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!