I have known time-space locations where it’s not safe to feel.
From “the new Travis McGee novel, #14,” by John D. MacDonald, The Scarlet Ruse
(Travis goes to an office to meet a big criminal)
“His voice was a bit high for the size of him, and he projected it with very little lip movement and no animation an his face at all. It is characteristic of people who have either been in prison or who live in such a manner that their total environment becomes a prison of sorts, a place where communications can be a deadly risk.” (Page 181)
(Travis goes to meet a care worker, to ask her opinion on a suspect she used to work in a store with) She answers:
“…She was, and is, a very troubled person, I think. She never discusses her background. I had thought her a fugitive in the legal sense. Now I think she is a fugitive from emotion…” (Turns out she had been stuck in an unhappy “school for girls.” Not one of those voluntary ones called “girl’s schools”) (Page 205)
…If sports are a metaphor for life, then they are a metaphor for emotions, too. I have lukewarm memories of boyhood basketball, and very happy memories as a man at my university student union chambers where I was in the student Toastmasters club.
Sunday afternoon. No one else around. My brother and I are outside at the local high school to shoot a few baskets. One guy comes by with a ball: It is Bueller, a boy on the school team. My brother had been on his school team, but as for me, well, I was more suited to the library. Bueller, a friendly fellow, had seen me years ago around other players, but didn’t known I had been away, so he thought I was more skilled than I was. Skilled at catching a passed ball, I mean.
Catching that passed ball was like when ice hockey legend Geordie Howe—they’ve just named a bridge after him—was retired, and a journalist did a story on him, and they did a little ice time. Howe passed the puck, his blade connecting: Crack! sliiiiide over to the reporter’s stick—Crack! The reporter nearly dropped his hockey stick. The old man could still pass hard.
So, that lazy afternoon, my brother and Bueller and I spent some desultory time passing the ball, swishing baskets, and shooting the breeze. Nothing serious. Except—I kept worrying I was going to drop the ball. My choice: I could risk the big shame of fumbling an easy pass, or take the little shame of saying, to a guy who surely didn’t know anyone he would pass gently to, “Hey, could make all your passes softer?” I just crossed my fingers, focused intently, and managed to get through the afternoon without fumbling. Whew!
As a grown man, so happy to have survived my life, of course I smiled a lot at the university Toastmasters club. (For public speaking) I looked like a normal guy, although extra happy. Except—I still couldn’t do emotions well. Our club met at a huge roundtable, like for King Arthur’s knights, in a big circular chamber like the bridge of the Enterprise. A young lady, Kathy, often sat beside me. Kathy would spin her head over to flash me a smile, or a look of big excitement, big incredulity, big joy…So scary! I was tempted to fumble the passing of emotion by dropping my eyes or looking away. Tempted to look stiff while squirming inside from unwanted emotions. Tempted to say “Soften your emotions please, lest I have to break our connection.”
Of course I never did. It all worked out. Whew!
Kathy was young and fun, too innocent to have known anyone from a school for boys. I’m still chuckling over the time a bunch of us, at the end of classes, rented The Graduate and she laughed to say, “It’s sure strange to finally see the actual movie after you’ve seen it parodied three times.” (On The Simpsons, for example) I’ll tell you what’s strange: Once she phoned me up to invite me to her house for a party, because “you are so fun.” Well, I thought, how did I ever get that label? Fun? It just goes to show you never know.
Now I can do speeches and essays on how to get a sense of humour, how to learn to be nice, and more.
I am still in toastmasters, in a different club. Toastmasters International is ostensibly to learn “public speaking” and “leadership,” while in reality many people join for self-improvement and self-confidence. I keep my eyes open for folks who silently struggle. You never know.
My essay on Getting a Sense of Humour is archived April 2017
My essay on Learning to Be Nice is archived May 2013
Maybe some day I could write something on fun.