Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wanted man

Want and need may sound like two sides of the same coin, but their subtle differences -- in the end -- lead to vastly different fruit in a man's life. Needing to be needed is no way to live, and seemingly self serving. Wanting to be wanted is oddly less selfish, but in the end, more about self. Maybe true self is the soft middle of the coin, indistinguishable on the surface but always seeking to balance the times to need something versus the times to want something more.

A buddy of mine recently became the guy at his job. Out of respect for the nature of the situation, his name and title are not important. But it's fascinating to see him change before the eyes of so many. For many years, he's been a key team member and leader in the operation, and a go to guy playing a pivotal role in the growth and success of the organization. Ready or not, in a time of great crisis, his shoulder was tapped -- his name cried out in desperate panic -- to lead a troubled group of shell-shocked people out of troubled waters.

He's what I like to call a wanted man. Sometimes I think about what it would be like to be wanted as apposed to just needed.

I need to be a good husband, dad, friend, colleague, and employee. I want my wife, kids, friends, colleagues, and boss to want me around for the job.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Panic at noon

I've never had a panic attack so I really don't know what one feels like. It, whatever it was, happened while driving around at lunchtime on Friday afternoon. I can't remember the exact catalyst for the event but I was shaking in my car seat and my heart was sent racing after one simple criticism fluttered through my mind and was gone again, leaving a terrible wake in its path.

“Why are you doing everything wrong?”

The moment was laced with urgency, like being jerked awake from a dream, and the micro-seconds of fuzzy reality where you look for clarity and input about your surroundings. Like the needle of a record player being scratched unexpectedly across the charm of a favorite song I was ripped into a place of squirmy judgment (self judgment) about the many and various facets of a grown man's life -- my life -- not quite measuring up, or blatantly falling short of the mark.

It was only stranger because of the unnerving side effect and panic inducing aftermath of being vulnerable to my own worst critic. While the content of suggestion was familiar to me -- an ongoing barrage of thoughts where I devalue every last inch of my existence -- my usual defenses of being numb and dumb to the criticism had failed to scuttle the inner critic, which had had finally landed a blow that sent me breathless and listless to the ground. Time was the enemy for the first time ever, like a ticking scoreboard clock winding down to fewer and fewer chances to wrestle victory from certain defeat.

“Why are you doing everything wrong?” Tick tock tick tock.

Having it happen while behind the wheel wasn't help much either. As one is used to the monotony of processing random thoughts while driving and still being able to signal, stop, turn, and otherwise maintain the safe operation of a moving vehicle, these unreconciled thoughts were much more pungent and precise, almost leaving me paralyzed in the face of oncoming traffic.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thinking too much about too little

Are you growing tired, like me, of rich and famous people complaining about the burden of being adored by millions and the burden of having too much spare cash.

I don't get why UFC is so huge. Pumped up, psychotic, sanctioned whalin' on each other by knuckle-dragging mouth breathers. I'll never order a Pay Per View of that "sport." On the other hand, I'll probably never order NFL Sunday Ticket either. And I love the NFL. Maybe it's an acquired taste.

Your dog is not my problem. Just as my dog is not YOUR problem. Put up a fence or buy a chain for pissakes.

You can take folks out of the trailer park but you can't take the trailer park out of some folks.

Really great neighbors are rarely seen in the wild. If you have more than a few, congratulations. You've overachieved.

If you update all the time about the same three topics on facebook or twitter, then rest assured you're boring the hell out of me, and possibly your real friends too. I don't care about your stuff. Show me the stuff you're made of.

Why doesn't the middle class become a new base in the political landscape. Certainly there's a lot of disagreement in that approach: left - right; liberal - conservative; pro-choice - pro-life; war - peace; big government - small government. However, as the backbone of the country in almost every measurable respect, the middle class feels the most adversity most directly from the ideas being batted back and forth like beach balls in Washington D.C. It's a game or job to the politicians and we don't really get it anyway once all the spin is done. Let's agree and acknowledge that we can have our own fringes and hot button topics; but more importantly, since we'll always be picking up the check, let's always do what's best for US in the process.

My taxes are high enough, thanks.

If you say you're a social media guru, I'm assuming you just got laid off. And, that the corporate suits don't get it. And you can stop acting like the expert already.

