I have a mental disorder that skews how I understand people. Among other things, I can't read body language or social cues well because I assume that everyone is hiding something. As I get to know someone new, I have to figure out not only what that is, but if it's something that will damage me in some way, how likely they are to do so, what would set them off to do it, and if there's a way I can stop it.
Having that wheel in the back of my head constantly turning means that I'm pretty quiet and sort of slow in new situations. I have developed a very fancy autopilot to take over while I'm figuring shit out, thanks to years in the service industry. If I want to function in society, when I meet people for the first time, I have to concede that what I believe about them, that they're a threat, is potentially wrong. In order to prove or disprove that information, I have to figure out how they make decisions, because if they're going to hurt me, they have to decide to first.
Decisions are manifestations of our motives. Understanding the reason we make decisions is one of the foundations of understanding yourself and others. Bad decisions result in everything from cheating spouses to stock market crashes, and no matter how we cling to whether we are right or wrong, we don't seem to realize that we're actually clinging to the fundamental way that we make choices.
Most of us consider emotions to be the worst basis for making decisions. It drives us to treat others unfairly, make racist assumptions, even ruin our own lives in search of short term gain. Emotional decision making is the lowest form of motive, right?
You're probably aware of cognitive bias, though I doubt you know all of them as the list is longer than shit you're not allowed to do in an art gallery. I think the general understanding of cognitive bias concludes that most of these happen when we rely on our irrational, emotional side and become blindsided to the clear and rational choice. In a perfect world, we should be able to determine a course of action based off of available information, cost and benefit, logic and foresight.
Except that we can't. Literally, can't.
Emotions are an inescapable part of why we make decisions. Our rational brain plays a clunky, back stage role in decision making, and more often than not it's not taking into account objective reality. When making choices, the emotional midbrain is stimulated by anything from colors, audio to social contact, but does your rational brain make the final decisions, quieting your midbrain like a happy puppy? Nope. As it turns out, the rational part of your brain is more of a henchmen to your emotional centers. It will offer you rationalizations to make you feel like you've made the right choice rather than take into account the world as a whole.
Think you're the exception, that you're better than that? It's unlikely. Dr Laurie Santos of Yale university conducted a study teaching monkeys a basic form of currency, dubbed "Monkeynomics" in order to be the most adorable, and found that they are largely susceptible to our same flawed thinking. That means that this level of bias is deeply ingrained into our DNA, and hasn't changed from its development in some very, very ancient ancestors.
Even learning that this happens doesn't make you less fallible. Being aware of the influence of your emotional decision center can lead to developing false confidence and an optimism bias. It's just another example of your rational brain succumbing to the happy go lucky feelings part, you've just changed the phrasing so that the reason that you're right makes you look well read, too.
This leads me to believe that the four most powerful words in the English language are: I Might Be Wrong. Even if you don't believe it per se, utter that sentence and there's a chance that your brain will search for a way to support that information as correct because it so desperately loves to be right, even if being right counter intuitively means that you're only right about being wrong.
A silver lining to my broken reality is that I know that my basis of making decision making is inherently and provably flawed. Knowing that there is an instinctual flaw means I have to assume that the opposite of my initial thought about anyone is usually, (I stress usually) true. It makes me seem terribly self aware when in reality I'm just holding up a hand puppet wile hiding behind a big ass wall, hoping everyone is distracted while I try to come up with a real person they can talk to that won't freak them out.
This mentality can be multiplied and divided to scale to almost any situation. We could apply it to our overall society, and we can reduce it to the individual level, because surprise! Society is made up of individuals who make choices. We have whole industries dedicated to influencing those choices and whole other industries trying to figure out how we make them in the first place.
It's actually very hard for me to grasp large social issues, particularly when dealing with sexism. I have to live my life under the assumption that I am always initially wrong, so when faced with someone accusing me of being wrong for something based on my gender, I have a very, very hard time differentiating. I don't have a lot more to say on that, it's just something I've noticed.
I really hate being dragged into social arguments, not because I don't have thoughts or opinions but because I'm so panicked by trying to figure out what is real or not that the added pressure of being a representative of reality becomes, well, potentially explosive.
Here's is what I do believe, because I instinctively don't believe it: People are basically good. At the very least, people are basically selfish, and as social primates it's often in our best interest to be basically good. It's a slight distinction but worth noting and a little easier to swallow.
If you know that you are always wrong, you have to develop a system if you want to function. For me, I called the system "Social Math." As I've done more research, it's a jumbled hybrid of Neuroeconomics, psychology and over glorifying the symptoms of a kind of split brain and derealization, a common feature to all kinds of mental disorders including depression and anxiety.
This is a long prelude to a series of articles about Social Math. I figure if it helped me function and feel normal, it might help someone else.
I like to write these long serials because I think it's more inclusive to present the information I've learned with my personal experience and reactions. You have to know that I'm speaking not just from personal experience but certainly not from a real academic one, either. If you understand the relative and holistic perspective of who I am as a writer, you have the ability to evaluate the actual truth and capacity for accuracy in my pieces. Is this a cliff hanger, is that how I'm ending this? That seems wrong. Oh well. More to come.
I never believed in Santa.
It wasn't a big thing in my family. I was raised in a religious household, and Santa was just something that other people "did." It was a fun thing to do around the holidays, there wasn't much reason to it.
