Wednesday, October 9, 2013

On My Misanthropic Moods and Random Acts Kindness by Complete Strangers

"Most people have nothing to say -- NOTHING to say. And most people give you the same conversation every single day. It's just the same old pattern, and you're none the wiser for knowing someone for five years. That's why I do this music-business thing. Because it's communication with people without having the extreme inconvenience of actually phoning anybody up."

--Morrissey, The Importance of Being Morrissey

At the risk of sounding like a pompous egomaniac, I can relate to what Morrissey was saying in this rare interview from a decade ago as much as I can to his frequently isolationist lyrics and song titles ("Never Had No One Ever," Unloveable," "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me"). In fact, that's precisely how I feel, and until I watched the 2003 documentary yesterday, I didn't know how to concisely put it into words.

While I'm fairly certain that Morrissey isn't on Facebook or Twitter, many people use both forums and other forms of social media as means to a similar end, and they don't even realize it. I can go a week without having a single live conversation, but my laptop (mostly via my blogging) makes me feel like I'm in a constant state of communion. It's the same way with Facebook. It can make us feel like we are in regular contact with people, keeping up with their lives, without our having to endure the inconvenience of having actual conversations with them.

"Words are useless -- especially sentences." -- Madonna, "Bedtime Story"

I've always assumed that Bjork was referring to spoken words when she wrote that line, although it could conceivably apply to the written word, too, as it's executed in social media. Conversations require so much effort, and thanks to the harsh truths spoken by the former lead singer of my all-time favorite rock band (The Smiths, naturally), last night I didn't dream that somebody loved me, but rather, I had a grand epiphany about my difficult relationship with conversations. For as long as I can remember, I have been misdiagnosing myself as being shy when, in truth, it's not fear but rather my preference for doing things when I'm alone -- from eating meals, to sleeping, to not sleeping (wink, wink), to, yes, communicating -- that sometimes causes me to clam up when I'm around most people.

I find the majority of extended human interaction to be awkward and uncomfortable. It's not that I'm anti-social, exactly. ("A recovering introvert," as my brother Alexi once offered, remains the single best description of who I am.) Give me a hot topic to explore (racism, gay marriage, the Oscars, General Hospital), and I'll run away with it. Ask me where I'm from, what I do, what I'm doing, how I'm doing, what I had for dinner, and I'm ready to run in the other direction.

Why, you ask? I think it's partly repetition, as Morrissey suggested, and partly what I spend most of the day doing. My writing serves the same purpose for me as Morrissey's music does for him. I reveal so much about myself through my written word that when I'm actually talking to a human being face to face, the last thing that I want to talk about is me and all the minutiae of my life. I spend so much time in my own company, writing about what I'm thinking and feeling, that when other people enter the picture, I'm constantly having the same conversation over and over again.

I'm not blaming other people. I know that for most, conversations are all about Q&A. I prefer them when they revolve around ideas, but sometimes you have to slog through the small talk to get to the good stuff. Sometimes -- honestly, most of the time -- you never get there. Most people simply don't dig that deep.

Despite my low estimation of the conversational capabilities of the masses, I have no delusions of grandeur. Frankly, I don't understand why anyone would want to be around me. That's not because I don't have any good qualities. I like to think I'm an excellent listener who occasionally offers sage advice, and I'm definitely independent and low-maintenance. When an ex once described me as "needy," I laughed out loud because nothing could be further from the truth. It was my inclination to run off on my own for months at a time that precipitated our break-up.

I would have expected him to have been relieved in my absence anyway because when I was around, I was constantly challenging him. Not just with the hard questions but with my personality, too. I'm opinionated, headstrong and moody, given to periods of physical and emotional withdrawal. Why would anyone fall for someone like that? I accept the love of my friends without questioning it, but in the past, when a boyfriend has said, "I love you," I've occasionally found myself looking around to see who else he could be talking to.

Don't get me wrong: I don't have a low opinion of myself, nor am I brimming with self-loathing. I'm actually quite fond of myself, and that's because I get me. I am my own best company because there are never any awkward silences between us. I never have to ask myself "What are you thinking about?", and I never have to explain myself to myself. I would hate to have to spend all day listening to my own voice, but I rarely ever tire of being alone with my thoughts.

So yes, I understand the profound pull of solitude of which Morrissey was speaking. That said, I also recognize the value of human contact. I love and appreciate my friends for being the people they are, for supporting me, and also for putting up with me in small doses. They never cease to amaze me.

There's great value, too, in total strangers, and I'm not talking about the ones we occasionally -- or frequently, depending on one's sexual proclivities -- take to bed. (Those beautiful strangers usually do more harm than good.) A stranger on the street can help create the magic moments that totally make a city, or simply boost my spirits when I'm down in the depths of a blue funk. I've told the story of the random woman who stopped me in the streets of Buenos Aires one Christmas morning and gave me a hug just because she thought I looked like I needed one. She remains as memorable to me as any of the guys I dated there.

That sort of thing doesn't happen often, but I consider myself lucky that it happens at all. Yesterday, I was walking down a deserted street in Tel Aviv when a guy came rushing up behind me. As he brushed by, I yelped and nearly jumped out of my skin because the song blaring through my iPod earplugs had made me completely oblivious to his approach. He turned around to see what the hell had happened. When he saw me glaring at him, he paused his phone conversation, and approached me. Smiling, he said "Hello" and held out his hand. After shaking mine, he turned around, and he was on his way. It was such a small gesture, but one that totally made my hour.

That same evening, the coolest one since I arrived in Tel Aviv, I made the error of going to an outdoor bar wearing a t-shirt, shorts and my Haviaiana flip flops. A young woman noticed me shivering, and although she barely spoke a word of English, she took her leather jacket from the back of her chair and offered it to me. Thanks to her kindness and warmth, I was finally warm enough to enjoy myself.

She told me to keep the coat until I was ready to leave, and I didn't hear from her again for the next hour or so. That was the best part about it: It was kindness without strings attached. There were no awkward attempts at chit chat, no expectations, not even an exchange of names. The strangest thing is that today I can remember the conversation that we didn't have more vividly then any of the ones I did have.
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