25 May, 2012

Nothing else for it, I guess. (Part final.)


‘…’


‘Evening Karp, evening Mitch.’


‘Evening Tate, nice to see you.’


‘Tate always a pleasure.’


‘Thank you kind sirs very much indeed. I couldn’t help overhearing what y’all were saying just this past while, from where I was sitting over by the pinball machine – which machine is broken again Mitch, by the way, and just ate three of my best quarters.’


‘Which quarters I’ll be more than happy to refund Tate, thanks for letting me know about the machine.’


‘I would be most grateful for that Mitch, thank you. But so as I couldn’t help but overhear what y’all were saying, and seeing as I’m the only one of us three here so far as I know who’s an actual father, well I thought you might welcome the benefit of my experience being brought to bear on some of the questions y’all are considering here this evening.’


‘That would be fine Tate, am I right Karp?’


‘Indeed Tate, bear away with the first hand experience.’


‘Well now Karp let me say that I have a huge amount of appreciation and respect for the anxieties you’re expressing here re potentially starting a family, primarily because they are very similar to, albeit unpacked much more thoroughly than, the anxieties I was feeling at about this juncture in my own life, that is to say in my own pre-parental thought process. In other words I can tell you straight shooting that what you’re feeling is perfectly normal and healthy, but of course not for those reasons banal or trite, because even though just about every thinking man’s going to have similar thoughts when he’s trying to decide whether to try to conceive, that doesn’t mean that the individual instances of those thoughts and feelings are any less poignant or real or at all easy to bear.’


‘That’s well said Tate and much appreciated.’


‘Thank you Karp, thank you very much.’


‘Tate I’m just going to ibid Karp on this one, pretty much.’


‘To which I will ibid myself Mitch, mutatis mutandis.’


‘…’


‘Right so Karp as I was saying, I know precisely where you’re coming from, but let me tell you where you’re going. It’s hard to explain, but once you have a child and see that little person smiling up at you despite his or her perfect vulnerability and dependence – which BTW [sic] Karp if you think you’re taking a risk feelings-wise by having a child, try imagining your baby trusting you with their survival without even knowing what ‘trust’ or ‘survival’ even means, i.e. [sic] without even knowing what they (your child) don’t know…’


‘…’


‘…but so you’re standing there holding something in your arms that is of you and by you and my goodness gracious Karp it’s a whole new world. Your capacity for love and understanding and patience and regard for the goodness in all others - not just your baby - increases enormously, exponentially, in fact basically almost immediately you’re looking around for the nearest logarithmic function in order to express on a more manageable scale the rate of increase in your capacity to love all things. It’s literally the best feeling you could possibly imagine having.’


‘…’


‘That does sound pretty good Karp, I have to say.’


‘I hear you Mitch, it certainly does sound that way.’


‘And another thing Karp, that I definitely didn’t see coming, was about all those things I thought I wanted to do in my life before the baby, which until I held the little guy in my arms the thought of him struck me as not so much a line in the sand but a crevasse into which my future was sure to fall, forever, but it hasn’t turned out that way. I just don’t think about myself first and foremost anymore Karp. One of the most important things my child has taught me – it’s worth hearing that again, that my child has taught me – just by being his own little perfect and adorable self, is that the key to happiness in the world is not necessarily fulfilling every one of my own personal desires. The work of a father is it’s own reward, Karp, and your child will be there every day to remind you of that blessed and beautiful fact.’


‘Tate that was exquisitely shared brother. Standing-O.’


‘Thank you Mitch, but I’m going to have to give most of the credit here to young Brackett, who in a very real way has taught me most of what I know that’s worth knowing, I now know.’


‘…’


‘…’


‘Well now Tate let me first acknowledge just how beautiful and appreciated your sharing was, truly, notwithstanding what anyone here might think of it in terms of its effect on the sentiments and conclusions heretofore expressed and elaborated. That was just wonderful openness you demonstrated and I am truly grateful for everything you’ve said here this evening.’



‘Karp you’ve got to be kidding me if you’re going to come back here with a rebuttal, although I certainly do respect and acknowledge whatever feelings you may have to express in that regard.’


‘Mitch you have not misinterpreted the gist of my prefatory remarks there.’


‘…’


‘…’


‘Because see now Tate while I have no doubt as to the veracity and verisimilitude of your description of your feelings about the mental and emotional revelations and even paradigm shifts Brought To You By Young Brackett, it occurs to me that you have no reason to tell us, or more importantly yourself, any different.’


‘Karp I hear you brother and I’m respecting your difference of opinion here, fully and truly, but I am also having a bit of difficulty understanding just what is the content of that different opinion. Would you mind terribly elaborating there upon?’


‘Not at all Tate and thank you for your acknowledgment. When you said before that one of the keys to happiness turns out not to be fulfilling every one of your desires, I think what you really meant to say, or at least all you really could say, is that what you desire changes after you have a child. In other words, once you’re a father you don’t have any reason to dwell on all the things that might have been, or that you could have accomplished, with the time and resources you’re now committed to devoting to young Brackett. It’s just undeniable that the opportunity cost of having a child is stupendous…’


‘Well I hear you there Karp and I’m sorry to interrupt but I have to say that’s the sort of thing only a person who’s never had a child would say, because you really can’t appreciate how the concept of ‘opportunity cost’ just doesn’t apply when you’re a parent; that’s how beautiful and amazing it is to hold your own child in your arms. You’ll see what I mean when you get there. Everything else pales in comparison.’


‘Well see now actually Tate you’re kind of making my point for me, by which I mean the intensity of your feelings just there, and your earlier use of phrases like ‘a whole new world’ and ‘happier than you could ever imagine being’, basically describing something like a state of rapture w/r/t [sic] how it feels to become a father, well Tate I hate to say this but that’s just what you’d expect from a guy who just said toodle-oo to the next fifteen or twenty years of his life. I mean you’ve got to be terrified you made the wrong decision, and even more terrified that that first-order terror is going to undermine or in some way sabotage your obligations to young Brackett, and thus guarantee what it is you were terrified of in the first place. Because remember, no matter how you slice it, young Brackett never asked you to bring him into the world, but you did, and now he’s here and it’s your responsibility to give him the best chance at life you can.’


‘Well you’re right about that at least Karp, that any such slicing would be to no avail.’


