Hi, all, it's Daniel, 2015, here.
Last post was, I think, the first I've mentioned Jim. Because it's the first time, I had to introduce him to readers, and I think I made it sound as if I'd hardly interacted with him before, but that's not quite right.
It's true that I hadn't spent a lot of time with him until summer of 2002, in part because we were in different social circles because I was friends with Ollie and he was not. It's also true that sometime over that summer that changed and that by the time he graduated we were pretty good friends. But it's not like we had never hung out before, because campus just wasn't big enough to avoid somebody by accident for three years running.
I do remember staying up late with him one night watching "heat lighting," as he called it, and him showing me how to play the tin whistle. I don't remember if that was the first time I deliberately sought his company and I don't remember if that started because I couldn't sleep--though, that summer I did have trouble sleeping sometimes. I've asked, and he remembers even less than I do. He does remember my "amazing" ability to move in the dark. I didn't think it was amazing then, and I don't honestly think it's amazing now. Anyone could do it, with a little practice.
But that was the summer people started saying they were surprised by me and what I could do. Or they said I reminded them of Charlie, which I took as a compliment but found bizarre, because I didn't think of us as similar at all. I don't growl at people, I mean, and I'm nowhere near as smart.
I had changed, but I didn't know it.
What Charlie's various crazy assignments had done was to encourage me to treat certain things as important and to notice certain details, like sounds, scents, and animal tracks. Knowledge went with that noticing, because I learned from my explorations and because I was interested enough to remember readings or classroom activities that were relevant, but I wasn't the most knowledgeable naturalist on campus. If I stood out, and other people said I did, it was because I was starting to feel at home outside--and less at home anywhere else.
Would I have become a naturalist without Charlie's influence? I think I might have, I was always kind of interested in natural science, but I wouldn't have gotten there that quickly or as deeply. Anyway, there's no way I can ever know.
There were things of Charlie's that didn't rub off on me--his growling, for example.
It's not just that I like people more than Charlie does, it's that I like them in much the same way that I like other living things. I see an ant carrying a pupa and I want to know where it's going and why--not for any reason, I just want to know. Getting to know people feels exactly the same way.
Reading my previous post--it sounds kind of romantic, actually, the way I described spending the night out in the field playing music with Jim. That bothers me--it shouldn't. It shouldn't bother me that a reader might wonder if perhaps I am gay or bi, but it kinda does. Anyway, there was never anything sexual between me and Jim--but I was pursuing him. I wanted to know more about him, the same way I might want to know more about an ant. So, as I might give over an afternoon to an ant, I gave that night to Jim.
I think, perhaps, that kind of fascination, that desire to know, is restricted, for most people, to romantic or sexual interest. I don't know why, nor do I know why I am different. I do know that I was always curious about people, that I always got along with others, and that I've always preferred to listen rather than to speak. But starting that third summer there was a kind of shift. It's hard to describe, and saying that people started to seem like bugs to me does not really help....
The thing is, I guess, that I don't need anything from a bug. An ant can't hurt me, and, individually, it can't help me, either. I'm not drawn to it for any reason, other than that it's alive. And--I can be as selfish and self-centered as the next person, sometimes, I definitely need and want things from some people, but beyond that, and through it, there is an interest that has nothing to do with getting anything. And that interest kind of expanded and deepened for me over the years I was on campus.
For me, the existence of a story, whether it belonged to an ant or to a human being, became reason enough for me to pursue.
I think the first person I approached in that spirit was Charlie. He always fascinated me and I never quite knew why, only that whatever he could teach me I was willing to learn. And yet I never asked him about himself, not in any depth. If he were an ant, I let him carry his burden without ever trying to find out what it was or where he was going with it. Maybe that's why, in the end, he gave his story to me.
But I'm not going to tell it right now.