I couldn't really tell you when I stopped believing in Christianity. Middle school, I imagine. Once I was no longer forced to go to church on Sunday, I stopped going. It wasn't a big existential moment for me. Church was boring and unrelatable. I believed in God when there wasn't an alternative for me to believe in, which I think means that on some level I didn't really believe it, ultimately. I was just a kid, I didn't have a reason to question those kinds of things. When I eventually came to the conclusion that God (as I was taught) wasn't real, I wasn't shaken by it. I had no crisis. I didn't believe that Christianity as a whole, that my parents and teachers lied to me. You can't be lying if you believe it's true. They were incorrect. Religion was just something that they did.
In my mind, Jesus became their version of Santa. It was a belief they held that wasn't actually true. In a few years, I'd apply this logic to everything I'd ever heard about drugs. I heard that you could die by trying them once. I heard that your brain would be irreparably damaged, that they'd make you stupid. I heard about side effects and horror stories.
I tried them because everyone had been wrong about Santa. It's not someone's fault that their beliefs turn out to be untrue. Belief aren't formulated to be validated, they are formed to give validation. What I had heard about drugs turned out to be untrue, which is unfortunate because with real and honest education about what they do and the legitimate dangers they may possess we might have a better relationship with them as a society, we can understand both their merit and their detriments. Drugs are people too, they're flawed and complicated and can be wholly wonderful.
That statement is something I believe. It bears no factual truth, but personally, it holds a great deal of meaning. I see a lot of people who tend to align with my ways of thinking that think education is the answer. If people only knew they were wrong, they would change their minds. Often, when our belief is something that someone else believes is untrue, we have an innate desire to change their minds. For some, this seems as simple as highlighting facts that someone that disagrees with you simply must not know.
Do you remember when Pluto got demoted? Scientific discovery dethroned a commonly held belief. Pluto moved onto the same plane as Jesus, Santa, Drugs ... Beliefs are our saviors, not because they are actively doing anything for us, but so much that our belief in them preserves our sense of who we are. No one wants that taken away, so of course we will fight anyone who challenges our saviors.
Being robbed of your beliefs is emotionally traumatizing. It challenges who you are on a fundamental level. I'm realizing this come up a lot, but when talking to someone about an issue that you both feel strongly about and both feel like you're right about, you're effectively challenging the way that they exist. Maybe not in the physical sense, but certainly on an emotional level.
Think about the basic language for that: That's what you believe? Well, You are wrong.
You. The creature you exist as.
Are, your very simple act of being,
Wrong, as in the what makes you an individual isn't good; you exist against the the nature of how things should be.
I've written about this twice now in different contexts, but I'm still searching to pull together the meaning. Essentially, these are my beliefs on beliefs, but I don't fully have any understanding of them. I'm still looking for something. There is something about holding things sacred, about things we can't let go of, that I don't fully grasp yet.
It's hard not to talk about belief and belief systems without mentioning cognitive bias. I find this term troubling, but mostly for how clinical it sounds; it's correct, but it's hard to accept that the very nature of having beliefs can be attributed to the way our brain sort of "malfunctions" to sort information in our favor. If it were a malfunction, I don't think it would have survived evolutionary adaptation this long. Do we need to believe in order survive? Can we shed that for pure, provable rationality? I don't know, but we innately seem to believe, or find things to believe in. Beliefs are our understanding of how the world works. That helps us situate ourselves as an individual within any greater context.
Knowledge in itself bears no emotional power. Our beliefs and our feelings influence us far beyond logic. The trick is not to be frightened of the fact that human software is emotional. We just need to learn how it works. What we really need is the ability to doubt safely. We need to be able to question ourselves and be questioned without feeling that we're being attacked. If we can do that, then ideally we've learned how to do the same thing to other people.
Doubt shouldn't be used to dismantle someone's beliefs, it should be made to understand them. Knowing something isn't validating unless it validates an already held belief. Just because you know something doesn't mean you understand it, and we crave understanding more than anything. Being understood helps us understand who we are. It's that kind of social catch-22 that makes it difficult to see eye to eye with someone who doesn't believe (or believe in) you.
Somewhere along the way, we have missed something. We have been able to form solid arguments against people we disagree with, we can be well spoken in our affirmations. Technology has allowed us to speak out, very clearly about what we believe, but with no real contact with our opposition, no validity to our opponents. We run dangerously close to assuming anyone who holds a different belief is only a straw man.
I'm writing this as a preface to another piece, one that's been very difficult for me to write, but I hope will be up soon. I want to pose a question to you the question I have been working on myself. What if they're right? "They" seem to be the shadowy, vague straw men; the enemy to your opinion, but they're real people with real lives that came to these conclusions for a reason. What if the beliefs that you hold turn out to be the ones that are historically recorded as foolish? What does it mean to live in the opposite world, how do you understand that, and what does that mean about you as a person, your heritage, your values? What does that mean about life in general?
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because I've been thinking a lot about how people change their minds (isn't that a fascinating phrase?) Our beliefs and our emotions are the most sacred things we have, and there is such a thing as the sacred, even if the reality of the sacred boils down to drugs and Santa Claus. I just don't know what that means for the rest of us.
