5.03.2005

Type A Negative
the worst kind of navel-gazing: you’d think I’d learn something, living in a Buddhist country

Yesterday evening the Kandy Gang (Pvt. Ltd.) went up to Helga’s Folly, the wackily decorated posh hotel above the lake, for food and conversation and some enriching experiences. Ask me later about the enrichments: not a lot of effect for me, but Lisa was sure having fun. The gang, at this juncture abbreviated of key members (Jill!), consisted of Lisa (Fulbright), Gavin (Fulbright), Haakon (Norwegian social anthropologist at Peradeniya [SAP]), Julia (Austrian SAP), and Sarah (ISLE ’02). In several permutations the gang was together at the Kandy seder on Friday—a success, mostly—and Herath’s amazing dinner and boozing and betel party on Saturday, so it’s been a klatschy couple of days.

Helga’s is a great place. The food is excellent (and expensive) and the décor beyond description. The whole place is painted with murals and papered with family photos and news clippings—Helga’s daughter is the fashion designer Selina Blow, and lots of her family are married to royalty or prominent European and Sri Lankan aristocracy. There are statues and sculpture and scary candelabra and rich draperies and mirrors and throw pillows all over the place. It’s sort of Kandyan-crafts-meets-satanist-bordello; rather unusual in a country where the prevailing standard of decorating calls for kitten posters and plastic flowers. It’s a good place to be in an altered state—they have soft things to sit on and weird stuff to gawp at.

It’s a bit of a walk from town—20 minutes if you keep moving, more if you stop to take in the lovely views as the street winds among the quiet guesthouses above the lake. The return trip always feels faster, though at 10pm one wants to get home and not dally in the dark. As the posse was walking down to the road (where five well-fed butts, as well as the rest of our bodies, managed to fit in one trishaw) Lisa was talking about how most of her friends are really Type A personalities… somehow I was accused/described as such. Mercy!

I replied that I’m not Type A like Lisa is Type A. To this Gavin smirked as he is wont to do, and so good at: Gavin Irby = Gavin Smirkby. With great finality, he said oh yeah you are. That stung, somewhat, though I’m not sure why. Is that generally considered a dirty word, an insult, or is that just me being sensitive? That I know I am: overly aware of perceived slights and insults.

I thought being Type A meant being organized, outgoing, a leader, controlling, and productive. I am sort of halfway some of those things, eh? I like the accoutrements of organization (notebooks, stickers, pens) but that’s classable with my love of stationery and office supplies generally, and I am not really planful in the way I’d like to be. Though I like being around people, I’m desperately shy to start off and have real trouble feeling comfortable around new friends. I’m bossy, but not a natural leader, at least not since high school. Controlling: yes. Absolutely. But I want to be less so. And productive? No, no no no, to my great chagrin and disappointment.

In short: I am too down on myself to be really Type A. Gavin would say that being so down on myself is just a further symptom—if it’s not crucial to be perfect then why care?—and would probably further note that this dissection of the subject is classically Type A. Okay, fine, I don’t know enough about this theory-of-personality to argue back. But I don’t want to be like that, or like this. My disillusioned, depressive periodic yearning and striving is probably the best (worst) possible indictment of my personality flaws.

It’s pretty futile to want things to be different, eh? Such is the teaching of Lord Buddha. The unplumbable paradox is that by developing one’s willful ignorance of the broken state of self and world, those flaws are diminished, rendered impotent. When I get really stuck in a period of hateful navel-gazing I start feeling like self-improvement is a Magic Eye trick. One concentrates on something (work, friends, etc) outside the frame of the problem (me) and somehow meaning emerges from frustration.

Yet I can’t figure out whether I am frustrated with myself because I fail to do the things I want to do, or because I am the kind of person who fails at things—am I an essentially okay but lazy/undirected being, who should concentrate, or am I a catastrophe of self-centered torpor? This is a very American problem—Yankee work ethic meets overeducated, spoiled only-child-hood, meets culture of critically-introspective individualism. Bottom line: all this thought-proliferation is pointless.

I’m not depressed, don’t worry, just annoyed with myself lately and feeling that time is running out. I need to get up earlier in the mornings, write more, change some habits. Eat more leafy green vegetables, do more aerobic exercise. Does everyone else feel they are living in a perpetual present? I have trouble believing in and envisioning the future. Years ago my father told me that I was a more creative person than he: he can’t do things if he can’t imagine them, and he can’t imagine a lot of things. I think I’ve become that way too (if I ever was different). At the same time I have plans and hopes I never anticipated. What it boils down to is this: can one manage one’s own growing-up, one’s future, or does it just happen? I’ve heard the message that life-course is subject more to Serendipity than Intent so many times that I have practically no attachment to Intent any more. That seems like a bad thing, no?

I don’t want to later look back on my life and see only accidents and happenstance. It would be better to have passions and goals to start from, discover, return to, develop.

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