have formed serious romantic attachments. I want you to know, I’m so happy for you on a personal level. But on an abstract level, I’m jealous as “all getout.” I want your happiness to be mine. I covet it. I crave it. And I hate myself a little bit for that, because it’s such a low emotional state, to experience anger at my aloneness. I have to acknowledge that it is at least partially my own doing. It is a choice I have made to not go through the accepted social channels that everyone else does–trying people on like shoes or clothes, to find one that fits and pleases the senses as well.
I want someone who isn’t intimidated by me, someone who fits me. I want someone who isn’t exhausted by my chattiness, who is just as engaged with life and just as thirsty to drink the experience of being alive. I want someone who looks in the same direction I do, not at me. I desire to be engaged in a state of mutual amazement and admiration with another human being who seeks contact with the world in a way that compliments my way of being. Where is this magical creature, I wonder? I look at my reflection. “Probably married,” my eyes say to me, and I laugh a little at myself.
A Matter of Fit, Not General Quality
So, I’ve been mulling over these things this morning, and my journal patiently took notes. I pondered why I had wanted one particular individual in the first place. I’ve come to understand that they are not quite as intelligent as I might wish, though they’re smart enough. I make them tired with my incessant chatter, and they don’t seem to notice very much about the world. Nor are they curious about what they’re missing. Their brain doesn’t churn or burn or squiggle and jitter to be let out onto the page or the canvas or the workshop table. They don’t exhibit any urge to create, but are comfortable just riding the current.
There’s definitely a place for this person in my life. They’re good and they are making efforts to improve themselves. I think that’s fantastic, and I want to help them in any way I can. But I have to recognize that though they have about them that ripe human electricity of delicious sexuality, they aren’t nearly as enticing as I had imagined. It becomes not about overall goodness or worthiness–they are sweet and without malice. But it is a question of fitness. I don’t want the whole of who they are–even if they do sizzle and shimmer in a rather pleasing, sensual way–and that makes them all wrong for me.
If I could have kept things shallow with them, not asked questions or desired to know them more deeply, the illusion of their desirability might have persisted long enough for me to make the mistake of trying to sleep with them. Then again, with them, there’s the question of pedestals. They are, for better or worse, a little bit afraid of me. And it makes me realize, that it does not matter how finely a garment is made, nor how good the material–if it doesn’t fit, it’s not worth any price.
“A ‘bargain’ is something you don’t need at a price you can’t resist.” ~Franklin Jones
I guess that goes for people, too, Mr. Jones.
Soul Cages Come in All Sizes
So, these were the thoughts that came to me with my first cup of coffee. I wondered about this individual, who has recently found a wonderful companion. I wrote, and asked why I should be envious of this, of the vague tableau of two of them waking next to one another. Slowly, I realized that this woman is someone for whom they don’t have to work hard, for whom they never need to try to be better than they are. She doesn’t challenge them. She is easy to be with because she asks nothing of them–whether explicitly by making demands or implicitly by being more “anything” than my acquaintance can handle.
“I stop and think about that for a second. Is this quality what I am missing? Does my very mode of being ask too much of people? Even if I make no overt demands of them, do they feel somehow pressured or inadequate? Should I somehow try to make myself smaller, or dimmer, or less curious or less…something?”
I think about these things and I have to ask myself, “Did I just spend my entire life trying to avoid being put in a box only to discover that I’m going to have to break myself until I can fit into one too small to accommodate me as I am?” I can’t accept that, and so we come back to the act of choosing to be alone. I can’t settle for something that means the loss of being who I am. It isn’t a matter of making concessions or seeing people as they are, though that is surely a part of a working partnership. It becomes all about what I am unwilling to do to myself to render myself desirable.
Why should I stunt myself just so they can feel better about not being better than they are? Arrogance? Surely, but it doesn’t alter the fact that I can’t unmake myself. I have to build upon and incorporate what is here. I will of course, continue to try to learn gentleness. That’s a learning curve I’m having trouble with, but we have reached the end of this segment and the day is waiting.