May 10, 2016

Currency I Could Cash

It’s 1987. I’m in grade 8 and I am about to do something stupid.

To say I wasn’t popular in middle school may or may not be true, but I do know that I felt very disconnected from the various groups of other students I witnessed on a daily basis. It felt like everyone had found, or at least latched onto, some kind of social group, so that when lunch time came around they didn’t suffer from gut-reaching anxiety over where to sit or who to talk to. I wasn’t necessarily unpopular; I just felt like a planet without a gravitational pull with which to orbit.

So when I heard that there was going to be a lip sync contest offered at lunch time, I thought- why not? This might be my chance to be seen. To be noticed. To be liked and accepted and pulled into a group that might not only like what they saw, but wanted more of it.

It was around this time that I started to appreciate, the need and longing for an audience. The idea of performing, being on stage, being seen, applauded, validated, and accepted became very intriguing to me. The problem I would face for many years to come was the lack of talent or work ethic that would allow me to do anything worth applauding. I have always loved the idea of being noticed and hopefully loved, but sadly I have always lacked the wherewithal to make it happen.

I think part of the reason why I write, and in such a public manner, is linked to my yearning for an audience, an open ear, that hears what I say and nods its head and understands me. This need for validation is also why I find social media so appealing. It is so instant and obvious. You write something and seconds later people “like” it. Sometimes they even engage with it and leave comments. Sometimes they send private messages. Sometimes they stop you in the hall and say they appreciate what you wrote. It is like I am finally able to join the cool kids groups. And the nerds. And the drama freaks. I am now like a comet sling-shot-ing through the galaxy.

Is this need for audience sad, an inherent flaw with a person who lacks self-confidence? Is the need to have everything one says or does, to be liked and commented on a sign of my rampant narcissism? Maybe, but take a minute to think about how confusing it is to be self-conscious and narcissistic. Of being an introvert who hides behind the words he types on a screen and the extrovert who wants to be applauded and loved. I am sure I am not the first person who feels this way; I would assume many writers suffer from this curse.

But why I am telling you all of this? What spurned this confession? I was chatting with a friend who does not use FB or any social media, and he was casually disparaging the nature of the modern age where so many of us are “addicted to likes” and instant recognition. His views and many others who think like him, got me thinking that this yearning, this desperation for attention is nothing new. It is not a symptom of technology or social media. I have craved a connection to an audience since 1987 when I signed up for that lip sync contest.

I probably should have known that getting up on stage in front of everyone at lunch time, dressed like an Arab, and dancing to the song Killing an Arab by The Cure probably would not do much for my popularly. But god damn if that wasn’t a band that I loved and a song I thought would be provocative. It was my shot to be seen and to be different, and I was going to take it. I was looking for likes- currency I could cash in for acceptance.

Needless to say that I was largely ignored and more importantly ridiculed for weeks after, but I still remember the thrill of being up on that stage, and proving to myself that I would always take pride in being myself, however ridiculous that self may have appeared to others.

And now, years later, I give this story to you dear reader- stranger, friend, and by some twist of cyber-fate maybe someone who was at that performance- give a brother a like, a love, leave a comment. Validate me. Let me know that I am real and connected to someone. Something. You.

Instead of running today I had a large McDonald fries (with BBQ sauce), a coke and an apple pie. Instead of feeling pride I felt guilt. Instead of feeling pain I felt joy. Instead of being tired…well actually I still felt tired. But it was delicious and it hit the spot and it was perfect. No regime can be absolute. No habit all encompassing. We do what we can for ourselves when we can do it, and when we can’t we simply don’t. Tomorrow, will be another run….not sure how far.

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