Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Do Unto Idiots What You Would Have Idiots Do Unto You

Thoughts and emotions are both merely products of brain function. They are physical processes, and the results of physical processes. To raise the significance of one over the other is to undermine the purpose of both. To believe that emotions and super-rational experiences are the key to unlocking this wild absolute "Truth" we all seek in some way to find is absurd. To believe that one can think and reason one's way to Truth is equally ridiculous. If we didn't need both to survive and function at maximum efficiency, we wouldn't have them. Physically we have what we call our "Five Senses." To say that thought overshadows feeling or the other way around is to say that hearing is more important than sight, or smell is more important than touch. Now, each sense caters to one arena more than the other four, of course. You can't really judge a portrait by how it smells, after all. But these five senses together make up the way we interpret the world, communicate with the world, and united they help us to form a complete mental impression of what is outside of our bodies and how we should respond to it. Should we feel threatened, happy, relieved, sleepy, alert, or horny? Our senses tell us this, and they all work together to do so. And so it is with thought and emotion.

Thought helps us process things a certain way, and emotion helps us process things a certain way. We can rationalize that our children are our best way of insuring the survival of the species, and more importantly our own line of genes, which is the core of our existence as animals, but if we didn't feel love toward our children, we wouldn't do as good a job. Without an emotional attachment to them, parents just wouldn't be what they need to be to fight for the survival of their young. They could say, "Well, I'll do what I can to save my child, but if it dies, I can always make more." Whereas we know this objectively to be true, it sounds almost horrifying when there's no emotion involved. A predator attacks the young and parents will fight to near-irrational ends to protect them. Humans do this even more so. Whereas most other animals will eventually give up the fight as the instinct for self-preservation trumps preservation of progeny, humans may even give their own lives for their children. Even more crazy, we'll sometimes give our lives for people who don't even share our chromosomes! Madness, I tell you! We will also go out of our way to irrationally hurt each other, whereas most other animals only hurt to feed or protect. Now, many people believe (I stress the word believe, as this is a matter of faith and opinion) that we can rationalize our way out of such behaviors. Others, knowing our astounding capacity for compassion and empathy, believe an emotional angle is best to solve our problems. Neither is true, and both are true. We need both, because both are hard-wired into what we are, and more importantly they both contribute to how we experience our existence as humans. When it is understood that emotions and thought are intrinsically connected and essential to the human experience then we can attempt to better understand their relationship to each other.

As animals with such complex social relationships and remarkably particular pack identifications, we often find the most amazingly ridiculous ways to shun one another. When someone, for instance, in the United States judges the belief system of another as being either empty or fantastical, it is merely representative that they are at that moment, and possibly in their lives as a whole, slaves to their emotional instincts. We all have the instinct to seek and identify with a pack, and that comes with the instinct to shun that which we perceive to be "other." In certain situations the "other" is a legitimate threat to our survival, either physically or psychologically. That's why we have that instinct. But so often with humans, that thing we're afraid of isn't a threat at all.

How we identify our packs versus this perceived "other" is not so simple as it was during earlier stages in our evolution. It's something we need to both think and feel about. Just because a Christian has an intense emotional experience that leaves them convinced they've had direct communication with Jesus, that doesn't mean everyone else will, can, or should have the same experience. Just because an atheist prefers to boil the world down through empiricism and cold hard facts, it doesn't mean that everyone else will, can, or should have the same interpretation of reality. And the real thorn in the side of anyone who clings a little too tightly to their own way of viewing the world is that their method of analysis, emotional, thoughtful, or both, doesn't make them right. It doesn't make them more in touch, more human, less human, or otherwise. It simply makes them just another person trying to figure things out like everyone else.

It is often asked by believers, "How can you see the world and not believe there is a higher power or someone who created it?"
The answer, "Well, some people just don't."
Some nonbelievers ask, "Why do they have to go making up sky fairies and believe fantasies? Isn't this world enough?"
The answer is, "Well, for some people, it just isn't."

To criticize another's method of interpreting and communicating the data we are all bombarded with on a daily basis is merely to fall prey to an instinct which has served to help us survive for this long. It is an instinctive emotional response to avoid and lash out at what one perceives as being "other." As animals with a fair amount of self-awareness, perhaps it would be wise to ask oneself upon feeling such irrational derision toward a fellow human, "Is what makes this person seem different from me a legitimate threat to my survival?" At the end of the day, it is not what group one belongs to that matters, but what that group does. Systems of belief, which include philosophical movements like Secular Humanism, political ideologies, and nationalist movements, are expressions of our instinctive need to belong. There is nothing wrong with wanting to belong, in fact there's a reason that instinct survives: it works. The ironic thing though is that this same instinct has a reverse side: one of often violent exclusivism.

The truth is that we cannot rationalize our way to a better world unless we can also emotionally reconcile it. If one, knowing that group cohesion is a key element of survival, wishes to unite the world under one flag and ideology, attempts to crush any and all competition to one's ideology, then that is quite simply shooting oneself in the foot. It is to devalue the human being and the complexity of the human experience. The Communists couldn't crush the Christians in Russia, the Muslims couldn't get rid of the Sikhs in India, Pat Robertson isn't going to make heavy metal go away, and Richard Dawkins isn't going to make God disappear. They are all victims of flawed attempts to rationalize and systematize an emotional response to "the other." If you tell me you've got an idea for a better world, but that I have to give up everything that makes me feel comfortable and good and right with the world I already live in, I'm probably not going to go along with it quietly. Few people have the tenacity of the 12 Apostles. Most of us just want to be left alone to think and feel as we will and experience the world as our thoughts and feelings tell us to.