‘I’m afraid that no avail applies to more than just the slicing, Tate, because as Mitch and I’ve just been discussing, as a father you inevitably encounter a disheartening set of circumstances: whether to (1) raise a child with near-perfect emotional acuity and practice, in which case say goodbye to any hope of genuine or meaningful recognition or reciprocation of affection from your own child, or (2) you can let your child decide for themselves whether to (a) go for honesty and respect vis a vis their own and other’s emotional needs and expressions of same, or (b) some version of the opposite course, all versions of which are to varying degrees hideous and morally ablated, which means you risk unleashing some horrible emotional terror onto everyone else in the world, an outcome that seems almost certain in the absence of a strict and medieval-type course of childhood training and development (in which case see (1)) given how just about everyone in the world seems to operate on some emotionally degraded level.’


‘…’


‘…’


‘Well you know Karp I must say I’ve never thought of it quite like that, and while your schematic description was both creative and helpful I could still use a bit of an upshot, if you don’t mind terribly.’ 

 



‘That’s kind of you to say Tate and it would be my pleasure. The upshot here is that having a child puts you as a parent in the horrible situation of being, as it were, stuck between a rock and a hard place whilst precariously balanced atop a sharp steel spike (i.e. [sic] emotional automaton vs. potential guerrilla narcissist, whilst trying not to let your now-realized fear of just this kind of hideous predicament cause you to bear any kind of grudge or resentment towards the at least in this case wholly innocent young Brackett), in which case it’s only natural to close your eyes and hope for all you’re worth – or more likely just decide – that children really are a paradigm shift, and there’s no better feeling in the world than what you’re about to experience, and so no matter what you think you’ve given up or lost it just pales in comparison to What Dreams May Surely Come, which dreams most certainly do not include rocks or hard places or pointy implements of hardened alloy.’


‘Well now…’


‘Indeed…’


‘And plus further, don’t be surprised that all the other parents you meet at day care or first grade lemonade sales or neo-natal yoga or whatever all tell you the same story, and you trade superlatives in describing how special you feel to Be A Parent, no matter how difficult some days or weeks might be, because obviously Tate all those people have the same skewed incentives that you do, are facing the same terrible certainty that only gets more terrible and more certain the more they think about it, and don’t kid yourself about the tacit but very real pressure to conform in the collective myopia, and the Antarctic wilderness that’s waiting for anyone who breaks with the tribe’s folklore and suggests having a child is not ultimately if sometimes irregularly Bliss on Tap.’


‘…’


‘…’


‘So basically Tate what I’m saying, and really with all due respect and appreciation for your sharing of your feelings and your earnest and sincere desire to contribute to our collective understanding here this evening, is that the only chance to really think clearly about what it might be like to have a child, and whether it’s actually the worst or at least something far from the best decision a person could ever make, is sometime before conception, [FN9]
because after that, well, there’s nothing else for it, I guess.’ 

***

[FN9] Just not even going there. 



[End.] 

24 May, 2012

Nothing else for it, I guess. (Part three.)





 

‘…’

‘Well Karp I certainly can see why you’re worrying about this so much, it’s a veritable swamp of emotional despond.’


‘A very bleak midwinter indeed Mitch, parenting-wise, and actually hold on to your hat because it gets even worse, I think. Because if you really think about how a particularly well-behaved and emotionally adept child got to be that way (and so far as I can figure most people don’t really think about this, unless you count vague and annoying bromides like You’re mother must be very proud), then you realize all that child's doing is practicing what’s been drilled into them for years, in which case to the extent a person on the receiving end of so much kind and generous attention appears to feel appreciated and respected and cared for – like even including the kid’s parents and extended family members – in fact, those good feelings are just going to be so many people’s projections of their own desires for affection and understanding onto the well-behaved child, which child, unbeknownst to the world (not to mention the child), thinks about other peoples’ feelings in the same way he or she thinks about trying to duck out of the way of a snowball, which is to say not with the kind of significance we usually think could make us feel good and respected and appreciated.’


‘…’


‘And so of course just think about the repercussions if everyone raised their children to be perfect emotional angels, rigorously trained to be effusive and caring and attentive to the emotional needs of others, or for that matter the extent to which all forms of socialized politeness are really nothing more than husks in the emotional cornfield, insofar as people are just doing the done thing, and so even if someone was expressing genuine recognition and appreciation you could never really know. That is, if you thought about it, which instead people seem almost universally and unthinkingly to treat this sort of behaviour as a mirror in which to reflect their own deeply poignant and still unmet emotional desires.’


‘…’


‘…’


‘Everything OK Mitch?’


‘Yup sure thing Karp, just taking a few moments for reflection.’


‘I sure do appreciate Mitch the respect and care you’re communicating through your careful attention to and reflection on what I’m trying my best here to honestly communicate re my child-having anxieties.’


‘Definitely hear you there Karp, and appreciate it, but have to say it’s difficult to simultaneously reflect and receive acknowledgement for same.’


‘The beauty of the emotional irony.’


‘…’


‘…’


‘Actually sorry Mitch, I just thought of an example: it’s kind of like giving myself a birthday present but putting my child’s name on the card, which lots of parents seem to do, and then take perverse and so far as I can tell patently unwarranted pleasure in the receiving of, like even going so far as thanking their kid for the gift. Which I suppose you might say is just a way of including the child in the festivities, but clearly there’s some pretty emphatic socialization going on here, and in any event parents really do seem tickled that their young child 'got them a present', or maybe it’s just the thought of their young child getting them a present that tickles them, which if that’s not a blatant exercise in treating your child like an emotional mirror I don’t know what is.’ [FN7]


‘…’


‘…’


‘OK Karp, while I appreciate everything you’ve been suggesting here and sharing and exemplifying and doing so if I may say with exquisite care and aplomb, it does seem to me you’re beating-up on a bit of a straw man here.’

‘I appreciate your appreciation Mitch, and I’m sending you a receipt therefore.’


‘Receipt of receipt acknowledged Karp. But now despite all that’s been so eloquently articulated thus far, surely it matters that as part of your child’s emotional education – which I have to say, it’s hard to think of two parents better equipped to deliver that particular lesson plan than you and the Ellester – surely part of the curriculum is going to be a review of the reasons why this way of treating people is better than some other ways.’


‘…’


‘That is to say, Karp, that clearly you’re going to make it clear to your child just how horrible and demeaning and emotionally disfiguring it can be when someone declines to acknowledge and respect your attention and other more poignant modes of emotional expression, and so give your child a perfect understanding of why your way of being in the world is better than other ways, so that your child can choose your way over those other ways, or perhaps more accurately choose to retain that way of being, which she’s been raised to think is the right one; not to mention after she goes to school for all of half a day and discovers first hand the wrath of the emotionally occluded, which pre-teens and teens especially tend to be, and rabidly so.’


‘And what you’re saying Mitch is that by virtue of this understanding and choice my child will in fact be able to show genuine respect and appreciation for others’ feelings and the sharing of same, rather than a completely illusory or as it were reflexive and so meaningless version of that respect and appreciation?’


‘That’s what I’m saying Karp.’


‘…’


‘…’


‘Mitch once again I appreciate and acknowledge your contribution here, and your sharing with me some thoughts that definitely bear the imprimatur of honest reflection and thinking about the subject matter at hand.’


‘My pleasure Karp, although I have to say I’m starting to see a pattern here developing.’


‘That may well be Mitch but just remember, Step Four in our From Fights to Feelings Weekend Intensive Workshop last year, which step was to always remember that Your side does not a conversation make.


‘…’


‘…’


‘You’re right Karp, you’re right. I just need to Trust and abide to turn the feelings tide.


‘I’m here to support you Mitch, if you want to take some time out here to clear out some negative energy that’s manifesting as frustration, which frustration is perfectly normal and appropriate and even healthy, so long as we give it the proper space and release.’


‘I appreciate your offer Karp, but I think I’ll be OK. It’s enough just to pause and acknowledge my perfectly natural capacity for generating negative energy, to honour that part of me, which even though productive of negative energy is still beautiful and perfect and elegant, just like the rest of me, and to set those feelings aside for later but not forever and release them safely into my Feelings Journal before going to bed this evening.’


‘That sounds like a good plan to me Mitch, a very good plan indeed.’


‘Thank you Karp, and how about another of your usual?’


‘That’s fine Mitch, thanks very much. But so as I was saying earlier, there’s a fly in the ointment you’re dispensing about my child being presented with the full spectrum of alternatives re ways of treating other people, and then choosing to continue to behave towards those others in the way that the Ellester and I will have suggested and instructed and demonstrated.’


‘Go on Karp, I appreciate the little précis there to catch us back up to speed after my little detour down the unpaved roads of negative energy.’


‘Not at all Mitch, but so the problem is that there is just no way that any child of mine is going to have anything like a real choice between treating people as emotional equals and honouring and respecting those others’ attempts to share feelings and be emotionally open, on the one hand, and treating people in some other less-beautiful way, on the other. I mean, are you kidding me? When I know first hand how terrible and shattering and ablated it feels to have someone’s hiking boot tread embedded in the heart of your deepest and most authentic and fragile desires and self-conceptions? And to be the foot in that boot? And realize it’s your foot and what you’ve stepped in? I mean there’s just no way.’


‘…’


‘I mean really Mitch what parent do you know would give their young child that kind of choice? What parent knowingly let’s their child disrespect and demean other people, not to mention themselves as parents? [FN8]
Because it’s only real freedom to make these kinds of choices that's going to give a parent and really any other thinking person any confidence in the genuineness of the emotional sentiments expressed by children and, depending on the circumstances, many young adults.’ 


‘It’s probably fair to say that few parents are looking to give their children this sort of freedom Karp.’

‘Right - so in reality, even if my child does venture out into this cruel and inadequately parented world and discovers just how awful and destructive one person can be to another, and how easy it is to be this way, and how most people are this way all the time, especially to the people to whom they are closest, and just take everything for granted, well he or she isn’t really going to have a choice so far as I’m concerned, to be this other way.’ 

 


‘In other words Karp, if your child treats you or anyone else with respect and care, basically as the child’s emotional and moral equal, and that also happens to be precisely what you’ve taught your child to do and how to be and further intimated and perhaps on some occasions demonstrated through some of the toughest love you could really imagine that other ways of treating people are just Not On, including especially how the child treats you, her parents, then in fact you and everyone else really with whom your child interacts will never be sure what they’re receiving is genuine emotional feeling, or just some significant-looking but ultimately vapid gesture they’ve learned to deploy in circumstances like these.’

‘Mitch I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nobody likes a simulacrum.’


'...'


***

[FN7] When K was very young his parents enacted precisely this drama, including with presents like booze, which no word of a lie K’s mother told him once that’s what she and his father used to do, i.e. give each other booze and put K’s name on the card until he was like six years old, and then whenever K’s parents’ friends came over to watch the game or something K’s parents would always say Who wants some of the booze that Karpy gave us for our birthday? and expect K to clap or smile or something, and all the friends would think that was just great and play along, and it’s just too depressing for K to even think about the level of irony that may or may not have been deployed at the time. 

[FN8] In other words, the choice of being like pre-E K, q.v. in and around note three, supra.  

23 May, 2012

Nothing else for it, I guess. (Part two.)



‘…’

‘Well but see Mitch it’s not the time and effort that I’m worried about, strictly speaking. It’s the T&E [sic] combined with the fact that young children and especially infants have no idea the exorbitant mental and emotional and even physical toll they’re taking by means of their constant need for assistance and attention, which need is I submit perfectly selfish, because infants and young children have no idea they are not the centre of the universe; that people might be interested in other things besides themselves, or just plain get tired of responding to their need for food or comfort or attention or something to play with or whatever. Mitch it seems to me pretty plain that infants and young children are big giant doughnuts in the consideration for others department, which makes their bottomless pit of dependence just exponentially more difficult to bear.’

