today, i’m old. ok, now that i think more clearly on the subject, i’m not suddenly old. i’ve been old for a long time. i’m not sure where old starts and people will generally say no, it’s not a real issue and it’s all about how you feel. and i feel like a teenager. i’m sure i always will. but that mostly comes from the fact that i care about social equality, peace, tranquility and harmony. i care about people being safe and never allowing emotion to influence their decisions and actions. i am, in a word, an idealist. i’m anti-democratic, anti-profit, anti-corporate, anti-national and anti-tradition. so yes, if you’re looking for a word to describe people beginning college, it’s usually “anti”-something. and i fit.
but i’m not beginning college except for another year as an instructor (which, of course, this isn’t really as there’s a global pandemic and i’m stuck in limbo between teaching positions in a place where the national pastime is hatred and the culture is slightly more vulgar than incest pornography involving barnyard companions). and i haven’t been a teenager in nearly twenty years but it’s the thought that counts. except that my joints are closer to arthritic spasm than 420 and “party” is a word that conjures thoughts of rigged votes and floor speeches rather than dancing on the tables. having fallen off my share of tables at a point barely remembered in the past, i mourn the loss of happiness but i’m pretty sure i never noticed it when i was there.
that being said, it is customary once a year to reflect on the past, which leads to an interesting realization. culture is mostly about shame.
when i was a child, birthdays were a time of reckless and stupid celebration. i don’t mean teenagers getting loud. i mean ten year olds covering each other in shaving cream and beating the celebrating child in the back of the schoolbus. it was a nightmare and i was terrified of these things. i took to avoiding birthday parties because they were frightening — being autistic, at that time undiagnosed, i found the movement, the energy, the noise, the unpredictability overwhelming. i hated them like a fox hates barbed wire. that was ok, though. being alone at home was something my parents were always a little afraid of letting happen but i desperately wanted. school was hell because it was a combination of idiocy (and by this i generally mean the teachers far more than the students, who weren’t so much idiots at this point as uneducated — they’d turn into idiots later as a result) and rigid rote exercise. it didn’t matter what you knew, just that you did what was instructed, even when it was neither helpful nor correct. being taught things has never been a good place for me. being taught things that were obviously wrong has been a place where i tend to get into trouble with those in authority. i don’t do authority. i believe that’s something that people should never have over others. but that’s a thought for another day.
i wasn’t bullied as a child. which was great. i remember a few incidents where i was on the receiving end of unpleasantness but it was incredibly rare. most people who showed early signs of intelligence in a western culture were subjected to the most brutal physical and emotional abuse. it is societally accepted, expected and ritualized. you can think of it as the anti-nerd cultural dynamic. if you’re an idiot, you’re safe. if you’re smarter than that, you’d better take out some insurance for the first time you’re given a wedgie and shoved into a locker. why this is the case is the subject of many books studying western culture. none of them are satisfactory. as in many things, the east may not have the right answer but i can guarantee the west has the wrong one.
here’s where the shame part comes in, though. and that shame is so strong, it’s hard to admit and i’m not sure what the purpose of putting it in writing is except potentially to help someone else overcome such a thing by proxy. in a society where attention, good or bad, is something you are taught to crave, when my birthday came, i was terrified i would be ostracized, embarrassed and turned into a laughing stock in public. it didn’t happen. i was relieved. thankful. at peace for a whole other year. then i wondered why it didn’t happen. was i not good enough to even warrant their attention? my parents told me i was special but i’m sure everyone else’s did, too. i didn’t realize at that point that being able to do things faster, better and more efficiently, especially learning, was something that didn’t just make me “different” in the individualization sense but wholly atypical in the neurological one.
so for a brief flicker in the dark (which wasn’t dark since then, as now, i sleep in a well-lit room) of night, i desperately wanted to be treated like the other children. followed by hours, days and, as i now realize, years of shame for wishing to endure pain. for a second i understood the desire for inclusion that makes people endure painful hazing rituals and frosh tasks at college. then i felt ashamed for having wished to be included. and i still do.
of course, i long ago stopped wanting to be hurt and embarrassed. by the time i was a teenager for real, i was absolutely certain not only shouldn’t i be treated that way, society had it completely wrong and these things should be trained away from everyday life and children shouldn’t be given such ideas — i blame for this, as i do for pretty much everything else in society that is hateful, western parenting and children’s literature, the first of which needs to be overhauled in its entirety, the second requiring abolition. children’s literature is written using horrendous grammar, outdated and vulgar ideas to pander to the desire of parents to uneducate their children and confine them to the ultimate goal of western society — average mediocrity and conservative xenophobia.
so where do you go once you realize your desires are shameful? like all other humans, i didn’t talk about it. and i dreaded birthdays not simply as they would be disappointing and terrifying but they’d be shameful. i would feel guilty.
i also felt guilty for not wanting to be given things. people get pleasure from providing something they have bought or, preferably, made for you. i, as a neuroatypical, abhor change. even the slightest change. holidays frighten me. “special occasions” are things i dread and try to pretend don’t exist. getting presents changes my life. i avoid change. sure, we all need new things. but i try to minimize turnover. i am the epitome of the “buy once, cry once” mantra not just because things are expensive, which is where it comes from (mostly in woodworking and metalcrafts) but that acquiring new things often does, literally, make me cry from the change and the presence of more “stuff”.
i’m a hardcore minimalist. empty rooms make me smile. i like comfortable cushions and clean still air. i like blank walls and time filled with scheduled, imposed activity. i don’t like free time and full rooms.
anyway, i am old now. i’ve been putting off the shame of aging for many years, pretending i’m still as young in body as i am in idea. i guess i shall have to content myself with the fact that i will never devolve into the western disease of desperately seeking partners and family and forgetting what is truly important about life — improving the peace and harmony and tranquility and equality of all life, human and otherwise.
i still feel endless shame for many things, mostly thoughts rather than actions. but i look forward to a future when shame mountain becomes a peak in the distance rather than the scrap pile i deposit new material on every day.
someday, at least.