It's your civic duty to discourage douchebaggery in its infancy. If you see baglings (pre-douchers) and/or questionable behavior in your sons that will only lead to inflame this public nuisance further, then you have my permission to intercede... and I've got your back.

I wonder what I'll be amazed at when I'm a pasty old codger.

Sometimes I think Generation X -- for whatever reason -- is ill-equipped for meaningful relationships. I have no stats or research to back that up.

Further on Generation X, as a generation we were never called on to save our country from impending doom. Not like our fathers in Cold War tension and Vietnam, our grandfathers in World War II, or our great grandfathers in World War I. What exactly have we lost on a generational scale? What will emerge as a cherished leftover from what was essentially never lost? When the bell is rung, for whatever the reason, will Generation X answer the call? Is our legacy, if not the birthplace, then the realization of technology as a way of life and pillar of culture, socialistic bents, and taking me-first-beliefs to soaring new heights?

God Bless our brave and wholly volunteer military. To all who have ever worn a uniform for freedom, thank you. To those who have died in that service, my thanks will never repay what you've given in blood.

Whatever you care about is just another hue in the rainbow to everyone else.

Sometime in the evening if you look at the star Alpha Centauri A (link), that shining spec of light took 4.3 years to reach your eyeball. Others 100s of years, and still others 1000s. You're in for a total mind freak if you keep going, because some of the stars you see with the naked eye aren't even stars at all but entire galaxies a mere bazillion light years away. And they might not even exist anymore. Feel small yet?

I hope my kids hate me for all the right reasons.

I wrestle daily with spirituality. A friend recently pointed out I'd experienced a lot of religion and not enough truth. Anymore, I go out of my way not to write about the infinite, as my mind and ability to grasp such thoughts is finite indeed. All the best church cliches and Sunday school rhymes eventually become faded words and fruit not worth picking any longer.

If I see you first, I'm hiding. In the words of the George Costanza: "It's me not you."

Why are thoughts always random? By the time it's written out, edited and made ready for prime time, it hardly seems so random anymore.

Maybe more some other time.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Connecting the dots

The dream always plays out the same. I'm traveling with my family and arrive at a random place with other familiar faces. Social networking friend is there too. We say hello and I immediately withdraw because even in dreams Chris will be Chris. It goes on for a bit, and I can see the disappointment building in a face because we thought the connection meant something to both of us, but not this time. Not today. We don't speak at all which can only mean the connection meant nothing.

Needing to analyze every last detail, I'm sensing a small problem. The place I'm at in life is lacking in real, personal connections. I do not have many friends (very few, count-them-on-one-hand close and dear friendships), I'm not very outgoing, and more or less isolate myself for reasons that might require a small fortune to hash out in therapy. It makes me a very lonely bloke, socially. And I lack the courage most days to overcome it.

However, social networking sites like twitter and facebook have proven nice, pro-Chris settings to engage with people, connect, and thrive, albeit behind the magic of rose-colored glasses made of pixels. I have made 100s of connections with people, the core of which are some I've known most of my life on the book, and still others I've only casually known not more than several months via tweets.

These connections have value to me because what is lacking in the arena of normal living where I'm required to exist with other skin jobs, I've uncovered new ties in abundance thanks to technology. In their own ways, these people are all amazing to me. And further, I'm really drawn to a handful of them.

In weird, social networking ways, they matter to me. And if given the chance, I would very much like to call them my friends. Is that sick? Can someone explain why it's embarrassing to admit that?

A couple of my really good real friends do social networking too. And all we've done, essentially, is add a new dynamic to already thriving relationships. We're largely up to speed on the details of each others' lives and the social networking angle just provides more convenient ways to touch base. I've smelled their homes, tasted their cooking, heard them laugh, watched them smile, held their newborns, hugged them at parties, grieved with them at funerals, and sweated with them through weddings.

Real friends. Real life.

The technology hatched bunch of connections are a "see only crowd." I get to read what they care about, and in turn, get to decide if I care about that too. They might post pictures and leave links to their blogs, all geared at revealing greater insights into their lives. I'll update and they may or may not have thoughts on whatever the hell I care about.

Does that mean I know them? No. Not really. But, the English language is such that in 140 characters or less I'm pretty good a picking up certain attitudes, feelings, prejudices, thrilling moments, moods, aspirations, cultural tastes, bad decisions, lucky breaks, hard times and good times.

Life happens in the social-networking universe. And like real relationships, a certain evolution takes place at which the connections become stronger or weaker, more honest, or even more honestly repulsive.

