Monthly Archives: October 2011
Interesting factoid #1: Rattlesnakes are poisonous.
(Even more) Interesting factoid #2: Rattlesnakes will bite you.
(for all of you readers scratching your heads right now, no worries. All will be revealed.)
Once upon a time, I worked at a maximum security prison. Pretty boring, if you ask me. One day, issuing supplies to the inmates, I overheard one of them complaining about being locked up. He had some serious grievances about seeing razor wire everywhere he went. So I asked him what he was locked up for. His answer, delivered in a really aggressive tone, was that he’d gotten a speeding ticket. Now, I’m no legal expert, but I’m pretty sure that speeding isn’t going to land you in prison, not unless you’re approaching the speed of light in a school zone. So I called him on his line of bull. He lowered his eyes, lost the macho attitude, and muttered, “Well, I shot the cop that gave it to me.”
I was silent for a minute or two, looking at this inmate who was complaining about being incarcerated. Then I threw my hands up in the air and shouted, “AND JUST WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS GONNA HAPPEN?”
This is the Rattlesnake Paradox in a nutshell. Say you and your friend are out for a walk down some picturesque country lane. The leaves are turning, the woods are quite, and you both have had a nice, friendly chat. You see a rattlesnake sunning itself on a rock about twenty feet away, oblivious to the passing humans. You say to your friend, “Hey, there’s a rattlesnake.”. Your friend, to your surprise, says, “Wow, lemme go see” and off he or she trots. You hear the pained shout a moment later and your friend runs back. “It bit me!” you’re told. To which you reply, “WHAT DID YOU THINK WAS GONNA HAPPEN?”
(you can have your hands in the air when you shout this; I typically do)
This is the essence of the Rattlesnake Paradox. You point out the common sensical WHATEVER, but whomever you’re talking to ignores it and runs off to do their thing. Time passes, you have some tea and scones, and bazinga, they’re back, complaining that whatever you told them happened. Here’s the kicker: they’re generally mystified, emotionally hurt, sometimes physically hurt, and full of confusion. They don’t understand. And you’re standing there, thinking, “Dumbass. I TOLD YOU.”
Here’s another little interesting story. I pulled the night shift in the Army barracks one night, sitting at the desk, ready for any emergency. Well, I was reading a book. Anyway, this guy I knew walks down the hallway and sits down by my desk. We all knew that he’d been chasing after this crazy girl in a different platoon. This was the girl who had a tendency to light things on fire. She quite frequently would be found outside, stoned out of what little mind she possessed, talking to trees. Not quite a few of us had counseled this fellow to stay away from her. But he didn’t listen, and there he was, a few months later, telling me that she’d stolen his car keys and taken Daddy’s birthday present out to get Burger King. And driven it into the Burger King, apparently confused as to how, exactly, the drive-through worked. Thing is, Romeo wasn’t ten kinds of raging anger. He was sitting there, looking for comforting words, confused as to why he didn’t see this coming. Now, I’ve seen Oprah (though not by choice). I know you’re supposed to be supportive, empathetic, and nurturing when someone comes to you in this state. When it comes to the Rattlesnake Paradox, though…let’s just say I overuse the term “dumbass”. Which Romeo didn’t want to hear and quickly got me labeled as an insensitive jerk.
Well, fine, I can deal with that. What I couldn’t deal with is that Romeo took her back after the local cops got done with her and the Army kicked her out for illicit drug use. So here are a few examples of messing around with a rattlesnake:
Fighting with the cop after he pulls you over.
Thinking your cousin Bert probably DOES know something about international banking so you give him two hundred bucks to invest on your behalf.
Letting your diabetic friend drink a gallon of vodka.
Thinking the IRS doesn’t have time to mess with your return, so why file.
Actually keeping a rattlesnake in your house.
People looooooove their rattlesnakes. No matter how many times the little bastards bite them, our friends, family members, co-workers, and people on the news run right over there to see how those rattlesnakes are doing. I knew a girl once that had a thing for Puff the Magic Dragon (not explaining-if you’re reading this on the Interwebs, you have Google). Very smart, beautiful, and if she hadn’t been stoned for thirteen hours of the day, she probably would have been a great catch. But no, there she was, whining about how all the guys she ended up with wound up being the type that steals cash out of purses and sells your dog to the immigrants in the next apartment for drug money. Never once occurred to her to try hanging out with people THAT DON’T USE DRUGS.
