Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Looking Back (I)


ADMINISTRIVIA: This is the first of a planned series of eleven Breadbin posts commemorating the upcoming tenth anniversary of this blog. Once a week between now and May 12, I will be choosing one post from each year I've been writing, republishing it verbatim, and adding commentary below.

As published July 25, 2004:

The Monkey on My Back 

Look for a long time at what pleases you, 
and longer still at what pains you...

I don't know who Colette is or was, whether it's a first name or a last. I ran across this epigram just now on a disembodied page sitting next to our bathroom sink. Live with us for any length of time and you will not find the preceding sentence overly odd...we have books everywhere, and some of the older ones occasionally molt.
In any event, I was 'bathruminating' on something that pains me mightily when my eyes were drawn to Colette's words of wisdom. It occurred to me that this thing should be dragged into the light of day (or at least the weak glow of my monitor) and examined.

Christ, it's heavy. Not that I've noticed the weight before, or not often--We Do Not Speak Of It. But I've carried this burden pretty much my whole life. Not only that, every chance I got I added to it. Proudly, even. By now, though, it's a monkey on my back, a big one, maybe actually a silverback gorilla. It can bite. It does bite. Like today.

This silverback has a name, and its name is IGNORANCE.

Does it strike you, dear reader, as odd that I am 32 years old and have just today used a whippersnipper for the first time? Yeah. Me too. But it's true. Of course, within seconds I had snapped off  part of the cutting spool. I stood there in the middle of the driveway, feeling a not-entirely-phantom pain as that not-entirely-phantom gorilla bit me on the ass.
This morning, I successfully mounted a hook on the back of our bathroom door for my towel. This is a simple job--it would only take your average guy without a gorilla on his shoulder about a minute. It took me ten, and when I finished it, I heard two things in my head: wild cheering, almost immediately drowned out by the sardonic clapping of the gorilla. Good for you, it said. You screwed two screws into the bathroom door and only dropped one twice. Not bad for an idiot. But just wait...later on today you're gonna use a whippersnipper. And then I'm gonna hoot and holler and jump up and down and bite you on the ass and laugh and laugh and LAUGH...
I was setting up my keyboard stand later on and I managed to strip a screw to the point of no return. I could blame this on Mr. Silverback, but he has an accomplice in matters like this, a little macaque named Slanty. Slanty lives deep in my brain and makes me think I'm holding things--like screwdrivers, say--perfectly level when in fact I'm merrily screwing myself crooked. (You'll also see Slanty at work when I'm carrying plates of food. On the list of possible professions for me, "waiter" ranks somewhere below "ballerina".)

On those infrequent occasions when I was forced to acknowledge the gorilla as a child, I'd like as not burst into tears and run away, not caring that it just made him stronger. Now, as an adult, I'm no longer allowed to cry simply because once again, I've fucked things up...but inside there's a little kid screaming.

I have no excuse. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I put this monkey on my back at least 25 years ago and I've been feeding it ever since. When Things Were Getting Done around the house, I'd make myself scarce. If that wasn't an option, I'd gladly be the guy reading the instructions. I could hold the whoozit steady with the best of them. If pressed, I could even hold two whoozits AT THE SAME TIME. On rare occasions, I'd be asked to willywag the whoozit into the bangzapper. That would usually end badly. Luckily, or so I thought at the time, I had a stepfather who could willywag whoozits into bangzappers with both eyes tied behind his back, whistling the theme from Love Story.  And while John was blessed with nearly endless reserves of patience in most things, it didn't extend to teaching willywagging to a kid who most assuredly had no interest in learning.

But now I've got this here house, see, and the sky is raining bangzappers.

I found out really early in my relationship with Eva that she has a deep and abiding love for monkeys. Even the silverback on my shoulders doesn't faze her, often, for which I am profoundly grateful. Better even than that, she has both skill and an ability to teach. Knowing that helps soothe the gorilla bites just a bit. I can't deny, though, that it's days like today when, just for an instant, I wonder if she'll throw me on the discard pile...and whether I actually belong there or not.  


