208. contiguous


Arkham HorrorThis past weekend proved to be quite a blur of activity, confirming yet again that I am an introvert who requires significant time away from other human beings in order to survive. Or at least stay sane.

My friends Matt and Jason put on their annual four-day mini game convention at their home, and this was my first time attending. There were at least ten people staying at the house for the entire four days, and another five or so who came for just the day — like a regular convention.

Basically, there was a lot of game playing. Card games. Tabletop games. Competitive games. Cooperative games. Games with blocks. Games with mechanical pieces.

And there was food, beverage and snacks throughout.

I and one other attendee were there as “house elves.” Our job was essentially housekeeping — to keep the place in relative order for four days. There was the kitchen to keep clean, the bar, several game tables, a jug of water to refill, hand towels to wash, fold and redistribute. For all this, our room and board for the entire weekend was covered.

What I wasn’t counting on was the emotional toll the four days would take on me. Being around people is an exhausting enough of an enterprise on normal days. Being with people almost non-stop for four days — some of whom I didn’t know — was tantamount to blowing my entire monthly emotional budget in one go. By Sunday, I had nothing left.

This is the stupid reality of being an introvert, and a schizoid to boot. We’re not antisocial. The “Unabombers” and Howard Hughes of the world have that well covered, thank you very much. We’re often driven by loneliness to seek out other people, but it requires the focus of a deficit hawk to manage our emotional energy so that we can spend time with other people but not burn out completely while doing so.

I didn’t do such a good job of emotional resource management.

It might not have been so difficult if my life were going better at the present. As it is, I don’t know if my bastard landlord is going to pull some shenanigans to defraud me of my security deposit on my apartment come May. I’m working this week at a short-term temp assignment but don’t know where income will come from after March 21.

This afternoon I got a letter in the mail from the University of Southern California saying:

After careful review of your application and supporting material, the Admission Committee has asked me to inform you that your application to the Master of Music program in Composition for Fall 2014 has not been approved, and we are not able to offer you admission to this program.

Not that I was really expecting to get in after the last two rejections from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan. However, to be thirty-one years old and basically starting over at this stage in life feels as if my game character has died and I’m starting over with a brand new character.

As Julia Sweeney might say, “That’s a special feeling.”

It might not have been such a rough weekend if three factors hadn’t whittled away what little there is of my inner confidence:

First, I was one of the very few single people there. The vast majority of attenders came with a spouse or partner. There were all the usual imagined slights — private jokes, knowing looks, pet names, etc. All the things that make single people feel… well, conspicuously single. On Saturday we watched a movie, and virtually everyone was sitting with a significant other. And I was sitting in a bean bag chair with myself and a gin-and-tonic.

Second, I felt very much outside of my tax bracket. One evening while wiping down the bar and putting glasses in the dishwasher, I overheard a conversation between three people about sailing. Not just sailing — yacht sailing, which is about one of the most expensive hobbies one could have besides, oh, I don’t know, collecting Persian carpets or playing polo. Everyone else there seemed to have jobs, careers… lives.

Third, no one seemed to like me. Now, of course I know myself well enough to know that this is likely not the case. I have a tendency to project my own insecurities on to strangers and assume the worst. I interpret random glances and remarks as signs of disapproval or dislike.

Who is that guy? What’s he doing here? He doesn’t talk to anybody. Seriously, what’s wrong with him? And he has no clue how to play this game. What a loser…

Add to that the fact that I won hardly any of the games, and what games I did win were by sheer luck or attrition. As Harry protests to Hermione and Ron in Order of the Phoenix, “I didn’t know what I was doing half the time, I didn’t plan any of it, I just did whatever I could think of, and I nearly always had help.”

Admittedly, I hate losing games. Or anything. In college, I failed the black-key minor scale portion of the required piano proficiency exam. I had a piano lesson afterward, and ended up in tears at the beginning. My teacher noted, “You’re not used to failing anything, are you?” I could say a lot about that, about my parents’ exacting standards and the exacting standards I still hold myself to. Another time, perhaps.

But this weekend, every loss seemed to be a reminder of how worthless I usually feel, how unattractive and undesirable. I feel as if I don’t have anything meaningful to contribute, no useful skills to offer. I feel unworthy of most people’s company or goodwill.

It’s suffocating and beyond demoralizing.

I worry that I’ll never do anything significant with my life.

That I’ll never find a man I’m compatible with.

A friend asked me on Sunday: “Why so mean to yourself?”

Probably because it’s one thing I’m proficient at.

3 thoughts on “208. contiguous

  1. Friend, you and I are two peas in a pod. I READ that you spent four days in a row with others and MY monthly emotional budget was spent! 🙂 I also have a very adverse reaction to failure, which comes mostly from pressure from myself. I chose one word to focus on this year (instead of a new year’s resolution), and that word is GRACE. I know that the word may carry a lot of baggage with you, but even removed from the Christian context, it’s a great concept– I need to offer more to myself. Sounds like you do too. 🙂

    You’re not a failure. You are already doing significant things with your life. I love you and am proud of you.

    • David

      Oh goodness, grace is one of the hardest things to extend to one’s self. Why is that? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about evolutionary biology recently, partly out of curiosity and partly to understand myself and other people better. If one were to compress the entire 14.8 billion year history of our universe down to a 356-day calendar (I loved, loved, LOVED how Nei DeGrasse Tyson did this on the new Comos a few weeks ago), we humans have only been around for the last 14 seconds of December 31st. That’s just… mind-boggling. And all of recorded human history has taken place in the last SECOND of the cosmic calendar. That’s BEYOND mind-blowing. And yet, in spite of how insignificant we are in the face of such stupefying ideas, it’s so hard to give ourselves the grace and compassion we deserve as children of this spectacular universe. We live for less than the blink of an eye in comparison to the lifespan of the universe, and are virtually nothing in terms of the projected timeline until its heat death trillions of quadrillions of years from now.

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