Aspirations to the conventional?

Had a few beers, and knocked over a few pins yesterday afternoon at a Christmas function for the management level staff in our team. I was ambivalent going into it. It chafed at my democratic spirit – I’m happy to party, but to have a party exclusively for management seemed both unfair and elitist. Then it was the venue. I voted for a sit-down lunch at some you-beaut barbecue restaurant at Crown; the riff-raff voted for Strike. Then, of course, there was the crowd I was joining, most of whom I would never dream of socialising.

So okay, that’s a bit unfair, if not maybe a tad snobbish too. Mea culpa. And actually there are about 4-5 I’d happily have a beer with, and most of the others are okay types. There are a few though I think pretty ordinary – generally from the call centre, promoted from the floor and taken to the job with either a tyrannical zeal or sloppy indifference. Neither endears me by nature, and I reckon I could write a paper on how people take to positions of authority. It’s a bit like the nouveau riche and old money; one needs to splash it around to prove it, the other accepts it with modest grace.

But I digress. I hadn’t played ten pin bowling for about ten years, and was pretty rusty but did okay – came about 4th out of 25. Then there was karaoke, way too early in the day for that, and much too sober. I abstained, reflecting that alcohol not just removes the inhibitions to stand up and belt out a cheesy song, it also does something for your hearing. There are beer goggles; I guess there are beer ears too. Half-cut, the voices of your drunken mates inspire hilarity more often than not; sober, and it’s just noise.

Finally, we stepped out and had a few beers sitting around, which was much more my speed. I can be pretty laconic, but I don’t mind joining in when the conversation gets interesting. I found myself at a table where there were some interesting personalities, and different perspectives and the hand-brakes were off.

It was around this time that I found myself glancing more frequently at one of the women there. Strictly speaking not a member of the team, she’d been invited along as the HR representative who deals with us. She’s an attractive woman, dark-haired, long-legged, she was also one of the HR people I butted my head against early in the year. We have a complicated relationship now.

It made me think. I wasn’t about to try anything, but I couldn’t help but feel something. It is ever the way. I don’t think it will ever change, that I’ll ever mellow. It’s hard-wired into me. It complicates things, but at the same time, I’m glad of it. It feels like life. It feels like you’re carrying a loaded gun, and with it comes danger. Desire, ultimately, is an act of aspiration, and no more so than the competitive lust that I feel so often.

And so this brings me back to the Christmas party last Friday night. I went there thinking that given the opportunity, I might make a romantic move. As it turns out, it was not really a night of such opportunities, and I figured that out pretty early on. Everything was in motion, people coming and going all the time, being pulled away to dance, or get a photo taken, or to talk with someone else, all of which meant there was little chance of continuity.

I was happy to save it for another time. Instead, I devoted my attention to enjoying myself. The theme was gangster, and to my surprise, I found as part of the entertainment, there was a dance troop. They danced a few numbers, changing into different outfits and performing to different songs from the 1920s and thirties. It was well done, but the girls were the stars of the show – and once more I felt that familiar stirring. One particularly I watched, drawn by the look of joy on her face as much as I was to her long legs and good looks. The desire I felt was much more platonic – I was interested in what led down that pathway, and I think a big part of desire is curiosity and opportunity. They are different doors we may open, but mostly pass on by – though not always.

It made me consider my situation standing there. There I wanted to get close to one woman in particular. I had reservations because of my circumstances, but they could be overcome without too much issue. Still, something in me shrunk from the possibility – as I have so, so often – and I wondered if I should just accept it and live as I always have, poking my head into different doors, indulging my curiosity, following up on  opportunity. Maybe I just wasn’t meant for the sort of commitment required, maybe for me it was always going to be episodic—little adventures, enough to keep me interested.

Naturally, I had to stop to think about that: why must it be that way?

I don’t know when or how it started, but there came a moment when I realised I didn’t want to be like everyone else – this is going back decades when I was still a kid. I was happy to be out of step and figured more often than not that if I was on a different path to most people, then that was likely proof I was heading in the right direction.

There’s a bit of exceptionalism in this. Everyone likes to think themselves a little special, but I think I genuinely believed it. Because of that, I always pitched myself higher. I was going to do this or that. I had to do these things to justify that opinion. It wasn’t hard for me because I was also incredibly competitive, and on a superficial level, I probably achieved something along the way.

Of course, it’s an illusion. I might think myself gifted, special, made for a higher purpose, but at the same time there’s a part of me that knows that’s self-indulgent bullshit – get your hand off it H. You go on though because you realise it’s only with that belief can you hope to fulfil that expectation. You defy your doubts almost out of perversity.

Hand in hand with this is an utter reluctance to be conventional. It’s in your mind, you don’t want any part of that, and it informs not just your perspective, but behaviour. There’s an element of substance in it – the fear that once you accept a ‘conventional’ lifestyle that any hope of being exceptional is lost. The self is in large part sublimated to the whole, and personal ambition takes a step back. It makes sense. I look at my friends married now with kids, and while I feel a certain envy, I see that in the transition they have set aside perspectives I feel I couldn’t live without.

It’s natural for a parent to be insular. As an individual, it’s easy to venture into the world with nothing to lose but yourself. There’s a recklessness in that which makes for vivid engagement. As a parent, you become a part of an entity. You look more inwards than outwards, not just to protect and provide, but for inspiration and motivation. It inspires caution, and perhaps even some conservatism. I understand that – it makes sense. And there’s something lovely in that.

Is that me, though? That could be my challenge now. I like being inquisitive. I like being aggressively questing. I like variety and difference, like the sense of unknowing I look to overcome, like the feeling that regardless of the tribulations I experience along the way that I’m moving forward, becoming more. I fear becoming conventional and losing that – and perhaps then it’s better to find comfort and knowledge with different types, different people along the way, blondes and brunettes, doctors and dancers, Christian and Buddhist, Australian and otherwise. In the kaleidoscope of experience, there is something very alluring to me – which brings me back to yesterday afternoon and pondering the HR lady.

I wonder all of this, but as I write it there is some deep part of me that recoils from it: I don’t want to give up on the sweet dreams of love and affection, of a true family. And yet, as I get close to the possibility of it, I shrink back. This is the impasse I have to resolve.

The trick is to reconcile individual aspirations with the desire to be part of something greater than I alone. I want to continue to look outwards, be curious and assertive, while being a proper partner and – if it comes to it – father. It must be possible to be both. There’s always compromise, but must there be sacrifice? I suspect it will be a negotiation within myself, and probably only possible with the help of others. From here on in I can only be completely honest with myself and others – that’s the necessary requirement. Accept the conventional, strive to be more.

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