I've put off finishing this piece because of things happening in my life, and I have to admit finding the momentum to tackle something so giant again was difficult. The more I learn about this topic the more frustrating and insane it is. I've also had a pretty cynical trip to The Red Pill Reddit, which was a real shame. I found granules of pretty true things that I think would make good fodder for public forum, but they were lodged in genuine misogyny and fear of femininity. You have no idea how depressing that sentence was to write. Red Pill logic about as helpful to the genuine concerns of men as the phrase "toxic masculinity" is to the concerns of women. That's going to have to pop up at another time though. I just shouldn't have done that to myself. This is off topic, we were talking about identity.
Up until now, I've only been attempting to define what the problem is, and it took so damn long because it's so insanely tangled and vague. Let's take two steps forward before taking one back, I'll tell you a little bit about femininity from my own misconceptions about it.
I am, or rather, was, one of the "All my friends are guys," girls that you meet in your life. I think I've always had friends of both sexes but I typically favored my male friends because they were a little more straight forward. I don't read social cues very well, and the concept of gossip was absolutely mortifying the first time it happened to me.
The first time I learned about back talk was in fourth grade, I made friends with a girl on my block who told other girls in my class that I didn't wash my hair, which retrospectively was probably true, I was still enjoying being a little monster. It was just the idea that she had been nice to me and said that for the sole purpose of making other people judge me, and therefore making me feel bad about myself that I didn't understand. (I remember my best friend at the time, also a girl, was quick to put a stop to any bad feelings I had about it, but that didn't register with the same intensity to me at the time) The whole experience was awful and I didn't understand why it happened, and I was keenly aware that no boy had ever tried to spread a rumor about me. The concept of dealing with any one else's social life seemed as alien to boys in my class as it did to me, ergo, I made more male friends. Whether that's my own experience or a truism I can't tell you.
Whether this trend continued because we shared more common interests/communication styles or attraction came into play is debatable. I remained relatively asexual for most of my teenage years, but I did grow a pretty dark affinity for rejecting people who asked me out. If I ever did feel inclined towards someone, I was usually the one who pursued. Again, I had no ability to discern social cues, I had older brothers and most of my friends were male, so the concept of wooing someone was lost on me. It still kind of is and this has inadvertently led me to becoming one of the weirdest teases unless I have this borderline autistic conversation with people about what friendship is first.
The reason I bring this up is because I don't know how much I had in common with a lot of the boys that I hung out with as a teenager/through college. I didn't have a lot in common with anyone. Usually if I did, it was drugs, particularly ones being done at the moment. Drugs were a potent social crutch for me for a long time. I got in the habit of lying and becoming manipulative strictly so I didn't have to feel so alienated. Over time I picked and chose which lies worked better and got me closer to people I felt comfortable with. I never used it to get higher social status, not to the detriment of any one else, anyway.
That's the only common ground I had with either sex, and for whatever reason, I tended to gravitate towards hanging out with men, if for no other reason than the social situations made more sense to me, until the moments they really, really didn't. I'm telling you this because women also may share a fear of the feminine, or being perceived as feminine. It's equally ill defined and socially shunned. Many women hold the same bias about what femininity means which makes it more difficult to explain let alone exonerate from misconception.
Trying to explain what is femininity is going to be as difficult as explaining what is masculinity, and I can't offer up another 5 part essay for it at the moment. We can use the same basic acknowledgements, though: That the word "feminine" should refer to traits referring to women, that the traits that are inherently female (and again, there are) are equally ill defined, and we're relying on these ancient, ill defined models of what is feminine, and because of how we've progressed as a society, we don't really know what these models mean any more.
We have to assume that we don't necessarily understand femininity any more than masculinity, but we are much more free to be afraid of it, because it's not a goal and lacks the mystique of something you're trying to attain. In a lot of ways, femininity is to be avoided at all costs.
Fear of femininity appears to stem from a couple of key factors: One, that women aren't capable of controlling their emotions, and practice manipulation and other acts of "social violence" to borrow a Red Pill phrase, and Two, that because we are women, we face no repercussions for these. These are just the top of the list, but again, femininity is to be avoided, so other undesirable traits are assigned to us as well.
Those are both true and false statements, by the way. Some women can be manipulative or commit acts of "social violence" but they're true and false for goddamned anyone depending on what situation they're in. Those are methods of communication for betterment of social position at the cost of someone else, which is something that fucking everyone in a social structure does.
Assigning these traits to women allows men a little bit of reprieve: they aren't inherently the awful thing known as feminine. Unfortunately, if they don't live up to the social standard well enough, they can become "effeminate." This term robs them of that expectation of masculinity, which means they have been lowered down the hill they have to climb in order to be considered a successful human. The identity politics of being a man rides on the idea that you're not portraying characteristics of a woman. Essentially, if you don't live to the standard, you're out of the club, whether or not you have a penis.
This creates a complicated boundary, once you're (involuntarily) kicked out of your gender identity there's a lot of confusion as to where you're supposed to go from there. Assuming you don't believe you're a woman, your only other socially prescribed option is homosexuality in terms of the social identities you've been raised with.
Again, the nuance of this tends to surface with time as you meet more people who have wrestled with and understand this. To my knowledge most of the people I know who went through this did it between the ages of 16-22 or so, which are pretty malleable times where everyone is trying to figure their shit out. I'm not going to say it gets better, but it gets a little more certain as you start witnessing how other people handled it.
