Have you ever had one of those conversations?
…I feel like I should qualify that statement.
First off, have you ever had one of those situations where you used a word, and then someone else used a word, and you get the sense that you’re using the word in completely different ways? This happens to me a lot, and it is probably somehow related to the fact that I really don’t understand people sometimes.
Like for example the phrase ‘in a sec.’ What do you mean when you say ‘in a sec?’
In a literal sense, the phrase ‘in a sec’ is not very helpful. It means “in a second,” and very few things that we do in our interactions can be literally spoken of that way—especially with a phrase that takes two seconds to say.
Now, when I say ‘in a sec,’ it means a frame of time less than two minutes. Because if it’s going to be two minutes, I say ‘two minutes.’ I’m really painfully punctual that way.
But not everyone is. Everyone has a different idea of what constitutes ‘a sec,’ and it varies from day to day. So when I say ‘in a sec,’ and then do something ‘in a sec,’ the other person might be surprised at how quickly it was done. Or at how slowly it was done.
This is a relatively simple concept, the idea of ‘in a sec.’ So imagine how difficult things can be when we talk about a more complex idea such as friendship, virtue, or justice.
In part, this is an issue that plagues philosophy. It is sometimes very easy to equivocate and shift the meaning of a word accidentally by virtue of your own ideas on the subject, possibly by virtue of your own prejudices on the issue.
So I had one of those situations slowly unfold, where I didn’t know whose definition was what. So I guessed, which I do often, and I assumed that the more common (and technically literal) definition of the word was at play. But then confusing things started to happen. Eventually, the confusion built to a head and I asked for a straightforward definition, and it turned out that it pretty much was my definition, and not necessarily a more widespread one. So that was awkward. Hilarity ensued.
I like people. A lot. But sometimes they confuse me. I never really understand what’s going on—if I seem to at any point in time, it’s just because I’m very confident in my ability to continue not understanding with relative success at the act of not dying. Mostly it’s because I’m still very much figuring out how to reconcile everyone’s definitions. The best I’ve figured out so far is that it gets better the more you know the person—rather like learning a tiny language.
It’s very interesting to learn people’s languages. Idiolects, they’re called in linguistic anthropology. It tells you a lot about people, learning how they use language. Or at least I think it does.
To be more precise, it tells me a lot, but I don’t know what all that lot means. It’s rather like being shouted at in Latin by a very angry Arnold Schwarzenegger: You can usually pick out something intelligible here and there, but you’re too overwhelmed to make much use of it.
I have noticed that I tend to be more spare with universal emotional state descriptors—although that has started to loosen of late. For example, there was a long stage where I didn’t use “love” outside of a romantic context, because any other use simply didn’t mesh with my views. Now, the idiolects of other people and my own experiences have morphed my definitions, and the word ‘love’ comes into play a great deal more in everyday speech—and a good deal less in the context of a relationship.
I rather suspect everyone finds it a scary word, and perhaps that’s why it’s so comforting to use it so widely—because to use it for things like pizza and dogs dampens it, spreads it out, dilutes the swift, bright sting of it. Movies like Scott Pilgrim Vs The World give us surrogate code phrases we can use (“I’m in lesbians with you!”), to avoid having to hurl love out into the air. It’s a heavy word, laden with history.
And on an unrelated note, emotions confuse the hell out of me. The constant fluctuation between mood states, the random-ass things that set them off—I don’t even know sometimes. You can carry something for weeks, haul it along with the intention of laying it out at the perfect time, and it feels heavy and granite-solid and enduring, and then you lay it down in all its gravity and the Sisyphean burden you’ve carried completely dissolves, leaving you completely free and wondering why it weighed so heavily on you in the first place. It’s a fickle bastard.
Coming off of a tangentially related note to the last, hi. If this is the first time you’re reading my blog, welcome. This is my blog. On it I write things, things which are usually related to anthropology, or to philosophy, or to psychology. Because I love all those things. Sometimes, if you are an important part of my life, you will recognize in my writing things which have happened to me.
