Thursday, August 17, 2017

Coming to Terms With Social Anxiety

You're five years old and it's difficult to look people in the eye. Everyone says, "Look at me when I'm talking to you," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a baby. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're ten years old and looking people in the eye is a piece of cake. But it's hard to speak above a whisper when in the presence of someone you don't know very well. Everyone says, "Speak up," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a kid. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're fifteen years old and you're not afraid to be loud and proud. But showing emotion is the most frightening thing you can imagine because letting someone into your head gives them power over you and you're not comfortable letting another person have that much power over you. Everyone says, "Would it kill you to smile now and then?" and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a teenager. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're twenty years old and you've found your smile. You've even learned to exaggerate your reactions for the benefit of friends and family. But picking up the phone and ordering a pizza sends your body into fight or flight. Everyone says, "Just get over yourself. You want the pizza, just order the darn pizza," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're young and this adulting thing can be scary when you're just starting out. But it's really just a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. But fast forward a few years. Now you're thirty-eight years old and your kid has a birthday coming up and it's your job to call your kid's friends' parents and invite them to the party. But the mere thought of it makes you sick to your stomach. In fact, it makes you want to crawl into bed, curl up in the fetal position, pull the quilt over your head, and not come out until even your kid has forgotten about the birthday. And because you are no longer a baby, you are no longer a kid, you are no longer a teenager, and you are no longer a young adult, there is no wise mentor to help you get through it. There is no one to tell you it's just a phase. Because it's not just a phase. At thirty-eight years old you have outgrown everything you're going to outgrow and what you're left with is simply who you are. And that thought turns your blood to ice water because you know those birthdays are going to keep coming and your responsibility for planning the parties is not going to go away and for the rest of your life you're going to feel this way because it's just who you are. And somehow you have to accept that.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bullies, Serial Killers, and the Only David Lynch Movie My Husband Will Watch

No, Hubs, I'm Not a Serial Killer

It was my husband who suggested Dexter as the next show we should watch together. It was also my husband who decided to become alarmed when I actually liked the show. Okay, so maybe the word "like" doesn't fully encapsulate my feelings. I didn't just like Dexter. I became completely obsessed with it.

What caused my husband's alarm was the fact that he knows what it means when I fall so fully into a TV show. It means I'm strongly identifying with one of the characters. And in the case of Dexter, I was identifying with a serial killer. One conversation I had with my husband went something like this:

"Why are you so obsessed with that show?"

"Because...I feel like Dexter is me."

(with one eyebrow raised) "So you're a serial killer?"

(sigh) "You just don't get it!"

What Dexter is Really About

At its heart, Dexter is not a show about a serial killer. That bit is just the unique twist thrown in to attract an audience. But Dexter's character represents more than just someone with an unquenchable urge to kill. He represents anyone who feels the need to hide who they are out of fear that if they ever let anyone see their true selves, they'd be rejected. Yes, Dexter is a serial killer. That is the thing he's hiding. But he could also be:

The regular church goer who loves God, loves worship, loves the feeling of community found in the tight-knit church family, but who also believes in evolution and is opposed to the death penalty and feels the need to keep those opinions quiet for fear of being labeled ungodly.

The teen who is terrified of what will happen if the other members of his basketball team find out he's gay (yeah, I stole that from American Crime).

The popular girl who doesn't want her friends to find out she regularly watches Star Trek.

Or maybe just an intensely private person who doesn't like showing emotion publically because it's uncomfortable to let other people into his inner world.

Dexter, under the guise of being a show about a serial killer, really represents all of those groups to such a degree that I find nothing alarming whatsoever about a person identifying with its bloodthirsty protagonist. It took a while for me to get my husband to see it this way, though.

The Kinds of Stories My Husband Finds Moving

Desperately needing to make him understand, I asked the hubs if he'd ever so strongly identified with a fictional character he felt the story could have been written about him. He nodded and went on to explain how he wept bitterly the first time he saw The Elephant Man (the ongoing debate in our household about David Lynch's merits as a filmmaker could fill another blog post by itself, but suffice it to say that my husband pretty much abhors David Lynch...with the exception of The Elephant Man).

Okay. The Elephant Man. Now we were getting somewhere. I knew why he liked that movie. It was for some of the same reasons I liked Dexter. My husband and I were both picked on when we were in school. So I latched onto that. Surely we would find some common ground here. Surely that Aha! moment was within our reach.

After a few minutes of conversation, a fundamental difference between me and my husband emerged. Yes, we were both picked on in school, but for different reasons. My husband was picked on by wealthy kids who made fun of his bargain store clothes. Then in middle school he put on a little weight and was picked on for that. By high school he had developed an acute case of low self-esteem which typically manifested itself whenever he tried talking to girls.

I, on the other hand, had a different school experience. In elementary school I was teased relentlessly because someone saw me eating a booger in first grade (I was six...don't judge me). In middle school, in the early nineties, I made the mistake of telling someone I mistook for a friend that I liked the Beatles. This "friend" started calling me on the phone in the evenings just so she could sing "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at the top of her lungs while laughing hysterically. By high school I was a book nerd and a sci-fi fan, two things that were perfectly acceptable within certain social circles, but not something mainstream teens would have understood.

In Conclusion

So there it was. The crux of our problem. Yes, we were both teased in school, but the reasons for the teasing were quite different. My husband was teased for who he was on the outside, so he came to value the philosophy of not judging a book by its cover. Of taking the time to get to know someone first, because it's what's on the inside that counts.

In my case, it was precisely what was on the inside that caused all my problems. Any time I tried to let someone in...to trust someone enough to show my true self...it backfired. I would be teased. Ridiculed. Rejected. So I developed the philosophy that the only way to survive in the world is to take who you really are and tuck it deep down, so far out of sight that no one can ever see it, because otherwise everyone will reject you. And for that reason, I identified with Dexter.

So you see, hubs, I'm not a serial killer after all. Just a nerd. And I'm learning to be okay with that.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: August 2017



Home to Roost by Chauncey Rogers.

I don't know where to start with this book. First I suppose I should say that this is probably the most well-written indie book I've read since I started doing these reviews. I think I found two typos in the entire book (I've read traditionally published books with more than that) and no grammatical errors whatsoever. There may have been a couple of instances of head-hopping, but only when the narrative stepped back from deep 3rd POV to a slightly more omniscient POV, and it was pulled off effectively so as not to come across as a newbie mistake. The author does an excellent job of "show, don't tell", pulling the reader deep into the psyches of the characters, particularly that of Brad the rooster.

But I'd be short-changing this book if I said it was the most well-written indie book I've read and left it there. Really, this is one of the most well-written books I've read period. Because the quality of the writing goes far beyond just style. This is an amazing story. A dark story. A frightening one. One that pulls you in deep and doesn't let you go. So much happens in this book, and the reader is left wondering, along with the character upon whom the final scene closes, "Why?" Why did it all happen? What went wrong.

The events of this story have layers upon layers of meaning. I wonder what the author's goal was in writing it. Is it a critique of society, using the social structure of the henhouse as a metaphor for our own lives. Is it therefore a warning against becoming so set in our ways that we can't accept new ideas? Or are we supposed to see it from the opposite point of view? Are we to blame Brad and his rebellious nature for the bad things that happen? Or perhaps the thing in the woods is meant to be the devil or some other equally ominous entity and the author's intent was to make us wonder whether evil originates in our own hearts or somewhere else. Do we let it in, or is in us from the beginning?

This is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a while, and it's a refreshing change from the lighter sorts of stories I've been reading of late. I highly recommend this book.

Please grab a copy of this book and read it. You'll really be missing something great if you don't: