Thursday, October 20, 2005

Secret Origin of Cap'n Neurotic pt.3 : Reinvention and Revelation

In our last thrilling installment, we witnessed the train-wreck which was Cap'n Neurotic's first long-standing friendship. We now venture back to the aftermath of The Ol' Vick Incident, as Cap'n Neurotic discovers just how difficult that whole "reinventing yourself" thing really is.

Following the dissolution of my friendship with Ol' Vick there were a couple of stumbling blocks to my newborn desire to reinvent myself. The first was a sort of perceptual inertia; after 7 or 8 years of seeing me play the part of the socially backward, or reaching out and seeing me withdraw in fear, the general view of me as introverted nerd had ossified. The second obstacle complimented the first: after 7 or 8 years of playing the part of the socially backward I was (surprise, surprise) backwards socially. You remember the kid in your school who jumped on the hip and happening trends with full abandon about 6 months after they had ceased to be hip and happening? *points to self* Right here, baby, right here. For me, it was Rude Dog t-shirts and incredibly loud and distracting jams; I shudder to think of just how dorky I must have looked, especially since I was still wearing fully extended knee-high socks at the time . . . So, in those early days, most of my backward socialization attempts backfired.

But, somehow I struggled through the awkward 8th and 9th grade years, and managed to form some friendships of sorts: some based around my church Youth group, some around common classes, and some from common school activities. A big boon in my quest to be accepted was the small size of Wyandotte; in a class of 30-odd kids (which dwindled down to 28 by the time I graduated, 29 if you count the foreign exchange student) it's kind of hard to totally disappear into the woodwork. Plus, while there was a bit of a divide between the jocks and the non-jocks, it was never as strictly defined as it is in the larger schools. Yeah, there were always a few guys who decided to puff themselves up by ragging on the nerd, but for the most part those guys were considered jokes by the really cool kids, so it was easier to bear; not so easy to bear was the fact that these jerks, though considered jokes, were more likely to get invited to the cool-kid parties than I was.

Slowly, I began to feel more comfortable in being myself in certain situations. I was lucky enough to find a couple of guys who shared my odd sense of humor in my Youth group, who would become my regular lunch buddies at school. School trips were the best catalysts in my quest for social acceptance, especially Competitive Speech trips, since the high energy and outgoing nature of most Speech students helped bring that aspect of my personality to the forefront. And, again, with such a small student body, there was a lot of bleeding together of groups, so that members of the Speech class were also involved in Student Council, and TSA, and the like. I know the old saw of "Familiarity breeds contempt," and while that has manifested itself in my life, both as the contemptor and the contemptee, with my self-conscious personality it’s more often that familiarity breeds comfort. But even as I became slightly more outgoing; even as I started to build a history of running jokes and common experiences with classmates; even as the number of signatures in my yearbook expanded exponentially, both in number and in depth of content; even as I closed the gap between when something was cool and when I knew about it; even through all this, there was something inside me that kept me from engaging fully with those around me.

I could have the time of my life on a school trip, but all of those good feelings would come crashing down when I'd find out about the latest out-of-school gathering I'd been excluded from. Often, in the aftermath of one of these depressing occurrences, I would get the empty defense of "everyone was invited." Now, in their minds, that might very well have been true; there might have been an open invitation to anyone and everyone who heard about it. But to me, without a firm, verbal, personalized invitation, there was no way I was horning in on the action. Several factors were involved with this personality quirk; a big one that set it all in motion was that I often got to hear classmates griping and complaining about certain individuals who would constantly invite themselves along where they weren't wanted; I was determined I wouldn't become one of those. Another factor was the whole "no driver's license" issue, which was compounded by the "I live on the whole other side of the school district from most of you" factor; any out-of-school activity attendance would have required me to go begging for a ride, which was difficult due to the final factor: my never-ending fear of rejection and constant need for validation.

I guess it wasn't so much that I felt disliked in high school; I just never felt like I was liked enough. You see, while the small school was a boon in many ways, it was also a curse in others. My neurotic mind fixated on the idea that I was merely tolerated on the school trips, church trips, etc. because of circumstance and nothing else; in other words, it wasn't that they hung out with me because they liked me, but because their options were so limited, and as soon as they were freed of the constraints of school, they'd venture off with people they really liked. And, every time I'd find out about something I'd been excluded from, it would just cement that idea in my mind a little more. Even when I reached the point my Senior year where I was going out and doing non-school-related stuff with classmates fairly regularly, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop; I had become so stuck in my outsider outlook that I couldn't fully accept that it was mostly in my head. I don’t know, maybe I chalked it all up to people feeling obligated to have me around after 12 years of being in the same class. Whatever the real psychological underpinnings (and I admit, after all this time I’m still as clueless as ever as to precisely why I was the way I was), by the time I graduated I had so successfully implemented my defense mechanism of detachment that I felt more emotional watching the Saved by the Bell graduation episode than I did at my own graduation.

