Thursday, 28 March 2013

Empathy

I’ve always been a sponge. I find it all too easy to understand other people’s points of view. Other people's emotions wash through me. When talking to people I put myself in their head. I see me through their eyes. I’m them talking to me, not the other way round. This has caused serious problems in my life, not least with my family, and means that I now do everything I can to avoid human contact. Human contact is painful for me. It knocks me off my perch. (Except for Frog. With Frog, for some reason, I’m OK. Just about.)   
    Last weekend is a case in point. I decided a month or so ago that as my mother is 85 and not in the best of health and that as I hadn’t seen her since November it was time to pay another visit to the South-East where she and my four siblings live. Rather than stay with any of them however in their valley village as I usually do, I booked Frog, Dog and me into a cottage high in the North Downs above. I was thinking of them as well as me – we’re quite a handful to have to stay – and they all thought it was a good idea too.
    It worked well. It was a lovely spot – in spite of dubious neighbours. Rumour has it that all the villains-made-good retire there and judging by the plethora of expensive-looking properties guarded by six-foot-high metal fencing, CCTV and outsize dogs (two of which leapt over their fence and tried to have a go at me and Ellie as we walked past*) that could well be true. I saw almost everybody in the family, some more than once, but nobody for too long, and on Saturday it snowed and Frog, Dog and I had a magical walk. (I mention that so that I can include a couple of the photographs I took.)





    Nevertheless I arrived home in my usual ragged state and it’s taken me several days of solitude to recover my equilibrium.
    Lately however, with my sixtieth birthday looming and now that I've started to apply myself to writing fiction, I’ve realised that empathy does have a point and that in fact for fiction writers it’s absolutely essential. Putting ourselves into other people’s heads is what we do. And thereby hangs another tale.
    Ellie and writing, as I’ve said before, are incompatible. She does not settle between walks when it's just her and me in the house. (When Frog's around, she's a different dog, but when Frog's around I don't usually write.) She whines, she barks, she paces, she races up and down the garden chasing cars and people on the road. And for the last month, as the dogminder reorganises her business, I’ve been dogminder-less. Ellie and I have been alone at home together for three to four days a week.
    It’s been hell.
    The problem is, I so want her to be happy. And Ellie knows that. ‘Entertain me,’ she says. ‘Feed me, walk me, play with me. Pay attention to me, not that silly old screen.’ I can feel her pulling at my life essence like a dementor.  
    ‘She’s a control freak’ said the trainer.
    ‘Shut her in her crate’ says Frog.
    But I can’t.
    Yesterday I thought I was going to have to give up writing.
    Today I’m looking for a new dogminder.
    So, even though I’ve at last found a way to make good use of empathy, I haven’t yet got to grips with its downside.
    I need the mental equivalent of six-foot-high metal fencing, CCTV and outsize dogs.


*By some extraordinary stroke of fate, the owners drew up in their 4x4 as the lead Alsatian's teeth were a foot away from my calf. They (the owners) were charming and couldn't have been more apologetic.

Monday, 4 March 2013