My Apologies (What Can I Do?)

I normally don’t post anything here over the weekend. I just decided early on that I needed some time to unplug and rest up before Monday morning rolled around again. Sometimes, though, things happen over the weekend that simply can’t be ignored. I experienced something like that Saturday, so I feel as if I need to get this out before the emotion of it fades from memory.

To the kid in the Old Navy store Saturday… I apologize.OldNavy_t670

You couldn’t have been more than 13. I doubt you were even that old. I’m always a terrible estimator of age, so forgive me if you are significantly older or younger than that. The point is, you didn’t look very old to me. You were also receiving a verbal dressing down from your mother (I suppose she was your mother?) as I passed you in the aisle, so I tried not to make any kind of eye contact. I moved past quickly, but I couldn’t help but hear those awful, awful words she said to you…

“If you don’t quit acting like that, you won’t get ****.”

That may not have been precisely what she said. I do distinctly remember the word “****” being used, though. I have a daughter who just turned 13 and another who is about to be 11. I have two sons. In a flash, I thought of all of them. I think I may have even broken stride a little bit. “Someone should do something,” I thought to myself. I’m not sure what your reaction was. I don’t remember you saying anything. You weren’t yelling or pitching a fit or anything, though. And, presumably, a woman who gave birth to you just used the “s” word on you right in the middle of a crowded clothing store.

I’ve never really understood the complex relationship between parents and children and profanity. My dad could curse a blue streak in a heartbeat. In fact, after he had his first stroke, profanity became sort of a comfort, as those words were the ones he said most clearly. He never cursed at me, though, at least not that I remember. I don’t recall my mother ever cursing at me either. They definitely got mad at me, no doubt about that, but those words were never thrown into my face. And, even as an adult, I never wanted to curse in front of them. It just wasn’t right.

wpid-0617_ov_baseball_tom_hanks_no_crying_in_baseballSome children and adults – especially males – respond to tough talk and tough love. They develop fearsome admiration for the drill sergeant who whips them into shape through whatever means necessary, even if it means totally breaking them down into quivering heaps before beginning to rebuild them again. There are a great many of us, though, who do not respond to that version of “love” at all. We bruise easily. We wind up recounting the painful moments of our lives to someone on the other side of a notepad eventually, not because we’re weak necessarily, but rather because we just weren’t equipped for what life threw at us.

I’m not sure which camp you fall into, although I could easily see you filing that moment Saturday somewhere no one would see it for a very long time. I wanted to say something. I wanted to try to defend you somehow. What good could those words have done for you? Even if they harmed you, though, what could I or anyone else have done for you in that moment? People who deliver public beratings of that nature are not usually people who can be reasoned with. Any communication would have probably would have just resulted in another fight, this one more vicious than the first.

Still, I feel like I let you down somehow.

You didn’t deserve that.

I apologize.

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The Invisible Alien

I believe I may be an alien being from another planet who possesses the power of invisibility.

“Crazy talk,” you say? “Not so,” I reply!

Consider this…

Nearly every computer or technological question I pose to humans is met either with a look of quizzical fascination or with the words, “Hmm, I’ve never heard of that before.” Perhaps there is some otherworldly electrical current which courses through my fingertips, rendering laptops and personal computers helpless before me. And maybe my knowledge of an alien alphabet keeps me from being able to enter passwords correctly, therefore keeping me out of websites and accounts it is crucial that I gain access to. Mankind appears incapable of solving these dilemmas for me.

I also possess the gift of being able to utter words into the air which are beyond the auditory perception of human alienears. Sometimes, it is as if what I’m saying isn’t heard by anyone at all. At other times, it is obvious that I was heard, but a response to my words is found lacking. This could be because I speak in some of dialect which I perceive as English, but is actually a type of speech birthed in the outer realms of space and transported by me to this rock known as Earth. I may also possess a different type of hearing which renders my measurement of volume inaccurate. What seems loud to me may be a whisper to someone else.

Whatever the causes, I seem to be able to move largely unnoticed through this world. I possess relative anonymity in a town I have lived in all my life. I have skills which appear to be fairly easy to ignore. My face is so unmemorable that a person I had actually met twice before told me that I reminded them of a picture they had seen on the news that day of an escaped convict. At my 20-year high school reunion, I ran into a former classmate who still lives in our hometown who asked me how work was going at the newspaper – somewhere I hadn’t worked in nearly a decade at the point.

Of course, I’m playing all this for laughs, but there are definitely times in my life when I feel as if I truly do not belong on this planet. I was reminded of this yesterday as I attempted to complete my college registration. Questions about usernames and passwords were met with largely blank stares. Did I stutter? Am I dense, and that is why I can’t figure this stuff out? Or am I over-thinking problems to the point where people don’t even understand my questions? No one is ever completely and constantly misunderstood, but certain days have a way of making me feel as if really am speaking a different language than everyone else.

