There are times when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.
These lyrics speak to me. It’s funny.. I remember that I used to try to figure out a way to shut off my brain, while lying in bed at night. That happened to me recently, when I was starting to get a bad headache, because the thoughts were running wild. And so I lie there, and tried an old trick: Imagine a completely white space. Not an image of a white page, but a place where it’s just bright white. Everything is blank… And while I was lying there, imagining this bright white place, a thought disturbed me. I asked myself, “Hey, why do you imagine a bright white place? That doesn’t seem very relaxing. Try imagining a completely dark place. That would seem to be more conducive to a peaceful rest!”.. So I tried that. And then I was quickly reminded as to why that doesn’t work. When I imagined the completely black place, I started to hear my own voice. It said, “Mork calling Orson. Come in, Orson.” And then an image fades in of me wearing a red Orkan jump suit, calling for Orson in the complete dark. And so I go back to imagining a bright white space, and I eventually relax.
Mork and I have a lot in common. Those lyrics above fit him very well, too. I’ve often felt like an alien, trying to figure out other people in this world. I spend a lot of time up in my head. Too much time, some would say… My wife would say. It’s a good and bad thing, I suppose. It’s good because the world is complicated, and I continually strive to understand it. It’s bad because I continually fail. There are some topics that I think I’ve finally reached a conclusion about, after years of internal debate and contemplation; and there are some that I may never figure out. I’ve decided to share some of what goes on in my brain. I don’t know how far I’ll go with all of this, since some of my philosophical quests reach dark and controversial places. But who knows? I may just say ‘screw it!’ and throw it all out there. Anyway, I’m gonna start this off really light, and talk about my social awkwardness.
Of all the things that confound me in life, the complexities of human social dynamics are at the top of the list. Now, people who don’t know me very well may not have guessed that. Over my years, I have matured and learned to fake it; but in my mind, there is a near-continuous dialogue, panicking about nearly every aspect of any given social interaction. I often use humor to deflect these insecurities. If that goes awry, I usually try to gracefully flee. If humor works, I feel like I deserve a Nobel Prize.
I recently went to a going away party for a co-worker at a social establishment. I do this (going out) every once in a great while, because I like these people, and I don’t want everyone to think that I’m a complete snob. It had been at least two years since I last hung out with people at a bar, who weren’t my folks or brother. It didn’t take long for me to remember why I so rarely do it. The following are several conversations I had inside my head during the course of the evening:
–Ugh. They’re finishing eating now. Should I just walk in, or should I stop and greet everyone? Should I greet them individually, or as a group? I don’t want to come off like I think I’m important. Eh, I’m just gonna walk by them over to that chair and sit down……. That felt awkward and wrong. I suck at life.
– There’s the guest of honor. Should I give her a hug hello? I just saw her at work, recently, so that seems weird to greet her as if it’s been so long. I don’t hug her hello at work. But it’s almost like we’re all different people now, who haven’t seen each other in a long time, because we’re in different clothes and more happy. Her husband is sitting right there. Is it cool to hug her right in front of him? He’s pretty big and hunky. Oh crap, she looks like she’s lifting an arm, expectantly for a hug. What’s the proper way to hug a woman right in front of her hunky husband?.. I’ll just put one arm up over her shoulder and kind of lean in sideways with very minimal contact…. And no punch in the gut. I must have done good.
–Well, maybe I can just go home… oh. They’re all going upstairs and I would look like a tool if I just came and left after a hug.
–Ah hell, the bartender walked away before I could tip him. I don’t want to leave my dollar here. Some schmuck might take it, then the bartender won’t know that I tipped him. Ugh, why are you calling him back just to take the dollar?! He’s clearly very busy, and he looks more annoyed than appreciative!
–I feel like me putting the other dollars into my wallet looks stupid. I should have just casually shoved them into my front pocket while taking a sip. Cool move opportunity lost.
–I’ve had this shirt for years. I pretty much wear it whenever I go out for social things. Is it getting too tight over my middle? That section is shaped differently than when I bought this shirt.
–How should I hold my beer? Is this too close, like I’m guarding it, or caressing it? Is this too far, like I’m offering it to others, or proposing a toast?.. I’m an idiot.