Do I feel sorry for these people? No, not particularly. They prove to me time after time that they’re gonna run right over there and mess around with Mr. Rattlesnake, despite all of your well-intentioned pleas for them not to. In fact, the stronger your case, the more solid your logic, the faster they run over there. Consider the parents of the kids who slept over at Michael Jackson’s house. AFTER THE FIRST AQUITTAL. Let’s see if we can follow their thought process in this matter. “Honey, Michael Jackson wants our child to spend the night at his place.”. “Well, dear, wasn’t he put on trial for child molestation?”. “Yes, honey dearest, but he was aquitted.” “Oh well, that should be fine, then.”
ARE YOU SERIOUS?
I’m in no way saying that Michael Jackson was guilty or not, but it’s hard for me to see how any parent would let their kid go hang out with someone who was put on trial for child molestation. Next time little Bobby asks for a pet turtle, buy him a pet rattlesnake instead, you candidates for Parents of the Year.
Or rather let’s say your friend Cindy introduces you to her new boyfriend, Mike McWifebeater.
*disclaimer: beating your spouse isn’t funny and is not endorsed by the author of this blog. CREATIVE LICENSE, PEOPLE*
So Mr. McWifebeater stands there glaring at you and cracking his knuckles while Cindy’s telling you how happy she is with her new-found love. So you take a little stroll down Imagination Street and figure out what’s going to happen to Cindy the first time she burns the Mac and cheese. Even an insensitive jerk like me is going to try and talk some sense into her, and sure, it’s not her fault when (not if) he hits her, and she doesn’t in any way deserve getting hit. But all of you morons that told her you were happy for her need to seriously reevaluate your estimations of rattlesnakes, ’cause standing around being stupid and keeping your mouth shut, i.e. pretending that rattlesnakes aren’t dangerous, ended up causing someone to get bitten. And quit standing there with that stupid look of surprise on your faces. It’s like you’re not going to listen to anyone unless you’re paying them a hundred bucks an hour. Or they’re sitting next to Oprah.
I have to deal with this paradox on a daily basis, and trust me, if you know someone who is playing around with a rattlesnake, there ARE times when the best thing you can do is just shut up. They’re not gonna listen, and you can use that precious time to deal with your own rattlers. And when they run back, crying and wondering what happened, feign confusion right along with them. Or throw your hands up in the air and shout “DUMBASS!”. However you deal with the situation, just don’t let yourself get bogged down with sympathy. It’s not as if, on some level, your friend didn’t know what was going to happen. And honestly, the only reason they came to you in the first place was so that you would tell them it’s okay, it’s a really cool and laid back snake. NO WAY YOU’RE GONNA GET BITTEN, DUDE!
So I suggest letting them run over to the rattlesnake and see just what’s up. At least you get a few minutes of quiet time while they’re gone. Oh and FYI, don’t be one of those morons that tries to suck the poison out of the wound. Yech.
Usually when people find out that I’m on Twitter, their reaction is, “I don’t understand Twitter. I never know what to say.”. Or they spend ten minutes telling me that they don’t understand what Twitter is for. What gets me is that a lot of the people who tell me this are also people I have on my Facebook friends list, so I see what they post in a normal day. So the logic about not having anything to say pretty much goes out the window. I mean (trust me, I’m not trying to offend anyone here…this is just perspective), when you spend your precious Interwebs time posting about how much you hate Obama and how much you’re looking forward to starting your new job spoon-feeding seniors at the nursing home, and all on Facebook, I think getting some online perspective about the quality about what you choose to post online is in order.
I think the reason most people are intimidated by Twitter is that they doubt and question that they would have anything worthwhile to say. And what totally confuses me is that I know a lot of these people in the real world, and they’re some of the most funny and articulate people I know. So I thought I’d come up with a list of the nine reasons why Twitter is better than Facebook, because over the past two months, I’ve found myself using Twitter so much more than Facebook, and while I still use Facebook to stay in touch with people, I don’t really miss it that much. I even had to disconnect my Twitter feed from updating my Facebook because I was seriously blowing up my news feed. So approach these reasons with an open mind, because they’re totally valid and highlight just why Twitter is such a valuable tool.
#1. Twitter is really nothing more than a venue for your stream of consciousness.
