Thursday, August 27, 2009

Casual Conversationalists Casually Converse

There's nothing in life more perplexing than casual social encounters. I would say that (at least) sixty percent of my insecurities stem from how people interpret the things I say. It’s bad enough that people are always misinterpreting my mood (because I seemingly cannot convey my actual psychological state), but I am also misspeaking to the point of obliterating any semblance of meaning in my sentences. A conversation with me will likely trail off in a series of unrelated and incoherent phrases, dissipating to the point that I just relent, giving up all together. The train of my mind is in constant flux, always speeding up and slowing to a stop, shifting gears and jumping rails, digressing and digressing and digressing until I’m not even on a track anymore; I’m traveling down some back road in the boondocks of my frontal lobe, and I’ve likely even forgotten what the conversation was about. In the same vein, I am unrivaled in my capacity to tell stories that are utterly devoid of any point whatsoever. I often begin a story that pops into my head—one which seems interesting enough at the time—and begin painting a picture of a moment or event for my friends, really building it up to a sense of expectation, a look of “this better be good because you’re babbling.” I build it up so much that I realize I have no idea where to end it, and I am going nowhere with a train of thought that has no peak or climax of any sort, so I just let it taper off like a song with no dénouement (you know, the songs that just play the chorus over and over again as they fade in volume because the songwriter had no idea how to wrap things up in an orderly manner (e.g. radar love)).

When I was a child, I would just make up an effective ending. If I got to the point that I realized my story wasn’t going anywhere, I would introduce a spaceship or a dinosaur or an army of ninjas, and my friends would all look at me skeptically, saying “that didn’t happen,” but I would just shake my head, emphatically claiming “yes it did!” Over time, I learned to stave this impulse because it caused distrust even in my more honest stories; so now, I continue my story until I realize that it is really, truly going nowhere. Then, I just apologize: usually, “I’m sorry, this story really has no point.” People have learned to accept it; they’ve learned to accept my neurotic babble as something utterly meaningless, and they just nod politely as I wear myself out and my mind freezes up. Then, they pat my shoulder and shake their heads as if to say, “Oh, Scott, what are we going to do with you?” It would be endearing if wasn’t so extremely annoying to everyone involved (including myself).

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I just can’t do “casual conversation.” I hate the moments of lazy mingling before an event or function, the unavoidable encounters with people I really don’t know, people who don’t actually want to hear my opinion on a subject, people who like to hear themselves talk. In these moments, people always revert to inane banter about the most irrelevant subjects, filling space and time with absolute nothingness. It drives me crazy. People talk and they talk and they talk, and (in a way) it’s similar to my story-telling fault in that it never means anything. When there's nothing relevant to talk about, we revert to sexual jokes or playful witticisms or just plain gratuitous self-indulgence. We look for opportunities to self-promote, always working at creating this image of ourselves that isn’t anything like who we really are. I feel like if we all really were honest with each other in these socially awkward moments, we’d say things like: “could you leave me alone,” or “just shut up already,” or “I realize that you see me as an opportunity to expand your social influence, but I really, truly have no power to improve your station in life, and unless you are really an exceptionally honest person, please do no shower me with deceitful, self-aggrandizing gibberish. I so damn tired of this; I’m tired of trying to make people like me.”

Saturday, August 15, 2009

the Odyssey of Expectation

First, before you do anything else, check this song out: these guys are brilliant: Das Racist-Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.

Okay, now that I've said that, I'm going to try something new with this one. Bear with me. It's a work in progress. The idea of Neuroses is to discuss my insecurities in the most candid manner possible. The idea is to understand my life and what I'm doing here through some sort of human experience that others can relate to. Up until now, I've concentrated mostly on the minutia, running a microscope over these small matters that are really irrelevant to people as a whole, issues that cause the normal and average individual little to no concern. Hopefully, this one is going to be different. I've found that a few people are reading this, including family members that I never expected to take an interest in my Internet personality, esp. because (I guess) I assumed that they were all Luddites ( says: Luddite: a member of any of various bands of workers in England (1811–16) organized to destroy manufacturing machinery, under the belief that its use diminished employment). I also was under the impression that nobody I knew from my daily life would read this, possibly because American culture is one of Ayn-Randean self-obsession, and we are all involved in our own stories, ones which require the utmost attention, not leaving much room for the ambitions of others. And, even more so, time is so valuable when you really start living an adult life, when every responsibility rests on your shoulders, and there is a sense of urgency in your few moments of real, personal pursuit.

