Friday, March 22, 2013

What do (and did) "you" want from me? Looking at a doppleganger.


To this day, four months from my seventieth birthday, I don’t know exactly what explains my physical backwardness and “weakness” as a youngster, a problem that would help shape my adult life and particularly my values.
  
Was it genetics?  Was it congenital?  Was it epigenetics?  I do think it was partly biological.  It seems related to my social backwardness and elements of autism or perhaps Asperger’s.  But when I grew up in the 1950s it tended to be viewed as a moral issue, as a kind of physical cowardice or laziness.
  
I thought I was reasonably well liked in first and second grades, but recall sudden pressure from a third grade teacher, Mrs. White (like in the Clue game) in the fall of 1951, to conform to the social and particularly physical expectations of boys of my age. 
  
I still have my old report cards, some of the narratives, and even the handwritten first grade reports in 1949-1950 show some concerns about doing things for myself. 
  
I would get my share of the teasing in grade school and particularly through junior high school (which in my day went through ninth grade).  It was not as severe as some of the bullying reported today.  But on a few isolated occasions (particularly one disturbing incident toward the end of ninth grade) I was capable of returning the insensitivity.

But the experience of being physically less competitive certainly helped shape my attitudes about what mattered in other people.  I tended toward upward affiliation, and to believe that capability (physical and mental, hopefully occurring together) was indicative of moral virtue, and that lack of “it” was due to moral failure.  So I developed an attitude that I could find no satisfaction or joy out of being associated with or connected to “the unworthy”.

I also contemplated thoughts, that if I was behind physically, it was probably best that I never have any children.

This may sound almost horrific today, personal eugenics.  Hadn’t we fought a world war about this in the 1940s, which we had won?  But strangely, this still seemed to constitute the social value system around me in the 1950s.  It helped shaped me.  The irony of it seemed exciting rather than wrong.

For reasons that I can’t explain, I suddenly knew I was interested in music and wanted to take piano in third grade.  We got a Kimball console piano (which I no longer have) in February 1952.  I started lessons. I remember the home salesman latter for the Sherwood Music School course program. 
  
I was quite good at it, earning awards for recitals and “festivals” over the next period of years.   And, although there was a dip in academics in third grade, maybe because of my poor relationship with this particularly hostile teacher, I had become a good student again by fifth grade, and was good enough to be valedictorian in high school. 

I have a feeling that the music and bookish stuff crowded out the normal neuromuscular development.  I had great difficulty learning even simple things, like riding a bicycle, or lighting matches safely.   Even so, with practice I developed some motor skills.  By eighth or ninth grade, I could hit a slow pitched softball respectably, although I couldn’t field or judge a fly ball.   I understood baseball and football at an intellectual level (particular all the strategies in baseball, of handedness, for example), just as I learned to play chess.  I had a fair understanding of the game (coordination of pieces, king safety) by high school.  Had I started much younger, maybe I could have become “really good”.

The crowding out of “normal” development might sound willful, or it might result from premature neural “pruning”, possibly influenced by epigenetics.  There is a pianist and composer, 40-plus years younger, who reports a similar history, but did not have the same physical issues (is avid in amateur bicycle riding, at least) and writes and thinks like “another me”.  All of this sounds like issues of development and pruning.  His brain handled the space or capacity requirements better than mine did.
  
All of this raises the question, what did others want from me?  That is, beyond the normal ability to provide for myself (which I did for all these decades of my I.T. career).  I think it was, to provide for others and to fit into some sort of family structure, where I would be capable of finding emotional satisfaction from a relationship with someone who “needed” me for adaptive (not just creativity or surplus-related) reasons.    That means, “loving” someone for who he or she is as a human being because he or she is “family”.  From this capacity, I suppose, people believe that the possibility of lifelong heterosexual marriage (with all of its sexual passion), capable of providing another generation of children (maybe even “another me”) would be possible.   Modern science doesn’t support that idea so much, but it does support the idea that a permanent relationship based on polarity (as opposed just to gender and reproductive function) is related to relearning constructive “affection” early in life in the family.  “Will and Sonny” can still come about.  

There are a couple of offshoots from the active heterosexual marriage model.  One idea is that the dedication to family is supposed to lead to an appropriate amount of involvement with helping others outside the family. That doesn't always happen, especially in "tribal" culture,  The other is that a desire for procreation gets seen as a prerequisite to membership in a possibly vulnerable social group. 
  
This aspect is very personal, but there is also a practical aspect.  Most older (tribal) societies needed to have almost all men capable of protecting and providing for the specific needs of women.  They see the "sissy boy syndrome" as a drag on the safety and cohesiveness of the community, in the face of collective challenges and enemies.  This got to be elaborated to requiring men (including more "marginal" boys) to join in collective pursuits to protect the community, as illustrated by the military draft or conscription.  In the Army, I got to see a few men who had some of the same problems I did, and probably “worse’, particularly my four weeks in Special Training Company in the spring of 1968 (at Fort Jackson, SC).   We had a system of student draft deferments then that implied that some lives were more "valuable than other.  Decades later, I would see some of the same thing as substitute teacher with (unselected) special education assignments.  It wasn’t a good place to be.
  
During my years dealing with my mother’s eldercare, I was indeed struck by how some people wee taken back by my emotional aloofness and lack of physical attentiveness.  This has to do, I thought, with choice.  I did not “create” a situation that would require it, by causing a pregnancy.   But it was still expected of me anyway.  I don’t see this point mentioned very often in today’s policy debates.
  
I also remember, particularly during that episode as a “patient” at NIH in the fall of 1962, after my William and Mary “expulsion”,  the concern from “those in power” about the nature of my sexual interests and fantasies, of what was capable of providing “pleasure” and relational incentive.  If I was a “defective” male, I had every reason to admire superior males, and dislike those who fell even “beneath” me.  I know this sounds ironic, and the social and political consequences (if too many people believe this) can become significant, even catastrophic to democracy.  I also had no incentive for interest in women, or to reproduce. 
  
I also realize that this line of thinking can be reconstructed in other sequences and lead to other observations and maybe escape hatches.   Sexual arousal was seen as a passive process, “caused” by reaction to external stimuli.  I was concerned with the idea that men and women should be and look different, which again is “ironic”.  Why should I be “sexually” drawn by someone who would depend on me economically?  I seems to me, looking back on all this, that the idea of a biological future through children needed to mean something to me.  When I was young, it did not.   (On "Days of our Lives", the "gay boy" Will Horton, however, seems quite capable and passionate about parental potential and attachment.)  There were many other things to be interested in (like music).   As I near my last years or at least decades, I can see this differently, at least at an intellectual level.  Is it more important that people become their own individual selves, or function as members of a group?  That’s a bit of a paradox, as an individual’s expression doesn’t mean anything until there are others to react to it. 



  

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