Sunday, February 19, 2006

The word for today: Acceptance

Okay, the ride has been a bit bumpy lately, but for some good reasons -- some discovery on my part. I'm dumping some of my thoughts here, so bear with me.

Let's talk about a basic human need: acceptance. It appears that one of my issues in my life has centered around feelings of being a fish out of water. Not just because I'm a creative male (see a few dozen prior blog entries), but because I grew up in a small Mid-Western farming community as a ministers' kid with a bi-racial heritage. The community was mostly made up of farmers and their kids -- almost all from the same German heritage (and all related to each other, but I digress). My parents were anomalies -- they both had master's degrees in social work, and white collar jobs -- Dad was a minister, Mom a social worker.

We moved in in 1969 -- I was 5 years old at the time -- and right away we didn't fit. Three boys, all with long hair in a conservative community that had (even at that date) not seen boys that didn't have buzz-cuts. I was the only kid in class that wore Guayabera shirts to school (It's a Cuban shirt -- very popular in Puerto Rico, but unfortunately for me, never seen before by any of my classmates). To say I felt that I never fit in much is a huge understatement.

One of the more surprising things I've learned to date was that I was still a likable guy. My favorite grade school teacher and my friends that I kept contact with have related this to me countless times -- but it doesn't sink in at my gut. More on this as we go along.

One of the benefits I love about living in Ohio is the diversity. If I say something like "My Mom is Puerto-Rican." people respond with "My dad is Italian.", or "I'm 25 percent native American.", or "I'm Irish." It's never the same answer and I love it. I can't say I felt that way growing up, and it made me feel much like a stranger in a strange land (no, I'm going off on the inevitable Robert Heinlein tangent here).

If I had to pick a heavier impact, though, it would be from the former difference -- the fact that I never felt that I was accepted for being who I was. Besides the creative direction, there's a devilishly deviant part of my personality that bends me toward a social personality trait that I call "Center of the Room".

Not that the motivation for this trait is all that rare -- it's not really all that rare to find someone who wants attention -- the rare part is where everyone else in the room is actually wishing for it at the same time. That's because humor is involved, a lot of sarcastic whit, rowdiness and inevitable self-deprecating insanity. As one of my high school friends pointed out (yes, this has been going on for quite some time), if it was boring, and I came along, it wasn't boring for long.

People that know me fairly well know that there's a mischievous side to my personality that manifests itself heavily in social situations. I can't stand things being dry for long, so I tend to be the guy that steps in and says "Let's have a party." Actually, I don't say it -- I just start the mayhem without any kind of announcement.

This works really well at most social events, like parties for example. It makes for some interesting meetings at work. It's definitely not the kind of thing you do a funeral (no, I'm more socially grounded than that, although some funerals could have been spiced up a bit more, I've always resisted the temptation).

But often, even after the laughter has died down (okay, right after the laughter dies down) I feel, or at times have felt, pretty much the same feeling I've always felt. It's an uneasy feeling that there was something not quite right about this aspect of my personality -- usually this depends upon how I'm feeling that day. If I'm having a bad day, it's bad, on good days, it's awesome. It was hard to understand.

That is, until about a year ago, when I by chance I ran into someone with extremely similar personality traits, and realized that they definitely made my day go faster and that the laughter was just as good for everyone else as it was for me. The other thing I discovered is that, like me, they could be laughing on the outside, and not doing so well on the inside. It's a very lonely feeling because you're the only one in the room who knows just how bad you really feel.

Mistakenly, they, at times, felt phony, just like I had. What they did teach me, however, was that it's a defense mechanism -- something that had never occurred to me at all. Thinking back, sometimes it is. But what a way to defend yourself. Recently I've found myself taking a back seat to this person -- a decidedly good seat -- in the audience. There can only be one center anyway for the best effect, so this isn't a bad thing. What's really good is the fact that for once I don't feel quite so lonely -- it's OK to make everyone feel good, even if you yourself aren't doing so well. Plus I get to watch, learn new techniques and so on, from a vantage point that simply wasn't available before.

Is it phony if it helps people get along, and you enjoy yourself just for a bit? I know enough now to say that when I've been the center of the room, one of the reasons that a lot of the stuff comes off so funny is because I've done self-deprecating things, sarcastic jokes that people know are grounded in how I really feel and so on -- I'm simply too truthful to myself and my audience to be deceitful (the exception is practical jokes, which is another really, really long blog entry, lemme tell ya).

The reason it feels phony at times is grounded in the moments when you're laughing on the outside and crying on the inside. This is not because you're being fake -- it's because you're two people -- one is social, and the other is personal. Just because they don't line up doesn't always mean that either of them is a fake. For a lot of people, these two beings always coincide, and that's a simple way to go through life -- they don't often coincide for me because I've been this way a long, long time.

In this case, the reason I'm lonely has very little to do with the number of people in the room with me -- it has to do with the fact that for some alien reason, no one seems to see how fucked up things are -- or worse, they seem to know but just don't seem to care to do anything about it.

