The Paul Phenomenon

Voice Card  -  Volume 32  -  John Card Number 2  -  Sat, Jun 18, 1994 6:01 PM

This is a response to VC 32 Drury 7 ("Haven't a clue!")...

I was afraid that sooner or later someone would ask about my take on Paul. As Drury points out, I am his dearest friend, or at least his oldest, having known him since the third grade. Every week for twenty years now (except for a few years during which we were roommates high atop Ivory Tower Inc.) Paul and I have been exchanging tapes.

Most of what we talk about is, I fear, quite dull: currents in the computer industry, minor incidents at work, details from some recent vacation, that sort of thing. Only rarely will Paul say something truly revealing.

We are opposites in this respect. I am something of a flasher when it comes to revealing myself, always willing to leap into the picture and throw open my raincoat. Paul lives on the other side of the lens: in a corner, quietly focusing. Perhaps this natural symbiosis has been one factor in the longetivity of our friendship.

What Drury terms the "Paul Phenomenon" is, I think, the precariously balanced mixture of two disparate forces - the blunt Scandanavian practicality of his mother and the gentle bewilderment of his physicist father. His sometimes chilly, no-nonsense exterior gives him a presence of authority that has often served him well, but it also tends to keep the world at a distance from the fragile and sensitive soul within. By now the rest of us have blundered into the frying pan of life and are either hopelessly scrambled or sunny-side-up; Paul's shell, though cracked in several places, remains intact.

He is, unwittingly, aloof. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the chilling silences and blunt retorts that can appear to others as a lofty condescension, are, for Paul himself, nothing more or less than efficiency. Paul has always been impatient with idle chatter, seeing no reason to expend energy on two syllables when one will do. There is no meanness behind this - quite the reverse. His friends know that he can be ingeniously considerate. But perhaps he is slow in anticipating and compensating for the doubts and uncertanties of others. Those of us outside the shell, impressed by his obvious intelligence, find in his silence a kind of reproach. But for Paul, silence is the ocean he swims in. Silence is "home."

In the last five years I have noticed a change in Paul: a softening of his roughest edges, a newfound attention to the art of diplomacy, an increased willingness to take chances, in short, a reaching out. Where this evolution will lead I cannot say. I suspect, however, that Suzanne's research into the Paul Phenomenon comes at an auspicious time and that if anyone can shed light on these mysteries she can. As for me, I will continue to blunder forward, offering up my idle chatter and armchair analysis, but always waiting for my next tape from Paul.