Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Avoidance and Engagement

Out last night with my father, I saw a guy I used to work with at a school long ago. Nice enough guy though we were never close. I've seen him out before though he hasn't seen me. Each time I've seen him, I've noted that fact, considered saying hello, rejected that idea, and gone on with my day. Last night, for whatever reason, I decided that I wanted to say something to him. I told my father I would be right back and went down to where the guy was sitting, said hello to him and talked for a few minutes. It was fine.

None of this is such an earth-shattering event, but it is both usual and unusual for me. The unusual part is going to the guy instead of just thinking about it. I often enough think that it would be good to do such and such thing but leave it as an idea for another time. Usually my nerves get to me or I think too much on it, considering the reasons for doing something versus the reasons not to. It becomes an intellectual exercise and, overthinking things completely, I take myself out of the situation.

Then again, this was all very safe. I know the guy, we've had a passing acquaintance that would never be described as friendship, but there's no real risk involved. I can say hello to him, put myself out there without having to go out very far, and then go back to life proud that I've broken out of my comfortable shell. It's all very safe.

The more difficult situations are those in which I see someone with whom I've been a closer friend but haven't seen in ages. I had this happen a few weeks back as a lecture I attended. I was there by myself and, getting out of the car, noticed someone I had known very well walking just ahead of me. I hung back knowing two things: if I caught up with them I would have to act cheerfully though I was feeling anything but and there was a real risk that the person might ask me to sit with them. I couldn't face that much contact and that much discussion. The person had known me for a very long time and would ask how life and work are going. Life, I could report about, but work is a thing I'm trapped in and I would feel a failure at something this person had been spectacular at. I didn't want to deal with that feeling publicly.

Then, before the lecture began, that person was joined by three or four other people I have known just as long and around whom I felt the same way. Sitting across the room from them, keeping my head in a notebook without writing much of anything, I felt the shame of the lost and almost prayed not to be noticed. I even considered leaving the lecture to get away and, the moment the event was over, I was out the door and into my car, a man in hiding, a fugitive from himself.

I am uncomfortable with my situation but know that the best way forward is to be accepting of who I am and what I have done. Yes, I'm working a job that I don't love and feeling almost desperate to escape it. The more I feel that, the more stuck in it I feel and the more embarrassed I am of myself. That embarrassment pushes me inward and away from people, it has me moving backward. Fear has that effect on me.

My situation at work is not really so terrible and I'm beginning to understand and feel that. It's not dream work and I don't love it, but neither is it so difficult for me. I keep work at work and drop it as soon as the whistle blows like Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog from the old Warner Bros. cartoon. At home I write and read, I am with my family, and, unless there is some odd occurrence, I don't consider work at all. I don't put a lot of my energies into a job that has been so unrewarding for several years. I'm investing elsewhere.

Still, I have long identified myself as a teacher at the school in which I teach. When that crumbles, when the school turns out to be something that disappoints, I feel disappointing rather than disappointed. That is, I feel as though I have failed and have to hide. It's the feeling I had at the lecture when the people there mattered to me as opposed to last night with a guy through whom I had never measured myself.

The engagement and avoidance effects apply here as well, to writing and publishing. I have been writing like a madman lately, averaging almost 3,000 words each day, but almost none of it has seen the light of day. It has all been me wrestling with things, trying to understand what to do with myself, how to live. I'm feeling nervous about myself and my possibilities and so I keep away from anyone who might read me through my writing. It seems the wrong way to go. Whatever it is that I have to say, I know that I might as well say it. I might as well put something of myself out into the world. I might as well get used to the fact that I am who and what I am and I'll get better by going forward rather than retreating.

I might just as well, in other words, write on.