This is a documentary I did for my class in school.
“Yeah, whatever you say, Keebler”
It took me by surprise the first time I heard my new nickname. Frodo, smalls, shorty, midget, mini-me, anything that implied I was the size of an ant compared to the rest of my team was water off my back by the time I stepped onto the field as a college athlete. “Keebler” took a second to process. Coming from the team goofball who looked like a dark haired, young Santa, I knew whatever he just called me had a layer of subtle brilliance. He had a knack for jumbling insults in endearment and throwing them at you publicly so that all you could do was take it and laugh with everyone else.
He spoke with that asshole electricity that made everyone want to orbit within earshot. We knew it was only a matter of time before one of his satellites would do something stupid and his commentary would instantly transform it into a you-had-to-be-there moment or a new catchphrase.
So when he first slapped the Keebler label on me, everyone was monetarily silenced and you could hear the collective motors churning to try to catch what it meant. A wave of understanding went though us as we worked our way towards identifying it as his new way of calling me short. Eyes brightened like a receding sea in preparation for the tsunami of laughter that crashed over us.
“Like the elf!” Someone managed to wheeze between fits of laughter. And that’s when it hit me, I actually liked it.
I’ve been the smallest kid on every baseball team since I was eight and I know this because we always had to line up by height for team pictures. I got used to just standing on the end of the line while guys stood back to back with a third party running his hand across their heads. Originality in pointing out my short stature was expunged by 6th grade and after a few times saying dismissively “Yeah, yeah just get in front of me”, the comments would fizzle out.
Keebler was different. It brought to mind cookies and trees, fudge stripes and chips deluxe. Everyone had the same perplexed look on their faces whenever I responded to my new name. “Wait, why did he just call you Keebler? Do you make cookies?”
My nickname didn’t inherently let anyone know I wasn’t tall. I was a team leader who played much bigger than my body, I was more than just short. I think I enjoyed the power being back in my hands and fill people in if I saw fit. The complexity added a layer of fog that masked the truth behind the name so it didn’t immediately surrender a point of self-consciousness. “No”, I would reply with a satisfied smile working its way across my mouth, “It’s because I’m the shortest kid on the team. You know, Keebler, like the elf.”
Anxiety is commonplace nowadays. Everything in western life has gotten so efficient, we all have time to sit back and think about completely arbitrary things. Instead of worrying about finding enough calories to make it through the winter and avoid being eaten, we stress about why that one hair on our head is deciding to take a vacation from hanging with its neighbors and it is almost paralyzing.
My anxiety mostly revolves around social situations. I am a weirdo. Nobody can tell because I studied interactions and how to be appropriate and conversational since I can remember. When most people watched stupid high-school movies for the hilarity and shenanigans, I paid attention during the party scenes to see what kind of things I can talk about and how to stand.
Conversations, for me, feel like playing Bop-it! When I start out it’s super easy.
“Twist it! Rest, rest, rest, Pass it!” Bum bum bum bum bum bum.
“Bop it! Rest, rest, Spin it! Rest, rest, Pass it!” Bum bum bum bum bum bum.
Then as things get more complicated it gets more intense and complicated.
“Twist it! Bop it! Bop it! Spin it! Pull it! Spin it! AAAARGH!” and I drop the combo.
It got too fast for me and I couldn’t keep up so I just stand there and wait for the ticker to finish telling me my score so I can start the game over again. With practice I’ve been getting to higher and higher levels. But every time I get past my high score, that little voice in my head starts saying “Oh boy, this is new territory better not mess it u… idiot.”
I’m so good at the game now that new people hardly even notice I’m pulling pages from my script to keep the conversation afloat. I’ve observed enough of a pattern that the first few minutes aren’t the random button choices of a computer, but rather a consistent choose-your-own-adventure and I’ve memorized all the right pages to flip to.
I work with children who are not quite as adapt at noticing the social patterns and if they weren’t my clients, I’d be perfectly content sitting around being socially awkward with them. I wouldn’t have to force eye contact nor would I keep on them about it; I could let my mind wander while I thought about something I saw on the way to them, and let them recite entire movies in their heads.
Gladly, this is not the case. I embrace the knowledge I’ve come up with and look forward to endowing these socially outcast children with the same. I feel comfortable because I know that I am not being judged for my social shortcomings and I practice as much as I teach around these kids. Now we will both know how to avoid feeling less-than social.
I’ve learned to distrust my eyes. When taking in something new, they can generally be relied on to miss the minute details of what is in front of me. The problem comes from the inability to savor the moment because everything is bombarding my retina continuously. With all my other senses I have a chance to slow down what input I’ve received and mull it over. As I take my first bite into an expensive meal, I can clearly tell it’s a chicken dish but miss the hints of lemon and coriander that really make it special. Thankfully, that first bite is not my only chance to discover what is on my plate because I can take another identical bite and search for the intricacies that sing a more subtle harmony. A new song is meant to be heard more than once and therefore any elements initially missed by my ears are acceptable losses. My eyes do not get a second helping and there is entirely too much information for them to gather. Only by embracing the fact that what I see is generally a lie of omission, can I appreciate what is in front of me.
