Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Spectrum in Self-Contemplation

Yesterday I was walking to the supermarket in an attempt to buy salad and as I was crossing high street, I looked up at a car that had poor slow-to-a-stop technique. I was suddenly hit with the idea that at some point I should write something about somebody whom I truly don't understand - namely the driver of the little hatch-back.

I've worked with this kind of person before, and I never spent much time contemplating them, firstly the number one thing that ensures somebody doesn't gain my attention is in abundance - complete inoffensiveness, non-threatening. Part of the reason I can't relate to them at all is because we simply are not competing for the same things in life.

I don't even know how to describe them. I'll try.

An overweight mid-30s to middle aged woman, 'settled' into a steady job they commute to daily, collects 'nice things', drives a hatchback, does or doesn't have a family, independent life non-descript, wheres makeup and makes effort to look inoffensive.

And I should say the term 'inoffensive' I employ somewhat paradoxically, I find nothing more offensive or unenjoyable than the inoffensive. To me a fundamental aspect of 'character' is that it is committed, and therefore devisive.

Anyway, in the moments I contemplated her life and what story could possibly be written about her, (one may note, they almost never are unless she is a device employed by the author to facilitate meeting a bunch of people much more interesting than her). But it is fascinating, I have only interracted with such when my workplace has thrown me together with them.

For example, one would be tempted looking at the careers they occupy, to label them as 'unambitious' but it's not that is it? More commonly my impression was that nobody had ever taught them to be ambitious. Conversations of this 'archetype' that I have overheard often leave me with the impression that the world is preventing them from having all the things they want in life (and the deck is stacked against women whom are past their prime reproductive age and peak attractiveness) like a victim of a conspiracy.

The conspiracy exists, it's just an unconscious one. For example, you will often hear a complaint like 'well because he [the boss] is a sexist pig, managements just an old boys club.' which is usually a factual observation of the gender make-up of management, but my point being the complaint is never 'my father never taught me how to shake hands properly, he also didn't teach me to apply makeup.' eg. the ambition is never taught.

So already I can't relate to how this character archetype winds up in their circumstances, and while I find it hard to concieve of say their group of friends meeting up in their downtime, and where and why they would want to do that, when I populate their working world I get back into familiar territory.

Who do they work with? Well, some young punk like me. Am I an ally in their story or an antogonist? Probably an antogonist I thought, from her perspective I would have been the heir apparant to the old-boys club, with resources being shovelled at me, and here comes the cruel failure of the thought experiment/creative exercise.

I never thought of myself as an antagonist before, but from her perspective I'm probably a smart-arse, domineering, cut-throat, conniving, manipulative ladder climber, as young ambitious men everywhere tend to be in offices. Because otherwise there is no point to being in that office, young men don't have mortgages to pay or young ones to look after. They seek intellectual stimulation, games to play.

And from my perspective she the focus of this story I'm trying to tell is just in the margins, politically uninfluential, in a position of low-value therefore high performance or low performance is irrelevant.

But where the young man archetype may be the antagonist in the story of the stagnant-career-middle-aged woman archetype's story, she would barely rate a mention from the reverse perspective.

This seems cruel to me.

'Antagonist' to me implies an active sense of antagonism, the young man archetype is simply a representative of a world denied to our protagonist, she is in fact as irrelevant to him as he is irrelevant to her current circumstances. Who then? The boss that calls her in and asks her to file some shit? Or emails her a press release? That does her semi-annual pay review and decides her work is not worth any more than it was before?

Again, I can see how boss (male or female) could be the antagonist, infact having the female boss and reinforcing from a female direct-reports perspective that sexist reality that women in authority have to worry about being liked, elsewise they are inevitably seen as a bitch could be interesting. But again, not dishing out a pay rise to somebody whose job statically contributes value (as in our protagonist may work 'hard' but not get any better at her work, nor does her work become any more important) is simple economics, it's what a boss is supposed to do, in order to do their job.

And the fact that the boss only delegates work like filing, press releases etc. I mean there's a possibility she could delgate more of our protagonist is an admin, or logistics assistant, or public relations officer, or accounts recievable, or the lunch lady. But so what? So their boss does too much work that they could delegate down the line? That makes the boss mediocre, not an antagonist.

And perhaps that's another key to understanding, our protagonist actually lives in a world where nobody is consciously antagonising them. There story doesn't get told because the antagonists they needed to overcome did their damage way earlier in life. The parents that reinforced the traditional gender roles while in a misguided modesty would always talk about how 'simple' 'plain' or 'dumb as a stump' they were, creating a self identity in their child that they were not intended for great things.

The antagonist is whoever, whoever taught a mode of thinking that equates to 'life happens to you, arseholes are everywhere, the rich get richer...'

This character is not my antithesis as such, my antithesis is actually pretty easy for me to contemplate, and also intrinsically fascinating. This character simply exists on a part of the spectrum that I don't find interesting, and rarely contemplate.

Her story is hard to tell because it lacks any catalyst for change to remain true. For me to simply take this characters circumstances and write the story of what I'd do if I woke up in her life, that would be cheating. The point is she doesn't suddenly wake up with the initiative to change her world for the better, and start acting like the young man a couple of desks across from her, eventually using her wisdom and non-threatening status to outwit his brash overconfidence.

Because that would be cheating, the point of her story is that she just grinds out her existence, seeking relief where she can in the usual ways - watching movies and tv shows she likes, hanging out with friends, eating nice food and buying nice things. And eventually she gets some respite from the unsatisfying job, and I don't know, lives out the rest of her days as pleasantly as she can, not dwelling on all the years she gave to a job she disliked etc.

I don't know if that is her story, I don't know how to tell it if it is. But it is at least useful for me to try and imagine her life, and how my own life appears through her lens, be it a fair representation or not. And I guess if you want to be true to the narrative you can't defend yourself when you pop-up in somebody else's perspective.

Anyway, be careful crossing the road.

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