This one's about expectation--Hopefully, I can keep it engaging without resorting to witticisms or poor attempts at flare (wish me luck). I think anyone would agree that when we are young, we start forming expectations about who and what we are shaping up to be, what we are going to achieve, what resources we are going to have on the way, and how we are planning on living up to those expectations. I also think that if you made a pie chart of how we actually turned out in regards to our expectations when we were, say, 14, we would find that it would look much like a monochromatic black circle, just sitting there with a key that read: Black = didn't live up to expectations. Now, I'll try not to equate expectation with success. I don't really think that this is a discussion of success, and I'm sure that that's the first thing that would pop into the mind of someone who's actually read this far. I think success is a mere aspect (1/1,000,000,000) of how we gauge our expectations. Success might hog the spotlight more often than others, but we're all acting upon more considerations than are really calculable, even if these considerations aren't always on the forefront of our minds. Even so, we all know the guy/gal from high school who was just brimming with potential, I mean really going places, and we all though "hey, at least we know that person is going to make it," but when I look back at how I behaved in high school in relation to the expectations I had for myself, I guess I just always assumed that things would work themselves out in the end, and I think a lot of us do that. It's easy to drop off at some point, pull in to a pit stop, and settle down. This can be a pretty disheartening prospect, the prospect of settling for something other than what we had in mind for ourselves. But that doesn't always mean that diverting from our goals is a bad thing. It we drift away from one path to pick up on another, fresher course of development, we've traded up, and that is always preferable to stagnation.

The easy thing to do is to say, "it doesn't really matter. Once I'm dead, I'll cease existing, and it won't matter if I was a gas station attendant or a political leader. It won't matter if I was married with four children or I died alone. I will simply not be." Or, on the other end, "it doesn't matter. My rewards are awaiting me in heaven." But this kind of thinking is caustic to our goals. It eats away at what we want from life, and when you really think about it--I mean, when you really get down to the crux of it--all we have is a finite number of years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds. When we are born, somebody starts a doomsday clock somewhere in a metaphysical bureaucracy that we can't begin to understand, and if we don't do exactly what we want in this life, somewhere along the line, we will regret it. I don't know; maybe this is all a bit too bleak, but thinking this way can be motivational, even if it is stressful to constantly be aware of your own biological clock counting down somewhere in the corporate headquarters of the universe.

Monday, August 3, 2009

What's Wrong?

Nonverbal communication is a huge part of social interaction. If I looked it up--if I Wikipedia-ed it--I'm sure that I would find that some gigantic portion (like 80%) of all communication is nonverbal. Hold's the Wiki: nonverbal communication. I didn't see anything that might back up my 80% claim, but it is a pretty long article, and I'm not claiming to have read every word. So, let's assume that I'm right. Just about every little detail that we communicate to each other is through subtle physical cues. If this is true, then I am flying incommunicado. Why, you ask? Easy: people are always misinterpreting my mood (and by that, I mean grossly misinterpreting my mood). Okay, here's the example:

Scott: (Happily minding his own business) La, la, la, la, la.

Random Friend: What's wrong, buddy?

Scott: Nothing's wrong. Everything's good.

Random Friend: Come on. You can tell me. Something's obviously bothering you.

Scott: No. I'm fine.

Random Friend: Look, man, I'm here to help. Just tell me what's going on.

Scott: No, seriously, I'm fine.

Random friend: Fine, don't tell me, dick.

As you can see, this is a serious problem. I can't seem to convince the people around me that everything is alright, and it's not just limited to nonverbal communication. I recently had a phone conversation with my girlfriend that went something like this:

Me: "So, what's up?"
Her: "Jesus Christ. Calm down."
Me: "What are you talking about?"
Her: "What are you so pissed off about?"
Me: "I'm not pissed off. I'm fine."
Her: "Look, I'm going to let you go. Call me when you're not acting like such a dick."
Me: "That doesn't make any sense."

