When You Can't Karate-Chop, You Judo

I’m a firm believer in rerouting around your neuroses when you can’t find a path straight through.
Take me, for example: a combination of terminal shyness and a New England upbringing leaves me unable to talk to strangers unless they’ve introduced themselves first. I’ve tried, but my whole brain locks up: “THEY DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU!” it shrieks.  “YOU’RE MAKING A FOOL OF YOURSELF!”  And that psychic sucker-punch is so overwhelming that I freeze up.
I’ve worked on it for twenty years.  But even after all this time, it’s still like shouting into a tsunami.  Yeah, I’m better at it, but “better” means “I will walk, voluntarily, into a room full of strangers to socialize and then freeze up,” as opposed to hiding out into my hotel room.  It’s like trying to fight the knee-jerk reflex; I can wrestle my natural reaction down when the doctor taps on my leg, but I can’t stop the initial motion.
So rather than talking to strangers, I have restructured my life to minimize strangers.  I started a blog to yammer at people.  I have lots of conversations online, if it’s a place I intend to go, so that I have a ton of people I kinda-sorta know.  I dress in loud clothing, almost a costume, so that anyone who might recognize me will assuredly recognize me, what with the hats and the nails and the bright shirts and stacked boots, and hence amplify the likelihood that someone will introduce themselves to me.
All of these techniques are far more effective than facing it head-on.  In a very odd but real way, my entire blogging career has been an extremely elaborate method to combat my social anxiety.
Which, I think, is an underutilized method.  Not the blogging, but the sideways approach.  Therapists are often all about “FACE THAT FUCKER HEAD-ON, ANNIHILATE IT,” when often a better approach involves changing your life so you minimize contact with this hot button as much as possible.  If it’s going to cause a full-body flush, then what can you do to work around it?  It may be elaborate, and silly to many… but what matters is effectiveness.
I know for me, these strange and bizarre workarounds get me through conventions – and the effort I’ve put into them has produced far more friendships, contentment, and love than the “just talk to them anyway!” path.  Yeah, it’s quirky, and in a way it feels cowardly at times… but the reward is actual happiness, as opposed to the grim satisfaction of knowing you’ve met your enemy head-on and have staggered away bleeding and bewildered.
It’s okay to have odd habits.  If they work.

My Hallucinations

There were spiders dropping down from the ceiling and into my wife’s cleavage.  The wall behind her was a huge, stretched expanse of hairy green flesh, breathing slowly in and out.  Phantom janitors stole in and out at the edges of my vision, sweeping in places they could not possibly stand and then vanishing when I tried to talk to them.
And my response was, “Oh.  That’s interesting, what my brain is doing.”
These ridiculous hallucinations happened during my extremely traumatic 52-hour post-surgery recovery phase, when I was in tremendous pain and could not sleep.  And yet, I think about the only other time I hallucinated, having dropped acid on a very hot summer’s night… and I found it disappointing.  Yes, my vision was flexing and distorting, and I witnessed all sorts of curious artifacts as my brain’s visual processing center went into overload – but I quietly dissected each illusion, breaking it down into its interesting components, and in such a way I reduced what could have been a wild trip down into a series of interesting quirks.
I don’t really hallucinate, I don’t think.  I know what my brain is up to.  And today, I realized why:
It’s because I’m a depressive.  I don’t trust my brain.
My brain has been a chronic liar for years, telling me how everyone hates me (when they don’t), how I’ve never accomplished anything of any note (I have), and how the world would be better off if I just killed myself (unproven, but I use the other two false conclusions to keep that one in the “bad idea” zone).  I live a very strict life of having to double-check every input my brain gives me, for it routinely distorts a mundane “Oh!” into an encoded “You suck, Steinmetz, everything you ever liked was a fraud.”  If I don’t, well, I ruin my life.
So when my brain starts providing false visual information, I do the same thing: I question it.  I compare it to reality.  And if it doesn’t make sense, I ignore it.
This makes me a little sad.  I mean, it did protect me from a full-fledged freakout when I was in the hospital… but it means that while others experience an exultant joy with acid and peyote and other crazy drugs, seeing the face of God, I’ll never be able to flow with that illusion.  They can trust what their brains give them, accepting most inputs safely and without harm, and so when some external source causes the brain to deliver crazy input, they can just run amuck with it like a kid whirling on a playground.
I’m off to the side.  Analyzing.  Breaking it down.  Questioning relentlessly.  Because that’s my survival.  That’s what I do.

In Which I Emulate Reddit: Ask Me Anything

Once again, we come to a rushed day where I cannot churn out a full blog entry.  And yet I feel like interacting!  And so I return to the gift that keeps on giving:
Ask me one question, on any topic. I shall answer truthfully.
(Please. No woodchuck questions. Someone always asks, and it’s never gotten a good response.)

