4.8 A Charmed Circle


Listen: this is all making me feel very uncomfortable. You see, I wrote a piece last week that felt personal, felt like I was getting somewhere with some things. My life, my writing, it's all strangely intertwined and sometimes, I'm not even sure what's real and what's a goddamn dream. Anyway, after I posted this story, people seemed to like it, some wrote to me and shared their own similar stories. Others told me their had a very real and emotional reaction to it. This is all great, and really, the end goal I always desired when it came to this whole writing thing. The problem is that I tend to shut down whenever people show even a slight interest in me. Could be a woman that somehow's attracted to me. Could be a work thing. Could be someone wanting to help me. Could be people reacting to my writing. My first impulse is to turn and walk ever-so-slightly in the opposite direction. Let's face it, it's easier to not get involved with people, less risk, less chance of being hurt in the end. And this is the point, isn't it? The not-getting-hurt thing, because, screw that. Better to live a life in emotional isolation, right?

Um, Right?

A few years ago, I walked into a psychotherapist's office and the first question she asked was, "Why are you here?" Loaded question, right outta the gate. Figured we would have gotten to know each other a bit more first. So, I'm ready to leave because she's asking me about me, when this guy starts talking - this guy being me - and I hear him ask, through much mumbling and grumbling, "How the hell do I get out of my own way?"

Here's the thing: how in the goddamn HELL do I get out of my own way? How do you people do it that get right out of your own way? Alright, look, I found myself talking to a therapist by way of my usual route: self-loathing, insecurity and desperation. I credit an ex-girlfriend with turning me on to psychotherapy, and she did so after listening to my desire to figure these things out. Of course, do we ever figure these things out? For years, I amateurishly studied psychology, but like any great amateur, never thought it applied to me. I had a noble approach to not use any pharmaceuticals, even though I had come to understand the value to people with real problems. Real problems. See, if ever there was a sign that I needed help, that's number one.


Because, because, because. Whatever the hell's your problem, it's your problem, and yes, there're many other people with perhaps bigger problems, but you can't compare them because they're your problems. You feel them like no one else can. Funny to think that I never fully express myself in my life, even though I often work in mediums that are creative and promote expression.

So, I'm in the therapist's office and wondering what I'm doing there when I ask how do I get out of my own way. What does this mean? Where did this come from?

I've always had a distasteful need for people to like me. It seems that in order for me to even attempt to like myself or accept myself in any form, I had to be approved by external forces. When you think about this, it makes no sense and really, what difference should it make? But this can be a dangerous thing, something that pushed me into a corner to the point where I didn't even know who I was or what I had to say. The person right in front of me - me - was unrecognizable. There's the self-loathing. An inability to see myself as a person. Geez-us. Let me provide, for your reading pleasure, an example.

I have an innate and preternatural ability to think that no one wants to be friends with me, interested in talking to me, or even remotely want to spend any time with me. Seriously, even close friends. I assume that they don't want to come over to my house and when I call them, I believe I am in some way inconveniencing them, that since the advent of 'caller display', people answer my calls less and less and generally do so with a sigh, as in, "Oh, I don't want to talk to Paul."

This is crazy and has no real basis in reality. The truth is a form of projection. I wouldn't want to talk to me, so why would anyone else want to? I'm caught in this body and this mind, it's the only one I've got and I can't do anything about that. I had to get comfortable in my skin, get under it and inside it, but this can be goddamn difficult sometimes. Get over it, take some responsibility. Easy to say, and the desire to change can be a strong one, but sometimes it's not so easy to change.

Insecurity seems to be ingrained in my personality. Worry that the worst is going to happen. That I'm not good enough, that my aptitude for failure has reached such a height that the only outcome in all this is that I'll lose my job, my house, my car, everyone will truly stop talking to me, truly and finally give up on me, and I will inevitably end up on the street where I will die a lonely death under an overpass sighing a last breath, saying a last word to no one. Yes, this is where my mind goes. Not every little comment or situation is a complete referendum on my life.

A little insight into my mind. I wrote an article a few months ago and sent off the finished product to the clients. I didn't hear anything for a few days and during those days, I went from "They're just busy" to "Oh, no, what have I done?" to "They're not answering because they're trying to figure out how to get out of this deal with me." Sure enough they get back to me saying the article's great and more than they expected. My mind takes giant leaps to the worst possible outcome, and I am trying to trace these leaps, following where they go and dismantling them one at a time in order to realize that the worst I could think of happening is really not going to be the end result. Sometimes this pragmatic approach works. Sometimes.

