I've lived most of my life by one principle. Keep your head low, stay out of trouble, and get what you can. I don't know how young I started living that way. Perhaps it was my high school years. I know that it's as far back as I can remember. My middle school years and earlier didn't have much abstract thought that I can recall. After that though, I'm not saying I was some great thinker. I wasn't. But I thought. Or rather, I tried to think. The problem was it often became too painful, so I distracted myself.
Some of my distractions were typical of high school, but none were predictable. I didn't drink. I didn't do drugs (though often found myself around smoking stoners). I didn't date. I played sports. I held a part time job. And the truth is, I didn't just do those things, I lived them. When I was in the middle of them, they consumed me. My mind was occupied by nothing else. I was always calculating how to get from Point A to Point B in the most productive and efficient way possible. On the field or mat I would figure out what my opponent was going to do and where and be there before him. At work I would devise systems and then try to complete them faster than I had before. None of this was about other people. I tried to better myself in the only ways I felt I had complete control over.
My use of the word "felt" in the previous sentence was very intentional as that is the territory we're swerving into here, feelings, so if that sort of thing makes you uncomfortable because it's nonobjective or for women, go back to reading "Ask Men," "Cracked," or "Noodlefood." Otherwise, if you're naturally curious and no topic is off limit to you, stick around and find out how a guy with "the best scientific brain in Middle School" whose roommate with a PhD in computer science always asks how he isn't a scientist became a writer. Because that's what it comes down to, feelings.
No, I'm not saying I indulged some wishy-washy timey-wimey random whim by declaring "pretty words make me feel nice." Rather, I'm Dr. Gregory House who didn't go into medicine. What captivated House was puzzles. He was drawn to diagnostic medicine because impossible cases had a solution that only he could solve. Well, I'm more of an idiot than House. I didn't want to diagnosis diseases. I wanted to diagnosis deceit. The great doctor is correct. Everybody lies, and the only way to figure out what caused their symptoms is to learn who they are. What did they lie about and why did they feel (by way of bad thinking) they had to lie about it? The best way to answer that question, to find the truth, is through the greatest deception of all--fiction. Every (good) work of fiction is an unequivocal truth removed from reality just enough to make us feel comfortable enough to acknowledge it.
The greatest works of fiction, of course, are the ones we tell ourselves, especially when we don't even realize we're doing it. That is the unequivocal truth behind the show House M.D., everyone lies including House, because sometimes we don't even realize we're doing it. Why don't we realize we're doing it? Because we're protecting ourselves from pain. It's exactly what I was doing when I kept my head low, stayed out of trouble, and got what I could. I was lying by convincing myself that there was nothing more to life. When asked what my goals were in life, I often replied with a snicker, "To not starve." Everyone would laugh because of the delivery, but deep down I knew the joke was the lie. That was my goal because that was all I thought was possible. Now that I know how ridiculously easy not starving is (especially in America), I'm forced to acknowledge the absurd level of self-deceit, and the ridiculous lies I told myself.
Perhaps no lie was more ridiculous than the ultimate re-formulation of "keep your head down, stay out of trouble, and get what you can." What follows is a story few people know because it is one of intentional fully aware self-deception. One evening in my junior year of college I was in my usual spot, on my computer in my single room in the apartment I was living in. Unbeknownst to me, one of my two female roommates was in the living room running lines for auditions for an upcoming play with two of her friends. At this time I was good friends with and had a bit of chemistry with that roommate. I was also well aware of her two friends. One had caught my eye the first time I saw her. I'd had a crush on her for over a year. The other would flirt with me so much when I saw her around campus and talked to her that my current roommate (the PhD in computer science) still gives me shit for not hooking up with her. Make no mistake about it. These girls were hot and in my living room, and I had an in with each. But what did I want? Freeze pops.
My confection of choice those days was colored ice in plastic. As I sat at my computer, unaware of the rest of the world, an impulse triggered to walk to the kitchen and retrieve some. I was completely unprepared (on about every level you can be) when I walked into the living room and saw the three of them. My only memory of their reaction was complete benevolence and welcoming waving. My only memory of my reaction was my brain shouting, "Get freeze pops. Get out." And that's exactly what I did. I waved back, headed to the kitchen, removed three freeze pops from the freezer, grabbed a paper towel, rushed back to my room, closed the door, and asked myself if that really just happened. Yes, Justin, it really did happen. You had an opportunity that couldn't have been scripted better and avoided it in favor of frozen sugar water like you were the bug villain from Men in Black on the planet Hoth.
