Call of the other.

Or, revisionist history ;^)

The latest issue of Parabola is ‘Friendship.’ One article discusses the idea of the call of the other – that a person wants to be heard, wants sympathy, wants to connect with someone. Another relates an experience of loving one’s neighbor. Talking with a friend, the author was overcome with feeling of love, which lasted for a few days.

A little later wandering thoughts connected to some of my own experience. Once in college a woman dropped unexpectedly by my room. I didn’t really know her that well, so it was a little odd. The conversation was nothing special; just a good social visit. But it was such an odd event I got wondering. Why this visit out of the blue? Was she interested in me? (An even stranger event to be sure.)

I found out later that she had just been dumped by her boyfriend. I found out even later that a lot of her friends went with the boyfriend. I sort of understood why she was going around visiting people, but I still didn’t really get it until just recently. She had just been somewhat traumatized, many friends had abandoned her, of course she was looking for company! The other was calling – and I think I heard the call. In a kind of conceit I took that call for romantic interest and perception of it as a response in kind. She was looking for help, and the only thing I could think of was myself.

The story has a kind of happy ending. I started hanging around trying to get to know her better. Later, she told me that having someone around when so many people had abandoned her was something of a godsend. They say it’s the thought that counts, but in case, thankfully, it didn’t.


  1. schwartzboy says:

    Other, indeed

    I have to thank you for this entry on many levels, some of which probably won’t hit home for a little while.

    First, for pointing out Parabola. Looks interesting & worth further investigation.

    Second, for giving voice to something that’s been bumbling around just below my level of consciousness for some time. The concept of the other, and the need to make some sort of connection on a meaningful level, is one that I’ve wrestled with for much of my life, certainly for longer than I’ve had the means to express it or discuss the idea with others. Before I found any real number of friends in college, I had my heart set on being a solitary geek surrounded by books and a small apartment, beyond the need for human companionship or even contact besides that which is necessary for things like working and buying groceries…well, internet access too, but you get the idea. I’m not sure exactly when my outlook changed, but I realize now that my “ideal life” was a Very Bad Plan. Occasionally, for instance during the past couple of months, I forget how important that connection is, and in addition to evoking some interesting college memories of my own, your post reminded me of that.

    Third, for combining the concepts of “conceit” and “Justin” in a single thought-string. Much like matter and antimatter, I’ve never been entirely certain that the two could occupy the same coordinates…though it’s not exactly a hanging offense, especially at the level that you describe. My own experience is rife with instances of solid platonic connections being confused with other nonsense, not that anyone who knows me would ever expect such things from me.

    Moments like this make me intensely grateful that I was in the right place at the right time in the middle of nowhere and found people who could accept one of the slightly confused and misguided as a friend without forcing him into a preconceived mold. Not everyone is so lucky.

  2. admin says:

    Re: Other, indeed

    Parabola: shortly after I got my small tape player for audio books (and before I started taking advantage of the library to keep this from becoming an very expensive hobby) I bought a six tape set of talks with Joseph Campbell; I think the series title was Myth and Mankind, and from some of the audio overlays it may have been a video series originally. I found Campbell’s stuff intensly facniating, and the series said was sponsered by Parabola. A little poking about on the net quickly turned up their web site. I’ve been satisfied with it so far, although it rarely has such an impact on me. (Possibly more for lack of time to give ideas proper consideration than for lack of ideas to ponder.)

    As for strange combinations, I must admit to some surprise when I saw a response to such an introspective piece coming from you, something of a C&G class clown. It’s easy to get caught up in the masks people wear and forget that there is a ‘real’ person in there, with many of the same thoughts and anxietys as ourselves.

  3. schwartzboy says:

    mmm, Campbell

    Joseph Campbell is one of those people who fascinates me when I come across a reference to something he’s written or read a quote or synopsis from one of his books, then I somehow never get around to reading any of them because something else always intervenes. A similar effect can be seen in my efforts to read up on the myth of the Wandering Jew. I got a couple of good books on the subject for Christmas last year (which to me seems ironic on many levels, given the content of the myth), but haven’t cracked them yet due to one or more of the standard excuses: work, school, family obligations, etc. This is making me strengthen my resolve to actually read those things.