The point is quite simply this: You cannot and will not ever make another human being see things your way. You may use emotion to convey your point, cloud their judgment, make them feel rewarded, or to entice them to join your cause. You may use thought to argue them into a corner, make them feel stupid or wrong, and convince them through sheer rhetoric that you are correct. But they will never have a duplicate experience of yours, and thus there is no guarantee that they will stay with you or support your cause. They are not you, and you are not them. Everyone thinks and feels a little differently. We may have the same basic wiring, but on top of that is a giant mass of grey matter that just confuses the hell out of the simplest of issues. I've suffered from anxiety my whole life, so some things positively terrify me that don't bother another person in the slightest. I'm also neurotically empathetic, so the mere thought of an animal being killed makes me feel terror and pain, and consequently I can't bring myself to eat meat. This doesn't make other people heartless - there's nothing morally wrong with eating meat, and intellectually I recognize that. But I myself just can't do it because I'm too dialed in to the emotions of things around me. But that's me. That's my experience. I'm certainly not going to try to convince people to be scared of something because I am, or stop eating something because I won't. My thoughts and my feelings on this matter are contorted by my unique brain chemistry, as is every thought and feeling you yourself experience every day. Consequently I also don't expect anyone to agree with me on anything I've written herein.

When you understand just how inseparable both thought and emotion are from the human experience, you come to believe that both our objective and subjective realities are equally valid and cannot be so easily dismissed. The only rule I will emphatically state should be adhered to almost universally is the Golden Rule: Don't fuck with someone's shit, cuz you don't like your shit fucked with. That's pretty much all that needs to be said from anyone seeking a better world. I certainly don't believe there will ever be some utopian paradise where peace is the norm, but I do believe, idiotic though it may be, that we do have the capacity for at least a little improvement. And crushing the ideological opposition, though a very useful tool when we were in tribes of a few hundred, isn't likely going to help current and future societies avoid ripping each other and themselves apart, especially in a place like the United States where individualism is the rule and we don't have a unified front like other countries do, or at least pretend to. When you're raised to be as independent as we (somewhat delusionally) think we are, you have to also be taught better rules and tools for assistance in dealing with what you perceive to be "the other." Because in our disparate world of the many "states" of America, so to speak, well hell... everyone is the other! 

Now I'm not going to try to rationalize this argument to you or somehow prove empirically why it's legit. It's legit because it's my opinion, my feelings, which my thoughts have attempted to make some sense out of. I am not an intellectual, I am an artist - my actions, my decisions, my thoughts even, are based predominantly on emotion. Thoughts are, for me, a handy tool to sort it all out and to ensure that I'm not acting too much on emotions that could potentially be harmful to myself or others. And that's good enough for me. As for yourself, you're allowed to dismiss it all, for I can't speak to or from your unique experience as a thinking, feeling, biological entity. So I can't really give you too much shit if you're a jackass, now can I?

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Idiot In(tro)verted

Videos of myself and my sister at a very young age might surprise some folks. When we were between 3 and 5 years old or thereabouts, my sister was a ham, jumping up and down in front of the camera and yelling, "Look at me!" I was less concerned, almost oblivious. I was just wandering around in the background doing my own thing, very much in my head. As I got older I eventually started to become a ham, and a big one. Unlike my sister whose passion was performance, I was just positively and pathetically desperate for attention. My sister was far smarter about it than me. She went through school quietly, worked quietly, kept mostly to herself, but shined out onstage. Her outlet for her inner ham was always through a forum where people went specifically looking for it. I acted out anywhere and everywhere. On and off stage I demanded attention. I would usurp conversations, talk for way too long about anything that interested me in classes (sometimes to my benefit, sometimes not), dressed in a way that drew both positive and negative attention, and was never one to be quiet about my opinions on masturbatory forums like Myspace and later Facebook. I still have a hard time staying silent, even as I've come to learn that my life would be so much easier if I shut my fucking mouth 99% of the time. You see, I really want the rest of the human race to just shut up about everything too, and now I finally realize that perhaps the problem here is not that the world is stupid; It's that I keep choosing to get involved with it.

When I was very young, I was introverted with a rather serious disposition, always wanted to do everything myself, and yet I was extremely affectionate to the few who I wanted around. When I became a teenager I fell prey to that most irritating of human instincts in us all and consequently sought to find my pack. I never found that pack. I looked for my pack until my mid-twenties, when I finally gave up. My whole life I've been taught one thing relatively constantly: no one wants me. Not the real me. Human nature may make most of us sick for the company of others, but when you're a freak like me, you don't easily find these so-called "like-minded" people everyone talks about. But the hunger for love and attention remained. I could go into the myriad psychological reasons why I'm so pathetically desperate for affection and love, and they're damn good reasons, but that's not really what I'm writing this post about. I'm writing this post simply about my reversion to introversion.

I was discussing this with an acquaintance of mine recently, and it took me quite awhile to explain to him why I don't believe my introversion is a fault. It's just who I am. My biggest flaw has not been my own nature, but rather fighting against that nature. I put myself out into the world, tried to please everyone and be helpful, and all it did was exhaust me and teach me that most humans are ungrateful and not worth my time and psychological energy. Both physically and mentally, I simply have a very limited supply of energy, more limited than your average person. And this in part leads to a lot of depression and defeatism, although those qualities came about of their accord as well. Depression and defeatism are traits that have passed down through my family for many generations (the depression is a genetically inheritable trait, and the defeatism is just a lucky expression of it amongst the brilliant and artistic minds in my family who never managed to do anything with their talents to make themselves happy). The first time this really hit me was my junior year of high school. Before the first semester was even over I had a mental breakdown and decided I needed time away from school. Luckily my parents were understanding enough, and I was given a semester to just hide in my cave, go out when I wanted, and attend school only one day a week through independent studies. I still went and helped with the drama department's play (Technically I was not allowed to be there, but I was always so involved with theatre that they let me help out without the administration knowing), but the fact of matter is that I went out when I chose to, and retreated when I needed to. And by the beginning of my senior year I was ready to face the crowds again. That following year was the least pressuring and most enjoyable of my high school career. I needed that 9 month recharge between Junior and Senior year, and it did me a lot of good.

