Saturday, September 24, 2005

Maybe I'm too introspective, maybe I'm too deep

Last Sunday I talked a little bit about the main group of guys and gals I hang out with on a semi-regular basis, ending with a joking tease of further posts detailing why exactly we hang out. Well, half-joking, anyway. And as often happens with this sort of thing, my brain started fixating on the idea, preventing me from getting sleep for several nights because I couldn't stop the endless cycle of ceasless conjecture, pointless pondering, and infinite introspection*. So, did I come up with any definitive answers, other than that sleep deprivation is detrimental to overall coherence? Danged if I know. Still, one of the weird aspects of my borderline-OCD personality requires that when I'm caught in one of these mental loops, the only way out is to communicate the info to others, in effect exorcising it. Of course, there have been times when such communication has caused more harm than good, but that's neither here nor there right now.

So, once again, venture (if you dare) into the long and winding corridors of randomness that make up my brain. Warning: exposure to neurotic tendencies highly likely.

The first big question that got stuck in my head is what exactly is it that we have in common that compels us to socialize? Let's take them in reverse order, shall we?

Group #3, a.k.a. "The Singles," is the easiest to pin down on this issue, since they are the only group I am actively a part of right now. One of the purposes of our Sunday School structure is to foster relationships and act as a support system. Now, the degree to which we socialize varies due to changes in the makeup of the group, as well as structural changes to the department itself. A recent shift to a small-group structure has allowed the relationships within each small-group to strengthen, but the overall class cohesion has weakened a bit. And since my small-group is practically non-existent, well, let's just say there's a reason why your favorite Head Monkey has so much free time for TV and movie watching on his hands.

The socialization of Group #2, a.k.a. "The Book Monkeys," can be summed up best as "common interests." What sort of interests? Primarily obscure/offbeat/cheesy movies, unhealthy hours of television viewage, and a love of all things Whedon. Throw in a disturbingly similar sense of humor and way too many "Get out of my head!" moments, and you've got a first-class reason for hanging out. I really miss the days when we would gather together to enjoy and/or mock the latest episodes of Survivor, Dawson, Felicity, etc.

Group #1, a.k.a. "The Parkerites," is a bit harder to pin down. Sure, there are some similar tastes in books, TV, and movies, but it’s hardly as uniform across the whole group as it is with The Book Monkeys. To be honest, there have been times when I've felt like the only thing I had in common with this group was our mutual housing situation during our early collegiate years. True, there had to be more than that to draw us together into a group initially, since none of us were connected to each other by the random roommate process, but I think it was the shared experience that bonded us more than anything else. As long as we stayed in that mutual environment, everything was hunky-dorey. Once we were out of it, however . . .

There was a time when I fell out of touch with most of this group, and so when we would have one of our infrequent get-togethers, there was often some awkwardness, from my perspective, at least. The vagaries of life had caused changes on both sides, and it was often difficult to recapture whatever it was that had made us friends in the first place. I think this was compounded by the fact that a small portion of us stayed in good contact and saw each other regularly, while another portion did the same, but rarely the twain would meet. Which could cause problems in social dynamics at the best of times, but throw in my paranoia and "outsider" complex, and, well, like I said, awkwardness. I think the situation has vastly improved over the last few years, as communication and regular gatherings have increased, and as I've slowly whittled my paranoia down to a manageable level {knock on wood} (Maybe I should have saved this for a Therapeutic Thursday?)

In the end, I think the sheer number of years we've been associated with each other (remember: over a third of our lives) has created a sort of gravitational pull that we can't quite escape from. Over time, I've started to think of this group as a sort of extended family; a bunch of siblings, cousins, in-laws, nieces and nephews, and that crazy drunk uncle that you keep hoping won't come to Thanksgiving because you really don't want to witness all of the emotional scarring his reckless behavior leaves in its wake. Yes, it's a dysfunctional family to be sure, with stupid fights, bitter rivalries, and secret resentments; but even if you don't always like your family members, there's still something there that you can't quite escape, the bond of blood (metaphorical though it may be) that's thicker than water . . . and maybe I should go back and re-title this "Sappy Saturday," huh? Oh, well, what's done is done, it's not like there's some sort of magic key that can move back spaces and delete what's been written, right?

Moving on to the second big issue that's been floating in my head: What role do I play in these groups? I think this question will be more fully addressed in my forthcoming self-help book, "Everything I Know About Group Dynamics I Learned From Watching Sitcoms." And yeah, that's a joke, but one with a kernel of truth in it. If you look at any Sitcom (or even most dramas), odds are good that each character fulfils a specific, singular function in the group. Take Friends for example:

  • Joey is the dim but charming one
  • Phoebe is the ditzy but "spiritual" one
  • Chandler is the insecure but funny one
  • Monica is the highly competitive but nurturing one
  • Ross is the supposedly intelligent but incredibly, horribly, gratingly annoying one
  • Rachel is the supposedly interesting but really bland, useless, and superfluous one
The other example that springs to mind is Cheers:
  • Sam is the lothario
  • Diane is the prude
  • Norm is the clown
  • Carla is the biting wit
  • Coach/Woody is the naive one
  • Cliff is the weirdo who annoys everyone but gets to hang around anyway
I could go on, but I suspect you probably don't want me to. Point is, after years and years of media-saturation, there's a part of me that's bought into the whole "a role for every person, and a person for every role" scenario, and it’s that part that can't help but wonder: what role do I fill? Am I the smart one? The funny one? The prudish one? The loud one? The dramatic one? The weird one? All of the above? Or none? I'm definitely the thinks-too-much-for-his-own-good one, that's for sure.

