Special Interests and Happiness

Special Interests and Happiness

While programming is my primary special interest, I have other interests that I follow whenever I get the opportunity. I derive great pleasure from these activities.

Words have always fascinated me. I’ve enjoyed reading ever since I can remember; in fact I would describe myself as a voracious reader. But it’s not just about reading: it actually is the words themselves. I read dictionaries for pleasure, learning about etymology and relating words to their roots. I decided to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English in part to become more familiar with the history of the English language. I own several books about words and phrases; one of my favourites is Melvyn Bragg’s Adventures in English which traces the development of the language from Latin and Anglo Saxon to the modern day.

I get excited when I find patterns in words across languages that reflect common heritage such as sassenach in Scots relating to sasunnach in Scottish Gaelic, saesneg in Welsh and saozneg in Breton: all derived from Sais (Saxon). I get similarly excited when I discover the origins of phrases like start from scratch, the bitter end and half-cocked, especially if the origin is strongly visual (as in these three examples).

Naturally when I get excited by finding something new I want to tell people about it. After all, if I found it that amazing then surely everybody else will? No. They don’t. It usually falls completely flat. You can picture the tumbleweeds blowing across the scene as my exposition is greeted by deafening silence. What makes it worse is that it’s not the dropped-jaw silence of minds stunned by the revelation. It’s the silence of boredom and indifference. And then they carry on talking about whatever they were on about before I piped up. So I don’t bother so much now. I find it hard to understand that others don’t share my passion for certain subjects. I know in an abstract way that they don’t, but that knowledge is pale and insubstantial against the intensity of my own excitement and I find that I can get carried away.

I used to flap my hands whenever I got excited. This attracted a lot of negative attention – bordering on bullying – when I was young and over the years I have managed to moderate it so that it now manifests as simply a clenching of my fists and tensing of my arms and hands, with perhaps a little shake. At the time other kids would say that I was “having a benny” and I always took the phrase personally. I never heard it in reference to anyone or anything else until recently when I watched The Full Monty and I can’t really describe the shock and the gut-wrenching fear/embarrassment that it triggered. All of a sudden I flashed back to my schooldays and was being ridiculed again. The trouble is that the hand flapping was a natural expression of how I felt. I get a little sad that I don’t feel able to express myself fully – to completely be myself – without fear of ridicule.

There are other behaviours that I have suppressed as a result of pressure to conform to the mainstream. I sometimes think that as long as people in general do not accept atypical behaviour then I will continue to give in to that pressure. And because I can’t be myself I will feel down more often. Whenever I feel happy or excited it will cast a small shadow across my sunny feelings, a small discordant note in my harmony, a small smudge of dirt on a spotless white canvas. So perhaps it is time to stop conforming. Perhaps I can summon the self-confidence to be myself. To regain the physical expressions of my emotions and not feel ashamed of them. To accept that some people will think me mad and not to care. I guess I can dream…