There is blog by a woman named Christine Miserandino who suffers from chronic illness. In her blog she discusses what she calls "Spoon Theory," and although her illness is physical, it applies perfectly to those of us with social anxiety, depression, and introverted tendencies. To boil it down - people with chronic illnesses (including mental disorders like depression), have only so much energy to get them through the day, and they have to strategize to make it through. And, in a lot of ways, the same is true of introverts. (See her blog here: http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/wpress/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/)

Now, I don't want you get the wrong impression that I'm somehow saying that introverts suffer from a mental disorder. No, introversion is a personality type. I just happen to be lucky enough to be an introvert who suffers from depression and social anxiety on top of it. Socializing is not the Devil to an introvert, but it does exhaust them more than it does extroverts. I love socializing. I need to be around people to feel sane. But I can only do it for so long before I need to get away again to recharge. So many people infiltrating my "bubble" for so long taxes my nervous system. The only way I was able to do it for extended periods of time when I was younger was to drink my way through it. I drank in order to feel like I was a "normal" human, without all my quirks and inhibitions, and interact with people in some "normal" setting and manner.

Unless you are like me, you have no fucking clue what it's like to have people constantly asking you if there's something wrong because you aren't taking part in the group activities. No, there's nothing wrong, I'm just not comfortable with it. They think you are broken because you don't like to do what "normal" people do. Even people I've called my best friends still don't understand after nearly two decades why I don't enjoy the social activities they enjoy. Simple answer is: I just don't, ok? And that's not going to change now. I wanted to feel normal when I was younger. I wanted so badly to enjoy the things that the average person enjoys. So I drank to ease the discomfort. But I drank so much that eventually it started to harm me and I had to stop before it led me to harm others. I no longer have the magic elixir that makes me feel like I'm one of the crowd. So what does that leave me with? Oh, sweet Christ, with the fog cleared that I means I have to deal with me... ME... the person I really am... without all the filters! Shit.

Lo and behold I discovered something: I really just want to be left alone. I don't mean that I literally want to be alone. No, I like being with people. And it hurts when I don't hear from my friends for long periods of time. Like they think I don't care about them because I need some time alone. But I want to be able to enjoy things my way. I've always hated being interrogated, and the problem is that even when people ask me very simple questions, seeking information that I did not offer myself in the first place, I feel like I'm being interrogated (The exception being in a dating or romantic type situation, since that's kind of inevitable when you're getting to know someone). I hate it when people ask me personal questions, yet I'm very open and honest about my personal life (as you can probably tell from this blog). But I like to offer the information when and how I please. That's part of being an introvert: I will invite you into my bubble and you will feel very welcome, but if you try to infiltrate it without the green light, I will either recoil and hide or lash out.

In the past when I imagined someday being a rock star, or a priest, or a teacher (all of which I still think in many ways I'd like to do in some capacity), these very public and socially involved positions, I always yet pictured a safe place to withdraw at the end of it, my "cave," where everything is quiet, away from the crowds, away from the noise. The kicker is that the cave is a lonely place when you're the only one in it. And I've managed to have my cave in one way or another my whole life. But I'm always alone in it. You see, just because introverts get exhausted by too much socialization, it doesn't actually mean we're anti-social. Again, it just comes down to energy. Some people have it, other people don't. Introverts don't. Not without hooking up to the power station for extended periods of time before we can go back out onto the road. My point in saying that is to illustrate that despite my reclusiveness and despite how much more reclusive I've become over the last few years, I still ache for love and closeness.

All it really comes down to is that I'm a lonely person, constantly misunderstood, and I just can't escape that feeling (And believe me, I'm 29 years old now, I'm sick of sounding like a whiny goth teen, but that teen has never gone away, and nothing I've ever done has pacified him. Guess I'd better learn to live with it). I want someone to invite into my bubble and to share my cave with. My recent struggles within myself have made me realize the full weight of this undeniable fact: I am really sick of people, the human race, crowds, the mobs and their pitchforks, but I can't escape my biological and psychological need for their presence. So why fight it? Since I'm so sick of dealing with people, I'll just pull back and stop trying to get involved. I don't need to talk to people, I don't need to please people, I don't need to help them in ways that draw attention to myself. I don't owe anyone an answer, and I don't owe anyone an explanation. If I'm fortunate, I can go the back way. That is, to become financially successful enough that I can simply support causes I believe in quietly through anonymous donations. I don't have to rant pointlessly upon deaf ears and blind eyes on superfluous virtual cesspools like Facebook to make people believe in the causes I support or agree with me about anything. I've never changed anyone's mind. So I'm done trying. What do I care if you're my ideological enemy? You likely always have been and I just wasn't aware of it until the internet gave you a sense of self-importance that organic society never did. It certainly gave me delusions that I'd be able to change the world. Well, I'm done trying to change the world. All it's ever done in return is change me for the worse.

I still love religion, and I love turning over theology in my head, but I'm done taking part in your pathetic little arguments about the gods or lack thereof. My relationship with my god is now my business and no one else's. Oh, I'll still write all my thoughts down, and maybe someday I'll have the audacity to publish them in some sort of compilation, but the genius of that route is that in order to argue with me in a manner that will grab respectable attention (mine or anyone else's), those opposed to me will have to basically construct a compilation, treatise, or book of their own in response. And a thirty second slam on Facebook or Twitter won't hold much weight against it. My friends used to come to me when they had spiritual dilemmas. Well, most of us have grown up and are no longer asking the same questions. Or I don't give them the answers they want, so they dismiss me. My education and I have become superfluous to anyone except me and that to which I pray. I had the realization that I was offering advice to people who weren't asking for it, and I hate it when people do that to me. Why waste the energy?