One of the difficulties of this idea is the fact that I can feel myself changing my role for different groups. I'm much more outspoken and gregarious with The Book Monkeys than I am with the other; I'm more apt to show my temper around The Parkerites; and The Singles get to see me in teacher-mode. Back during my Freshman year of college, one of the girls in the dorm really got under my skin when she suggested that I needed to "grow a personality" or something to that effect. I think it bothered me so much because there was some truth to it. I was starting over fresh at a place where nobody knew me as the school nerd, and I was therefore free to reinvent myself (even though, before that first semester was over, one oh-so-kind dorm resident would say to me "How could you bomb that test, I thought you were some super-nerd," which did wonders for my self-esteem, don't you know). I unconsciously tested out several groups of people, shifting to meet expectations, searching for the one that fit me best.

That social-chameleon aspect is still present, to a certain extent. If one group finds a certain personality quirk annoying, while another group finds it endearing, that information is filed away for future behavioral reference. It's not a perfect science, of course: I was so excited to go to my 10-year high school reunion and act like the new, redefined, outgoing me, but instead found myself slipping back into the old patterns almost instantly.

I know that I'm not alone in this, that almost everyone modifies their behavior from group to group to some extent, but I'd wager I think about it more than most. I chalk that up to the remainder of the "outsider" complex, trying to convince me that every role that I try to fill is better suited for another group member. I can hear the little bugger now: Want to be the funny one? Sorry, you can't hold a candle to The Squatch or Captain Inappropriate**. Want to be the smart one? Dude, these are all honor students, get in line! Want to be the creative one? May I introduce The Wiz? Want to be the takes-himself-too-seriously-and-alienates-others one? It's all you, baby, have at it!

Of course, in the end, the whole "what role do you fill?" thing is total junk. We're all too complex to be boiled down into simple "I'm the X, Y, or Z one" statements, and wanting to fulfill some master role is just ego anyway. "I'm the funny/smart/whatever one" really translates into "I'm the funniest/smartest/whateverist one," which is worthless. Why should I worry about getting the biggest laughs 24-7, or being the ultimate fount of knowledge, or any of a thousand other 'ultimate" roles? As long as I can make my friends laugh every once in a while, provide some helpful info/advice occasionally, and appreciate it when others do the same, shouldn't that be enough?

Besides, I can always rest easy in my role as "biggest comic book geek."

*Yes, this is part of the inspiration for today's title. For the source, check out tomorrow's highly requested post (hey, with the number of readers I have, one request is equal to highly requsted, okay?) about the Popular Song
**This is a provisional nick-name until I can think of something more entertaining and/or appropriate.


Bubblegum Tate said...

Tate here. Two things I'd desperately like to know straight from the Monkey's mouth as it were.

1. If you have to pin me down, please do tell what "one" you'd consider me to be in the Book Monkeys.

2. While I'm not terribly interested in the title, do you think we ought to have some kind of geek-off to decide who is the bigger comic book geek in the Book Monkeys?

I'm not nearly as interested in one of us beating the other as I am in no longer allowing people to put a stigma on my hobby.

I know exactly what time Bruce Wayne's parents were killed! When super hero movies come out, I often find myself quizzed on aspects of the character and my answers often start with "well, PRE-Crisis..."! I wear a Legion of Super-Heroes replica flight ring in public!

These things are no more or less sad than somebody getting into a fist fight over OU's bowl chances or being able to recite a pound cake recipe by heart including "dashes of this and that" or being able to tell you exactly what year that vintage car parked across the street was made. Say it loud! I'm a dork about something and I'm proud! My freak flag is flying high!

Wow, I got a little ranty there. Perhaps that's a demon I need to exorcise on my own blog.

Anywho, lemme know on the questions.

Cap'n Neurotic said...

See, I knew as I typed in that "comic geek" comment, that it woudl come bak to haunt me . . .

To start off, I have to say that during the time you were serving as an Official ILS Book Monkey I was most definitely the larger comic geek. You had some very specialized geek knowledge, particularly in the Batman and Frank Miller areas, but my overall reading-comics-since-I-was-four knowledge gave me the slight edge. After all, back then I was the only one who could name the home planet of every single member of the Legion.

Since then, however, I think you have gained on my significantly. While I may have enough comic-book t-shirts to last me a month, I have yet to attend a comic convention or buy a Legion flight ring (although both have been more a question of low-funds than low-desire).

And speaking of a "geek-off", that reminds me of the "how many super-hero aliases and nicknames can you think of" game we played on ICQ many many moons ago.

I'm all in favor of dispelling the stigma attached to our mutual hobby. When I feel others start to look down on me for not being able to rattle off the stats of the big name NFL players, or not being able to distinguish between a '56 or '57 model of car, I just have to think to myself "Well, I bet they can't explain in detail the history of the DC universe pre-Crisis, post-Crisis, and post-ZH, with particular attention to the ramifications of removing Superboy from the history of the Legion of Super-Heroes", and then I feel much better.

As for which "one" you are in the group ... I can't help but think of you as the "one who leads his own parade" ... ;)