It's just damn crazy to say I know them -- now or ever. The brain being the brain, however, it just wants to connect the dots and fill-in the blanks, or paint mental pictures of people and call them friends based on what? Status updates?

So, I'm left with a few real people friends, and a small group of social network followers(?) that I share a somewhat "you enrich my day, and hopefully, I enrich your day" give and take arrangement.

This is an equitable situation. I think... Or is it ... ?

I catch myself discounting the social networking bunch back into the bargain bin of casual acquaintances: not too hard to find, not too hard to relate to, and not too hard to converse with because a computer screen and the world-wide-web provide an adequate insulation to real life interaction. And that's a good fit for Chris. It's a safe place to mingle.

But a few of them... there might be something there, and I might really like to meet them.

So, again, why do I deflate their importance when all I really want to do is call them my friends. I need them. I really enjoy their company, and look forward catching up with them and seeing what they're up to.

Maybe, it's hard to admit that my real life might not be rich enough, socially, so now I'm desperately giving substantial amounts of weight to the connections of strangers that I can't ever really know.

Historically, my most rewarding relationships were seeded after risking the safety of my comfort zone. In college, I deliberated for weeks before asking a dude in class if he wanted to play tennis sometime. He was very good; a lot better than me. I'm sure the tennis was boring for him and thrilling for me. But soon enough, a friendship was born. And it's a connection that I still count amongst my most precious.

It makes me wonder if there's any such purchase in the soil of social networking.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

It's a bird, it's a plane

It's a gorgeous beginning to the day, set against a string of not so pretty stretches of cold. Spring has taken its sweet time arriving this year in the Valley. Indeed, everywhere across the Pacific Northwest, the masses have grown tired of the winter that won't quit.

We're usually spared the utter extremes of the coldest season due to our 3-digit elevation -- between 700-800 feet above sea level -- effectively ducking extended periods of chilly, bone-jarring days and nights where piles of snow that slowly impose their will on civilized people all around us. Drive 30 miles in any direction and you're quite literally waist deep in arctic misery.

Granted, living here can be filled with many forms of misery, but tough winter weather is not among them.

So, it's 9:30 a.m. and I'm firmly planted in my office. My buddy the brain reminds me that he's holding my sanity hostage until a certain daily ransom is paid in the form of several cups of hot, black coffee.

Sensing a lull in the break-neck pace of radio broadcasting, I gather my coffee pot and cup and head for the sink. Dish-soap: check; cleaning sponge: good enough (remember to pick up a new pack of Scotch-Brite pads at the store next time).

I begin scrubbing away yesterday's coffee stains, careful to use only enough dish-soap to do the job without leaving the sudsy residue that I swear will ruin an otherwise good cup of Jo.

As I'm rinsing, OCD style, my ears announce the droning twin engines of another Horizon Air flight on final approach for Runway 11. It's faint, but growing stronger and closing on the bluff above where the airport rests just beyond the public golf course. It's become a part of life working on Snake River Avenue and living just above there in the Echo Hills Addition. Our station, like our house, lines up perfectly for approaching aircraft on 11 -- or departing aircraft on 29 (two niner). My ears can usually pinpoint the exact model of airplane before my eyes visually confirm my hunch.

It's the newer, larger Bombardier Q400 -- the very recent replacement for the venerable Dash 8 -- which serves dozens of regional feeder airports like LWS (Lewiston Nez Perce County Regional Airport) to SEA/TAC in Seattle, Washington.

Again, it's gorgeous outside. Still a little cool outside, but earnestly beautiful with the sun shining and signs of spring flexing her stiff, dormant muscles again for the first time. The noise of the approaching Horizon flight grows stronger as I continue to stare mindlessly out the kitchen window and finish up with my rinsing.

That's when my eyes immediately lock onto a lone robin in the grass. She works her beak in and around blades of grass, perhaps in search of a fresh, wiggly worm for breakfast, or a variety of delightful bugs.

I have my morning routine, and the robin has hers -- albeit hers a more noble habit geared towards survival, where mine is a France-like surrender to a soul-sucking addiction.

Between filling up the reservoir with fresh, cold water, watching the small bird and sensing the exact position of the plane directly over the building -- even as it cast a slight, gone-in-an-instant shadow through my field of vision -- the robin stops, looks straight up and tracks the plane like a kid at an airshow until it eventually disappears out of sight over the bluff.

