…knowing you’ll get a “B” for life.

Then there was that class whose books you return to frequently, and you remember doing quite well in that class, and remember the professor liking you. But there it is, a B on your transcripts. The same grade you got in classes you paid a lot less attention to, attended less, cared about less, sold all your books from said classes immediately after they were over.

Such are the things that matter to people that you never quite got. You never cheated, or even shared answers and compared notes before a test. You didn’t storm a professor’s office after getting a B to demand you receive a few more points. You always felt like you either got the grade you deserved for the work you did, or the professor was too much of an idiot to appreciate your genius. You actually preferred to lower your GPA for the sake of never changing your style to fit the professor’s expectations, than be one of those fools who would beg for extra credit and argue pedantically over the accuracy of a test question.

But, you were still surprised to see you’d gotten a B in that class where you read Montaigne, Luther, Calvin, Machiavelli, Pico della Mirandola, Erasmus, More, etc. You then saw you’d gotten a B in your beloved Greek mythology class, and the one Creative Writing class you really liked. Same with your favorite Art History class, and Poli Sci class. All B’s.

You went back and examined your life and saw nothing but B’s everywhere, popping out of memories of how you treated others, how you conducted yourself in various situations, how hard you worked, how much you tried to get ahead in life. There were, for sure, moments of being a straight A student, flashes of brilliance. But, for every fifteen minutes of brilliance, there were days and days of laziness and mediocrity, punctuated by equally short moments of pure ignominy approaching outright evil behavior.

You’ve led a B student’s sort of life, a solid, almost-respectable 3.0 average approach to getting ahead at work, finding a mate, hitting your milestones. The only time and place where you’ve carried on a sustained A+ student’s way of being is in this or that running fantasy inside your head. Nobody is fooled, nobody thinks anymore that you can be whomever or whatever you want to be if you just put your mind to it.

In fact, even most of your more vocal well-wishers have stopped saying much of anything to you or about you. To say that they are all disappointed would be a bit much. They are more…baffled.

Your story isn’t over yet.

But, how do you go from being one who is always more than comfortable to tell the story of a B student when pressed to tell the story of his life to telling the story of a sharp, clever student sitting at the front of the room every day raising his hand every time a question is asked to the class, running immediately to the professor’s office to camp out until next morning’s office hours to where the teacher down until she relents and yields up just enough points to bring him into the A range and help him keep that 4.0 GPA?

…a flip of the mind switch away from being someone else.

You don’t know how they do it, these completely realized humans. You could go from being the most intense meat-eating, UFC-loving dude’s dude to being a gushing fan of Broadway musicals, and not feel the least bit outside of your own element, your skin. One way of being is probably just as good as the next. Stripped down of the things most people carve out in their dens as love/hates, you aren’t even sure if you need to remain human. Flip that mind switch, and away you go to being some other kind of species or entity altogether.

You suspect that you are here in this world, this life, because someone up there wants you to learn the lessons of being a human man. The one who sent you down here likely doesn’t want you gushing over Broadway shows or growling over UFC competitions, but has a greater template of being for you to move into after you adjust your mind accordingly to fit the self that is being carved out in the world by others.

After all, while you can flip your mind switch to be whomever or whatever you want, the crush of consciousnesses that grind upon your external persona each day have certain expectations of who and how you should be. When you don’t live up to those expectations, you clearly lose out in life. Whether you like it or not, the external environment is shaping you and changing you, even as you try to adjust yourself to meet it each day with the least amount of friction possible.

Your strategy for reducing this friction used to be a “live and let live” philosophy, a general sense of “it’s all good and relative.” But then, you kept bumping up against ferociously critical personalities that incessantly demanded that you come out of your laid back shell, and have keen opinions on every last little thing.

You became a bitter, hypercritical sort of creature, and it took several years for you to realize that reducing friction by becoming so abrasive that you scare everyone away was not really a great sort of life philosophy, either.

What lies now in the wreckage of all this is a kind of functional persona that gets by in the outside world most days, and a restless, yearning persona that waits and watches from a distance for the right opportunity to spring forth and unleash all the glory and awfulness that is truly you.

…thinking about thought forms and processes that so easily spin out of control.

You were dreaming that you were back inside the old house inside the little computer den off of your parents’ bedroom where your mom’s big oak desk was during the years that you and your little brother were young. Your little brother was about the age of twelve or thirteen, and you were roughly the age you are in the present. He was trying to explain to you that something had happened during the years of age five-ten that had prevented him from learning how to multiply numbers. Roy kept morphing into other people–the kid you mentored for the past few years, a little girl, some other little boy.

You carefully and clearly drew out a grid of numbers 1-20 going horizontally and vertically, and began to show him how one times each number was the number. He understood that. Then, you thought that perhaps he should just memorize his multiplication tables by rote, and so you went over to the old desk, and found the green box that you remember holding the multiplication flash cards you used as a kid. But it was empty.

