It’s Not You, It’s Me

[So…this was a bit of a different post. But I wasn’t happy with it so I’ve rewritten the bottom half and made some tweaks to the beginning and the middle. As far as timing toes, I initially wrote this last week so take references to relative time with that in mind.]

“Oh, I don’t know what the hell to write about.”

I kinda pulled the training wheels off last week and really almost didn’t hit post. But, as is almost always the case nowadays “that might be a little too much” ends up in “omg I’m so glad you wrote that.”

It’s tough to dig down there like that and maybe not for the reasons you might expect.

It’s not that I don’t want to deal with what comes up in my head during those sessions, it’s more that I don’t want to hear it from people who think I’m talking about them either to the good or the bad.

People have an ability to project their own identities on the actions of others that sometimes astounds me and sometimes causes me to shrug my shoulders noncommittally.

I mean, of course they do. What else is there.

The number of layers involved in “consciously understanding” (a convenient but wholly inaccurate phrase) something outside of us (therein lying the rub) is crazy.

The visual stimuli (true enough for the other senses as well, but let’s stick with visual so I don’t have to keep swapping verbs out of some twisted sense of sensory equanimity): This is simple enough. We’ve got to get the input.

But our brain goes through some fascinating pattern matching to try and figure out what it is that the distance, color, and shapes of what we’re seeing really map to.

THAT involves an internal library of objects and their Platonic essences (i.e. “what is chairness? What makes a chair a chair and not a table?”) And already we run in to some difficulty. Go into a museum, or even better, a farmhouse estate sale or antique store, and see how much there actually is in there that you can’t quite identify. How much can you really take for granted about what you see? You think “well a chair is a chair, duh.” But it’s not REALLY that simple. Would you recognize a bed from rural japan from 150 years ago? I’m not at all sure I would.

How much of what you see is locked into the context of your current time and culture? The classic example is to show a kid a rotary phone, old hand tools, a cabinet radio, fax machine, or a VHS player. See if they can even figure out wth it is. Sure those are hackneyed examples. But we’re just familiar with them because of this very exercise.

Assuming you “know” what you’re seeing you then have to filter that through your life. Is that the kind of chair your grandfather sat in when he’d slip you a piece of candy? Or when he’d hand you $2 and ask you to go to across the train tracks and buy him a pack of Luckys?

All of that is going to come bubbling up SOMEplace in your mind from different tracks, sub-personalities, and memories. You can’t separate those things. You have emotional reactions, usually pretty subtle ones because otherwise you’d be freaking the fuck out ALL the time.

Things aren’t what they ARE to us. Things are what they MEAN to us. A chair is comfort, it’s dinner, it’s a library or a classroom or a workbench where we hated sitting in Chemistry class or where we love sitting to drink or write (into the amber screen of a distraction free word processor in amber with artificial clicky sounds on my laptop with a purple wireless keyboard to ‘Jump’ by Julia Michaels on repeat in an over-airconditioned back room of a cigar lounge at a high-top and smoking an Illusione MJ12 with a 24oz Diet Dr. Pepper at your side while you keep switching which leg you have folded up as the edge of it cuts off the circulation in your thighs…for instance.)

So we have this strange sense that we perceive “objective” reality. And in the strictest sense, we may. But the objectivity of it all can’t get through our minds into our actual consciousness. Our perceptual motivation only notices things that have meaning to us. It’s how you can stare right past things that other people see. It’s really quite amazing. Richard Feynman, in his singular style, talked about this at the most basic physical level.

Now I went through all that to get to this. So hold that all in your head, the way we see only our interpretations of things, conscious and unconscious. The fact that we define the world around us by its meaning and how we take all of that for granted.

Now let’s talk about people and how we understand each other.

It’s the same. (Calling Captain Obvious, I know.) The difference I think is that we have SOME grasp of how all of that is true when we’re dealing with other people. BUT, and let me see if I can weave my way through this, the fact that we think we understand the degree of subjectivity with which we interpret the actions of other people gives us a false sense of security, like we really know what’s going on. It’s because we’re ourselves and first of all we think we know what that means. But then we take it farther. We classify most other people as people and assume they’re just LIKE us. But that’s completely erroneous and if we really understood ourselves deeply the FIRST (well, okay, second) thing we’d realize is that there’s no WAY other people are like us. But we don’t understand even that much, not really. That (entirely false) sense of security blinds us from understanding quite how severe that ‘problem’ (not that it necessarily is one) that the people we’re talking to are deeply and unaccountably different from us really is. “Why wouldn’t you like that chair? It’s a perfectly comfortable chair.” … “Well, that’s the kind of chair my father sat in when he’d just look down and shake his head in disappointment.” Or whatever (these examples are all contrivances.)

So if people are going to understand you it’s almost always as a reflection of themselves (which is really what I’m tacking towards here) their reactions to you are going to have a necessary level of projection. They are in a very concrete sense, reacting to themselves. To say nothing of the local cultural context and agreed upon modes of behavior. That’s a whole almost different can of worms.

This is at the heart of why people give other people advice that they most need to hear, and treat people the way they feel they deserve to be treated.

And THIS is where the problem is.

Yeah it’s easy (or should be) to forgive people the way they act towards you. After all, they AREN’T reacting to you, they’re reacting to themselves as their internal levers are pulled by the way they perceive you to behave towards them in ways you can’t possibly understand. Your part in that play is actually pretty small. (“You never know just how you look through other people’s eyes” – Butthole Surfers.)

After all, if you’re insulting someone it’s either accidental or intentional. If it’s accidental, it’s easy to forgive, even if it DOES get to you. If it’s intentional then it’s a ‘them’ problem. That’s not to say things aren’t insulting and you should spend time whenever that happens, exploring why. But it gives you someplace to go when it happens.

On the other side of the equation: If you buy someone a gift you’re buying something for them, not buying them something you wish someone would buy you.

Frankly I think people need to do a better job than they do at consciously detaching ourselves from our interactions with each other.

For my part there are a couple things that get under my skin something absolutely fierce. I spend a lot of energy saying “it’s not me it’s them” when in fact it’s absolutely both. Hell it’s probably more me than them.

Overt expressions of emotion: By my estimation friendships, for instance, should be defined by actions, not words. I find myself thinking very frequently of Loki’s disgust with “sentiment” in The Avengers. Yeah that may have been a throwaway “look, he’s a villain” personality trait. But…I agree with him. It’s just so damned crass to say what you’re feeling. Sure, I understand where that comes from in my own life. I had a Scots-Irish “A River Runs Through It” upbringing and I get that not everyone did. But it seems yet like such an amazing waste of energy, as if you’re so emotionally illiterate that the only tool you’ve got to express yourself is to say things out loud.

People PULLING unnatural at me trying to get me more and more involved in their lives. God I hate it. Let things flow the way they will. While “introvert” isn’t necessarily accurate, I would almost always rather be by myself than with other people. Sure, I’ll close up the laptop if a few of the guys come in and go sit with them. But…come work out with us, come to church with us, hey we’re all going to so and so’s. In isolation these things are fine here and there. But sometimes I get the impression that someone’s trying to drag me into every portion of their lives. It just seems…premature. I’m sure I’m not describing this well and it’s going to piss people off. But there’s not really anything I can do about that.

Obsequious Praise: The “everybody’s great” or “everything you do is awesome” phenomenon. Well, if everything I do is awesome (see the tendency to say things like “I’ll support you in anything you do” well, that means you’re not discerning at all. What I do doesn’t matter and your support isn’t REALLY worth all that much.) If praise and acceptance is unconditional it’s meaningless.

But while on one hand I find obsequious praise absolutely repulsive perhaps I need to reframe that as coming from someone who runs themselves down and doesn’t hear a lot of praise either from themselves or from outside. It’s not so much ABOUT me as it is projecting what they want on to their interactions with people around them. Perhaps they “could never do anything right and are damned if they’re going to do that to other people.”

Now that’s a pretty pure motivation and while I get it, it still gets under MY skin for the opposite reason.

Here’s another one: People who want you to regard them the way they regard you. This one is a bit more abstract, gets a bit more touchy and frankly it’s something I’ve only recently realized. But I find that in all relationships there is a hierarchy of two. Someone is more invested than the other.

Someone wiser than I once said that the best friendships consist of two people who esteem themselves slightly above the other. Of course one response I’ve gotten to this was “well I think WE’RE beyond that” which is the most beautiful expression of the fact I’ve ever encountered.

But more subtly, and perhaps more purely is someone on who you’ve made a great impression who wants to be as important to you as you are to them. I’m finding that a tough one on a couple fronts. Indeed I am currently and have historically been on both sides of that equation with a more than a few people. It’s very strange and I’m not sure what, if anything, to do about it. There’s some friction because, well…friendships at this level aren’t really equal.

I wonder if they ever are. It’s been my experience that this is some thing that is always kicking around someplace beyond a certain cursory depth of human interaction.

Maybe it’s a problem that doesn’t require a solution. But it comes up all the time in my interactions. On the down-side of the equation it feels like people are pulling at me, wanting my involvement in their lives to be deeper than I do. “Hey let’s work on a piece of writing together.” Yeah, no. “Hey we should all go out to your favorite place. That sounds like fun.” Yeah…no, y’all aren’t the right crowd for there.

I TRY to be a pretty private person. I’ll give y’all a moment to crack up at that.

MY problem with THAT is that I can’t stop myself from just running at the mouth. I know people find me interesting. But I can’t really relate to them very well (speaking to my previous post quite strongly. Hmm…maybe this is a series.)

When I deal with most people I find that over time they treat me as a curiosity. “Good grief he’s…weird.” Yeah that’s fine. I get it. Warts and all I am unabashedly who I am and I understand why people think that’s weird. Hell the fact that it’s TRUE, regardless of ‘who that person is that I unabashedly am’ is inherently different. But it leaves me feeling, most of the time, that I’m something under glass, a curiosity at best and more often than I like, a clown.

