I love reading biographies. In an odd way, for me, it doesn’t matter very much who the book is about. The thing I like is narrative fidelity to oddness. If history cleans things up, or at least attempts to, the biographer keeps things messy. I like knowing that whatever passed for the erotic in Charles Dickens’ life caused him to be dishonest and often cruel, that he cultivated the public’s affection by inventing the literary reading. Dickens wanted to be liked though he was heartless; though he paraded sentimentality before his family and his readers in lieu of whatever it is we mean when we talk of self awareness. Charles Dickens had very little emotional intelligence. That’s “oddness” for sure. He was one of us.
If someone wrote my biography I think in all fairness the writer would have to say I wanted to be liked—wanted it too much—wanted it the way a blind child remains inside the man and still fingers the worry beads he played with in solitude. (His father had gone to the Middle East and came home from Beirut with beads he could finger and slide on a string, an accoutrement of loneliness.)
I wanted to be liked but like most of us, found ways to sabotage the hope. Life does this. The super ego is a hydra headed thing. You meant well when you placed lawn ornaments outside your house—they were inoffensive, or so you thought, a soap stone skunk and a daisy wheel. You didn’t know your next door neighbor dislikes chachkas, dislikes them the way some dislike dogs. You couldn’t have imagined he’d come by at night and kick them over. Your neighbor, an older man, no moist teenager. All you’d wanted was a little joy. You hadn’t thought a soap stone skunk would incite the old insurance man’s shadow—that Jungian nexus of subconscious anger and projection that’s largely unimpeachable if you spend time among human beings. The nasty neighbor saw too much of his own repressed pleasure in your innocuous skunk.
If someone wrote my biography I hope she’d say the setbacks didn’t set me back much. Wanting to be liked is only a tragic circumstance if you don’t possess irony. I hope she’d say I had plenty of irony. I could enjoy bad music when I had to. I could like people who didn’t share my core beliefs. I hope she’d say I climbed a security fence when I was young, in order to sit all night in a Greek temple. I was in a Lord Byron phase.
I hope she doesn’t say I loved animals more than people, though that’s a tempting thing.
Like Dickens I could be self-deceiving, though not in my personal relationships. And I don’t mean thievery. But while I profess to being an Episcopalian, I have sometimes supported military solutions to intractable problems. Thirteen years ago I thought the United States should invade Afghanistan. Now I see why the sermon on the mount doesn’t have footnotes. After 9/11 I tried to juggle my beliefs to fit circumstances. I pray for forgiveness. I try to learn from my transgressions.
I make up stupid songs; dance around the house until my wife has to retreat.
I struggle with my temper when I see gay people, transgendered people, people of color, foreigners, the disabled, women, you name it—when I see the marginalized being further marginalized.
In any event I wasn’t one of those blind people, who, having a tough childhood, grew up to pretend he wasn’t disabled.