Mirror, Tell Me Something…

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt was all about appearances. Basically, it’s about the discrepancy between the person you see in the mirror and the person you feel internally. That one’s kind of tricky, because it assumes that that you actually know the identity you’ve internalized. I don’t. At least, not completely. I’ve had to adopt and utilize so many personas over the years, that I’m not sure which one of them is real. Or more confusingly, maybe they’re all real, just different pieces of a larger whole. Like a jigsaw puzzle. And some of those pieces definitely don’t fit with what’s gazing back at me from the mirror.

The reflection in front of me is a 20-something somewhat androgynous fellow with olive skin. Could use a bit more sun. The build is above average at best; nowhere near an Adonis, but still in good shape. The age is hard to pin down; he looks young, but too serious and focused to be as such. He stares at me with dark brown eyes beneath a pair of black, thick-rimmed glasses. The eyes are intense and give off sense of utter awareness and mental calculation. There is no trace of a smile on his face, but he can fake one like a pro. His mannerisms and stances change fluidly; calm and relaxed (and maybe even seductive?) at one moment, sweet and pleasant the next, powerful and confident after that, and all-out vicious and terrifying when his buttons are pressed. His face is capable of surprising articulation, allowing him to silently glare, scowl, grin, and playfully mock with a few muscle movements. Two feet of curly, wavy hair spill down the back of his body, giving him either an air of either regality or wildness. He would not look out of place in a heavy metal band, or maybe Game of Thrones. It’s hard to tell if this reflection is just being haughty and aloof, or just in deep thought. Regardless, it’s easy to tell that he is a character, and will draw your attention the moment he steps in the room.

Appearances are so deceiving.

Part of the reason I grew out my hair was to mess with people’s expectations. I’ve never played in a band – let alone an instrument – in my life. I don’t even watch Game of Thrones! The long hair is just my way of muddling gender roles and refusing to let myself be victimized for it anymore. Apparently, I have the attitude to make it work. Heads turn and backs straighten when I enter a room. The hair is an indicator of confidence, something that doesn’t come so easily for me. I can pull off the regal, intimidating look, but I’m much more shy and quiet than that. It’s not so much about aloofness as it is oh no I have to talk to someone what do I say please no leave me alone. I’d rather be curled up with a book in something soft and comfy.  The shy/confidence thing is an ongoing paradox for me; I may not be amazing socially, but I’ve got an adventurous streak a mile wide. The only things that really match are the eyes. I’m fancy myself serious and scholarly, like professor or philosopher sans stuffiness. I’m always picking little details and observations, like some kind of cheap Sherlock Holmes ripoff. And while I may not smile much, anyone who’s had a good conversation or watched movies with me knows I will snark and mock with reckless abandon.

*Sigh* It’s such an incomplete self-perception. I need to learn more about who I really am.

Being The Weird One

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about being an outsider. This one’s such an omnipresent theme in my life (and probably in everyone’s in some respects), it’s harder to pinpoint parts where I’m not an outsider. You know how every family has that one strange relative? The one you always shake your head at and tell stories about during holiday dinners? Yeah, that’s me. I’m the weird one. On both sides. On one side, I’m the second oldest in my generation, and the only one with a university degree and who reads, writes, and studies regularly. On the other, I’m one of the older, quieter kids with an apparently rebellious, anti-religious streak. Never mind all that fancy know-how about science and the arts; why don’t I do all the stuff normal guys do? Family gatherings and birthday parties are ripe for awkward questions and confused stares. Conversations typically include gems like:

  • Sooo…do you have a girlfriend? Boyfriend? Any romance whatsoever? No?…Oh.
  • Uh, are you gay? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
  • When are you going to get married and have kids?
  • You still go to church…right?
  • Did you see what so-and-so posted on Facebook?!
  • Ugh, you still have that long hair? I’m gonna cut it while you sleep!
  • Whatcha reading? …Oh, never heard of that. I loved Twilight, though!
  • Still doing that writing thing, eh?
  • See any good movies lately?…Who the Hell is Hayao Miyazaki?
  • Traveling again, huh? I…um, went to Las Vegas recently.
  • You still play video games?
  • You don’t watch football?! Uh, what sports do you watch?
  • Whatcha doing here in this room all by yourself? It’s too quiet! Don’t you want to chat with everyone?
  • What do you mean, you don’t drink alcohol?!
  • Hey, I can’t figure out this puzzle! Let’s see YOU do it!…showoff...
  • Oh…hi, cousin! Didn’t know you were here! I’ll be, uh, over there with everyone else. Bye!

