Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Life As Me

Very early in the Breadbin's existence, I wrote a blog about a monkey on my back, and it started with a quote that, in hindsight, has become something of an epigram for the Breadbin itself:

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

Some people have, through the years, suggested that I pity-fish, that my occasional bouts of self-flagellation are designed to elicit responses reassuring me of what a swell person I actually am, blah blah blabbledy-blah.  They're wrong. I'd write these things even if nobody read them--I have a whole set of private entries on this site that will never see the light of day. That's right, everyone, there are things too personal for even I to share. Scary thought, eh?

Don't get me wrong: I love reactions to my words. I think any writer who tells you she doesn't is lying. But I write for me. I write to try and make sense of my world. I write because if I didn't, I would explode.


I want to give you all a peek into my brain. Buckle up, it gets bumpy.

First off, my natural state, which I am given to understand is highly unusual. It's a state of no-thought.  Simply put, if I'm not thinking about something, I'm not thinking about anything.

This is a mystery to my wife, who is always, it seems, thinking of nine things at once and examining them from all angles. From my understanding, many men default to thinking about things like sex, sports, sex, blowing shit up, competitive sex whilst shit blows up in the background, and sex.

Not me. I'm capable of thinking about sex, and have a rich and varied fantasy life (best not to ask)...but it has to be triggered, or deliberately brought to mind. I'll think about sports while I'm watching them, or reading about them, but almost never at any other time. And I shy away from imagining destruction of any kind.
No, normally I'm just...not thinking. When thought is no longer called for, I zone out very quickly. Awareness of my surroundings fades.

First, my vision goes. That shouldn't be surprising: my vision is poor, and I don't always trust it at the best of times. Even with corrective lenses. It's not that I stop seeing, exactly. I stop seeing details, for sure, but otherwise I can see just fine (well, fine for Ken values of fine). It's just that what I am seeing stops having immediate meaning.
Keep me in that no-thought state for any length of time, and other senses will follow. Keep me in it long enough, and my sense of self-awareness fades as well.

Mark says this makes me an ideal subject for hypnosis. He's right...but only if you're sneaky about it. Otherwise I'm thinking of being hypnotized, and so I'm resisting it.

But if I AM thinking about something? Well, then I can zone out even more easily.  I'll start chasing the thought down in my mind, around corners, under the corpus collosum,  and careening through the cranium. This is especially true if I have a feeling about the thought, and even more true if that feeling is troublesome in some way. Then, again, the outside world ceases to signify. A television can be blaring behind me and I'll hear that there is noise, but not what that noise is.

If I am reading, or listening to music, my awareness of the world around me can and does shrink to nearly zero. It's not much better if I am concentrating -- even if what I am concentrating on is something I have done a thousand times before.

That's another thing that's odd about me: my autopilot is extremely inconsistent.

Most people do most things on autopilot, I have found. Shopping is a big one. I was in the grocery business for a long, long time, and years of observation has convinced me that most people pay about as much attention to their surroundings in a store as I do when I'm thinking about nothing in particular. My favourite example:

We used to have Astro yogurt tubs on sale periodically for $2. I'd have to create an endcap display each time this happened, because I'd go through three or four skids of that stuff in those weeks. Now, normally, when the stuff was at regular price or on sale for a less aggressive retail,  strawberry would outsell Vanilla about 2 to 1, and Vanilla would outsell Peach approximately 2 to 1. So at $2, I'd put Strawberry at eye level, where I could triple-stack it. I'd put Vanilla on the bottom, double stacked.  And a single layer of Peach would go up high.

With me so far?

One week, they screwed up my order. I don't remember the exact numbers, but let's say that instead of 500 cases of Strawberry, 250 of Vanilla, and 125 Peach, I got 500 Peach and 125 Strawberry. This was cause for serious alarm. I was going to be out of Strawberry, the best seller, right quick, and hung with an ocean of Peach yogurt.

So I improvised and put Peach in the middle, at eye level. I put the Strawberry up top. I knew this wasn't going to work, but I had to try to get rid of that Peach.

I'm still stunned about what happened, and this was more than ten years ago now. The Peach went like wildfire, and I didn't run out of Strawberry at all. The only conclusion I could draw, as crazy as ut seemed and seems was that people buy yogurt not based on what flavour of yogurt they like to eat, but based on how easy it is to reach on the shelf.

So, yeah, I have an autopilot: of course I do. Somebody as "spaced" as I routinely am would have to, just to survive out in the world. But the autopilot goes on the fritz with astonishing regularity.

An example.  I have extremely hot showers. So when I exit one and go get dressed, I leave the fan on for a bit to try and dissipate some of the steam. Sometimes, I will remember to turn it off on my way downstairs, after I've dressed.  Sometimes I won't. And sometimes I'll be on my way by, and suddenly think Eva snapped at me once for leaving this thing on three winters ago, I'd better turn it off. That thought, when it comes, hits like a thunderclap in my head. Every time.
Showers are an everyday thing for me: a Shower is the halfway point between Bed and World. You would think that turning the fan off would be a routine for me by now. Nope. And that's one example among many. They say fifty repetitions is supposed to create a habit. It does...until it doesn't. I usually hang my lunch bag on a certain hook by our side door. By usually, I mean I've been doing that for years and years. Except when I don't. When I don't, it's because I came home with news and I have to tell it. Or I got a ride home instead of riding myself--changes in the routine will throw off every other routine I have.

Sometimes I can pull off long, complicated, multistep tasks without thinking. Other times I have to recite each step in my head, and doing so can take a surprising amount of mental effort.


