I’ve had a lot of time to think about myself. I am not sure if it has done me much good, but it is certainly changing a lot of my assumptions about myself and how I relate to the world.
I sat down recently and performed this exercise: I stated out loud, “the one thing I know for certain, is…” and I couldn’t come up with a single thing. I have nothing but quasi-statistical probabilities. There are stories of people who have cheated death. So, I can’t say for certain that I will die one day. I can only be pretty damn sure.
Last week, my high school class got together for the twenty-year reunion. I was mildly interested in flying up there and seeing these strange people who had only peeked out at me occasionally on Facebook. But, that was last year, before we got word of my wife’s pregnancy. Of course, I couldn’t have flown up there less than four weeks after his birth to participate in what may very well have been more evidence that I have moved through this life as a ghost. Really, I don’t need to attend a high school reunion to understand this.
It’s been some six years since I had this revelation, but occasionally, I have moments of clarity where I really see beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was true: I grew up with what would have been diagnosed as Asperger’s had I lived in a different time and place. People were constantly diagnosing me with the best intentions. “You’re fine, you just need to get out there and get more involved with school activities.”
“You’re a handsome young man. I don’t understand what’s wrong with you.”
“Well, if you think something’s wrong with you, than we can get help for you!” said by a father with a tone of voice that sounded more like he was ready to condescendingly indulge a four-year-old with an ice cream cone.
I did, finally, start trying very hard to be sociable. I got very active on social media. I said yes to every happy hour invite. I followed any and every trite piece of advice I snatched up online.
In order to make friends you have to be a friend.
Just be yourself.
You can’t change if you keep doing the same things.
Stop whining and complaining.
Fake it until you make it.
Stop looking at what’s in it for you.
And so on. You see these kinds of things now as pithy quotes on Facebook and Linkedin, with lots of people who seem to mostly be less educated or salespeople endorsing them without question.
And, of course, there was the occasional trip to the therapist. She and people who had once called themselves my friends would say that I was possibly trying too hard or not trying hard enough. I could never figure out which one it was, but I certainly grew uncomfortable showing up at event after event and watching the person get that bored look on their face and take a pretend text, or animatedly look up at just about anyone else in the room and run over and start talking to that person instead.
My attempt to have a career follows a similar arc. I start out at an organization as their website manager, email marketing manager, marketing automation specialist, etc. with the hope of showing them how smart and capable I am of doing so much more, and inevitably, I become pigeonholed as being only capable of doing that one particular button pushing task.
I have to draw the conclusions I can inevitably draw from all of this. Am I whining? Maybe. I am trying to see myself for who I really am, not as someone I’d hoped to become.
The career attempts can all fade away into a fog, as can high school, college, and most of my twenties and thirties. Except, I want to learn whatever I needed to learn from those years so that I am not waking up ten years from now writing from the same place.
I think one thing that is important to consider is that I was at least partly raised with some of the ideals of parenting that would go on to pervade Gen Y. I do believe that my parents saw my issues as being potentially growth crippling, but they wanted desperately to think that their son was more of a gifted genius than most babies. And so, when I came home frustrated that I wasn’t making the connections I’d hoped to make with my peers, they tended to provide that kind of old-fashioned, homespun advice instead of taking me to see a shrink. That part was definitely from some era even before Gen X, but the part about thinking their baby boy was a gifted genius, special, and in need of trophies for his minimal efforts–that part was definitely for a generation to come.
I wrote a poem. They shellacked it and called up grandma to ask me to read it to her, and grandma bought me a journal book to fill with my poetry. I painted a picture. They bought me a hundred dollars’ worth of art supplies for Christmas.
There were other things I did that they didn’t pay attention to. My dad had gone back to school at 40 to become a computer programmer, and we always had the latest Microsoft OS computer in the house–starting with a pre-MS TRS-80. I wrote out 80% of an office suite in Basic–not anything original, just code that came in a magazine we subscribed to. Still, the concept of a nine year old writing hundreds and hundreds of lines of code so he could have a word processor, spreadsheet, database and email tool in 1985 was rather remarkable, but went largely unnoticed. On some occasions, when I said that I wanted to be a computer programmer as well, my dad would say, “no, you don’t, they will always be the grunts of the organization, just doing whatever they are told.” I guess his prescient vision about computers becoming so important didn’t go far enough to see the day when programming nerds ruled the world.
I grew frustrated with the program, though, as it was full of bugs from typos I’d created, and I wasn’t even sure if our PCjr had enough memory to handle the program, as it was written for a PC. I took to working on a novel, my first attempt. I wrote page after page about a boy who grew up in a family full of boxers who always wanted to fight each other, and he got sick of them and ran away. I made up adventures in towns that I found on our map of the USA in the hallway.
If you read my diary of me when I was 11, you can see that I was easily distracted, jumping from interest to interest. I joined 4H and did rocketry, woodworking and basket weaving. I played Little League baseball and sat on the bench mostly until the final innings when the team was either clearly going to win or lose. I occasionally got my Dalmatian out and played with him. I took a cartooning class for kids at the local community college. I moped about the yard pretending that I could travel back in time to the trip to Florida we’d taken two years before that was, in my estimation, the best vacation ever. I was glad when my older brother got called to start boot camp early, so I could have the room to myself. By then, we were both very sick of each other.
There is a video footage of me from about that time, when a retired band director went through the K-12 school system taking video of us kids in our classes so that he could sell it to the parents. I am singing in music class, and I have chosen to isolate myself from the rest of the class. My hair is a complete mess, as it would be two years before I had an inkling of what it meant to comb one’s hair. I am still wearing my first pair of glasses, and they are badly damaged because I always managed to play rough while wearing them, and get them dinged up. But, why have I chosen to sit so far apart from everyone else? Is it because the music teacher had seated me next to some girls I didn’t like, and I didn’t want to be seen sitting next to them? At any rate, I look like a special needs kid, rather than a nerdy, bright kid.
