By Simon Barget
No one wants to talk about me, I’m the elephant in the room. It’s almost as if people don’t see me. I’ve been told numerous times that I’ve done nothing wrong. If anything I’m praised and complimented when people get to know me. They remind me how easy I am to talk to, how receptive I am to conversation and speech, how soft and well-intentioned my responses, how I get my interlocutors onside, how I know so intuitively how to handle the knotty issue of small talk.
People will talk about anything other than me. I am not self-centred. I don’t mind. It is just an observation. Perhaps I’m not important enough, don’t exert that element of control, don’t wield any power, because all the people I know seem to want to talk about anyone they think will tell them what to do and when they should do it. People will prattle on about people they’ve never even met as long as they’re important, well the pre-requisite seems to be exactly that, that they don’t know them, and the people I know will waste most of their time talking about these people they know nothing about with never an opportunity of being able to do so, over and above all the people they know very well, like their good friends and family, people they could have a good deal to say about, a good deal of intimate knowledge, and it seems to me that these people I know waste a whole host of time when they could be speaking about things they’re really qualified to speak about, really I’m saying that they could be talking about me.
I have been stuck in conversations with people, these interminable conversations going on round a dinner table, or at some neighbourhood bar, these conversations between four or five people, where the tone has to be set, and the discussion begins, and once it starts it won’t veer off course, and there I am quite disbelieving that at our age, at our level of maturity, the conversation still orbits around specifically all the people the assembled company doesn’t know at the expense of me, a person they know very well, someone they’ve known all their lives, someone they can see and reach out and touch if they like, someone who they might well have guessed is just waiting for the conversation to turn towards them, waiting with open arms to receive some choice words about me.
I am not saying here that they like to gossip. Don't get me wrong. Perhaps they do to some minimal degree. But it’s really not that and the people I know don’t get their teeth into their subjects, don’t pull them to pieces because if they did it would probably be preferable. No, the topics of conversation are decoys. The reason they choose them, any old person, literally some random guy from China, some guy from the Sudan, and believe me they have no bones just making up names, because who am I to be able to check if this person exists, they will talk about any single person on this whole planet, at the expense of talking about me, they will do anything not to talk about me, whether I’m there or not, they will do anything to avoid me, yes the reason they do it is that I am a subject they cannot ever go into, I’m far too thorny and icky, far too honest and true, far too awkward, not the right tone or thrust, not nearly sufficiently fluffy or breezy, not nearly sufficiently oblique.
Oh I know why they won’t talk about me, I know it so well, and it’s because they’ve been told somehow that I am bad, or if I’m not straight-out bad then that I’m something you can’t quite put your finger on. When that makes precisely no sense, since they’re happy to harp on about someone that might not even exist in place of me, which, granted might be a little complex, a little ineffable, but I do exist, I’m here in the brasserie right next to one of them, right opposite the other, diagonally opposite another. I exist alright; they know very well that I’m there, they just don’t want to acknowledge it.
I don’t believe I have a god-given right to be spoken about. What makes me so special then? But I do believe somehow that I am important, no more important than the next man, but still quite important in my own right. I’m not going in for comparisons here, attempting to establish a pecking order. But I feel that I am the person that people really want to talk about. Almost as if I am present in them. So then it’s not about me, it’s about them. I just sense it. I see their eyes lift up, their snatched glances, I see their lips moving before the words want to come out. I see them on the brink of a pertinent me-centred statement. I know that they want to and that it will do them good if they do it. And yet they can be right on the cusp of saying something, perhaps right at the outset, back when we sloped across to the table, or in mid-flow in a lull in proceedings, where the weight of me is suddenly brought to bear, my presence exerting some palpable effect, and it’s at those times that I wish so much that they would talk about me, not for my own good, not because I’m a narcissist, I want them to talk about me because that’s what they need for themselves, this is the thing that needs to be vented, to keep them healthy and clean, to keep them in balance.
There is one thing, a valid excuse, and I believe it’s decisive. People get shy if I’m there right before them. They don’t want me to hear a remark about me. They’re not concerned for or about me. It’s their shame and embarrassment. They don’t want me to think things, to screw up my face, not that I would do. They don’t want to be wrong in front of their friends. They don’t want people to tell them they’re spouting complete rubbish, because people often will say that they’re spouting. And this is the thing, the thing that stops people in the first place, the topic of conversation that you can be most misplaced and off-base on, the person you most don’t want to misconstrue and misevaluate is me, and people are so scared they’ll put a foot wrong that they don’t even try. Whilst they carry on blabbing about some total irrelevant and I start losing the will to live and they’re treading water, putting off the inevitable, putting on a show, just keeping up appearances.
You might think that the simplest thing would be for me to set the ball rolling and the others just follow. I just cannot do that. I cannot do that for starters when I’m not there, and I can’t always be there, because there are times when I’m busy. But even if I am there, in flesh and in person, I can’t talk about myself, it is simply not possible. The paradox is that I know nothing about myself, I only know that other people know about me, but of myself I know nowt. Put it this way, I can only really exist in the minds of my friends, of all the others. It’s like I don’t have a mouth, and if I tried to talk about myself nothing would come out. I’ve not even tried because I know this would happen. I could talk about a whole host of other things, not remotely a problem. But I don’t do that either, I won’t waste my time. If I was going to talk about anything, anything at all, I would only ever bother talking about me.
And yet it is inevitable. Eventually the conversation will turn towards me. Maybe not this time at this diffuse dinner party, at this mundane family gathering. Maybe it will have to wait for a one-on-one heart-to-heart, maybe I’ll even be one of the talkers or maybe I won’t. The pressure to broach me will become overwhelming and they will break down and blab till they’re blue in the face. And I promise you I will feel pleased for them; that’s when I come into my own, I strengthen and grow, and what is good for me is good for you five times over, it’s just a matter of time.