"Get freeze pops. Get out." Though new words, it was the same old lie repeated, so there is no need to ask what I lied about. I told myself there wasn't anything more to life than not starving (with three very compelling counterfactuals literally sitting right there). Thus the relevant concern is why I felt the need to lie to myself. This is where the potentially wishy-washy timey-wimey stuff comes in. I'm no psychologist and can only speak for myself, but my feelings are a result of my intellectual knowledge and my experiential knowledge. That is, what I learn in books and what I learn in the mean streets of the US of A. I can be told an idea often and understand the logic behind it's truth, but if I don't experience the outcomes of its application in reality, it's not real to me. That is, you can tell me 108 times "don't whiz on the electric fence," but if I don't see this (or do it myself) I'm not going to believe that I shouldn't. Or, in other words, you can tell me "It's Only Natural" 108 times, but if I'm not getting laid (or anything else on the spectrum for that matter), I'm not going to believe it. And what I believe directly shapes how I feel about myself and the world.
The truth is, I can count the number of fair shots I've gotten in life on three fingers. I don't know if this is typical. My intent is not to denigrate the challenges anyone else has faced or craft a woe is me narrative. I can only speak to my own experiences and attempt to put them in proper perspective. I'd even state my previously claim more strongly. People have gone out of their way to give me an unfair shot. This is where things get really tricky. I don't think it's anything personal against me or anything being done intentionally or maliciously. I think so many people have no idea what they're doing. Once again, I'm not a psychologist, so I don't know the details as to why. All I know is what I've been through and as of late it hasn't been fair, at all.
Without delving into the details (as this is not the appropriate forum for that), I question the level of honesty I was treated with emotionally, physically, and intellectually. I was not judged and responded to based on my actions, words, personality, and possibly even looks. I was judged on preconceptions of what intelligent people and men are like. Even worse, I was judged negatively based on those preconceptions despite my many demonstrations to the contrary. "You're intelligent, so you wouldn't appreciate X." "You're a man, your motivation must be Y." Being dismissed in such a way hurts so much because it feels like a flippant disregard for who I am as a person. It's like finding this article and seeing that the reasoning listed for one of your favorite books is "Enough Said." Really, "enough said?" There's no need to ask the person what he likes about the book and why he connects with it because every person who likes it must have the same exact thoughts, values, ideas, emotions, and experiences? Unfortunately I think this is a practice far too many people engage in. I admit to being guilty of it far more often than I should be. It's one of the complexities that's led to me spending my life getting freeze pops and getting out.
There's only so many times you can repeat an action while expecting a different result before you become the rat in the cage who keeps touching that goddamn bar and keeps getting shocked. I'm tired. The puzzle is no longer interesting. Your quirks, vulnerabilities, baggage, and demons no longer amuse me. Like House in the final season of the show, I'm learning the fine line between stealing moments of pleasure and living a joyous life. What it comes down to is feeling, feeling like your choices matter just as much if not more than everybody else's, especially in your own life.
When you're rarely given a fair shot, it's hard to feel like your thoughts, feelings, decisions, and desires matter, especially if you're dealing with people who only recognize the terms they set. All relationships (from customer-cashier to husband-wife) are a two way street where character matters. You trust that the cashier is going to give you your change instead of pocketing it based on your evaluation of him and the store that hired him. You trust that your spouse isn't going to cheat on you based on your evaluation of him/her. And your criteria for evaluation has to be more than actions and words. You trust the cashier because you understand that he values his job in the long term and that the store is going to hire people who help them create a long lasting business. You trust your spouse because you understand that s/he loves you and values love. These things can't be determined solely through observing actions and words. Doing so would be observing a trend in the past and betting that it would continue in the future based on that precedent. Such a bet ignores a defining characteristic of human beings, choice. Human beings are not machines. In other words, at any given moment, a person can choose to deviate from precedent simply because he thinks, feels, decides, or desires to. That is exactly why character matters so much, especially in more intimate relationships. You have to be sure the people you're dealing with won't engage in whim based decision making, either intentionally or unintentionally.
The moment you reduce the evaluation of other people to actions and words is the moment you repress your humanity, become self-centered, and stop giving other people a fair shot. It's when you decide that other people need to fit your formula of what a "friend," "student," "boyfriend/girlfriend," "husband/wife," or "player" should be. You can hand Peyton Manning the New England Patriots playbook but he's never going to run it as well as Tom Brady. Why? Because they don't have the same character. The why behind their words and actions are completely different. That's the error people make when they call Tom Brady a "system quarterback." The quarterback is the system as much as the system is the quarterback. It's not about probabilistically predicting which quarterback, Manning or Brady, will perform at a higher level most of the time. It's about knowing which quarterback will approach the situations he is put in with the higher character all of the time. Evaluating solely on actions (statistics) and words (press conferences) is exactly why Tom Brady didn't get his fair shot until he played for Bill Belichick. Most people think first downs and touchdowns win football games, not high character. What they don't understand is, high character leads to first downs and touchdowns.
