Thursday, January 6, 2011

Know Thyself

So there used to be this joke in my circle about the Peni Robinson School of Tact and Diplomacy. (Robinson being my maiden name.) My favorite Buffy the Vampire Slayer character is Cordelia, who once said: "Tact is just not saying true stuff. I'll pass." In my youth, I discovered that if I treated other people as I wished to be treated, I'd be told I was rude, but if I treated others as they treated me, I'd be told I was mean. Given that set of choices, I picked rude. Though it's probably not true that I have never been deliberately mean in my life (hey, I'm as good at editing my memory as anybody), it is absolutely true that nobody ever told me I was being mean when I meant to be.

The fact that the joke still bears my maiden name, which I haven't used since 1987, indicates that I got better about this over time; and I think I have, mostly. But since the kind of people who react badly to my natural mode of discourse are also the kind of people who won't tell you what the matter is, my opportunity to learn what not to say has been limited, so one reason that the joke got dated is that I learned how to avoid situations in which it would come up.

My circle of friends excludes people who routinely read secret meanings into innocent remarks, and includes people who will respond honestly and directly to what I say instead of insisting that I meant what they think I said. We are all interested in the same classes of things and will make efforts to follow complex trains of thought, ask for clarification, and express displeasure without rancor.

There are entire classes of people I won't discuss entire classes of subjects with. Changing the subject or withdrawing from a conversation, when you can see trouble coming, isn't that hard.

Some days my brain seems to lose some of its boundaries, one idea bouncing off another and connecting to that one over there, in a way that, while fruitful, makes a coherent conversation difficult. I am by nature a quantum leap thinker, making intuitive leaps and working out the path from idea to idea later, if at all. I encourage this in myself by reading widely and absorbing information and imagery as indiscriminately as I can. That's how I stay constantly in Story Generation Mode. But it sometimes overwhelms my capacity to form logical sentences that will make sense to people who don't know about the underlying sameness of fairies, ghosts, and aliens, and haven't got mammoths, Hobyahs, and middle-school girls all living cheek-by-jowl in the same mental space.

And I have become increasingly self-aware about states of mind in which I am more apt than usual to get carried away, to sound more dogmatic than I am, or to take other people's remarks too much to heart. This has to do with blood sugar, mostly. On those days, I avoid talking on the phone, stay away from newsgroups, and keep my mouth shut except in the presence of someone, like my husband, who can sit there and let a wash of babble flow over and around him, unmoved. I can sometimes write on those days; I can even draft letters; but as for finalizing anything and sending it out into the world - nope.

If I'm not willing to see it in print with my name over it, I try not to say it.

So that's what Tuesday was about.

Oh, and I had the needle seated wrong. That's all right now.

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