Begin Again

Photo credit: Eileen Smith

When I was quite young and unwise in the way of propriety I would often play a computer game called Soldier of Fortune. It was grimly violent, and not at all suitable for someone my age. It was an unimaginative shoot-’em-up kind of game in which I would start off with a small yet powerful pistol, and as I progressed through the levels my armory would get bigger and more explosive.
My favourite part of this game was always the beginning. I especially liked the pistol because of its precision. It would allow me to shoot enemies in the head and legs and arms, and the programming was just sophisticated enough to make these enemies wail in pain and clutch at whatever part of their body they had been shot in. The reason I loved the pistol so much wasn’t because it afforded me the pleasure of torture. Rather, it was because with the pistol I felt as if I really earned my victories. Throwing a grenade into a roomful of enemies wasn’t nearly as rewarding because it required so little effort and stealth on my part. Every time the game progressed to the point where the enemies became too tough to be affected by my pistol I would start to lose interest. Before long I would reset and start the game from the beginning.

Soldier of Fortune
Four against one? Looks like things are about to get… boring.

This habit of starting again when things get too tough or too boring is a habit that has followed me around all my life. When things get too difficult or too complicated, I tend to abandon what I’m doing completely. I think this might have something to do with my family’s habit of moving around a lot when I was a child. I have a firm memory of watching a made-for-TV movie when I was perhaps six years old, in which an older lady in a small town in the United States proudly declared to the local sheriff, “I’ve lived in this house all my life!”
“I want that!” I thought to myself. I wanted to become an old man and to be able to say proudly, “I’ve lived in this house all my life!”
My very next memory is of my Father telling me that we were moving to Botswana. My first thought at the time was sadness that my one-house streak was going to be broken so soon into my short life.

Carl
Carl. I basically wanted to be Carl.

We moved several times after that, and I guess I grew accustomed to the idea that everything was temporary: Schools, houses, friendships. I never saw much point in painting my room, or hanging up pictures. At the back of my mind I knew that stationary moments were temporary, and I stopped seeing the point in long-term investments. Drilling holes into walls to put up shelves made me uncomfortable.
When I lived in Thailand, I spent about a year in an apartment that had a perfect spot on the wall for a clock. When I woke up every morning my eyes would dart to that blank space in a quest to discover the time, and each time I sought it out I was reminded that I still had not bought a clock to put there. In the end, I never did buy a clock.
Even now, my walls are devoid of photos and decorations. What’s the point of putting up pictures if I’m just going to have to take them down again some day?

On the plus side, the constant compulsion to change my perspective has pushed me to have a wide variety of experiences and constantly try new things. But overall, I can’t pretend that this is a good trait. Simply put, I am profoundly commitment phobic. I feel like a stem cell that refuses to differentiate. Or an ant that refuses to be classified as soldier or worker. I was born with the potential to be anything, yet I fear that once I specialize there will be an infinite number of lifetimes I won’t get to experience.

The implications of this phobia are vast. I shall always be a jack of all trades and a master of none. My life is doomed to be plagued with unfinished projects and houses with barren walls. I’ll never find out what might have happened if I’d just gone the extra mile, or just stuck at something a little while longer. More recently in my life I’ve had to come to terms with fact that I don’t date.
This might be the saddest detail of my condition. After all, I am almost always in love with someone, but I have learned that the safest thing for me to do is nothing. If I pursue romance, it might blossom briefly, but I know that it will be cursed to wither and die. I have learned in some very painful ways that once I begin to feel overwhelmed by intimacy I immediately start wanting out, and the result is that other people get hurt. So I am single by choice. It’s certainly not the wisest choice, and it often leaves me clutching at my heart and wailing in pain like those characters in the computer game I used to play, but that’s far better than the alternative of hurting people farther down the line. I sincerely hope someone changes my mind one day, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

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Are you under duress?

A few weeks ago, when the weather was still warm, I happened to walk past two young lovers who were deep in an intimate conversation. The boy was wearing a baggy, sleeveless shirt which hung carelessly off of his gangly frame, exposing more of his flesh than I needed to see. At the farthest end of one skinny arm, between two tweezer-like fingers, he held a cigarette. He was using his other arm to keep his girlfriend in a solid headlock.

The boy’s lankiness gave length to his arm, which was wrapped completely around the girl’s entire neck. He had used what scant strength he had in order to bring her ear closer to his nicotine stained lips, which were enthusiastically forming words of, I’m almost certain, indescribable banality.

The girl, for her part, did not seem to be putting up any protest. Her delicate hands were rested on top of the boy’s forearm, presumably to moderate the pressure that was being applied to her trachea. She had a serene smile upon her face, which I judged as being a result of the words she was hearing, and not due to imminent death through asphyxiation.

At that moment, a familiar sentence popped into my head:

“Do you think she’s under duress?”

The girl was not, in fact, under duress. Despite the aggressive body language, I had come to learn that physical interaction in Chile is on a level I had never seen before. The phrase, “Do you think she’s under duress?” was a throwback to a game I used to play with a friend of mine when I first moved to Chile. It was our way of coming to terms with the terribly distracting body language of lovers in this country; of pointing out a pattern that, to us, seemed so absurd yet so commonplace.

Now, there is not enough blog space in the world to address the complex and politically fraught dynamic between men and women in Chile, and I am not nearly involved enough in the culture to be able to understand this kind of behaviour, so it’s not my place to condemn it. It seems to be the norm, with women being just as comfortable with being physically subdued as the men are with being physically overbearing. All I can do is witness it with bewilderment.

Somehow, the young woman interpreted the man’s stranglehold as a show of affection. She was unfazed by the claustrophobia and the restriction in her movement. She found no offense in being breathed upon, at point-blank range, by a mouth that had just taken a youthfully arrogant drag on a cheap cigarette. I can only assume that, to her, this was an intimate expression of true love.

Admittedly, that was one of the more extreme examples I have seen while I’ve been living here. The more common practice is the clamping of the neck from behind, like a bank robber leading the bank manager towards the vault. The stance is one gun shy of a hostage situation. And it’s not only teenagers who act this way. I’ve seen the same conduct adopted by people all along the age spectrum, but all with similar levels of tenderness.

Under Duress
In a way, it is quite sweet. But there’s still that voice at the back of my head asking, “Do you think she’s under duress?”

 

To be fair, it’s not only Chileans whom I’ve seen acting in this way. I’ve spotted this maneuver in other countries as well, and among different cultures. I think perhaps I’m just more aware of it in Chile because of how awkwardly intimate the public displays of affection are here.

Ellie Goulding
In the music video for “I Need Your Love,” Calvin Harris shows Elli Goulding that he loves her (and also that he owns her).

Love is good, and I’m happy to see it celebrated. However, I like to see love celebrated happily and freely, and not in a serious, us-against-the-world kind of way.

Edward and Bella
Remember that scene in “Twilight” when Edward and Bella just laughed and laughed and laughed? Me neither.

But I must stress that this is all just personal opinion. The touch of a loved one can lift the spirit. A hand at the back of the neck can be pleasurable. Sometimes the best moments of loving someone are just in reminding them that you’re there. It’s a way of communicating affection, and I think that’s very important. But still, I’d prefer not to use my partner as a leaning post.

Holding Hand
I’m all for holding hands, though.