All my life I have striven for security.
We all do, of course: rare is the human being who truly thrives in an uncertain world. That's a big reason why, I believe, politics has become so polarized...because our world is becoming more and more uncertain by the day and we seek refuge in our in-groups and hurl scorn and opprobrium on all who dare oppose us. It's comfortable, being accepted in a shared reality. Dangerous--no matter what that shared reality may be--but comfortable all the same. It's much easier to reject others' beliefs rather than question our own. If you're not secure in your beliefs, well...what's left?
We all strive for security. But I'm a little more neurotic about it than most.
Every life event has only reinforced this insatiable appetite for stability, dating back before memory. My fragility at birth (second born of twins; my brother died almost immediately, and I was touch-and-go for a while); my parents divorcing when I was five; constant childhood uprootings (between the ages of eight and eighteen, I moved eight times); and of course perpetual ostracism and worse...all of it made me deeply, deeply insecure.
My dog, Tux, has had a behavioural problem ever since we got him. He was a pound rescue--we were, in fact, his last hope. We know nothing of his life before, but suspect much. He, too, is deeply insecure, even after nearly ten years of the best life we could give him.
If Tux is stressed or excited, he will offer you his paw. Enthusiastically. In all this time we've never figured out what to do with the paw-- take it, and he'll pull it back and then try to offer it to you again; do anything that suggests you're unhappy with the "give-a-paw" routine, and he will only get more agitated. You can see him thinking I know I'm not supposed to do this ... the paw will twitch, uncertainly, and his efforts will become more and more halfhearted, and he will look more and more downtrodden. But the efforts to give you his paw never quite cease. I know I'm anthropomorphizing the hell out of my dog...but it really does seem as if Tux is doing his best imitation of me as a kid.
I thought of myself as a dog for quite some time: a dog who could play all the latest hits on piano, how interesting. I'd offer my paw to anyone who would take it: people would swat it away, since the paw was quite obviously coated in dog shit imperceivable to my senses but rankly offensive to everyone else. Scrub and scrub and extend and swat. Each swat didn't stop the give-a-paw routine, only made it look more and more pathetic. There's nothing worse than an outsider trying to come in.
Along about grade nine I figured out that many people, mostly girls, were walking around almost as insecure as I was, and a faithful canine companion could do wonders for them. It wouldn't get me anywhere in the hormonal hell of high school--it wasn't until three months before graduation that I was suddenly human and attractive to somebody--but beggars can't be choosers. right? And so I was the go-to guy for what seemed like every girl I ever had a crush on (namely, all of them) every time they were having boyfriend trouble, which was often. I love him, why doesn't he love me?! (No idea, you're loveable!) I'm not good enough for him, how can I make myself more attractive? (You can't, not to me, at any rate.) Oh, Ken, why can't more guys be like you? (Woof! Woof! Wagging tail, etc.) It feels so good to hear it. If only you actually meant it...I'm right here, after all.
That whole song and dance was repeated more times than you'd ever believe. I loved and hated it in equal measure. The emotional intimacy was intoxicating, but...after a while it's hard to hear that question, why can't other guys be more like you? How do you answer that, especially when you've heard it so many times before? It only contributed to my insecurity and reinforced the perception that I was hideously ugly. A Shar-Pei, perhaps. Or maybe a dog crossed with a duckbilled platypus. Who knows?
I got to be quite good, if I do say so myself, at picking through well-constructed personas and finding, and healing, the insecurities underneath. I have a gift for it. Most people don't know, or care, that I exercise my gift as a way of coping with my own problems: giving any sort of affection, even if it's just a kind word, has a way of rebounding on me, making me feel better about myself for a while. Kenny's a good boy, yes he is, isn't he? Shake-a-paw!
It turns out that almost everybody feels insecure. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people I've met in my life who are truly at peace with themselves--and I freely concede it may be that their masks are so perfect I can't see behind them. Time after time, though, I've gently swept a curtain aside and found pain and suffering behind it. I've made it a mission in life to heal that hurt where I find it, using whatever measure of love and affection is deemed acceptable. Whatever my flaws, my supply of love and affection is inexhaustible. Perhaps that's a flaw, too.