You win, humankind. You've beat me into submission. But before you hoist yourself onto the gold-medal platform, you should know that all you've really done is remind me who I actually am -  quiet, serious, private, and in need of a much more intimate acceptance. All my life I've been scrambling for understanding because I've never felt loved. And I think after 29 years on this earth without ever knowing what it's really like to be in love, I've got good reasons to be aching for it. But I'm done over compensating by seeking out the acceptance of thousands or millions of buffoons who can't seem to comprehend their place in this universe; apes who think they're better than every other species of ape and are yet more violent, vile, and fickle than any animal I've ever come across. Yet I'm one of you, and so if I do not recognize the beauty, passion, and poetry of your design, then I can certainly not excuse nor justify my own existence. To have some semblance of peace with myself, I must accept my nature as just one of seven billion naked apes haphazardly clawing for a reason to be, a reason to live, a reason to die, any reason at all. The gods blessed and cursed us with the knowledge of our own mortality, and it made us crazy. For better or worse we cannot escape this knowledge, and so we cannot escape the big question. Even to decide there is no answer is an answer in and of itself (so we'll have none of you arrogant nihilists claiming superiority as though you did not require a philosophical or religious placation of your own innate weaknesses, thank you very much).

I crave a quiet life, both externally and internally. I'm attempting to set up a business for which I can work mainly from home and come and go as I please, deal with crowds when and how I please, and have quiet when I please. But with that I hope (as much as I hate that word) to find someone who can "be quiet" with me. Your friends and your family are people that you tend to have more verbal relationships with. Granted our nearest and dearest tend to have the ability to know some things here and there without the need of verbalization or vocalization, but what I'm talking about is physical communication and connection, the kind of thoughts and feelings that you can't express in words, but only in silence with your body, be it through gesture, facial expression, or touch. Of course many of you will read what I just wrote and say, "Ah jeez, guy just needs to get laid." And yes, while the mere physical acts themselves are undeniably a large part of what I'm craving, they are hardly the entirety of it. Just fucking someone for the sake of a shared (or not) orgasm is just super if that's what you're into and what you're after, but there's far more to physical relationships than sex. Intimacy, trust, acceptance, comfort, those bizarre phenomena that when combined together tend to create that possibly mythical ideal we've all heard of - love - yes, those (alongside the orgasms of course) are what I'm really after in that person who shares my bubble and shares my cave. And I think the mere fact that I'm a cave dweller has certainly frightened a great many of them off, thinking that I'm going to try to make a recluse of them as well. Hardly. In fact, it's great to have someone who's more outgoing in a relationship of two, providing that they don't always try to yank the troglodyte out into the wicked world. ("Day star, oh so bright, aaahhhhh the pain!!!")

But now I'm just dwelling on the downside of solitude. In all truth, I've come to accept a good deal of that loneliness. I've realized that most of my friends and family, even some very close to me, do not now nor have they ever understood me. And that's okay. I'm tired of seeking that understanding and acceptance from the whole goddamned world. As painful as it is to be ignored, I don't really need a pack. I've given myself the delusional sense of belonging by delving into my Russian heritage and saying, "Ah hah! There's a people to whom I actually belong!" despite having never been to the country, and having only learned the basics of the language thus far.

But a smaller pack, a family unit of some kind, is still an important attribute of the life I seek to create for myself, and the need is both biological and emotional. Now of course I can blame genes and Mother Nature all I want, but nevertheless I cannot escape the simple fact that I just simply want to know what it's like to be loved, accepted, and to love and accept. Obviously I want that, or in my newfound introversion I wouldn't have bothered to write and publish this wretched diatribe. As I said, I don't really give a shit what any of you think about pretty much anything anymore - but I care what that one potential mate thinks, and for better or worse, I have to continue to put myself out there and throw myself onto the mercy of the most cruel Fates and their games. And it may come to naught. But what are ya gonna do? I'm an animal and to attempt to live against my instincts is the stupidest war I've ever fought, and after decades of trying to change who I am, I'm declaring peace and granting amnesty for all the traits I used to hate. I am me, I'm the recluse, I'm the introvert, I'm the goofball, I'm the nervous fuck-up, I'm the artist, I'm the child, I'm the beast, I'm the fighter, I'm the curmudgeon, and maybe someday I'll be the lover and the father too (the latter two feel more like the real me than half of the rest, but I've never had the bloody chance to express them). I'm all those things, all those animals, all those creatures, and if you don't like them, then you're welcome to never speak to me again. I wish none of you ill. Quite the opposite, actually. I wish people could more easily find their smiles, and Lord knows I've had a hell of a hard time finding mine. But you are so horrible to each other and so many of you seem to really get off on making life more difficult for others. Well, I'm not going to let the weight of anyone's stupidity or malice pull the corners of mouth down anymore.

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me..." And well, dear ol' Paul, that was just about the stupidest thing I ever did. That child knew what he wanted, and he never suffered the fools. So I'm putting him back in the driver's seat. I'd tell ya'll to buckle up, but very few of you are going to be invited.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

An Idiot Afraid

Fear has run my life.

Now, now, I'm not about to start getting all hippie on you and quoting Deepak Chopra and the ingenious scam artists who made that phenomenal piece of bullshit "The Secret." I'm not about to tell you that fear is the enemy. Fear is not your enemy. Fear is a natural instinct. Fear is the "no" reflex which is biologically built into your nervous system so that you don't walk into the jaws of an animal, or off the edge of a cliff, or into the arms of a female with an alpha male around who can kick your ass. Yes, fear is a damn good ally. Do not fear fear, my friends. But the all-too-important flip side is that you also can't let fear over stay its welcome. And the reason I tell you this is that I've recently come to realize that apparently my life, nearly thirty years of it now, has been one gigantic "no" reflex.