Just kidding—you’re all important parts of my life.
Well, except you.
I’M JOKING. Moving on.
SPEAKING OF PYSCHOLOGY, I love using psychological disorders to define characters. Diagnosis with a personality disorder or a psychological disorder has many negative social and personal effects, which I have discussed previously. These labels are incredibly weighty and, like every other label, they clamp down hard on a person’s sense of self, changing their identity for good or for ill (usually ill).
But when I’m making a character, I harness that. Because interesting people are, more often than not, somehow unhinged. And so when I want a character that interests me, such as one of the three that appear occasionally in all of my stories, I build their personality, choose their history—and slam a disorder down on top of that to define what makes them unique. It’s not a particularly elegant or even necessarily a politically correct way to build a character, but it works for me.
Personality disorders in particular are sticky things for me. I wish people would call them personality types, because they’re not really disorders until they become dysfunctional. But when they do become dysfunctional, hoo boy. Damn are they dysfunctional.
I built a character a few months ago for a story I still haven’t written yet.
Well, technically I already had built the character. He’s an old character of mine. We’ll call him Tor for the purpose of this blog, but he’d probably hate that. His first appearance was when he was in his old age—I was building him here for a story about his teenage years. So I already knew him well, but I wanted a way to describe him—because Tor is never very involved. He has his friends and he has his goals, but he has few of both, and we rarely see an emotive side to him. And I wanted a phrase to stand in for his behavior, for that rich, intricate inner life that drives him and the cold, inexplicable air that he gives off. Because I’m lazy and I don’t want to type all of that each time.
So I gave him a schizoid personality type.
Since he wasn’t entirely dysfunctional, it isn’t technically a disorder, but it did provide a conflict that helped develop the character and drive his actions—namely, the balance that he has to strike between his own enjoyment of solitude and the social pressure to spend time with people. It’s a story that you might be tempted characterize as sad, because in the end Tor is profoundly, completely alone.
But it’s not sad. He still has his connection to the world, in the end, still walks through it, though he doesn’t interact with it. It doesn’t trouble him, because although I write his dialogue, Tor and I are not the same person. We’re built differently, geared to different things. He doesn’t get lonely as quickly as you or I might, and when he does, it takes very little to comfort him—a spider, a bird, a quick word to a friend.
It makes me wonder sometimes, about characters, and about personality. It makes me marvel at the differences between people, because schizoid personality disorder is a real thing. And possibly something that you could diagnose Sherlock with. Perhaps I’ll make a post about it later. =
To clarify; I’m not saying that you can define a person through a single label.
But what I am saying is that when I try to define a character,when I am literally building a person, it often helps immensely if I can put words down to describe their personality. And psychology, anthropology, and philosophy give me the tools to do so.
So hey, internet. I’m back.
I’ve come out of a rough patch recently.
And by recently I mean “this afternoon, at 2:57 PM, while standing in a cluttered dorm room and staring out a window.” It was pretty bad while it lasted—lots of brooding and yearning and writing bad poetry and listening to Linkin Park, but I kept my chin up, used the positive explanatory style, fought the urge to attribute everyone’s actions to malice and neglect, surrounded myself with wonderful people and gave myself up to my work and my community. I tried to walk the line between being honest with feelings and not whining about everything. I failed a few times, in both directions. But now a lot of the things that have held me down have just…evaporated.
Free to move in any direction, unfettered. And I don’t yet know where that will take me, but I have some ideas. And of course I have some hopes and dreams, because I always have hopes and dreams. So as this semester winds to an end, I can promise only three things:
One: I’ll keep blogging. You’ll see things pop up here, at least twice a month (every other Friday), hopefully more often than that.
Two: More funny things will come. I haven’t written a purely ridiculous post in a while, and that needs to change.
And three: I’m still following my dreams, fighting my fight, standing for what I believe. I lose sometimes, I get lost sometimes, I am confused always, but I am always moving forward. And I can promise you that that won’t stop, internet.
So join me again, if you will. Let’s move forward and see what the future has in store for us.