Now, I know there’s literature out there that says “Make sure your tweets mean something. Don’t post mindless drivel.”. But I’m telling you, the more time you spend thinking about how your tweets come across, the less interesting they’ll be. It’s like trying to come up with the perfect pick up line; you’re gonna sound like a tool and she’s not gonna care. So relax and just tweet whatever comes across your mind. The best tweets are the ones that just occur spontaneously and make you stop when you run across them in your feed. You could post like this on Facebook, but no one’s going to stop and give that post any thought. Not when the next person in their feed has posted the latest Annoying Orange or Dancing Cats video. And that stuff is pretty easily skipped over on Twitter, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
#2. You are in WAY more control over what you see on Twitter than on Facebook.
So you got a friend request on Facebook from your old high school flame or that cute girl that works down the hall. So, yeah, you click “accept” because you’re interested in getting to know them a little bit better. Turns out, though, that you really wish you hadn’t. After the 11th or 111th post about how awesome their new car is, or the same number of posted bible verses, you shake your head and hide them from your feed. On Twitter, however, you’re a lot more active in selecting who you have in your Twitter feed. Plus it’s just a matter of checking out their previous tweets to see what they’re about before you decide to follow them. There’s none of this friend request business; you just try out their feed by following them for a few days and decide if they’re worth keeping up with. This way, you get an idea of what someone on Twitter is about; you have no idea what you’re in for when you accept a friend request on Facebook.
*extrapolation: Some of you, at this point, might choose to stand up and scream, “But I KNOW the people I’m friends with on Facebook in real life!”. Okay, granted, but….(really deep breath) NO YOU DON’T. Creating an online identity provides an outlet for, I dunno, say 75% of the people on this dustball that keep all kinds of things shut up inside when they’re out in public, but the moment they’re alone in that room with the washing machine next to the PC, they start saying all kinds of wild and wacky shit. I recently kicked an Army Officer from my hometown off of my Facebook because of the ignorant political statements he was posting. I’m talking about a West Point graduate. One would think, given his education and position of leading troops into combat, he might act, oh I don’t know…RESPONSIBLY or INTELLIGENTLY. Nope. Home fry was a real mouth drooler. Online, you get to see the sides of people you didn’t know they had. Enough extrapolation.
#3. All that stupid crap you hate about Facebook? It’s not on Twitter.
So you hate the new Facebook changes. The janitor at 7-11 keeps asking you to help out his pigs on Farmville. Your ex posted the pictures you knew they were going to. The singles ads. Daily horoscope crap you hate waking up to. And from my own recent experience, a profile pic of a really ugly guy in a cowboy hat. NOT ON TWITTER!
#4. Twitter will actually inform you.
From my own list, I follow: News Scientist, Exoplanetology, Rachel Maddow, all the people occupying Wall Street (hey, I wanted to know what was going on, and the mainstream media wasn’t reporting squat), all of my favorite musicians, the Baltimore PD, local news, Starbucks, and a plethora of other things that I either enjoy, deal with, or have some relation to in my life. You can follow your favorite TV shows and get teasers and show times. I follow the White House. All of this information is nicely packed and shipped to one easy-to-use place. My Twitter feed. And since the tweets can’t be more than 140 characters, there’s not a whole lot of inane drivel to plow through (as there is on Facebook) to get to the good stuff. But there’s not a whole lot of pointless posting, which leads me to….
#5. Twitter is full of people who are ACTUALLY funny.
Zomg this could be a long list. I follow The Fake CNN, Fat Jew, Bluth Quotes, Conan O’Brian, Louis C.K., Jenny Wade, plus I just started following The (this is a fake Twitter account, but waaaay better than the real one) Herman Cain. He’s the Republican candidate for president with the 9-9-9 tax plan. Here’s one of his recent tweets: “Axis of Evil: 1. Muslims 2. Occupy Wall Street. 3. The Noid” (Cain is the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza. The Noid was some type of evil pizza damaging villain in their commercials).
The great thing about Twitter humor is that it’s got to be quick and to the point. That’s awesome, ’cause you gotta hurry up and stash your phone before the boss comes back. But my feed cracks me up almost each time I check it, which considering working with the general public five days a week, I seriously need. Plus, if you’re gonna try to be funny on Twitter, you better think of a consise way to say it. 140 characters, people. If you can’t be funny within that limit, then just give it up. One tweet I recently posted, after seeing a sign at a gas station reading “Food Stamps Accepted Here” went something like this: “Sign at gas station: Food Stamps Accepted Here. WTF GAS IS NOT FOOD”. Now, that may not be funny to you, but it certainly was to me, which (please refer back to reason #1) is sort of the point to Twitter.