“Oh,” said your mom, appearing suddenly and her face looking crestfallen, “I remember now what happened.”

Something terrible had happened, but you couldn’t remember what. Then, you found a pair of the Nike sneakers you wore around the age of seventeen, and decided that because you were pretty much the same size you are now, you could still wear them. This made you happy.

Then you woke up.

And, for some reason, you started thinking about the little mantra you’d started chanting about the time that Roy turned four. He was beginning to show that he had a mind of his own, and could outsmart you, his brother six years older than him, at a lot of games of strategy. So, you started repeating in a sing-song voice “Roy is retarded.” He put up with it at first, but then eventually would run and tell your mom even if you hummed the general tune that went with your chant. You hated him for doing that, because you rarely tattled on your older brothers when they picked on you. It became your mission to break him of tattling.

Roy eventually got your mom to threaten you with everything she could muster, and you lost interest in persecuting him with the chant the less affected he seemed by it. Six years later, Roy was attending a state math competition in Columbia while you were going to school. He was constantly installing and uninstalling various Linux operating systems on his computer, and winning arguments with your father, who clearly loved having a brainy nerdy son to talk shop with.

When you woke up, you spent a good half hour just missing Roy. Not feeling sorry for yourself for the bad choices you made that ultimately contributed to his death. Not erupting at anger toward God for allowing the better son to die so unexpectedly and cruelly. You just missed having him around. You can’t make male friends anymore.

You called your surviving brother Garry last night to wish him a happy birthday. He rarely seems unwilling to talk, but he also communicates more actively with his biological family on Facebook. Your dad is completely preoccupied with maximizing his final years of life. You just don’t connect with the males you meet anymore. You surmise that Roy and you probably would have at least a solid working relationship by now, where you could call him up and actually converse with him rather than listen to him talk at you for an hour.

The old despicable chant starts up in your head. It doesn’t stop for a long time. At the age of eleven, it would stimulate pleasure centers in your brain. Like a monkey who gets a treat every time he presses a button, you would have this enormous sense of self satisfaction by chanting repeatedly in a sing song voice that your little brother was less intelligent than you. Mixed with this verbal bullying was also a feeling of deep affection for him, believe it or not. Like as long as you kept chanting “Roy is retarded” out loud, Roy would remain the cute helpless baby and you the stronger, smarter older brother.

This pathological way of looking at the world hasn’t changed much. Because you are rather socially retarded yourself, you do not gain access to power over others through your wit or charisma. Rather, you gain satisfaction of holding something over on someone from the knowledge and skills you have that they don’t. When someone comes into your environment who can learn everything you know as quickly as you did, you are threatened by them. You retain this petty approach to wanting power and control over others because you never completely learned to control yourself and your crazy thought patterns that spin out of control.

Every time you think that you have achieved some degree of enlightenment, you have months and months of time like the past few months where you are barely capable of managing yourself on a daily basis, erupting violently at others who would deign to question your authority on rather trivial matters of how to use a software application. You spend evenings simply vegetating to recover from the mad froth you work yourself into on the road while driving in rush hour traffic on an empty stomach.

On some timeline of appropriate achievements, you are probably about ten years behind in the degree to which you have achieved control over your own self.

…wondering if a diagnosis would make it different.

You could, you know, go find a sympathetic doctor with an itchy prescription finger. He might give you something to pick you up, straighten you out, or mellow you down nice and smooth. Or, maybe all three. You could have a label, a nice box to be in, and meet some people who’ve been labeled the same as you. No more making excuses, because you have more than an excuse–you have a certified, DSM-IV illness.

All those years of falling apart in the clinch, running away from the moment of opportunity when reality presented you with the manifestation of your dreams.

Would anything be fixed? Would you, in three years’ time, be capable of suave conversation and clever manipulation of nuanced body language? Could you climb up the ladder of a corporation, or become a big man of business down at the local Chamber?

Or would you be walking around Target in a happy fog, helping your wife buy new towels and salivating over a new brand of chips?

Would all the tension ease itself on your face, and what restorative cells are left in your body would reboot to change the fifty-year-old man head of hair you wear with puzzled humility?

A diagnosis might make you worthy of finding a publisher. Nobody wants to read the sad life of a screwball who messed things up when he knew better, but everyone loves to find memoirs at Half Price Books of mentally ill heroes who overcame their challenges to write about it.

You’re afraid you might get a boring diagnosis, like Social Anxiety Disorder, or mild depression, or a touch of the bi-polar. You aren’t so sure you want Asperger’s, either, as it appears to be a fad already in the passing. Maybe a visit to a past-life regression hypnotherapist would get you some juicy stuff. Perhaps you were brutalized at the hands of the Pol Pot in a past life, and you’re still struggling with the astral scars on your spiritual journey.