I always had a place in my heart for the special needs kids. I identified with them. They seemed to be a lot like me, but were simply different by degree–enough of a degree that they went to special ed classes, and I didn’t. I usually got placed with them on teams in gym class, because I think most kids saw our athletic abilities as more or less the same. I remember one girl who only briefly attended our school teasing me on the bus in sixth grade (before the really terrible bullying started from others), and she was convinced that I was retarded. I did little to convince her otherwise. And, this was prior to puberty and its own special hell.
To this day, I am not sure any of us are all that different than special needs kids underneath. I think that with different parents, or slight changes in their genetics, any powerful person or celebrity could have ended up wearing a paper hat at their job. The ability to change one’s self is also quite deceptive.
Any person who has drank the koolaid of a motivational speaker or prosperity gospel preacher will try to tell me that I am simply not trying hard enough. That I need to get more disciplined with my actions and my will to change myself. I should be setting goals for myself, and sticking to getting up early every morning to run and write and read inspirational quotes. I am simply not trying hard enough. It’s a comforting philosophy to have, because you can ride great waves of euphoria and optimism before crashing, and you never have to squarely and soberly face evidence to the contrary.
I don’t completely knock it, actually. I believe that we all inject some amount of a mythology into our lives to keep us going. We ride waves of belief in something to avoid the despair that would inevitably come when we think about how much we’ve lost in life. If I sat around and only focused on the bad choices I’ve made, and the time I’ve wasted doing frivolous things, while also meditating on my premature gray, thinning hair, I would probably never get out of bed.
But, I think that there must be times in which you completely strip away all of the optimistic mythology (but also the unnecessarily harsh self doubt), and try to look more objectively at why you aren’t getting anywhere.
At this moment, I would simply argue that the reason I am not getting anywhere is that I have chosen to never do one thing at the expense of all others. If you look at my personal library, you will find books on so many different subjects that you will quickly see that I can’t possibly be capable of reading all of these books and knowing deeply all of these subjects.
If I decide that I do want to devote my career to becoming a true computer nerd for the next twenty-five years, then my writing will have to become much more tightly focused and journalistic–I will have to simply write as a tool to keep me on task every day while learning a programming language or two. If I decide that I want to devote my career to becoming a writer of some sort, then I will have to stop pretending that I can be a technical person, startup entrepreneur, or even a manager of a sales and marketing team. I will have to write a lot more letters to many more people in search of an opportunity to make money writing for them.
What does my heart say?
Have I ever really listened to my heart–I mean, sat down, and with great focus thought deeply about what would make my heart happy?
So many of my recent job changes have been due to my ego flaring up. The ego gets offended that people can’t see me for being something more than just a menial button pusher, and I quit. This is cerebral. It’s not even a good kind of cerebral, but a self delusion I’ve chosen to perpetuate–a myth of self that I’ve created to keep me believing I will one day be somebody great.
I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I don’t think I have a good resonance between my heart and this part of me. My heart is full of love for humanity and a desire to help others, and my head is full of a vision of me being somebody important in a big city. The two are almost at complete odds with each other.
There were a number of years that went by where I asked the question: what kind of man would I have become if I hadn’t been such a people pleaser out of touch with himself?
But, this was the wrong question.
The right question is: what kind of man do I want to be?
The possibilities are always wide open. Socially, we allow ourselves to be narrowly defined and tagged as being a this or that. I think the concept of free will has greatly diminished since the time of the Enlightenment, as first Newton, then Darwin, gave us pictures of ourselves in which we are more the product of physical and chemical forces than the product of our own creativity and choices.
Quite frankly, for myself, I want to embrace a philosophy of radical personal responsibility. I don’t know that it is something for everyone, because I can’t begin to know everyone else’s life situation. However, I would argue that I still tend as a kneejerk reaction toward looking for someone else to blame for my life situation. Stating “I will have more personal responsibility for my actions” is a nice thing to say, but a hard thing to practice. It is so easy to look for other people to be the scapegoat in my unhappy situations.
I want a brutally honest vision of myself. I welcome criticism of me. I want the young hipster guy in the workplace to hate my guts because he has made a snap judgment concerning my gray hair and has decided that I am a basic corporate schmuck with no new ideas. I want to think long and hard about whether or not I really am a Mac, PC or Linux guy. I am not so sure any of them are worth taking on as a shorthand way of describing who I am. I want shit that accomplishes the job it promised to do.
I am not a OWS man or a Tea Party man. I am enough of a student of history to know that our system, as terrible as it might seem at times, is a lot better than one where everyone is getting beheaded or shipped off to a gulag because they don’t agree with the megalomaniac made king. Companies, governments, political parties, etc. — all are systems that began with the purpose of solving a problem and have more or less become complex organisms that exist to exist. I think most of the bigger ones are probably like giant tumors. The recent show I watched where they removed a large tumor from a man clearly indicated that any wrong cut would be disastrous to the organism feeding the tumor. Most people want to make disastrous cuts instead of precise, surgical ones, because those kinds of cuts get good sound bites.
Killing big government or killing big oil — either activity will require a surgeon and not a mob with some loudmouth fool (or worse, a bomb-happy fool) representing them.
I am of the firm opinion that I have way too much about me that still needs to be changed before I go and try to change other people.
I am not a pessimist or an optimist about the future. Why should I waste my time being either one, when they are both laughably one-dimensional, and neither is sustainable?