08 February 2007

I'm Not Mean. Are you?

Audience participation, please!

Each Wednesday night I go to Meg and Vincent's house to play games, but game night has been cancelled for the past two weeks due to illness. We're playing a game using the rules of the Mountain Witch. Our setting is Europe, 1910, and our Ronin are actually vaudeville/circus/freak show performers, whatever you want to call us. And we have supernatural powers. There's the impervious to pain man, who is really a kind-hearted softy, the geek with refined taste, the tattooed gentleman who is also a werewolf, and the shape-shifting contortionist. No I'm not the tattooed gentleman. I'm the shape-shifting contortionist. While on this unexpected hiatus, I've had a chance to think about my character.

I can't say much about this character's motives because I'll give too much away while we're in the thick of the action. I can say that Mary Jackson, aka Parvati the Elastic Woman, is a mean little thing. In the Mountain Witch, each player chooses a Japanese zodiac for her character. I chose the Tiger:
TIGER (Tora)
Though stubborn, hot-headed, selfish and slightly mean, Tigers are also courageous and tend to be deep thinkers capable of great sensitivity and sympathy for those they are close to and love.
Allies: Dog [Impervious to Pain Man] & Horse
Enemies: Monkey
I think she's not as mean as we've seen, but we've not had a chance to see whether she really loves any of her comrades. Hopefully she'll prove to be loyal when appropriate. Little Mary (and I say little because I imagine her to be quite young, no older than 25, with the typical stunted gymnast's body) did kill someone who tried to kill the tattooed gentleman. She shot him point blank in the back of the head without comment or emotion. Then she threw his body off the train, and contemplated just going back to sleep. That's pretty mean. And while she may have had ulterior motives, she did hold vigil over the injured comrade while he convalesced. I can't see her putting any cold compresses on foreheads. If he had been more lucid, I imagine she would have played shape shifting pranks on him just to be mean and for sport.

But.... She's the only woman in the group, and probably the youngest. And surely there was a reason she, of all the petty identity thieves in the world who could do the job, was chosen to kill the Kaiser. Given her sketchy background, being a young girl in a troupe of travelling entertainers, she's a product of her environment. Maybe the source of some of her meanness is self preservation. I think much of it is just who she is.

Mean as she is, I like this character. Bad guys are fun, but characters whose goodness and badness is ambiguous (or dependent on what side you're on) is more fun.

I'm not a mean person, at least I don't think so. Grumpy at times, yes. A frustrated parent, most certainly. Not always adhering to the rules of fair arguments, yes. Mean? I can only think of a couple of deliberately mean things I've done in my adult life. I'm sure I did mean things as a kid here and there, but they don't count for the purposes of this exercise. I never called anyone by a generalizing slur, and I only dragged that fifth grade boy across the baseball field because he picked on me and needed to be taught a lesson. (I was in 6th grade)

Okay, so have you ever been mean, and by "mean" I mean deliberately hurtful or cruel, for the fun of it, for revenge, or because you were going through a phase of being an asshole? Saying or doing something in the heat of the moment, if you regret it later, (unless it's many months or years later), does not count.
Cruelties like lack of follow-through, never calling back, etc. don't count if they were due to general laziness or spaciness.
Anything done before age 12 doesn't count unless it's really heinous (like burning a cross in someone's yard).
Killing bugs doesn't count, even if you ate them, unless you were an adult and you sought out the bugs for the sole purpose of killing them.
Killing vertebrates totally counts no matter your age, especially if you didn't eat them.
Anything done under the influence of drugs, alcohol, religion, or sociopathic charismatic leader-types totally counts.

Here's one thing I can think of. There are acts committed in my Shizuka years (ages 19-22, thrived on being unhappy) that I'm not quite ready to confess, but give me a few days. I'll put them in the comments part. They do not involve babies.

Mean thing #1. I was 22 and smarting from a broken heart. The source of the heartbreak asked me to pierce the cartilage of his ear with a 14 gauge lancet. I did it very carefully and very slowly. Afterwards he told me it was one of the most painful things he'd ever felt. So we were then even. We're friends to this day. Friend in question: do you remember that? I'm sorry!

