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Good Humoured Men

Good humoured men, villainous destroyers of passion, often tend to be uncles. Genial, impartial, content themselves, they are the first to admonish the cousins at family gatherings to "settle down", just when the games are getting fun. Impervious, cordial, authoritative, they pull the breathless, sweating children from the "cold night air", away from the mysterious evening streets, and the chilly, purple sky. And then, satisfied of responsibility taken, indeed, *achieved*, they return to the Saturday Night Fights, while the children, hyperventilating in the dining room, glower with impotence, conscious of their fading exhilaration.

The children take to pinching each other and whining and pinching each other every five minutes, until some less good-humoured parent, aunt or grandparent shouts or slaps the nearest offender. The cousins, restored to passion by outrage or simply relief from tedium, haul out the monopoly and begin to argue in vicious whispers about who's cheating. Looking back on these evenings, the uncles were always called "good humoured" because they weren't the ones who slapped.

Later in life there is a good-humoured friend, who answers pleas for adventure couched in the code of indifferent inquiry, with predictable, repetitive cooperative response: "Whaddya wanna do tonight?" "I don't care - whatever you want to."

A condemning, compliant, last-hope-down-the-ditch sort of guy, a sidekick to a sidekick, a companion for mediocrity. The kind of guy parents always like: "I don't see why you have to gallivant all over the creation - look at Arnold - he's quite happy to play chess."

In adolescence, the effect of good humour is unbearable. The "awfully nice, really" boys, with whom one finds oneself at the cinema - early show – not even foreign, are generally good humoured. Which is why you're allowed out with them, and not the 23 year old down the street, with intelligent eyes, and a real mouth. Mild boys, with plans and equilibrium, who transform you into someone even you don't like, unaware of the destructive power of kindness. It usually happens coming home. Emerging from some heart-rending film, blinded by tears, volcanic with suppressed longing for any life that is not one's own, you notice despairingly that they are patting you on the shoulder and saying "Cheer up - it's only a movie" and "Gosh, I'm hungry - how about you?"

So, when you finally, relievedly, unhappily arrive home and someone asks you how the movie was, you burst into violent, accusing, misunderstood tears, and wild pronouncements about the unfairness of everything which even you know, don't make sense. The remorse that follows is often enough to push one into good humour oneself as a kind of talisman against the passion and grief, eccentricity and periphery that threaten to keep you alive. An insurance for later life - a future of equanimity. And, after all, it's not bad to be nice - imperviously, safely good-humoured. There are a few eruptions in early adulthood - a penchant for poetry, a flirtation with zen - nothing that couldn't be considered "a phase" by the well-balanced. Or so it seems. But then one collects, like an unrolling stone, a coating of pleasant friends, the kind who remember birthdays, but never weep for joy that you are born.

And because they are so good-humoured, and because it is just too awful not to like them, too self-condemning, too unlike the beautiful, generous, compassionate life you still, secretly, want to live, you end up being them, in desperate self defense.

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Imitation Vanilla

I read your post several times. The first time I snacked on all the thought-filled morsels, The next few times I chewed and meditated. Finally I was satisfied.

The wide awake line for me is "a kind of talisman against the passion and grief, eccentricity and periphery that threaten to keep you alive."

Life sustaining; simply maintaining. I'm voting no.

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Well, of course...

My cousin saw it on Facebook and instantly recognised the first two paragraphs which are based entirely on a visits to my grandmother's house with the entire unruly clan (about 30 of us, weekly)! So she called my mom, who isn't on Facebook, to tell her about it because those days (the first two paragraphs only) were, in fact good days, caring days, family days and we all got a bit nostalgic. The rest of it isn't based on anything specific except my own feelings a long time ago. It has been a very very long time since I was not the captain of my own ship, but remembering those days of yearning, and the incompatibility of the company in which I later found myself, brought a little chill to my heart. That company was not my family, by the way, but a part of the "outside world" in which, to which I did not belong. And I vote no, with you. Thank you for your great comment, Sharon.

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Life as an emoticon

Most interesting, most telling. An unintentional treatise on Maine, a place where many strive constantly for the mediocre and succeed, that dangerous quicksand of un-passion. (Coincidentally one of the major themes in Highway To Oblivion.)
As an only child, I admit envying the cousin and avuncular interplay of your first couple paragraphs, but it’s the rest with which I empathize.
When I returned to Maine from years in NYC, alas I did vote “yes” to couple-up with a ‘nice guy’ thus to be included in gatherings of chuckling greeting-card senders. (Crabby single women not invited!) The worst mistake I ever made and I am not without my share. Later, when I could have used support during cancer, most of these ‘good-humored’ friends deserted. Niceness does have a shelf-life.
Recently a pleasant Maine friend (a sender of Hallmark with whom I have been ‘close’ for most of our lives) suggested I begin checking out the possibilities of a Senior condo on a cul-de-sac, in the kindest way of course. I shall sit on the iceberg and await the great bear first! A more righteous death than the chilling life of your last paragraph.