This is presuming, of course, I actually manage to get someone’s attention. I cannot count the number of times recently I have been point-blank staring at someone and said something they appeared to have not heard whatsoever. Yesterday, when I got home, my two sons were running around the side of our house. I called to them; they didn’t even break stride. Am I that uninteresting? Have I said so many useless and trivial things in life that everyone just ignores whatever I say, whether it is important or not?

When did I become someone people could stare straight through? Or was I this person all along and am just now realizing it?

I am getting better at accepting who I am and realizing my personality traits are what they are. I’m also trying to figure out how all these parts of me make up a useful and functioning person. The real fear, though, is that I’ve waited too late to get started. Maybe I spent too many years in space. Maybe this is as good it gets for an invisible alien.

The thing is, though, there’s no way to backtrack from here. The alien wouldn’t come to Earth if he didn’t think there was something worth coming here for, and there’s nothing much in the outer limits worth staying there for. Adapting, improving, evolving, learning… These are the ways we aliens learn to survive in what can be a hostile environment sometimes. It’s not just a matter of survival, though; it’s a matter of learning to love and to live and to find a voice that asks questions worth hearing.

Nobody’s Perfect (So Don’t Act Like You Are)

For those of you wondering where I have been for the past few days, let me offer up a brief summation…

First off, my laptop died (or, at least, it started letting me know it had plans of dying very, very soon), and my Wednesday evening was spent having dinner with a friend who had agreed to look at it for me. On Thursday, I had an interview with two professors from the graduate program I’ve been trying to get into … and you can now strike the word “trying” from that last sentence, because I found out Friday I’M IN! I’ll write more about that another day. And then last night, I blew off writing anything to eat tacos and watch a movie. I know, what dedication to the craft…

The last post I wrote had to do with Bruce Jenner, and my blog received a rather large spike in viewership as a result. To be honest, though, I wasn’t particularly comfortable writing it, because it felt as if I was attempting to cash in on the Topic of the Day. It did have a connection, though, to mental behaviors and psychology and even depression, so I put my hesitations aside and plowed on.

For the past several days, I’ve been pondering another very public situation – the downfall of Joshua Duggar. I’ll try duggarto summarize briefly: Josh Duggar is the oldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the parents of the Duggar clan featured on the (currently suspended) TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting. He was formerly the director of FRC Action, the non-profit political action and lobbying arm of the Family Research Council. He resigned from the position May 21, after reports became public that he had molested five girls (including some of his sisters) when he was 14 and 15 years old.

Because of his status as a Christian family advocate and the fact that is the son of parents who have chosen to bring 19 children into the world, Josh Duggar quickly became an easy target for anyone with a bone to pick against religion, conservatism, large families, and basically anything else the more liberal pockets of society seem to be opposed to these days. Even before any of this information came to light, however, people were referring to the Duggar family as “freaks” because of the way they chose to live. For Joshua Duggar’s failures to be pushed into the publicly eye so vehemently was simply like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Let’s put it plainly: What Josh Duggar did was wrong. Even if he was the victim of teenage hormones run amuck, a man or boy simply cannot ever do what he did. At the same time, his family (most notably, his molested sisters) seems to have forgiven him, and no further incidents beyond those teen years have been discovered. He is 27 years old now and has a wife and children of his own. No charges were filed, and all the parties affected seem to want to move on.

Why are we staying on this then?

The more I think about the answer to that question, the more I come closer to the following conclusion: I’m not so sure people are half as mad about what Josh Duggar did as the fact that he and his family had worked very hard to lead us to believe nothing is or ever was wrong with them. The Duggars have written books and spoken at conferences and appeared on television, and never once did they mention this skeleton in their closet. Josh Duggar thumped plenty of podiums with FRC Action, always displaying a righteous indignation against evil in the world. You may have thought the Duggars were weird, but you also probably couldn’t find much to call them out on. They made fairly sure of that.

As a self-deprecating kind of person, I gave up a long time ago trying to present myself as anything other than flawed. Even the best of us have made mistakes, though. I would think at some point while the Duggars were earning all that money on their television show and books that they might have mentioned this unfortunate chapter in their lives. Not a word, though. That, I believe, is where the outrage lies. If you’re sitting on a secret, don’t push yourself out in public in front of everyone and tell them how good you are. At least own it at some point.

Strangely, I dislike the Duggars now because of the good things they tried to present, instead of the bad thing they tried to hide. Does everyone need to shout their deepest, darkest secrets from the rooftops? No. What they can do, though, is not proclaim their righteousness from every street corner either. There are none of us who are perfect, and we do the world a great disservice when we try to convince everyone that we are. The damage will come eventually, sooner or later. Promoting goodness is a positive thing; claiming to have the market cornered on it is not.

The “S” (And “P”) Word(s)

Why do so many men commit suicide?