‘Well just a second there Karp…’

‘Not quite Mitch because as we’ve talked about and work-shopped about many times before, I’ve spent a good deal of my adult life treating people in precisely this way. As in I’ve been a big time emotional infant. I’ve just sucked the life right out of all the people closest to me that were, by definition of which closeness, willing to be emotionally open and vulnerable with me by giving me all kinds of attention and seemingly unconditional affection, which I never once reciprocated or even acknowledged, at least not intentionally. And Mitch these people, especially GFs, even told me that was OK, my being almost flawlessly self-involved, because nevertheless they knew I loved them but just expressed it in my own special way, which of course no one else but them could see or understand an explanation of because no one else knew me and loved me like they did. [FN3]

 
‘…’


‘Mitch what I’m saying is I’ve seen first hand the kind of nuclear winter that is living with an emotional infant, who just takes and takes and takes and offers nothing in return, not even the acknowledgment of their taking, and does this so naturally and unthinkingly that the person from whom they are taking eventually begins to feel guilty even for wanting some basic or entry-level recognition for the more-than-generous attention and consideration they’ve always given the taker, because the taker sure isn’t acting like anything’s at all out of the ordinary, behaviour-wise. And so the giver starts to feel like some kind of monster, like that to desire or even just feel good about being recognized for one’s giving is the worst kind of selfishness, potentially obliterating the very possibility of charitable or non-self-interested behaviour, and thus triggering one heck of a cyclone of bitter self-loathing mixed with slow burning resentment.’ [FN4]


‘…’


‘And Mitch I just don’t want to be on the receiving end of that particular forecast, even though karma-wise it’d be a pretty fair balancing of the old life scales.’


‘…’


‘Everything OK Mitch?’


‘Just letting all of that sink-in Karp, which BTW [sic] was beautifully shared and articulated.’


‘Many thanks for that acknowledgment Mitch. If you’d just excuse me for a second.’


‘…’


‘…’


‘…’


‘…’


‘Mitch you’d better put that ‘Out of Order’ sign up on the gents door for a few minutes, ‘cause I just napalmed your toilet.’


‘No problem at all Karp, thanks for letting me know and I’m sorry to hear you’re stomach’s giving you difficulties.’


‘…’


‘…’


‘I appreciate your acknowledgment and your concern Mitch, thanks very much.’


‘Don’t mention it Karp. But so response-wise to what you were just saying there a minute ago. I think the problem here is simple and in reality you’ve got nothing to worry about, by which I certainly do not mean to imply any correlation whatsoever between the simplicity of the solution I think I’m seeing and the seriousness of your perceived predicament and the awful anxiety I can imagine that perception might entail, and I definitely want to thank you for sharing something so personal and poignant and obviously disconcerting and which sharing was done with as abovementioned beautiful perfect eloquence.’


‘Thank you Mitch, I’m grateful for your saying that and for receiving what I’m sharing so gracefully, as is your inimitable way.’[FN5]


‘My pleasure Karp. Now it seems to me there is a crucial and exculpatory difference between your young child’s apparent indifference to your offering and demonstrating basically unconditional love and affection by indefatigably responding to their needs for physical and emotional sustenance, and your own grown-up version of that same horrific indifference. To wit: a young child and especially an infant doesn’t really know what emotions and feelings are, or what the consideration of same even means, in which case they (an infant or very young child) are basically incapable of disregarding your feelings and emotional needs in the same way that I or another adult could, i.e. [sic] in a way that should make you feel demeaned or slighted.’


‘I think I need an In other words here Mitch.’


‘Coming right up Karp In other words, before you can feel badly when your child fails to recognize and/or reciprocate your attention and affection in the same way you so heartlessly did to so many previous friends and especially GFs, you first have to teach your child what it means to pay attention and be affectionate and why and how those are emotionally significant gestures and how and when it’s appropriate to make those gestures and so on, which knowledge you and I and other grown-ups have, this being one of the main reasons we are called grown-ups.’


‘OK so Mitch what you’re saying is I can’t really feel badly when my young son or daughter presents me with what under normal circumstances would be considered the retort churlish, when I haven’t yet taught them about feelings and empathy and the whole beautiful and delicate fugue of human interaction. In other words when they don’t know any better.’


‘Precisely Karp. You might say it’s a matter of mens rea not just actus reus.’


‘…’


‘…’


‘Well now Mitch straight up no gloss I think if that’s the way it goes with raising children then we’re going to encounter some problems, although I’m not at all suggesting that you’re avenue of approach here is not well-lit with good intentions or lacking the guard rails of reason, and I definitely appreciate you sharing with me your thoughts so candidly.’


‘Thank you Karp, you know I like to go hard or go home, honesty-wise.’


‘No disagreement here Mitch but now nevertheless let’s just think for a moment about what all you’re suggesting. Because let’s assume that I raise my child in a home environment that’s a veritable surfeit of love and affection and just choc-a-bloc with beautiful respect for and attention to emotional openness of all kinds, basically the kind of home environment that breeds emotional acuity like so much Midwestern corn, producing like steroidic growth of the emotional awareness capacity to something almost grotesquely distended by present-day standards…’


‘…’


‘…and so even if we assume I’m able to raise some kind of emotional avatar, which BTW [sic] this outcome seems to be the Prime Directive of all the parental literature currently occupying the centre of the stage on the Ellester’s nightstand, it seems to me that all of my child’s attention to and respect for the emotional lives of others, and especially his or her expressions of love and affection and even just respect for me and the Ellester, well Mitch none of that’s really going to mean anything. Because my ur-loving child's just going to be doing what me and the Ellester have taught he or she to do in various familial and social situations, or what they’ve learned from watching us in same, and internalized through countless demonstrations and instructions and admonitions until eventually (and unconsciously) the right sort of behaviour just sort of inheres in the child, as they gradually figure out that the easiest way to get on in the household – and so also life, or that’s the idea anyway – is to be polite and respectful and caring, and in other words just demonstrate the highest possible level of emotional awareness possible.’


‘Not sure I’m following you there Karp, though I am paying close attention.’


‘I know you are Mitch, and it’s appreciated.’


‘Karp I noticed your appreciation as part of my paying close attention.’


‘One hand washing the other.’


‘It’s the Virtuous Circle.’


‘Initial caps ours.’


‘Carry on brother.’


