the poison tree

Luap's story seems written specifically with me in mind.
Liar's Oath, the second half of Elizabeth Moon's Legacy of Gird, that is. It bothered me. A lot. I don't think I've seen a main character before where I had this strong a feeling of "Hey! Those faults are my faults! Those weakenesses are my weaknesses! How did she know?!" And the enigmatic ending. I think Gird must have wanted the gods to grant his friend Luap time to think it over. I think the gods knew what kind of a time it took.

What drove it home, and scared me the most, is something stupid I said to Dave. We talked on the phone twice, once a little earlier in the night and once right before bedtime. The earlier time I said something helpful, and the later time, I think I prefaced a comment (admit it! attempted advice-giving!) about something important and spiritual with the words "you've gotta." Which got Dave's back up immediately, as it should. Nobody can say "you've gotta" about anything that has anything to do with dog, or God, or whatever stupid names people like me come up with for something bigger than any of us.

So I sat there, rebuked, gnawing at the problem like the last bit of cartilage dried against an old bone. My problem. The thing in my heart and hat that makes me such an ass sometimes.

Those who are competent to wield power, and don't want it, are qualified to rule. I read that and believed it long ago and haven't found any reason to believe differently. I'm able to make deep and drastic changes in myself; I also find it frightening to admit I want anything, because admitting want is revealing weakness which can (will! must! says the fear in me) be exploited. And I want power. I want it, it feels good to wield it, it's addictive as sin. Literally, eh? Admitting the concept verbally and admitting the emotion internally are not the same though. One is scarier, harder--and more important than the other. Guess which.

But not wanting power, in just the same way, isn't the same thing as rearranging myself so that I don't ever feel the want. I should know better. Of all thickheaded people I should know better. The structure of the rationalization, the "logic", inside that action, is as stupid as it sounds when you drag it up and look at it. If I change myself so that my personality the characteristics of a good ruler, then I can be given rule by those with the perceptiveness to see it. But I can't change my soul. The desire to have power, if I keep it penned up and twisted like that, gets all demon-infested all over again. And then all the things I want to get power in order to prevent--those things happen, and it's me doing them.

I kept trying to write all that stuff in the past tense, or in the second person, any of those squiggly literary ways of making it seem less immediate and real. Minimizing my bad choices, past and present, which is just as dumb as the way I sometimes think moody thoughts about my Potential for Nasty Wickedness and that by trying to be good I am Protecting People from Great Danger. Pfft. Most people aren't more of a danger to their friends than their enemies. Not something impressive. Something shameful.

Interesting thing just happened. Phone rang, it was a reservation; I was angry because work interrupted my typing. But the lady I talked to was cool and helping her made me feel better. Then just as I was about to get back to typing the phone rang again. Lady was also interesting but I was madder at being interrupted and thwarted and still mad when I got off the phone. Then Derek came in, and kinda stood there, as if waiting for me to say something. He is facing an important and tricky career-related decision, and I was in the room during his discussion yesterday with Bossman about it. So I was the logical person to ask, since I do my damnedest to develop a reputation for sage-like advice, and I already knew about it so he wouldn't be compromising confidentiality to tell me. (The development of that situation is one of the reasons I've grown to like this job. The main one, perhaps.) I talked to him about it, though this thing I've been writing about was still all fresh and hurty in my mind. Conversation was ended by Angel paging me out of the speakerphone with a phone call I needed to pick up. And yes, I reacted to the nature of the phone call in a way calculated to remind him of how frustrating it is to work here. Because I had an opinion based on what I know of him and the way I saw he felt. And I wanted him to see in his mind the same things I saw in mine while he was making his decision.

I said all the good useful things I can never think of when I'm talking to Dave! Why is it that someone I know slightly, and respect at an arm's length, I can say all the right things to, and when it's Dave, who I dream about and write poetry about and fall asleep imagining he's beside me, none of those nice words and reactions come but I just sit frozen, wrestling back something nasty?

Because it's all a goddamn act, that's why. Because sage-like or no, when I'm helping other people, I'm also pushing them, nudging them, urging them to shape themselves just so. And people who are waffling or shy or confused are very easy to nudge like that. Yes, I am manipulating them in ways that are, in my opinion, good for them. But it's my opinion. Not theirs. Which makes it wrong. Even if the results in a particular case are not bad results, I brought them about in a dishonest way.

I learned a term for that, all the Law & Orders I've sat through: the fruit of the poison tree. You can't use something as evidence in court if it was obtained through illegal acts, like breaking into someone's house without a warrant or beating up a suspect to get a confession. Otherwise, cops would have no reason to obey the law when collecting evidence. And the ones who liked to break into people's houses and beat them up would start doing it all the time, because the evidence they got would still be valued.

So that's why it's been a horrible, stupid mistake every time I've tried, and failed, to use my Grande Latte Powers on Dave. Because it's an insult. And the nasty thing I'm wrestling back is the desire to do to him what I do to pretty much everybody else, pretty much all the time.

I feel like every time I try to stop and get my thoughts in order, the phone rings and the sound lashes my mind like a backhand to the face.

I got to be the way I am, to be someone who wins the respect of others, by a negative route. I would have an impulse, and whatever the opposite of that impulse, that's what I would do. I speak as if I assume other people's opinions carry more weight than mine--because I feel they carry less. I act as if other people's needs are more important than mine--because I feel they are not important. I know that the way I act, the way I choose to act, is the right way. But I'm doing it because I want to be seen to be a good person, I want to be believed to be good. Not because I am good.

I'm going outside to get away from this phone as soon as Angel gets down here.


But when Angel did get down here, she asked for my help too. Because she thought I might know, and even if I didn't, I'm always helpful at trying to figure things out.

And before I go outside I've got to admit something to myself. It's not ALL an act. I really DO like helping people, the actual helping part, not just the manipulating that help is sometimes the excuse for. It really does make me happy when somebody proves me wrong in a way that strengthens them, or figures out how to do something on their own without my interference. I like it when people are strong and don't need my help, when they're amused by my psychological capering instead of impressed by it. I may not be as good in reality as I try to appear to people who aren't that close to me. But I want to be good, I want to be that good, and maybe that's why I want so badly to trick people into thinking I already am.