My family – brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, making up about 15 of us – have a very healthy email listserv that runs the gamut from “whose shirt is this? see attached” to Things You Did in 1979 That Scarred Me Forever. This week we were discussing the behavior of one of our extended relatives living far away, and I was again hit with that old sparring partner, SHAME.
Occasionally I can think of a summer, or a vacation, and replay the events in my mind, and almost always I come away from the experience thinking “why the FUCK didn’t somebody slug me and teach me how to be PROPERLY SOCIALIZED?”
You think just because you have self-awareness now, that you’ve always had it. You assume because you’re infinitely aware of every last uptick in speech, every angle you can be seen, that you have always had such clairvoyance. In fact, your ability to sense when others loathe what you’re doing is hard-won and gradual.
But we all get socialized at a different pace, and I feel like mine took goddamn forever. Using broad generalizations, I suppose it can be broken down like this:
Normal person: begins life not knowing anything, gradually picks up social cues on how to behave, generally has a good idea what he/she seems like to everyone else by age 26.
Person with Asperger’s syndrome: begins life not knowing anything (like everyone else), doesn’t pick up on social cues the way everyone else does, has sensory integration issues, has to learn what other people are feeling, but it always remains something of a foreign language.
Me: began life pretty sure I knew what was going on, spent each year gradually realizing I didn’t, had sensory integration issues, finally picked up on social cues in my early 20s but continued to make unfathomable mistakes until my early 30s.
Perhaps I just wish someone had taken me at 18, or 20, or 24, pinned me to the wall and said, “Don’t you fucking know what you look like when you do the things you do?!?” Or perhaps they did do that, but I was in angry denial. Or perhaps I’m overreacting; usually whenever I apologize to someone for a past transgression, they have a completely different memory.
And here we are raising a child, at that peculiar age before she is really ready to meet the world on her terms, and I wonder: is there a way to teach self-awareness without it becoming crippling? Can anyone teach anyone not to be a dick? Or is it just instinct, genetics and luck?
barely figuring it out, with Kendall and Tracy, April 1989