October 25, 2013

7 Things I Lost Escaping My Uncertain Fate (of '07 or '08)*

Editor's Note: I've never wanted this blog to be a LiveJournal, and this post comes dangerously close to reading like a diary entry. Forgive me. I'm thinking about publishing another e-book, something like "Eleven Sevens," that's a collection of unrelated essays structured as lists of seven. It's the hot way that all the kids write like now, and what I did with my Christmas List in July. Consider this a more formal screen test.

Settling into a new place requires some dredging up of the past: whether it's relating your medical or academic history to some doctor, binging on TV shows from the Dubya administration, or relating to new friends by sharing your story. I have a palsied grasp of my personal history, but my hand has been forced to close in on it. So, as a great professor and horrid administrator from Pepperdine once said of technology, "New and exciting things are redefining the way we live every day, but in going forward we rarely consider what we've lost."

I'm told I've grown and matured since junior year of high school, and I have. I know some of those ways, so please don't feel you should respond to this piece by building me back up or anything like that. Seriously, don't. I'm merely considering what I've lost.

1. Prioritized public speaking and presentation
I haven't had to seriously wear a suit in about five years. Yeah, weddings and funerals. I wore out a cheap tux singing with the Glen Ellyn-Wheaton Chorale. But I haven't had to coordinate my suit and tie, belt and shoes, or folio and biro for any of that. Was it California? Getting on a writing/academic track? I'm not sure, but solo performance-oriented situations have dropped off, and so have my performance skills.

2. Putzing around with Photoshop n' piracy
I was really into computers. Not so much programming or hardware—though I knew enough to get by—but manipulating photos, music and videos into any format for presentation or recreation. I didn't clock Gladwell's 10,000 hours, but I was in the thousands. "If you don't believe me, just ask my satisfied customers!" Teachers I'd never had and tenuous acquaintances would ask for my help with their presentations. In the Excel spreadsheet I made to compare prospective colleges, Graphic Design was one of the dozen "Major" columns.

3. Respect for achievement
I was still more skeptical than cynical, so my first reaction to someone's laurels was not eye-rolling and immediate explanation of their actual mediocrity. I actually admired certain "successful" people in many fields. A variety of figures from Conan O'Brien and Michael Crichton to Alan Greenspan all deserved to be where they were and had earned their social influence. They were models of who I could be one day. In fact, I was ambitious to this end, I would be like them one day.

4. A fortified social circle
I was in a... VERY tight-knit speech-choir-theater clique. We Heren Zeventien ran together and were together ALL the time. From that hub I was connected to other social nodes, some of which have survived far better than le troupeau. I have a few closer friends now, even some of the former pack, but I haven't had a Gang since high school. And I do still miss it.

5. Unshadowed jest
Within the Gang's fast-paced language of in-jokes, bewildering and barring to outsiders, or even the later Racist Basement, my sense of humor was never eggshell white. My "jokes" were sprinkled with dark irony, but they were not marinated in it. My humor then and now is the difference between sugar on a grapefruit and overripe Christmas fruitcake. Today even I struggle to know when I'm being serious. Whether that's good or bad, and it's probably bad, it's nonetheless bewildering and barring to outsiders. Except now I'm the only one in on it.

6. Habitual self-discipline
This is akin to One and Three. Homework assigned first period? That's completed in the back of the room during second period. AP English essay deadline approaching? Outlined that nonsense during rehearsal for "It's A Wonderful Life." The theater and speech season are over? Great, I can go back to work at Cedarstone. Doing the song PowerPoints and sermon podcasts for church? There's my Key Club volunteer hours checked off. Even on a basic level, I was up, showered, and dressed every day no later than 8:30 am during the school year. In summer I'd sometimes go 40 hours before sleeping. I'm well aware all this was not the healthiest lifestyle, that I was sometimes flagellate and eventually exhausted. But I was terribly productive in all senses of those words.

7. Trust in the love of others
This last one isn't a Mitch Albom thang. Promise. It's abstract, but I list it because it was already slipping away while all this other stuff was peaking. If you're performance-oriented and prone to over commit yourself, you've got some self-image issues. I was already having a hard time believing that the people around me actually cared about me apart from everything I was doing, and doing so well. My teachers didn't speak highly of me just because I got A's. My friends didn't hang out with me because I made lasting contributions to the group patois. As a matter of fact, my family and church had been cheering for me since before I could speak. I still struggle to accept that I'm loved by so many, all around me, without having earned it. And I'll accept all these other losses just to work on accepting that.

*This is a riff on the title of a book Stewart Lee wrote. If you haven't gleaned that he's my favorite stand-up comic from previous posts or my Facebook and Twitter activity, I've now told you directly. I'm seeing him live on 11 November. YouTube him already.