Yesterday I met with a friend who has mentored me for almost twenty years. She knows me a little more than I’m comfortable with and isn’t afraid to tell me what she thinks of my progress (in both my writing and my personality). That’s absolutely the best kind of mentor to have, and she can get away with it because we’re not related.
Her three points of analysis yesterday were: she’s proud of how I’ve stopped leaking the way I did when I was younger; stop giving away my gold; dial back my exuberance while I’m getting this MFA, especially around people who don’t understand it’s genuine.
The three items intertwine as strengths and weaknesses of my personality. It’s difficult to separate them and impossible to explain them fully without divulging more personal information than I’m willing to share. I resented the third piece of advice the most. I have an almost zealous approach to social interaction, and am privately intolerant of those who don’t put friendliness and social niceties ahead of their own agenda on a daily basis. I emphasize privately because while I seethe at the seeming self-centeredness of someone who feels I need to earn her smile or conversation, externally I keep hoping that the more enthusiastically I interact with her, the more I can wear down whatever barrier keeps her from behaving in a more positive and friendly manner.
But this last part, where I expend so much of myself trying to help the person move beyond her own social inadequacies to the realm of hyper-friendliness, is part of my friend’s point about “giving away my gold.” We talked about the difference between being extroverted as a need to be liked versus a need to help others to what she perceives is a better state of being. I’d be lying if I said the former wasn’t at least part of my agenda, but mostly it’s the latter. I can’t imagine wanting to spend the day bowing to perception and high-brow IQ-swapping. Stoics are simply repressed children, in need of a nurturing parent to say “Really, Susie. You can go out and play like a tomboy, or act silly, or dress like a girl again. You don’t have to carry the weight of the world by yourself.”
But the trap of presuming you can save someone from the failures of taking herself too seriously is in presuming that unfriendly personalities are a failure, are a repression, are lacking a fundamental ability to be as good of a human as I. It’s a judgment, and it puts me in a position of superiority. It is as sour as any bias and I have become the niceness police.
Last fall I was talking in a workshop about the obligation to be nice. When I finally gave myself permission to not be so friendly all the time, with a side of ranting that lasted a few weeks, I realized that I actually enjoy being friendly more often than not. But giving myself the permission to be unfriendly at times was liberating. While I don’t have the right to be the niceness police, I realized I have every right to begin weeding out the people I want around me based on how much they reciprocate and interact.
It’s not like I’m going to start overhauling my Facebook or Twitter accounts, because for me, the point of these social sites is the networking. But I do have a sub-list within it of close friends, and try to interact with these more frequently.
In the meantime, I have been trying to figure out what makes a friendship a good one. At first I thought what I was looking for was a similar kind of effervescence. And I am really fond of those who have innate sweetness, even uber-kindness. But what I realized is related to that gold again. Those friends, like me (hopefully former me) have been so busy giving their own gold away to anyone and everyone, that they don’t engage with me as often or as deeply as I would like. The gold of our personalities, our creativity, our love, could be an unlimited supply, but we make it limited by making the list of recipients limitless.
Now, for me: The gold of my personality, my creativity, my love, can be an endless supply, except that I give it to everyone, all the time.
I still believe in “Smile first, find out if she’s a succubus later.” The problem is that my giving becomes compulsive, exhaustive, unsustainable and ultimately impossible to return. She’s right that I’m giving it away. But what about that dialing back of the exuberance thing?
Perception in any profession is important, and among the literary writing set, effervescence is considered inspid. Good writers are still expected to be introverts, or at least restrained extroverts. You can’t feel the weight of the world if you’re constantly bouncing out from underneath it. I’d like to call bullshit on that sentiment, but I’m in no position to do that. Firstly, I haven’t proven myself as a writer, and secondly I’m not willing to prove that my bubbles are in spite of adversity, not from lack of it. This leaves me with the choice to either remain exuberant and accept the perceptions, or subvert my animation, toe the line and forget about my contact lenses for another few years.
Hmmm. Regarding her first point, perhaps I have not quite plugged all those leaking holes from years ago…