– What do I do with my non-drinking hand? I never know where to put it. Hmm, I’ll put it in my back pocket…. Does that look gay?… Wait, is that offensive?… Am I allowed to even think that?
– I really can’t hear what this person is saying. I’m going to just nod and smile or chuckle at random moments. Wait… they stopped and appear to be expecting a response. What do I say?
– I can’t believe you just told her that you couldn’t hear anything she said! Now she knows you were just nodding and smiling like an imbecile the whole time!
– I just made eye contact with a male. How long should I hold it? I don’t want to come off as challenging or aggressive. But I also don’t want to avert my eyes too quickly and appear overly submissive… Ugh.. I aborted way too quickly. I may as well lie down and roll over onto my back, exposing my tender belly to him…. I really should have been born a more simple creature.
– I just made eye contact with a female. How long should I hold it? I don’t want to hold it too long and come off as a creep. But I don’t want to seem rude, looking away too quickly. Wait… did she smile? Should I smile back? Should I raise my beer in a dippy salute? Is it okay to smile, since I’m married? Should I feel guilty about it? Should I just take my stupid hand out of my stupid back pocket and wave?… Oh my god.. I’ve been staring at her, not smiling this whole time! She definitely thinks I’m a serial killer! Look away, man! Look away!!
– This person is offering me a sip of their beer. It seems a very nice gesture, as it is both a kind offering, as well as a suggestion that they trust that my mouth germs are not alarmingly toxic. I will sip their beer….. damn. That’s way better than my beer. Would it be weird if I took another sip? Should I be more of a germaphobe?
– Was that comment inappropriate? I guess not, they’re laughing. Or are they laughing nervously because they think I’m crazy?
–This female just hit me and laughed… Should I hit her back? With how much force? I don’t want to hurt her or spill her beer… but I don’t want it to seem like a light, flirty hit… Screw it, I’m keeping my hand to myself… in my stupid back pocket… I’m so gay.
– My daughter really wanted to play Battleship with me tonight. Why didn’t I just stay home and do that? I’m a bad father.
–These people all look like this is so easy. Do any of them constantly question themselves in public?
– I survived! This was fun! I should do this more often!
That was all just during one 2-hour party. And that was just the stuff I could remember thinking. I’m sure there were more neurotic ramblings in my head that night, that I couldn’t recall. I wasn’t always like this. When I was young, I was aware that I wasn’t “cool”, but I didn’t really worry too much about what people thought about me. I didn’t wear the clothes the cool kids wore. My walk was stiff and quick, with minimal arm-swing, not casual or laid back. I was eager to please teachers and authority figures, not rebelling against them just for the sake of rebellion, or to gain points with classmates. I don’t know, I guess I was pretty nerdy. But the thing is that I really LIKED people… so I put in some effort in trying to learn how to act. I think that’s when I started getting mental about it. I have found it difficult, through most of my life, to navigate the many pitfalls of common social decorum. You humans are so complicated! Recently, somebody told me that I say ‘sorry’ too much. And then it occurred to me that I say ‘sorry’ too much. And that’s because I am always so uncertain about whether whatever words I say or actions I do upset somebody. The same thing that you say or do to/for one person, who exhibits appreciation of it, may completely offend another person. I’ll give an example.
Have you ever held the door open for a stranger who was entering a building behind you, and they expressed gratitude? I bet you have. Now, have you ever held the door open for a stranger who was entering a building behind you, but they were kind of strolling slowly along, and then they see you holding the door, and kind of do a half eye-roll, and pick up their pace, as if you holding the door open for them just put them completely out? And then they don’t thank you, or they say ‘thanks’ in a pissy, sarcastic manner?… That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about. In fact, I still haven’t figured out the complicated math equation for door-holding. There are so many factors, and my math just isn’t that quick. When approaching a door, you have to be aware of if anyone else is behind you. If so, you have to attempt to calculate their walking speed, distance from the door, demeanor, and possible variances in cadence, before deciding if you think you should hold the door open for them. I’ve missed all over that equation. Sometimes I hold it and realize that they really are far away and going slow. And then it’s an awkward situation where they feel compelled to pick up their pace, just to make me feel like less of a tool. Other times, I’ve miscalculated the other way. Perhaps they’re going faster than I realize, or they pick up the pace when I turn around to the door; but I let it swing shut behind me, and notice it shuts almost right in front of them. Then I
say “I’m so sorry!”…. like I so often do. I need to develop an app for that. They have tip calculators, right? I need a door-holding calculator.