Bear with me now, because I'm going to navigate my way slowly and methodically through a sea of troubles, but I guarantee you, gentle reader, that we shall arrive safely ashore to find what dreams may come...

I'm fortunate enough to be able to blame, with good cause, a lot of my problems on factors well beyond my control: genes and environment. I was passed some irritating genetically inheritable traits like depression, social anxiety, and addiction. That in and of itself is a recipe for disaster. Oh sure, it seems like a cop out to blame the gene pool. But guess what - that's just the way it is. And if you're such a behaviorist that you seek to argue the point, then go write a book on genetics and get back to me. Now, back to what I was saying: depression, anxiety, and addiction. As if that unholy trinity of traits wasn't enough, let me remind you that environmental factors are what switch certain genes on and off. Essentially, nature and nurture work in tandem. So certain inherent behaviors can get exaggerated or subdued depending upon one's surroundings. As for me, well, I was just fucked.

It can really mess with your head when you are a trusting and emotionally needy child being told radically different things by the same people. Growing up I was constantly reminded of how smart and talented I was. So much so, in fact, that I became arrogant. And I lorded my intelligence over other kids. Not a good start for my later social life. I was also constantly reminded that I was thin. So much so, in fact, that other peoples' reactions to my physique eventually convinced me that there was something wrong with me and that I must be really hideous to others. People (including, bizarrely enough, family) were constantly trying to make me eat more. Believe you me, I was full. Apparently it didn't occur to anyone that perhaps I inherited this metabolism. Never mind my uncle Steve and his thin frame, never mind my cousin-once-removed Bobby and his rail-thin limbs, or my cousin Troy's younger, lankier days. People outside of my family had the same reaction: "Do you eat enough?" Now of course after decades of the same asinine questions I have my ready response: "Yes. I am thin because I eat too little, in the exact same way that Kobe Bryant has dark skin because he gets too much sun." People don't always understand what I mean by that. Those people are not worth my time. (Ah, there's that intellectual arrogance coming back again. But in this case, I feel quite justified in it).

So, my self-image was over-inflated in one regard, and torn down in another. I was fucked from the git-go, my head spinning around in a violent, polarized whirl of arrogance and self-pity.

My intelligence did not make me popular past the 5th grade (and prior to that I'd say my popularity was usurped rather than given. Hey, I could help the other kids on the hard math problems and I was a goofball. Easy to make friends, or followers rather, when you provide so many services in one lean package). From 6th grade to 8th I was just the twiggy white boy who did his homework and got good grades at a middle school in Azusa. There's another recipe for disaster. My name was either "G├╝ero" or "Skinny Bones Jones." It was at that time that I realized that brains weren't going to get me anywhere. I was looked down upon as a nerd by the guys. And as for the girls, well, let's just say that as the other boys' voices were dropping, mine remained somewhere in the range of a soprano on PCP. When I progressed to high school I learned, as we all do, even more painful realities of human nature: We are all racist, sexist, and elitist to some degree, however minor (The expression thereof doesn't always make itself obvious like it did with Nazism or other forms of tribalism which we "enlightened" Westerns love to decry in hindsight, but the instinctive divisionist behavior is still there in subtler forms).

In high school I was a moody prepubescent boy with a dark sense of humor, still liked to use my imagination actively and play make-believe (thank Christ I found theatre), and in the first few years still got good grades and was put in the smart classes. I learned very quickly that that combination was no girl's wet dream. Didn't take long for that to turn me into a wet blanket. (Remember kids, wet dreams make wet blankets). You see, despite the black clothes, the Marilyn Manson records, the cartoonishly stubborn anti-religiosity, and the crazy onstage behavior, I was underneath it all actually a very normal and shy boy. (Yeah, yeah, "normal" is relative, subjective, cultural, and all that shit, blah, blah, blah - shut up, ya damn hippies. I was a teenager! Teenagers don't know shit). By "normal" I mean that I was always a guy looking for a nice girl to take on dates and woo like a pseudo-goth wannabe-Byron anachronistically set in a sickeningly 1950s "Father Knows Best" kind of world. I liked the "normal" girls; The girls in colorful dresses or jeans and t-shirts. The girls who looked like my preconceived notion of "normal." I wasn't into the goth girls. The goth girls scared the shit out of me. They were just weird. Yup, there I was in nail polish and vinyl pants almost entirely oblivious and disinterested in the only social group from which I actually had ready options.

By the time I was a sophomore, I was irreversibly self-loathing. I'd become so convinced that the world thought of me as naught but an ugly, skinny nerd, that I began to believe it myself. I must indeed be a freak of nature. (I wasn't wrong about the freak of nature part, but I was wrong in the value judgments I'd drawn from it). So on the rare occasions that girls did get crushes on me, I was either completely unaware of it because I just couldn't believe anyone would be attracted to me, or I was aware of it and my opinion of the poor girls was immediately lowered by several notches. I mean, hell, if these chicks are attracted to me then something must be seriously wrong with them, I thought. Yeah... my teens were full of laughs and good times. (For the record, I don't think I'm unattractive. I don't think I'm the greatest looking guy in the world, but despite the lingering body-issues I have from a lifetime of being told there was something wrong with me, I actually think I'm fairly handsome for the cartoonishly stretched frame onto which I've been grafted. But in those years, circumstance followed by my own naivete and emotional instability convinced me that I must indeed be simply hideous. And despite that the rather catastrophic perception of my sexual attractiveness was largely overblown by my extreme emotional reactions to these things, the truth is that I was bombarded with external reasons to believe these awful things about myself).

