Saturday, January 20, 2007

Giving and sharing

For me, there is a huge difference between someone's sharing something with me and someone's doing something for me. It is rooted, I suppose, in a lack of self-esteem, but that is how I am.

What do I mean? Think of a photo. If I say to you, take a photo of yourself for me, and you do, you have done it just for me. It thrills me because you have done something for me. It is equally as good if you say that you took it for me. I have that moment of yours. I own it; it is mine. I like it when the world, mostly chaotic and incomprehensible, becomes mine, even the smallest piece of it. But if you just send me a photo, I know what you look like and nothing more. It is not so special. You did not do anything for me beyond picking up the file and flicking it to me. No big deal, although of course if you are very private (as I am), it might be a big deal that you share. But doing it for me is bigger. Think of making dinner. There is a difference between my making you dinner, just for you, and my saying "have some of this".

It works both ways, of course. I like to do things for people too. It's a good way for me to express what I feel about them. I used often to write poetry or short fiction for people (not so much these days). If I did, I would never broadcast it in another medium. How could I? It was no longer mine. That is the point of doing something for someone: it becomes theirs. If you take a photo for me and then show it to other people, you have stolen something from me. You have taken the specialness; you have taken away the caring for me that you showed in the first place by taking the picture.

It sometimes strikes people as odd that I'm not personally jealous. You'd think I would be. I don't generally feel that horror of my partner's going with others. It's not that I don't care for them enough to hate it; it's that I don't feel they belong to me. I feel that only those things that are given to me freely are mine; I don't have expectations based on my relationship to them or more accurately what I am in their life. In one case, I have become jealous because that is what the person wanted. I remodelled how I thought about them, which is easy in their case. (Without getting into it, I find it easy to become jealous in this case because I don't see the person and I can easily convince myself that anything they give to others should be given to me, although it's not possible -- if you are thinking that that is a bit, erm, twisted, I do not agree; this is how we work but we don't often think enough about it to realise it.)

Still, if you make a promise, I will be hurt if you break it, in just the same way. I am careful not to make promises I can't keep. (For instance, I refuse to promise Mrs Zen that I will not talk to S, despite the damage that does my relationship, because I would without question break the promise.) But when I make one, whatever I promised no longer belongs to me, and it is a terrible thing -- a type of theft -- to take it back. I do not though consider a mere agreement to do something a promise in the way some people do (but because I am sensitive to others' feeling that agreements are promises, I tend to keep agreements vague: I'll do it for you some time rather than I'll do it for you tomorrow; I am the king of maybe).

Did I not make a promise when I got married? It's possible to think I did, but I don't think so. I think I obliged myself in some ways, but I don't think I promised, for instance, eternal fidelity. I promised to care for Mrs Zen, for her feelings, and I have tried to. Doesn't that mean I promised to care for what she wants? Yes, it does, and I do. But that doesn't mean a promise to make what she wants the be-all and end-all (as some, when considering relationships and marriage in particular, seem to think). It means it is an element in how I think about life, and how I negotiate with her to make life together. You cannot promise more than that, unless marriage is to be bondage (and if it was, I would never have married).

But. There are people whose relationship to me involves a commitment just because of their relationship, a promise that is implicit in their very existence. I gave them a part of my life irrevocably. (I might differ from Mrs Zen or from them in my understanding of how much of it I gave or what it implies, but I don't for a moment think that it is negotiable that I did give it.) That Zenella, Naughtyman and Zenita even live is a contract for me, a promise that I keep.

This is not to negate the value of sharing. I am sharing now, and I don't think it is a small thing. But it is not the same thing as giving this to you, letting it be yours and not mine. What would be? A secret that only you know, maybe. (There is a big difference, and I think we should have separate words in English for the two ideas, between a thing that is not widely known and I let you in on it and a thing that is not known at all but I entrust you with it. An example of the former would be to tell you something I know about someone else but you don't, but I did not promise them not to share it (I found out in some way). An example of the latter is the password to my email package. The former is a secret in the sense that it is not widely known, and you can be in on it but the latter is a secret because it involves my trusting you. Both are gifts in a way, but the latter is many times more meaningful: if you can understand that gap, you can understand what I am talking about here.) But that is only a similar thing (much more important, of course: I might feel annoyed and hurt that you send someone else a photo you took for me, but I will be a lot hurter if you misuse my password). Some people have trusted me enough to tell me things that they just don't share with others (I am the kind of person who you know you can trust because, I think, I have exactly this fucked-up way of thinking about it!). I treasure that immensely; it is almost the rarest gift you can give someone else, in my view.


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