Clements writes, “At some point there came [a] very perplexing realization: I was fine.” And I am. There's nothing wrong with me. I don't need fixing. Now, here's the scary part: chances are, you're just fine, too. But maybe you're spending way too much time, money and, frankly, too much of yourself trying to find someone or something to externally validate you. Nothing here is intended to “fix” you. Odds are, you don't need fixing. You need a little faith. Faith in God, faith in yourself.
A relationship recently ended in my life.
It was one of those things that just got away somehow, and the
harder I tried to fix things, the more I reached out and
apologized, the more entrenched my former friend became. This
falling out led to an epiphany. It occurred to me that, in
fifteen years, most people out here in Colorado have made
absolutely no effort to understand me or even know me in
anything more than a superficial “Hiya” sort of way. And the
people who have fallen out with me have, to the person, fallen
out with me not for something I’ve done but for something they
wanted or expected me to do, someone they expected me to be that
I am not. And they’ve gotten angry and walked off in a huff
because I didn’t meet their expectation or share their
worldview. While they’ve made absolutely no perceptible attempt
to understand mine.
My only consolation is that God understands me. God likes me. I am worth the effort to know, I am worth His patience and He puts up with my stumbling along trying to find my way, this stranger in a very strange land. This epiphany was certainly His revelation and, ultimately, His comfort for me to finally understand and process something I’ve known all my life: I am uniquely and wonderfully made. I am simple and simply complex. I Am Not You. Please stop being disappointed when I go left while you’re going right.
I’m not like anybody you ever met before. I’m not better than you or worse than you, I am simply not you. And, if we took the time to listen, to really listen, we’d know relationships are, in fact, an investment. An investment of self. Surrounded, as we are, with our community, our tribe, we grow accustomed to thinking the same way and doing the same things. But real love, real brotherhood, involves a certain elasticity of common purpose and design, a simple understanding that we are all unique. That we all perform unique functions within the Body.
We should stop falling out with one another simply for being who we are.
Ask Me Anything
I don't pretend to have all the answers. In fact, I don't even
pretend to have most of them. Despite the fact I spend a good
portion of my day worrying about other people and their
troubles, I often struggle with my own in the quiet of my
personal convictions and my personal relationship with God. Over
the years I have learned I am not like most human beings in that
my need for humanity and human contact is not nearly so great as
my need for peace in my life and for being understood and
respected. Without your respect, your friendship is absolutely
meaningless to me. Sometimes respecting one another's
boundaries, beliefs and needs can often be the very hardest
thing for us to do. Relationships, therefore, often come with a
hefty price tag: pieces of ourselves being stripped off by
well-meaning loved ones trying, in Borg fashion, to assimilate
us into their view of the world.
Sometimes I feel more a clinical observer of the human condition than one of its architects. I have been blessed with a great many friends here in Colorado, around the country and throughout the world, too many to keep up with. So many, that, somebody is always annoyed at me because I haven't returned a call or found the time to keep in contact, and my heart grieves over each of those situations. There's just not enough hours in the day to count all of my very many blessings, the very special love that keeps us going and reminds us we're still breathing.
I have a great and voracious need for alone time, for quiet time. The job I do consumes most of it: I have to be, for most of my existence, in solitary confinement, fantasizing about fantastic adventures and macabre schemes of heroes and villains and the like. When I'm not doing that, I am frequently writing or recording music which, again, requires a huge amount of time and investment. When I'm tired, I just want to be alone, just want to be quiet, just want to turn my brain off for awhile.
This very site is my Noah's arc, my principal obsession of the moment. A piece of intellectual real estate purchased at great cost to my time and resources. But it feels like it's worth it: a piece of me that can speak for me when I can't speak for myself. A place I can point people to instead of spending the very small amount of free time I have repeating myself (or, worse, ignoring the questions).
It's not that I don't want people in my life, that I don't want love in my life, but I am a very different kind of human. Most people I know and who claim to know me will never, in fact, understand me, my sense of self, my sense of honor, and why I believe without either you're just a waste of the world's time. My mentor, Larry Hama, taught me a great deal about honor. I don't claim to be very Japanese, as Larry is, under his Americanized humor, extremely Japanese, with a set of coefficients that keep him saner that most of his critics. However, I shared a tiny office with him for nearly four years, and I've inherited both his irreverence and his sense of honor. This was the secret to writing the barbaric Conan, a man wholly lawless by nature, but who possessed an innate sense of logic, reason and honor that he was materially bound to, that kept him sane. The secret to writing Conan, or understanding Hama, is to shut up and listen and try and understand their code.
Over the years I have learned to enjoy my own company. To enjoy resting my voice for days and sometimes weeks on end. I hate the telephone. I hate it ringing, I hate talking on it. It is there just in case I need a paramedic and to tell Darryl I'm on my way (I'm always late for something). Beyond that, I wouldn't even have one.
I like me. It's taken years, even decades, to undo the terrible damage inflicted by a childhood of emotional abuse, a Hebrew stranded in Babylon, surrounded by other kids who had no clue about me or my purpose or why I was so different. I'm 44 years old now, and I am still ridiculed, almost daily, by, well, almost everyone and for almost everything. Nothing has changed. The great majority still believing what they see on TV, still going through endless cycles of relationships that are doomed before they begin. People who have bought into The Great Lie of western culture, the hunger that keeps us scurrying to the malls every six weeks because This Day or That Day is coming up on the calendar, and we, therefore, must prove our love by spending the rent money to fill up our lives with more things, more stuff we don't need and can't afford. To many normal folk, this sounds like the Unabomber's Manifesto, and I guess it is. “He was so quiet.” “He lived quietly and alone .”
