Other people are both my favourite and my least favourite thing in the world.
As well as writing, one of the things that makes me feel alive is when I have a crowd of people “following” me. Sometimes, when I’m teaching, I realise that I have the power to get these students from point A to point B and a little thrill runs through my entire body. I even remember academic presentations when I could sense that the entire room were with me, wanting to know what I’d say next. I knew from their eyes that I “had” them, and I could barely contain myself. I remember being introduced to a friend’s family, and I was bloody enchanting and entertaining and banterful and the entire room stopped for me. I remember being in a pub with a group of colleagues and every single one of them deathly silent while I told a story and feeling like a God. I remember sitting in the kitchen with my Boys the year before last and telling them about my plans for my ridiculous big gay wedding and their jaws literally dropping.
Sometimes I “get” people and people “get” me, and it’s amazing.
But I’m also an absolute trainwreck of a person with other people. I sometimes write down what I want to say before I phone someone because I get nervous on the phone and worry that I won’t say what I want to say. I sometimes sit in rooms with people I’ve known for 5, 10 or even 15 years and get irrational and panicky and can’t think of anything to say and try to make excuses and leave because I just can’t cope with people. I get paranoid in the run-up to birthdays and any night out I organise that no one will come, or that I won’t be able to think of anything to say to the people who do. I stand in a shop trying to work up the courage to ask for what I want and then give up and go home empty-handed, rather than have to interact with a sales assistant. I decide not to text someone back yet, so I’ll have time to come up with the best possible reply and end up not answering a message for weeks. Sometimes I spend a little extra time in the loo in the pub just to work up to the next bit of conversation I’m going to have. Sometimes I chicken out of a conversation on Grindr because I just cannot think of a good answer to “hey how are you?”
And I beat myself up for this.
But I was having a conversation the other day that made me realise I shouldn’t. A friend of mine asked what kind of child I was.
When I was in primary school, I was in a class of 12 students in a small country school. When all the other children were playing at breaktime, I wouldn’t usually play with them. There was a prefab in the schoolyard that had burnt down. I remember spending hours of my life walking around the foundations that had held that prefab up. Day after day at lunchtime I would walk around and around those foundations while the boys played football and the girls swapped fancy paper or whatever it was that little girls did, and Connor walked around those foundations again and again and again. I would be inventing stories as I walked. I was a superhero. I was a wizard. I was an adventurer. And I was happy to be alone. I got on perfectly well with the people in my class but I chose to be alone.
And yes, I certainly have a social side. I love a good gossip. I love having a heart-to-heart. I love telling stories, and hearing them. But I’m not only social. And part of my make-up is anti-social and awkward and alone and weird and that’s fine too, because that’s who I am. I’m still a little boy walking around the foundations, imagining he’s a superhero.
If you build it, they will come
January was a great PhD month. And then February came, and my birthday, and Venice, and a hundred other excuses, and everything slowed down.
But I’m ready to be done with this PhD. I’ve given myself a deadline and accepted a job for July and August in Slovenia, where I worked the first summer of Project Connor (2010). So, come Hell or high water, I’m finishing this thing by the 25th of June. If you build it, they will come.
Spurred on by this, I buried myself in my PhD over the bank holiday weekend, writing literally thousands of words.
In the breaks from the serious work, I entertained myself in different ways. I registered on Pottermore, the official Harry Potter website, and the Sorting Hat put me Hufflepuff. Bloody Hufflepuff. Nobody wants to be a Hufflepuff. Hufflepuffs are nice and kind. And that’s all. I’d even rather be a Slytherin. Stupid Sorting Hat.
I also spent more time than I thought was possible looking at the Beyoncé Love on Top video and also a video that a nice woman called Andrea has posted on YouTube explaining how to do the dance Bey does in the Love on Top video. I balanced my laptop on my ironing board, so it was at the right height to view the tutorial so I could do Beyoncé’s moves for the song. By the end of the day on Monday, I could do a lot of it, in spite of the fact that I had no microphone stand and no sparkly army hat. I do, however, have a mop and a sailor’s hat, which I used instead. What bothers me most about the dance is that, while on the one hand Beyoncé does phone fingers when she says the word “call”, puts the palm of her hand out when she says “stop”, and points sexily at the ceiling when she says the word “top”, on the other hand she does not hold up one finger to represent “first”. I’ve got a cramp from stopping my finger doing a “first”. Other than that, my practice is going well. In the alternative career I’ve planned for myself as a YouTube sensation, my version of Love on Top will be the third video I make, after I take the world by storm with my first “funny” one (a Vicar of Dibley/One Direction parody), and then make people think with my second “sultry” video (Lisa Stansfield and acres of silk), my version of Love on Top will be treasured by housewives and street gangs alike.
Anyway, you’ll be pleased to hear that, in spite of my future celebrity, my PhD is thundering along, and I’m going to get there. I am.