‘I guess what I’m saying Mitch is that there is really no difference between my infant child having no understanding or comprehension of feelings or emotions and thus being unable to express real or indeed anything other than accidentally what looks like respect or recognition of these in others, and my non-infant child having been brought up in textbook fashion to be basically just the most emotionally dexterous child any two parents could hope to raise, because such a perfectly raised child will only ever be doing what he or she’s been taught to do, because how else do they know what to do except what they’ve been made to practice over and over again to the point where they Just Do It.' [FN6]

‘What you’re saying then Karp is that when you acknowledge my sharing and emotional daring-do, and express gratefulness for same, that’s significant to me because I know that in a previous life you wouldn't have done so and indeed were a perfect class A jerk in the whole feelings of others department, or as it were a drop-out from the Caring About the Feelings of Others and Being Comfortable With Your Own Desires Collegiate Institute, and so when you do the beautiful things that you now do, feelings-wise, I know it’s a conscious choice and that’s what makes it significant. You recognize there are a range of mostly hideous ways to treat people and your choice to respect and care for and acknowledge me as someone deserving and desiring of the same respect and attention as yourself conveys something important to me about how you feel about me, which something important is not conveyed by someone who does exactly the same thing but only because that’s what they’ve been told to do.’


‘B
-I-N-G-O Mitch, come on down to the prize table because that’s a BINGO.’

'...'
 
***

[FN3] Up until K met E and indeed for a short while thereafter K was an absolute D-bag to just about every person he ever met. His few male friends were all massively insecure, even more so than K, and were more than happy to agree with and endorse whatever K said he wanted to do no matter how ridiculous or illegal or even semi-harmful to their own persons, out of (perversely) sheer gratitude for K’s sticking his chin out and making decisions. It’s true, if you ask the little guys who follow around bullies or otherwise boorish brutes, the followers will admit they're fearful of their leader but not just because of his physical strength or malignant temper. It’s also because they see him as a kind of hero, blessed with the courage and fortitude to do the things they themselves are terrified to do, even if those things are pretty garden variety (like any kind of talking to females, for starters), because, and as already mentioned K’s crew was no exception, these pathetic cabals tend to be electrical storms of personal insecurity. This is why the followers in these groups tend to say of their leader, ‘That guy’s got balls.’

And if you think K’s male friends must have been one seriously dysfunctional set, just imagine K’s GFs, who were female versions of his male friends, basically. In which case you can further imagine what kind of catastrophe was K’s love life pre-E, and also how miraculous it is that K has not confronted the child issue inadvertently at some earlier time(s), which he has not. 


But so what happened when K met E is sort of hard to say, because if we knew how to reform (or, as will become very pertinent in the main text later on, to retrain) a guy like K don’t think we’d be giving that kind of gold-plated wisdom away for nothing. The best explanation we can offer is that K was so determined to conquest E that he was initially willing to play-along with all E’s the importance of feelings crap and reciprocate with his own sharing, awkwardly at first (which made E laugh affectionately but in response to which laughing K was surprised to find he didn’t feel slighted or dissed and so need to re-establish his admittedly meager self-conception, physically if necessary), but because he was so intent on and subsequently beguiled by E his guard came down long enough to really try what she was saying and practicing about and with her emotions, which if you’ve ever really given emotional openness a fair shot you know it feels ecstatically good and liberating and empowering, especially compared to the garish and ablating self-doubt to which K was previously accustomed and to which he was in no hurry to return. QED.

[FN
4] The E’s influence should now be obvious.

[FN5] M doesn’t really have a back story; just an ineffable understanding of the ways of the world, the kind that bartenders seem always to have from sources unknown.

[FN6] In particular here K has in mind the previous Saturday morning, when his neighbor down the street came around with the neighbour’s six year old son, which son was selling apples to raise money for his Grade One class’s charity drive. K bought a half-dozen apples for five dollars, handing the kid a ten dollar bill and smiling and saying ‘Keep the change’, which philanthropic largesse was received with a good four or five seconds of Dead Air before the kid’s father said ‘And what do we say when someone makes a donation?’ Which was followed by a further four or five seconds of D.A. before the father put his hand on the kid’s shoulder and said ‘Kyle?’ Which seemed to indicate young Kyle didn’t understand what ‘donation’ meant but certainly did understand what ‘Kyle?’ meant because then Kyle said ‘Thank you!’  

22 May, 2012

Nothing else for it, I guess. (Part one.)


 

 ‘Evening Karp it’s good to see you.’

‘Mitchell my friend, you know it’s always a pleasure.’

‘Thank you Karp, now what can I get you?’

‘Not at all Mitch not at all, how about the usual?’

‘It would be my pleasure Karp.’

‘…’

‘…’

‘Well now Karp you look like a man with a shadow cast upon his soul.’

‘…’

‘You could do with a little airing of the mental storage closet, in other words.’

‘More or less Mitch more or less.’

‘Well shoot then brother. You know I’m always glad to lend a hand in the unpacking of some mental baggage.’

‘I would say your reputation precedes you in that regard, Mitch.’

‘Thank you Karp, that’s kind of you to say. But so what’s on the old mind.’

‘Well Mitch it’s about the children.’

‘Oh not this again Karp.’

‘Yes Mitch I’m afraid so. My beautiful wife Eleanor has been making the case again for having children.’

‘That she is Karp, beautiful, I mean to say, if I may. As a brother not her lover, of course.’

‘Why thank you Mitch, I know Eleanor would appreciate that as much as I do.’

‘My pleasure Karp entirely my pleasure. But now I didn’t mean to distract in any way from what it was you were starting to say about feeling pressure to start a family. Let me just say up front that I acknowledge your concerns here as one hundred percent valid, and recognize that the sharing you’re doing and about to do here is not at all easy, even if outwardly you present as calm and composed. I completely support your endeavour to be just as emotionally open as you can and desire to be here with me this evening.’

‘Thank you Mitch, I appreciate having you in my emotional corner.’

‘If you need to spit I’m here to catch it brother.’

‘…’

‘…’

‘Well as I was saying Mitch, the Ellester has lately been going on about when are we going to start a family already.’

‘I see - now Karp, would I be correct to infer from your choice of words just there that the Ellester bypassed the if and went straight to the when?’

‘Mitch she didn’t even check her blind spot.’

‘Well then.’

‘Indeed.’

‘…’

‘…’

‘And Karp am I further correct that notwithstanding the Ellester’s clever rhetorical elision, that you were opposed to the course she was proposing, by which I mean you and she starting a family, at least until the reasons you had for that opposition could be shared and considered and in some way satisfactory to both parties resolved?’

