This Skein of Brittle Self-Awareness


It’s one of those nights in NYC when it’s too hot to sleep. It’s hard to even breathe. So in the night, I sit down here at my kitchen table to write. The way I used to, when my horizon was so wide open I was drowning in loneliness.

Which is apropos, because today I felt an old lonely feeling, the sense of an inability to relate to people in a way that seems to come naturally to others. Since I’ve been a child, there’s been something withheld about me, something cynical and fearful, a spiteful, sensitive creature that spits at the world.

This is who I am. An imperfect, arrogant, overly self-aware asshole who wants to be loved.

I remember the first time my father took me to a baseball game, and as the people around me cheered and followed crowd protocols and shouted good naturedly at players, I sat, withdrawn, and did not understand. A burly man bantered with my father and informed him that his son was a Vulcan. Though he meant it in friendly jest, it felt to my overly sensitive self like an attack. Something was wrong with me. I seemed unable to exhibit some innate male marker.

Sometimes I wonder if I have some mild inability to comprehend certain social cues, an inkling of autism. Or perhaps some deficiency of testosterone or some other naturally occurring trait that people sniff off each other like dogs determining one another’s character by sniffing each other’s butts.

I’ve never been interested in the things that seem to be normal things to be interested in. My attention is often elsewhere.

As an adult, this has become a strength in my work, in that I’ve discovered that I have an ability to lose myself in an isolated drive to get things done.

But there are some times, like today, when I am reminded of my deficiency. Why can’t I just relax, say an offhand remark that will make a stranger laugh, remove this skein of brittle self-awareness that inhibits me from relating naturally to others?

This is my curse, and perhaps it is my blessing–the fundamental flaw that defines my character. I will never be that burly man at ease with his place in the world, savoring a baseball game in a stadium. I am condemned to be forever hungry, nipping at the heels of an internal wilderness, sitting silently in a stew of conflicting emotions, conveying little, waiting for some distant moment when I can curl my understanding into a word on a page in a stranger’s heart.

Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

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