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Yes, absolutely - one takes one's chances outside the senior condo!  When my cousin contacted me, I started to think that the first part of the vignette had nothing to do with the second, but in fact it does. The theme of being thwarted, is I suppose the connection, though the childhood thwarting was basically a "Child's Christmas in Wales" kind of thwarting. There is a time to come in from the cold night air, into the warm house, pulsing with uncles. 

I had a lot of adventures (of my definition) in secondary school. And I wasn't in a great hurry to grow up. Just that the culture in which I found myself was not conducive to the greater intellectual and artistic adventures I desired. But all in all very happy years, and the adventures certainly came later.  I think this piece represented the fears of the time and not reality at all. Or not reality for very long.  It was depth that I wanted then (and found later) in my companions. And that word "nice" is loaded. Of course I liked nice people. I just didn't want the niceness to be all there was. And I love your phrase, "niceness has a shelf-life." In future I see myself saying, "As my friend and fellow writer, Mara Buck once said, "Niceness has a shelf-life."! Thanks for this and for being here.

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The great thing about getting older, Harrison,

is that you have leave to indulge and explore those 'eruptions in early adulthood - a penchant for poetry, a flirtation with zen' without criticism and know that the truth you knew about yourself in early teens was right in the first place - before you were pressured to conform to a pliable mean among those who figured most in your life.

Futile, however, to reflect on the mistakes which, for me, launched a long journey into sadness and despair that might have been spared. The human condition is such that we must shoulder our fair share of burdens of one description or another. But I just have a hunch that that is a little easier when our own intuition has been respected.

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How lovely to see you! I have been meaning to take a trip back to Rosyville, since I read some of your posts just before my break and meant to comment on them, then forgot what I was going to say.

Well, regarding having "leave to indulge... and know the truth you knew about yourself in early teens was right in the first place - before you were pressured to conform to a pliable mean among those who figured most in your life..."  this is spectacular, though that vision of truth would actually put me back in the convent!

But, genuinely, I actually do carry a little cloister inside me as a result of many years in conventual environments and I treasure it. And have ended up in a life in which my treasured friends include Jesuits and my former novice mistress and other people whose lives are spiritually dedicated, like rabbis and former and current nuns and monks, so there you are. You may be right.

I know what you mean, and although I was actually not thwarted from anything I really wanted in childhood and early adolescence, I was thwarted many times from things I thought I wanted. Still, sometimes it is better to find out oneself what what does not want so one does not keep on wanting it in inappropriate circumstances. But my pre-first-marriage years were fairly free ones. My particular thwarting came not from childhood and adolescence but an early (for me) and inappropriate marriage to a fine person to whom I was ill suited.

I am so sorry to hear of a long journey into sadness and despair. I have had short forays into this netherland, as I am sure, has everyone and would not wish a sojourn of any length on any of my friends.

But here we are, in a good place and I think for the most part, old enough and wise enough to respect our own separate intuitions and know that that respect is sufficient. Thank you for your insight.

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Thanks for your generous comments, Harrison

The thing is, it seems you did do what you wanted to do back then and that led you on a rewarding and natural journey of self-discovery. I doubt if anything is ever wasted, but for a good two decades I felt as though my 'real' life was in abeyance. I was very conscious of that throughout. It doesn't merely belong to the retrospective.

However...useless to lament. 'If only' and 'What if' are the biggest phrases in the history of language!

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Well, that's the worst,

Well, that's the worst, isn't it? Having clear vision of one's state when one is in it - particulalry a state less than compatible with one's authentic nature. Still, you are shining now and Whittier's oft uttered line could never be said of your life which seems to be thriving. (“For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, 'It might have been'...") "It ain't over yet," to quote my half namesake Han Solow (Harrison Ford) or rather George Lucas. In any case, I thank you for taking this seriously because it was, but these thoughts and feelings did not extend beyond 17, when I went into the convent and an entirely different set of philosophical questions arose. :)

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The Familiar


The "essence" that I extract from this whole area of experience and the exchange above  is this:  while the familiar (equates roughly with "nice") anchors us in a stable, secure and uneventful (boring)  environment,  most of us at some point in life are attracted to "adventure" and the unknown, if for no other reason than the dread of not having lived at all, of being incomplete and unfulfilled (Thoreau's goal of living "deliberately").  I'd  call it all an archetypal experience!  Harrison, you have explored in this blog an elemental part of our being/nature  that those less "honest" and more "guarded"  than you would not acknowledge to others, even though knowing inwardly its truth.