I don't know why but moments like that one are interesting to me. What could she be thinking?

"Bravo," the feathered one mocks. "Look at you, aloft on the wind with so many parts needing to work perfectly in order to harness the very air I breathe to take flight. Oh sure, you may be thousands of feet higher, and be able to fly quickly from here to Christmas and back, and make so much noise that other pathetic humans have no choice but to stop in their tracks to gawk like imbeciles. No. You are in my domain. I can fly in the blink of an eye. And I don't need fancy runways, or jet fuel, or turbo-props, or flaps, or a yoke, or an impressive console of controls to trick fate. I'll tip my beak in recognition that you made it to the stars, and you don't have to chug earth worms for breakfast. But I can fly, dammit, and your species cannot, and probably should not."

Sarcasm always comes first with me. It's a character flaw, and sadly, nothing sacred in life is safe from my need to make fun of it. Maybe it stems from a less than positive cup-is-half-empty outlook. Or, maybe I just find things more funny than serious. If I can laugh at it first, then surely I can take whatever is left in the form of life lessons later. I will laugh hysterically some day at my own daughters' weddings -- and then weep uncontrollably until the liquor kicks in.

My first reflex is that the bird is thinking, "wtf... who in the hell do you think you are?"

And that's right. Who in the hell do we think we are? For as long as mankind has walked this rock we've strained our necks and squinted our vitamin deficient eyes in awe of God's feathered masters of the sky. For they dance upon the winds effortlessly and frolic among the clouds with joy and purpose. Truly, birds are the masters of flight.

Then something else struck me. After countless millenniums of watching and wondering how, our brightest minds surmised that fabric and wood could be combined with thrust in such a way that flight was finally within our grasp. We further conceived ways to bend sheet metal and aluminum into vehicles attached to jet engines, to further realize that mere dreams a century earlier were now a part of everyday life. And when we're not thinking of new ways to kill each other at Mach 2 from the skies above we're devising new and more amazing ways to go faster and climb higher.

Why was this tiny bird staring so intently at the machine overhead? Was it possibly an awestruck robin frozen in the spectacle that is modern flight.

"Bravo," she sighs. "Just look at your blurry, massive hunk of buzzing metal and rivets, so high, so graceful, and so effortlessly knifing through the air above me. Truly, mankind is the master of flight -- as I'm still unable to avoid office windows disguised as blue sky."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Do you like me?

Do you like me?

Do you like my ethnic background? Do you like my God? Do you like my religion? Do you like my heritage?

Do you like my country? Do you like my town or city? Do you like my state or region?

Do you like my politics? Do you like my opinions? Do you like my compassion? Do you like my personality? Do you like my convictions?

Do you like my values? Do you like my vices? Do you like my choices?

Do you like my sense of humor? Do you like my jokes?

Do you like my college? Do you like my education? Do you like my intelligence? Do you like my mind?

Do you like my parents? Do you like my spouse? Do you like my kids? Do you like my family? Do you like my dogs? Do you like my cats?

Do you like my friends?

Do you like my heroes?

Do you like my weight/height? Do you like my hair? Do you like my diet? Do you like my shoes? Do you like my glasses? Do you like my clothes?

Do you like my job? Do you like my work ethic? Do you like my experience? Do you like my resume? Do you like my references?

Do you like my financial status? Do you like my investments?

Do you like my house? Do you like my furniture? Do you like my taste in art? Do you like my car? Do you like my toys? Do you like my high def TV?

Do you like my vacation pictures? Do you like my trips?

Do you like my favorite foods? Do you like my favorite restaurants? Do you like my favorite coffee? Do you like my favorite wines?

Do you like my computer? Do you like my website? Do you like my ipod? Do you like my cell phone? Do you like my cell phone provider?

Do you like my music? Do you like my favorite shows? Do you like my favorite movies? Do you like my favorite books? Do you like my favorite authors? Do you like my favorite artists?

Do you like my charity? Do you like my legacy?

Do I have enough likeable attributes or pursuits to sway you toward the conclusion that you might like me?

The longer the notion ruminates between my ears -- the more layers that unfold in my mind -- the more additions that can be included, all pointing to the same unfinished list of likeable things.

For every "Yes, I like that about you," logic would dictate an ample throng of opposition crying, "No, I definitely do NOT like that about you."

