I'm generally not the smartest guy in the room, and if by some happenstance I am, I'm very uncomfortable with it. I am, however, fairly intellectually adventurous. I'll explore nearly any thought or concept to see where it leads, and I occasionally change my opinions and behavior based on new facts or realizations.
I'm not blowing my own horn (Which is illegal in Nebraska anyway, and just really nasty even if it was legal) in saying this, I just really like sticking my head over the fence to see what the neighbors are doing. This is basically how a kid or an adolescent live his/her life, but in most people this drive to learn tapers off in your late 20s/early 30s, replaced by more practical drives.
There's nothing wrong with this, it's as it should be. Getting food is way more important than becoming the greatest sidewalk chalk artist the world has ever known, having a job to provide for your family is far, far more important than your burning desire to write the Great American Novel, particularly since, in your eyes, the Great American Novel involves Alf confessing his forbidden love for Willie in a surprisingly dramatic turn. It's more important to take care of widows and orphans than it is to wrestle with theological paradoxes that are inherently unrelsolvable anyway.
Thing is: I suck at all that.
I'm good with theological paradoxes, I suck at building homes, however. I'm a pretty good writer, I'm an utter crap file clerk. I'm drawn inexorably to anything involving the space program, but I can't remember to change the oil in my car.
As a species, we're somewhat specialized. This is obviously, obviously, obviously a survival thing, and we see it to some extent in primates and pack animals. Some of us are good at cooking, some are good at telling stories, some are good at remembering stuff, some are good at figuring out how things work, some are good at fighting other people, some are good at giving orders, and some are good at taking them, some are hunters, some are farmers, some are gatherers, some draw pictures on the walls of the cave, some appease the spirits, and some are just weird, chatty little guys who sit in the back of the cave and wonder about weird crap all day.
Guess which one I am?
I'm firmly egalitarian. I don't believe that any one of these types is better, or any worse than me. The Apostle Paul says that the Church is a body, and each person is an organ therein, and we all have our specific function, which may not be the same as other people's functions, but all of us are needed if it's going to run well. I think that's true of our species as a whole, really: America needs farmers, but it also needs guys who can throw rocks with great accuracy, and it needs people like me. And it needs people like you. Quite frankly, it probably needs you a lot more than it needs me, because regardless of my abilities, getting food or balancing your checkbook are of way more immediate importance than my ability to figure out what Shepherd Book's backstory is. We're all important, we've all got a role, and I believe that a lot of the needless tension in society is that we can't find a way to fulfil that role. If you're predisposed to be the tribe's storyteller, but can't get a job telling stories, how frustrating must that be? If you're in temperment a farmer, and end up in an office, that's got to be nagging at you. If you're supposed to be a musician, and you end up stuck on a farm your whole life, well, dude, that totally sucks!
And sometimes being the weird 'Life long learner' guy hurts people.
I've got a lot of friends, oddly. Moreso than most of the 'weird little guy in the back of the cave' social strata, I'm not sure why. I'm very loyal. I'm still in touch with people from High School. I'm still on good terms with every one of my ex-girlfriends, well, with two exceptions, one of whom was psychologically off-base, and another who was a stripper. (Never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never date a stripper. I can not emphasize that enough).
But time passes and....sigh.
This is going to sound arogant. I don't mean it that way.
You remember when you were in the second grade, and everyone was about the same, and then you started third grade and some of your friends just couldn't keep up anymore? Most of you were ok with the new lessons, but some others had a harder and harder time? And how they ended up growing insular and drifting further away as the year progressed? And in fourth grade you didn't hang out at all? And in fifth grade they started smoking?
It's kind of like that.
I reiterate that I am not now, nor have I ever been the smartest guy in the world. In fact, I'm not even particularly smart to begin with, but, for whatever reason, the part of my the brain that switches you from "Everything is cool!" to "I feel compelled to become an accountant or a Dental Assistant" never really kicked in with me. So I keep learning stuff, a lot of it pretty esoteric, though I've never mastered any of it, and as that happens, the ones who can't keep up drift off. Why should they have to keep up, anyway? I'm the weird one here, not them.
