On Not Being Like You
When you’ve read ‘On Self-Respect’ by Joan Didion so many times that the volume falls open at the essay, that its surface and its runic meanings have become commonplace in the phatic moments of your temporary thought, it comes as a crushing realization when you then figure out that almost none of it has sunk in as practical life advice. That the boyish, canine enthusiasm and keeness in words and communication and honesty in the grand scheme of things isn’t shared by the world at large; that people are deceptive, hurtful, overly territorial and protective of their own interests. That fundamentally, not many people are like you and ultimately they like it that way. That they prosper, in that fashion. That human beings prosper by turning away from honesty and towards artifice.
To some this knowledge comes easily; to some it comes very slowly. To some, beset by the needs of impulses beyond their own control, it doesn’t come at all, it being contrary to a nature that is difficult to chain up to a post and force to the ground. Tramelled, the problems emerge elsewhere, in drinking too much, in unhappiness, in a slow deadening of the senses. In taking a retrospective look at the last year and not recognizing your own actions and imperatives. In a general sense of unease.
It will not pay ready obesiance: this impulse to truth and to look beyond things to the thing itself. That’s a discipline that must be exerted heavily and I look at those who have the chains on it with a mixture of fascination and horror, a mixture of admiration and annoyance. A dread of ennui and eulogy: those sweet souls now passed into hopeless nostalgia, pleasure and pain from old wounds. But I know you, I insist. I didn’t know you at all.
You’ll recognize the kindred souls but they’ll fall away from you because they’re too much like you and that hurts an incredible amount too. And after each disappointment, and each let down, each time you’re drawn like a moth to a flame to the self-reliant and inscrutable personality, you’ll come back for more, a little shorter of breath, and easier to hurt. You’ll keep coming back. You always come back: there’s no surprise in that. That’s ultimately the biggest surprise of all.
People watch, and wait, knowing it will happen.