#6 Olivia Wilde
Yeah, so Twitter has celebrities. Unless they’re drug addicts, in trouble with the law, or way too important to communicate with the common folk, you’re probably reading whatever the REAL celebrity thinks. There have been major meltdowns and squabbles over Twitter (hey Kanye IMMA LET YOU TWEET), plenty of celebrities say ridiculously idiotic things, and other celebs talk about what the sky looks like today, and that’s the norm. You read some celebrities’ tweets and you realize why they went in to the entertainment business: no one would pay these people to do anything else. Some celebrities act like you’re privileged to be in the presence of their Twitter account, i.e. CHECK ME OUT I’M TOTALLY AWESOME. Those sorts of tweets get old, fast.
Olivia Wilde is the exception. I’ve been a House fan for years, so when I saw that Ms. Wilde had a twitter feed, I decided to give it a shot. That was almost a year and a half ago. The first tweet I ever saw from her had something to do with how awesome the sunset over Santa Fe was, and how fortunate she felt to be there to see it. When she’s funny, she’s intelligent about it. Some celebrities talk about how great their lifestyles are; she talks about the causes, such as disaster relief in Haiti, that she supports. I don’t profess to know her in any way, but you get the sense from her tweets that she’s just a normal person. Kinda like the rest of us. You just don’t see that coming out of Hollywood anymore. She posted recent pictures from her seat at a Radiohead concert, and she was…just a fan. It’s refreshing to realize that a celebrity out there still has class, still has a sense of self, and conducts themselves accordingly. Out of all the celebrities I follow on Twitter, Olivia Wilde is the only one whose tweets I make sure not to miss.
#7 People complain about the creepers on Facebook. You can’t creep on Twitter….
…..or, rather, an extremely limited form of creeping is sorta the point of Twitter. To explain: “creeping” is seen as a sort of online stalking these days, where someone is always on another’s Facebook page, commenting or memorizing or what-not. I’m always hearing from people that so-and-so creeped them (the complainer) on Facebook. What I’m sort of confused about is that you pretty much made your profile to be seen, didn’t you? But I’m getting off topic. On Twitter, yeah, anyone can see what you post, unless you chose the private account, but really, what can they glean from a few 140 character posts a day? If someone is creeping you on Twitter, then congratulations: you scored the laziest stalker award ’cause if checking your Twitter feed is all they got, the last thing you need to worry about is catching them outside of your house in the bushes.
#8. Twitter, if you get into it, makes you really creative. And original.
Twitter has its own unique language. Relax, it’s not hard at all. Besides having you be brief and to the point (which, in of itself, is its own kind of creativity), Twitter uses hash tags (they look like this: #). Originally, they were meant to isolate and identify a particular topic of conversation. This way, if you knew people were talking about something, and you wanted to jump in, all you had to do was know the hash tagged topic and place it at the end of your tweet. Example: when the earthquake hit the East Coast two months ago, instead of checking the news, I jumped on Twitter and hash tagged the name of the town I was in (#Towson). The search brought up everything on Twitter that people had used that same hash tag for, and sure enough, people were tweeting about buildings shaking and the magnitude of the quake.
Now here’s the creative part. You can make up your own hash tags. Once you wind up having an inner Twitter circle of friends, this becomes loads of fun. It’s like being in on the joke. There’s plenty of room for word play, too. It’s almost like giving your tweet a creative signature. You can set up a joke in your tweet, hash tag the punch line, then if any of your followers laugh and like your tag, they can borrow it and use it for their own conversations. Which, of course, you can continue contributing to. I create all sorts of hash tags, for talking about people I shouldn’t be, for secret conversations, for new ways of expression, and for humor. Facebook just doesn’t allow for the same degree of originality or creativity.
#9. Facebook limits your online exposure; Twitter EXPANDS it.