Ten years on, and still -- sometimes -- I'm not sure of that last. Self-esteem has never been my strong suit: I move through the world convinced on some level that those who like me are mildly crazy. Sometimes (no, let's be honest, often) I'm downright incredulous that anyone would love me, let alone someone as compassionate, caring and competent as Eva is. 

Compassion and caring I can do. Sometimes to a fault. Competence is where I fall flat on my face.  This Breadbin entry--number 37--was the first time I felt comfortable enough to let that little truth about myself out.

I remember my stepdad--the whoozit-willywagger extraordinaire referenced above--asking me on more than one occasion, with more than a touch of exasperation, "why do you have to do everything the hard way?" Eva has asked me the same have more than a few other people. It's one question I still can't answer: kind of like my attempts to do things, none of my answers come out right. Because there IS no easy way? Because I find your easy way much harder than my hard way? Oh, fuck it all, because I'm useless and stupid and I'll never amount to a fart in a windstorm?

I'm just as physically retarded as I ever was, and never mind that that word isn't politically correct, it's the only one that fits. The receiver at my work spent probably upwards of two hours with me going over and over the (supposedly) simple procedure of making a cardboard bale. This is something I should have learned well over a decade ago and also something most people need shown only once, maybe twice. Guess what? While I actually CAN make bales, and HAVE made bales, I'm still slower than constipated mole-asses at the process and my knots are anything but regulation. They work--they're not quite as tight as they should be, but they work.  And each time I successfully make and tie a bale, in only twice the time it takes the next slowest employee to do it, I hear the clapping and sarcastic cheering of that gorilla. 

If it was just one thing, I could avoid that one thing and live happily ever after. But it's everything, or nearly: any new appliance we get had better be idiot-proof, for a special species of idiot, because I find ways to mess things up that most people can't even imagine. If I had a nickel for every time I heard "how in the hell did you manage to get it like THIS?!"...I'd have a lot of nickels. 

Part of my problem is a critical failure of perception. I'm a bitch to grade on I.Q. tests: I'm off the charts high in some areas and off the charts low in others. The questions I have the most trouble with give me a depiction of a pattern in three dimensions and ask me to imagine it rotated and flipped. I won't say your guess is as good as mine because you don't have to guess, and if you do, it'll be a lot better than mine. Don't ask me to read a blueprint and forget about those IKEA instruction booklets that omit nice precise words in favour of incomprehensible pictures....

My other problem is a lack of eye-hand co-ordination. That's partly a function of faulty eyesight, but, again, if I'd really wanted to excel in the physical world, I could have overcome that  obstacle. I didn't want to. I still don't want to. Excellence in those physical things entails -- for me -- the likelihood of blood, the certainty of sweat, and the surety of a whole lot of tears, whether I actually shed them or not. I know people say "no pain, no gain"...but I say "no pain, no...pain! Duh!"  

I can point at endless examples. My parents once enrolled me, at considerable expense, in a black-belt program of karate. I never got a black belt, needless to say. I never got any colour of belt. I shook the Zen serenity of my Sensei with what he honestly thought was wilful ignorance. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't touch my toes without bending. Couldn't kick higher than my waist. Couldn't, couldn't, couldn't...and if there's some amount of stretching  that could let me do either of those things, it's  too much stretching for me to do. You bendy people, doesn't that hurt?  I try and touch my toes and my legs feel like they're ripping apart. No pain, no pain! Duh!

I don't even walk right. I lurch and limp and *that*, I'm told, dates all the way back to earliest infancy. They didn't do physical therapy on preemies when I was one and the lack messed me up. At this point they'd have to break bones and reset them just for me to walk properly. 

I'm not unleashing this load of self-criticism in search of sympathy. I used to hate the saying "it is what it is"--what else would it be, what it isn't?--but that saying applies here. I just deal, and I'm very thankful I have some small compensating talents and EXTREMELY thankful I have the love of a great wife and great friends to sustain me in the midst of these moments of moodiness. And as always, dear reader, I'm thankful to have you along for the ride.

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