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Paul Signac: Chromatic Circle (1888)

" … if you woke up as somebody else again …"

What kind of person am I? This question qualifies as a trick one because it couldn't have just one answer. Like those math problems that produce ambiguous yet valid solutions, this question undermines the whole purpose of calculating, of asking. The presumption that there might be a crisp and straightforward response disqualifies any more nuanced or less precise reply, however more accurate any might be. I am many things and irreducible to any single characterization. Like everybody, I consider myself generally nice, but even I've noticed some exceptions. Keep me from my work, and I can get Surly and disagreeable, "uncharacteristically" cranky, short-tempered, and even mean. I might justify this switch to myself in ten thousand ways, but none genuinely explains such a flip. It's uncalled for, seen as unseemly, perhaps unforgivable. The least civil among us are probably just the most scared.

I depend upon myself to prevent such slides.
I am unreliable. I should try harder and not let my feral parts show. Still, sometimes I cannot help myself, especially when I feel disappointed in myself after I've fallen short of my potential, when I fear that I will be judged wanting, or worse, when I've already considered myself wanting. I CAN GET DEFENSIVE when I know damned well that I'm guilty, especially when I can launch no believable defense. As if to prevent discovering the actual depth of my depravity, I shine klieg lights on the guilty party, imagining that the sudden notoriety might somehow protect me from my own judgment and theirs. They wouldn't likely care had I not gone to all the trouble of so brilliantly highlighting my shortfall by going all Surly on myself and everyone around me.

What's the matter with David? He likely "just" disappointed himself. He fell a little short of his higher expectations. His self-esteem teetering; he's not his usual self but still himself somehow. He's transported his presence backward a few decades and behaving as if he was still eight years old, and not just because he always was eight years old inside, too. He seems vengeful, seething, seeking justice, as if he needs to get even. He's gone crooked with himself and mainly needs his own forgiveness, but he's better trained as a taskmaster, as a slave driver, with himself as his reliable slave. He knows how he's supposed to behave and yet chooses not to, as if choosing had anything to do with his response. He's petulant and publicly punishes himself by taking his embarrassment out on everyone around him. He's screwing himself in the sincere hope that he might reset his lost balance. He's not his usual self this morning. Forgive him, for he cannot quite yet forgive himself.

He seeks absolution through humiliation. He only wants what's rightly no one's but which everyone desires. He wants to regain his groove, stop racking up demerits, and feel in his skin again. He lost his spot and could not get back on top of his ball again, where he'd been blithely balancing for longer than he could remember. He couldn't find his balance and went out crooked, wandering a weaving path, off course, without his accustomed True North's guidance. It might be that the Surly you see doesn't seem believable, unlike any behavior you've seen from him before. Who has he become? Another facet or just the Surly bastard he always hid inside? If only he could somehow find a way to stop disappointing himself, he might go placid; he might lose the acid tongue and sing those sweet, thoughtful songs again. If only.

Each morning holds promises yet to be made, potential as yet unimagined. At some point, permission might come, consent to proceed according to intentions. Or permission might be withheld. Let's say your shoulder's bothering you and you could respond by engaging in those chores you'd set your heart on completing, but then you second guess yourself and think you'd better lay low and let that shoulder mend. You slip into and back out of dreamless sleep, the unrestful sort of rest, until the afternoon's almost passed without a damned chore checked off the list. You finally resolve to accomplish something, but it's too late to accomplish much, and your day of mending hasn't improved anything. Your shoulder's still aching. You might seem Surly, too, if you see your summer slipping through your fingers. You might behave unlike your usual self if you woke up as somebody else again this morning.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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