I (not so) jokingly referred to the loss of my hard outer shell many moons ago.  I could do a little research and find which post and link to it, but I don’t think I want to.  The context was, in a nutshell, that I was annoyed that I had shed my hard outer shell to have a better romantic relationship, and once the relationship ended, I felt the loss of my hard outer shell.  Surely the shell prevented me from making connections with some people (I mean general connections, not romantic or sexual connections necessarily), but when you’re alone, you really need that shell.  To say that the shells we construct are useless is simplistic – the world is full of people who do not wish us well, anyone who has received an e-mail from a ousted Nigerian diplomat will tell you that.  There are also people who probably mean well, but are not compatible with our philosophies.  The question is:  are we in as much danger as we believe?

A fair question.  I can’t add any insight to what’s been said in the past couple of days, but the local reaction has stirred up a lot of questions.  I was surprised that our campus sent out an e-mail assuring us that we have an emergency plan, and that we could get any needed support.  I suppose I understand that some people (students, parents) might be concerned that it could happen here.  I’m not saying it couldn’t – I’m saying that by focusing on the possibility of a shocking crime of that nature pulls us away from the things we are better at controlling.  In the past couple of years here, there has been an increase in certain types of crimes.  Our city is changing, and as a collective, we seem to be unprepared for these changes.  What I have noticed about these crimes is that one could say there is an animosity towards the student community – it is hard to say that the perpetrators are looking for students, but I suspect that to some people they make an attractive target.  University students could be a pretty good symbol of the separation of the haves and have-nots.  Students like to claim that they are impoverished, and I know in my case, I took a huge pay cut (I am below the poverty line), but many students are solidly middle class.  Students also live for the future – as a group, we assume that we will go out, get good jobs and acquire all the benefits of a First World economy.  For the most part, we are correct.  So if you aren’t living for the future, if you can’t see past today, and you see someone with everything to live for…I could imagine that the envy could be poisonous.  And this tangent isn’t completely unrelated, at least from my vantage point.  Envy is poisonous, and the gulf between the envier and the envied doesn’t have to be vast; it can exist only in the mind of the envier.  It is so easy to compare ourselves to others and feel that we fall short.  I once had a conversation with an actor friend of mine, and we agreed that comparing yourself with others was a sucker’s game.  After all, if there is always someone better than you, why bother trying?  But if you focus on doing the best you can, being the best person you can be, then you’ll be happier.  And, in my experience, you’re kinder to others – you don’t feel that you need to tear others down to build yourself up.

What I’ve been trying to say, in my rambling fashion, is that while the shell is a necessary part of living among strangers, building the shell as some sort of psychological panic room keeps you forever on the outside.  And while I joked that I lost my hard outer shell in my last relationship, I exaggerate.  I recognized that I was in no real danger, and removed it on my own.  That the relationship ended didn’t do any real damage, feeling crappy but still going on with your life is just part of life.  A line from Guillaume Apollinaire is appropriate here – “La joie venait toujour après la peine” (joy always comes after pain).  In class, we debated whether that line outweighed the more pessimistic sentiments – and, on the whole, I think it does.  And even if Apollinaire was a miserable bastard when he wrote the poem, even if he didn’t believe it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.  Otherwise, people would never move on.  And they do.  It may be hard, and some people may not be able to do it, but by and large, we do move on.  I saw a documentary on the Plague on the History Channel (I also blogged about it, but I am not interested in linking that either), and it was noted that after half of Europe died, the other half, once the Plague passed, moved on.  They even made a link between the Reformation and the Renaissance and the Plague.  Even after all that death and destruction, people worked to search for truth, to create.  So we are a pretty hardy species – that’s something to look forward to.