Probably the biggest break in this mindset came the summer after I graduated. Earlier that year, mom and I had started going to my grandparents’ church in Miamuh due to some fallout from the wonderful world of small-town church politics. The biggest downside to this move was that I was suddenly trying to fit in with a new Youth group, only two of whom were from Wyandotte. So, suddenly thrust into a group dynamic filled with kids who had known each other for years; not my favorite situation to be in. My outsider complex was in full effect; when it came time to sign up for a trip to Glorieta, NM, I didn’t even consider it, sure that nobody would care if I went or not. But then, almost every single member of the group came up to me wanting to know why I wasn’t going, trying hard to convince me to rethink my decision. I had a hard time adjusting to the new feeling that was worming its way through my neurotic minefield and defensive barriers: the feeling of being wanted.

Why did this group break through my barriers, when all of the similar attempts by people from Wyandotte had failed? I’m guessing it had to do with just how uncomfortable I felt in the group, ironically enough. With the Wyandotte crowd, I had become used to holding the paradoxical ideas of being accepted and yet not feeling accepted in my head for so long it was second nature; it made no sense to anyone on the outside, but inside my head, it was all perfectly clear. But here I was suddenly faced with a group I had only know for a couple of months, and yet, despite my spirit of detachment and general lack of comfort in my own skin, still seemed to genuinely like me and want me around without years of history or imaginary obligation tying us together. Plus, timing was probably a big factor: for all my talk of emotional detachment, it was really all just suppressed; there I was, in that limbo that exists between leaving high school and entering college, and I was still desperate for some form of validation that I could recognize and accept, and it took this group of virtual strangers to accomplish it. Unfortunately, I’ve long since lost contact with this group, casualties of the pre-Internet world, but that first trip to Glorieta provoked a huge emotional breakthrough for me, and the first real inkling that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t have to live my life always on the outside after all; without that, I don’t know if my early days at Parker would have been as successful as they were.

Of course, for most of life I’d been trapped in the pattern of “one step forward, ten steps back,” and the Parker years would prove to be no exception . . .

3 comments:

Flunky lover said...

Lots of thoughts went through my mind as I was reading this post. Thoughts of my own experiences and others trying to fit in. I'm not going to tell you about any of that.
There are some people, in fact most people who I feel don't think enough. You are on the opposite end of the spectrum. The problem here is you overanalyze everybody's actions when in fact they have given no thought to those actions. There are actions without a great purpose behind them. There are words which are said without the full implication thought through.
I don't know how you are going to react to my reply. I just wrote it because it was what I was thinking.
Please never construe my actions or words toward you as any sort of evil or large plan. Unfortunately, or maybe not, I do things without thinking. I have said the wrong thing before. I have unintentionally made people feel bad. The same things have happened to me. It's part of life.

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Don't worry about me construing any of your actions as an evil plan towards me: I save all of those thoughts for G'ovich. Now, construing your actions as an evil plan aimed towards world conquest, maybe . . .

I really can't argue with most of what you said; I've often said that one of my biggest problems is that I think too much, and I'll definitely talk about that more in later posts. But one thing I'd like to stress here is that these "Secret Origin" posts are written with a view of how I used to react to stuff and not necessarily how I react now. I'm not the same person I was back in high school; I'm not the same person I was back in college; heck, I'm really not even the same person I was before I moved down to Denton.

The purpose behind these posts isn't to say "here's my world-view"; it's to say "here's the journey I've taken in my life"; to examine and explain, to myself and others, if at all possible, just why I was the way I was and why I did what I did; to try to show the long and winding road I've taken to become the much more self-assured person I am today; and, maybe just a little, to serve as an apology to those who I've wronged, hurt, or offended along the way.

Does that mean that I'm now a model of self-confidence and extroversion? Far from it; I still have trouble meeting new people, and I will probably always have that little voice of negativity clammoring around inside my head; but I am now much more adept at making the effort to reach out to others, at recognizing when they do the same, and at clamping down the negative voice to a dull roar. My life is a work in progress: consider this my progress report.

Flunky lover said...

I like the new Todd better than the old Todd you are writing about so at least in my useless opinion you are going in the right direction.