I watch the memes that float around the blogosphere, but I've never been tempted to participate myself. This time, however, I've been tagged by Tom Roper, so I feel compelled to comply, in my own fashion. (His tag also comes at a time when the MLA President has sent a similar query to the board members, for nefarious reasons of her own, which I suppose shall be revealed at next month's meeting.)
What's perplexing about this exercise is who the "you" is. I know that there are many people very close to me who read the damn thing, so I'm not likely to come up with much that they don't know. As for those who've never met me in person, or have only a passing acquaintance with what I write here, what in the world could possibly be of interest to them? But the game's the game, and I'll try to be a good sport.
It astonishes people when I tell them that I am almost pathologically shy. And I mean "pathological" in the sense in which I learned about it in psychology class in high school -- a psychological quirk that makes it difficult (or impossible) to function in the day-to-day world. I've spent all of my adult life learning coping skills, and I have to work on it every day that I'm out in public. All in all, I do pretty well. I still get intense physical nervousness before I go in front of a crowd -- be it playing guitar and singing, or doing a presentation of any sort, up in front of six people or a thousand -- and yet, once I hit that first chord or speak that opening sentence, I'm completely comfortable and feel wonderfully in my element. The most problematic continuing manifestation of my shyness is that I have, over the decades, developed an intense, irrational aversion to placing telephone calls -- I don't have any problem talking on the phone, I just hate making the call. I'm working on it.
Notwithstanding that not quite debilitating quirk, I have played guitar and sang, either solo, or with others, on four continents in the last dozen years. This is particularly impressive to me given that as recently as 1991, I thought I'd never perform again. Although I'd played the coffee house circuit in college, I'd been thirteen years without playing in front of people when I started to sit in with the folks who formed Liquid Prairie. There are two lessons here -- never say never, and try not to stand in your own way out of fear. I've also done presentations on library related subjects on four continents -- but not the same four. I fully intend to get this all straightened out and have seven and seven before I give it all up.
Although I am a very happy guy, with a generally positive demeanor, I actually take what most westerners would consider to be a pretty bleak view of the world. When pressed to name my religion, I'll often say Taoist, although my views may, in fact, be closer to the animism of the Lakota. I do not believe in progress overall -- that is, I see no evidence that the human race as a whole is advancing toward anything. It shouldn't take more than a glance at any edition of the New York Times to persuade one that, on the whole, we are no more enlightened or "self-actualized" in the 21st century than we were in the 10th, and that the sum total of human misery has not been decreased one iota. Given that, the regularity with which individual human beings surpass all reasonable expectations in their generosity, kindness, bravery and selflessness is astonishing and continually delights and enchants me.
Perhaps it comes from that bleak view of the world that I have never wanted to imagine myself living as another person or living in another time. The questions, "If you could be anybody at all, who would you be...?" or "If you could live in any other time, which would you pick...?" are nonsensical to me. I am so much a part of my time and place, that I can't register the notion of a "me" existing elsewhere or elsewhen. And while I haven't always been happy with the man that I am, I've never wanted to escape myself -- I just keep trying to figure out how to do a better job of walking my path.
And it's a path that has taken me to some amazing places. When Lynn and I became lovers, I found it astonishing. I had known her by reputation for quite some time, and had come to know her in the couple of years previous as an interesting colleague, but when I tumbled off of my heart and into hers, it took me quite by surprise. There were times, in those early months, when I would wake up in the middle of the night and lean on one elbow, just gazing at her sleeping form in wonder, amazed that I was here, in bed, with her. Thirteen years later, that still happens.