I hate meeting new people. The very idea of it shrivels the vibrance hiding inside me, waiting to feel welcome, waiting to feel appropriate. I have heard someone describe Aspergers as constantly wondering if you are doing life right, and that never seems more apt than when I am put into a situation with people I don't know. Going back to school was both a blessing and a curse, in that regard.
It was a blessing in that my studies of psychology and developmental systems helped me understand the processes that were dominating my neurochemistry. The curse, of course, was that these inquiries happened in the presence of other people, new people, on high rotation with the shorter (reasonable) quarter system, which was kind of like studying the physics and chemistry of combustion from within a boiling furnace.
Introductions are the worst.
They are the worst because they almost always include some form of an unanswerable question, coupled with a weight of expectation, multiplied by the number of people in the conversation, of an immediate, conclusive, answer. It is a relief, actually, to live in such a rushed, apathetic, disconnected society, at times like these, because blowing off the question is accepted, and even anticipated, so much that we will often substitute an easier, more accessible question instead.
We'll ask 'what are you studying', or 'what do you do', to avoid the question we mean, the question we don't want them to ask us, the question we don't want to ask ourselves:
Who are you?
What are you doing here?
When I first stared into the abyss I carry around within me, and let it stare back into me, I found my answers to those questions. Those answers led me here to Seattle, back to school, and even to the creation of this blog, intermittent as it may be. My answers to those questions are real. They are helpful, both for myself and, on the occasion, to others. I even think they are coherent, and accessible.
They are not condensable to a fifteen second sound byte for exchange at parties, bars, or the first day of lectures.
I am the sum of my 32 years, the product of 30 million experiences and 30 thousand books. I am deeper than seven oceans and broader than a dozen plains and I will not be condensed.
So I deflect. What do I do? As little as possible for as long as possible. Who am I? A mystery, wrapped in an enigma, smothered in secret sauce. Because I never feel like my honest answer is acceptable, is welcome.
I have found myself wearing a lot of shirts that have elephants on them, not because I am particularly partial to peanut pecking pachyderms, but because I identify with the idiom of the elephant in the room, the thing about which we dare not speak, even though I am frustrated that the idiom doesn't quite convey how it feels. I do not feel like an ignored elephant, but our western culture doesn't have any idioms about the folly of ignoring a dragon in your midst.
Introductions are the worst because you can not announce yourself as a dragon without terrifying the population.
Try it, sometime. Next time you are in a group of people, tell them the truth about yourself. Tell them you are a genius, the most remarkable thing in the known universe, the successful product of a 40 million year evolutionary refinement process.
I'd be curious as to the response you get. I have noticed an immediate change in body language, a shutting down, a defensiveness, that precedes attempts to disprove what I have just said. My own knee jerk reaction is to ascribe this almost instinctive opposition to a trickle down from the zero sum nature of capitalism, defining every transaction in terms of opposition, and evaluating the merit of each transaction based on value above opposition perception.
I can understand that. When I was a child, I didn't think that I was awesome. I thought I was better. I'd have retaken any standardized test that I didn't score in the top 1%. I reacted to any praise of another as an indictment of my own worth. For the most part, I grew out of it. Not easily, or painlessly, but I can hear good things said about someone else now without translating that into something negative said about me.
But the reverse is more important. I can now hear, and say, good things about myself without meaning negative things about any or everyone else.
I am the most amazing thing in the universe.
You are also the most amazing thing in the universe.
We are collectively the most amazing thing in the universe.
Not one of those sentences would be true without the others.
Not that that understanding makes it any easier to sit down and try to figure out what the fuck I am supposed to say when meeting someone for the first time, which is why I'm here, why I have this blog in the first place, the reason I first fell in love with the empty page decades ago.
The empty page has no rules of conduct waiting to censure me when I speak too loud, or get carried away with minutia no one cares about.
The empty page doesn't care that I don't know how to make small talk.
The empty page doesn't mind that sometimes I need to scream and burn something to the ground just to remember that I am fire.
The empty page doesn't make me feel bad for being smart.
So when the world is just a little too much for me, and the edge of my personal abyss looks just a little more inviting, I come back to the empty page, and run until I am exhausted, dumping onto the page all of the things that I never feel like I have the room to say to people.
That is why I no longer feel any equivocation about telling people that I am a writer. It has nothing to do with the papers I have written for the academe, nothing to do with the book that I finished (more on that in a moment), nothing to do with the second book I'm writing currently. I am comfortable with the label 'writer' when so many other labels make me feel uncomfortable and constrained, because writing, like breathing, like loving, like sleeping, is sine qua non, that without which I would cease to be.
I don't write because I can, indeed the tepid reception my work receives from the publication industry indicates the opposite, but rather I write because I can't not. Writing, and the open acceptance of the empty page, is, for me, an anchor in a windswept sea, keeping me from being dragged off the edge of the map.
On the subject of the novel, some 100 agents have declined the privilege of even reading the full manuscript, which isn't unusual from what I am given to understand, but also isn't helping the book from an editorial perspective. As a result I have posted the work in progress on an editorial community site, hoping to get readers' feedback on where the writing, story, or language could improve.
I hope you will give it a read, and leave feedback as to your thoughts. In order to post commentary you will have to create a free account, but then you will be able to download the book and email it to your Kindle, or eReader of choice. I would just ask that you mark the book as currently reading, and then mark it as done when you are finished so that the site can log whether people are reading the thing. If you think the book has some promise, feel free to add it to your community bookshelf.