This self-pity and self-loathing bled over into other areas. When I was younger, the middle school and early high school days, I wanted to be in bands. But it was made blatantly clear to me that I just wasn't cool enough. My "friends" would let me hang out with them while they jammed, but they didn't let me play. So I took the Trent Reznor approach and bought a four-track. I learned to play lots of instruments and to synthesize the ones I couldn't play. Who needs other people when you can do everything yourself? Fuck other people! I went completely internal. (But again, thank Christ for theatre, because it was the only forum I had left in which I played well with others. However, I never saw theatre as "mine" the way I saw music, because really I was just goofing off and playing characters that other people had created). So my confidence (in this case not arrogance) as an independent artist rose to great heights as my confidence in my ability to attract the fairer sex, or be cool enough to be in an actual band, plummeted to nil. Ironic. Most musicians got laid for their craft. Ever the rebel, I was.

Later on in life as I continued to have no success in the world of human relationships and about the same in the world of music, I convinced myself that I had better get an education. Why? Not because I wanted one or was interested in college (I really, really wasn't). But because on the off chance that I found a woman stupid or crazy enough to fall in love with me, whom I would not subsequently reject for being stupid or crazy, I felt that I would need a steady income in case I wanted to make babies with this mystery woman. (Seldom was there a time in my life when being a father was not an eventual aspiration of mine). So I let my artistic aspirations fall by the wayside, egged on by the fact that at last I did join a band for a few years, and despite the good times, I learned well that the whole scene is full of pure "yuck." Theatre didn't look much better. I'd never experienced such a hive of backstabbers and self-aggrandizers as my year and a half in college theatre. So I rejected the arts for academia. And while I've come to have a fair appreciation for higher education, the only reason I ever got through college was because, after a few years of dilly-dallying, I finally settled on a degree in religion, which was motivated less from aspirations to earn a worthless piece of paper or do anything with it and more from a self-centered venture into the world of the gods to seek my own answers from the prophets and philosophers of olde.

I've done this three times now. Three times have I come to a crossroads where I let art fall by the wayside in favor of the mundane. Why? Well, for one thing it is not my number one passion. My number one passion is people (I know what you're thinking: "But Daniel, you hate people!" A very true and astute observation, dear reader. I do hate people. But I only hate them because they're so fucking awful to each other all the time and I hate seeing people I love hurt. In essence, I hate people because I love them and everyone has a hard enough life without somebody else making it even harder). But I am, despite my social anxiety, my need for substantial alone time, and my emotional introversion, a very social person. I love being with people, making people feel good, making them smile, making them laugh, making them comfortable (and in the case of women I'm involved with, making them cum), and I take a great deal of pride in being known as a good and reliable friend. Relationships have always taken precedence for me. I'm not a career man. I'm just a guy who wants to find a way to live a life wherein he's able to spend as much time with as many of the people he loves as possible. I'm not going to pretend this is selfless. Quite the contrary. It's very selfish. But I'm an emotional guy, and I need to love and be loved. Yup, I'm both an introvert and needy for attention and affirmation that I am loved and accepted. Sounds a little nauseating, doesn't it? Well, if you don't buy what I'm sellin' here, then I don't know what the hell has kept you reading this far. I'm sure Yahoo trends has something far more interesting, like which Kardashian is fucking which greaseball son-of-a-billionaire. That should satisfy your palate for the base and profane. (Although really, I don't see how much more base you could want it. I did, after all, just used the word "cum" for heaven's sake). 

Anyway, here's the thing: I'm still passionate, and damn passionate, about my art. In fact, it's all I've got right now. Yes, I have my friends and my family. And I thank the good Lord for them every damn night. But I've got a big hole in my heart, and with age it's only grown wider and deeper. A friend of mine said to me somewhat jokingly after a recent show, "Why are you so damn talented?" I replied in earnest, "Because I don't have anything else." Art is why I continue to breathe. So I'd better get passionate about it, otherwise I'll be left with essentially no reason to live. And when you are prone to depression, anxiety, addiction, and self-loathing... well, you need to try a little harder than the average person to find reasons to live. Now, I'm not, nor have I ever been, suicidal. Not in the wrist-cutting, hang-yourself, jump-off-a-bridge kind of way, at any rate. But I have many days when diving into a whiskey bottle until I slowly drown and dissolve over time doesn't sound like such a bad idea. Losing myself in something else until that something else takes control and I no longer have to think or respond for myself is a sadly and frighteningly appealing thing to this chronic self-loather, and it's why I have to be very careful about the kinds of activities I can allow myself to take part in. It's why I don't drink alcohol or use drugs. Part of me craves oblivion; to disappear into something until there's nothing left of me.

So art, damnit! Art brings out the best in me, and simultaneously allows me to capture the worst and morph it into something beautiful. Art is expression and communication through an indirect medium that gives me some kind of a safety buffer between myself and the rest of the world while still allowing me to bleed my heart to them. Convenient. Really though, art gives me somewhere to put all this insane energy I've built up over the years because I've had no one upon whom to lavish the kind of attention that I really enjoy lavishing.

Now, here's the turning point. Here's the part you've been waiting for as you've been asking yourself "Why the fuck am I reading this depressing drivel? He makes me sad to breathe": I actually like myself. My arrogance has managed to whittle down into a healthier self-confidence (I still think most people are wretched buffoons. But now I at least acknowledge that I'm one of the buffoons. You might've noticed the name of this blog). And my self-loathing has become more of a grudging acceptance of my faults. I wouldn't say that I "love" myself, no, I don't think we're there yet. But I don't hate myself anymore. It only took me till I was nearly 30 to really stand up and say, "No, damnit. I'm not the problem here. It wasn't all my fault, and nor will I accept responsibility for all the shit that Life piled onto my shoulders!" Granted, my problems remain many. I'm never going to escape my depressions and anxiety, but the degree to which I fall into them can hopefully be tempered. Of course, that hasn't really been the case just yet. In fact this past year I've been more depressed than I've ever been before in my life, but a lot of that has now to do with the fact that I've had to phase out some bad habits, bad thoughts, bad people, and facing those issues has been excruciating. But I am finally able to look at myself and say, "You know what? You, sir, are actually quite a catch!"