What would Mary look like?
Take a wild guess!


joshua said...

Man. No, I can't think of anything like that. I've broken up with girlfriends via neglect, but it wasn't to be mean; it was because I was a scaredypants and didn't know what I should have done.

Parthenia said...

You can't think of anything at all? Nothing perfidious, insidious? You've never tormented or delighted in someone's pain? Never spread gossip or rumors whether or not they were true? How on earth did you score so low on the purity test?
I'm glad to know you, Joshua.

joshua said...

Man, I really can't think of anything. I'm sure I've done mean things to people and then put it out of my mind in shame. I'm sure I've done things in anger when pushed. But the few times I've really wanted to hurt someone, I've wanted to hurt them back. I don't think that counts as mean, just regular ol' petty.

(the word verification below says "yakmy". Yak your what? Finish the damned sentence!)

Parthenia said...

Mean people are petty. I'm sure it counts. Take my example, for instance. Piercing someone's ear and making it hurt? That's petty and mean and downright stupid. I think petty and stupid often accompany acts of cruelty.

joshua said...

I remembered something!

I have this friend whom I sometimes sort of resent. Several times, I've been a really bad host to him, and he just took it because he's my friend. It's a complex and difficult relationship we have, but he's visited and I've grossly underhosted on at least one occasion, providing him (deliberately, though not entirely consciously) with not enough covers for the evening, or not providing food, or whatever.

I've apologized to him in the abstract, but was too ashamed to apoligize specifically.

Parthenia said...

That's really funny. I had something like that happen to me. My cousin was the hostess. She even threw away some prescription meds I left there. We haven't spoken since then, though being a bad hostess wasn't the cause, just a symptom.

joshua said...

Mean people suck.

Sometimes, they are me.

lumpley said...

I've done mean things. Sadly, the most and worst things have been to my own kids.

Nobody else knows quite how to push my buttons!

I can't think of any examples offhand. They're mostly things like my tone of voice and how roughly I pulled a sweater down over the kid's ears, forgivable things I guess.

Meg's friend Carrie (a different one) used to say, "well, they'll have to talk to their therapists about SOMEthing."

(My verification word is fbboom. Which really calls out for an exclamation mark and a few more fs, don't you think? ffffffbboom!)

Parthenia said...

Oh--mean parents. Well that's a whole different animal. I've definitely been a mean mama, but I always regret it immediately afterwards and feel like a jerk. My biggest "mean parent" things are sarcasm and excessive voice raising. I think parents should get a little slack on the meanness. There are so many situations where we have to be the bad cop for our kids' wellbeing and successful development, and children certainly know how to push parents' buttons. Mean parent things like losing one's temper, excessive gruffness, etc., when accompanied by regret and feelings of being a crappy parent don't count as actual meanness. True abuse, publicly humiliating your children because you think it will get them to behave, gross negligence, stuff that would get your kids taken away-- definitely mean.

I'm not signed into blogspot, so I get a verification word: peaosh. Sounds like an Eastern European dish. Peaosh with cabbage and sausage.

Parthenia said...

So yesterday I emailed Vincent about an awful incident that after 16-17 years I'm still quite angry about. And I remembered one of the meanest things I've done. It was definitely petty and silly, but incredibly hurtful. While I recognize the meanness, I make no apologies for how it impacted the person it affected most, and worst of all, the impacted person was my mom, whom I love very much, and with whom I have a great relationship with now.

My parents, although they attend different churches, are both very religious. At the time of this incident, I used to go to Catholic Mass with my mom because I had to go to church, but as I always had, I could choose which, even though baptismally I was Church of Christ. Catholics leave you alone more than COC's, especially when they smell a backslidden sister who refuses communion like me. When I went to Mass, for several weeks, I wore a prominently displyed, pretty silver pentagram pendant, given to me by a friend who was big into Crowley at the time. I knew it hurt and embarrassed my mother for me to wear this symbol to church, but I was so angry with her at the time I didn't care. I stopped wearing it when I lost the necklace. I think I dropped it in the park or at a club. I used to lose things a lot back then, and sometimes they turned up in my parents' bathroom drawers. I could never figure that out.

