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Sunday, January 02, 2005

In the 1980s, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union entered a period of "Perestroika," or economic restructuring which, paired with the concomitant "glasnost," or "openness," contributed significantly to the collapse of the USSR in the late '80s and early 90's. This is the basis and the mentality from which I draw the title of this post, since it reflects accurately the changes which I am endeavoring to make in my own life.

The last six months have been a time of fairly intense introspection for me, and though they have culminated in some decisions and changes in my lifestyle, the process has been stymied by the seemingly-intractable weight, the sheer magnitude of the burden with which I am confronted. I put this process on hold for some time, and so the pressure, so to speak, has built up. It is only when I deal with it severally, in particulate form and therefore in a painstakingly slow fashion, that I reach anything approaching epiphanic thought - or the mental clarity which makes such intellectual leaps possible. When I strive to approach it more rapidly, to perhaps accelerate the program and bring myself into step with my current state, rather than one, or a dozen, or even a hundred steps behind, I grind down.

For much of my life - as long as I can remember - I have always relished deeply the solitary pursuits. Actually, it is more the solitude that I enjoy. I live chiefly in my head, which has had a plethora of significant impacts; I am very good at entertaining myself, and, as a vital requisite to this, and as a logical outgrowth, most of my pursuits are cerebral in the extreme. Unfortunately, this serves to reinforce the reality of my preference for solitude. Like the smoker who fails to quit in the early stages of addiction on the grounds that he "can quit anytime [he] wants to," I never undertook to actively strive for social interaction, with the consequence that to do so now is something which seems itself overwhelming.

This is not to say that my social skills have suffered - not to my awareness, in any case - as I can be witty, charming, etc. etc. when circumstances require it, or in the surpassingly rare circumstances that I should by choice place myself within a situation where they can be practiced. As that sentence says, however, I do not typically prefer the social event to the solitude of my own demesne.

The problem lies largely with the fact that I have found only in the barest fraction of a handful of circumstances wherein I feel as though I can, to employ the vernacular, "let myself go." I tend to view myself not at the tortured artist, but as someone nevertheless not really understood. My motivations are alternately complex and simple, and I cannot myself claim to have much profound understanding of them. However, when I act, I act carefully, fully aware of my goals and the possibility of failure, and having considered deeply the pitfalls and potential dangers which append to such endeavor.

Rather, when I act towards a purpose, I engage thusly. Yet in the more general context, I seem unable to effect useful forebearance, and so ideas, peculiar and often half-formed, emerge from my mouth, leaping ebulliently from my mind to the world at large. These ideas, typically bizarre and the result of a logic chain which is invisible to onlookers who are not intimately familiar with me - and these are a rarity indeed - and my manner of thought draw odd looks, both literal and figurative. As such, I often display myself more poorly through informal behavior than through formality. As a logical consequent, formal interaction is in fact my preferred modus operandi, and there are few people outside of my immediate family given to witness my informal operations. Among my peer group, which tends to be closer to the beer-guzzling party animal frat brother than to the eruditic and refined professorial fellowship candidate, this instinctive effort towards formal behavior is a potent liability.

This has been a factor stunting my own capacity for close emotional bonds. Trust does not come altogether easily for me, though the appearance of it is manifested in a deep-seated tolerance and perhaps even self-conscious preparation for betrayal. Aiding me is the acknowledgement that compared to some secrets, there is very little about me which is particularly dark or deep, or worth hiding. In what is either a paradox or a logical consequence therefrom, I consider myself to be intensely trustworthy. One of my most fundamental guiding principles is a belief in the importance of honor, which has largely become a laughable anachronism in the modern age; this principle, however, leads me to maintain the sanctity of the trust given me by others, and to represent myself and honestly and completely as possible in dealing with others.

