Saturday, May 28, 2011

erratic sense of self


I’m nearly 41 years old. I suppose that’s when some sort of midlife crisis should set in. I’m honestly not sure what that would be, since I’ve lived most of my life with a perpetual state of serrated, saw-toothed sense of self-image. A swashbuckling swagger that’s as many parts self-entitlement as self-loathing, and a lavish latticework of interconnected inter-dependencies that both fuel and feed off the extremes of my perceived being, built up over decades of experience with bullies, loneliness, social misanthropy, and leading to ample public blunders, over compensation, bouts of kicked-puppy need for approval from others, liquid courage last stands and subsequent mornings of shame, boisterous bouts of blowhard loud-mouthed braggart and male bulldaggery.

A perpetually insecure, non-confident state of being can lead as much a healthy disposition towards remaining curious as an unhealthy disposition of fickle commitment, of believing in what’s next over what’s now. Nothing wrong with wanting more until you take for granted or devalue what you actually have.

When I was 11, during the season of my panic / rage attacks, I remember I had a strange gravitation towards a fabric doll sort of proportioned like Ziggy, something Hospital gift shops sold then. The doll had a round, flat, heavy sand or bean filled had with a stitched seam around the circumference, beneath the chin as though cancer had been removed, over the top of the head as though post having tumors removed. Very hopeful for your speedy recovery sort of subtext in the doll's cranial detailing.

The makers of the toy had printed a cartoon expression or sympathetic understanding and commiseration expression on the face, eyes looking up somewhat like a Basset hound’s, as though feeling hopeful after a good cry. The body of the doll also had been filled with something grainy and heavy, though only enough to shape the torso out like a wedge of cheese, the top of the torso pinched into a flat line like the top of an iconic lunch sack, attached to the middle of the back of the head via a straight line of thick stitches that ran roughly ear to ear, or where ears might have poked out from if the doll had had any. The short arms and legs were attached the same pinched way, sewn to the body by single decisive lines of stitches, thin and empty at those connection, while fat at the dangling ends full of something with a touch of weight, though puffy as well, perhaps some polyester stuffing.
I would enter a panic attack, sometimes instigated by a situation I didn’t know how to react to, or an answer I didn’t like from my Mom, or a catalyst from a toy breaking like how the head would snap off the insufficiently burly neck peg on the Tatooine Luke Skywalker figure with the little light saber that retraced up into his arm. If you tried to fold his legs back behind him so that he looked like he was flying, you had to be sure you didn’t press against the back of his head for leverage, as the head would snap off, regardless how much Super-Glue your Dad had used to reattach the head from last time. I never remembered this key detail until after I’d “Oops! Done it again!” and that toy’s easily detachable head triggered a few noisy outbursts, though probably only one of the legitimate day terrors meltdown variety.

As the attack began to spiral up, I felt as though I’d become detached, no longer in control of myself. I could feel all of the emotional charge, hear all of the sound and fury, yet could also see myself, could see my Mom’s face go tight and white, her lips disappear. I wanted to badly to hug her, to help her feel better, to stop the insanity and how much hurting it caused. Even from this vantage almost thirty years later, I remember snapshots of the incidents from a distance, like a third person game camera after the controller batteries died in hand, unable to do anything while my avatar races headlong into sofa cushion throwing, plate smashing, lip splitting, arm cutting madness.
 I don’t recall when the doll arrived, or who suggested it to my Mom. That strange little doll had often served as an anchor, something my Mom could shove into my hands, something for me to cling to, focus in on, and that for whatever reason, maybe those puppy dog eyes, I would never throw or tear into or bite or destroy. I would stare at it until the rage and fear and emotion left me crumpled, sweating, tears streaming down my cheeks, clutching the doll to my chest, occasionally looking at it again to make sure I still had it, still could see it. The doll became an anchor, stronger than the security blanket I’d had when I was 5, the soft blue one with the silk sort of trim that I would poke the corners of into my nose for whatever reason until the snot dried and turned the corners into fossilized arrowheads.

The day the bouts stopped, I remember Mom and I were out with my Mom’s friends at some community center event. I had encountered something, perhaps some kids or maybe dropping my watermelon slice in front of strangers off my plastic coated foam plate, I don’t know what, but I had chosen, fought to keep the rage in, and had stood shaking with it, biting into my lip until I could taste blood, hiding next to the sort of big fake fern plant that were all the rage in early 80’s interior decoration, until I felt the rage concede. I hadn’t had the doll with me, the doll I took everywhere, yet as the attacks had become less frequent of late, I’d forgotten it that day.

In the car coming home from the get together, I sat with my Mom in the car and told her I really wanted to be good. I really, really wanted to be good. I trembled and cried and we sat in the car together in our drive way. It was her friend’s car, we were just being dropped off, yet her friends understood something was happening and left a mother to tend her son in the vehicle while standing away somewhere in the yard having a cigarette and contemplating the weather. My Mom would have been so much younger then than I am now, and I can’t comprehend how she handled everything I threw at her, or my siblings did after me. I pray Otis never has the anxiety and inability to self-validate that I do, or anger management issues that I have; as well I hope if he does, that I can have half the patience and grace my Mother and parents did. 

I never had another anger explosion, not like that, though certainly I’ve lost my shit any number of times since and working to be a better, calmer, more rational human being with an objective, constructive point of view will be my lifelong quest, for sure.

One interesting thing that comes from having the sorts of constant crisis of confidence considerations I have is that I have an arsenal of avenues I can turn to for alternatives to angst. Drawing, writing, building, collecting, shopping, long urban hikes alone or walks with my family. More involved projects like making audio collages or painting have been tough to do lately, however I look forward to more of that once Otis is a bit older and our accommodations can more amply accommodate the workspaces needed for those sorts of projects, similar to the lean to woodshop my Dad had back at our Milligan College place where he’d fix up banjos and fiddles, or build a Red Baron plane for my brother’s plush Snoopy ace fighter pilot doll.

Another is that I feel a regular compulsion to do things for friends when I have time, drawings or give the gift of toys. Partly so they’ll like me, and partly because  feel validated by doing something for others, as I don’t trust praise and don’t inherently believe anyone sees much of any value in anything I do, thereby necessitating a need to prove what I do is good, deliberate, and with best intentions, albeit somewhat self-serving ones, as I want, as likely most folks do, to be liked and appreciated. What I don’t want is anything in return, a surprising revelation considering how selfish I can be in other forums, like toy collecting, or not giving up my weekends to the office, even when that means twelve hour days during the week.

Feeling uncomfortable with self-image and having little ability to feel comfortable with my shape and size, I have spent a lot of time parodying myself and making up persona, creating an outward projection of what I would like to be, like a robot or tentacle-laden supernatural monster or anonymous character behind some sort of mask. While the truth is that under all that playful self-deprecation are some real issues with body and personality I’ll perpetually work to not have get the best of me (or pass on through example to Otis), I do like that by poking holes in my image I can exist with a general humility, and remain largely impervious to insults from others because while I’m thin skinned and want everyone to like me, odds are there isn’t anything anyone could call me I haven’t already called myself, or had mentally and / or physically laid on me by bullies in various schools and gigs.

And when you’ve super inflated your ego to face the day, humility is an imperative. And when you're prone to hyper-tension, best to exercise moderation for what you consume, particularly pints of beer and / or coffee. Or so I've been told.

No comments:

Post a Comment