For the past month, my inner critic and my inner censor have been throwing a house party upstairs. It is a rager.
If I manage to make it across the finish line awake at the moment in a day when I can sit down and work on some fiction, everything comes crashing down at the world building stage. I have an acquaintance—let’s call him Harvey—who has written a truly terrible-sounding novel. It sounds like a real jaw-dropping glimpse into the Walter Mitty world he is carrying around in that time bomb on his shoulders. I know this because every single time some poor, misbegotten soul at a gathering makes the mistake of engaging Harvey in small talk, like an innocent babe wandering into a dark wood full of camouflaged bear traps, Harvey finds any available opening to redirect and make the conversation into him talking about this book. He is not afraid to give you every plot point, and no one is brave enough to stop him by saying something like “don’t spoil it before I can read it, ha ha!” because they are terrified he will give them a copy.
Right now, when I try to sit down at the keyboard, the voice of those ideas is coming out of Harvey’s mouth at someone he cornered at a dinner party. So much for that.
Worse, every time I think I’m going to get the juices flowing by banging out a clever take on some opinion or personal anecdote, I’m immediately overcome by the tedium of it. “Are you really going to spend time doing that? This has all been done. Often by you.”
In short, every time my fingers tap the keys, the critic and the censor upstairs shout, “Keep it down in there. We’re trying to throw a party.”
I know what’s going on here. I don’t trust my ability to communicate with other human beings right now. My confidence is shot.
Every morning, I would drop my son off at preschool. Every morning as I headed out the door, the teachers would say to me, “Have a good day.” Every day, I would cheerily reply to the teachers, “I will if you do!” Factoring in my delivery of the line and body language, the teachers understood this statement as: “Good luck with my son as he crashes through the room like a cocaine cyclone, arms flailing wildly with no regard to the proximity of other people! Maybe you can do something with him. Adios, suckers!”
I did not mean that when I said that. I meant, “I hope you also have a good day.”
It seems the boy has been “hyperkinetic” with the other kids for a while. Nobody told us, because they assumed from the way I talked in the morning that I already knew and didn’t care. Then they eventually confronted my wife with that. It didn’t go anywhere great from there.
So now I’m in a Cold War with the preschool, I guess. (All good cold wars are about arms and where they’re pointed.) This is a direct result of me attempting to be as effusive and friendly with new teachers as possible. I had the “drop off the boy” job for maybe two weeks.
I think about the friend of twenty years who has me blocked on Twitter, though she has the kindness to lie to me about it (“I don’t really use Twitter much”). I think about the orthodox Catholic friend of fifteen years who unfriended me on Facebook for a while when I was in a particularly irreverent place. The jokes were too dark and not sufficiently jokey.
I think about the IM conversation I had the other day, when my tongue-in-cheek cracks about abusing my wife’s dog almost made the person I was talking to log off. She and I have been sharing gallows humor for years, but I misgauged the conversation so radically we weren’t even having the same one.
I think about the week after iFanboy dialed down their blogging operations. I browsed the other sites to see what people were saying about the end of that era; call it my grieving process. I was heartened by how warm the articles and comments (mostly) were, but I was also struck by how almost every negative comment I happened to see singled out my column by name.
Which… okay. A lot of time, I was trying to bother a certain type of comic book guy, and I can say pretty definitively that it worked. There’s that old line about journalism’s business being to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” and while I wasn’t a journalist I always took half of that line to heart. There’s a type of “geek” who I look at and think, “Creatures like you are why I hesitate to let my friends and family know I do this,” and that guy started showing up a lot towards the end of iFanboy’s run. I wrote with him in mind a lot. That final month, I wrote a piece almost literally titled “Go Fuck Yourself.” The reviews were never going to be quoted in my obit.
In a life that has seen me take very few things for granted, I have spent quite a few years with a couple of basic assumptions about myself: I am an excellent communicator with a pretty good way with words, and when I use those words I can be pretty funny. More and more lately, I’m wondering if any of those things are true anymore, if they ever were. My batting average is plummeting. I may have had it all wrong this whole time.
I guess I have been too comfortable, and now I have to afflict myself.