It is this latter point which I believe that many people detect, consciously or not, and which has inspired many people throughout my life to place in my a degree of trust, or otherwise to feel at greater ease with me than the brevity of our acquaintance might warrant under other circumstances. It used to be that when people had problems, they'd feel comfortable coming to me with them. Although I've made no effort to dissuade such convalescent endeavors more recently, I simply have lacked the time or even the drive, in my exhausted state, to grant such time and consideration as would be appropriate and, indeed, honorably correct. However, when such was a more commonplace occurrance, the exchange was generally one-way because of my own choices; the person in question would share with me his or her problems, I would lend what comfort or insight as I could, and there it would end. I would not share about myself unless it seemed specifically and significantly salient, and I would not in any case tolerate the reversal of positions necessary for comfort and insight to flow back towards me.

This policy had the side-effect of etiolating my very capacity to share with others. Today, I feel uncomfortable sharing the majority of my discomforts, even with those whom I have come to know and trust. There exist exceptions to this, but, bizarrely, they don't as a rule include my family, or the vast majority of my friends. Paradoxically, I would feel more at ease sharing my woes with someone I little know and with whom I have only the slightest contact than with those whom I see often and know well. Unfortunately, that same group contains primarily those who do not - who have no reason to - care about me or my problems. I often espouse the concept that the difficulties of every person are the difficulties of all persons, but that is perhaps too idealistic to really work in the world. People, as a rule, in my experience, care about problems more or less exclusively when they themselves are directly affected. Given the small number of people with whom I share any real emotional bond, and the problems that such a bond brings to the very act of sharing my mounting woes, this creates a more-or-less irresoluble conflict.

Recently, and briefly, I had the privilege of engaging in conversation someone who barely knew me, but who seemed genuinely interested in my problems. It was refreshing in the extreme, and in the roughly thirty minutes of conversation, I felt as though I came to a more profound understanding of some of my old regrets and laid to rest some burdens which are, by now, years old than I could have in a week of intense introspection and emotional labor. It has, perhaps, created the barest crack in my outside-looking-in mentality which long ago passed from conscious control, and that might be enough to work with in making greater strides forward.

It also presents for my consideration the potential of a sort of moral penury which had heretofore gone utterly unnoticed in my contemplations, like overlooking the bad spot in an apple through the auspices of hunger. If this is the potential gain from even so brief a conversation, it may be a far more powerful tool than one of which I could rationally avoid taking advantage. The only difficulty for now is in finding the right sort of person; but given time and dedication, as I have proven to myself before, such a difficulty is not insuperable.

Posted at 11:10 pm by Saladin

Sinister Ninja
January 4, 2005   01:54 AM PST
January 3, 2005   01:14 PM PST
In response to Acturi's statement that "those who think that they are least understood are the ones most able to write things that other people read and go 'yeah, I've felt that.'," I'd posit that the INTP personality type is highly overrepresented on the internet; intellectuals (and pseudo-intellectuals) seem to flock to it like moths to a blowtorch.
January 3, 2005   05:11 AM PST
Well, Komrade (as long as we're being Soviet Russia), should you ever have a desire to talk to someone, I usually have a great deal of free time and plenty of willingness to listen. Particularly considering that I find myself vowing every once in a while swearing that I need to talk to you more, only to find my plans thwarted by such things as space, time, and your frequently glacial rate of e-mail reply.

I have also always found it somewhat curious that those who think that they are least understood (which I acknowledge I am a part of, although I sometimes wonder at the accuracy of this statement) are the ones most able to write things that other people read and go "yeah, I've felt that." It is either an indication of the culture of alientation that we live in or an indication that no one is quite so badly understood as they think.

And bizzarre trains of thought... I have a job that involves mild physical activity for 8 hours. I've been doing it for nearly 5 years. So I can do my job on autopilot, and my brain goes wild. I've stopped trying to explain to people when I suddenly burst out laughing for no particular reason, because the strange looks only get weirder when I try to explain my internal jokes. Is depressing.
January 3, 2005   02:22 AM PST
Out of all the entires I've read of yours [which are numerous and enjoyed], this one stands out as one of my foremost favourites. The weight of your words would stagger Atlas. And, perhaps I feel I can somewhat relate, though when I consider that you say that you are misunderstood, I find it is very possible I have also misunderstood you.

All in all, though, an exceptional entry. Much enjoyed.

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