A diagnosis would definitely make it different–you could put it all to rest, and finally get some sleep, and simply live your life seeking out things that make you happy, and stop worrying about what other people think, or don’t think. It would enable you to put some of the burden upon some other entity, so that all the awful things you said and did to other misfit kids can be chocked up to this or that or those but finally, not anything intrinsically yours.

…wanting to join them.

“If you can’t join ‘em, beat yourself and fool yourself into thinking you are beating them.”

So has gone your philosophy since day one of first grade at Murphy’s Falls, Missouri. And, every group that is shiny and popular has been the object of your coveting while you sat on the sidelines, jealous, judging them, rebuking them, creating your own ugly groups of misfits or finding existing ones to join.

Give yourself a Christ complex to help things along, to prevent a solution from ever presenting itself. Pretend that you are like the king that sent out invitations to his party, being refused by all until finally he invited the street urchins and lepers to attend. Heck, pretend you are Jesus yourself, when you go and carouse with the tattooed lost souls of the night. But, you’ll never shine bright enough with Jesus’ love. Instead, you’ll quickly lose your luster as you become more like the very people you claim to seek to help.

It’s easy to knock the popular kids from an unenlightened, self-righteous pose. Criticize them behind their backs, because you probably wouldn’t have the wit or the guts to respond to the ways in which they would defend themselves were you to tell them to their faces just what you think. Instead, sit in a room and exude hostility, make them uncomfortable.

Secretly you covet the role of the Homecoming King, the lead in the Senior Play, the office of Class President, the title of Most Likely to Succeed and the status of Class Valedictorian. Frankly, your motto should be, “If you can’t be their king, then you will be their fool.”

Michael Nash and Tucker Donaldson, two kids who arrived at the Murphy’s Falls school system after you did. Tucker and you kind of had the start of a friendship when he arrived a year after you did, because your religious mom and his religious mom knew each other from somewhere. Tucker went to a church that was kind of like yours, but was full of shinier, cosmopolitan folk–it was on the cusp of becoming a megachurch in North Kansas City, while the church you went to was a backwater church on the cusp of becoming a cult.

Tucker had a friend Michael from that church, who would show up five years later. Michael was a wealthy doctor’s son, who always wore designer clothes and seemed incredibly confident and mature for a seventh grader.

They were assimilated quickly by a faction of preppy children, and spoke their minds freely in class while you sat in the back with misfits like Shawn Rilke who’d surprisingly tested in into honors classes like this one.

You went and saw Tucker and Michael sing and perform in their church musical because they’d asked the entire class to attend, and you’d envisioned yourself sitting with the other preppy, churchgoing kids from the class cheering on Tucker and Michael–then, you’d all find utter harmony and friendship with the Lord, community and school. However, you were the only kid from school who showed up, and you felt weird sitting in the audience with your mom, deciding to get the heck out of this scene as fast as you could before Tucker and Michael saw you, and laughed at you.

You went to the Senior class play with Shawn Rilke, and made fun of all of the preppy kids who sang and danced while secretly wishing you were one of them. You showed up at the choir talent show (which they’d opened up to the entire school, though it was clearly intended for just the choir), and had played a Pantera song that you’d practiced with a new misfit, Robbie Treedmore.

You went off to college, and saw kids your age signing up to become welcoming hosts for the next crop of incoming freshman, and a few of the guys from your dorm encouraging you to join a new fraternity that was starting up.

And, you secretly wanted to join, join, join, but you secretly only wanted to if you could run the show, and be the star, the lead singer, the lead guitarist, the biggest of big men on campus. If there was even the slightest possibility that there would be awkward moments involved, or you having to play second fiddle, be a sidekick, fall into a supporting role, or gush like a sycophant while another male saw all the glory–then, you would politely decline, bow your head, tuck your tail back between your legs, clam up into your shell, get under your rock, tune out, drop out, find a male who was even more of a misfit than you, and let your fantasies give you all the glory you needed.

And so, you trained yourself to believe that you were happier out of the limelight, more content to sit in the audience, comfortable being passive, too terrified to perform in front of others. But, the secret longing to perform, to be the one center stage, the center of attention, the show stopper, the object of intense and thundering applause–this longing never left you though the once vivid and sufficient fantasies surely did.

…with a memory of the girl you gave that awful nickname to.

She liked you, at first. When you arrived at college, you were ready to have hot, forbidden relationships with gorgeous punk rock girlfriends. Tilly, you’ll call her since you can only remember her disparaging nickname, was gangly with a curly red, close-cropped mop of hair. Which is what contributed ultimately to her terrible nickname.