‘That would be correct Mitch, I did have some reservations about the course she was proposing.’

‘You’re unsure about the when but also the if.

‘Like two hearts beating their uncertain beats in my chest of understanding.’

‘…’

‘…’

‘OK Karp well so how did the Ellester react to your sharing these particular feelings re the possibility of starting a family?’

‘At the outset Mitch she was enormously kind and understanding and respectful of my feelings, which is precisely what you would expect given the Ellester’s being a kind of Yoda in the emotional awareness department. As I’ve detailed for you on previous occasions, over the five years of our very happy marriage the Ellester has shared with me much of her wisdom, including the importance of getting clarity about what it is that I desire in the world, including both of and for other people, and accepting my desires as perfectly formed for me and not inherently grotesque or outrageous just because they represent things that I want, and then being honest and as clear as possible with people about the content of my desires, and making clear that I’m supportive of others’ attempts to be this same way, because I’ve never met a mind reader Mitch, so how can people know what I’m feeling and what I really desire if I don’t tell them and vice versa?’

‘Karp I’m a choir and so far you’re preaching right to me.’

‘I knew I would be Mitch. But so of course the Ellester was an absolute champ about the whole thing, at least initially. She immediately acknowledged and affirmed that my uncertainty here was perfectly normal, indeed not just normal but beautiful and healthy, and in fact my uncertainty actually showed that I recognized the true significance of what she was proposing and that I was treating her desire to have children with appropriate and respectful seriousness, which made her feel good and appreciated and respected.’

‘Yet another example of an investment in emotional openness paying immediate and substantial dividends.’

‘Mitch it’s the kind of investment advice on which everybody should be required to trade. Plus further note that all the Ellester’s good feelings re my uncertainty about having children were of course amplified by the fact of my sharing that uncertainty in the first place, which sharing was obviously difficult for me under the circumstances, which circumstances include the Ellester’s previous statements to the effect that her desire to have children is a deal breaker for our relationship.’



‘The stakes are getting high on the children issue, is what you’re saying.’

‘Mitch the air up there is getting very thin indeed. But of course I’ve always been grateful to the Ellester for having shared this and other of her desires so clearly and early in our relationship, so that I was always one hundred percent aware of her desires and thus able to think clearly about the fit between those desires and my own desires, including my desires about her desires, and vice versa w/r/t [sic] my sharing of my desires with the Ellester and her ability to respond in kind thereto, all of which has redounded to our mutual benefit, it’s pretty fair to say.’

‘Personally I’d say it’s more than fair Karp, and if you don’t mind I’d like to honour your sharing by demonstrating my attention thereto via a brief recapitulation, to wit: it sounds to me like what we’ve got here is the pre-natal version of the -marital jitters, otherwise known as getting cold feet. You have an idea that having children would be a good thing and the Ellester clearly thinks it’s a good thing and wants to go ahead with it and you care deeply for the Ellester and want to see her happy, but there are some lingering uncertainties giving you pause.’

‘Now that’s a straight flush of understanding Mitch.’

‘Well Karp you’re one hell of a perspicuous dealer.’

‘That’s kind of you to say Mitch.’

‘It’s my pleasure Karp, but so how did the Ellester propose to warm-up those cold feet of yours?’

‘Well Mitch her strategy on this occasion [FN1] was to deliver herself of a seemingly endless list of reasons your thinking man and woman should want to start a family: a child is the most pure and sincere expression of the love between two people; children are a joy to have and to hold, and more joy is better than less ceteris paribus; this is our chance to make something significant and beautiful in the world; becoming a parent is exhilarating; reproduction is part of what it means to be human…’

‘OK Karp I get the idea, the gamut was run on the reasons for starting a family.’

‘Actually Mitch you won’t believe but she kept on going. When it rains it pours. It turns out that if you Google ‘reasons to have kids’ you can see some lady’s blog post in which there are enumerated no fewer than forty reasons for starting a family; and with all due respect to Mrs. A--- I think some of her reasons are more than a little specious, such as and I quote ‘Baby toes, need I say more?’ or the equally stunning, ‘How can there be too many children? This is like saying there are too many flowers.’’

‘…’

‘No word of a lie Mitch you can check it out for yourself.’ [FN2] 


‘Not necessary Karp we all know truth is stranger than fiction, by which we mean that our expectations of what could be truthful are different (usually less fantastic, or hideous, or terrible) than our expectations of what could be fictional.’

‘Sage as ever Mitch, but so the problem with these reasons from the Ellester (and let’s just not even go near Mrs. A---’s knight errand into the blogosphere), is that her reasons seem pretty far removed from what any thinking man or woman would have to infer about what it’s like to actually have and raise a child.’

‘You’re saying the Ellester’s good intentions and genuine desires re childbirth and rearing are perhaps unconsciously romanticized?’

‘Mitch I’m suggesting that unbeknownst to the Ellester, the glasses through which she's taking her view of the situation have become indelibly tinted to the purest and most seductively vivid rose colour you ever saw, and thus her reasons do nothing in terms of reducing the uncertainty that’s giving us here so much pause.’

‘Well Karp tell me how that’s what you figure.’ 


 
‘My pleasure Mitch. So it seems to me incontrovertible that infants and even young children are dependent upon their parents in a way that is unmediated and constant and unbounded. Infants especially but also young children are a black hole of attention, a money pit, an emotional vacuum cleaner with no OFF switch.’

‘…’

‘Just for a second Mitch try to imagine how many things you need in the course of a day – not just things you need, but everything you do – which of course an infant or young child is going to need help doing, if not done for them: wake up in the morning (help), get out of bed (help), general ablutions (help), dress (help), make bed (help probably the wrong word), make breakfast (help), eat breakfast…’

‘I see where you’re going with this Karp point taken.’

‘Mitch I’m telling you brother it just goes on and on. Anybody would have to agree that the early months and maybe, if you really pull the short straw, upwards of the first year-and-a-half of a child’s life are no picnic parenting-wise, what with the night feedings and the colic and the sleep schedule so erratic it probably shouldn’t be called a ‘schedule’, and the burping/barfing and just hideously smeared and defiled diapers that make you think about your wife what kind of toxic mutant breast milk are you pumping out over there honey, to produce this river of neo-natal sewage?’