This type of thing is a daily occurrence for me. It's like everybody in my life seems to think that I'm just this sullen and melancholy guy, and so, even when nothing is wrong, it's the signal that I'm putting out. I feel like Mork (of Mork & Mindy fame), hopelessly lost in a world of beings beyond my understanding. Something went terribly wrong when I was being formed in the womb, some horrible toxic accident that caused a rift between my intended message and that which is recieved by my peers. I don't know where the disparity comes from, but it's reasonably safe to blame it all on my parents. My father is known for his tendency to look forlorn when he is bored or thoughtful, and my mother is nothing but a bundle of nerves. There we go: the toxic combination. I (xy) am the end result of my mother (x) and my father (y), which means that my condition can be summed up as a mathematical equation (something like 1/2x + 1/2y = socially inept). Of course, I wasn't exactly a math major, but it looks good enough to me.

Is there a cure for this sort of thing? Short answer: maybe, no, probably not. I doubt there's any way I'll ever learn to look 'okay,' but I'm guessing there're things I could do to help. It might have something to do with my inability to smile with confidence. Maybe if I'd had braces as some point in my life. Or, if I stopped drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Or, if I took a xanax every now and then. Or, if I really did feel 'okay.' Who knows. Maybe I've just never felt the particular brand of 'okay' that people are always referring to. Maybe I look sullen and melancholy because I am sullen and melancholy. I don't know. It's hard to self-analyze. It requires more than a liberal arts degree. It requires more insight than is available to me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Far From the Whispering Crowd

I don’t think it’s considered rude to whisper in public; I don’t even think whisperers are on most people’s radars. It may—in some circumstances—be considered rude to whisper if you’re in an intimate group setting. Consider, for example, that you’re in a triangular threesome of conversation. If there’s any whispering going on, it better be a group whisper because if you’re cut out of the whispering process, then you’re the primary subject of the affronting whisper, and whispers are never good: nobody ever whispers “I’m so happy for Henry!” or “Scott’s blog is really good.” No, whispers are more like “I can see her panties through those shorts,” or “can you believe this guy? He just doesn’t know when to quit.” They’re intentionally inaudible because either A) they are exceptionally personal tidbits of information, or B) they are critical remarks directed at the surrounding public. I wish I could get an Emily Post ruling on this. I know they’ve got some sort of etiquette society—possibly the Crusaders for a Proper Understanding of Etiquette (or C-PUE)—an organization equipped with some process of demarcating the appropriateness of a whisper in any given situation. They’ve probably got pie charts on this sort of thing, but I wouldn’t know where to find them. If C-PUE exists, they went underground a long time ago. We’d be hard pressed to recognize their ranks, much less gain access to their secret archives. So, with that said, I’ll differentiate between two types of public whispering:

The type A whisperer is a whisperer of intimate remarks, a conceder of personal dysfunctions, an introvert who confides in a single, personal party.

The type B whisperer is an underhanded critic, a covert heckler who slinks through the street arm in brazen arm with her whispering cohort, pointing out the social imperfections of others.

The type B whisperer originated the infamous Giggle-whisper, the Whisper-grin, and the most encroaching whisper of all, the Whisper-stare. The B whisperer is a guerilla soldier, offending from the shadows, unwilling to confront the object of her ridicule, only implying from a distance, cackling away like a witch at a cauldron, brewing a potion of paranoia. The type B whisperer is the object of my anxiety, a landmine waiting to set off the branching rivulets of my neuroses. On any given day, I might be walking to work, minding my own business, casually enjoying the splatter-board pattern of pigeon droppings on the sidewalk, when I come upon a loitering group of giggle-whisperers. These rowdy B-types are recognizable by their innate gravitational pull to each other. Two B-types walk together like a couple of conjoined twins, leaning in until their shoulders are millimeters apart. A large group of B-types will inevitably form a circle, huddling like a football team between plays, sucked together by some inconceivable force of nature. Their eyes scan their surroundings, looking for their next victim. Their facial expressions are expectant as they survey the world before them. They are trained giggle-whispering machines, and as I stroll past oblivious to their intent, they take aim. First, one opens up with a little whisper. Then, they laugh in unison. Together, they take a sideways glance over the shoulder (to soak it all in), then whisper in concurrence, nodding. Thus commences the giggle-frenzy. The giggle-frenzy is a tag team sort of approach where one giggler will set off the next giggler so that there is a staccato machine-gun fire effect. It’s all very well timed and very intentional. It's a group activity, signifying to the pedestrian public that someone in the vicinity is humorous is some unintentional way. Of course, who’s to say the gigglers are laughing at me? Who knows what they’re really on about? Most likely, the giggle-whisperers are giggle-whispering about some inane subject that really has nothing to do with anybody on the sidewalk before them. Most likely, they’re whispering about recent sexual encounters or the phallic shape of some public art. But, of course, in my mind of a million insecurities, there must be something terrible wrong with my appearance. I must have done something incredibly embarrassing and overlooked it (like walk out of a bathroom with toilet paper stuck to my shoe). I check my fly, check for stains on my clothes, check to make sure I don’t have pigeon droppings in my hair. I always have the dread-inducing thought that there may be something terribly inappropriate about my appearance that I’m not even aware is a problem. What if there’s something I’m overlooking? What if there’s a giant hole in the seat of my pants? What if I’m just ridiculously awkward in appearance? Is it because my clothes don’t match? I smooth my hair. I make sure my shoes are tied. I check everything, and always (like every time before) there is nothing. I seem fine. I’m okay. They must not be whispering about me. I walk past them, and as I gain distance, I’m feeling better. I tell myself I’m crazy. I tell myself that I must be so insanely attractive that girls giggle involuntarily at the mere sight of me. I tell myself whatever I need to tell myself to get through the day with as little paranoia as possible, but, even so, it’s always in the back of my mind, and I find myself standing in front of a restroom mirror, wondering, “what was it?”

Monday, July 13, 2009

smells like paranoia

A nursing major once told me that phantom smells are a symptom of brain tumors. This is very disheartening news, and moreover, it adds numerous questions to my already insecurity-plagued mind. New York is a city founded upon layers and layers of fossilized odor; it is a wonderland for olfactophiles (people who are aroused by strong odors), a teeming island of different scents that assault one's nose on a daily basis. The subway platform is the worst. It's where the various emanations of daily life are baked in the stagnant heat of underground tunnels, proliferating in a thick, odorous atmosphere. Needless to say, this can be a little troubling.

For me, wafting odor is a daily concern. It freaks me out, triggers a paranoid episode, and sends me into an unhinged thought cycle of self-doubt. It's not that I don't prepare: I shower daily, slather on layers upon layers of deodorant, and always brush my teeth. But, even so, when riding the train or strolling to work, if I catch the slightest whiff of an unpleasant scent, I become determined to rule myself out as the offending source. This results in a number of awkward (and sometimes embarrassing) sniffing maneuvers which are designed to look like innocent gestures. My favorite is the Underarm Head Scratch, my first line of defense. First, I casually raise my arm to scratch my head. Then, when I'm convinced that no one is paying attention, I sniff my armpit. If nothing seems awry, then I am absolved, and I can rest easy. I usually attribute the smell to a dried pool of bum-urine or the fish-vomit that litters Korean Way on weekend mornings (an unavoidable byproduct of the innumerable karaoke bars that operate adjacent Korean restaurants on that short strip of 32nd st).

If I am on the subway, things become a little more complicated. First, there are more people around, so it becomes a much more dangerous mission. It's easier to blow my cover, and there are many more suspects to be ruled out. This is where embarrassment becomes a common occurrence. I can't count how many time's I've been caught mid head-scratch with my nose buried in my armpit. Even worse, it's usually an elderly woman who makes me, shaking her head disappointedly as if my self-doubt were a confirmation of my guilt. There's also the possibility that my jeans have been worn one too many days in a row, and this is a much more complicated problem to address. It's easy to sniff your armpit without appearing freakish, but it's an entirely different thing to smell your pants. This requires finnesse, which I am at a decided lack of. My only option is to casually lean over as if I am rummaging through my backpack while I simultaneously sniff my leg. This doesn't usually help. My jeans usually smell like my armoire, which has (for as long as I can remember) the distinct aroma of wet wood. Moreover, despite my attempts at discovering the source, I am usually left even less certain than before. This is because of the likely possibility that I wouldn't notice my own odor. This renders my previous efforts null and void, leading to numerous possibilities: either A) I am going completely insane, B) I have a brain tumor, leading to crazy neuroses, or C) no matter where you are in New York, you can always smell somebody's body odor.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Time to Christen the Ship/Insecurities on the subway