When an identity is imposed on you but doesn't accurately define you, you're left with a lot of frustration. Frustration is one of the masculine-approved feelings, which can probably seem further complicated because you've just got one more tally in your "but-wait-I'm-not..." column. Despite their experimentation with the same sex, most of my friends had a few girlfriends, and from what I know, most of these relationships were toxic and only served to further their beliefs that being "feminine" was awful and plunge them further into doubts about their orientation. It's not a difficult leap to imagine. If you're with a girl who drives you insane, and your whole life you've been told you're not supposed to like them anyway, it lends credence to that confusing cultural message.
(Side note here. That pliable age range, 16-22, most people do awful things in relationships because we don't really know what we're doing. Learning how to not do those things and recover from damage is how we work out a lot in terms of what we want in our partners and how to maintain a sense of individuality in our relationships. Everyone has bad experiences and the fact that some people had girls be mean to them doesn't reflect on women as a whole so much as it does that age range of brain development.)
Assume that you have the burden, secretly or not, of wondering if you're homosexual despite not feeling attracted to the same sex. Add to that assumption some chaotic, often times controlling relationships with women in your formative years. You begin to lose faith in your concept of your own masculinity even further because part of that is shaped by your success with women. If you can't maintain relationships with them, you are again portrayed as less of a man. You start hating women because they're fucking up your social status despite the fact that's all in your head. Your relationships become even more complicated and strained as these feelings knot up and solidify in your neural pathways. Every time you feel attracted to a woman, behind it lurks a beast of expectation, self doubt and double standards. When she fucks up, it's because she's a woman, a crazy, manipulative woman, despite your own manipulation based on your lack of self-understanding.
Part of your identity rides on her, so you fault your own insecurities based off of your reactions to her behavior. She becomes responsible for your lack of masculinity, because she is feminine, and she is the embodiment of the things that you don't like (or have been told not to like) about yourself. Men in this situation begin to resent women a great deal, and often exhibit behavior that are paradoxically equivalent to the flaws they assume are female: they become emotionally abusive, manipulative and unstable as they attempt to protect their sense of masculinity in light of the cultural view of it.
So your relationships suck, you're desperate not to be considered gay, and you develop the idea of the "Holy Grail" woman. She is the positive aspects of femininity and has no flaws: she is nurturing and kind, at home where you don't need to see her be pursued by other men that will challenge your status, she is not manipulative, she is docile. She is the beta to your alpha. She will give you that social appearance of masculinity because she is the stepladder of femininity that you can use to achieve the regular assumption of masculinity.
That is a goddamned awful way to see other people. That woman also does not exist unless she has been crushed under expectations that her job is to be a wife and she never questions that. In modern society, that step ladder personality has been given a lot of opportunity to self examine and evaluate, and not choose that shitty life of subordinance. For many of us, I promise you it is shitty and not a choice we'd make willingly.
Even if you did find that step ladder person, you would never truly feel fulfilled, because you're one shaky day away from that relationship falling apart and crashing back into your lowered status of not being able to "keep a woman." (We have our own version of this as women, but again, for the sake of keeping this closer to short, we're only focusing on men.)
My friends were usually in this "pedestal" stage when I met them, believing that the women they'd meet were the ones that completed them in the most hopelessly romanticized sense as these angel-women would be able to save them from their self doubts. Because this expectation is unreal, their relationships crumbled, some of them became embittered to women, others opened up about what made them feel so much pressure and stopped looking for women to make them feel whole and instead looked for people they enjoyed spending time with.
It makes a crazy difference, and once their partners weren't subjugated to the role of being enough of a woman to make them a man (can you read that without going cross eyed? It's insane!) they could begin to have the real intimacy that does make a relationship work. If she's not a tool, she's a person with positive traits and flaws all tangled into one critter, you can have a dynamic relationship that will leave you fulfilled regardless of what society thinks you're supposed to do or how masculine you are, and alleviate the doubt you had that you weren't supposed to be with women in the first place.
That all comes with time and understanding of self. Unfortunately for guys in this position, my only knowledge is that you have to suffer through it. Hopefully reading this helps someone figure it out a little faster and you can skip some of the experiences my friends went through. My advice would be, that if you feel insecure or that you've been faced with this question about yourself, be up front about it with any romantic partner you have. If she seems disgusted or disturbed by it, bow out; she's not equipped to handle it and you're not doing either of you any favors. If she's been through it, or met someone who's been in that position, or open to talking to you about it, see where the conversation leads. Chances are, part of the reason you're in your position because you've been told to shut off your emotions, which is something women aren't told (not in the same way) and can therefore navigate pretty well if open to it.
You should also be able to talk to your male friends about it. I admittedly have no idea how that goes because by nature I wouldn't be able to be in the room when those conversations take place. You would be experiencing male intimacy, which isn't gay no matter how much those two words next to each other might make you cringe, it's a bond between people who know what each other are going through and can relate. Whether or not we're open to it, that's not something you can get from women. Your sense of fulfillment comes from connection you make from people, and people who understand your gender and sexuality struggles will be able to make you feel more comfortable with those struggles. Having positive male influences in your life can give you better, more realistic models of what masculinity is and how it balances with femininity without all the media and social pressure.
I don't know if this helped you, but I hope it sheds a little light on it for you. Also, this article was not written for everyone, it's written for that specific problem. I could have gone off in volumes about gender fluidity or other sexual identities, but this is for a particular kind of person, it's a letter to a problem, I guess. I hope it helped. If you've experienced this, you're not alone, and it's not as governing of your life if you don't let it. Good luck out there, boyo.
