Had to leave my house Saturday night. No way around it. It was another chapter of Lip Service West (http://www.lipservicewest.com/
), and I produce the fucking thing, so, yeah, kinda had to be there. The event itself went well, another eclectic round of talented readers, with heartbreaking and hilarious stories about cell phones, douche-bag dates, hunting down a past, and of course rehabilitated junkies, a staple of the series. That's a bit of a joke. But not really. I give preference to ex-addicts, because I know firsthand how tough a road that is to come back from. It's a story I think needs to be told. Not in an "Oh, I used to be so crazy" kind of way. More like, it's always possible to find good things inside yourself no matter how dark nights get.
It's not so much I hate people or being out in public. I mean, it's hardly my favorite thing. But it's not the people part so much. It's just that any time I am out in the crowd, forced to carry on conversations with an actual human instead of with myself or a keyboard, I become painfully self-consciously of how socially awkward I am. Of course, other's can't see what's inside you; I just don't have the best poker face.
Ain't what I'd call a good time. It's work.
I have a lot of friends who still smoke pot. I don't smoke pot, obviously. And even if I could still do drugs, I sure as shit wouldn't be smoking pot. Not unless I want to feel like everyone is staring at me, thinking how stupid and ugly I am. Pot is like the Mask; it exaggerates what you already are. And me, I'm one neurotic mutherfucker.
Not sure what makes a person neurotic. I know a lot of neurotic people. And it's not quite as cute a condition as Woody Allen makes it seem. It's draining. Exhauting. No, I don't expect sympathy. Neurosis is not high up on the Poor Fucking Me meter. It's easily dismissed.
"I'm feeling anxious."
"Nothing, really. Just, y'know, anxious."
Pause. "Well, knock it off."
My former father-in-law (wife #1, the wife I loved, not the other one) used to frequently tell her these awful stories of burn victims and shit. He was a nice guy, my father-in-law. My ex-wife was depressed, kinda screwed up. My father-in-law was trying to say, "Hey, you don't have it too bad. Look at this poor guy." It became a running joke with me, long after she was gone, when I'd be hanging with Tom Pitts at the Donut Church, broke, sick, festered with sores. I'd say to Tom, "Hey, could be worse. Could be a burn victim."
Saturday night I was surrounded by my friends, supporters, other artists and writers who seem to genuinely like me, with whom I share a common interest and bond, and every conversation I'm having, I'm hoping ends; I just want to get out of there before I say something stupid. It's a tremendous pressure to perform all the time.
I feel like a child in the Victorian Age. I should be seen, not heard.
This aversion to being out in public is hardly unique. Long before Gretta Garbo, some people were just accepted as being jerks. I heard a comedian do this bit once. "Nowadays, everyone's got some psychiatric diagnosis. OCD. Bi-polar. Agoraphobia. In the old days, you were just an asshole. 'Hey, what's wrong with Bob?' 'Oh, him? He's just an asshole.'" Maybe I am just an asshole.
Still, one would think that hanging out with a bunch of your closest friends would be an occasion for celebration and not cause for such anxiety. One would think. And I am not even talking about the getting up on stage and introducing people part. Which I've learned to fake enough, sort of like when I give a reading and memorize my piece beforehand, and then stare down at the paper I hold in my hand (dramatic pause, make eye contact, pretend to read).
When I was a younger man, of course, there was the naive belief that this nervousness would pass. Like my balls dropping, it was just going to happen when the time came. I spend a lot of time trying to isolate the source of this agitation. It's like a hobby. Which I share with my shrink. I am pretty sure underlying it all is a perceived slight. Which reminds me of this poem by Tony Hoagland, which is just part of a poem, which I am probably misreading.
"I know there are some people out there
who think I am supposed to end up
in a room by myself
with a gun and a bottle full of hate,
a locked door and my slack mouth open
like a disconnected phone.
But I hate those people back
from the core of my donkey soul
and the hatred makes me strong
and my survival is their failure,
and my happiness would kill them
so I shove joy like a knife
into my own heart over and over
and I force myself toward pleasure,
and I love this November life
where I run like a train
deeper and deeper
into the land of my enemies."
Except who is doing the slighting? Nobody. It's not real. It goes back to not getting picked for dodge ball or losing to Wilbur Buggerschmidt in the third-grade science fair, deep-seated shit you can't tackle on your own, which is why you are forced to leave your house high in the hills once a week, travel across town, down to the flats, and pay someone to listen as you try to recall your dreams for 45 minutes ("I don't remember, Doc. But it was pretty scary, and I think it had something to do with...pancakes.)
Which reminds me of something my friend Matt told me he'd once heard. "When you're in your 20s, you care what other people think about you. When you are in your 40s, you don't care what other people think about you. And when you are in your 60s? You realize they were never thinking about you."
The fight I carry on, like most wackadoodles, is with myself. I don't have enemies. None that I know of, none that I give a shit about. There are probably people who don't like me a whole lot. Maybe. I don't know why they wouldn't. I'm pretty funny and charming in short bursts. No, this skeevy need that spurs me on to prove the world wrong is entirely self-constructed. I am the one who is ugly on the inside (just so long as I am not ugly on the outside. I'd rather be dead and good looking than emotionally grounded and look like Chad Kreoger).
It's like Joe Campbell said (Joe Campbell the author, not Joe Campbell who went to Berlin High. Then again, maybe he said it too. We weren't really friends): we are all the hero of our own story. (At least I think that's what he said.) And I think it's true. But sometimes we are the villain too.
Labels: Christopher Walken, Joseph Campbell, mental illness, OCD, the Mask