Last night I attended a local Toastmasters meeting. (Public speaking) How strange to see young people looking just as I did years ago. In their fresh faces I saw fear and enthusiasm, competence and ego, youthfully mixed together.
It’s nice how I can “see” younger adults; it’s humbling how I still don’t know much about adults in general, or my own self. Not yet. If only I was a literature guy with keen insights into human nature. I guess if classic writers seem to know more than trained psychologists in white lab coats do then it’s partly because writers pay so much attention. For them, “character” is their treasure, that’s where their heart is.
Of course, if I’m not ready to learn, then I won’t “see” lessons happening in life, not even in print.
I’ve read Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, the 1951 classic that stopped any more stories being written about intelligent parasites that control men’s minds—an plot that, for illiterates and non-science fiction readers, Hollywood never tires of re-using. There is a scene where the hero, a field agent, briefly holds the attention of two scientists. The eggheads then start talking excitedly to each other, totally ignoring the hero. So he walks off. He comes across his boss, “the old man,” and tells him the scientists are too stupid. The old man teases, “Sure that’s what’s bothering you?” What the hero didn’t get, and neither did I at the time, was he was bothered not because the scientists were so “ivory tower,” but because they ignored him. We all have an ego. Years later, after that same experience happened to me, the memory was there, ready to surface after my car and I went fuming down the road.
At the meeting last night, where I knew half the people, I had a good time. Sweet. Yet what if, back when I was young, I had attended a meeting where I barely knew anyone? Maybe, if I were ignored for a while, and if I failed to be humble, then my ego would have protected me by saying, “They’re all stupid!” But what is “ignored,” and what is “a while”? I could have escaped into daydreaming about everyone cheering after I saved the mill owner’s daughter from drowning. Of course, at a meeting, none of “them” can tell when I’m dreaming. And for my part, unless I “know thyself” I won’t even realize my daydreams are for self-protection.
Daydreams are handy: Is the group too sweet and loving for me? Then I can emotionally insulate myself by dreaming about sternly fighting off wolves with an ax. Is my ego anticipating I won’t manage to conform? Then I may suddenly find myself dreaming of my high school or some group where I conformed quite well, thank you very much. “Suddenly find” means my “ego” has needs my “reason” knows nothing about… until I look back.
On a lighter note, Freud would say, “Sometimes a daydream is—just a daydream.” Not for ego protection. I’m still chuckling over the time Corporal John Oxley was getting into Mormonism and he took me to a little summer evening church service. (Now he’s into shamanism) We were more interested in the women our age than in any boring service. After church, after we got into the car, John admitted he had been wondering what he would do if Arab terrorists had burst in. I laughed, “Were yours wearing burnooses too?” I remember we waited until our wheels had passed the church parking lot before we opened the glove box for a pack of cigarettes. Mormons don’t smoke.
Earlier that evening we sat on the church porch, waiting for folks to arrive. Some young women came down the sidewalk. As they approached we both straightened our backs, we both raised a hand to brush our hair back. I was totally unaware of this until another smiling young man pointed out, “You two both…” The older I get, the more I know.
Ah, life is a comedy—but I sure wish I knew as much as a classic writer.
As roadside lampposts have green flags for Spruce Meadows showjumping.
In wartime: I guess any Arab Muslim who won’t be comfortable in a meeting of “others,” as in Sunnis and Shiites, or who parrots, from victim-mode, “Islam is under attack worldwide,” is a person whose ego is as weak as mine used to be.
I’m supposed to be Fiction Writing: Last week I ended up spending a day on my essay, and then edited the next day too. This time I am avoiding such time-use by a strategy of not starting until the very last day before I post. I still haven’t managed to keep my essay-time to only three hours, as Stevey does. … But at least yesterday I finished a short story.