Follow the train here: I started following Wil Wheaton (Star Trek TNG fame) because Twitter suggested him. His tweets are funny, geeky, plus he posts links to his blog, which I enjoy reading. But he was talking about someone named Marian Call one day, so, since I enjoy the estimable Mr. Wheaton’s posts, I checked out Marian’s Twitter account. Not only did I find a musician whose music I respect and admire, not only did I find someone honest enough to tweet about being awkward yet resilient, not only did I develop a new appreciation for Alaska, but I found an artist who won’t compromise her ideals for the sake of fame and money. Plus the conversation I had with her at one of her shows was pretty cool. She gets to do a lot of what she does BECAUSE of Twitter. My Twitter experience is full of these little moments of serendipity. Point being that if you get on there, try out a whole lotta different people, you’ve got a pretty high probability of getting into a lot of things you didn’t know were out there. People talk and share on Twitter, while on Facebook, it’s people showing stuff to people who already like that sort of thing. Or they’ve hidden those people in their news feed. Twitter will bring a lot of new and exciting things to you if you give it a shot. I, for one, get majorly bored a lot of the time. I got bored on a roller coaster once. So to have all of this stuff to check out while I’m waiting in line at Starbucks or at the eye doctor is pretty nifty. Or, in Twitter Speak: “ZOMG check this out (insert link) #kickass #woot”
There’s the list, and if I’ve managed to persuade a few of you to give Twitter a shot, here’s some advice. Don’t tweet anything your first week. Just get the free account and start following. Check out who Twitter suggests, follow them, then see who they’re following. Mix it up; don’t just follow rap stars and Whole Foods. Like an investment portfolio, DIVERSIFY. Check the feed a few times a day. Repost (retweet) something you like. Follow politicians in your area. Give it a little bit of time. You’ll probably enjoy it. And look me up at @lydiandude and follow me. It’s a lot more entertaining than Facebook, and the best part is, you don’t have to be reminded of how rich Mark Zuckerberg is.
Don’t go first thing in the morning. Wait.
Spend your day keeping frustrations inside. All the doubts, the hurt, the pain of being in this world. Hold on to it like some cherished memory you know you’ll need someday. Keep it all, because it’s yours. The hurt belongs to you. The anger came from inside of your heart. Your thoughts wouldn’t let you forget what kept you awake the night before, questioning. Any action taken against you, when you can’t respond in kind, wait. Any time you’re ignored, cast aside like a coat too weathered to hold the warmth inside, remember that feeling. No one else hurts the way you hurt. No one can know. You are alone in your solitude. And keep this all inside of you and wait. Let the day happen and Life occur to you. It will. Life is an ocean that brings things you never wanted to your shores. You never asked; you can’t stop the tide.
You will be battered. You will be misunderstood. The anger will come. The grief will settle in like an old friend.
Don’t go first thing in the morning. Wait. Go out and face your day, knowing Life will bring you the weight you’ll need to carry. No, after sunrise is too early. You are not heavy enough.
Walk out into your day and face life. When you’re shouted at, when your outreached hand is turned away, when your desperate grabs at success fall short, when your best just isn’t good enough, when those you love and care for hurt and despair while you’re powerless to help, and when the love you have in your heart dies a little bit…hold on to all of that. Don’t let go. Take it all with you.
Later, feeling helpless to change anything, lost in a storm, or burdened by the day, go to your door. Stretch. Deep breath. Remember your day and all that brought you here. And go.
No timers. No music. No goals. Just go. And think of everything that happened that day. Bring the hurt, the anger, the self-doubt…bring that all with you as your legs stretch out before you, not thinking of how your foot meets the ground but of how much it hurt. This day. How hard it was. Just go. Just let go. Listen to the wind and the sounds of the city. You are one among thousands. Skip up to meet the curb, dodge pedestrians, listen to your heart, feel the burn in your lungs, but don’t stop. The day is not over and you have the weight of the day to leave behind. Another block. Another six blocks. Relax. Use what your day brought to you and go another mile. Let your thoughts remember. Your calves don’t ache; your soul does. The fire is not in your breathing but in your heart. You saved it all; the time has come to let it go. Run. Run further. Don’t worry about time. Just the next step. Just the next memory. It hurt worse to go through that day than the pain firing through your body as you push on up the hill. So relax. You got this.
Another mile and you’re lighter. You’re leaving it all behind, burning the fuel that brought you outside. You’re doing it. You haven’t stopped. You will finish. All that came before no longer matters because you are in the now and only you know how this feels. Muscles fire and push against old concrete and this is all nothing more than the refusal to let Life win. Life is not with you when you run. There is nothing else but the run, the thing you saved for all day, and what made the day worth it.