When it comes to romance, I have a new problem. That is, I'm almost 30 and I've had next to no dating experience. One moderately successful long-term relationship managed to squeeze into my life. I think it was pretty good and I learned a lot from it. I don't believe in hindsight that I was ever in love, but I did love and I worked hard for that woman (as did she for me. We've both acknowledged to one another since that we were good for each other at that time and place). But it happened so organically and naturally that it's done me no good in terms of meeting new people and their social behavior patterns and expectations. So here I go into the world of dating without a fucking clue of what I'm doing. Ultimately I'm really hoping that I will just stumble upon some woman who's crazy enough to dig me for who I am, weirdness and all, and I don't have to go through the painfully unnatural act of auditioning for a mate in the form of what we audaciously call "dating." Honestly, the way some of you humans behave, just beat up another male, piss on a tree, and kill a deer, why don't you? The courtship of apes, I swear. We are such a ridiculous species.

Now, what does fear have to do with all this? Ah yes, relevance, at last! This post is called, "An Idiot Afraid," after all. Fear has everything to do with it. I've been afraid of following my heart in art and in love. I've been too afraid to jump into the wicked and socially incestuous pool of the arts world and attempt to do what I love to do for a living. I've been afraid to open my heart to someone because, well, it's fucking scary! And I've become a little too accustomed to my own company. Time and time again, allowing myself to have feelings for someone has proved hazardous. But I've let these fears turn me into a statue, afraid to move left, right, up, down, forwards, or backwards.

God only knows what will come of any of these revelations. But my parents worked hard so that I could make something of myself. My father deserves justice for the life he lived, and my mother deserves to see me make her proud for the endless support she's given me through the years. I'm not going to waste my time on this earth being miserable for the sake of a reward that may never come. I'm gonna try to grab me some of that fucking reward right now. I do hope to God that there is a Heaven (with a capital H) in another realm or dimension, or whatever, and that I'm lucky enough to get there someday, but, despite what some stone-age Christians might tell you, living a hellish life is not what's going to get you into Heaven.

All I can do is try. I may still die alone. I may still die unaccomplished and unappreciated for my work. But I'm not going to let my demise be because I was simply too afraid to take a leap. It only took me about three decades to realize that I've been a fuckin' lawn ornament for most of my life. Good, so maybe now little by little my joints will start moving again, like the Tin Man with a few fresh squirts of oil. Maybe I'll ask the right woman out, or maybe my business will take off as I begin to market myself professionally for what I do best. I'll always have anxiety, I'll always face depressions, but I don't have to let it wreck my nervous system prematurely. And as for money, oh fuck it, whatever doesn't make me want to put a bullet in my head is worth my time if it's allowing me to do the things I love. The goal of course is to do what I love exclusively, but there is always a plan B, C, D... and so forth. 

I have a plan of action for my art. As for love, well, you just can't make that happen. Believe me, I tried. That old pathetic bleeding-heart poet routine. The ol' nice guy routine. Christ, if only I'd known. To any young fellas out there who might be reading this - being a good listener and a devoted friend is not going to get you laid. No matter how sincere you are. Indeed, you should be a good listener, and you should be a devoted friend, absolutely, but for God's sake don't delude yourself into thinking that this alone will attract the animal instincts of the fairer sex. You need to show a lot more than that. (And it also depends on the girl in question. Most females, like most of us males, are stupid and fickle. Remember that). But please, gentlemen, be good, be kind, be gentle, be loving, and be strong for the women in your life, because Lord knows there are a lot of scumbags out there and you are going to watch a lot of the women you love date them and possibly even marry them. Of course my general rule of thumb is that to gain my approval, any man dating my friends has to be better than me in every conceivable way. Very, very few have qualified, and that's saying something, because, as I said, I wasn't all that big a fan of myself for quite some time. (Look, I know that all sounds very prehistoric and patriarchal, but I'm a male, I'm a little possessive of those I perceive to be "my females," and I am not sorry for it. I'm very protective of everyone I love, no matter the age or gender. Ultimately, the women in my life are gonna do what they're gonna do, and I don't attempt to influence their decisions, but I also don't have to pretend I approve. And they don't have to pretend they give a shit what I think. Sure that doesn't make me sound as progressive or enlightened as perhaps some people think I should be, but fuck it. It's honest).

But while I'm able to blame a lot of my romantic problems on a poor self-image which was drilled into my head by others from the time I was a child and into my teens, romance is one arena in which I need to take some responsibility. A lot of this is quite simply my fault, because I was too afraid to step up to the plate. I'm not a nice guy who finished last. I'm a nice guy who never even fucking started. Why? The petrifying fear of rejection, my friends. See, I've never had the luxury being able to let things roll easily off of me. I tend to hold onto things whether they're good or bad. So fear kept me from attempting anything that might cause a remotely awkward moment. God forbid. The "friend zone" or, as I call it, "brotherhood," is a very real thing, but I didn't end up there because I was a nice guy and women are only attracted to douche bags. That's a myth perpetuated by losers who think that by acting like women they're going to attract women. Here's the thing about douche bags: They're delusional and foolhardy and thus will ask any woman out... or at very least attempt to fuck them in the bar bathroom. And they do it so often than their rate of success looks sky-high compared to the rate of success of men who have respect for themselves and for women. So boys, take a lesson from douche bags: try your luck with lots of women, and grow that callus. I don't mean fuck your way to the one you love. I just mean speak up when you like a girl and don't let fear stop you! I didn't realize this until, oh, a few months ago. And while I acknowledge that you've got to draw that conclusion yourselves, and no amount of advice is going to mean dick to you until you yourself have grown to learn and accept these things, I'm still going to put it out there. Why? Because I am a man weighed down by deep regrets of all the things he never did. I was too afraid of getting my heart broken, so I never let anyone go near it. 