This article was written over multiple parts to make it a little more bearable. If you just jumped in, you can review : Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Thanks so much for reading. If you liked it and want to help me continue and abandon my day job, you can donate here.
I don't know if you can tell, but I have a lot of ideas.
Some of them are pretty interesting, useful to other people or entertaining in some way. Some of them are dark, illegal, gross or otherwise unpleasant.
The vast majority of them are very, very stupid.
Whenever I write about topics such as ideas, I always look up the definitions of the words, just to make sure that what I'm saying is going to be understood the same way I intend it. It's very easy to speak and not be heard and likewise listen and not hear if you're not clear about the language.
According to the dictionary, an idea is a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action. A thought is an idea or opinion produced by thinking or occurring suddenly in the mind.
I always love finding tautology in definitions. Essentially, we could take away that a thought and an idea are the same thing, that having a lot of thoughts is synonymous with having a lot of ideas, but that doesn't sound right, does it?
I have been lost in thought plenty of times, but being lost in ideas is a whole other dimension, and I'm realizing that being lost in ideas is what has made me the person I am today. One thing I'm always grateful to my parents for is that as a child, no matter how weird, stupid or illogical my projects were, they made their best attempt to help me make them realities. Among these involved a very short lived stint in kick boxing, a couple poorly designed flying machines and the creation of a giant cardboard stegosaurus.
I have been praised for being able to come up with an idea and see it through to the material world. Typically, when I say I'm going to do something, offhandedly or not (sometimes more so if it's offhandedly), it will, in one way or another, manifest itself. That's what is so sacred about creativity; you're pulling something from within yourself, from some other form of reality, ultimately, and giving it a tangible form that can be utilized in the material world. To me, that's straight up magic.
I think a lot of people struggle with follow through, and I don't think that's untrue for myself, but I think in terms of ideas and creation, I work on a larger scale. As a comedian, I've tried to put together shows that haven't worked, tours that have fallen through, all sorts of ambitions that are ultimately very short lived. All it means to have good follow-through is trying enough things to have some of them be seen through to the end.
Honestly, my methodology is mostly "path of least resistance." I start a lot of projects, but I only continue with the ones that require the least amount of effort, or are the most interesting and engaging to me. I also live by one very, very simple principle: If I don't enjoy something, I stop doing it. This means I get a lot of opportunities, and because I don't expend energy on things that I don't like, I usually have enough to engage in the things that I do enjoy. Unfortunately, it also means I'm an awful employee and don't work in the current social system, which means I may very well be fucked in old age.
I also struggle with getting distracted by all these fledgling ideas, sometimes even the idea of starting an idea is enough to make me forget what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm not sure where I'm going with this. Even writing just now, I got distracted. I was starting to struggle with where I want to take this article. Usually when this kind of distraction hits I set it down and pick something else up for a bit. Since this is all one article for you, you don't see me set down my computer and go fumble with a guitar for awhile or clean my bathroom while I try and sort out the different things going on in my head.
I guess that's how thoughts and ideas differ and even interfere with each other. I have this idea for this article that I'm writing, but I have a lot of thoughts before, during and likely after. Ideas tend to have some kind of purpose attached to them, thoughts might but I don't think it's an intrinsic quality of them. You can have thoughts for no reason and with no end purpose.
I have interesting ideas, dark ideas, useless ideas, and stupid ones. Regardless of what they are, I will do my best to try every one of them within my ability.
One of the reasons I think we hit creative blocks is because as artists, we tend to criticize what kind of thoughts we have.
"This isn't funny."
"This painting sucks."
"This sculpture requires too many dolphin spleens."
Block occurs when we start wanting to have a specific kind of thoughts. The reason creativity seems like madness is because it comes as one of those neat little thoughts tucked into a bouquet of assorted weirdness, memory and in-the-moment stimulus. Trying to focus too hard on it won't get you any where.
You could liken it to foraging. A thought is a tree in a forest. You go looking for your jokeberries on the comedy shrubs, pluck them all off and are stuck looking for tiny, unripe little buds that you try to squeeze more juice out of. You can do that all you want, but you'll still have to wait for the plant to replenish itself before anything else good comes along.
Rather than focus so tightly on that particular berry bush, you can go looking elsewhere. Elsewhere might end up being making music, cardboard dinosaurs, or taking up a hobby that you'll give up and rip into pieces. You might stumble on something else you want to incorporate into your creative diet.
I'm not really sure why that metaphor went like that. I've had this tendency to talk like a children's book recently. We'll see how long that lasts.
When it comes to your thought process, there really are no bad ideas or bad thoughts. That sounds like something out of a corporate sales meeting but bear with me. We try to discard our negative, unpleasant, dumb thoughts, partially because we don't want to think of ourselves as negative, unpleasant and dumb people. You aren't your thoughts any more than you are your body, you little Grebe.
The reason that there are no good or bad ideas/thoughts is because all of them are part of a process. Individually, no, they aren't all useful thoughts or pleasant and they may make you worried about yourself. No singular thought encapsulates your thought process, but the more you start picking out at one, the less you'll notice all of the others that surround you.
It's smart to start recognizing what each kind of thought you have is, and acknowledge that it exists. I find this works particularly well for anxiety. Whenever I'm having a lot of nervous, social anxiety thoughts, like "does this person like me?" or "was that a stupid thing to say?" I just acknowledge that I've just thought those questions rather than try to answer them. Usually they return to the swarm of other thoughts and I go about my business. Whenever I start getting distracted, rather than go looking for the original thought, wherever the fuck it floated off to, I go downstream. Sometimes I lose it forever.