Run and let go. Run and move on. Breath, hurt, relax, and think. Settle into that groove and just be. Relax your fists, shake your fingers, and just don’t stop. Stopping early means the day wasn’t heavy enough. So run. Run until you just can’t anymore.
When you stop, walking in circles with your hands on your hips, catching your breath, ask: what brought you out tonight? Does it seem as heavy now? Or did you do something with what you were feeling? Find your answer, know it, and forget it. Let go. Relax. Breath some more before the sun rises in the morning and does this to you again. Before the next time you run.
People in Texas are often complaining about cows, but never for the right reason. The right reason should be because cows are stupid. If anyone doubts this, I invite them to deal with cows for any length of time because I guarantee, you’ll be driven to drink. A lot. Is there any wonder that my home state is filled with drunks that end up shooting things that don’t usually get shot? I’m sure there’s some statistical correlation between the number of cows in that state and the number of drunks. No wonder the Southern Baptists in my hometown had to hide out at the country club to drink; most of them were ranchers.
But no, most people complain about cows because they can never get cows to do what they (the people) want them (the cows) to do (it goes without saying that cows pretty much are going to do what they want to do if left alone, and those activities are the ones I take issue with, i.e. COWS ARE STUPID. But I digress). The ranchers and farmers are always griping because the cows won’t go into the barn to get their vaccinations, the cows stayed out in the fields during the blizzard and froze to death (see? They ARE STOOPID) instead of going back to the barn, the cows wandered out through a broken section of fence and got hit by a speeding drunk football coach, the cows wouldn’t let themselves get herded onto the truck bound for the slaughterhouse (that reason actually makes them look smart), or the cows ate all the feed in the barn instead of staying out in the pastures where they’re SUPPOSED to graze. So gripe complain and whine about the bovine scourge of your existence, Mr. Farmer Dude, because at least you’re griping about an animal that burps up food it ate four hours ago and chews on it. Something like that deserves a complaint or two.
We spend way more time griping about each other.
Yeah, we get on each other’s nerves. There’s the guy that parked sideways across three parking spots. There’s the lady who bought an iPhone but she’s never heard of the Internet. There’s the kid drinking shampoo in the dog food aisle at Wal-Mart. There’s the guy who thought jumping a dead car battery next to a gas pump was a good idea. Yeah, there’s plenty complain about coming from all directions during our days, but what’s interesting is the amount of time we devote to being royally hacked off because someone didn’t do what we either expected or wanted them to do. “Bob moved in and refused to hack into the neighbor’s cable box. He’s a computer genius, for Christ’s sake!”. Or the homeless guy that gives you the stare of death because you won’t turn around, walk seven blocks, and take twenty bucks out of the ATM for him. I, for one, would be pissed off that I was homeless. No time to be pissed off at hipster yuppies being lazy! Get me a house!
I’ve had plenty reasons lately to be pissed off, and for good reasons. Usually when I get this mad, I’m going through my index cards of revengeful goodness to pick out something really appropriate, but on reflection, I found that a decent amount of time had passed and I’d never really gotten mad at all. Yeah, I was out a couple hundred bucks that could have been spent on coffee and guitar strings, I had to spend six or seven nights explaining myself to the mental equivalent of a concrete floor, and I wasted a lot of time that could have been used on people in my life that mattered. But when the dust settled, I realized that the reason I wasn’t mad was because I had expected all of it to turn out the way it did. The irrationality, the overreactions…none of it surprised me. In other words, the cows were being stupid and I had no reason to gripe or complain. Why?
BECAUSE COWS ARE STUPID.
I’ve often described this as knowing someone who suffers from Bovine Actuality Syndrome. If I were to write a poem about this, it would go “A cow is a cow is a cow is a cow….” and so on. Basically meaning that the cow is being a cow and there’s no reason to run about getting your blood pressure up. So the only reason we’re going around complaining when something’s not turning out the way we planned is because we are selfish and needy. “We want we want we want we want…..” and then screw the world when we don’t get our way, in this sense, with other people. Well, genius, was what you wanted really that good of an idea? Maybe there’s a reason you didn’t get your way.
When I arrived at my Army unit in Germany, the barracks had been set on fire the previous week. Turns out some guy had the hots for someone in the building, and when she didn’t return his affections (not sure what really happened-heard a few different stories) he ran down to the basement and lit the damn thing on fire. Just because someone wasn’t acting the way he wanted to. Well, someone acted, and that person was a military prosecutor.
