Distinguishing the Trees from the Forest

Low-Grade NoiseIt’s often been mentioned on the news that people in rural areas have been opposing having a wind farm in their community because the windmills generate a constant irritating noise. I have no difficulty imagining that their beef is legitimate as I recall the fans directly above my head at my second-to-last apartment in Halifax. And recently, residents in an area of Windsor, Ontario, have been bothered by sporatic, low-grade rumbling and noise, the source of which has yet to be identified.

I mention this because I’ve come to realize the extent to which “noise” — in this case, the accumulation of situations and incidents in my life — is clouding my view of the root cause of my current state of mind. At the same time, however, my relationship with actual noise (as well as its lack) has become even more troubled than in my 2004/2005 “fan days.” Hearing screaching or crying children or young men and women bellowing under the guise of “partying” makes the hair on my neck stand up and induces a deep sense of fatigue. But when I was in the Maritimes during my vacation, particularly in Grand Falls and Moncton, the silence was deafening and it was one of the many reasons I was so happy to be back in Montréal where there’s always a hum of human activity. Yet, in a complete paradox, the thought of doing anything “social,” which I cognitively know would be good thing for me to do, triggers a certain sense of anxiety. As I’m writing this, I still don’t know if I’ll drop by Torn‘s BBQ later today. A big part of me wants to badly, but another big part of me is having a lot of difficulty entertaining the thought. Fortunately, I know that if I end up not going and if or when Torn reads this, he’ll understand it’s nothing personal against Serge and him and strictly something personal within me at this time.

Interruption 1 @ 2:30 pm: One of the super’s sons just came in to finish the work that had to be done in my apartment. Fortunately it was quick and I wasn’t as cranky as the last time, so maybe my vacation did help a bit.

There’s an interesting phrase in French describing a certain type of behaviour: it’s déformation professionnelle. At work I essentially play what’s referred to as a “client-facing role.” As such, all the energy I have left in me, I place into building a cheery front that denies how I’m really feeling. For work, that’s expected; however, outside work, as soon as I have to deal with anyone, that front comes back up. It’s all fine and wonderful to say that this is such a fundamental trait of my personality that it simply emerges no matter what, but have you any idea how exhausting it is to keep up?

Meanwhile, getting back to the notion of “noise,” or as I titled this entry, “distinguishing the trees from the forest”… All the many, many details of numerous events over the years have all become noise to me. Remembering, on the one hand, NowEx’s outrageous declaration that “There’s no racism in Mexico” and, on the other hand, how a pale, silvery-haired guy like me was a target for criminals in Mexico City as some stupid rich gringo (to the point that we agreed that I was never to carry a wallet while in Mexico) or NowEx’s constant denigration of Québec and its people as Quebecolandia: that’s just one useless “sound bite” of noise. Remembering the epic fights he’d pick with me and others: that’s another useless sound bite. Trying to remember how many people I’ve taken into my home since I’ve been living on my own at 19 and how many (but not all) took advantage of me in the process: yet another useless sound bite. And on and on the list goes, and far from all of NowEx’s doing, but all noise nonetheless.

As I’ve been attempting, with the help of Lucy, to get to the core of why I managed to place myself in those situations, I’m starting to see two prongs: first, there’s my compulsion to want to help (or “rescue”) people, but second (and this is the more recent insight) is my utter inability to deal with and complete dedication to avoiding even the whiff of conflict or confrontation.

I saw my déformation professionnelle kick into full gear during an incredibly trivial incident during my vacation. It happened at a Tim Horton’s outlet with the Pastry Monster. The outlet was more of a drive-thru but people could go inside to order, which we did. But the workers there were more preoccupied by serving the drive-thru customers than those of us inside who’d been waiting longer, which got the Pastry Monster to mutter under her breath, “NOW I’m getting angry!” So when one of the workers finally decided to take our order, I stepped in front of the Pastry Monster and very cheerily placed our order as if we hadn’t been waiting as long as we did. I’m not sure she would have said anything, but I simply didn’t want to hear any snide remark or anything resembling nastiness.

I also remember pissing my pants in Grade 2 when the teacher raised her voice at me when she asked “Maurice” to answer a question, which I blurted out, for she thought I should have known that she meant the other Maurice in class because she was asking questions one student at a time, row by row, and the other Maurice sat at the other side of the classroom.

Shit, I just remembered that incident right now! No, I’m not blaming Madame Doris for scarring me for life. Good grief! But it does tell me that I never developed a spine. It’s somewhat understandable that a 7-year-old might react that way. But for a 46-year-old to go to any lengths to avoid conflict and unpleasanteries, even if that same 46-year-old is profoundly annoyed and fuming inside? I hold my beliefs and my rights deeply, and I’ve taken pride in the past for defending them passionately yet diplomatically, but overaching all of this, there seems to be overwhelming concern for making everyone happy.

Some might say that this is classic behaviour for a guy who was picked on since grade school as a fag and did everything to be liked by others. Others might suggest the hidden existence of some other, more sombre trauma. And still others might simply refer to an inherently gentle personality.

I’ve said it before and I say it again: there are traits of my personality I wish will never change. Generosity is one of them. So are openness and empathy. Remembering NowEx accusing me of not taking his needs into consideration and thinking only of my own needs: that’s noise. It flies in the face of not only all I’ve done (or paid) for him, but also the memories some of my friends shared with me yesterday while wishing me a happy birthday. I actually LIKE the memory my friends would have of me should I not be here tomorrow as a result of another concrete boulder from a Montréal freeway falling directly on my head. I have made some people happy, as they have me.

But how much is giving too much, though? Moreover, how does one change — or recalibrate — from a lifetime of over-accommodating others at one’s own expense? Well, for a start, last night for my birthday, I treated myself to a nice steak dinner. I shouldn’t have spent as much as I did, but then again, why the heck not!

I think I just answered my first question. How much is giving too much? It’s when you haven’t enough left to give yourself without feeling guilty for doing so, and that has nothing to do with monetary value. The second question, though, is trickier and I can’t answer it just yet. But I’m starting to get the feeling that I have great difficulty in occupying my space, probably because I don’t want to be taking from other people their space, so here I am, demonstrating perfectly how I keep going in circles trying to answer that question and driving myself half mad in the process!

Interruption 2 around 5:00 pm: Following a few emails via Facebook, my friend Da Big Goof called me from Vancouver. We figured that the last time we talked was about than 10 years ago, when we were both still in Halifax. And talk we did: More than 4 hours catching up!

You know what? That call from Da Big Goof was totally unexpected but the perfect tonic. Not only do I now have a standing invitation for a place to stay in downtown ‘couver, but I also have, following this blast from the past, yet another confirmation of what I want to preserve after I pick away the noise. For despite the mistakes and bad choices I have made that have brought me here, I have clearly amassed a far greater wealth of extraordinary people whom I call friends, and just as many reasons why I must cross through this experience and use it to emerge on the other side, better and stronger.