The Others in our Heads

At a writing event the other day, someone read something out during which the main character licks their third left molar ‘and does all the other things we do when we’re uncomfortable’. As the rest of the paragraph washed over me, I automatically licked my own (having calculated at lightning speed which molar the author meant; third from left, third from right?) and observed several others around me discreetly trying the same. Yes, we all agreed in silence while not meeting each others’ eyes; this is what we do when we’re uncomfortable. We lick our third left molar.

Details make for good writing, which is all about truth, whichever brand of truth particularly on offer.

I looked up a book today after a personal recommendation (a book recommendation is a sort of gift; it should never be fobbed off lightly) and read some online reviews. The book had been shortlisted for a massive international prize. ‘Boring boring boring’ said one dissatisfied customer under a 1-star review (zero isn’t an option, as another reviewer noted) entitled ‘Stupefyingly boring’; she went on to announce that she ‘will never again buy novels about men living inside their own heads’. At this point, and after some other reviews (some adoring, some more mixed) mentioning themes of displacement and genre-defiance, I was positively salivating and I couldn’t order it fast enough. I LOVE characters who live inside their own heads. I love witnessing the strange possibilities of thought which parade themselves through our mind-spaces while we peel carrots and take the subway. I’m all for that. Sign me up! There is nothing weirder or more interesting than our preposterous human situation, and there can’t truly be a good novel about our human situation that doesn’t even hint at the notion of displacement. The idea of belonging is absurd, yet so addictive; so tantalising and precious. The truth (the truth in this particular world; my world) is that we are all displaced all of the time; this is both our weakness and our power; the cause of our despair and our freedom. So yes, let’s peel carrots and mull.

And I can’t help but be fascinated by belonging/displacement (not quite a dichotomy, but it’ll do for now, and certainly does for my own interest); I’ve rarely (possibly never) felt I’ve belonged anywhere, though I’ve dabbled in leanings towards it; belonging would feel like a warm bath, a relief, a pure joy; but that’s what makes it so final, surely, and so terrifying, sometimes. What then? What next? And there is so much to discuss while not belonging.

I spent years travelling so much and living a life so unlike those of my peers that I learned to keep short lists (on paper, first; on my phone, later) of people I thought I could ring when I felt sad or needed company. I never rang them – I just liked to keep records of possibility. I dreamed of my ‘grown up’ life (still pending), during which whole crowds of us naturally congregate (no pre-made appointments necessary; everyone is whimsical) in my dream house, where I would cook dinners which would be so delicious, yet so low-key (no one likes a stressed host) that we would laugh together all night long (I never specified what exactly we were laughing at with such gusto; I am not a control freak). In fact, my closest friends in spirit were so often the furthest away in distance that the notion of a steady group felt impossible. Having never struggled for friends at school, it was only afterwards that I realised how terrible I can be at keeping in touch with people (groups are often held together by one prime mover, and I was not she), how nebulous my understanding of time can be (swathes of it wash by as I balance my urgent desires to experience others and to be alone), and how difficult it becomes to fit in around other people’s career paths and marriages, let alone around my own frequent physical absences and flight path. I couldn’t commit to anything due to my work schedule. The day I had to tell my dance teacher I needed to pull out of a show because I knew (knowing my multi-continental schedule in advance for the next 12 months or so; that’s how freelance work can be sometimes) my placement in the choreography was going to be flaky at best, was a hard lesson; I was sacrificing so much to live such an unconventional life – I was sacrificing community, commitment and yes, any foray into the notion of belonging. I incorporated some semblance of dance into my work, yes; I danced for the camera in slow-motion (if not at full speed) for 7 years, all over the world, and was made immortal through other people’s art projects (I am currently modelling for a sculptor, actually), but my own disappearance had started to sting.

My desire to nest and my desire to have adventures have always felt like equal and opposite forces, so it is natural that some areas of my life have experienced kinesthetic paralysis, even while I have racked up years of wonderful memories and unlikely moments (/depleting bank balances). I wouldn’t change any of it – definitely not, I’ve been incredibly fortunate – but all things have a season, and this last year or so has seen the introduction of one in which friendly faces are a regular occurrence and conscious choice, membership of community groups has felt easier and, increasingly, I get to cook for friends who relax in my home and simply exist as themselves.

Yes, friends and acquaintances exist both as complete entities and ideas. If I can do the people in my life a quick disservice of likening them to inanimate objects, I read an article recently about household possessions; how we gather things around us that we best feel hold those qualities we sense as lacking in ourselves. We jazz up our boring selves with vibrant art, or we sanctuary-ise/flatten our unstilled minds with minimalism and open space. I can’t decide how true this is; for me, I just love beauty and so surround myself with it, colourfully. Friendships can be similarly curated, but the art collections here are of two strands; we fly towards those who embody the traits we recognise in ourselves (we feel safe with them) and relax in their company, even when this is entirely unsaid; meanwhile, we are equally drawn to those who know how to do things we don’t; how to be things we aren’t. We exoticise those who are different, and cherish them, and we strengthen ourselves through those who are similar, and cherish them. We’re fascinated both by ourselves, then, and by our opposites, which also (of course) bring out the parameters of our selves more fully. We are all just experiencing ourselves. Isn’t this realisation the start of belonging after all; shared reality; shared others; no others at all?*

*…Makes sense, actually. (It’s my blog and I’ll answer my own questions if I want to.)

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