There are times when I really wish that we could just get some perspective. That we could just calm down and leave the cows alone. I don’t like being around cows; I moved to the East Coast. Problem solved. So the next time you find yourself losing sleep because things aren’t turning out the way you wanted them to, ask yourself: Are you asking unreal expectations of someone? Could you probably just relax a bit and let them make up their mind, or even better…let them be the only thing they know how to be? Themselves.
Trust me. The stupid cows aren’t loosing any sleep because the rancher hasn’t figured out he’s milking the wrong cow. Er, oops.
I pick up my guitar, ducking my head through the strap. The red light on the amp is glowing and the volume knob is dialed up past 9. The pick is sitting tight between my thumb and forefinger. I take a deep breath, calming my nerves, and my fingers come down on the strings. There’s a melody I heard in my daydreams, cutting through the static noise of the world during one of those peaceful moments of my day. I captured that melody and wanted to share that beautiful collection of notes with the world. So I stand in front of this audience, fingers finding the notes of this Lydian progression that paints the quiet moment of beauty I had, and I play for them. I hear each note in my head; I feel each one in my heart. This is something that can’t be kept from the world. It screams to be heard. The melody finishes, and relaxing my fingers across the strings to still them, I open my eyes to see the expressions of the audience.
They’re confused. Questioning. At first, I’m nervous that this song hasn’t connected with them, but then I look at my amp and see the problem: there’s no cable connecting the guitar to the speaker. And the audience is leaving, many of them shaking their heads in frustration. And I’m still on the stage, wanting to play. Knowing what to play. But the audience is gone, leaving me alone in an empty theater with the thoughts and feelings I want to share.
Aphasia is defined as an impairment of language ability, and one of the manifestations of this disorder is the inability to speak. Aphasia can be caused by a brain tumor or infection, but the more common causes are from either head trauma or stroke. I know someone who has this condition. In the way I understand his type of aphasia, it’s as if the words he wants to say form a train (the sentence) somewhere in the language sentence of his brain, but the track from that center that would normally lead to his vocal chords has been damaged by the stroke. So the train doesn’t get there in the same condition it left in. So when he communicates, he uses simple sentences and hand gestures. Most of what he says has nothing to do with the question he was asked. He hears the melody, but the guitar cable isn’t plugged in to the amp. He can’t tell you what he’s thinking. And yet I communicate with him. I’ve only known him for six or seven months, and the length of time I’ve sat with him at any given time has probably been less than ten minutes at a time. But I can tell you his hobbies, what he did in the military, and where he was stationed. And I learn more about him each time I see him. None of what I know was written down. I simply talk to him. I’ve been asked how I communicate with him, this person who uses a language that doesn’t follow an established grammar and has an extremely limited vocabulary, and to be honest, I don’t know how I’m able to. I only know that I have to.
We all live inside of ourselves with our thoughts and our feelings, and there are times when we take those thoughts and feelings out in to the world. My friend can’t. He can only get one foot out of the door. That’s as wide as the door leading out from his world can get. So I guess the only option I had was to step inside the room with him. That way, at least, he wasn’t alone anymore.
I could have gone to school and gotten an education in speech pathology. I could have studied nueroscience so I could understand the physiology of the damage his stroke caused, and then devised a treatment plan. But I never did. I just remember being the little boy who reached my hand out of my door when it wouldn’t open to let me out into the world.
When I began talking, I had a speech impediment. I’m not sure that that’s the right word; nothing I said was able to be understood. The sounds coming out of my mouth couldn’t even be called English. No one in my family or my small hometown could understand what I was trying to tell them, except for my mother. Apparently she got to the point where she could understand my mangled speech, and I’m sure her patience had much to do with it. But I wasn’t around her 24 hours a day. I was around people who couldn’t understand what I was trying to say to them. And, I think, once I figured out that reaching out, trying to communicate, was pointless and just as frustrating for them as it was for me, I pulled my arm back into my own little room. I left the world alone because it couldn’t understand me, and I think there’s only so much rejection a little boy can take before he realizes it’s just not worth the effort. I stayed inside with my books and my radio, living in a perfect world because I didn’t have to communicate with it. But three or four years of speech therapy later, I could speak clearly. But I guess it’s hard to forget the tough lessons. I had given up reaching out for the best reasons, and first among those reasons is that once you’ve opened yourself up to the world, causing confusion and frustration isn’t worth the risk.
