Friday, July 24, 2015

Size Doesn't Matter

Angst can be a ravenous and insatiable beast. Whilst in an overall sense, it’s quite an unfocussed and global fear, the less formal usage of the word is applied to a fear both quite personal and at times, quite trivial. When it comes to the source of angst, though, truly size does not matter.

I was a difficult child. Not in a running-around, tearing-the-place-apart way. More in a quiet and sulky way. I slept poorly as a baby, and had rather particular rules to which only I was privy–until those rules were broken. Suddenly everyone else knew the rules too! Behaviour needed to be patterned and predictable. Peas could not be mixed with carrots once on my plate (though if they arrived mixed, that was no trouble). Biscuits (the cookie kind) needed to be whole, not broken. My mother, in fact, was concerned that I might be autistic.

From my perspective, which is the only one I have regular access to, I felt the world had a certain sense of order, yet it seemed nobody else understood just how important it was to keep that order. The doody-heads.

It all came to a head once I began school. I’d attended kindergarten, and had been in child care many times, but school somehow overwhelmed me; to the point that I didn’t speak out loud that first day.

That, then, became the trend for the whole year. My not speaking that first day had a few of the kids looking at me funny. At least, in my own perception, it did. From the perspective of an extra 40+ years of experience, I can recognise that they were all sunk just as deeply in their own psyches at that moment.

So, because I’d not spoken out loud in the classroom that first day, when day two arrived I just knew that if I spoke out loud, all eyes would suddenly be staring in my direction. “He spoke! At last!” It was one of those snowball effects, where every day of silence built up the pressure—in my own head and nowhere else, of course—to ultimately verbalise.

I hasten to add that at home, and in the playground, and even in the hallways, I was an average kid who spoke and shouted and played around. It was just the formalised nature of the classroom, I think, which gave me initial pause.

I lasted the whole of the first year without speaking out loud in class. At show and tell I would whisper in the teacher’s ear. My friends simultaneously acted as helpers and enablers. They would get up and ask the teacher if I could go to the toilet, rather than forcing me to confront whatever damned cat it was that had my tongue.

Despite being an on-stage musical performer, that kind of angst is still a part of who I am and what I do. It’s made a few appearances in my stories, as is always the way for anyone who writes.

Most notably, there’s a small section in my FF story, “Her Majesty” (edited by the lovely Lisabet!) It’s a first person story, which has long been my go-to POV (which is probably a branch of the same tree from which all this initial angst grew–a self-centredness which feels like protection).

This paragraph is, to my mind, my most accurate description of how that angst manifested in my mind. I wrote earlier of my childhood need for patterning and predictability, for vegetable segregation unless already intermingled. The last two lines of this paragraph…that sums up what was going on in my head.

“With a fortifying breath, I walked out until the water tickled the tops of my knees. Every passing wave slipped up my thighs like a drunken jerk’s hands until finally I bit the bullet and sat, squealing and shivering as the cold water coated my skin. It wasn’t just the temperature. Change has always been hard for me. Even when it’s just the change from dry to wet.”


Thankfully, life and experience and the arrival of genuine things to be scared of have broken those early fears and left them sprinkled on the floor of my mind. I could easily pick them up and weld them back together. But I have too much else to do right now.

13 comments:

  1. You're fortunate your classmates were so understanding and helpful, Willsin. Maybe they saw your silence as a kind of magic.

    And yes, we do write our own angst into our stories, don't we?

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    1. Magic. Yes, I'm sure that's what they were thinking. Heh.

      And if we didn't write our angst into our stories I think we'd probably explode. One of the overall advantages with being a writer, I guess. It's a great place to channel, release and explore all the stuff you might otherwise suppress.

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  2. Lol doody-heads. I wonder if all kids have a particular weirdness that they grow out of if they're lucky. When I was little different foods couldn't touch on my plate.

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    1. Yes, sounds very much the same thing. Trouble is, of course, we tend not to actually remove those idiosyncrasies. We just learn to tune them out. Kind of like focussing on the one person talking to you when you're at a party filled with conversation. We try to block out the voices that will get us laughed at.

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  3. Lol doody-heads. I wonder if all kids have a particular weirdness that they grow out of if they're lucky. When I was little different foods couldn't touch on my plate.

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  4. Lol doody-heads. I wonder if all kids have a particular weirdness that they grow out of if they're lucky. When I was little different foods couldn't touch on my plate.

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  5. I think the determination of a willful child can surprise adults. I was made to stand every day at the side of 5th grade Catholic school classroom until I did something I didn't want to do. After over a month of that, the nun gave in and let me sit, with compliments about my fortitude. I also played a game where I wouldn't watch the opening scenes of a favorite TV show, Lassie. (I must have been between 8 and 11 or so) At the beginning of every show there's a scene showing Lassie jumping over a fence. For some reason, I refused to watch it, keeping my eyes closed until the opening was over and the show began. It became a matter of self-discipline.

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    1. I used to do the same kind of thing...except for me, my bedroom had a door to the outside, and the door was made of glass (we lived on a rural property). And I would look out through the glass at night-time, but then I'd make sure to slam my eyes shut for a length of time so that all the evil spirits, skeletons, zombies, vampires, and other monsters could walk past my door unseen. I mean, come on...if I SAW them, they'd have to come in and kill me, wouldn't they?

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  6. My kids tease me because I count my ice cubes as I put them into my glass. Things need to be done in even increments, like 4, 6, 8...I particularly like 4, since I have 4 kids, and 6 because there are 6 in my family. I also love 8 because it's so symmetrical, and on its side it's the symbol for infinity. That will probably be my next tattoo.

    We all have idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. Hopefully as we age, we learn to stop judging ourselves too harshly because of them. I tell my kids the rest of the world is lined up to judge and make fun of us. In our house, our sanctuary, it's OK to be yourself, because everyone here loves you BECAUSE of your foibles, because that's a part of who you are, and we love you.

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    1. My family called me "The Count" (referring to the Sesame Street character) because I loved to do exactly that kind of thing. I was actually chatting with my father about this blog yesterday and he said when he makes tea he HAS to dunk the bag 15 times. 14 will be too weak, 16 will be too strong. He recognises in himself a strong ability to show OCD traits, and it's really only his determination not to that stops it.

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  7. First, I admire the commitment of your younger self. I've had thoughts and ideas like that, but I never have the self control to see them through for any length of time that mattered. The story strikes me as rather badass. Second, I'm dying to know how you did end up speaking in class. Did you just show up for year 2 like it wasn't a thing? Or was there a dramatic reveal at some point?

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    1. Heh. My mother cajoled me over those first Christmas holidays (the year break here in Australia), and on the first day of Grade 1 (the no-speaking year was called Preps in Victoria, the state I lived at the time), I spoke at the first opportunity. My memory tells me a few folks who knew me the year before zipped their heads around and looked...and then the world just continued as if nothing had changed! HOW RUDE OF IT!
      And I wouldn't necessarily characterise it as commitment. From memory it was pure unadulterated fear/angst that kept me silent.

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  8. As a parent of someone with OCD, I recognize that kind of behavior, but I think we all have that tendency, especially when we're very young and trying hard to make sense out of the world and its "rules." I don't think I've ever entirely got over feeling like I was never issued the "Rulebook" that everyone else seemed to have, but by this advanced age I'd rather play by my own rules anyway.

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