Admittedly, I have a serious lag between the time my emotions happen and the time I realize what emotions are happening to me. The motivation for this post is an incident that occurred last week while I was waiting for my chance to sort things out with my friend.
A professor from my university, strange, extremely tall white guy with a white guy name that might as well be Bob, strolls into my bike shop. I’m startled at first, because to me my bike life and my work life are completely nonintersecting spheres of my existence. However, this guy, Bob, likes to bike and he’s done some serious touring in his life. Shisho was there, too. Since Shisho has drunk the majority (like, at least 90%) of the coffee that Bob procured for me through his other really white old guy contact who might actually be named Bob, I decided to introduce them.
First impression: Bob speaks awful Japanese and is zero self conscious about it. He doesn’t even seem to know his Japanese is incomprehensible and I had to translate his Japanese into Japanese for Shisho to be able to talk to him. Second impression: Bob does not do “in the moment.”
While we were talking, we got on the subject of maps and hidden mountain trails. Bob and I both know the security guard at my university who loves bicycles and knows all kinds of mountain bike-able trails hidden in the mountains west of where I live. I brought this guy up and Bob says to me, “Oh, YJsan is a serious biker, you know. He rode blah blah and such and thus and he has all these yaddieyaddie things.” I politely wait for him to finish before informing him that yes, I know, because I met him and if I didn’t know how much he liked bikes, how would I know about his secret map of hidden West Tokyo mountain trails?
Bob looked at me askew for a moment before attempting yet again to impress upon me how much YJsan is into bikes. At this point, I’m annoyed and ready to close down the conversation. I don’t want to be lectured on how much some security guard likes bikes! I know this! I met him! I want to talk about the subject at hand, which is the actual fucking place he rides those bikes that he loves so goddamn much!!
I arduously wrap up the conversation which was quickly turning into a soliloquy on Bob’s part while Shisho waits politely for my translation and I wait annoyedly for the moment at which Bob will shut up long enough so that I can translate.
On my way to work this morning I remembered this incident and it made my blood pressure rise. It reminded me of so many conversations I had with my aunt, ever since I was a little child, where she would tell me How I Am. She would tell me how I always had to do things for myself and how I would get a sparkle in my eye before causing trouble as a toddler and adolescent. I remember how, when I was older, she told me about how I used to dress in middle school. I went through a phase where I listened to punk and wore oversized men’s cargo shorts with equally oversized band T-shirts. She told me how when I was younger “I covered my body because I didn’t want anyone to see it.” When I heard this, somewhere around twenty years of age, I was like “What?! When the hell did that happen? I just saw an MTV sketch with a girl playing volleyball in men’s board shorts and a bikini top and thought it was hot and wanted to emulate it. Only, I couldn’t figure out what to substitute for the bikini top when not at the beach which is why I went with huge T-shirts. That’s it. End of story. Where do you get your crazy fucking ideas from??”
Now, ten years later, that incident still bothers me. It wasn’t an isolated event so much as a particularly clear example of something that had been eating at me for most of my life. You see, when I was younger I believed my aunt because I respected her and because she seemed to think highly of me. As I grew and matured, particularly as I went through my divorce and came out again as a more authentic human being, I became annoyed at her increasingly inaccurate assessments of my personality. It was annoying not just because she was wrong, but because she insisted that I was wrong about me! Are you shitting me? No one in the whole goddamn world knows better who I am (or who anyone is) than the person whose identity is in question, which in this case is ME!
It’s been nearly six months since my aunt and I had our falling out. She tried to accuse me of being inconsiderate of her feelings, of insulting her and of doing some other stuff that I honestly can’t understand or attach to any particular interaction of ours. When we first tried to talk about it I told her that she had made me feel like a subject of ridicule because of who I am and the life I choose to lead. She said a funny thing to me. She said, “I think it’s telling that you only talk about yourself in your e-mail.” At which point I gave up on my usual tactic of communication and empathy and told her the cold hard truth. “Auntie,” I said, “If you want me to talk about someone’s feelings other than my own, then I can only guess at them because one can really only ever know one’s own experience. So since you want me to say it for you, I’ll say it. You’re reeling because you got punched in the face with the reality that your impression of me has been wrong for over a solid decade and I’ve had it with you telling me how I am. I refused to bow down to your superior assessment of The Way Things Are and you can’t handle it because it means that you, too, have to grow the fuck up.”
I hate when people try to tell me How Things Are. I hate it because I truly believe that we can never know more than our own personal experience, and because when people try to tell me how things are, they are implying that I am not intelligent enough to have figured it out for myself. I think that’s incredibly disrespectful. I do not even do this to my students who, by all measures of objectively reality, really can’t possibly know more than I do. So don’t tell me how it is. Instead, tell me what you see, tell me what you feel, tell me what troubles you and what doesn’t make sense about the facts you have collected. But don’t tell me how it is. Inevitably you are going to off topic at best, and dead wrong at worst.