The problem really surfaces when I meet new people. Before I was aware of the pair of lairs that reside between my ears, I would take their word for law. “She looks the nicest! Let’s make her our friend.” So like a dog following a treat, I would invest in that friendship over the other opportunities that came at the same time. Then a short while later, I would realize I was led astray by a pair of orbs that served only to distort the truth. All the while, a better friendship was waiting where my eyes chose not to focus and I had to force them in a new direction.
Now I take note of the first assumptions I have about every new person in my life and immediately discredit them as propaganda of the ocular persuasion. I have identified my heart as a co-conspirator in this matter as well. Between the two liars responsible for all of my first impressions, I have embraced a new format of a “grace period” during which any and all accusations are filed away until the rest of my mind can process them.
Perception is a bigoted ignorant spokesperson that has been elected to run its constituents into the ground. When presented with a small percentage of the facts, it presses for action from an overzealous population. Using passionate cries, perception rallies the bloodstream and whips the heart into a frenzy. The excitement is contagious and soon every muscle is clamoring in rhythm wanting to burst into action.
That’s when experience steps in and smacks perception in the face with a white silk glove. “Pull yourself together, fool.” Clearing its throat, experience steps up to the podium and addresses the nervous body, “False alarm. Everybody go back to work. Perception was mistaken yet again.”
Inspiration is a cat. I have no control over it. It might come say hi for a second if it wants some attention but there is no schedule on which I can rely. If it’s two in the morning and I’m trying to sleep, inspiration will decide that now is when it would like to play. So, like the good pet owner, I wake my groggy ass up and get out the feather-on-a-stick to entertain my companion until it is done with me. Then as soon as I’m awake enough and ready to do more than wave the toy around, inspiration leaves. It does not come when called, chooses not to acknowledge the name I gave it, and generally seems to tolerate me at a distance. I’ve been chasing this imaginary animal around the apartment in my head trying to get it to sit in my lap.
This is not my first bout with the capture of inspiration nor will it be my last. Nine times out of ten I would gladly put it up for adoption to go to some crazy cat-lady where the ideas all congregate and play together. The thing that makes me keep holding onto it though, is that one time. One time we worked together and played together to make something incredible that I still am proud of.
I am not alone in my mistrust. Many times have I run into fellow owners to discuss our disgust with cats. “Mine is an outdoor cat. I only see him once a month or so,” I would say, “but when I do, it sure is good to have him around.”
“I had mine declawed.” A melancholy reply. “She is less feisty and we certainly can’t let her outside. She generally hangs around us though. There’s less passion when we play but it’s pretty reliable”
Why can’t inspiration be more like a dog? I would love to walk away from a project for thirty seconds and return to a panting, slobbering mess that was excited to see me. I could throw ideas out as far as my arm would allow, and have them fetched back for me time and time again. When I am not in the mood for creating, it would just snuggle up next to me and keep me company waiting for an excuse to wrestle.
Alas, it is a cat. I can see it staring at me with those resentful eyes as if behind them it is thinking of ways to make it look like an accident. Maybe I should talk to Curiosity.
Nothing ever goes as expected. Whether we expect something to be positive or negative, the only thing that they ever turn out to be is different.
I expected my first kiss to make me faint. Every scrap and detail was planned out to make the optimum romantic impact. I had the girlfriend I wanted, her favorite meal handmade, a picnic in a park where we happened to be interrupted by a light summer rain. We retreated to my couch where we watched the go-to kissing movie, The Notebook. The movie finished and we walked outside to say goodbye before she was taken away for a week. I looked into her eyes, she into mine. I closed my eyes and went in for it.
Nothing happened worth noting. All the hype from television I expected to feel was a lie. The sky didn’t open up with angels singing “Ode to Joy” on a backdrop of crackling fireworks while gravity suddenly decided to give up the fight. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good kiss looking back and I have had many worse since. The problem was that I expected something that just wasn’t going to happen.
Roller coasters were my Goliath. Those monstrous metal dragons roared their disapproval while damsels wailed their distress. Train after train the same thing happened and more innocent girls were tormented. The walk through the queue was always plastered with warnings of the danger ahead. Once I finally strapped into a seat, a morose worker came through to make sure minimal effort was put forward securing my life. My heart raced because I could move in my seat. Even a car seat-belt felt more form fitting and safe. The dragon lurched forward and I realized my life was in grave danger.
Then after the initial drop, the entire experience was just a violent shake. It felt like God had picked up the car to use as a glow stick at a rave. I exited ecstatic that I had survived and realized I had been silly to doubt. Why would my train be any different than the one before? Where I expected certain death, I found adrenaline and ecstasy.
Expectation is inherently flawed. It is a human creation fueled by human interpretations and described by human tongues. Nothing about any of those things is reliable. We overestimate, underrate and generally water down our experiences when we communicate with one another. That leaves the naive, like me, with nothing to do but learn from experience and disapprove of superfluous evaluations. Every time I hear something described as mind-blowing, awesome, or absolutely a waste of time, I put on my doubting hat so that I’m already expecting something different.
Yet I proceed to be wrong. Damn you, expectations.