There was nothing spectacular about her, but when she came into the office you felt that she merited the attention she at once obtained. She was, you could say without straining a point, rather good-looking, but she was not nearly so good-looking as most women would have to be to make a comparable impression. She spoke in the crisp, fluttery cadence of the British, consistently sounding her "r's" and "ing's" and regularly saying "been" as they do in London. For a girl born and raised in Georgia, such speaking could suggest affectation. Yet it was the very opposite of this quality that contributed a great deal to the pleasing effect she invariably produced on those who met her. Naive has so many inapplicable connotations it is hardly the word to use in reference to this urbane and gracious presence, yet it is difficult to think of our first meeting without that very word coming to mind, with its overtones of freshness, artlessness, and candor.
She had passed her fortieth birthday some months before. Neither her face nor her figure had lost anything worth mentioning. Despite her composure, she gave a distinct impression of energy and playful spontaneity, an impression of vivid youth. In response to ordinary questions about her activities and interests she spoke of tennis, riding, and reading. More specific inquiry brought out opinions on Hamlet's essential conflict, comparison between the music of Brahms and the music of Shostakovitch, an impressive criticism of Schopenhauer's views on women, and several pertinent references to The Brothers Karamazov. She expressed opinions on current affairs that seemed to make excellent sense and talked with wit about the cyclic changes in feminine clothes and the implications of atomic physics for the future. What she had to say was particularly interesting and she said it in just the opposite of all those many ways of talking that people call "making conversation."
As discussion progressed, the picture of a rather remarkable woman became more and more distinct. Here was evidence of high intelligence and of considerable learning without discernible bookishness or consciousness of being "an intellectual." Her manner suggested wide interest, fresh and contagious enthusiasms, and a taste for living that reached out toward all healthy experience. Having a cup of coffee with her or weeding a garden would somehow take on a special quality of fun and delightfulness. Something about her over and beyond her looks prompted the estimate that she would be very likely to elicit romantic impulses, strong sensual inclinations, from most men who encountered her. Here, it seemed, was natural taste without a shadow of posed estheticism, urbanity without blunting of response to the simplest of joys, integrity and good ethical sense with the very opposite of everything that could be called priggish or smug. She showed nothing to suggest she meant to give such an impression or that she had any thought as to how she seemed.
I've never read Mask of Sanity all the way through, only read snippets, but I have actually been enjoying it more recently. I probably like it best out of all of the books about sociopath. It is glaringly anecdotal, biased, and suffers from a pretty clear lack of objective, systematic research, but so is this blog, and there is something about his writing style that I enjoy. I like the Anna story because you can tell that he was taken in by her, and I think it is sometimes much better to see source material of people who are taken in rather than hear the same old "superficially charming." I like the description of her idiosyncrasies: the accent, her artlessness, her eternal youthfulness, her attractiveness that seems to be something more than mere beauty, her intelligence, her charm, even a reference to the Brothers Karamazov (interestingly, later it discusses how she does not have the high brow tastes or prejudices of the typical "intellectual" of her education and breeding, but treats gossip magazines with the same interest as the music of Russian composers). Later in the chapter on Anna, Cleckley tells how she quite sincerely taught Sunday School, volunteered for the Red Cross, and engaged in haphazard same sex liaisons, one time with a nurse after being universally adored during a hospital stay ("Once while hospitalized for a week or ten days, she left the almost universal impression of being a delightful patient. Courteous, composed, undemanding, and cheerful, she took discomforts and minor pains in a way that elicited admiration."). It reminded me of my own nearly identical experience charming all hospital staff without meaning to while stuck there for a week after an appendectomy -- I was a crowd favorite, was called very "brave" and had random nurses ask me to keep in touch.
About this season every year I have a period of introspection and self doubt. Sometimes I wonder if I believing I am a sociopath is a self-fulfilling prophecy, or distorts the way I see me in the world. Recently I've been questioning again what I am doing writing this blog or believing that I am a sociopath, whatever that means. I watch myself interact with others and think, is this what a sociopath would do? Have I been living a lie these past few years? It just seems like such a bizarre thing to believe this about oneself, bizarre even to believe that sociopaths exist and aren't just some random assortment of personality traits that occur together solely by chance. I am sure I never will stop asking myself these questions, but when I read stories like Anna's and see all of the incredible parallels to my own life, including small details or other things I couldn't have known or whose existence in my life predate any awareness of what the term "sociopath" meant, I am just floored. It's not necessarily the life I would have chosen for myself given an infinite number of options and I sometimes wonder at the improbability of who I am, who I turned out to be, but I really am ok with it. More than ok, I'm happy.