This is a question that, at this particular time of my life, I do not know if I am adequately equipped to tackle. I can attest to the issues that have made me despair of life at various times, but how could I possibly know what would be the one thing that would push someone else over the edge? In reality, it’s never just one thing anyway. It comes from a progression, a road of problems and stresses and failures and disappointments and chemical imbalances and poor upbringings and virtually ever other form of strife and devil under the sun. To dwell on the question too much, in my opinion, could drive someone mad.

Fortunately, there are those researchers and psychologists in the world who do care enough to wade into this subject
01_Hero1 Male Suicide_(C) Damien Tran with both feet. Writer Will Storr talked to some of these very people in an article for the website mosiacscience.com, titled “The Male Suicides: How Social Perfection Kills.” The article focuses on research from the UK, but the theories it puts forth are universal to men everywhere.

As the title of the article suggests, a term called “social perfectionism” is believed by some to be a driving force in why many men choose to take their own lives. In a nutshell, social perfectionism is basing the majority of your self-worth and value on meeting the expectations of others. To phrase it a different way, it has not so much to do with what you expect of yourself, but rather what you feel others expect from you. When you perceive that you’ve failed, it doesn’t bother you so much that failed yourself as much as it bothers you that you didn’t meet an ideal you based off other’s perceptions.

Reading this article was revelatory for me, mainly for two reasons. One is that I had never heard the term “social perfectionism” used before. The second reason is that this particular feeling/affliction/disorder/whatever it is has been a constant companion of mine for as long as I can remember. To summarize, I have spent most of my life trying to live up to what I felt like were the standards for being a “good” man. Nothing wrong with this on the surface, but if life teaches you one thing, it is this: You will fail, and you will fall short. This is where the “perfectionism” portion of the phrase works at its cruelest. There is little margin for error, error that is sure to occur.

Do I have expectations for myself? Certainly, but most of them have been developed through my setting up an ideal based on another person or of a commonly held perception of how things should be. Sadly, this is where many men reside. We never figured out who we were, so we built personalities and goals around archetypes. When those personas we have constructed begin to crack and fade, we feel obliterated. With no standard left, many men decide that there is nothing left to them, so they treat themselves in like fashion – as nothing.

I am not a psychologist or a researcher, but I do know this: Social perfectionism is a real thing. And it is a killer. It may not always claim a physical life, but it leaves a trail of personal devastation in its wake. Honestly, I do not know if this is something psychologists are dealing with now or not, as an entity unto itself, but it is certainly a legitimate concern. This is usually where I would attempt to end a post with some witty phrase or words of wisdom. In this case, I have none. I can only say that I know men are dying. And I understand why.

Space

waltons-arguingRemember those old westerns where there was a family living on a homestead, and the oldest son desperately wanted to get off the farm, but his parents wouldn’t let him go? He would always go storming out of the house, and the mother would always begin to pursue him, but the father would grab her and say something along the lines of “Just let him go. Give him some space.”

Personally, I am not a big fan of “space.” I’ve always believed that if you give a person in a bad state of mind more room to move, the more likely they are to do something rash or stupid. I usually prefer to stay and slug things out, even if it is a terribly uncomfortable and unfruitful process. There are obviously times when some space would be a good idea, but I am rather stubborn about this. I would probably grab that kid on the way out the door and not let him leave the house.

Sometimes when a person is depressed or sad or disturbed about something, the people around them want to give them space. “Just give him a little room to get over it.” I think one reason this occurs is because depression can look an awful lot like anger to the outside observer. You have someone who is not really talking to anyone, not making eye contact, and making virtually no effort whatsoever to be sociable. Mad people need space to cool down, right?

Many times, though, the person you thought was angry is really very, very depressed, which can make communicating with anyone a considerable chore. Symptoms that accompany depression can be extreme feelings of shame, anxiety, guilt, and, yes, even anger. Many people who suffer from it tend to isolate themselves, which creates an odd paradox within themselves: They don’t want anyone to bother them, but at the same time they feel dreadfully, painfully alone.

This is why I don’t believe granting space is always the best course of action. I know in my personal experiences of attempting to isolate myself, I have been screaming inside for someone, anyone to make an effort to reach out to me. I don’t have the strength to come get you; I want you to come get me. Granted, I don’t always like what people have to say to me in those moments they come after me, but I do appreciate on some level the fact that they at least tried to do something. Too often, though, I see people walking on eggshells around me, afraid to find out what’s really going on inside.

If you are more in the “space” camp, I totally respect your point of view. Sometimes hotheads need to get away from everyone before they can cool off and think rationally. Too many times, though, I have seen people fall though the cracks of “space,” and by the time anyone notices they’re gone, it is too late to help them. Think about it. What is one of the most common statements following a suicide? “I had no idea…” I don’t say this out of condemnation, but rather out of concern. Not everyone needs to be left alone.

So the next time you notice someone drifting way or being more quiet than usual, ask them a question or two. You may not get an honest answer, but you may let them know that someone cares about them. They may still want to leave the farm, but at least you tried to keep them around for one more crop first.