It's obvious; and it's not a wash. The two don't cancel each other out yet, rather, help define those people we like or dislike.

Maybe we all get 80 years or so to seek the answers to these and many other questions. Would all of humanity boil down to the single proposition? More questions there.

But maybe they're all designed to answer just the one question...

...do you like me?

If you disagree and think it's all horse crap and don't care about any of this that's fine -- I'd argue, though, that many would like that about you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Drive thru shootings

It would begin as a simple task: proceed to Starbucks and acquire one venti black drip coffee.

I set off for Clarkston, Washington, our quaint little business friendly neighbor to the west that we share a border with across the Snake River. This town has got it together. Not only did they lure mighty Walmart out of Lewiston (much to the chagrin of the Valley's finest business high-brows) where the world's largest retailer will open a behemoth Super Walmart right next door to Costco, Clarkston also has Starbucks double-dipping on Bridge Street where one store anchors a strip mall across the street from Albertsons (with a Starbucks inside).

Comedian Lewis Black likens this to the universe swallowing itself. On one corner you have a Starbucks, and you turn around and look across the street and stare at -- double take -- another Starbucks.

"Hi, welcome to Starbucks," a friendly voice offers from a tiny speaker on the drive thru sign. "What can I get started for you today?"

The greeting alone is a cut above other drive thru greetings. Even my kids notice that about Starbucks, which is saying something, because Lewiston, Idaho, and Clarkston surely have the most drive-thrus per capita than any other western blue-collar area in the US.

Fast food is fine dining here, as evidenced by the carb-laden grease gauntlet referred to as 21st Street. Many sit down restaurants come and go while franchises pop up like spring dandelions and thrive.

"What's your coffee of the day," I ask.

"Pike Place," she replies.

Crap. Pike Place is used aircraft oil; it assaults the palette like a World War II beach landing: in your face, overwhelming and certain death if not dealt with appropriately and with sufficient counter measures. It's an abysmal cup of Joe, and I can't figure out who mandated Pike Place as Starbucks' mainline drip coffee, served almost exclusively except for holiday specials like Christmas Blend -- probably some latte-sipping nancy boy who hates drip coffee.

We all know Starbucks is struggling since the era of Pike Place took over. It's obvious, right? I'll grant the possibility that maybe Starbucks overshot its penetration goals just a tad (see above about the two Starbucks stores on Bridge Street). But I think it has more to do with the dripping battery acid called Pike Place. Like a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong, Pike Place is eating away precious Starbucks profits and costing many cushy executive jobs in Seattle.

Wake up, Starbucks! Please pour one cup of the hot monkey urine and take a sip. Taste for yourself the injustice in your mouth. Do it! Control your gag reflex and reflect on what you've done to your customers. Save us from this wretched swill!

"I'll take two large -- I mean venti -- cups of Pike Place," I order. "Black."

What the ...? What am I going to do with two cups? My soul-sucking migraine tells me to drink one -- as black and disgusting as it was -- and do it fast, then whatever I wanted with the second one.

Trapped behind six fellow Starbucks customers, unable to maneuver out of the drive-thru line, I ponder my lack of conviction and willingness to cave to the caffeine gods. It was a long eight minutes self loathing.

Finally reaching the drive-thru window, I put the truck in park and reach for my gift cards. I was getting my game face on because I knew in a few moments my taste buds would be doing battle with Pike Place. Fumbling for the right card and offering it through the truck window, I was immediately struck by the sparkling, most penetrating amber eyes I'd ever encountered in my life.

"God, you're pretty," Migraine and me instantly agree, but silently (to our credit).

My mind wanders a little bit as she checks the card balance. I stare distantly through the windshield at the intersection, all the while a little bit smitten and embarrassed. True beauty has always done this to me. I'm unable to just appreciate it when it's staring right back at me. So I look away.

Migraine laughs at me because another weakness got exposed in the span of only a few minutes -- coffee and beauty. Being married is another solid reason to not leer at a beautiful woman.

"You owe me three bucks," she leaves hanging in the air for only a second but felt like a lot longer. "Sir, you owe me three bucks... this card is empty."

Laughing, eyes darting, and probably sounding just like one of the many nut-jobs she has to serve at the drive-thru window in a shift, "I've got this one too."

I watch this time, because I need to act concerned and that enough of the gift card is available to cover the purchase, and reassure that I'm not a street bumb in a Tundra looking to rip off some Pike Place.

