I took a class in the spring of my senior year of college called something like How Fiction Works, which was much less interesting and useful than it sounded and mainly involved the professor-- who had published a dozen or so novels but never achieved much success and was sort of lesser Saul Bellow--recounting anecdotes about famous writers he had met or known. There was a grad student in the class, a PhD student in comparative literature. He was odd. At one point he informed me that my feet were lovely and he derived great pleasure from admiring them during class. Eventually I realized that was him hitting on me, and was mildly disturbed.
But that's not the point I was heading toward. One day after class I was telling him that I had taken a job in a smallish town in Minnesota. I guess he was shocked that I would do such a thing, and in explaining why I was doing it I focused on the fact that the people there were very nice.** "Is that important to you?" he asked. I don't know what I said. I think I was speechless. It was not a question I'd ever thought to ask. In a way he had a point, because it turned out I didn't like living there. Of course, it turned out that the people were not that nice, they were mostly just passive aggressive. So I don't think it really proves he was right. I till value that a lot. And I really don't understand why anyone wouldn't, although I guess I know now that not everyone does. I just can't understand it.
Tonight my wallet was stolen. And then someone was rude to me for no apparent reason. And I'm not sure which event upset me more. I can understand why someone would steal my wallet. There are possible motivations there that I can comprehend, even if they're not nice and I don't agree with them. But the person who was rude to me for no apparent reason? I just can't understand that, and that makes it so much more upsetting. Even though it didn't cost me anything or require that I spend an hour on the phone cancelling credit and debit cards. Even though it didn't rob me of the little scrap of love note I've carried in my wallet since my husband gave it to me in the early days of our relationship.
Is there something wrong with me, that I need people to be nice to me? Or is there something wrong with the idea that being nice shouldn't be important?
* This is my favorite speech and scene in all of Shakespeare.
** I use the word "nice" in its bland modern sense. The history of the word is interesting but not relevant to my point. And the broad vagueness of the word suits my purpose. Don't be nice about it. If you don't have anything nice to say . . .