cygnoir.net

cygnoir.net

tiers of debt

I am breaking a cardinal rule I set some time ago: do not post here while annoyed. But I am annoyed, and I have tried lying down, and I have tried having a cup of tea, and I have tried going for a walk, and I have really tried doing my laundry because it needs to be done and yet the laundromat lady decided to close down early tonight and yep, here we are: annoyed.

The worst part about being this annoyed is that I am fully aware of it, so it is not a case of feeling “out of sorts” and then exploding at some small slight and being taken by surprise. No, it is obvious to me that I have been swept up by the perfect storm of too much to do and too little time in which to do it all, and as usual I get into the scrabbling, hissing part of being a moody sort and do not even have the luxury of guiltlessly lashing out at those closest to me. That last part is a joke. Sort of.

The icing on the … storm? Nice metaphor-mangling, there. How about: to top it all off, I have reached my quota of negative interpersonal interaction. The snarling laundromat lady had the dubious honor of filling that already-minute amount, and although she has never been particularly nice to me over the past four months, I relied on her consistency.

But she does not owe me that consistency. She never has. No one owes anyone else a thing, really, despite how much face-time we give to the ideas of compassion and empathy and decency, despite how much we pretend to be these things to our closest friends. I want to believe that if I treat people well, to the best of my ability, that they will do the same in return, but how foolish is it to continue to believe that in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

Of course, this is the most cynical reading possible of human nature, and of course, in lighter moods and on brighter days I am more charitable to myself and to human beings in general. Yet it bears examining: how much do we perceive we are owed? How much do we perceive we owe others?

In a broad sense, I construct “tiers” of owing someone proportional to the amount of historical trust given to that person. I am more likely to perceive that I owe a friend a favor than a random stranger, and so far I have survived if not thrived on this general belief. I would propose that friends set each other on similar, if not the same, tier, which is why labels (like “best friend” or “acquaintance”) come in handy; they serve as shorthand for the system.

Yet how do we function when the tiers do not match up? I clearly took offense to the laundromat lady shutting down early tonight. We had a history, so I thought, of her letting me do my laundry at her establishment, and letting me come in at a certain time and leave before closing without trashing the place or offending anyone. She was on a higher tier than I was to her, and it is simultaneously unsurprising and completely frustrating to me.

Of course I tend to think of more private, sensationalistic examples of these tiers, as I have intimate knowledge of being shocked – shocked! – by the resulting behavior, just as I am sure I have shocked – shocked! – others by my own actions. But why the shock? Why am I not learning to accept that wherever there is space between two people, there will be inequity, even barely perceptible as it might be? No two people can mean exactly the same thing to each other at all times; truly, when it approaches this level of compatibility I find myself uncomfortable, certain one of us will do something to destabilize it and it will not return.

I talk about this discomfort from a place of comfort, knowing that I believe in this sort of compatibility whether or not I know I have it all the time, which makes me the worst sort of hypocrite. And yet you keep reading! My self-involved Process must be at least a little entertaining, or perhaps it is the schadenfreude factor. Speaking of tiers …

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.

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