I have been nurturing a theory about human people for some time. This is that theory: we are all totally self-obsessed.
When I was a little baby-child, stomping my red-patent Mary-Janes into the pavement and screaming in a fit of righteous outrage at some perceived injustice, my mother’s stock response was: ‘Stop showing me up!’ Hissed from between clenched teeth, and often accompanied by a sharp jerk of my arm and an embarrassed smile at horrified passers by.
Even back then, Mummy’s reaction used to totally piss me off. The audacity of the woman was awesome. It was all I could do to keep levelly screaming blue murder and refrain from turning to her and condescending, No Mother! This is not about you, it is about ME!
The ability of my Mum to turn a four year old’s self-indulgent expressions of turmoil into her own embarrassment is confirmation to me that there is not a single one of us who is not playing the lead role in a secret screenplay airing inside our own brain*. It is precisely because we are all the centre of our own universes that there is nothing better than having our superior status confirmed by being made the centre of other people’s. Being the centre of attention. That’s the dream. It’s what we all want: other people’s admiration; their laughter at our words, their tears at our insults, their covert glances as we walk by – even people who purport (in a cunning employment of reverse psychology) to be ‘shy’. We want attention. And we want it more than food, more than water, more than sex.
Selflessness and modesty do not really exist. We all know this if we look inside our frozen, dead hearts. Goodness does not lie in the tissuey depths of our internal organs waiting to serve others without acknowledgement. The only reason we bother to do anything is so that other people will notice us. There is literally no way that Mother Theresa would have expended all that energy on feeding orphans and performing possible miracles dressed in a tea-towel if the eyes of the Catholic Church had not been watching her and whispering about a sainthood. Why would she have bothered? She might as well have sat at home eating oven-ready cheese and bacon Findus Crispy Pancakes and watching Deal or No Deal.
Despite the fact that inherent self-centredness is evidently a normal part of being human, for some reason, revelling in your own self absorption by making yourself the centre of attention in group situations is considered impolite. Maybe it’s a British thing, I don’t know – the Americans and the French certainly seem to revel in the limelight with no obvious social stigma. This is evidenced by the world-wide coverage of their election campaigns and the ostentatious style of their political leaders. Obama with his good teeth and jovial manner; Hollande with his rimless specs and fierce, journalist lover; Sarkozy with his diminutive frame, bespoke tailoring, and Italian super-model wifey. It’s rather show-offy. At least our politicians are careful not to draw too much attention to the searing class divide by making sure that they blend into a homogenous lump; wearing off-the-rack suits from next, maintaining suet-pudding faces and marrying plain, unprepossessing women from the Home Counties.
For the last few years I’ve decided stick my fingers up at the cultural conventions of my motherland and indulge my humanity by making myself the centre of attention in all social situations. I’ve also cleverly invented a way to be the centre of attention when I’m on my own: by keeping a handheld mirror in every room, which I use to look at my face and to converse with my reflection – I even have one in the living room in case I should get distracted by music or something funny on the telly and need to see what my face looks like when it’s amused. Throughout this period, yes, I’ve lost few friends from around the edges – but I have also gained super-self confidence and had a whale of a time. Getting pissed and mouthy on port at a dinner with senior Dons at Kings College Cambridge; discussing the poetry of Syliva Plath with my reflection in the mirrored wardrobe; doing TuPac’s Mama dressed in a see-through, skin-tight black lace top and leather trousers to an adoring audience of 35 of my closest friends and family.
My biggest fear now is meeting someone who might make me take my awareness away from my own self and force me to become concerned with their welfare. This is apparently a necessary part of being in a relationship and is another reason I want nothing to do with them. I physically shudder when I recall the time I have wasted in the past giving a shit about where my boy was and who he was with. I used to actually feel sad and small if a man wanted to spend Friday night with his mates instead of indoors, watching Eastenders with me. I have to admit though, that even back in the days of romantic entanglement I could never be totally committed to someone else. It was varying degrees of awkward when me and my exes went anywhere with mirrors and I had to make a decision about who I was going to stare at. I dread to think what would happen should I ever have the misfortune of spawning children. Apparently they proper mess up the self-absorption thing by dying if you don’t look after them properly.
*up until I was about twenty-five (and I’m not even making this up) I actually was the star of a screenplay happening inside my own head. It was a long-running dramatic sitcom called Katie! that followed the intense and amusing dramas of a complex South-East London cutie growing up in a crazy world. A bit like a British version of My So Called Life, except that the characters indulged in occasional recreational hallucinogens. I even knew the names of the actors and actresses who played all the parts (i.e I invented ‘real’ identities for me and my friends and family) – in season six Stella May was replaced in the title role by Laurie England, after stepping down due to a tragic bereavement.