Taken Out Of Context

It started, as most good theories do, over champagne-and-guava cocktails, on the balcony of the loosely termed ‘night club’ of the resort, our island home.

I think it was Valentine’s Day but that’s an unreliable memory. It could just as easily have been September. We’d exhausted the usual island gossip and hadn’t yet reached the teary confession (‘I miss my mum’ ; ‘I miss not wearing white pants’) stage of the evening.

I’m sure it went down nowhere near as eloquently as this but in essence, we were searching for an explanation as to the success of some of our male colleagues with the female guests. We decided that it boiled down to this: Give an average looking dude a staff badge and he instantly becomes a 10.

I was remembering this night, and it got me thinking about context, which led to wondering about how much of our real selves are mere reflections of, or reactions to, the things and people and places around us.

It surprises people I work with when I tell them I’m an introvert, because I give the impression of anything but when on the job. I’m generally not a competitive person, but put me in a team building situation and I become hellbent on winning at all costs. In the classroom I am endlessly patient, yet waiting to cross the street I am agitated and short fused.

I think it’s too easy to say that the real you is who you are when you’re alone, because none of us live in a vacuum. And to say that true colours shine under stress, or in the face of adversity, well I don’t think that’s the whole story either.

They say integrity is doing the right thing when nobody’s watching, which scares me, because I do absurd and embarrassing things when nobody is watching.

Like aeroplane arms.

Remember when you were a kid and normal, boring walking wasn’t enough, so you spread your arms out wide, and ‘zoomed’ from place to place ? Well that’s what I like to do to liven up the walk from the photocopier to my office when no one else is in the corridor. (Also on the Pont des Arts at 6am on my way back from a run when no Parisian in their right mind is awake). I like to jump up and down in the lift to try to see how my shoes look in the waist level mirror. I reverse my stockings so the holes in the toes sit under my feet, effectively doubling their lifespan.

It seems I’m a little weird when I’m alone.

Like most of us, I define myself by what I do and what I like. So, writer/English teacher/runner/tea-drinker is how it goes most days.

But I spent most of February on my sofa, with the flu, context-less (and, apparently, with way too much thinking time on my hands). And though I did drink tea, I didn’t write, I didn’t teach, I couldn’t run. At what point does doing equal being ? And not doing, not being ?

I teach my language students that the auxiliary ‘do’ is for simple tenses, and ‘be’ for the continuous ones. Perhaps then, only our actions are finite, but our being is not.


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