Sometimes I run across a level of insecurity that makes my own look trifling. I set to work on those hurts with a will. Why is it that the most loveable people always seem to hate themselves? Maybe because the least loveable people always seem to love themselves, I'm not sure. But I'm necessarily limited in what I can do, especially from a distance, and every effort I put forth seems to fall into a black hole. never to be seen again. Why won't this person get it? It becomes an existential puzzle after a while. Am I here? Does my love exist? Does it have a point? When will they ever learn?
I had an epiphany of sorts last night concerning this, and that was how many times have people thought that about me?
Especially lately, in the last nine months or so, ever since I lost what I'd thought, up until the moment I lost it, was the most secure job imaginable. I've always said I am not my job and I thought I meant it. It was kind of hard to come to terms with the realization that I was very much my job--without it, I felt useless, and that uselessness had a way of spreading, unbidden, into areas of my life it had no business spreading into. My job search was leading nowhere for far too long, compounding the misery, and time and time again I'd think I was finally making some headway, only to be hit with a sudden tidal wave of nobody likes you, everybody hates you, go to your crate. Bad boy.
I'm very cognizant of the fact nobody wants to hear about any of this. If you ask me how I'm doing, I'll say "fine", the way you're supposed to, and I'll crack jokes on Facebook and make everyone laugh, and reach out and connect with people...both those last things in direct proportion to how miserable I am feeling at that moment. But I won't tell you unless you ask, because who needs that? Especially when it doesn't seem to go away, or stay away for very long.
I really want to apologize to those--many--of you who have put forward your own affection, only to have me swat it away, or worse, pretend it's not there at all. I know better, truly I do. There is some light at the end of this unemployment tunnel, which I will talk about just as soon as I'm sure it's not a train.
Meanwhile I'd like to meditate some on security and illusions.
We live in a world where illusions of security are absolutely vital. The unemployment rate in the United States is cited as being 5.5 percent, As John Michael Greer notes here, that's a fiction which anybody with two open eyes can see through: the actual rate is closer to 37%, but that will never be reported.
Greer goes on--as always, he's worth reading--to talk about how we have masked economic externalities to maintain the illusion of cost-free progress. In other words, people in Third World countries now manufacture everything for us at hideous personal and environmental costs that don't even register on our collective consciousness because we don't see them doing it.
He also mentions, in passing, how it's now illegal in Florida to say the words 'climate change'...even as Florida is increasingly beset by the effects of that unmentionable phrase. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Some of us still believe that. Safer that way. Others have seen through the spin and outright lies--the more of them you see through, the shakier your sense of global well-being tends to get. Like Greer, I believe that our global world is well along--about a century along, in fact--into a process of slow collapse. I won't be around to see the end of it, and neither will you or your children, but it's happening, all the same, and the media pablum that tells us we're doing fine and nuclear fusion or some other such magic trick is only ten years away from saving us all is just that: pablum. (They've been saying of nuclear fusion that for thirty years at least. and you'll hear it increasingly shrilly said of a variety of technologies in the years to come: meanwhile, things will slowly deteriorate, with brief spikes of prosperity and sudden shocks and upheavals becoming more and more of a global pattern as the years wear on.
Security is an illusion on a personal level, too, even for those few of us who truly feel it. You could die at any moment. I've long accepted that of myself--death is just another life experience, something we're all fated to go through, and being afraid of it makes about as much sense as being afraid of eating, or shitting. But it's something that most people have a great deal of trouble with. If security is an illusion, then fine, we'll feel secure in our illusion.
I need, very much, to learn how to cope with insecurity a little better than I do, or can, at present. Because it is a reality, and I'll have mastered this game called Life when I can actually embrace the insecurity and see the perfection in imperfection. I can do it easily with other people--I love you all because your imperfections make you perfect--but I'm not good at all in believing that of myself and I am piss poor at seeing it in events. It took me nine months to recognize the reason behind the reason I lost my job: precisely because I had to come to terms with the growing up I have yet to do, and I couldn't do that in the illusion of job security. The storms may blow and the boat may rock, but I have faith I will not sink..and the only way to avoid the storms is to stay in port.
One thing you can be assured of: if you have my friendship, it is a secure thing. I've fumbled away a couple of important friendships in the past ten years, and count myself lucky to have been accepted back, undeservingly, in one case and asked back, even more undeservingly, in another. A heartfelt thank you to both those people, as well as the rest of of you who sustain me, who let me know every now and again that I'm secure in their lives, too. It helps. It helps a LOT.