Sometimes, I actually make it to the end.
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Undeniably, cultural influence goes a long way towards shaping how you think of yourself. Hypermasculine and hyperfeminine ideals are hurtled at us from every direction within a few months of being alive, but it's not hopeless. Humans are relatively susceptible to influence, particularly when we're young, but we're also incredibly curious. We don't have to take anything on face value if we have the interest to dig deeper.
And while you're sifting through all of this new social information, you have two hyperbolic figureheads, your own personal heroes, that let you know how to interpret all that crazy symbology. They have the ability to give you insight to the world around you. Not only that, their acceptance or rejection of any otherwise socially held standard will have a huge bearing on your own opinion of those standards.
Who are those two figureheads? Mom and Dad.
Writing this presents a couple of significant challenges for me. There's a few things I'll just go ahead and say outright, because I may inadvertently come across offensively on these fronts. Let me establish this:
I am not, by any means downplaying the insane struggle of being a single mother or attempting to chastise women in that position.
I am not blaming good men of being bad fathers because they uphold the standards that they were held to.
I am not stating that these people alone are responsible for this kind of pressure on a growing individual.
Your mother and father won't be the only people to assume that figurehead, particularly if your own weren't around for whatever reason, and you don't get to live off of blaming them without making any changes to yourself if you're struggling with your own identity. Your identity is your job.
Still with me? Good.
Being a parent in a monogamous culture means two things: One, the success of your relationship will be a model for your offspring, and two, having two parents provides a more well rounded view of how functional adults should work and what they achieve. You also have both a male and female perspective to help you discern the influx of information about gender.
Loren Eiseley suggested in "The Immense Journey" that we encouraged this monogamy in our earliest origins of evolution because our brains spend so much time developing. Because our childhood is so long, we're able to form neural pathways over a longer span and become more complex organisms. To become that complex requires the protection and resources that a single parent raising its offspring would have difficulty providing. Again, this is evolutionary perspective; developing homo sapiens did not have established shelters, grocery stores, and so on in order to make survival simpler. It was no contest; two parents meant better survival for a long and complex childhood.
We further solidified the importance of monogamy, and therefore, dual parenthood, with agriculture, religion and patriarchy. Monogamy became important in order to keep track of whose offspring belonged to whom, and therefore who was deserving of sharing of a family's resources. Over time, and with our development of agriculture, we further shifted towards our individual interest and systems of ownership, so preserving our resources for our kin, rather than being egalitarian, became even more important as we attempted to distinguish our success from the success of a community as a whole. We established miniature monarchies within households, with the father figure being at the very top.
We built a culture around two parents being successful, and successfully rearing a child, with the dominant male being something of a pack leader. In order to be a pack leader, one had to do what all animals do, defend their territory and establish dominance. Animal nature creeps into our supposedly sophisticated creation of social structure. Dominant males could express this by having more, achieving more, and being better, stronger, smarter and more successful than other rivals. We are no different than any other animal in that regard.
Relating this back to the family, a father is faced with two quandaries: one, how does he demonstrate to his progeny that he is, by social standards, a successful man? Secondly, how does he prepare said offspring for the competitive world in which he must strive to be as close to the ideal standard of manliness as he can? Just like playing music in the womb, the typical solution was to start early. I sometimes wonder if this is leftover from our historically shorter life expectancy.
Little boys were taught to become men, which, as you may recall, means fuck all from an objective manner of speaking, but it means a lot to a developing little boy, and even more when it's something not only desired, but expected from him by his parents. At whatever age a boy is told he's not allowed to cry, effectively, he's told he's not allowed to express that he's in pain, which on some level is telling a child he's not allowed to feel pain. If you're not allowed to feel something as basic as pain, you're going to struggle greatly with openly feeling anything else. There's no wonder there's a rage epidemic.
One of the roles of a father figure, or any strong male role model, is to give an example as to how a member of your own sex treats the opposite sex, to embody the ideals of "masculinity" and encourage and recognize those in you. If your father figure imparts ideals of masculinity as emotionlessness, rage, and violence, and you rapidly begin to notice that you don't embody any of those qualities, you're going to have to wade into whatever your society dictates masculinity is to find it for yourself, and you may find nothing there. You may find that the fact that you have feelings, want to have bonds with men, and have no real desire to express yourself exclusively by breaking things will somehow align you to being effeminate, and therefore gay, whether or not your orientation resides there or not.
Because you have qualities of "the other" then you must be "one of the others," and this has been propagated seemingly forever.
In this circumstance, men wanting male intimacy aren't exhibiting any kind of homosexual desire, they're exhibiting humanity. Human beings are social animals, and having to live in a culture that encourages this suppression leaves them nothing but frustration. Their fathers were raised in much the same culture, and can't provide a healthier example for their children, because so far as they're aware, that's how it works, and no one was ever encouraged to ask why or if it was a good idea.
So where does mom fall into this? Well, she can end up with a number of different masks, we'll find out, which is the peculiar burden of women, because we *are* socially allowed to feel, because we're not expected to run anything.
I should point out that these ways of thinking are becoming archaic, and that these figurehead analogies aren't completely solid. As time progresses, they will break down, because we're seeing the cracks in the system. This is a snap shot for the time we're in, however, and for the people that I've seen raised in it. The more you learn about these kinds of social systems, the more power you have not to become part of it.