I am a loner. I've always been a loner. That's the problem. That's the most basic conflict between myself and the great many friends I've been blessed with: they don't understand I'm what my friend Rick Jones calls, “A cave bear.” Growing up, I had my peace invaded at every turn and in every conceivable way every day of my life. Now I jealously guard that peace, so much so that things like marriage and family are a little out of the question. At least until I meet someone who isn't looking for a Mother's Day card or looking to take the kids trick or treating or *convulses* to the mall. These are things I just don't do.
I've spent a lifetime apologizing and making excuses for the fact that I am different. I was married to someone who was both troubled and often embarrassed by the fact that I am different, that social occasions are absolute torture for me, and having my house routinely invaded by friends and family was about to drive me insane. But, wait, I can't blame her: it was my fault for letting her in, for pretending to be a regular Joe, only to reveal my true psychosis after she'd moved her potted palms into the living room.
In my nightstand by my bed there are two major documents, Thomas A. Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, and an old Newsweek review of Marcelle Clements' The Improvised Woman, which deals mainly with women facing a crisis of singleness. Clements concludes that, while loneliness is inherent in singleness, marriage has a great many drawbacks as well, and she's learned to appreciate her single lifestyle without making apology or excuse for it.
I know people who can't go out to eat by themselves. I've done it for years. I used to take my laptop with me wherever I went, so I could continue being absorbed by the work, but now I've learned to leave it home. I do tend to bring a good book or a magazine, but I enjoy eating out and, frankly, a lot of the time I prefer to not have to engage in all of this social yammering, this, “So what's been up?” crap. Of course, being out alone, what happens— now I get The Chatty Waitress. Actually, I either get The Frightened Waitress who thinks I'm either going to hit on her or, I don't know, kill her, or I get The Chatty Waitress who pities my loneliness and wants to be my friend.
A lot of women kind of present themselves to me, which, I guess, is flattering until you consider the odds of middle-aged women finding an unmarried, un-gay un-broke un-living with his mama man here in the middle of nowhere. So, I am only marginally, say, statistically flattered. But nine out of ten times these are people who have no chance because we'd have no chance. They want Bill Cosby, not Norman Bates, and these people are only going to complicate and frustrate my life before I inevitably have to change my phone number and move.
When I meet these women, there's a part of me that goes, how dare you. Do you have any idea who she was? Do you have any notion what scale of nobility and grace you are treading upon? In many ways, I still belong to her. It took someone of enormous character and personal conviction to make it inside The Priest Bunker, a depth very few human beings achieve in a lifetime. Some women I've met are almost offensive in their shallowness, in their lack of discernment for the pain that's written on my face. We're off to a bad start already: they are less than clueless about this person before them. And the obvious benefits of intimacy notwithstanding, my own sense of honor won't allow them in my home because I am simply not capable of being that shallow, of taking advantage of their loneliness when I know these people will likely never achieve the depth of character required to understand a survivor like me. And that a wounded child like me can never be to them the product they are clearly advertising for.
A lot of people assume I'm gay. I'm 44; if I were gay, I'd know it by now. And I'm comfortable enough with myself and my God to not be in the closet. I could not be in the closet about anything. Besides, there are times when I'm around women and I feel like Dracula at a blood bank. But, like Brad Pitt in Interview With The Vampire, I'd rather not sell my soul to meet that need. There was a person in my life who set a standard, and that's the minimum level of strength of character I find acceptable. And a minimum standard of conduct and strength of character on my part that I can live with. I sleep well at night, knowing I don't owe anyone their humanity.
Clements writes, “At some point there came [a] very perplexing realization: I was fine.” And I am. There's nothing wrong with me. I don't need fixing. I don't need stalking. In large measure, I require only your kindest thoughts, your prayers, and your honest attempt to understand I'm a guy who just is who he is: a loner. Comfortable in his own skin, and with the sound of his own voice.
The Scary Part
Now, here's the scary part:
chances are, you're just fine, too. But you may not realize it. And maybe you're spending way too much time and way too much money and, frankly, way too much of yourself trying to find someone or something to externally validate you.
I think loneliness is, essentially, a lack of imagination and initiative. Many will find this hard to believe but I do not get lonely. Oh, every great once in a while I have this odd sensation, and I analyze it and realize I'm bored. I'm capable of being bored. Doesn't happen very often, but it does. When I'm bored, I go out and do stuff. There is stuff to do. There is always stuff to do. When I get bored, I jump in my Mustang and the top comes down and there's God's sky, something difficult to explain to New Yorkers, this sky out here. And there are twisty mountain roads and a stack of CD's and the wind in my hair and, thank You, Lord, this is living.
Nothing here is intended to “fix” you. Odds are, you don't need fixing. You need a little faith. Faith in God, faith in yourself. All of which is to say: stop worrying. You're fine. Go out and play.
Christopher J. Priest
16 May 2002 / 24 October 2009
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