Well, I guess it's time for the maiden post of this new blog, so I'm thinking the best way to approach this is through a mission statement of sorts (albeit much less formal). I've created this blog in order to share my experiences in Brooklyn, my quest for a niche in life, and the numerous insecurities that plague me throughout the day. I'm serious: I've got about a thousand neurotic insecurities that could all qualify for a psychological disorder of their own, each with an official definition in the DSM-IV (the catalog of craziness that psychiatrists use to appear adequately educated). I'm not sure if I'm the only person who bumbles through life like a confused child, but I know that I am constantly and consistently informed by my insecurities, and it is, indeed, a confusing world out there. Things are never as simple as we perceive them. Even if we over-analyze things, we don't ever really form a solid understanding of our lives because the complexities that elude us are innumerable. This is why I'm so terribly distraught all the time. I'll never really get it, so I'm always fighting blind, and that just doesn't seem safe. Okay, enough of this, It's time to get started. Here's the first piece:

One of the most consistently confusing aspects of my life is subway etiquette. Particularly, when it is appropriate to give up my seat on the subway? When I first moved to New York, I was under the impression that--being a young and able bodied man--I should stand as long as there was a woman without a seat. That was over as quickly as it was conceived. Not only is such a Victorian notion of gentlemanliness impractical, it's counter intuitive to my feminist sensibilities. So, as the weeks turned into months, I started sitting freely, but even then, if I saw a woman in heels or a grumpy middle-aged person, I'd stand readily. That also dissipated (partly because I lost sympathy for people who make a conscious decision to wear impractical shoes, and partly because every time I gave up my seat, it would immediately be filled by the closest teenager). My workdays grew longer, and the hardening process of New-York-life trained me to find a seat and protect it at all costs. But, even so, there are a few exceptions where it's universally appropriate to give up a seat. The problem is recognizing these situations.

It seems reasonable to assume that pregnant women should always get a seat, but here's the problem: how do you know if someone's pregnant? My girlfriend once ran into an awkward situation where a guy got up under the assumption that she was pregnant; she was not, but she took the seat and thanked him just to avoid the embarrassing alternative. Ever since then, I've second guessed myself regarding pregnant women. Now I have to decide which is worse: do I offer a potentially un-pregnant woman a seat at the risk of our mutual embarrassment? Or do I neglect to offer my seat in fear of a social transgression? I don't know. Yesterday, I found myself on the F-train, sitting before a bulging, gravid stomach, silently debating with myself, embarrassed that I hadn't already offered her my seat (and equally embarrassed that I might appear to be leering at a pregnant stomach). What do you do in a situation like that? What's the appropriate measure?

It also seems reasonable to give up your seat to the elderly, right? Is seems natural to have respect for the old and decrepit because we will all someday be old and decrepit ourselves. The problem is than I have no idea how old someone needs to be before they qualify for priority seating. As I stated earlier, I used to give up my seat for middle-aged people, but it turns out that there are a hell of a lot of middle-aged people in New York, and 99% of them are healthier than I am. I've grown defiant toward the overweight housewives who gossip in groups on the train, glaring in judgment at any and all who are seated more comfortably than they are. So, over time, I've narrowed my group to senior citizens, but then we run into the age old question: how many wrinkles does someone have to have before they qualify for senior citizenship? How frail should they appear before they are entitled to a seat? It's so difficult to judge that I am frequently distracted (for the entirety of my ride) by the prospect of a very wrinkly 40-something.

There are others who should get a seat: the obviously handicapped, women with strollers, and anybody who seems too exhausted to stand. But, even so, I find that I am less polite than I intend because I am haunted by the prospect of misinterpreting the situation. Even worse, I'm usually bitter and tired, myself. I tell myself that they don't have my job, they're not standing all day, they don't know what I've dealt with. This makes it a little easier to bunker down in my seat, put on a blank expression, and bury my face in a book. Is it wrong of me to feel this way? I don't know. It seems like everyone else is following suit, and we're not exactly rude, we're just minding our own business.