At least in my generation, there is a staggering lack of father figures. Interestingly, this has led to a well-deserved increase in attention to the father's role in court cases. Originally, deadbeat dads, while not necessarily a prized role, were at least socially recognized. Mothers weren't offered the same "out" given a woman's biological attachment to a child's development. Men could get scared and leave their families, or be unfit to participate in them. Women had no such luxury.
Mothers play a nurturing role and have a very complex influence over our sense of validation for that reason. If you think of your father as the guardian, the caretaker, the person who goes out into the world and demonstrates how people behave, then the mother, the nurturer, the person who takes care of you as you grow and develop, is the person who demonstrates how you become an adult. She essentially affirms that your feelings are okay, or not, and she has to come up with something to fill the vaccuum of ideals that are associated with your father's role. I don't care how incredible your mom was, having to raise a child, support them financially and play both parental roles is a level of effort that I simply don't think is achievable to the same standard as having two parents in the household. It will, in some way, inevitably effect your psychology not to have a father figure, or to have too many, or negative ones.
If that's not a fuck ton of responsibility for one person, I don't know what is. For some mothers, they have to assume both roles, attempting to nurture and demonstrate development while also providing for the family that has no second contributor. I can't imagine the burden that could place on a woman and her son, particularly the way we're set up socially.
Most of the people I know who have struggled with this particular mental anguish have also had strained, difficult, or even nonexistent relationships with their mothers, and even worse so with their fathers. They had no direction, no way to compare or to feel self assured in themselves versus the fluid cultural definitions they were offered.
This isn't meant to blame either parent for this particular situation, but I think it highlights an important role of adults in our society when it comes to the impact they have on children: If you lack adult role models that help illustrate the kind of person you want to become, you will be forced to discern that information from people your own age, who haven't figured that out yet.
This is just a touchstone of the points I've made: your reaction to how culture views masculinity is going to be compared against how your parents view masculinity, and how they praise or reprimand you based on it will have a lot of value on how you see yourself in that larger context. As you get older, you learn to contextualize your parents based on their own upbringing and experience, but that's barely an option to consider when you're developing during your internment of adolescence. Even if you were able to create that kind of elaborate critical thinking, you're not really in a position to express or exercise any changes based off of it.
I don't know that I could offer any solution to the parental aspect of this. All people are flawed and are often flawed based on their own interpretations and experiences and traumas. You can't blame your parents for doing what they probably assume was the right way to raise someone to be a successful adult. You just have to find other successful adults to model off of. I think this gets a little easier with time, only because you become an adult, and therefore your peers can become people you can both look up to and relate to, and they can help unravel the complexity of your upbringing a little better.
Well, that was fun, and we're almost finished, but there's still one last piece to this. So far we've gone into why thinking you're gay based off of your personality and not your actual orientation is a cultural misstep, and it's one that's reinforced by your upbringing. Lastly, we've got to address the cause of why this dismissive approach towards male intimacy and sensitivity exists: a fear (and, as much as I'm loathe to say it, suppression) of the feminine ...
This article is broken up into sections : Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6
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This is the story that begins when you are walking alone in the forest at night. You've been warned not to go into the woods after dark because of the witch. She eats children like you. You've been wandering in the dark for hours now, and your light is beginning to dim, it will be burned out soon and all you'll have is moonlight and the occasional, lazy glow of a fire fly. Certainly not enough to keep you from tripping over tangled roots or alert you of the wolves that have been patiently circling you, waiting for this moment.
It's so dark you can barely make out the forms of the trees, but in the distance, there is a warm orange glow, a sunrise all of its own. As you get closer you hear cackling and the singing of a mad woman. Your heart is pounding; you have two options, remain in the dark and risk being eaten by wolves, or go towards this light and see what kind of person has created it.
You decide to find her, and what you see is unsettling. It is a cottage, but the fence surrounding it is made from human bones. The cottage itself is hoisted on two massive chicken legs, and in front of it is a woman perched on the edge of a mortar. cackling madly. She has a long, thin nose that reaches into the dip of the mortar, and through her demented smile you see her iron teeth.
This is Baba Yaga. You've heard of her, and your instinct is to run, but she sees you and you find yourself moving closer.
"Well?" She rasps at you through fits of laughter, "What brings you here?"
"I'm lost, I want to go home." You reply.
"Well, you've come to the wrong place," She snickers. She motions towards you with a bony finger capped with a yellowed nail. "Might as well come closer."
Shit. This is how it happens. This is how you die. You get eaten by a fucking witch.
You are so fucked, you're so stupid, you're walking towards her. You want to run but you walk towards her like she's at the end of a tight rope. There's no ground any more, no sky, no trees, just the long, narrow path towards the crazy old crone that's about to cook you into soup without a second thought.
As you draw closer you see how complicated her old skin is. Its not only wrinkled, it's covered in warts and tree bark, diseases both human and ethereal. Her dark, beady eyes are sunken deep into her bony skull, and you are so close that she whacks you with the tip of her long nose. Her garden hose nose with a mole with a hair on the end of it. By the look of her, she hasn't gotten much sun, but that kind of mole should definitely get checked out. She giggles at you as you walk right up to her. You are inches away and smell her rotten breath, see her dry, mucus coated tongue.
"I can help you get home," Baba Yaga whispers as she clears her throat, "But only if you clean my cottage."
