As a young man, striding forth into the jaws of the world, I found them to be full of dullards. That sounds cynical, but it's how I felt at the time, and how I still feel today. So many people were jerking on strings, fulfilling obligations, thinking things through, planning things out, and never considering that they could want something for themselves. As toddlers, they pleased their parents; as students, they pleased their tutors; now, as adults, they tried to please everyone they knew. That included their parents, their spouse, their boss, and their co-workers, but as none of them knew themselves, they took care never to please themselves. They called that selfishness. Well, as a pretentious poet, I knew myself all too well. I would hold battles with myself in my mind all through my formative years, dashing assault after assault on my mental barriers – some successful, others ending with the death of all combatants. But by the time I set out to find myself, there were no barriers left to down: I knew what I wanted, and I knew that I would take it. I wasn't normal, but I wasn't a madman either. In my own mind, I was a hero.
It was a pity nobody else noticed it. The problems started when I tried to assert my heroism in a conversation with my parents:
“But why? Why don't you want to join the bar? After all the money we spent on your education?” That was my mother. I could forever rely on her to overreact melodramatically to my choices.
“I want to be free, mother, I want to see the world! I want to make my own path!” I was a well-spoken lad; the expensive tutors had made sure of that. I had had the most expensive education available, from the top teachers in Europe. I was trained in piano. I was trained in integral calculus. I was trained in classical literature. About the only bloody thing I wasn't trained in was critical thinking. Adding value to the family estate, inheriting it, and raising a child or five to add yet more value to it required little capacity for criticism.
Not that I hadn't learned how to write a critique, of course. I'd just been forced to learn through less expensive routes than private tutors – the family library, untouched since the death of my bibliophile grandfather, held shelf upon shelf of books assaulting every aspect of the values I thought I'd believed in – fair play, piety, and entitlement, which had once seemed such inspirational forces, became like the pale and decaying remnants of a once-great institution under the incisive gaze of these volumes.