My mother used to send me up to see my dad with grave, grave misgivings. It wasn't the destination (well, let's be honest, all the love was lost between them) was the journey. Bus from London to Toronto, connection to Parry Sound, layover between. She thought there was no way her son could pay enough attention not to get robbed, beaten, or murdered. I'm still here. But that trip is still tiring.

Are you starting to see the deeper underlying reasons why I don't drive an automobile?

I can handle a bicycle. I can process everything I feel I need to at the top speed I can pedal. That takes a level of concentration, and some mental bulwarks against "zoning out" that, I hate to admit, aren't impregnable. After a bad shift, I will ride partway home without much awareness. The street I'm doing this on is all but devoid of cars at that hour, but still. I know. I know.

 In a car, where I'm routinely going four times as fast as I ever have on a bike? Yeah, right. A song would come on the radio and I'd boogie-woogie my way into the nearest bridge abutment.

I don't know how people do it. I really don't. The level of concentration necessary to keep track of EVERYTHING within sight at that speed is just...awe-inspiring to me. When I realize that most people DRIVE on autopilot at least some of the time? That scares the shit out of me.

I remember Drivers Ed. I actually pulled off parallel parking more than once, by exerting a truly exhausting amount of concentration. But then I would botch the simplest right hand turn: right over yon curb I would go. Each time something like that would happen, my disquiet would grow, until I'd be sitting in the driver's seat, the car not even started, struggling not to throw up.

They were going to let me pass the vision test.

It was close. My peripheral vision was right on the edge of acceptable. Moreover, the sun was intruding somehow, I do remember that. I went into that test the same way I did every test in school, as something I HAD to pass. My future depended on it. But then, as I realized I was bullshitting myself about what I could and couldn't see, I further realized that my vision wasn't good enough to pilot a car. Or if it actually was, my brain wasn't.

And so I don't drive. Usually it doesn't bother me, sometimes it does, and sometimes it torments me for a day or so every few months.

You drivers. Have you ever thought about  just how much the world takes driving a car for granted? I had multiple video stores, back when those were things, refuse to rent me videos because I didn't have a driver's license, as if my inability to drive a car had anything whatsoever to do with my trustworthiness to return a videocassette. (I lived a six minute walk from one of those stores at the time.) And no, they wouldn't accept a passport as identification.
In North America, practically nothing is within easy walking distance:  the assumption is you'll just get in your car and drive the ten or fifteen blocks to the nearest grocer. Our public transit is a joke. It's better than it used to be here thanks to the Ion light rail we have now: I could actually get to a job I was considering in Cambridge for 7:30 a.m. I'd have to leave home at 5:15 a.m. to do it. It's probably a 25 minute drive, TOPS.
You need a driver's license to work at Costco, for reasons I have yet to understand. I mean, if you work in the automotive part, that makes sense. If you're a cashier? And Costco is the one company that could entice me to go back to retail.

There are benefits to not driving. Public transit costs me $70 or so a month from November to March,  and probably another $400 for the rest of the year. I'll kick in some gas money here and there, and my bike costs about $100-150 a year to maintain. Add all that up and it's DRAMATICALLY less than people pay to keep a car on the road.
My carbon footprint is less than a driver's. Not driving saves my life a great deal of stress -- even if I had nothing stopping me from driving, the number of Road Rectums (TM) encountered seems to rise every week.

But the biggest benefit to not driving is that I'm not dead and I haven't killed anyone else.

It really would have come to that: there's nothing you can say to dissuade me of that notion.

I posted this on Facebook this morning: "No matter what I accomplish in life, I will always feel inferior to you people who have mastered the simple art of driving a car. Or even a motorcycle."

Thank you to everyone who rushed to my defence. Just like my blogs, I wasn't pity-fishing when I posted that. Just stating a fact. All the same,  I appreciate it. Some of you mentioned that many of the people who have driver's licenses can't drive worth a shit, and that's undoubtedly true. I've been thanked on many occasions for recognizing that I am not fit to drive; that feels good, but not as good as getting one of those nice high paying jobs whose ads say "must have reliable transportation". They never mean Grand River Transit.

People also mentioned that some folks are car rich and cash poor--also true. One encouraged me I could still get my license--and I do plan to, in a manner of speaking, by the time I retire.  A full G is beyond me, I hope everyone can appreciate why.

There are three other people I must thank. First, foremost and profusely, Eva. In all the time we have been together, I don't think she has ever actually whined about having to do all the driving. Part of that is probably because she knows I would go to pieces, but part of it has to be that she genuinely doesn't mind paying this particular price of admission (people who are partnered or aspire to be: if you haven't seen the video I linked there, please do yourself and your (prospective) partner a favour and watch it and take it to heart).  She has driven us to Florida and back twice. We could do it much faster if I drove, but instead we make the journey part of the vacation and take our time.
Second, Mark, who has taken me to work and picked me up whenever the weather has been inclement. Much appreciated.
And third, Kathy. We don't do road trips, she and I, we do road TREKS. She's nervous when she's somewhere she's never been; I specialize in keeping her calm. I know in her heart of hearts, she would love it if she could hop on the back of a motorcycle, and, well, maybe some day a three wheeler. Maybe. I'd need whatever the some day equivalent is of $30K to buy one, and the money to maintain that, and where in the hell does that come from, but hey. Enough richness has come into my life to stagger me, why not a little more?

Blog done. Time to space out. See ya later folks.

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