I grew up. Made a few friends and made it through high school. Looking back, I can see how I developed a sort of mask to deal with the world through. My first failures at opening up and sharing how I felt with the world taught me to keep my mouth shut and just muddle my way through it all. It didn’t help that I grew up in a town that idolized high school football, and I found myself having to fight, sometimes physically, to keep my music, my academic successes, and my dreams alive, since I wasn’t charging down the field with a football in my hands. The world wanted me to change, asking me to give up every passion I loved, and I couldn’t do that. All I ever had was kept in that little room I had stayed in my entire life. And I never let anyone into that room. The people on the outside made fun of me for having that room, sent me to the hospital once before I decided I didn’t care about the trouble caused by fighting back, so there was never any question about letting someone in. Besides, no one ever knocked on the door and waited patiently to be let in.
It was my senior year of high school when someone finally did. And I found myself unable to say “no”. So she came inside my little room, asked me questions, and discussed my answers with me. And she genuinely liked it in there. Until the day, a few months after I let her in, when she got up and walked out. She realized that if she was going to be popular, she couldn’t share that room with me. She left without saying a word.
So I went to California to learn Russian for the Army. The irony was that I was learning a new way to communicate, when my most successful attempt at opening up and sharing had failed, leaving me questioning whether anything I felt or thought actually had any value. I went to the beach on most days, watching the Pacific surf crash along the shore. It was there that I decided the best place to share would be through my writing and the music I wrote on the guitar. That opening up just wasn’t worth the risk. So the boy from Texas who was born with a speech impediment learned to speak Russian, and the entire time kept to himself. I somehow knew that what I wanted and needed to share had some value to it; I just didn’t know where I could express it. My life at that point had been a series of failures when it came to opening up and sharing. All that I had was either made into a joke, ignored, or thrown away like trash. And I knew that what I wanted to communicate wasn’t any of that.
So I went through life, mostly keeping to myself. There were occasions when I would ease up on the door, opening up just a little bit to someone, but for the most part, I just re-learned the same lesson. It just wasn’t worth the effort. I went through a relationship where I was told I was stupid for thinking the way I did, and for trying my best to make someone’s life happier. Once again, the lesson was obvious: don’t open up. Stay shut away. Keep it all inside. I’ve learned to communicate without words, by doing all that I can for someone who needs it, over and over again, and still…and still the message wasn’t received. So the threads of my life came together and were pretty clear. I wasn’t able to communicate, to share, very well. It was as if my life, or the way I lived it, was the result of some kind of disorder that shut me off from the rest of the world. And the funny thing was, I became okay with that. Once something happens over and over again, no matter what you try differently, you just come to expect it. You learn to wake up with it. You learn to live with it. It becomes your argument for being alone.
One day, a man walked up to me, using a cane and leaning to one side. He tried so hard to speak to me, and I could see the frustration and the desperation for understanding in his eyes. And the adult who had grown up to learn Russian, the guitar player who goes to wild metal shows, the guy who ran around Europe before moving to the East Coast, the nerd who likes writing philosophy papers….that person was gone. The little boy in Texas, the kid with the speech impediment….that boy was in his room again, looking out at the world, wishing there was someone out there who could understand him. And the boy saw someone who knew exactly what that feeling of helpless alienation felt like.
So I walked around to where I could stand beside him, and I started communicating with him. And…he smiled.
Life is a very funny thing. For years I’ve wondered if there could have been a different way to try to connect to the world. If all of the confusion, rejection, and the solitude weren’t really necessary. But my friend with aphasia was able to tell me everything I needed to know in a single glance. He was having a hard time connecting with the world. And he walked up to someone who knows exactly how hard it is to live with that feeling. All of the jokes that were made about me, the people who wouldn’t listen because I couldn’t talk right, everyone who decided I wasn’t worth getting to know because of what I shared with them, the ones who never took me seriously…given the choice, I wouldn’t change anything. I never could have reached my friend if I didn’t know how desperately necessary it is to be able to make a connection. So I can live with all of it-the failed attempts, the hurt, and the loneliness, all because I was able to reach him. I don’t think there was any other way.
I titled this blog’s address with the (abbrv) word “speechimped”. It made sense because that’s really where all of this started. I’m in my room, shut away from the world, and I’m letting the door swing open a little bit.
Plugging that guitar into the amp, so to speak.
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