"This one's good," she reports with a smile, and hands me the coffee.

Soul-sucking Migraine informs me that I'm leering this time, "You idiot, what about the tip?"

Oh right, the tip. Serving coffee is hard work. And good people, regardless of beautiful amber eyes or charming, should be tipped. I only had two lousy bucks, but at least the math was good ($2.00 tip for $3.00 worth of coffee... 66 percent gratuity). I don't tip at any other drive-thru except Starbucks... weird.

"Ahh... that's sweet," she laughs. "Most people don't tip at all."

And that was that. Done. I continue on my way thinking how great Starbucks is, and what a pleasant experience it was just getting coffee. As Starbucks coffee is always really hot, I allow it to cool a bit and replay the experience in my mind a few times. Her eyes would haunt me for a short time. Reflecting, I pick up the coffee largely with my guard down and take a big swig of Pike Place.

"Holy crap that is bad coffee," I scream in the truck, gagging the euphoria and jerking me back into reality.

"Welcome back to your life, loser," soul-sucking Migraine taunts from his happy place.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Punch drunk therapy

"You can't fix it; no matter what you do, you can't. So why don't you quit trying?" Those words were uttered by the marriage counselor in our last session. It confuses the hell out of me. Were we not sitting in a room paying quite a bit of money by the hour in an attempt to fix our marriage?

Confusion is a wicked fighter. I dodge surgical jabs at my precious intellect, and deflect direct shots to my insecurities, but eventually she hits pay-dirt and I quickly find myself dizzy from bone-jarring blows to my very core.

"I don't get you," catching Confusion's master -- the therapist -- a little off guard. "You said I can't fix this. Then, you ask me to list a few possibilities or ideas for my wife and I to be together more often... and that feels a lot like trying to fix this."

She's a professional, so she lets me finish my thought. Expressionless, and with a slight tilt of the head, she listens patiently while processing my accusation.

"A month ago I pleaded that it was unreasonable to ask for things from my wife if I knew she really couldn't deliver," I continue. "It's a me problem. It's me."

"I need to adjust me in order to help solve this. You said that was impossible and unrealistic; then you, literally, went on and on about how much you've had to adjust yourself in how you deal with your husband on a daily basis. You wouldn't give that to me -- you just said all the things about changing you to deal with your husband the way I should change myself to start dealing with my wife... and you wouldn't let me have that."

I clearly touch a nerve as pursed lips and narrow eyes begin raising the room's temperature.

"It's damn confusing," I conclude. "I don't get you."

She pauses, and turns in her chair to put her notes back on her desk, then spins back around to face me directly.

I take a deep breath and listen intently, nodding occasionally, eyes darting around the room, arms folded but with one raised so my fingers can tap nervously upon my chin (my known tells, probably because that's what happens when I'm being criticized).

It was certainly a carefully crafted reply, voiced in a measured, reassuring tone, and aimed at calming me down and regaining control of the session. But, it might as well been the teacher from Charlie Brown, "WAA WAA WAA WAA WAA WAA," because I don't recall a single word.

On purpose or not, I tune her out completely.

In therapy, you're supposed to be honest and share feelings.

So how am I feeling? It's me against them; that's how I'm feeling. And that's a problem, because feeding that very belief -- as honest as it feels -- will probably prove counter productive to the overall process.

My wife, to her credit, sees the whole thing being boiled down in front of her. Not only do I spar with her over 14 years of hurt feelings, unmet needs, and constant blame, I'm beginning to view our therapist as a growing source of conflict -- on my wife's side and in her corner.

Maybe it's just me, but when marriage counseling begins to feel like a boxing match between half of the couple and the therapist then maybe it's not working.

Naturally, I'd rather not participate. After withstanding the tolls of an emotionally charged marriage all week, we cap each 7-day period by meeting with Iron Mike Tyson where the beatings can end on a high note -- with a proper ass kicking by a paid professional.

By 6 p.m. every Friday night, I'm feeling less like a recharged individual with new skills and heartened hope to go out and meet the challenges in my marriage but more like a battered prize fighter trying to recover from yet another demoralizing butt whooping.

Positive thinking and being a "grown up" about the whole thing are hard to remember when you can't breathe or can't see what you're supposed to do next.

