The Fear of Appreciation, Part 1 of 2

I used to have an attitude of “if it takes a while to get into it, it’s not worth getting into”. People can get used to anything, and it seemed to me that if they were willing to devote the time to appreciating something that they initially hated, they must be doing it for a dishonorable reason, specifically that they wanted to be seen as the kind of person who appreciates that sort of thing.

Now, I’m not saying people don’t do that. It’s pretty understandable. If you always hated Batman and one day all of your friends are talking about the new Batman film, you might start wondering what all the fuss is about. Maybe you’ll give it another chance. Or maybe, even if you don’t realise it at the time, you sort of convince yourself that you like it more than you really do. For example, there are a fair number of CDs of mine that, while I’m not ashamed of them, certainly don’t occupy hallowed places in my collection. It’s not so much that I see them and wonder what on earth I was thinking, rather that I see them, realise why I bought them, and then get a little sad, because I never thought I was that type of person.

My problem was that I held a scorched earth policy on this behaviour. If something didn’t appeal to me immediately, or have something even slightly interesting about it, it was dismissed on the spot. Any time I found my feelings warming toward it, I’d reprimand myself. “No, Ryan,” I’d say. “You’re just being silly. You know you don’t like this. Stop trying to fit in.” But I’d never fully established that I didn’t like it in the first place, only that I knew it wasn’t ‘me’.

I think what it comes down to is a kind of fear. I was afraid that if I liked something I didn’t usually like, that made me dishonest. Like I was betraying my ‘true self’. I always disapproved of the belief that the films/music/tv/whatever you enjoy defines you. What I didn’t realise back then was that I believed, unconsciously, that what I hated defined me. Rather than drawing an outline of myself, I’d fill in the empty space around me. Like chipping away at a block of marble to reveal a statue. “I don’t really know what I’m like, but I know what I’m not like.”

I’ve kind of made my peace with this. I’m still pretty guarded about getting swept up in hype and fads, but I’m not as bitter about ‘not getting it’ as I used to be. Now I think it’s a defence mechanism more than anything else. See, I get pretty obsessive about things, and I’m afraid I’ll get too into whatever’s currently popular only to find that everyone else has already moved on to the next fad. If you can ride those waves, go for it – you will enjoy endless popularity. But I’m too geeky about this kind of stuff. I have to tear it apart, see what makes it tick, figure out why people like it so much, figure out what I like about it, find out its history, how it all fits together. I can’t just enjoy being part of something, I have to have it on my own terms.

This means I’ll pretty much always be an outsider, but I’ve realised now that I like it that way.

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