Desperation comes from politeness. From never saying what the hell's truly on my mind. Telling people what I think they want to hear out of some clever justification that I am navigating around people and providing the least amount of friction. When in reality I am telling people to discard me, that I am disposable, replaceable, inconsequential. And taking off another very thin layer of this faux-reality, I am really providing a way to treat myself in a disposable matter. Let's say I'm putting together a pitch for a television show. I work damn hard on that pitch, create videos, visual proposals, power point documents. And then go to the meeting, toss the material at the person, say, "Oh, please look at this if you ever get the chance," and practically run out of the room. Take some responsibility. If I present myself in a disposable way, others will treat me the same.

Self-loathing, insecurity, desperation. Well, this is no way to live. I returned to that psychotherapist's office every week for a while now. Every time I figure I've figured something out, that's when the real trouble begins. Here lies the crux of why I'm telling you all this.

I am trying to curb my self-loathing, push back my insecurities and at least diminish my sense of desperation in order to bridge some gap between me and you. Obviously, I have a tendency for self-sabotage. If there's one thing I'm good at, this is it. I actually had a different piece lined up for this week, but I sat down at the eleventh hour and came out with this tripe. You see, I got a reaction last week, I said something personal, some things that I didn't tell anyone, and for some reason, some people liked it. This would be about the time where I'd slowly start backing away, put up some harmless piece of writing that didn't matter to me, and meant even less to you. Damnit, it's so hard not to be cheesy, earnestly self-helpy, quietly righteous or to try and be falsely funny in order to ignore the route I've decided to take.

I feel as though this is an important moment. The last few days I agonized - yes, actually agonized - over what to write. One part of me wanted to do what I described above: post something meaningless. Another part, the part that won over for better or for worse, drove a goddamn metaphorical stake in the ground. This part of me stood their ground finally, drew a circle in the sand, and told me that I can't quietly back away, practically grabbed me by the throat and tied me to a chair. This is a very important moment because I'm making a choice to change, or at least try to, to stand my ground, say my piece and no longer be ashamed. I think we all have those moments where we have to stand our ground and push ourselves in a new direction. That moment could take a lifetime of buildup, could take being broken down and beaten down and it is uncomfortable and full of doubt and unsure outcomes, but damnit, this is all we got, right? I said earlier that not everything is a referendum on my life, but in a way, about this far down, a page later, I want to disagree with this. I want to be on a high wire with no net when it comes to everything I write, and more importantly, how I live, otherwise, what's the point? The only way I can get better is if everything is a referendum, but a different kind than the one I spoke about earlier. The referendum happens and judges harshly the self-loathing, the insecurity, the desperation, and although I don't think I could completely get rid of these things, you gotta start somewhere.

The truth is I can't back away because a strange thing happened. Very strange. I like this, this not caring. When I say, not caring, I don't mean apathy, but quite the opposite. This is who I am and there's an interesting empowerment to letting go of societal politeness. Let me tell you, I can feel it in my bones. My heart pounds against my chest. My hands shake as I type this. I hope this is not false, I hope this is not untrue, and I am scared to even say this, but I am trying my best to let all that is happening in, to let go of this self-loathing, of these insecurities, of this desperation.

And I came across an event that happens in the south of France called Bouffinades en Circulades. The notion of creating a space that's yours really spoke to me. My space is this website and I've drawn a circle around it. As the brilliant comedian Stewart Lee described it:

The event was staged every night in September in different little rural villages, and appeared to recreate a medieval tradition where the village's social rejects were allowed, for one night only, to run free and mock the core values of their superiors. Outside the butcher's the bouffons mocked the butcher, outside the bakery's they mocked the baker, and outside the town hall they mocked the mayor. But outside the church, even the bouffons were cautious. A circle was drawn in the dirt before the church and the performers huddled inside it, dressed as bishops and priests, waving crucifixes, and an audible frisson rippled through the audience. The bouffons were in a charmed circle, perhaps under the protection of serpents, in a sacred and clearly delineated space where they were free to work their magic without interference. Could there be any clearer image for the special privileges of the comedian than this moment, where the clowns marked out their own unassailable territory in the very shadow of the church, the great forbidden that binds with briars our joys and desires? It made me certain of something, convinced me that I was on the right track. I could do anything I wanted. I was in a charmed circle.

Take it or leave it.