You are taken into the cottage on chicken's legs, which is bigger than your last studio apartment, at least. Most of it is enveloped by a giant, bubbling cauldron, and again, it hits you.
Shit. She's going to eat me, I'm going to die. This is how it happens. I'm going to do witch chores and then I'm going to be soup. I'm so stupid, I walked right into her house and everything. She might ask me to chop myself into little pieces and even though I don't know why, I'd do it without question.
You complete her tasks, but they aren't as ordinary as doing your own laundry would be. In the process, you lose a foot, and in exchange, Baba Yaga offers you a gift: the skull of some poor bastard who didn't clean her house so well. His soul lights up the cavity of the empty skull. She informs you that the light from the skull will get brighter as you get closer to home, and dimmer if you're heading away. She's given you a gift, a way out, and let you keep your life, if not your foot.
The endings of fairy tales always seem kind of lacking in satisfaction, don't they? They always seem to fade out, they're either milquetoast or tragic, or in some rare cases, people get married which is pretty okay given the time period they're written in.
This story is about the Baba Yaga, but the thing is, this witch wasn't just the old crone standing in front of you; she was all of those whispers of doubt and certain doom you had as you walked up to her, as you entered her house. Baba Yaga is scary, but she is also fear. That's what makes her folklore so fascinating; in most of her depictions, she can be maternal and helpful or she can be the cause of your undoing. We will never know what her intentions are. Sometimes she offers good advice or keeps us safe, other times she's there to eat us. Effectively, she plays the role of your amygdala.
Your amygdala as an organ is crazy complex and handles more than just fight or flight, by the way. It receives input from just about everything, it's responsible for emotional learning and development and also handles memory. It's a complicated little thing, and it's also greatly responsible for your fear, which I imagine is why people suffering from mass anxiety find it seeping into pretty much everything; the control room is kind of the same. The important thing to remember is that fear instinct isn't inherently bad, in fact, it's necessary; it's what kept you out of the mouths of the wolves, remember them? "The only thing to fear is fear itself" is a fun fortune cookie mantra but entirely untrue. Fear is to be trusted with discerning.
Calling it Baba Yaga instead of fear can make that big emotional concept seem more definite. You can look a witch in the eye because it has a face. It's hard to internalize looking your fear in the eye, seeing yourself and your big, complex chambers of consciousness without becoming confused. Her cryptic motives and often terrifying tasks that may leave you maimed are also good parallels for fear; usually, the objective of being afraid is to get into a situation where you don't have to be any more. How that happens is up to you and your brain. Learning to identify what is your fear, the witch in your head, can help you face external anxiety or fears more rationally.
If you don't know what Baba Yaga looks like, you'll be terrified of everything. You won't learn the difference between a witch or a tree stump, and you'll become the kind of person who is afraid to leave their house for fear of getting lost. Remember, you know what happens when you run, or avoid her altogether, but you can't know for sure what happens when you confront her. She may even be the only one who knows how to bring you to safety.
I am telling you a fairy tale. This is the story of the witch in the woods.
Before I do, I should tell you that this fairy tale is also a true story. To some extent, they all could be.
There's a distinction between a myth and a fairy tale that could offer a little more context. Myth was the early cosmogony; the stories of gods fighting with seemingly human emotion arguably illustrates the birth place of such. Myth gave meaning to the world. The divide between science and myth is arguably more subtle than "one is provable and one isn't" because myth wasn't established to be proven, it was accepted on faith. Myth focused very much on why, whereas science was concerned more so with the how, and by examining the how, the why was presumed apparent. Both were seekers of truth, and both were understood to be true.
Fairy tales on the other hand, are taxonomy of expression. They can't be believed to be true in the material sense, but they're apt psychology. For some people, fairy tales are childish, and immature ways to express themselves. They prefer to be well read and have an understanding of their issues; in this instance, I don't. I want to name them, but I found that attempting to find their roots in order to rip them out wasn't very useful; my problems seemed alive, and the life they had made them monsters.
When talking about fear or anxiety, or other feelings that are harder to process in the moment, it's hard not to visualize them as demons. We can name them clinically and medicate them with pharmaceuticals, but doing so seldom helps us feel like we understand them. Some people go to a counselor who reads a lot of textbooks and learns the steps to dismantling a feeling to help you understand them. It treats them as inorganic mechanisms. Our minds are engines that are built, damaged and repaired.
Our brains aren't machines, they developed in a nature, and finding ways to translate our thoughts into material expression is easier when you're surrounded by an environment that behaves the same way. In the classic fairy tale, the woods represent your mind, and there's a lot of interesting shit in there for your protagonist, Consciousness, to explore. Once in awhile, your protagonist will run into a demon it has to figure out and subdue, or a puzzle it has to solve. Quite often, a walk in the woods will lead you to the home of a witch.
The woods are a fantastic place and I'd highly encourage you to find some because the parallels to your brain are uncanny if you look long enough. The mutualism between systems seems to operate in the way of organisms (trees and fungi for example) try to protect and operate within a system (the forest itself). It makes it easier to understand your own internal struggles through these representations; in most relatively healthy systems, no one organism is attempting to deconstruct the rest of it, even if it's interpreted that way at first.
But I digress. I promised you a fairy tale ...
These articles focus more on psychology or how individuals function in a society. They're about as well thought out as anything else on the internet, and there's probably typos.