When you were a kid did your parents use to measure your growth at the same spot on the wall? Every year there would be a new mark indicating how much taller you’d become as you grew older. It was always measuring your current height against your past height. It was never against your brother or sister’s height; that just wouldn’t have made sense. For many kids, this is a rite of passage that starts very early, and eventually we do stop growing (height-wise, that is) and we do stop measuring (again, height). But we divert from the measurement of ourselves against ourselves all too quickly. Before you know it, your worth (or measure) is against that of others; you are only as good as your best competition. This is engrained in our society, and likely in most societies. It is engrained in our me-versus-you culture and leads to the commodification of everything, and ultimately the abandonment of everything with the fickle nature it breeds. To be content is not enough in this day and age. Maybe it never was. But we might be wise to measure if that is the worth of our society – and ourselves. There are numerous things each of us never will be, never can be, and never want to be, just as for each of us there are numerous things we are or aspire to be. Taking stock of ourselves is something that I don’t think garners much merit any longer. A topic that comes up in conversations I have frequently is the importance of knowing what you don’t want or don’t like; it can make finding out what you do want and do like a little easier. This essay explores what I am, and perhaps more importantly, what I am not.
I’ve had this thought about what I am and am not before, but it came to me very vividly last night (1/20/2016). I was at a bar watching a band, having a few beers with friends and blindly staring at a girl (not creepy stalker-ish, I promise) from behind who I had been out with on a few dates. We had gotten along really well and had interesting and evolving conversations about everything, it really seemed that we enjoyed each other’s company. But the thing is, I never felt that I got any “signal” from her that this was anything more than platonic. Because I tried to keep in the forefront of my mind how different people are and that I shouldn’t measure my interactions and potential future interactions with her against those of my experiences with other gals, it caused my brain to churn to make sense of it all. We didn’t talk much that night until the end of the show due to the music and each of us having several friends there, and we began to discuss our future plans to hang out. The ‘date’ before we had discussed getting dinner the following weekend (1/22-23/2016), and I wanted to give her the option out if anything beyond platonic was not in her sights. She was a little under the weather so I said: “Well, let me know if you feel better and want to grab dinner this weekend. We can play it by ear.” She responded: “No, let’s plan on dinner Saturday. I’ll let you know if I don’t feel better by then.” Great, it was a date. However, it didn’t make me feel any better about the potential for romantic engagement. I continued to dangle in dating purgatory…
I’m not a ladies’ man, or necessarily easy on the eyes. I’m not a big, burly stud, and I don’t dress in the finest Italian garb. I can be awkward in the beginning stages of social interactions, and just as easily I can be pushy and dominant. Running through all of this is a mixture of cynicism and sarcasm, all topped off with a healthy dose of gallows humor. So I guess you would say I’m not a charming Adonis, I’m simply rough around the edges and mostly well-intentioned, and likely too opinionated. So dating has never come easy to me; I usually do my best work under the dim lights when both parties have had a few rounds of social lubricants. The phrase “letting your guard down” is especially apt for me; I guess at my foundation is a base of questionable lowered self-esteem when it comes to my own personal measurement of my ability in the dating game. I typically pass it off as self-deprecating humor, but what needs to be added to this tantalizing mixture which is me (and has been indirectly mentioned and implied here throughout) is that I see everything as having the ability to be funny. Making fun of life is, to me, what it’s all about. No subject is taboo, and if it were, then I’m attracted to the opportunity to make it my pet ASAP. Albert Camus said that life was absurd because we’re all going to die and we all know it, therefore the whole point of life, if there is one, is to try to enjoy it as much as possible, because really, it’s pointless. So I do, and I try to pass that off to those that I befriend, and those that I seek to impress.
I’m not exceptionally intelligent or observant. I’m hasty and often accumulate regrets. I don’t stop and smell the roses enough, I measure my experiences in pre-planned allotments of time with little regard for the possibility that true happiness and enjoyment happens outside of the box and in-between the lines. I want everything scripted and predictable, so I guess you could say there is some control freak in me. I’m not happy-go-lucky, but I often wish I were. I’m not “it’ll get better,” I’m more, “it’ll get worse.” But at the end of the bad luck rainbow is a new opportunity. I am Alexander Pope’s “Hope springs eternal.” I am a cynical optimist.
I don’t remember my dreams, but I daydream all the time. I love to read but often distract myself with a wandering mind, making it hard to retain what I just read. Sometimes when I come to a good passage though, it wakes me up and I re-read it. I think a lot. I think about what’s wrong with the world, what’s wrong with you, and mostly what’s wrong with me. There’s room for improvement. Oh boy, is there ever – in you that is! Me, I’m perfect…
I kid. I ghost-write critical evaluations of myself. Then I forget them until the same error or folly is repeated. And I say then, “Next time I’ll get it right.” And sometimes I do. I learn. But I don’t always apply. I watch, but often I don’t absorb. I see, and wish I could find the implications and apply them to my life. I think, and hope that someday I will. At 38, I probably am mostly what I will be from here on out. I’m not quite an old dog (yet), but I’m fairly certain I won’t be learning any new tricks. I wouldn’t mind shedding some old ones though.
I was watching that girl from behind and I asked myself, “What does she want?” But I never asked her. I wonder if I will, or will things fade to black, end of scene? Approaching life (or lady) with what I’m not may not be the best tactic; it’s limiting. Doing so with what I am, really, is the only way to go. But the thing is, what I am may not be what the world (or the lady) wants, and I guess that’s alright. There is no rule of life, no script to follow, no matter how much I may think I like that. And it’s funny – I’m a writer (and yes, maybe a bad one), so why would I want a script? Why wouldn’t I want to write my own role and my own scenes? Now that doesn’t mean I can dictate anyone else’s role in that play, but I can provide the setting and props for them to play off of. Carefully done, perhaps I can write them to my advantage. But I cannot do that based on the things I am not; I can only do that based on the things I am. Because where predictable outcomes do curry favor is in-between the lines, and the lines are drawn through experience and crafting of the individual. My choices, good, bad and ugly, have led me to this place and this current version of me. To paraphrase Popeye, “I am what I am.” I am not anything else, so why do I trouble myself when the pictures I paint don’t turn out the way I envision because of the things I am not? Is it aspirational? Or am I trying to live by others’ dictates and choices because I think their script is written for me? I am not others, I am me. So I must live as I am able to, and I must interact as I know how to. It may be that between the lines and outside the box is where I’ll find myself more clearly, and learn to live with who I am, not who I am not.
Grain of Salt