All these years later, I'm not sorry about it. It was stupid and petty like most mean acts are, for sure. And I would never revel in my mother's sadness or embarrassment. But there were other very obvious things I was doing to hurt myself that my parents should have addressed, instead of being offended by my inconsiderate jewellery choices. If my daughters ever need me to be an aware and concerned parent as much I needed my parents to be back then, I hope I'll be aware enough not to concern myself with how their actions might affect how others see me. And I really hope, for their sakes, my daughters don't become the train-wreck-in-waiting that I was at 20.

ecboss said...

Apparently I was really mean in high school. I think I just hadn't realized that the things I did had real effect and could really hurt other people. Or maybe I cared less because I was unhappy a lot, but bitchiness is as bitchiness does I suppose.

Anyway, most of my meanness revolves around a friend of mine from class named John. I don't really know what kind of friends we were. We and a bunch of other kids were in the honors track, so we were in most every class together, and we all kind of became a wierdly okay with eachother group simply because we were around eachother a lot. (We cheated on tests and assignments together too, which I think was a bonding factor as well.) For some reason I thought I got along well with John and would call him sometimes. We had conversations about religion I think. It was not romantic on anyone's part (I had major obsessions and crushes, so it was clear as day who I did feel that way about, at least to me) but I thought it was kind of a nice casual friendship until he did something that in my 16 or 17 year old mind seemed like a big betrayal: he said he'd buy me and a friend U2 tickets, and he just blew us off. I think we even gave him the money (maybe not, maybe I just said I'd pay him back) but he'd agreed to do it, and then when he actually got tickets for himself and other friends, he bailed and forgot about us. Lame.

So, I was mad about that. I tried to get a friend to find out his locker combination so that I could mess with his head as I'd done with another friend--this one a very good friend, Chris, whom I'd broken into his locker regularly and just moved stuff around, never stealing anything, I don't know why I started but I couldn't resist continuing, his accusations of everyone around him, (and his inability to realize that it was me) were just too wonderful to behold. Poor Chris, he was pissed when I told him years later that it had been me--but that friend had too strong of a conscience (thank the gods), so I ended up putting gum on the handle to his locker at some point. I couldn't bring myself to put glue in the lock as had been done to my best friend. I guess I had a small, ineffectual conscience.

So, my great revenge took place when yearbooks came out. I wrote something unforgivable in his yearbook. Involving his love life and cadavers of all things. I have to shake my head at myself. I was one warped and creepy little puppy. I was so quiet people didn't really realize that, but it was true.

The nice thing about this story is that really all my prank did was make other people think I was a wanker. It was the end of our senior year, so I didn't even get well and truly backlashed from it. John laughed at me and when I regreted it almost immediately and asked to erase what I'd written he refused--it was in ink and it could stand as my scarlet A (we'd been in English class and read that together of course) of stupidity and bad friendship.

It's amazing how petty the things we get all worked up about and hurt people over seem in retrospect. But at least the harm we do (usually) is pretty lame and petty too.

Thanks for the confessional venue, Julia!

Parthenia said...

Thanks, Emily for posting that. Now my mean thing is a little more buried and I don't feel so exposed.

Did you ever get an explanation why this guy blew you off? Was the blowing off a definitive end of the friendship, or did you guys go through the motions of being friends until the very end? Was it uncomfortable to be in class with him?

So when nice people act mean, it seems it's out of self-defense or revenge. To bring it right round back again to our game, I can breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe Little Miss Mary isn't a mean person, but just someone you don't want to double-cross, betray, or otherwise get on her bad side. That makes her more sympathetic. So hopefully next session we'll see her exhibit a little kindness, and a whole lotta meanness.