Getting back into the ring week after week seems to be getting harder and harder.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Social phobias and Facebook

I'm facing a little bit of an identity crisis. Two vastly different personalities have taken up residence in my body and now contradict each other daily. I can't tell if it's a 50/50 split where one side will eventually kill off the other half to dominate forever, or more like a symbiotic relationship where both sides mutually benefit from the other's experience and proximity.

As recently as two years ago I opted to forgo my 20-year high school reunion. It came and went and I didn't really think much more about it. Sure, there were people I would have loved to make small talk with, catch up and all the rest. But, I just wasn't feeling a big pull to participate.

That's how I explained it to my wife, parents, close friends, and even classmates. In fact, I probably went to greater lengths to downplay my reasoning for fear that my real motives might have been too obvious. And it wasn't even a lie; I was merely choosing to volunteer certain facts.

Truth be told, I was terrified.

Crowds and I don't mix well. Even the thought of crowds get my heart and mind racing with imagined scenarios, settings, and social obstacles. Put me in an actual room with strangers or friends and I'm toast. Sweaty palms, shortness of breath, and a slow boiling anxiety conspire to make certain I bolt for the door as soon as possible. School fund raisers and marketing functions of any kind kick my butt the most. Church? Not often.

I can't even hide it well. I keep to myself, avoid conversation, and probably come off as a pompous ass. My goal is to blend into the room like a piece of understated furniture. Handsome, stoic, within earshot of a few nice compliments, engaging when approached, withdrawn between idle chat, constantly observing the ebb and flow of the social sea crashing around me. Just survive... just get through it.

There's a name for my pain: Social Anxiety Disorder.
A person with social anxiety disorder is afraid that he or she will make mistakes and be embarrassed or humiliated in front of others. The fear may be made worse by a lack of social skills or experience in social situations. The anxiety can build into a panic attack. As a result of the fear, the person endures certain social situations in extreme distress or may avoid them altogether. -- webmd.com link.
That's the guy I see in the mirror everyday. It wasn't always the case, but that's how it is now. Some even consider it unhealthy -- modern science has a cure called Prozac (or one of many of its variants). I visited life and the occasional social scene with the help of my little buddy the pill as wingman. Let's just say it didn't work out. Buddy wanted more than I was willing to give, namely my soul.

Cope. Manage. See therapist. Live.

Enter Facebook
I'd known about Facebook for a bit before I gave in to its unrelenting charms. On the face of it -- no pun intended -- Facebook offered a very attractive and practical approach to human connectivity.

Sign up, search, click, accept, explore. Almost overnight, names and faces appeared out of distant, almost forgotten memories and places from periods in my life. One to one disconnects were soon hard-wired again, and with tools to breathe life into once meaningful relationships that had fallen victim to the passage of time's cold, tight grasp.

Like a kid discovering the wonders of a new park or zoo, I soon marveled at the breadth and many varied intersections created by simply living on this rock. My schools, jobs, passions, etc., populated with people I care about. (And quite honestly, filled with people who kinda care about me too.)

Facebook offered a target rich environment to engage with people -- so from out of nowhere I dove in with both feet.

How is this possible for a social hermit? Social anxiety dude doesn't recall discussing an exact approach, proper tactics, or adequate boundaries to assist in navigating the social networking scene. Social anxiety dude observes everything and deals with the aftermath of embarrassment and many "I told you so" moments, while social networking dude acts on instinct, commenting too much, updating too often, and trying desperately to fit in.

I can see that the relationship between the two is far from perfect (and far from reality). As fun as all this is, would I actually go hang out with these people? Maybe. Maybe not. Ok... probably not.

If I'm alone in a room on a computer, am I really out there? No.

My two sides have enough sense to reconcile the differences between real-life human interaction and doing it all from the comfort of a computer screen. But it's also quite apparent that the outgoing half didn't just show up one day. He could've been asleep or on an extended vacation in the deep recesses of my mind, but he certainly didn't appear out of thin air. Facebook awakened something inside me that was long dead. A part of my old self.

And welcome back. Welcome back to the guy I couldn't see any more in the mirror every morning when I shaved. That guy who engages in the process. That confident individual, who prefers to meet life on his feet, and is passionate about living it. That guy who doesn't retreat. Welcome back to that guy who likes being around others... because it feeds his soul.

Summed up: it's growth. The two sides can co-exist. And maybe, just maybe, the two can move their host into healthier waters again.