Be the person, not the ideal

It’s a few days out from Christmas, and while I feel a traditional tingle of anticipation, there are many more swirling emotions at this time of year. I’m mindful of my mum, who I miss more at this time of year than any other. She was the Christmas specialist, and there’s no-one to take her place. I’m also very aware of my own situation, and the variety of permutations that come from it.

Though I have invitations, I’m certain that I’ll be spending the day itself alone (I’ll be celebrating at different functions in the days leading to it). This is my choice. I don’t want to go halfway until I can go all the way. I don’t want to compromise on what it means to me, and so if I can’t have it all, I want none of it. It’s a kind of penance, a reminder and a motivator combined: this is what it is now, but won’t always be. In any case, I’ll be butterflying a chicken and cooking it on the barbie – I won’t be going without.

For me, it’s a reflective time of year. Over the weekend I inaugurated what I hope to be an annual event: H’s annual Christmas email, which I sent out to some of the people who have been of particular assistance to me this year. I don’t take it for granted, and I wanted to express my appreciation and say the things that mostly you never say.

I’ve also been thinking about what I want. This has been the source of some conjecture lately, if not forever. What do I yearn for? This is a tricky question to answer. I feel things, and sometimes strongly, but then frequently they are counter-acted by a competing consideration: I want to share and be with someone, but then I’m fearful of being ‘conventional’, as I wrote last week.

That’s been in my head through the week. Seems to me I have a set of hopes which don’t sit comfortably with some of the attributes that drive me forward. I posed the question last week: when did I figure I wanted to be different from everyone else? I didn’t have the answer last week, but not long after I asked the question, the answer seemed to come to me, like a memory summoned by the circumstance.

When I was 15, we moved from Melbourne to Sydney as a family. Dad had got a promotion, and there it was. Till then, I had been a reasonably typical kid. I didn’t look too far ahead, I was sensitive, but mostly just had fun with the typical child’s lack of self-consciousness. Then, as we moved, I was required to sit a test with the NSW department of education before I could start school. They had to assess me, but the test was pretty much an IQ test. I remember it vaguely, remember turning up blithely and sitting there ticking boxes and writing answers, and afterwards not thinking much about it. Then, sometime later, the results came in. I was, they said, of “well above average” intelligence.

What a curious impact this news had on me. In retrospect, it seems like it was a promise that I had to live up to perpetually. At the time, I became conscious of things that till then, I had ‘just done’. I had never considered if I was smart or not, though I think had a vague inkling that I did okay. It was the dawning of knowledge and self-awareness and a kind of loss of innocence. I was meant to be something (my IQ was measured at 161), and from then figured – unconsciously, then consciously – that I should be different. ‘More’ became my mantra later; I had to be more.

It seems now that it was a notion that hijacked me away from a life I might otherwise have had. This was one attribute of many, but it was the attribute that had been measured and which I had been proved to be in the elite range, and so it was this attribute that had pre-eminence in my life.

It’s a philosophy that permeates your life – not intelligence as such, but the drive to be different, to be more. It becomes habit and routine until there seems no alternative.

Last week at our Christmas party there was a moment when a few of us sitting around a table when someone took out a phone and began showing photos of themselves as a child, and then as a younger adult. Others joined in until I did too. We oohed and aahed on cue, full of beer by now and good cheer. I showed a photo of myself from about 18 years ago and one of the guys, a lovely gay guy took my phone and said “you look like a movie star”, adding that I was sexy. He was fascinated and asked if he could share my photo with the others at the other end of the table. I waved my hand as if to say whatever, and they turned and nodded their head or pursed their lips in surprise as they viewed the pic.

I was flattered and surprised, but the prevailing thought afterwards was why aren’t I like a movie star anymore? There’s a lot of very obvious answers to that question, but they were not enough for me. I had been more then. I had been different: had I lost that? And as I went home on the train that night I thought: I have to get back to that. Sliding off into mediocrity isn’t good enough, so I thought – but really, it’s an utterly ridiculous attitude.

This is the first time I’ve ever articulated this as a problem. If ever I referred to this state of mind previously it was favourably: I was driven, motivated, second-best would never be enough. Now I see that this attitude holds me back from just living. If I’m always striving to be something more, I’m never just myself.

This is the crux of the situation I find myself in. If I am to let someone in, I need first to remove myself from the expectation of being anything different from what I am.

This brings me back to Christmas and sharing my life with others. It’s a learning curve I’m on, imperfectly adjusting as I go along. I realise as I write this that my attitude towards Christmas day is symptomatic of that attitude. Perhaps the secret is to shed any expectations of myself and simply be – be me, be in the moment? Can I do that? Or is the best I can hope for is some enlightened compromise? Maybe then I can allow myself to be simply loved.

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