But what led me to realize all of this? It sounds so silly to say this when I'm not even in my 30s yet, but in part it's my age (I recently turned 29). But whatever my age, I've nevertheless come to realize and face an undeniable and frightening truth: I'm fucked. I'm going to die someday. Yeah, everyone knows that. But how many of us really fathom it? Well, I fucking fathomed it recently. My father died when I was 18. He was 52. 52, for God's sake. I might have only two more measly decades left on this earth! I have a friend who had a heart attack when she was 33. 33, for God's sake! The way my anxiety and depression leave my nerves positively ragged, I could easily have a heart attack in a few short years. And, unlike my friend, that heart attack might kill me. A friend of mine lost someone dear to her from heart failure. He was 20. 20, for God's sake! He had no previously known conditions. Death favors none, and the Fates don't give a shit about your plans.

Now, whilst I've always despised that bullshit youthful attitude of invincibility that has culminated more recently in that dreadful online colloquial acronym YOLO, the sad truth is that I never even passed through that phase. I've been locked in limbo my whole life. I never had an appreciation for the freedom I had. I never took risks, never seized the day, never set out on adventures. Even when I traveled to Coney Island to perform in the sideshow as a human pincushion, I never saw it as an adventure so much as just a nice way to spend a weekend with my friends. I don't like getting lost. I don't like losing control. And I hate wandering. Cosmic irony #3,994,616 in my life: Being afraid of getting lost is exactly what got me lost. My life has never had direction. It doesn't matter which way you're facing if you're not moving. (Honestly, sir, what a way to live).

Really though, over the decades I haven't changed all that much. I still don't like wandering. And I prefer to remain a planner, as long as I understand that plans go awry and adjust accordingly without flipping out all the time. I still want to get married someday. I still want to have kids. Nothing is more beautiful to me in this otherwise sick world than children (as much as we as a species really don't need to breed like we used to). But guess what? I don't have children yet. I've got the total freedom to fuck up and no but me gets hurt! So I'm going to make an honest stab at all those things I've been too afraid to reach for in the past! I'll actually try to make money doing what I love to do. I'm lucky enough to have an extremely supportive family and I've recently found a community of people who actually respect me and my work (That is a rare combination. Oh, and see Spectacles Improv Engine if you want to know who I'm talking about. And of course I'll not leave out FreakShow Deluxe, who've always shown a good deal of appreciation for what I do). Ironically, it is lucky that no one ever fell for me, otherwise I might've ended up having children and needing to worry about supporting them (and in all honesty I cannot wait for the day that I have mouths that depend on me to feed them), but right now I have the luxury of being able to say this: I'm starting over. I'm not letting fear run my life anymore.

Now, at the moment I should be working on some business paperwork, but instead I'm writing this. Seems both counterproductive and counterintuitive, doesn't it? Yeah... about that. Remember, I've been trapped in limbo for a long time, so although my joints are now greased, the gears are only very slowly grinding into motion, and it will take them a bit to move more fluidly. It's gonna take me awhile to really break the stasis. And I'm okay with that. The fact that I have a direction at all is a revelation in itself. Beside, writing helps me flush things out, to convince myself I'm making the right decision, and it gives me the delusion that someone out there cares enough about me to sit down and read this long-winded tripe.

Okay, so I've some vague semblance of a plan. Good. Now, the only other thing I need to work on is the whole romance thing. Well, there's only way to do that, and unfortunately it also requires me to step out of my comfort zone and make bold moves. My normal move is to hesitate until a woman I'm interested in has been snagged by someone else and then get down on myself for it. But once in a while I've been known to put myself on the line. And I usually got fucked for it. And when I say "fucked" in this case I don't meant "sexed." I mean that there have been those rare occasions whereupon I've attempted to make something happen for myself and then Life showed me just how cold and uncaring this universe is. And while I still believe in God, in fact I need to believe in God, I also know that He doesn't work like in the cute little religious stories we were told growing up. But I'm ever-so slowly growing a callus to rejection. I don't like it, but it seems a necessary evil in modern Western society. Oh, how I long for the days of arranged marriage. (Half-kidding).

I pray now that you, who were foolhardy and gorgeous enough to delve into this maelstrom of words and emotions, understand that I'm never being dramatic just for the sake of being dramatic. No meaningful career, no relationship, no progeny... basically everything by which we as animals define ourselves: that which sustains us in this life, and that which will continue on after us when we're dead; I've never had either of those things. But it was fear that prevented me from grabbing for them. My life has been an ongoing cycle of self-defeat. But I broke that fucking cycle. Or rather, the Fates broke it over my head and said, "Do something with your life or just fucking kill yourself and stop wasting everybody's time." For once I'm thankful that Life was so harsh with me. Oh, I'm sure that I'm not going to be as thankful in the coming years when things get hard, because nothing I'm embarking upon is going to be easy. But, what the hell. I'm gonna die someday, and as I draw my final breath and watch my life flash before my eyes, I don't want my last thought to be, "Well, that was depressing."

So, there's my life's story. I've been a coward trapped in a cage constructed by the Fatea and aided by my own two hands. The few who will read this are probably people who actually care about me and spend enough time with me to notice that I'm a fairly miserable person on a regular basis. At least now you might have some clarity as to just what has made me such a wretch. I don't mind being a wretch, because hey, even my best friends say that I'm fun to be with when I'm miserable. I can make misery fun! That's the Russian in me. Yay misery! But I let it go too far. This long, sad trend of defeatism needs to fuck off now.

Fear is an ally, and the world is a scary fucking place, but if a baby doesn't come out of the womb in a timely fashion, it will kill both mother and child. And I've been struggling really hard lately to stay in my safe and pathetic embryonic existence. So it's time I was reborn, and I can only pray to God that these words are not empty and that for once in my life I am going to feel like I am, in fact, fucking alive!