I can relate on many levels to that story. April says that childhoods like mine are like PTSD, but I even though I don't quite agree with that, I agree there may have some of the same symptoms, and when I was a kid, my "dollhouse" was my obsessive D&D collection or the constant sorting of my Legos. But I hate to slap a severe label on my childhood to claim it's PTSD, like comparing it to Auschwitz or something. I mean, it sucked, but not that bad. Maybe my mother's suicide was the closest to PTSD I came.
Then I ran into this essay about being good. And suddenly, a light bulb clicked on. Then it popped and cracked, but a lot of the article still makes sense to me:
|Our vision of goodness has developed from the accumulated experience and folk wisdom of many centuries. Unfortunately, almost all of those centuries differ from our own in certain key ways. Our ideas about what it means to be good are severely out of date. We may not have realized it yet, but many of our best people are suffering for it.|
I really try to be a good person, and I always fall far short of my goals. A lot of people say I am a good person, but I always think, "No, I am not. I am only 10% of what I should be. Because I can't stay on top of the housework, I have an ant problem, I don't exercise enough, and when people need me, I am often unable to do a damn thing to turn their life around for the better." My own dollhouse of being good comes from a desire for perfection; a strict control on being perfect and almost angelic.
I had a friend who used to say he didn't hate anyone. Not a single person. He said that frequently on his own and dropped it into random conversations with suspicious frequency. Yet, he had a position of power, and people in that position tend to become targets for others. I am not sure if he felt that being in that position meant he could not actually state he hated anyone for fear of starting wars, or he just had a desperate need for being liked. And when he was alerted to the fact that some people had publicly stated he was awful in some way (usually out of context, or said by people who were not pleasant people to begin with), he would either dismiss the person, or in rare cases, define them in one of two ways: head injury or child molester. At a particularly stressful time in his career, there seemed to be a lot of child molesters with head injuries in his life. It was from him that I learned that there was no such thing as being a total martyr. We are all human, and whether we admit it or not, we have human frailties. How he defined them was his own business, and it was interesting to see how he dealt with them. If the data does not fit the hypothesis, redefine the data. Later, he stopped defining people this way, and he actually got to the point of stating that some people were, indeed, jerks. He progressed just fine.
Yet, I have not progressed as far. I want to be good to everyone, and I want everyone to have a good time. I obsess over some of my friend's problems sometimes, like how so-and-so is finally going to get a good boyfriend, or maybe this friend can get a job where his mortal soul isn't being compromised on a daily basis. When shit happens to me, I look at the huge vast array of shit piled upon me, and shrug. "Eh," goes myself. But when shit happens to a good friend, or even worse, Christine and CR? "Why why why whyyy????" I am psychodramatic so they don't have to be, I guess. I strive so hard to be good, and to do good things on a daily basis, like how that woman arranged her doll furniture just so, and when I do a good deed, especially anonymously, I feel a Zen-like peace. Even for small stuff. Like getting another round of coffee started at work if the coffee is low, or wiping the counter from some other slob's spill even though was have a cleaning staff that comes into the kitchen twice a day. I pick up trash that's not mine and throw it away, pray or think good thoughts for strangers, and volunteer for stuff no one else wants to do. Hell, I had to stop that last one because I couldn't handle it all.
What got me was this part of the essay:
|The good person of today lives with a constant sense of inadequacy and in the presence of many poorly articulated and hence unmet personal needs. To the extent that the good person realizes what is going on, he/she feels trapped and helpless. He/she may project the resulting anger onto particular people (while at the same time guiltily sensing that it is not really their fault), internalize it as depression, or project it onto the culture as a whole in the form of bitterness. The good person constantly searches for practical techniques that will yield greater efficiency or for spiritual practices that will allow him/her to draw on an infinite source of energy. From time to time some new trick or insight does unlock new energy, but inevitably the good person's unbounded commitments suck up the new energy and leave him/her no better off than before. To disconnect from the sources of the unbounded demands would mean becoming a bad person (or admitting to being a broken person), and it would be unbearable. Moreover, if this device worked it would throw the formerly good person into a grave spiritual and philosophical crisis. What kind of world do we live in if a bad person can live a more deeply satisfying life than a good person can?|
This hit a nerve. I think this is what the term "Patience of Job" stems from. I mean, crap kept happening to him, but he remained faithful. Most people would have cracked; I know I certainly would have after losing all my children. But I am left with this nagging doubt of "admitting defeat means you have succumbed to evil." Every moment I take for myself increases my guilt in some way. And after a while, it reaches a level of saturation and I actually fulfill my worst fears, like how I was unable to attend Bobbie's funeral. I knew I couldn't take it. The ultimate act of shameful selfishness, but I knew if I went, I'd commit an even bigger act by getting hysterically emotional, and then people would have to support me, and that would have been rude and inappropriate. My stomach is in a knot of guilt about that whole thing, but the soothing voice of, "I guess you did the right thing, you didn't fuck up other people, so there is that ... but you should have been able to show your support, now Betty and Jim won't like you anymore. And should they? You suck." Depression is like a heavy blanket: comforting, but suffocating as well.
I have questioned my decision to be good so much. A lot. I feel guilty for questioning it, but I have to be honest. Is it because I want to be a martyr? No. Or I'd go around telling people what an awesome, great person I am. Is it even for attention? Not really, since I do "good deeds" anonymously that most won't notice all the time. I think I do it for control. Why?
Maybe because many thought of my dad as evil. I mean, other kids feared him. You know that sixth sense kids have that something's wrong? The voice that tells them not to go into the woods, or talk to that strange man in the car? That's how my peers reacted to my dad. When I grew up, I found a lot of adults did, too. My father left a wake of angry and pissed off people. Most held their tongue in front of me, but a few did know I was listening, or some didn't care. "It's like your father has no soul," said one man at an IEEE function to me. He was referring to my father's jovial nature right after my mother died. I didn't know what to say, I just nodded. I was still in shock about the whole thing then, and I didn't know why he dragged me to these functions in the months after my mother died and before he started dating Nicole. I guess he didn't want to be alone, although he left me alone right after he came through the door. Another person I spoke to years later about my father being IEEE Chair (for the Northern, VA Section) said, "He was more harmful than useless, but only just." The most striking thing I recently heard about my dad was from his Navy days. I always assumed he left the Navy to either pursue an electronics engineer education or because he knew Vietnam was around the corner, and didn't want to me in actual conflict (he served 1958-1962, I believe). But after his mother's death, I heard some of his former shipmates state that my father was "unwilling to taking orders from superiors" and "no one would serve under him." He was very disliked by his shipmates, it would seem. He was, as they say, "a bad apple." So I am sure his parting with the Navy was a mutual agreement. This was his legacy. I uncover more stuff about him as the years go by in the most unexpected places. And I have also found that many people were scared of me, thinking along the lines (metaphorically) that if my dad was Satan, then I was the son of Satan.
So is it any wonder I really don't want to be like him? My father was cruel, cold-hearted, selfish, uncaring, and uncooperative. I have strived very hard to be the opposite. My hatred for him and what I saw him to other people is part of my driving force to be a decent person. Maybe that's "why" (in a destiny sort of way) my childhood was so bad, if my father had been nice to me or something, I would have turned out to be a selfish prick. Maybe the streak of insanity that runs through my ancestral veins has been redirected into this drive for perfection in a totally opposite manner by some divine force or freak of happenstance. How I got that way is a mystery, I certainly had plenty of opportunity to be otherwise. Maybe the desire to be good is because I am insane.
And is that such a bad thing? I don't know. But if you'll excuse me, I have to sort my Legos and make a dollhouse.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000562.html