And I've been the kind of guy that does care and have my share of scars from battles where I did in fact do something about it when no one else was lifting a proverbial finger. As some people know, I've taken on Microsoft and other corporations, lobbied the government and through my work with Linux, worked world-wide to change perceptions of things that were simply not right. I tend to side with the underdog if I perceive that something is wrong.

This can be good when you win -- but can I win if the underdog is the creative American male? Just who is the enemy in this context? The enemy in this case is society. This is a fight that I can't win, unfortunately -- I can only hope to voice some opinions and look for some change (inevitable) over the course of my lifetime.

And so we arrive at my particular malady. I'm fighting a ghost. I cannot win this battle -- I will not surrender, but I must admit that the change I'm fighting for is simply impossible to effect anytime soon.

Does this sound like a stupid reason to be depressed? Sometimes depression is brought on by the fact that some part of your life sucks. In other words, maybe I'm seriously depressed for a worthy cause. In my case, the reason may seem stupid to a lot of people. It's no longer trivial to me, ever since I lost a childhood friend with a remarkably creative personality to what can only be described as social stupidity.

I think that's one of the reasons that I've fallen into such a funk lately (not all of it, but a sizable chunk of the problem). I simply can't stand some of the stupidity around me embedded in the read only memory of our society -- The social instructions for how people raise their kids for failure in life, or worse, a life as a man where you're allowed to be functional, successful and so on -- but not allowed to be creative, funny, bubbly or anything else outside of the realm of the stock male persona of bare-chested action super-hero. For sure you shouldn't cry at a movies, hug your best friend if he's male, or sing to yourself and get caught (all big social no-nos if you're a guy).


Whatever you do, don't enjoy playing dress-up -- wait, that might be changing, thanks to "Queer eye for the straight guy".

-or is it?

I mean, do straight guys really have to sit around and get gay people to show them how to let go of social stupidity? It's nothing against the gay community -- it's aimed squarely at the fact that society says I'm not supposed to be this way. Yes, by the way, I've recently decided that I like dressing up (no -- not in my wife's cloths, either -- mine). I like it a lot. Oddly enough, no homosexual tendencies have manifested themselves in my personality, despite this known non-heterosexual male trait. Okay, I need to cut down on the sarcasm a bit here, but you get the point -- and I could seriously care less about this one. The main point I'm driving to here revolves around being able to be yourself, and not some unemotional automaton.


Getting back to the basic human need of acceptance here.

I haven't felt totally accepted by society. Not even my wife at times understands me, and she's been around me for over 2 decades -- although she's been working on it, lately a lot more than ever. At the core of my frustration is a basic indignity -- I know I'm not a bad person. I care, I show I care, and I have feedback that tells me that people know I care. I'm a productive member of society. I may be a bit on the non-standard side, but so the fuck what? I shouldn't have these feelings but for the want of some dark things that happened in the past at times when I was vulnerable.

Somehow I, unlike some of my friends, got past the issues -- but I'm here on the other side looking at the damage and at what could be better for want of a little less stupidity and social constraint. Maybe more guys like me would be around or there might be just a bit more joy in my day. In any case, I'm simply not satisfied to watch from the sidelines anymore.

Or it may be that I want something impossible: I want society to hug me back and say "You're OK just the way you are, Paul".

And that's simply never going to happen.

See -- I can't fight society. I can't "win" this battle -- it's a loss before I get started. There's no one listening or fighting back. I'm swinging at air. It's a reflexive action on my part (part of my personality) to fight something that's wrong -- but in this case, my gut reflex is to do something extremely depressive and pointless.

In order to overcome this, I've seriously got to lighten up on this one.

It might be kind of funny to at least talk through the problems. I'm thinking maybe a book about it would be nice. I need to set the boundary conditions a bit here, but it's a start.

In any case, thanks for listening in the mean time.


r_a_trip said...


don't let it get you down. You ARE ok just the way you are. I've never noticed anything peculiar about you in any of your writings, on the other hand, reading your piece was like a hand mirror (except I like to dress up and I REALLY am gay, but this is an aside).

I must say though, that you are not fighting against society on the outside real world, but society in your head. The image of society, put there by a lot of desinterested people in your younger years. Not to mention the distorted views written down in schoolbooks.

Education seems only to be able to hand a robotic model of the world to the next generation, resulting in myriads of insecure people. People asking themselves if the way they feel or think is somehow weird or wrong. These are the people who will eventually nip and tuck here and there at the "schoolbook society" making it slightly less soulless. Others who cling to their mechanical world views are victims.

Feel confident about what the both of you (on the inside) desire. (I envy you, I have to share a body with two others, instead of one). The Wiccans Reede comes to mind: As ye harm none, do as ye will. Remember, for all those who do not like you for who you are, there is an equally large number of people who dig you.

Just hang on. You are doing your part in changing the world.

FeriCyde said...

You're right about the thing I'm fighting -- unfortunately, there's a sort of collective unconcious thing that governs us (or at least "tries" to do so). It's slowly laid into our heads as children, and as a creative male, I've had to learn to fight it repeatedly.

I'm winning, by the way.

Thanks for the feedback -- some of my pain is going to be mitigated by humor, some by acceptance -- some of it will simply fade as time goes by. Thanks, sincerely, for sharing here.