The Kind Of Woman I Don't Want

“Cammy is the perfect woman,” says Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch.  “Cammy has a value system that comes from the fifties.  We were on an airplane, and a pilot – a lady pilot – introduced herself to me.  When she went back into the cockpit, Cammy said, ‘I’d rather she be serving Cokes and peanuts, and let a man be the pilot.’
“She designed her life around, ‘How can I please a man?’ She went to massage school, cooking school – she bought a book on blowjobs. I wish more girls would do that. If more girls did what Cammy’s doing… my business would go down.”
And good Lord, I am filled to brimming with revulsion.
The thing is, I’m not revulsed by Cammy’s choice.  If Cammy is content living subserviently, and that makes her happy, then I say “Go, Cammy.”  (Even if I suspect Cammy is perpetuating an elaborate ruse to extract cash from gullible men’s pockets.  They say the best salesman never appears to be a salesman.  Cammy’s probably getting exactly what she wants, from men who probably deserve it.)
But I’d never want a woman whose whole job was dedicated to pleasing me.  That has nothing to do with feminism; it has everything to do with the fact that ultimately, I think humans turn into monsters when they have all of their needs met without cost.
Maybe that’s because I worked in retail – where if you’re smart, the attitude has to be, “The customer is always right.”  Because you don’t want the customer to feel dumb; nothing closes a customer’s wallet quicker than, “Gee, your concerns are stupid.”  And they’ll tell people how they were insulted, spreading bad tales about you wherever they go.
So when they cram your mouth full of shit, you swallow it and smile.
Working retail, eventually you come to realize that “reasonable” is determined by past history.  You think it’s reasonable that a cup of good coffee is $3.95 because you grew up in a Starbucks culture… but talk to a guy who grew up in the 1950s, when coffee was an inflation-adjusted dollar at best.  You think it’s reasonable that drivers will give you the finger and honk at you in traffic, because you grew up in Manhattan.  You think it’s reasonable that people smoke in restaurants, because you live in Europe.
The important point: that “reasonable” creeps up, depending on what people do.
As humans, we’re bounded by other people’s reactions.  And if everyone acts like you’re completely normal and wonderful, you internalize that.. even if you’re completely awful.  On some level, we all think, “Well, if we get out of hand, someone will tell me I’m too much trouble.”
Remove those blocks – and sure enough, you start becoming too much trouble.
Wanna know why celebrities implode?  Because they’re swaddled in a culture that caters to their every whim because they’re a non-replaceable entity, and when normal people see them it’s usually in a gawking fawningness of “Oh my God, it’s you!  I’m so pleased to meet you!”  So their waiters go to extra miles that no normal person would get, and when they casually ask for a Diet Coke at precisely 45 degrees with a titanium straw in it, everyone just brings it to them.  Nobody notes this is actually really a pain in the ass to do for them, or if they do, they agree that oh, you absolutely need a perfectly-chilled drink.
Eventually, you come to think that this is reality.  That the 45-degree Diet Coke with the titanium straw is not just you, but universal and easy to do, it’s happened a thousand times before.  And then a waiter forgets and you get the wrong drink – and for the celebrity, it’s like they got brought a cup of transparent coffee with broken glass at the bottom.  It’s such a stupidly-done thing that it feels like an insult.  How could they not know?
So: embarrassing shitfit in a public place.  And to some extent, it’s not the celebrity’s fault – it’s the fault of all these people around them, nodding and agreeing and convincing them that yes, this is the way the world is.  Sure, the celebrity went off the fucking rails, but all of their PR agents and fans and entourage quietly removed the rails months ago.  In some ways, it’s astounding that they kept on the right path for as long as they did.
And you see that in retail, where people think, “Oh, I’m always right!  So I’ll sit in the coffee shop and slop coffee all over this magazine I have no intention of paying for, then leave it sprawled on the counter in a pile of sugar and drool.”  They think, “I’m always right, so when I bring back a tattered book with no receipt and want cash for it, the clerk who’s refusing me needs a good, solid yelling.”  They think, “I’m always right, so why aren’t these clerks catering to my every whim?”
And yes: you get more money from these nitwits.  But you do so by catering to their dysfunction.  Which means you get richer off of exploiting people’s psychological weak points.  (A point I make, in a somewhat more hammer-handed way, in my story Dead Merchandise.)  You actually make them a little insane – and some of them a lot insane – to harvest their cash.
So for me, having someone eager to cater to my every need makes them, in a low-grade way, the enemy of my sanity.  I want people who question, who remind me of the work this took, who tell me when I’m inconveniencing them.  A woman like Cammy (or at least how Cammy presents herself) would undermine the integrity of the person I’m trying to be, give me an inflated sense of self-esteem I might not deserve, slowly push me towards the land o’crazy expectations.
She’s not the perfect woman, Denis.  She’s a perfect servant, perhaps.  But perfect servants come with hidden costs, and I for one would be very reticent to pay them.

So How Is My May Depression?

Long-time readers will know: May is the time my Seasonal Affective Disorder usually creeps in.  For a few weeks out of the year I’ll become a sniffling pile of self-hatred, sometimes skidding as far as self-harm, weeping and curling into a ball.  This misery lasts for about three to six weeks, during which in lesser moments all of my suicide attempts have arrived, and when I emerge it’s a slow crawl.
This is where the sadness usually starts to tickle.  And… it hasn’t yet.  Which concerns me.
The thing is, if there’s any year when I might not have my usual SAD, this would be it.  I’ve had major surgery in January, which my body is still recuperating from in some minor ways.  I’ve changed my diet and exercise habits.  And I’m on new medications, specifically a heavy dosage of Vitamin D in order to get my cholesterol and body chemistry back to proper levels.
So is it going to arrive?  Maybe.  I felt very sad on Saturday but then I ate a sandwich and realized my blood sugar was low, and everything went better.  I’m feeling a little low now, but is that SAD or just a reluctance to charge ahead with a tedious work day?
No clue.  Until then, I’m sort of waiting for the axe to fall – maybe it’ll show up late.  (It used to arrive in June.)  I’m on alert, trying to be careful about how I react, so I don’t take anything too much to heart.
But once a year, I usually have to endure a time of knives and anguish.  That may or may not show up this year.  In some ways, waiting for it to hit is nearly as bad as the depression itself, being tensed for a blow that may never arrive.  On the other hand, I’m relatively content, and finishing up my novel.
A strange place to be.