Despite the fact that he is a three time Super Bowl champion, two time Super Bowl MVP, two time NFL MVP, and married to a supermodel who makes more money than him, Tom Brady still carries a chip on his shoulder for being picked in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, a result of him never getting the fair shot he deserved in college. "He was seventh on the depth chart when he enrolled at Michigan and struggled so mightily for playing time that he hired a sports psychologist to help him cope with frustration and anxiety." Even in his junior and senior years when he started, he had to constantly defend his starting job. As he described it, "Throughout my football career it always has been looking up at other people." One of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game spent time in college looking up at other people and struggled so much for playing time that it caused him enough frustration and anxiety that he needed a psychologist to deal with it. Let that one soak in for a minute. That's what not giving someone (especially someone of high character) a fair shot, what only evaluating him on actions and words, does. It causes him frustration and anxiety because his evaluation of himself and reality are out of whack with the treatment he's receiving, and those feelings are extremely difficult to get rid of (if they ever go away at all).
There are three possible responses to the frustration and anxiety: address it, ignore it, or embrace it. The only healthy response is addressing it. Guess which one I chose? Sticking your head in the sand and distracting yourself is ignoring it. Unfortunately, that only allows the feelings to pile on top of each other, especially when a fair shot never comes. That's what happened to me recently. I thought I was getting the fairest shot I ever had. What I ended up with is what I described above. In what seemed like a matter of hours, I shot down the depth chart and was granted a release all because, apparently, my character didn't matter. Or, at least, that's how it felt, and that's the point I'm trying to make here. I was driving down a one way street and didn't even know it. My effort, intentions, and feelings had no bearing on what she was feeling or the outcome. Worst yet, it didn't even matter who I actually am (or what my words and actions were). It only mattered what she thought I was. That's the dangerous thing about only evaluating off of actions and words. What you're really evaluating is your perception of those actions and words, making it more important than the actions and words. It's like how people continue to insist on the greatness of Peyton Manning when in 90% of high pressure situations he's collapsed under the pressure. It doesn't matter who he actually is and what he actually did and said. The perception is that he is great. Yes, perception can be right, but it can also be very wrong, especially when you're ignoring a person's character.
I'm a high character guy. I always have been and always will be. It's something I pride myself on. I'm not going to fake reality or approach anyone with malice. I want myself and other people to succeed and be happy. Isn't everyone like that though? In my experience, no, most people aren't, so high character has to be worth something. It's not like I don't have anything else going for me. Given the right opportunity, I could excel. That's the most frustrating thing, and it can lead to an anger that is directed both inward and outward. Seeing so many other people getting chances while you're seventh on the depth chart despite your hard work and ability hurts. It's the reason for ignoring things as long as possible. It's a fact of reality you don't want to think about. How did things get this way? Why do people accept it? And why does it seem like so few people see it?
There comes a time, however, when it's no longer feasible to ignore things. You realize that you can get freeze pops whenever you want, so relegating yourself to that (or any) baseline that will never change is pointless. Distracting yourself can only stave off pain for so long. Like the energy under the Swan Station in LOST, it'll build up until you have to push a button or this happens. The pain is real. Something is going to happen. You're not going to be ok.
What's the Hatch Implosion of mind and body? For me, the frustration and anxiety became an internalized anger I was barely aware of. Outwardly my naturally critical mind (a result of intelligence and the scientific method) has often been indiscriminate, which can come across negative. When you don't think you deserve to be seventh on the depth chart, you look for reasons that the six guys above you don't deserve to be above you (especially if they don't actually deserve to be). Inwardly my respect for reality has caused me to be angry toward myself for not being good enough by making the smallest molehills of flaws into mountains to explain why I don't deserve a fair shot. If you're seventh on the depth chart for long enough, you have to either accept that you're not good enough or that the people making the selections are broken. If you're seventh on the depth chart on multiple teams, it becomes a lot harder to accept the latter. Unfortunately, it's really difficult to understand that most of the people making the selections are saying "enough said" rather than thinking about each individual's character.
Freeze pops are a small chill applied to the slow burning furnace of anger and pain. They're the veteran sixth man added to your bench to stave off rebuilding for another year. They're the button push in the Hatch. My point? It's time to buy this, make like Desmond, and blow the damn. The answer isn't to get freeze pops and get out. The principle of keeping my head low, staying out of trouble, and getting what I can only enables the sayers of "enough said" to continue to repress their humanity and deny me fair shots. There's only one way to get what I deserve and it's not anger. It's Pirates' Code and justice. I'm hurt. It's fair to say that and respond appropriately, the open question is just what appropriate is. I'll figure that part out and know that one day it'll be "Buy Freeze Pop Factory. Rule the World." But for now: