It was a perfect Monday, and after the bar and yet another long talk sitting on the kitchen linoleum, we had gone to bed (or begun to move in that direction.) We lay together in the dark laughing about something – men or ourselves I would assume – and the topic of socks arose. She mentioned she didn’t wear them to bed and something else I don’t remember (sorry girl) and I exclaimed “I love socks.” No sooner had the words come out of my mouth than I began to find fault with them. “Actually, I amended, that’s not true. I hate socks.” I began to explain my first statement – the enjoyment of festive colors,their relative inexpense, and the ability to raise ones body temperature a few degrees without much effort, and then rebutted myself, remembering that I prefer shoes that don’t require socks and try to avoid wearing them whenever possible. I laughed at the absurdity of making a declarative statement, one with conviction and without ambiguity, only to confess that it may not be true.
This is a habit I’ve noticed lately in myself. Actually, it first occurred to me last week on my flight home from Chicago as I mentioned it to a fellow passenger – ironically – but at the time I was paying attention to the teeth coming down on my lower lip, so everything else took a backseat. That evening I mentioned my tendency to state things as if they were fact and then return to them later to find they are in fact incorrect. He laughed, puzzled and intrigued, and I crumpled my insight into a corner in my mind as a dollar bill shoved into a pocket ignorantly, only to be found later with surprise and excitement.
It could be an oldest child thing. Oldest children are used to two things – being listened to and being right – and so it’s certainly a reasonable assumption that my birth order has something to do with my impulsive declarative tone. It may also be, as she so delicately put it “you hate ambiguity more than anyone I know”, and that something inside me just won’t let a waffling or inconclusive answer come out. Something about red fire and roman candles just doesn’t do “Socks have both benefits and inconveniences in my everyday life.”
It’s a trait that’s gotten me into trouble in the past. I mentioned this to her that night in the dark and she fumbled, presumably hedging over loyalties and confidences, and I chuckled, saying I knew as much long before anyone had ever said it to her. For as long as I’ve had a personality, it’s been a fiery one, and verbal communication has always been one of my strongest suits. And the same demeanor that suggested to my fellow church members my future as a TV news anchor has pitted friends against me. I’d like to think these friendships didn’t shrivel because of my inability to maintain consistency in my views about footwear, but I’m well aware that the way in which I grab words and toss them around has put more than a few feet in my mouth.
I suppose the problem comes when I’m not talking about socks. I give my opinions – what I feel with deepest passion at the moment I’m saying it – freely and without much regard to whether or not they are divine truths. And because of something in my voice, people believe it. Does that make me a liar? I don’t think so, because I don’t intentionally craft statements I know are untrue, and every statement I make has some piece of what I believe to be true. Does it make me rash – for speaking without thinking of the consequences or even the other half of my heart? Probably. Does it make capable of manipulation? Absolutely. Is that the same thing as being manipulative? Maybe, but only if you count priests, poets, and people who believe in anything as the same. If all it takes to be considered deceptive is a sharp mind and a loud voice, then I consider myself in a lot of good company.
These days I don’t mind having to amend myself. I spent a lot of time in my adolescence feeling guilty for who I was – wishing I could be less intense, less demanding, and less likely to make enemies in every room I enter. But then I began to realize that I am, at my core, all of those things. And in the balance of the universe, there is a need and a place for all those things. I’m not saying I’m right all the time, or that being this way is the right way for people to be. What I am saying is that the strength in my voice that some call deceitful is the same strength that others look for when they dial my telephone number. I refuse to stop speaking just because someone might believe me. I put faith in the people I care about to be able to discern when I’m speaking a complete reality, and when I’m forgetting that I also hate socks – everyone that’s ever mattered to me has learned to tell the difference. And the rest? Don’t believe everything that you breathe.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.) -Walt Whitman
ps. at the moment, I’m not wearing socks. I wore them all day and then around the house for a while until I got tired of them and took them off. Take that as you like it.