Steinbeck can be credited for introducing me to Robert Burns’ poem, but neither of them is to blame for the wearily dismissive way in which I wave aside people’s misfortunes by interjecting with: “the best laid plans of mice and men,” cutting them off in mid-bleat and then change topic. Sympathy is just an eight-letter word, people! I do not suffer self-pity in others or myself. Just put a plaster on it and try again, is about the only advice I will give. Well, I had a chance to test that out this week.
My father is recovering from emergency surgery for a bleed on the brain. He lives in another state, so the work of keeping tabs on his condition has fallen to my sister, who is doing a great job. For me, the terrible revelation was how little I was affected by the news. To misquote Eddie Murphy, it seems this donkey has no layers at all. More a coconut than an onion. Armor-plated over nothing. So, in the days that have followed, I asked myself the nature / nurture question.
It could be a learned behaviour, because I don’t meet normal people. Joe Citizen and his lovely wife don’t want anything to do with me because they are law-abiding citizens. But I get to meet Joe’s brother Dave, because he hits his girlfriend on Sunday afternoons when he’s out of beer. Their mother Dorothy, who doesn’t see the boys much since her dementia made her unpleasant to be around, I’ll get to meet her on a hot summer’s day after nobody has spoken to her in weeks, after that smell slips out from under her door. The mad, bad and the sad. They get to you, no matter who you are.
Or it could be because I am not normal people. Antisocial personality disorder; an inability to emotionally invest; a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Take your pick. The indicia of narcissism are all unpleasant, even the sangfroid that distinguishes you as courageous when everybody else is running for the door. I’ve never read of a cure for this, but I’ve read that people can learn to imitate normalcy. Imitate it until they believe in it themselves, maybe.
So was I born this way, or did I become like this? All jokes about Finnish stoicism aside, my head makes the statues on Easter Island seem lively. But I guess nobody can really answer the question, so I’ll continue to explore it in my writing. The stilted conversations which Mike & The Mechanics sang about twenty-seven (OMG!!!) years ago are alive and well in my next novel, in which I am twelve-chapters deep. I might post a link for those that want to read where I’m up to, once I work out how to do it. Then maybe you can help me out by telling me if it feels right, or whether I am faking.