But it's kind of hard on everyone. I see myself growing distant from people I've loved, they see me growing more inscrutable and odd. The guy you used to sarcastically joust with in college still tries to do it now, but he just ends up embarasing himself, and you feel sorry for him, and it's awkward. The guy who's knowledge of music was so encyclopedic in High School ends up just listening to the same stuff from High School over and over again, with no interest in anything new. Your Sunday School buddies are really, really, really freaked out by your habbit of converting to other religions, then converting back, then continually talking about stuff that you're simply not supposed to talk about in church ("Why didn't God answer Job's question? Where did Cain and Seth's wives come from? Is the Cherub still guarding the gates of Eden? Is Eden still there?").
They won't admit it - they're too polite - but eventually they come to wish that you'd just go away. They don't hate you, they don't even dislike you, but you're just too much work this late in the game. Where the slow kids became insular in 3rd grade, the oddballs like me become insular in middle age. It becomes harder and harder to interact, even with people you've known and loved for 25 years. The people you'd gladly lay down your life for, but you don't really like being around anymore. They have to put too much effort into the friendship, you have to hold back too much, for fear of frightening or hurting them. In the last half-decade, I've begun distancing myself from some. It's hard, because, as I said, I'm very loyal by nature. The weird guy at the back of the cave doesn't survive without the support of the tribe, after all, he isn't *good* at anything.
It's an awkward, sad situation, but it happens more and more as I get older.
And I wonder what it must feel like from the other end, to see someone you used to see eye-to-eye with get less and less fathomable. It can't be easy.
One of my MANY failings as a human being is that I'm a bit overdramatic. Not the soap opera/celebutant kind of drama, I just tend to act more like the lead in a 1960s TV show than is the norm. It's weird, I know. Anyway, as such I kind of want things to have a final chapter, a big "The End," an overture playing while the credits role. I feel incomplete if things just fade away, rather than conclude. I occasionally try to force things to conclude rather than just evaporate.
I send out a mix CD of what I'm listening to every year or two, just to engender discussion, bring my musician friends up to date on what I'm into, just to be interesting, because interesting is good. Of late, I've started including songs by my current crappy band ("Republibot 3.0 and the Republibot 3.0 Orchestra, featuring Republibot 3.0"). It's become increasingly apparent that no one listens to these, or maybe they listen to 'em once out of obligation, then chuck 'em.
I decided the next one would be the last. I wrote a song to wrap the whole thing up, called "Can't Keep Up," which to me, was a real tearjerker. It was written from the point of view of someone who just - duh - doesn't have the time or energy to keep up with my crap anymore, and why should they even have to try? I wrote it, recorded it, and was completely obsessed with the idea of sending it out on the end of the next mix, completely obsessed with writing it, with recording it (Badly. I'm a bad guitar player.) It came out fumbly as hell, but it caught my emotions on the subject perfectly. I had a good cry...excuse me, a manly lump in the throat - over the whole thing...
And then I thought, "Who the hell am *I* to tell people when they can't keep up anymore?" Granted, I'm unused to drifting away from people, but seriously, what the hell is wrong with me, that *I* need to impose my need for some pretentious final chapter on relationships that have sustained me for so long? How dare I preemptorialy end a process that's already...uhm...in process? Where do I get off trying to insulate myself from loss by becoming a dick? Why should *I* get to decide when things are over? I'm not the boss here, I'm not the daddy, I don't decide how people feel, or if they even do, and I'm as likely as not wrong about how they think anyway. How dare I project my own abandonment issues on someone else? Seriously, what the hell is wrong with me?
I realized that not only could I not send the damn 'farewell' song, but I didn't need to. I said my goodbyes, I had my dramatic 'series finale' moment - that stupid song - I don't need to force it on anyone. I don't need to make anyone play my weird, needy little game. I have my final chapter, if I need it, and reality will catch up with it in its own time. I got my selfish closure, I don't need to drag others into it. Ultimately, it's all about me, anyway, isn't it? I mean, I'm the weak link in this chain.
Sometimes just writing the goodbye letter is enough, you don't have to send it.