‘…’

‘I mean that’s just a for instance Mitch but you can ask anyone, and then it’s just same shit different pile as the kid grows up.’

‘Well possibly Karp, but brother I think you’re coming at this the wrong way, if you don’t mind me saying, although of course I respect your position and thank you so very much for sharing it so colourfully.’

‘My pleasure Mitch.’

‘Right but so Karp, it seems to me that part of wanting to have children is wanting to take care of them, in which case we’re looking at two sides of the same coin at the same time. Strictly speaking, if you’ve already said you want to have children, then you can’t really say that what’s involved in the having – in this case, the caring – is like a burden or a time-suck. Taking care of your child is just part of what it was you wanted to do in the first place, even if you didn’t think about it in precisely those terms.’

‘In other words Mitch, when people say that being a parent is the most significant you can ever be in the life of another person, what they’re referring to, primarily, is the caring aspect.’

‘Strike three and you’re out of the darkness of ignorance Karp, with the no-hitter still intact.’

‘…’ 


*** 

[FN1] The suggestion’s been made a few times now that K and E have previously discussed starting a family. Rather than have K and M re-hash or summarize the substance of those earlier discussions, all of which discussions were elaborately post-gamed here in McGilligutty’s Tavern and so are ripe for re-hash or summary, just know that the two main lines of argument previously unpacked between K and E (with periodic post-game assists from M) are thus: (a) how various reasons against having children no longer apply to K and E (such as not having steady jobs, or a big enough house w/ manageable schedule of mortgage payments, or good schools in the neighborhood, etc), with K maintaining (with vigorous post-game affirmation from M) that the absence of reasons against doing something is not itself a reason for doing that same thing; and (b), an unexpected (and at first strange-seeming) argument from nature, sort of a corollary to (a), that having children is just what humans do, it’s like a biological imperative, and so really the if question is irrelevant (baring certain health issues that are thankfully n/a to K and E (but not M, long story)) and it really is only a question of when, in which case argument (a) could actually have been decisive, given that K eventually admitted that all the ducks seemed to be in a row family-wise. K’s response to (b) was kind of elaborate, but basically amounted to suggesting that the way things are in the world does not necessarily tell us how things ought to be in the world, and that he needed something more than a biological imperative on which to hang his moral hat, that something being (maybe) the reasons for having a child that K is about to recount to M back up top. 

[FN2] Seriously.

14 May, 2012

A state of being, of grace.

Where am I, alone and awash in love and folly, disinterested still, hopeful and dire, and to what end, all, is longing, and alone.

01 May, 2012

Online dating myself.

Spring comes to my neighbourhood like an autopsy. The winter’s harm is stark and grim and clouds hang seasonally, it seems, ugly and dim and always possibly worse. It wears on you, a Toronto winter, when opportunities for introspection and self-searching are naturally high and so too the desire for companionship and naturally created warmth. Someone else to think about and with, cold nights unalone and happy. For a writer in a new city enlaced with cold and unfamiliarity, the solution is obvious and readily available, a genuinely modern convenience: online dating.

So it began last December. I use OKCupid!, seven million active users and counting. It works like a very basic Facebook, standard-form profile questions, uploaded pictures, recommendations for People You Might Like. I mostly browse, ad hoc and random, and send anywhere from zero to ten messages per week. In just over three months I’ve met five women. A sixth broke plans twice. A twenty-year-old girl told me, unsolicited, that I reminded her of Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert; her failure to respond to my response feels life defining.

Overall I’m having a good time, meeting interesting people. It’s definitely a numbers game, but getting comfortable with the search for partnership as somehow back-office and matter-of-time-ish is probably good for my long term relationship outlook. People write their own fairy tales.

My search for love aside, the online dating space turns out to be fascinating and complex and just terrifically fraught. An electrical storm of personal insecurity. Thinking about how the interactions play out is both compelling and awful, a real psychic squealer, and extraordinarily involute. You’re left alone to creep other people’s profiles, edit your own, to ruminate and dwell uninhibited. It’s carte blanche to calculate, imagine, target, wile, endear. No first drafts, and no limits for the rabidly self-conscious. The mind literally boggles, and after a while you start to realize things about self-evaluation and language that are illuminating but also kind of sad, the adult version of finding out there’s no Santa Clause.

***

Think of the way you meet people when you’re not online dating. Often this happens where you and this other person have mutual friends, or if you meet through your job, mutual colleagues. Mutatis mutandis. Even though you don’t know the other person directly, you do know someone - the mutual friend - whom you both like, and this tells you something about the new person. If it’s a party, that they’re (=the new person) worth inviting to the party. This is the way I feel, at least. The point is there’s some sort of quasi-objective, third party verification of this new person’s quality, which TP verification changes your orientation towards this new person. You become more open, patient, willing to entertain.

Does that sound familiar? It’s a bit like the difference between reading a book that’s published versus in manuscript form; the former’s got this extra incentive to push-through the difficult bits, give the book ‘more of a chance’, etc, because the fact of its publication tells you at least some other people think the book’s worth your time. (There’s actually an uptown lit theory term for this - the hyper protected cooperative principle - which let me save you the trouble is the wrong place to go for quality date chat.) But so a book’s cover’s like a friend’s introduction - direct or indirect - which subtle orientational shift is conspicuously absent in the online dating space. My messages issue unmediated by any friend’s assurance or sway, misfires and -cues strike plangent and lame and echo unredeemed. Plus there are about a hundred guys waiting for their chance to get it in one, and this is widely known.

The orientation point cuts both ways, though, because herein lies online dating’s main value ad or prop: it’s the low cost venue for chatting-up potential dates. Public spaces where I’ve tried to do this - bars, parks, art galleries, coffee shops, out for a stroll - are comparatively low-percentage because here people aren’t necessarily looking to be chatted-up. They’re talking to someone, reading, looking around, walking in the opposite direction. I often take my own stock after passing a gorgeous woman on the street and not saying anything. The sort of woman that if you showed your mother a photo and said ‘This is my girlfriend’, she (=your mother) would call you a liar. But what am I supposed to say? We both have things to do, places to be. It’s a futile longing that’s partly caused by having few other venues for meeting a woman like this who’s even possibly open to meeting me. It must be significant that three of the five women I’ve met turned out to live on my street.

