Saturday, May 18, 2013


Missy Laur said something curious to me the other day. Compliments are like advice, we only tend to accept them from people who don't know us very well. It was a timely bit of insight and so thought-provoking, too. At that point, I had been contemplating the nature and the function of compliments. How desperately they are craved and how difficult they are to accept.

I once thought I was simply echoing the values of my family. On the face of it, I would consider humility to be of paramount importance to us, but then I would think of my brother and his sickening bouts of narcissism. He thought he was absolutely amazing at everything, so smart, so handsome and talented to boot. Yet he would follow me from room to room, begging me for a compliment. Any compliment at all.

My instinctive response to a compliment is to swear. I've never thought to rationalise why I'm compelled to react like that. Do I feel like they're lying to me? Do I feel like they're attempting to combat my self-loathing tendencies? Perhaps I simply never learned how to gracefully accept kind words. I never learned how to use them, to rely upon them in moments of doubt.

I've slowly trained myself to respond in a more congenial way, to smile and say thank you very much. I often tell myself out loud to respond gracefully. It is a purposeful cue, knowing how inclined I am to aggressively argue them down. Most kind words get lost that way, after all, it takes such energy to act appropriately, to act in such a way that would suggest that I agree (even when I don't).

I'm uncertain how it happened, but things have moved on a little. I suspect I must have been subjected to thousands of these things and they snap back at me occasionally: a friend saying I cannot wait until you write a novel, another describing my designer freckles, a lover referring to my touch. Do I believe in those words now? Does it make me a narcissist? An egotist?

You sat across from me, not too long ago, at a table at China Bar. I'm going to give you some advice. You said. I was alarmed. Am I not going to like this? You smirked a little. That depends. Don't doubt yourself so much. You elaborated a little, referring in part to my shyness, referring in part to my detailed disclosure of my desire to exist solely as a brain in a jar.

It's just as Missy Laur said. Compliments are like advice, we only tend to accept them from people who don't know us very well. It takes me a couple of moments to recall your compliment, maybe even longer than that. I deliberately try to get used to the prickly awkwardness of its sentiment. This is what it must feel like to believe you're alright.