As any valuable diary should, the past six years of Writing Privacy often feel like an anthology that connects me vividly with episodes from the past. Even when I re-encounter something from years ago, it’s lucidly brought back to life.
I haven’t always detailed everything that went on. There was more dignity in absorbing negativity and finding a way to write something. The perils of loneliness carried a certain charm about them.
This year, things have changed quite radically.
I’m no longer living on my own. For the first time in recent history, I’ve thrived in my working environment and sense a robust career ahead.
I’ve become more open about things than I imagined possible. I’ve revealed my identity here, for instance, and shared more about motivations than disappointments. For the most part, it has felt rewarding.
I’ve also started to speak my mind instead of feebly submitting to what I get told. I don’t know how one is supposed to react to being called ‘damaged goods’ or ‘one out of ten’, as I have been in the past. Would that not sting you too?
I used to get a sadistic sense of satisfaction when I accumulated this sort of brutal evidence, as though it irrefutably proved the ‘enfreakment’ that explained my character. It continually justified everything I did and felt, especially relating to my doctoral thesis.
This year, I discovered that I can’t take this treatment any more. I need to fight back.
Only, I’m not sure that’s any better. Having burnt no fewer than four bridges in the past month, it’s now getting quite concerning.
Suddenly, and unexpectedly, my need to have my say and retain some sovereignty has superseded my need for friends. It’s such a hard balance to find. Is it worth retaining friendships when there’s no communication? Is it worth being argumentative when you could just let things go away quietly?
I think my new environment has profoundly improved my mental state – such that enduring some of the most discourteous and dispiriting behaviour I’ve ever seen (and I have years of examples of it) has not defeated me the way it used to. Instead, it’s changed me.
Now, I fight to have my side of the argument. If you stand me up over both days of a weekend and then tell me by accident that you saw me somewhere else but weren’t going to speak to me, I don’t count that as acceptable. That’s outright insulting.
If you give me a lecture about my masculinity because I don’t take advantage of you, then start dating someone immediately after five months of insisting that you weren’t looking, I don’t count that as acceptable.
Now, the catharsis comes not from quietly channeling this discontent into something poetic, but from arguing back. It’s not delivered in a nasty way – just calling people out on their behaviour, giving them the courtesy of a right of reply but knowing it will never come.
Is that any better? I used to think it was more important to be thought of well. People probably thought I was pathetic. You could call me worse than rotten, and I’d still thank you for a lovely evening and express my regrets for your inconvenience.
Now, I start the fires. I burn the bridges. In some ways, it feels better; in others, a lot worse. I cannot fathom where the balance is reached.
Tonight, in the latest crossing inferno, I got a dressing down on my negative attitude. I agree with some of what was said, though not all.
But I want to be fair to that opinion here.
Say I do have a negative attitude – how do I turn that around? I recently did what I thought was honourable and got pilloried for it. I can’t seem to do right for doing wrong; then I’m told to believe in myself more. How does that work?
So I ask my readership, in confidence if you prefer: please spare me your thoughts.
Does my ability to burn bridges prove that I’ve turned my life around? Or is it nothing more than a new shade of bad attitude? If I need to change (and it makes sense that I do), what might be a good first step?
2 thoughts on “Burning Bridges: A Twist of Character”
I am biased because I don’t want you to feel bad about yourself, nor to be hurt. But I will reiterate something I said elsewhere: how a bridge burns can be a reflection of how structurally unsound it was in the first place.
It’s suggested online that the original sense of burning bridges is one of preventing retreat by destroying the way one came. Some victories you have sought for a long time and earned many times over, and backtracking isn’t always conducive to that. There’s an old kids’ show whose name escapes me, in which the host (Tregar?) would tell contestants: “The only way is onward. There is no turning back.” Some crossings are a means to an end, whether we like it or not, and burning bridges – or crumbling causeways – are part of an arguably natural process of advancement and renewal.
Thank you, my friend. Some of these bridges were paper thin; some I had hoped were sounder. But I should know all too well that if this is the social life I pursue, I have to live with the consequences. The disturbing thing is the sudden change, which makes me witness what happens when I actively ignite rather than let things go.
It’s an affirming thought – that burning a bridge is a precursor to moving forwards. It just doesn’t help the attitude issue. Rather than helping me to let go of things, instead it provides different self-recriminations and different regrets. Time supposedly heals everything, of course, though it doesn’t help if one just heaps more on top all the time.
I think I have a plan, though, which will involve crossing one bridge which (I hope) has stood the test of time and goodwill. Fingers crossed.