The sources of things matter to me.
For instance, where the shrimp on my plate come from or the material in a shirt. I like to know from whence things came. And the likelihood that I would ever use a quote or cite a source from an author I despise is slim to impossible. It is (usually) very difficult for me to accept that a corrupt or depraved writer could create anything not corrupt or depraved.
(And this is observably false, and I know that; it's just how I often feel about something. Certainly I know that we have many insightful quotes from Stalin ("A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic" -- Eddie Izzard does a fantastic comedic treatment of this very thing in his "Dressed to Kill" show) and Charles Manson ("If you're going to do something, do it well. And leave something witchy.") to name just a couple of less-stellar humans who still had some interesting things to say despite being observably horrible people.)
Regardless, I will still likely never quote from Machiavelli's "The Prince" or Hitler's "Mein Kampf." But here I go anyway, citing a dubious source, after remembering the bible-based counsel of a therapist I briefly saw back in 2000 -- a hypnotist and EMDR practitioner. (Say what thou whilst, titter and snicker if you must, but I got help from her, and that was all that mattered.) After several weeks of seeing her and talking at length about the sour and poisonous situation I was trying to survive, she looked at me and said, "Why do you cast your pearls before swine?"
This often-used phrase comes from a book I prefer never to quote -- the new testament christian bible. Quoting bible stuff and nonsense confuses people: they think I'm either a big fan or spoiling for a verbal argument. Neither apply. I do find that the bible and other older texts like it are much like a blind squirrel that finds an acorn now and again. It can on rare occasion provide a memorable turn of phase or even be profound. (As readers of this blog will know already ... I am no fan of religious creeds of any stripe.) The pearls aphorism comes from a chapter entitled "Matthew," in its seventh sub-chapter, at a line/verse numbered six:
"Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them."
(Normally I would insist on context and spend some time going over what was said immediately before and after in the story -- lest I be like a loathed Cherry Picker myself. But for today, I merely need that single line. Another haunting image sits in a line from another chapter called First Corinthians: "Through a glass darkly." Outstanding and spooky, but for another day.)
Nowadays, I am a bigger fan of dogs and pigs than most humans, so I do not normally respond to this sentiment that dogs are not worth holy things and pigs not worth peals. But this therapist made the statement because I was enmeshed at the time in a particularly toxic situation with a friend, and I was pouring my heart out onto this hot mess and getting nowhere for the effort. It had been destroying me from within for months, and the therapist was trying to help me get well, move on, get past it. While my first reaction at the time was bright anger -- I was not as pro pig then as I am now, and I bristled at her essentially calling my friend a "pig" -- the comment was like a bucket of cold water right into my face, and that was exactly what I needed. It was a mental thunderclap. I finally heard someone else's negative assessment of the situation and agreed with it.
Part of the mess I had been involved in back then involved a longterm friend, and even 18 years ago, I was old enough to have started struggling more in the making of new friends. Making friends as an adult is much more difficult than it was as a child -- the older one is, the harder it becomes, at least for me, perhaps because we tend to become set in our ways and have stronger preferences and filters as we age. What I often call the 'ignorance of youth' is really mostly naïveté and a blind sort of tolerance, so that ultimately all manner of thing and person gets past any minimal filters or barriers a young person might have set up. Those filters and barriers get tighter and stronger with experience, though, and as one befriends and then divests of liars and lazies, wingnuts and harpies, one becomes better-able to identify these less-desirable types and avoid them. What this experience yields is both a better judge of character but also fewer and fewer potential candidates.
Recently, a woman in a Q&A audience at a work meeting described herself as "angry and direct." I perked up, because I often describe myself that way. Impulsively, I scribbled my email address on a scrap of paper and wrote, "We might be wonder twins! Please email me!" Since I don't live where I grew up, and because I work pretty autonomously, I don't get the chance to make many work friends, nor do I have friends around from my childhood or college. Nor do I go to religious services or PTA stuff -- no religion, no kids in my world. So meeting people that get my attention in any notable, personal way is pretty infrequent. When I handed the scrap to her after the event ended, she blinked at me through large-lensed glasses and smiled only vaguely and a little too cooly. I don't think she said a single word, and I knew it was already maybe awkward that I'd let my enthusiasm run away with me, so I smiled again and walked away.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly, she has not emailed me. I do such things almost never. Perhaps I was too obvious? I had hoped to find a kindred spirit, comfortable with directness, but perhaps since "direct" means more than one thing, I misread her. It's possible she just lost the scrap, too, but I have begun to wonder if it's really that I still appear to enjoy casting my pearls before swine. I have a long experience with individuals upon whom I have wasted countless hours, tears, and dreams, over more than a few decades now ... and perhaps I'll remain young at heart because I have yet to lose the fairly naive ability to flash all-too-instantly toward "hoped for outcomes." The price, of course, would be the loss of more pearls. But before swine or otherwise? Hope springs eternal; the heart never knows.
Although in another SLAP FROM THE PAST, I recall using what I called a "QA Questionnaire" circa 2012, a quiz of 10 or so questions that I vowed to give to anyone I ever met who I thought I might want to know better. In the intervening years between my Swine-Pearls-Therapist and the QA Experiment, I had taken on innumerable potential friends, only to be nearly universally disappointed. (Some of them had been a little stalker-y, too, and I wanted to stop that from happening.) I did in fact use it on some willing participants, vainly trying to more quickly and effectively gauge the mettle of someone's character and any potential "click" between us. Sadly -- it was an abject failure, and I quickly abandoned the idea. I was stuck with merely my own malfunctioning sense of maybe-match, idealism, and reality.
I think it was shortly after those post-QA failures that I started to incrementally give up on forming any future friendships. I have said more than once, "Well. I know all the people I'm ever gonna know." I made dozens of acquaintances in the almost decade since, but no new friends. A FRIEND is a special thing to me, more than just a "mutual affection." Friendship means something deep and even pervasive to me. Many of my old friends remain closer to me than family ... they just live in far away states. I adopt friends the way some people adopt family members; friends are real connections, parties to a tribe, not just vague recognition or situations of convenience and shared hobbies. I want my friends to call me when they need help moving, have a flat, get arrested, have hip surgery -- close by and accessible. And I want people who will respond in kind. (Almost all of my friends live far away.)
Maybe I give off a disagreeable vibe now. Maybe somehow I'm telegraphing this high expectation and sad frustration in some molecular messaging of scent or tic -- that I'm often lonely at work, that I'm often disappointed by the outcomes of any effort I make to meet and get to know others. Maybe my desire for friendship is tainted, by what felt for many years like desperation but now feels like bitter resignation. I imagine that my pearls are a kind of conflict pearls, like conflict diamonds1 tainted by the ground in which they laid, stained in the blood and loss of war. My pearls of friendship perhaps come from suspect sources and with too high a price.
1Conflict diamonds, a/k/a "blood diamonds," are mined in conflict, traded in conflict, and finance further conflict. They are evidence of complicit exploitation by stronger countries and economies, perpetrating yet another variation in economic and geographic assault.
“All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” ~ Federico Fellini
Image: Flickr irinaku