Growing and Other Pains
Disclaimer: The next few posts--and I'm likely to post often over the next few weeks--will be packed with navel-gazing, thoughtful introspection, or whatever description you choose to use for self-absorbed musings. This blog is my forum for exploring how I intersect with reality, and I've been exploring a lot of new realities lately. I am rambling off into Me-land now, rather than objectively reporting on the world around me, but you can't say I didn't warn you.
I checked a lot of firsts off the life list in the past week. First solo convention visit; first time at a con started by members of the written science-fiction community rather than comics or gaming; first con based on an academic/social justice foundation, rather than a feed-the-fanbase framework ... heck, it was my first solo road trip in 3 years, and the first solo trip unrelated to business for 27 years.
I survived, I learned, I wrote a lot of notes. I remembered a lot of cold truths about myself that have been buried under the debris of the familiar environment for a long time now. Did I have a good time? That's what friends and acquaintances have been asking. It was exhilarating, it was quietly terrifying, and it was tremendously uncomfortable. I have not yet even begun to process most of the emotions and ideas I experienced and absorbed. It was incredible, and I want to go back. But a good time? Hells, no.
'Good time' does not encompass the intensity. The phrase is too weak to hold the emotional weight of stepping so far outside my comfort zone that I couldn't even see the boundary. I forced myself to make conversation with strangers even though I was certain that every word out of my mouth offended or annoyed them, and I attended events whose topics and presenters confirmed my belief that I am the idiotic coward I've always known myself to be. I sat in corners and was silently ignored by everyone around me, and I made no good impression on anyone. I left the event resonating with the truth that I am a wholesale failure of a human being.
I'm okay with that part. Success starts with failures. Growing hurts. I was prepared for the discomfort and and I am working my way through my reactions. I want to grow and improve myself and the world around me, and throwing myself into that painful growth zone is the only way to make that happen. It's why I want to go back again next year.
The bad part? I forget, in my rawness, that most of the people asking me if I enjoyed myself--or who phrase the query as a comment, based on my social media posts--have zero interest in the answer. People are polite. I forget that a lot, since I am not. Polite, that is. Not by temperament. By training, yes. I'm well-educated in the art of social interaction, but it was all learned by rote, as an adult, and I regularly fail to apply those lessons when I'm emotionally engaged. I forget to answer that complicated question, 'did you have a good time' with the simple sound bite of "Sure, it was great."
That's a non-growing pain, and I don't know how to address it. I don't want to lose what I have. I love my life, and my friends, and my routines. There's comfort in the familiar. There's pleasure. There's warm acceptance. Good times and good conversations bring me a lot of contentment.
The problem is that I want joy. I want passion and fire and disagreement and growth. I want discussions and analysis and thoughtful commentary too. I"m not going to get that unless I go out and look for it. It isn't in my familiar, in my comfortable, in my everyday. My familiar, my everyday, my comfort circle...it's built on kindness and polite interest, and it's bleeding me dry.
I overanalyze. I know it. It's a fundamental aspect of my personality. I analyze every single damned word out of my own mouth, and I often read subtext more clearly than the words people say to me. That's what happens when you learn socialization as an intellectual task instead of a life skill. Socrates was the first nickname I was ever given. It wasn't a compliment. It was based on the quote: "The unexamined life is not worth living" and it was meant as a put-down: stop thinking so much. Just enjoy life. As if the two were incompatible. They aren't. The more I look, the more joy I find.
Alas, analysis is producing some uncomfortable results, lately. Moving forward, it seems my options for social support are going to be 'be less but comfortable,' or 'be elsewhere.' When I stretch my wings where I am now, they get stepped on. Every time I turn around, someone's plucking out feathers to keep me grounded.
That isn't a growing pain. It's a destructive one. I am tolerating direct put-downs practically every single time I open my fucking mouth, as if I would make bullshit statements I couldn't back or express opinions I hadn't deeply thought through already---as if I just say shit for no reason and need public correction like a child. As if my knowledge and experiences are worthless. More and more often lately I've been backing down silently rather start pulling up facts on a cell phone and starting a fight. That wouldn't be polite. That wouldn't be friendly. That wouldn't be acceptable. I hate that my defensive reflex is to get dismissive in turn. That's only an ego band-aid, and the wounds go to the bone.
Open confrontation is always my first-choice resolution for conflict, but I have zero tolerance for absolutes. The flat statement, "Oh, no, that's wrong" will throw me every time, and when those words are followed by, 'and I'm not talking about it," then I am just...boggled. The first rule is question everything, but the second is contradict no one. Discuss, disagree, oppose, yes all of that, but above all, respect. The ultimate in disrespect is to declare someone wrong and then cut off discussion.
Why am I tolerating disrespect? Why am I letting myself be battered and belittled? Why go along with a don't-rock-the-boat mentality? Mainly because no one in my social group is comfortable with confrontation. "I'm not talking about that" is an acceptable change of subject, and it should be. Disliking conflict is a valid, real emotional response, and one often rooted in abuse. I respect it, and I understand the urge to keep the social surface smooth and the emotional keel nice and level.
I do understand those things, but that leaves me no less bewildered and bruised when that non-confrontational discomfort parades in front of me all dressed up in confrontational clothes and hits me with confrontational statements.
I'm tolerating personal, emotional damage because overall, and in general, I'm comfortable with my circle. Shared interests and shared experiences build strong bonds. I respect the experiences of everyone I make the effort to connect with socially, and I find different perspectives fascinating, and I don't want to lose all that. I don't want to lose them.
I want to grow, but God, it hurts.
Four things I learned while finding an image for this post:
1. There are a many statues of Socrates the philosopher.
2. There was also a famous soccer player named Socrates. (Google it!)
3. I like quotations more than I like pictures of statues. (Unless the statues are gargoyles.)
4. Socrates was not a gargoyle.