    It’s funny that you mentioned the concept of me having more of a “class clown” role than a “person who is taken at all seriously” role in the context of C&G (and more so when I think back on some of our meetings where it seemed that little or nothing was taken seriously, regardless of its actual import). When I saw your reply, I had just returned from lunch with a co-worker, and during a discussion we had I mentioned to him that I feel like I’m very seldom taken seriously unless it’s convenient for people to do so. In a professional context, this is a bad thing because we are now dealing with the consequences of people not taking me seriously, and if I’m honest I used to be a little bitter about the C&G crowd relegating me to the “oh, that’s just Branden” niche.

    Recently, though, I’ve started to consider the fact that maybe this was a good thing…not protective camouflage, exactly, but that idea works as well as any for the moment. People who didn’t think that I was interested in, or possibly even capable of, interaction above the level of the superficial “class clown” were apt to discount me, or at least not seek me out intending to make any meaningful connection. Either they weren’t comfortable with the mask I wore, considered themselves above an association with such a petty and silly person, or whatever. Those who heard the call of the other and thought that it meant me, on the other hand, well…either because of that goofiness or in spite of it, they found my companionship worthwhile and came out of the experience with a solid and lasting connection, even if I am horrible at keeping in touch with people on a regular basis. I’m not implying that the “clown” persona was some manufactured garbage that I used in some strange little attempt to screen my friends, because that level of silliness was and is still very much a part of me. It has never, though, been the sum total of who I am (or at least I like to tell myself that).

    I find myself overusing the “I am vast & contain multitudes” concept that Whitman is famous for proclaiming, but on a lot of levels it rings true to me. I’m a quiet (and possibly wanna-be) intellectual. I’m an obnoxious lech. I’m too silly to hold a real conversation. I’m the most contemplative person you’ll ever meet. There are aspects of me (and, arguably, just about everyone) that come out more than others, and hopefully I’ve managed to minimize those aspects of myself of which I’m not very fond over time and a conscious effort to become a better version of myself, but I think that during my college years the person that most people saw was the one that it took the least self-confidence to project. Other sides of myself emerged from time to time around certain people or sub-groups, but the one that I was the most comfortable with is the one that stuck in your brain. That’s also the one that it seems other people came to expect from me & be uncomfortable with if it wasn’t showing. Interestingly enough, I had a variation of this conversation years ago with another C&G member who told me that based on the way I presented myself in college, he never expected me to be the quality of person that he came to know in the years after. Something of a backhanded compliment, I think, but very telling for me.

  4. schwartzboy says:


    My original reply, as written, exceeded the LJ limit. That’s a sign of something.

    This has ended up being much more rambling and stream-of-consciousness than I had intended, but you inspired more contemplation with your reply than I could have anticipated (it helps a little that I had several hours of meetings between reading your post and replying for ideas to churn in my subconscious). For no reason that I can explain logically, it feels like a good idea to share these ideas with you in hopes that they’ll be interesting or informative or thought-provoking or something. Barring that, my gibbering on might at least be compelling in the same way that a train wreck generally is…you know that you should look away, but it’s all so horrible that you just can’t.

    …or not.

  5. admin says:

    Re: oops

    I have multiple stacks of books waiting to be read. I make slow progress, but overall the piles tend to get bigger instead of smaller… We won’t get into the books that I’d buy or borrow if I didn’t have a couple of piles already…

    I’m not completely sure that class clown was exactly the right term, but seeing as you didn’t exactly challenge the title, it was probalby close enough. You do have a way of putting things that is very often amusing. A handy talent to be sure, but people do tend to mentally sort statements into categories like funny or serious, and I’m pretty sure things hit the funny filter first.

    On a (somewhat loosely) related note, I noticed a few years ago that, beyond your proactive humor, people also liked to tickle you. Probably due in no small part to your amusing reaction. What I thought about at the time was that when anyone tired to tickle me, I just stared at them. So they went away. That is what I wanted, I guess.

    If exceeding the comment limit is telling you something, it might be this: If you want to show more of your serious side (a question only you can answer) you might try writting things like this in your journal proper sometimes. Most of the entires I can recall off-hand are of the silliness variety. But maybe I just wasn’t reading them below the surface (or at all; I’m hardly on line anymore, and even then I’ve given up on keeping up with the friends list)