Other walking situations are awkward for me, as well. I am usually a fast walker. And, as we’ve established, I’m often in my own head. As a result, I’m that creepy guy who walks too close to you, sometimes. I don’t mean to do it. I’m often only half paying attention to where I’m going, and then I notice someone turn their head around, while walking, and notice me practically up their ass. It’s not intentional, but I recognize the uncomfortableness of it, and offer an embarrassed apology… and then try to figure out if I should speed walk around them, awkwardly, or slow way down and allow space to build between us. Ugh.
Another very awkward situation for me is when you say goodbye to someone or some people, and you leave… and then you realize you forgot something in that room. You have to go back in the room for the keys, or whatever, but then.. are you supposed to pretend that the person is no longer in there? Do you say goodbye again? You already said it once, and then lied to them, by immediately returning. But it kind of seems rude to just pretend that they’re not there when you return. When someone else does it, I usually ignore them, because I’m imagining how that situation messes with my mind. This situation is especially awkward if it’s a particularly emotional goodbye. Like, you’re not gonna see the person, who is very close to you, for a long time. That happened to me once. I had to go back for something, and I felt like I utterly betrayed the power and the beauty of the heartfelt goodbye I had received. I’d rather just leave the keys behind, than go through that again. I’ll walk to the airport.
…. It’s occurring to me that I’ve kind of gotten off point, and this is pretty poorly organized. Writing is hard for me, because I daydream multiple times while writing. It takes me several days to write something, and it’s because I have such a hard time sustaining a train of thought. Anyway, I’m not going back to rewrite, so deal with it!
I think what I was trying to say before, is that I’ve attempted to simplify my social life, over the years, to mostly avoid the stress of performing so badly at it. For most of my young life, I mostly clung to rules and order, because they are simple and don’t add to my social confusion. Life is simple if you’re “supposed to” do this or that. I’ve learned that this approach isn’t always appropriate, but it was difficult for me to learn.
My difficulties with understanding human social behavior, and my desire for simplicity and order, are likely what made me fall in love with TV/movies/video games. I can observe characters. I don’t have to deal with them. Some of my favorite characters have been ones who share my apparent confusion over human behavior.
I remember a movie called Star Man, when I was a kid, starring Jeff Bridges. He was similar to Mork, in that he was an alien that was trying to figure out how to act around humans on the fly. It’s where I learned that red means ‘stop’, green means ‘go’, and yellow means ‘go really, really fast’.
Forrest Gump is, perhaps, my favorite movie of all time. The notion that this very simple man, who lived by very simple tenets, was able to approach the world, with all of its complexities, and conquer life while making people realize, (including his Jenny), that maybe the simple truths in life, and the simple principles of love and honesty, are the ones truly worth clinging to. We learn it as children, and he always saw the world as a child. Also, I liked the idea that maybe, through my awkward and accidental bumblings
through life, perhaps I have been greatly influencing history, unbeknownst to me.
My brother says that I would relate to Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, also. I’ve only seen parts of that show, but I think my brother is totally right. I relate to that guy.
I had many clashes with my family, when I was younger, because they often found rules and order mundane. They were much more comfortable with questioning questionable rules. I’m thankful that I learned that from them. In fact, despite my recent adventurous foray into the public drinking establishment, I usually just go to my folks’ place to drink and socialize, because they get me, and we always have a great time together. I feel bad, because they’re really the ONLY ones who get me well enough for me to share pretty much anything that’s on my mind. As a result, whenever I go over there, I unload a torrent of word vomit all over them, because my non-stop thinking just can’t be contained, and it needs an outlet. My parents and my brother are the unfortunate recipients. But I love them for bearing with me through this journey of life.
I guess it’s fitting that I end it here. Because it feels awkward and wrong. I have lots more to say about this, but I’m all over the map now, so I’ll just save some for later. I really wanted to touch more on the awkwardness of my interactions with same sex and opposite sex peoples, and my observations there. I think there’s enough for its own whole post, so I’ll be back to talk about that another time.
Until then, this is Brad signing off.