Archive for October, 2012

Cipher in the Sand
21 October, 2012

I think most people feel they are unique and, to a certain extent, they are right. As a distinct person, each of us has different genetics and experiences a different life. Different nature and different nurture. However, I have always felt that I was less like my peers than they were to each other.

As preteens we were shown a film called Cipher in the Snow. (I find this quite surprising given that it was produced by the Mormon church, a group considered both dangerous and condemned to hell by the religion of my family of origin.) The children in his class so completely ostracize the title character that he gets off the bus and collapses into a snow bank, dead from lack of love. Presumably the adult selected the film as a cautionary tale to those who ostracize rather than as a prediction of what would happen to those who were ostracized.

I can remember no time when I felt like I belonged. (I remember nothing of the first four years of my life and they may have contained some innocent feelings of attachment and the like.) From simple things like hating hot, sunny, dry weather whilst living in a desert to complex things like being a critical thinker in the midst of a fundamentalist sect, every memory I have is from the perspective of an outsider.

This is not to say that I had no friends. The skills I learned at home enabled me to keep everyone laughing and distracted at school, too. But I never felt like I truly belonged with any of them. The few times I had a birthday party were awkward because none of my friends were friends with each other. As a social chameleon, I subconsciously presented to each whatever they wanted to see. Dissociating even back then, I showed nothing of myself and thus there was no commonality, no continuity between them.

As the only honor roll student on my rugby side, I used to joke that I was the “Paper Bronco” a la George Plimpton in Paper Lion. Despite its reputation to the unfamiliar, rugby is not combat and thus was a less apt analogy for my early life. In retrospect I find it unsurprising that I responded to characters like Will McLean in The Lords of Discipline¬†and Joker in Full Metal Jacket. The writer as a fish-out-of-water amidst combat and brutality was a role I recognized.

I suppose I still have the sense of not belonging. I work amongst engineers, but I do not consider myself an engineer and I doubt they consider me an engineer. I have several very close friends now, but I suspect they would have little in common with each other. While I think I am better about sharing my authentic self now, people whose life experiences overlap any significant portion of my own are rare.

But maybe that is everyone’s experience. Maybe every person is an island unto themselves, perhaps in sight of other islands but still ultimately alone.

I wish my island was closer to some others.

Work Smarter, Not Harder
7 October, 2012

I have never been particularly susceptible to manipulation by taunting and, like most who have passed through the teen years, I have had occasion to test that theory. For example, whatever competitiveness I have seems to be strictly confined to my performance relative to my potential rather than relative to others’ performance. I am, however, quite susceptible to my own unrealistic expectations.

Some months past I heard Paul Gilmartin mention an affirmation on his podcast, The Mental Illness Happy Hour:

I have enough.
I do enough.
I am enough.

I can think of no time when I have felt like I do enough. I am sure that the genesis of this kind of thinking comes from my childhood. For years I was fed the story that I was lazy and for many more years after that I believed it. A friend of mine recently called me on it, pointing to my work history as ample evidence of my industriousness. Even though I can now intellectually identify it as a limiting belief, I still find myself subconsciously responding to it. After all, I get up every weekday at oh-dark-thirty for physical training, weather be damned. Compulsion is such a strong word, but I often wonder.

Gilmartin’s show has been a boon for many reasons and that affirmation, which I have posted where I will see it every day, helps me reign the chargers of my busyness. I was raised in an environment which praised the “high energy” players, those who ran from drill to drill. Though I was told I was work-shy, I suspect my coworkers today would argue that the lesson worked only too well.

I can not claim that I am always going and doing, though. My ideal time-off is to stay home, read, watch movies, play games, and just relax. I am not such a beast as gets recharged by travel or exciting adventures. I have had enough adrenaline for a lifetime. Rather, when I endeavor to do something, I commit one hundred percent to it. (Mind you, not the illusory one hundred ten percent that my coaches always demanded…) It is very hard for me to half-ass something; I am a full-ass kind of fellow.

Yet I fully recognize that the optimal solution to many of life’s challenges is a balance of costs and benefits. For example, devoting oneself fully to one’s job mistreats one’s family. So each and every day is a balancing act and, much to my chagrin, the right answer for one day may not be the right answer for the next. My full-throttle, total-commitment approach is the optimal procedure for combat but markedly sub-optimal for almost everything else. I just need to stand down, even if only for a little while at the start.