This post is made possible by the generous support of Deborah Orandon and Ivan Nedds. It's for Meg and for Gramma. (Too late, alas!)
(Parental advisory: this post is likely to be saltier than most. Delicate natures should be warned that they might secretly thrill to what's coming...)
I've been doling out a lot of advice here, so enamored am I of my new x-ray vision. But I could use your help in working through one of the stickiest dilemmas that an end-of-life span presents: what to do with the narcissists?
You know the saying: Into every life, a few self-absorbed assholes must fall. I'd ask forgiveness for the crudeness of the term, but it's highly precise. These people are most easily identified by their powerful tendency to seek the stars up their own butts, and then to navigate by them. (Sorry, but that's such an exquisite description that I'm sure I must have inadvertently stolen it. Let me know if you said it first or know who did.) They're the ones who careen through our lives like a truckload of bowling balls, and every time they run over our feet they throw us an indignant "what the fuck was that about?" scowl. People who are almost preternaturally attuned to what we're feeling... about them. About the rest they could not give a vole's fart.
Some of them are at least fun. With these you can go on a case by case basis, weigh the relative costs and benefits: a little more life in the party, a little more risk of a sudden razor cut.
TANGENT ALERT! OMG, Pete and I made a trial run last night of the Voicebox in NW Portland. It's a private karaoke bar - we've got a suite booked as the kickoff to a rollicking four-day celebration of my sister's birthday and EVERYTHING in a couple of weeks. But last night it was just the two of us, testing out our pipes and seeing if we could make it through our favorite songs without getting ambushed by rogue lyrics and bawling like babies. "Landslide" is one of my standards, right in my manly man range, but what the fuck am I going to do with "Can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life?" but put my head down and pretend words are nothing but sounds? But I drifted here to say how excited we both were to find Peter Tosh's "Stepping Razor" on the playlist. I never knew the song 'til it showed up (in a cover version) on the soundtrack of an amazing Canadian television series that we watched on DVD a few months ago, Intelligence. And the song's tremendous evocative power for me probably has to do with its association with that narrative and especially with the character of Jimmy, played by Ian Tracey, whom I would have been happy to watch eating soup. A very big bowl, a freakin' tureen of tomato bisque, split pea, whatever. His face is that interesting. So I can't say whether the song will cast the same spell on you that it does on me and Pete, but the lyrics are a surreal marvel. Check it out.
No, the fun narcissists are not the ones who cause the most grief. The boring ones, too, are more or less innocuous. No, it's the specially suffering wound-lickers who can really ruin your day, and this sometimes seems to be their vocation. (I should note that I have been one of these people at some bad moments in my life and very nearly fallen under a permanent curse, so I know whereof I speak.) If there's someone in your life whom you're constantly hurting despite your employing three benighted beagles on every trip you make through the minefield of their insecurities, bingo! You've got yourself a live one, and your arm will never be long enough to create a safe distance between you. That's because they will continually yank you close and grab you by the short hairs of your desire to be a good, a caring, a compassionate person. They know you're weak that way, and they'll exploit your weakness at every opportunity. Your desire not to hurt their feelings is a blazing sword in their hands.
These SAAs have a lot to say about duty, responsibility, character, and generosity, but you'll notice that it's all oriented in the direction of what they're owed. By you. They will cut down the space you have to move or breathe to the dimensions of a jail cell, because it's the only way they can feel sort of safe in your company. But they want to be around you, insist on it. How can you deny them after all they've given you? They're blood! (These vampires are big on blood, let me tell you. And no wonder, when everyone else has fled for the hills.)
Do we owe them anything? Even if we are gazing out confidently (foolhardily) across an ocean of time, can we really spare them a drop? What do you think?