Friday, July 8, 2022

My Grave and Pitiful Faults

I foolishly wrote, last time,
I have plenty of grave and pitiful faults, btw; list available upon request.
Predictably, multiple readers have emailed to call my bluff. So here goes.
One of the unwritten Slog rules is "no self-revelation without greater purpose." There must be a reason. Funny/entertaining, or else usefully insightful. Never just "Dear Diary". I'm not that guy.

So it's on me to make the following worth your time and not an indulgent dive into the fascination of Me Me Me. There must be cookies.
Poor Judgement
I have terribly poor judgement. Most people don't notice, because I've learned to check myself twelve different ways with everything. So there's not much external evidence (though, alas, there is some). I've developed circumspection beyond my natural inclination. That's penance for my awful judgement.

Similarly, my first drafts are puke-like. Truly repulsive. 99.9% of my writerly skill is in primping my own puke into something worthwhile. I do this in a state of near-panic because god forbid my raw stream (i.e. true self) is ever revealed. I am both a reckless six-year-old child and a concerned parental chaperone wrapped into one.

And even with my panicky self-checking, my poor judgement still gets me into trouble. "What was I thinking?" is something I often have cause to think. If I didn't meditate, I'd be haunted 24/7 by the backlog.

And here's the worst part: "Taste" is judgement. It's the aggregation of lots of good judgement calls. And taste is necessary for everything I do. So my life is a Jenga tower built upon a foundation of roiling goo. I'm known for good taste, but it's as natural as Cher's eyelids.

It occurs to me, as I write this, that I might have this backwards. I once wrote that "Selfish people think of themselves as overly generous. Generous people think of themselves as overly selfish." Who knows, this might be like that. Perhaps good judgement always involves keeping a very tight lid on your inherently crappy judgement. I honestly don't know.

Low Intelligence
People get the false impression I'm smart because 1. I've coughed up some insight, and 2. my writing seems smart. Let's tackle the latter first. All experienced writers seem smarter than they are. You're reading them in real time, but they're not writing in real time. It's a form of cheating. If you'd like to view the agonized slobbering necessary to make my words line up, I made a video once to show what it takes me to produce two prosaic paragraphs. The end result seems perfectly tight, bright, and articulate. Fooled you!!

And insight isn't intelligence. Eurekas come from a different place; from shifts of perspective, not from cognitive muscling. I'm insightful and creative, but don't have much cognitive muscle. I have trouble following instructions. Remembering names. Learning simple things. Whenever I rewatch a film or TV show, I'm dumbfounded by how much I missed the first time. Even fundamental plot points. Third viewings, too. Also: I can't read. I have bookmarks in literally hundreds of books. Everything activates my musing (as I noted last week, every gift comes with a built-in - and highly unpredictable - rebound/backsplash/downside). Musing ties up my mind and precludes further input. So I have scant foothold in the corpus of human knowledge. Not smart in that way, either.

Three Pains
I manage pain well. I can even manage two different sorts of simultaneous pain well. But make it three and I become confused and carry on like a toddler getting a shot. A 59 year old man should never ever carry on like that. Not ok.

Empathy Light Switch
I generally try to be helpful. But many people don't want help, and you don't want to be overbearing. So if someone declines help, I've trained myself to shut off like a light switch. No problem! No hard feelings, good luck, godspeed, and g'bye.

But I do another thing. A bad thing. I become numb to that person, generally, for a while. That's going too far, I understand, but I can't help it. If your leg has been pinned under a collapsing piano, and you tell me, sharply, not to worry about it, I'll easily walk away and go about my business. I can wipe clean the slate. But in so doing, I over-wipe. So if you request a glass of water before I go, I'll only grudgingly fetch it. Because I've shut down my caring.

This is a bit ugly. But it is what it is. At least I'm no longer trying to force help ("But...but...I know how to fix this!!!!"), like I did as a kid, or torturing myself when help is refused or unappreciated. But I can't seem to fine-tune this. Black and white. All or nothing. Ugh.

Creative, Yes. Consistently Inventive, No.
I discovered once, to my immense horror, that I am a surprisingly uninventive jazz improviser (you don't realize how awful a confession this is). I wrote about it here. Same's true with my writing, I think. Yeah, I have my bundle of different voices and approaches that create an impression of versatility. And sometimes thunder strikes and I do something "completely different". But day in/day out, I'm mulishly complacent about following templates (which at least I invented...again, I'm creative, just not consistently inventive). Help, I'm trapped.

Can't/Won't do Canned Dialogs or Movie Scenes
I don't perform roles. You want a boyfriend to squeeze your hand like Hugh Grant did in that movie 'cuz it's a Tuesday and Tuesdays are hard because your parakeet died on a Tuesday? You want me to go "Oh, honey....", etc? The whole shtick?

I will do 10,000 things to try to cheer you up, but you're not gonna get that hand squeeze; that cinematic moment. I realize I'm declaring this disdainfully, even proudly. And, sure, that, right there, is the problem. But even if I wanted to (and I really do not want to), I couldn't personify the role you perceive me to be playing. I'll never cough up the canned line or gesture. My aversion is extreme.

A uniformed soldier once grew increasingly peeved when I found several different ways to thank him for his service without saying thank you for your service. Why wouldn't I just say the damned words? He was waiting for them! No. Not gonna. Not now, not ever.

Despite my brashness, I do, in fact, know that this makes me a dick. I know it. Sorry.

Over or Under-Embarrassment
For most of my life, I'd have driven 1000 miles to avoid embarrassment. This means I've got ego in there somewhere. But it's been evaporating, and that turns out to be even worse.

When I was in hospital getting my stent inserted, and my doctor told me, finally, that I was cleared to walk and walk and walk as much as possible (and it would help me recuperate), it felt like utter release and salvation. The organ in my chest still belonged to me, and wasn't some unrecognizable flaccid shard. It stood ready to keep powering me through the world! I was stuck in hospital for a few hours after that, so I reflexively began walking. Long circles around the immense hospital floor, simmeringly ecstatic. With, apparently, my butt crack showing.

Normally, being informed of this would have mortified me. And a few nurses and techs did glance over with undisguised disgust. But it took a patronizing floor nurse to kindly approach the poor old foggy dude and get his hospital gown properly configured, like a mother dressing a toddler. There you go, champ. All better now. Off you go.

I didn't care. I didn't care! The whole world could glimpse my butt crack. My chest cavity isn't a smoldering pile! I'm walking! I can move; I can stride; I can turn on the juice! I'm still me! I'm gonna be fine!

I could have used more shame that day. It was suboptimal to present myself as a deranged slobby old dude. But I had my framing - which superceded by light years - as dynamo and victor.

To this day, I'm still not well-adjusted, one way or the other, re: shame. I think I never stopped framing as grateful dynamo and victor - superceding all butt crack anxiety (or other such anxieties). And, six years into The Donald Trump Political Experience, with the whole damned country maladjusted re: the propriety of shame, I can't easily brush off this maladjustment.

I'm also a disgustingly spoiled snob.

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