You figure out you’re weird when you discover that what you experience, and what you thought was universal, is unique to you and maybe a few of your weird friends. I had no idea, when I was three, that other three-year-olds didn’t want Tonka car carriers for their birthdays. Seemed to me the kind of thing that all right-thinking little girls would ask for.
Being slow on the uptake, I didn’t really figure it out until I was an adult. Once you do figure it out, understanding your fellow man requires you to be able to accurately parse your own feelings and experiences. Is this universal? Or is this particular to me because I am weird?
If you’re going to write fiction, it is essential that you get this right. Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope did, and tapped our fundamental humanness. Phillip Roth, my candidate for the most overrated novelist of our time, often does not. I do not write fiction because I am very poor at figuring out which of my thoughts and feelings are shared by my fellow man, and which are unique to me and maybe a few of my weird friends. I make Phillip Roth look like Jane Austen.
I spent the last three days far from home, in Alabama. I left in the midst of some turmoil. Besides the usual chaos of home, garden, oysters, and livestock, we had a sick chicken. And, oh yeah, my father was in the cardiac ICU.
My parents were in the last week of their annual summer-long Cape Cod stay when my dad, who’d been experiencing some shortness of breath and fatigue, felt rotten enough to go to the doctor. For my father, who is fit and energetic, this was very rotten indeed. The doctor took one look at his EKG and called the ambulance.
Had my trip been a vacation, I would have cancelled. But it was a press trip, and canceling would have meant serious inconvenience and expense for the people who had invited me. Besides, it was a paying gig, and I’m trying to make a living here. My husband, my mother, and, from behind his oxygen mask, my father, encouraged me to go.
I went. And I had a wonderful time.
Is it me, or do our immediate surroundings have a remarkable effect on what we’re thinking and feeling? I’m tempted to think that this is one of those universals, seeing as there’s an adage about it: Out of sight, out of mind.
I hope it’s universal, because the alternative is that I am particularly callous and cold-hearted. I sure hope I’m not the only one who blithely puts the troubles of those I love most on a back burner, just because I’m a thousand miles away.
It would seem to make some evolutionary sense. To be crippled by worry or sadness when there’s nothing you can do is not a recipe for well-being. Robust species probably find it easy to leave trouble behind. Cockroaches do it, no problem.
Color me robust.
When I came home, the sick chicken was better. She’s almost standing up, and she’s eating and drinking again. The trailer wheel, seized when I left, was fixed. Four of the lobster pots, overdue for pulling, had been retrieved. There were also six filets of bluefish brining and a sea bass ready for grilling.
And my father’s much better. He’s reading and laughing and inciting argument, just like he always does. When the cardiologist told him he’d have to have a rather bulky defibrillator implanted just under his left collarbone, he said, “Well, I guess my career as a porn star is over.”