A New Level of Understanding
I have hardly left the house for four days. It is not flippancy to say that I fear the onset of some kind of agoraphobic state of mind. I've been travelling for work again, and arrived back late last week. I'm prevented by professional constraints from telling you exactly where I was, but I spent five days last week in a very different environment from where I sit, typing. Now, the window is open, the sun is shining and a cool breeze is enabling the flow of thoughts inside my head. I've come back from a place where some of the conditions that we in the West perceive as freedoms are not available: choosing how to dress; who to socialise with; where to socialise; expressing opinions; having a vote.
The work had its rewards, and yet I am depleted. I am aware of the reason. For five solid days, I had little or no time to myself. Our hosts were gracious and kind, but perhaps a little worried of the mischief we might cause in such an unfamiliar environment. They filled all our available spare time with a visit or event. I am of course grateful to have been so well looked after, and return with a sense of the warmth of human spirit that can be extended across cultural boundaries. However, I spent a relentless five days with people whom I had no choice but to spend time with. Incidentally, I tried to break free - a forty minute walk, but in the heat, and with no pavements, it meant that I got nowhere. This is not a reflection of the personalities involved, all of whom display a plethora of merits. I am aware that I am not the easiest person to spend time with. Undermining, capricious and sardonic are some of my least attractive qualities. Being glued together for the equivalent of a working week took me through a range of responses which culminated in an extreme sense of restriction: a skull clamping, chest tightening, enervating sensation. I began to question my most basic responses. In nearly all non-work related situations, I began to view myself as a bit of an idiot: trivial, unfunny and banal. If this was my own impression of myself, I can't imagine what it must have been like for those around me.
As I sit at home in silence, and my personality again dares to unfurl, I gain a new level of understanding. This is what it is like for our son at ballet school. This is why he comes home at weekends and wishes to spend time at home, or walking no further than the area he grew up in as a small child. There is a need for him to reassert who he is and where he came from. As I have discovered, when private responses are always assessed publicly, it leaves you with nowhere to go and and a profound need to hide. It can sometimes feel like an assault, the only barricade is a fixed false smile. An inner scream concealed by The Joker's grin.
There is doubtless great love and care at his school, but this is compensation for having to be the best version of your public self during every waking moment, surrounded at all times by scores of other children.
At the weekend, I looked at our son with a new admiration for his strength and determination. I was and warmer father, and gave him more space. Today I have an empty diary and an open window besides which to recover. He is back in the ballet studio, and tonight he'll be sharing a room with eleven other boys.