***

Anxiety-wise, the signal feature of online dating is the absence of live or otherwise useful information about the person you’re trying to chat with. Visual cues, a history of shared experience, past reactions observed and noted and sub-consciously parsed. Online dating gives you none of this; you’re flying blind, swinging wildly at a kind of romance piñata. (The profile’s uselessness gets unpacked sub.) How another person interprets your messages is not only completely out of your hands but virtually unpredictable. Imagine throwing your language into the air like confetti, handfuls of meaning - of life - blowing around and maybe, hopefully, caught in some interpretable order. Ordinary conversation works the same way - this may be what’s most edifying about online dating, showing-up this fact about language and social interaction - but we can at least use visual cues and past conversational history to make better predictions about which words to use and what sentences to form.

So it comes as no surprise that humour is the hardest trick to pull-off in a contextless online exchange. Here is an example of my own personal failure in this department. One of the standard-form profile questions on OKCupid! asks for ‘The most personal thing you’re willing to admit online.’ To which I initially wrote: ‘Sometimes I give the finger to blind people.’

I did not receive a single message or response until this part of my profile got changed. The cause and effect’s imperfect but I think a reasonable inference - the point’s made either way - and if you think the fail here’s obvious, verily a no brainer, just compare the lamely expositive ‘I’m irreverent and chronically sarcastic, deeply ironic, caustically funny.’ Does the latter mean anything at all? With jokes the magic’s in the happening, in the space between what’s said and assumed and of course the latter’s just horrifically difficult to gauge for a person you’ve never met. (Stand-up comics at least face their audience; my joke about the blind people works way better in person.) This ends up being ironic as hell, and maybe even sort of tragic because almost every female on OKCupid! - in fact, that I’ve ever met - references humour as mid-to-high level important in their potential mate’s qualities. This one thing that’s almost impossible to reliably communicate and screen online.

For a while I also included a note in my messages, ‘Oh, and my mom says hi’. This turned out to be another fail, notwithstanding my mom is totally ace and cool.

*** 

Maybe the sort of meta problem here involves what to put in your profile. Pictures, favourite books and foods, life plan, fun things I like to do. On a Friday night I am most likely [blank]. The difficulty here is hard to see because it’s so obvious: we always already are standing right in the middle of our personality - all the experiences, memories, personal referents and recollections that hang together in the vast ephemeral web of US - which is something that nobody, ever, gets to see, even if they wanted to, and of course vice versa.

Here’s an easy example: my profile picture has me in a bow tie. How do I know what anyone’s going to think about that? I know what I think - irreverent, hipster-y, dapper - but that’s based on reading skads of P.G. Wodehouse and hanging out in New York’s East Village. My experience of bow ties leads me to think about people who wear bow ties in a certain way, but someone with a different experience of bow ties is going to reach a different conclusion. Favourite books are another telling example: other people who like Jonathan Franzen, say, could do so for very different reasons than I do. The whole thing gets even more hideous and ablating when you try and figure not just your own reaction but the profiler’s intended reaction, and whether these line-up or like jive, assuming it’s even possible to keep all this mentally distinct. (E.g., my reading Franzen signals X, but a person who self-identifies as reading Franzen probably wants to signal Y - unless all Frazen readers are just like me.) This is the point where my brow indelibly furrows and my neural fuses start to blow. It’s the language problem writ large and personified, like God’s intentional fallacy.

The point is deeply banal but also deeply true, I think, and suggests something that’s got capital-A Adult significance: the difficulty, maybe impossibility of talking about myself. That this is something that cannot be said, only shown; that what my friends ‘know’ about me are the parts of my personality consistently on display (intentionally or otherwise). An online profile is less an advertisement for myself than a ladder some stranger climbs up and then throws away; they can never know what I know, online they can barely manage to guess. My own profile is hard to write for this same reason: it’s just extremely difficult to extract the personal from my experience of life, to even begin imagining other ways of seeing or reacting to the world. That none of this is especially profound is maybe the best evidence the problem’s out there and operating, lurking far from my mind’s front until something like three weeks of online DEAD AIR sparked a search for exculpation and face-saving.

***

Let’s close with another illustrative failure: I recently sent a woman the following message: ‘I'm going out on a limb here to call you on a completely irreverent, obscenely ironic profile. Vertiginously aloof, caustic, of all the cynic's mordant pith. It's either comedic genius or pathetically lame and blisteringly unintelligent. Don't let me down.’ Does that come across mean spirited? How about desperate? The profile in question was totally absurd - imagine Anchor Man’s Ron Burgundy in real life, not faking, maybe. Impossible to tell, and maybe that’s the point: comedy that’s unsettling, unnerving, pitch perfect delivery taking total advantage of the venue, in which case my message was perfect. Alternatively, I’ve just asked an overweight lady when she’s expecting.

What we talk about when we’re online dating - as in finally out on dates - turns out to be online dating. It always comes up, the most obvious shared experience. (Although a yawning gulf remains, such as between myself and the girl who said guys regularly send her pictures of their unit?!) These exchanges are always edifying because I get a chance to air some précis of the foregoing and sound not only thoughtful and outside-the-box-ish but also genuinely inquisitive, and get some good feedback or like counter-think. That elusive ‘other’ perspective, the best of which by far was the girl who said, ‘I think you’re thinking about it too much.’ The look on her face as she said this: bemused, estranged, lackluster, emphatically nonplussed, possibly because the way in which she’s right is that there’s nothing else for it. The online dating terms are fixed, and it’s hard to see how excessive - neurotic - attention improves anyone’s chances. (I obviously have no idea whether this is what or all she was thinking. QED.) It’s too difficult to weigh all the inferential variables, and never worry about what you can’t change or otherwise avoid.

Or maybe it’s perfectly fine and good and interesting to think about what’s going on online, how the exchange is working or not, and what the hell does it mean to say anything to a person I’ve never met and know nothing about? Are there limits to the kinds of conversation two such people can have? Is it nonsense to try and converse in a way that exceeds those limits? Maybe it’s OK to think about all this stuff - a lot - so long as when it comes time to actually interact, engage, write something, I’m able to forget not only how much I don’t know but never could and just commit, go for it, see what happens. Pick your favourite cliché. If it’s meant to be, she’ll get my joke about blind people.