Affect. Verb to noun to adjective, affected, affection, affectation: a protean, tricky, problematical word for a difficult matter. From the wholesome neutrality of cause and effect to the sense of potential damage, from the springy turf of affection to the sliding, hypocritical sands of affectation, are small, mistaken steps.
I let other people affect me, still, too much, their moods and humours, atmospheres and auras. when I was younger and lived in the city, I used to speak of 'personality erosion'; too much time spent with others, most of all those who had a prevalent idea which governed their lives, left me feeling reduced, the bedrock of my personality too weak and friable to withstand their tread. I vacillated between persuasion and revulsion, but did not feel enough myself either way. Now the strata laid down by time and age and experience have compacted and firmed my sense of self; I have accepted my introversion, my uselessness at late hours (which happily has matured into a liking for early ones), my need to be mostly involved with the one over the many, without any longer feeling obliged to apologise for these things. Time spent in company, which now I turn out to be quite good at when called upon, leaves me tired but not so much lessened. Nevertheless, I cannot blithely go on my way when those around me are unhappy or angry; I feel beholden to confront or make it better, even when it's nothing to do with me, I take it personally. This exasperates me; I would prefer to detach compassionately.
"Most of all, do not feign affection."
I had a friend who is a friend no more. My error, my unkindness, but she was, I decided, a maddeningly affected person. Not having known her for long, and lacking an understanding of and true affection for her, I sought to aggrandise myself by affecting a concern and compassion for her situation I could not really own. She held to her resentment, her hysteria, her tears, her need to be wounded, her exaggerated drama and the primary and sovereign importance of her emotions over all and everyone else - including and especially her own daughter, and eventually I let all this affect me; disgust and anger overwhelmed me and I turned on her, thereby compounding and confirming her in her own self-image. I am not proud of this detachment by rejection, but feel the mistake was made at the outset, when I feigned affection.
I am puzzled and rather embarrassed at how I, like so many others, was so bizarrely affected by the death of Princess Diana. Not hysterically, you understand, I wouldn't have waded through flowers to keep a vigil, and wept in the street; we were newly living here, anyway, with no TV and little contact with the outside world, except our neighbours who petted and commiserated with us. But I did follow the news obsessively, and shed a few tears at the funeral ( I'd like to say only at the Tavener and not at Elton John, but it would be a lie). I am wary now of the vein of craving for overt, shared emotion that was unearthed then, and which is tapped into so gleefully, and I have to say I find the media's exploitaton and manipulation of the horror of child-abduction obscene and grotesque.
The risk of emotional dishonesty in allowing myself to be affected dogs me. I am afraid of induced, fetid, over-heated mawkishness, or simply of pretending to an emotion I do not really feel. I don't know if I fear this more or less than actual loss of control. That is not to say I haven't faked feeling, wanted to be in on a drama, adopted histrionic attitudes, and otherwise lost the balance of humility, but having done so, too often I have come to with ashes in my mouth, and a sense of self-contempt which makes me feel a discontinuity with myself, a dis-integration.
My siblings mostly know about this blog, read it sometimes and make appreciative noises, all but one, as far as I know. This one, nearest to me in age, for whom I have great respect and real affection, though we are not affectionate together, I hesitate to tell. I do not wish to impose, and if told, duty of affection would compel them to read it conscientiously, and I think perhaps that would be an embarrassment to both of us. As I said to one of the others, that one is uncomfortable with affect. Together as children and adolescents, we affected an attitude of cynicism and mockery, of smart-alec sophistication. The unthought-through final offspring of elderly parents, bookish and spoiled, talked to rather than played with, ill-fitting and uncertain, sometimes picked on, our words were too long, our parents too old, our manner too intense and pompous, so we wrapped ourselves up, not to be affected. I'm certain I suffered less than my sibling, and little overall. The enlarging false claim of childhood unhappiness is not one I care to make any more; I have seen enough of those who can legitimately make such a claim to know it's not something one should envy, and count my blessings that it was not so.
I let my relatonship with my father be affected by my mother, a truism of course. In my teens I was often rude and unkind to him, yet I never saw him angry. But when we were alone together we were amicable. The tension at the root of my behaviour, I understood quite quickly, was my mother's resentment, irritation, disappointment, (understanding didn't stop me doing it). Her self-control prevented her from expressing these things openly for herself, but they were never far beneath the surface, and, as I have said, I was and am a reactive person, easily affected by the currents around me, so I expressed them for her. This situation had the advantage that I could then be upbraided for my unacceptable insolence to my father. I'm not letting myself off the hook, I was still obnoxious. Compassion for one's former self should never descend into self-pity and denial, and the inner child can be as tiresome as any other infant. I was on some level aware of a pity for my father for so many things, which I was not mature enough to be able to transform into affectionate compassion, and which I had a horror of allowing myself to feel, to be affected by.
Our father was born 100 years ago this year ( he died in 1988, my mother 7 years later). A move is afoot for all his offspring and sundry grandchildren to contribute to an online but private memoire of him. A nice idea, though one I having trouble getting started on. (The aforementioned sibling happily supports the idea, but is disinclined as yet to contribute, saying, Bartleby-like, 'I am not sure there is anything I could or would want to say'. The ambiguity of the modals seems to express more eloquent possibilities than any amount of eulogising!) I suppose I am afraid that when I try to think about my father, and to do so with genuine affect, I will fall into the trap of affected emotion, sentiment, dishonesty, artifice. That the temptation to make a good piece of writing, or to be seen to have deep and creditable feelings will cause me to be fundamentally dishonest, for the fact was he was a quiet, background presence, lacking in forcefulness, very much a supporting role in the drama. Much of the time I didn't really take a lot of notice of him. Which is not, obviously, the whole story. Alternatively, I also fear that, in seeking to be truthful, not sentimental, I will say something inappropriate to the spirit of the project, that might upset ( weasel word!) or discomfort someone else.
But I think it will be OK. It isn't a therapeutic exercise, that isn't necessary. Affectionate things will be said, and perhaps some affecting ones. My father was by nature an affectionate man, I believe, but life got in the way of his being able to always express it, or of my being able to receive it.
But as we were, he and I, in this picture, we seem to have been affectionate, and unaffected.
Many thanks to Tall Girl and to Jean, whose very strong, beautiful, courageous writing, unaffected and affecting, started me thinking about this. This post has, along the way, morphed into something other and longer than I intended. For better or worse.
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