To not be taken seriously, to be ignored, is MY Achilles’ Heel.

So I’ve found myself, as I always seem to, in this weird web of counterbalancing prejudices, mine and that of others overt or occulted by the psychologies and histories of everyone involved. I’m trying to navigate my need to be taken seriously with the fact that I can’t actually discover how I am perceived. There are just too many levels of indirection to wade through and they’re not generally apparent. And I’m trying to navigate the weird difficulty of the fact that I’m perceived a certain way by a preponderance of people, and to understand the implications of that.

On one hand most of my friends are, shall we say, “of a certain type” as I described last week. So I should take it within that context. BUT I also can’t ignore that if how I’m finding myself treated by friends has followed me 900 miles and almost six years into the future that some of it is almost certainly true, and that (just a little longer) I need to see in them that which I haven’t been able to accept about myself.

Now, something someone said the first time I posted this struck me. I didn’t understand it at all. But that’s what happens with most people when they think you’re weird. You’re outside their framework so they consider you at arm’s length. I spent a couple days pretty angry about that. But upon some thought I realized it was really a case of me wanting to have my cake and eat it too. You can’t be fully accepted and a part of a group of people who just genuinely and overtly don’t understand you. So I got over it pretty quickly. Of course that means I have to spend some time reindexing the guts of my head to come to new conclusions about old bitterness. But that’s fine. It’ll happen over a couple months and then it’ll be fully integrated.

After all I’m FAR more married to who I am than how people perceive me. And if that’s the cost of being myself well then fuck it. So be it.

BUT.

That’s not enough. It really isn’t. I’m not going to “not be myself” ever. Non-starter. But that’s not to say that there aren’t adjustments I could be making and that the reflective treatment I get from other people shouldn’t signify a blind spot I’ve got.

So let me take it at face value, hard as it is to even type: That I come off as a clown.

The most immediate implication is that I don’t take myself seriously enough. Now that’s a tough nut to swallow. But THAT’S true because it certainly IS true. It’s one thing to blow sunshine up my own ass because I’m an Outsider at heart, and I do because I am.

Frankly I want to deserve the interest people seem to have in my meanderings (“Oh but you do, you’re too hard on yours…” son, just don’t.) But I need to go about it in a different way.

Three things come to mind:

Dress better: I dress in ill fitting jeans and t-shirts. Now I’m going to blame a lot of that on the weight loss. I have a closet full of XL dress shirts that I’d prefer to wear. But I just can’t justify buying a new wardrobe at this point. That doesn’t mean I can’t pay a bit more attention to how I present myself.
Talk less: This is a big problem for me. I need to stop talking about every single project and idea that pops in to my head. Most of them are things that are beyond the interest of whomever I’m talking to, so it’s really just masturbation at that point. “Look at how interesting I am.” Nobody at the cigar lounge gives a shit about the Pi 400, or the cyberdeck, or the trading software, or the sourdough (see dumbass, you’re doing it again.) As for speaking everything that pops in to my head, same thing. I tend to learn by hearing myself talk. But “be a one-eyed jack” was one of my father’s little rules for life. It stands to reason. If someone else brings something up, then fine. But stop babbling for fuck’s sake. People can’t relate to it.
Start lifing: There’s no more sure sign that someone takes themself seriously than maintaining their own health. That’s just too damned self-evident to write more than that about.

That gives me (or is at least suggestive of) a concrete list of things I can actually work on. I’ve never been very good at zooming out and setting myself better longer-term goals, and I think that’s really my biggest problem (well, there are underlying reasons that’s the case and THOSE are my biggest problems. But that’s a post for another time.)

Modern wisdom (which isn’t) tells us we shouldn’t care what people think. But that’s a bunch of crap and everyone knows it. The sooner we stop pretending that’s true the sooner we’ll be able to get on with actually improving our lives. Since it’s the reflection of the truth that we want from other people, near as it can be had. The more energy we spend on “keeping up with the joneses” the less actual keeping up we’ll be doing. (Okay the metaphor breaks down in there someplace, but you get the point.)

But it’s an entirely different matter to consider that I’m doing a lot of what I do because I like being noticed. I’m getting better about that, to be sure. For one I no longer believe in “guilty pleasures” since that’s just a fear of fitting in, and fitting in for the sake of fitting in is not something worth spending energy on. You just end up lying to everyone involved.

So it rolls up to this:

A combination of being who it is you want to be AND finding people who will (or can) see that in the light in which you want them to see it.

AND you have to do so without copping out. By which I mean it’s easy for me to hang out with a bunch of young people who are impressed that I’m in to all kinds of weirdness. But that’s the cheap way out and I’d know it for the lie it was.

The trick, as I try to wrap this up, is to find more people with whom I’M impressed as I work my way forward.

I’ve clearly got my work cut out for me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *