The occasion of this entry is my sending off, this past Saturday, a check in the amount of thirty-seven ($37.00) dollars -- made payable to "Readercon" -- for the purpose of acquiring an attending membership in that convention which will be held over the weekend of July 7, 2006. This marks the first ever con I've bought a full membership in. I did attend Philcon a few years ago, but only for one day. Obviously I'm not exactly a con-going guy, though I've long ago accepted the fact that I am in many ways fannish -- oh, why qualify it? I am fannish. However, I am also...
But soft! A memory...
I'm eight or nine years old, I guess. I'm in the back seat of the old light-blue Ford station wagon. My father is driving, but just at this moment we are stopped at the traffic light at 185th Street and Aurora Avenue North. In the front seat with my father is his business partner.
K, the second son of my father's business partner is in the back seat with me. He is about my age, eight or nine, and I think there was another kid in the back seat with us but I can't recall if it was my brother or K's.
My father's business partner is talking about a gastrointestinal difficulty K is having. I can feel K next to me being grimly silent, blushing, fidgeting, but whether he is angry or shamed I can't say. I'm scrupulously minding my own business, watching out my window the traffic approaching the intersection from the left.
My father asks his business partner, "Is he a nervous kid?"
The business partner answers, "No. Hell, no. Next to Mike, K is the calmest kid I know."
I would be the Mike in question here, of course.
Startled, I turned my head and stare at the back of the business partner's head.
My mind races, trying to puzzle out this gross misperception of myself. My insides are in constant turmoil. I have difficulty falling asleep at night, I have so many worries on my mind.
I can feel K redirecting his anger toward me. This frightens me, especially since I consider myself perfectly innocent in this transaction. I'm trying desperately to stay out of things, after all. And now here, all of a sudden, K is inexplicably pissed at me. For what??
I face the window again and go back to watching the approaching traffic. From the outside, I appear perfectly...
Hmm, I remember thinking, I'm sitting here appearing to be perfectly calm. Bored, even. Blank.
No wonder my dad's business partner has gotten it so wrong. I'm not the calmest kid he knows. I'm the blankest kid he knows.
I think that was probably the moment I realized I could appear to be one thing while being another simply by preparing myself as a canvas and allowing others to paint on me whatever picture of me they wanted to paint.
I'm in my late teens or early twenties. I don't remember who the woman is, but I can see her face, and I can recall precisely what she said.
She may harbor a crush on me. She's an artist. A painter or sculptor or something. I remember a pause in the conversation. The words surrounding the pause are lost to me. She is studying me and smiling slightly. Finally, she says:
"You have an old soul."
Well. I mean. What self-respecting late-model adolescent wouldn't be willing to buy that one for a nickel?
I don't believe in souls, but I think, "Am I an old soul? Could that possibly explain me?"
I doubt it could, but I nevertheless resolve to keep an open mind. I certainly don't feel like I have the great wisdom that presumably comes with having a soul noticeably older than other people's. Still. Maybe my wisdom simply isn't apparent to me. Maybe it's the kind of wisdom only others can sense.
I finally decide it's not a question I have to answer just then. If I really do have an old soul, it probably knows how to take care of itself and doesn't need any help from me. All of this allows me to cultivate the secret belief that I do have an old soul.
And yet one more memory...
I'm in my mid-to-late twenties. I'm working as a stage manager at a theater. I'm chatting with a lovely and gracious actress of a certain age. She's British, married to some rich guy in town who, I've always thought, is charmed to let his wife appear onstage. She is very good at her work. I believe that at some point in her past she'd been a professional on the London stage.
We're on our lunch break. The rehearsal room is empty except for the two of us. We are chatting amiably. She is asking me increasingly personal questions. Not in an annoying way. Not in a way designed to make me uncomfortable. She is just asking about me, is all.
She studies me a moment and then says, after all this amiable chat, mind you:
"You are rather off-putting, aren't you?"
For heaven's sake. Off-putting??!!
Doesn't this woman understand that I have an old soul??!! That I encounter the world with a preternatural calm??!!
And that may have been the first time I realized there is a price to be paid for offering the world an empty canvas upon which it can paint whatever portrait it wants of you. It's great being a blank canvas when the only paintings they make of you are pretty, admirable, mysterious, attractive. It's less of a great thing when the picture they paint of you is, well... true.
All of that was a long time ago. On the one hand, as a canvas I'm certainly less blank than I used to be. On the other, I think I've become skilled at being something worse than blank. I think if I am pleased by the picture you are trying to paint of me, my frame warps a bit, lifting some of myself closer to you, pulling another part of me away -- all in an attempt to guide you toward the painting you are trying to create of me, a painting that I know will please both of us.
I don't think it was ever my intention to be a blank canvas for others. It just sort of worked out that way because I am so extraordinarily protective of myself. Lots of people have wanted a lot of things from me over the years and I have always had a very hard time saying no to them, even when I know I can't give them the things they want from me. So, I just, you know, let them think I've given them what they want. I let them paint their particular portrait of happiness, at least insofar as it concerns me.
It's all fairly grotesque, now that I think about it, but somehow I can't punish myself over it. I've always been something of a brat -- a gracious, well-mannered brat, but a brat nonetheless -- so it's not particularly difficult for me to forgive myself. This is one of the great advantages of being a brat.
Nevertheless, I don't find any of this behavior particularly attractive about myself and I certainly wish it wasn't so. I can understand why I was so protective of myself when I was younger, but I have a little trouble figuring out why I have to protect myself anymore. It's all just a habit, I guess. I have a lot of bad habits. Maybe I'll make a list sometime.
But here's the point of all this: if you are going to Readercon, you may notice a blank canvas hanging around the bar, or sitting in the back row at some of the panel discussions, or maybe sipping a gluten-free drink at a room party.
Feel free to bring out your brushes and paints. Oil or acrylic is fine with me. Step right up. Start in wherever you want. My upper-left corner is nice and empty. But then... so is the rest of me.
It's all fine by me. I'm easy. I have an old soul.
And after we're done, we can take the tubes of paint and the brushes and the spatulas and all the rest of it and crumple it all up inside the canvas you've been working on. Then we can throw the whole thing in the trash and try it again from the top. This time without all the artwork.