Sometimes you can come across people in life who make you feel not so much like a lion as like a leek. Or maybe like Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown is an archetype; he is everyman (and woman); he is our insecurities and weaknesses made human. He is Christ in a box; he is Piglet and Harold Steptoe and Adrian Mole and every woman who can’t get out from under a man – and much, much more. The main thing about Charlie Brown is that he is ‘wishy-washy’. He can’t stand up for himself. He can’t find the words to say when people attack him. He can’t find the strength to fight back, because in his heart and his gut and his soul, he feels pale and wan. He feels, in short, that everyone else is right. He is wishy-washy, and there’s nothing he can do about it.
In fact when people become unbearably exasperated with him the best answer he can find is to be ‘wishy one day and washy the next.’
And there are days when I feel like that: when people criticise me for not being socialist enough or feminist enough or when they attack my herbaceous borders or when I show off a new haircut and someone says something unkind about it or or or – there’s a million ways this can happen and sometimes when they do I can’t find an answer. I just deflate like an old balloon. Why can’t I find a snappy comeback? I think. Why am I so wishy-washy?
Sometimes there are conversations I can’t find a way into or conferences I can’t speak at because what I want to say doesn’t fit. I was reading a book a few years back about masculine and feminine styles of dialogue and how women often give each other space whereas men tend not to. I have found this to be generally, though not exclusively true; I have known many men with ‘female’ styles and vice versa. In this book, though, it described a type of dialogue called ‘first me, then me.’ I have come across this often in my life and it goes like this.
I meet someone and we introduce ourselves. Before I can say anything he (or she) is off talking about themselves. After quite a while they seem to think they ought to ask me something.
I begin. But before I get very far they latch onto an idea springing from what I’ve said, and before I can stop them, they’re off again. ‘First me, then me.’
There are only two ways of dealing with someone like this. They’re both rude, but what the hell? I’m learning to practise them. One is to walk away, the other is to interrupt the other person and talk louder than they do.
Mind you, there’s a good literary precedent for this, as it’s exactly how Mr Knightley deals with Miss Bates.
Now, without googling, tell me – which novel is that in?
Oh, and welcome to new followers.