You and the guys on your wing gave nicknames to everyone who wasn’t in your gang. It made you feel superior. All of you somehow got placed together in one spot, as if someone in the admissions office who placed freshmen in dorms could gauge middle school level social emotional maturity from the brief living space preference questionnaire.

Tilly probably was just having a late face of awkward adolescence, and went on to be a tall, gorgeous supermodel with her own exotic, unique look. And, she probably kept her kindness. She was likely a Christian, which was part of what made you reject the initial overtures of friendship. Some very deserving fellow has likely been happy with her now for ten plus years.

The guys from your wing are all friends with you on Facebook, and they haven’t changed a bit. For a long time, you wondered why the hell they didn’t grow up like you did, until you realized that you were simply never yourself during those years.

Your thirties has been a frightening sort of abyss, because you’ve encountered too many social situations to mention where you reverted back to the social emotional maturity level you were that first semester of college, before all of the heavy drinking began. Little pieces of areas that either never grew up, or grew up only with the help of alcohol. Now, you repeatedly find yourself in social situations where you know you didn’t behave like such a teenager five years ago, but that’s exactly what you’re doing.

It’s a painful process you wouldn’t recommend to anyone–losing all the pieces of yourself that were created to please others, and finding absolutely nothing in their place. So much of the you that you were supposed to discover in college and your twenties is simply a black void, like a series of marks on a recently de-classified document.

Tilly probably would have gone on to become a lifelong friend at the very least, had you not been such a willfully ignorant dufus. You would feel good about continuing to keep in touch with her, and gladly comment on her posts on Facebook, rather than raising your eyebrows and wondering “what the hell” like you do so many times with your old college chums.

The Tilly’s of the world eye you with suspicion, too, when you meet them in a new environment and try to befriend them. They can still see the sarcastic, malicious bully in you that was quick to seize upon a disparaging nickname and use it until you could no longer remember the person’s real name. You’ve tried so utterly and completely to eradicate the bully, the kid who wants to please the cool kids who mock everyone different than them. But, it’s a painful process that will probably take another decade or two.

…wondering what happened to the week.

The week started off wonderfully. You interacted in person with a total of one human until Tuesday afternoon, when you had to buy Valentine’s gifts at the grocery store. The teleconference meetings were great. You could hear Pablo making snide remarks in the background, but his presence wasn’t there to affect you. The same with the others, especially your boss Athena. Her presence, expanding to encompass the entire room, shutting you up, squeezing all of the creative life forces out of any area she fills, became nothing but another voice that reminded you an awful lot like Karen Winthrop’s. Just another sad, little woman trying so hard to prove to the world that she could conquer it and be a good mother, too. Quick to blame any alpha male she interacted with throughout the day for her shortcomings and bad choices.

Anyway, the only human presences you had to contend with were yours and your wife’s. The two of you have beautifully managed to occupy a 650 sq. ft. studio for eight months, and so being together in a two bedroom duplex was like nothing at all.

Most human presences, when they are physically present, are unbearable. People are such lovely creatures in books, movies, tv shows, or over the telephone. Except people like your past clients such as Cal or Mullins, two short men who made a successful living out of projecting a mightier presence over the phone. But, most people simply unconsciously leak too much presence. Their discomfort, disapproval or preoccupation with cares unrelated to you comes forth, and you sense these things no matter how hard you try to tune yourself out.

You sense Pablo leaking so much machismo, in spite of his so-called laid-back demeanor. Someone like Athena, who looks for the superficial, doesn’t even notice, and thinks Pablo isn’t an alpha male. But, Pablo doesn’t have to bark and slap backs, and cajole women. He simply exudes a presence that lets all the other males know he wants to be the silverback of the pack.

You find all of this, however much it is conscious to Pablo or not, to be such utter bullshit, and are often disgusted with yourself for being so sensitive to it. After all, Pablo hasn’t pulled you aside and made inappropriate cracks about your mother or manhood or anything. You can’t go to Athena and demand that she fire Pablo because you can’t stand his smirky, condescending, covertly macho attitude that you “simply know is there because I can sense it.”

This sensitivity is why you have so often failed to live with other people, and almost out of dire necessity have to live with a dog. Dogs have presences that are perfect for people like you that pick up on these kinds of things.

You hardly want to be an empath or intuitive sort of person. Frankly, you’d like to be as much of a WYSIWYG kind of guy as possible. When you’re pissed, you want everyone to know it. When you’re pleased, the same. Unfortunately, the rest of the world likes to live in shadows, to harbor secret feelings that they don’t want to reveal. The further you get away from your boozer days, the more of this sensitivity comes forth, and the more likely you are to have moments where you let an obsessive thought pattern, prompted by some awful vibe you are picking up, get the better of you.

You really just want to spend all day with your thoughts, reflecting on your existence, writing about it, and getting paid for it. Is that too much to ask from this world?