Yeah, it’s so much fun being the weird one.

I think it has a lot to do with the way us kids are grouped together. Both sides of my family have always had their own little cliques based on siblings, proximity, age, and petty drama. I’m older than most of them, and I live pretty far away. I’m also the lone one raised as an only child, which means I didn’t get the benefits of sibling interaction or anything like that. Many of them attended the same schools and made the same friends – they’ve literally had the identical groomsmen and bridesmaids for their weddings – so they’ve already had years to build strong foundations. As for me, I’m the quiet loner from out of town that shows up maybe once or twice a year. Since I’m the clever and artsy one, I’m apparently too strange for normal interaction. At least some of the kids think I’m cool.

It’s not limited to just family, either. There are people at church who won’t even look me in the eye. I’ve been nearly excommunicated a couple of times. I could regale you with dozens of stories about being the “strange” one at the office. Apparently, bringing my homemade lunch is absurd when I can spend dozens of dollars per week on local fast food. And that there’s something inherently wrong with not owning a smart phone and checking its messages every free second. And that not going out for drinks on Friday nights is a sign of mental instability. Someone incredulously asked what planet I was from. It was very surreal being the only one on the staff who bothered to read books, news, and anything at all. I once had to explain to a college-aged worker that yes, Germany is, in fact, a country.

No, seriously. That conversation happened.

I wish I was exaggerating. I really do. Maybe I really am just too weird for people to accept. I know that I’m part of the problem, too. I’m shy and introverted, so it’s not like I’m going out of my way to talk to people. I should probably cultivate more mainstream interests. It’s just that I’m so much more used to doing and experiencing things alone. It’s not about superiority or anything like that. I just have different interests. And I usually enjoy being the mysterious loner…until the awkwardness sets in. I guess I should keep looking. Maybe I just haven’t found the right place yet.

Daily Prompt: I Have Confidence in Me, Or: The Paradox Of The Shy, Adventurous Writer

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about confidence. Specifically, what you’re good at, and what you’d like to be better at. This one’s actually hard for me to explain. I understand that I’m good at writing; it comes naturally to me. I’ve only improved over time and effort. My standards are much higher than they were a decade ago. The words flow from my fingers like a river, and the ideas therein are the rocks and rapids. You know how most students loathe writing essays? I thrived on that in college. A good piece of writing is like a puzzle; each word is an individual (but essential) component of a more complex structure. It’s just a matter of examining each piece and arranging it correctly to convey your message. Oh, and the key to developing a writer’s voice? Just read what you’ve written out loud. If it sounds weird, then you know you need to change something. It’s that simple. Unless you want to sound like a space alien pretending to be human or blatantly show off your thesaurus-perusing skills, but that’s an entirely different issue…

Going on a tangent. Sorry.

From an objective standpoint, I know I’m good at this. Getting the words together on paper (though it’s more on-screen these days) is really easy. Dealing with my internal critic, however, is a struggle of epic proportions. You probably know what I’m talking about. It’s that little voice in your head that just loves to sow doubt and undermine everything good you believe about yourself. Typing again, huh? It’s not even worth your time. Who’s going to read it? You think anyone will actually care, let alone notice? Where’s the money? Writing is your greatest skill? What a joke. Why can’t you get a real job, and be like everyone else? Failure! You don’t have a future. You’re never going to make it. You’re going to starve, man.

…Yeah, I need to work on the confidence thing.

For the longest time, I bought into all of that. On my really bad nights, I still do. But if you get me motivated and focused, I will be on fire. It’s all about the situations and objectives. The last time I did NaNoWriMo, I burned through 20,000 words in a single sitting. When I found out that that I might miss the deadline for my college graduation, I buckled down and scheduled more than a full course load, aced every single class, and got my degree on time. You give me a goal I’m interested in, and I’ll show you what tenacity and willpower can accomplish. Resolve is one of the greatest and most terrifying qualities a person can have.

My skills aren’t limited to writing, though. I’ve got a critical eye with regards to pretty much everything, so I’m good at picking up details. You know how kids are capable of absorbing tons of information? It’s kind of like that. Facial expressions, vocal tones, languages, accents, structural designs, philosophical concepts, colors, anything. It’s pretty handy when you’re tasked with reviewing something; I can take a game/story/whatever apart quickly. I can read and predict others easily. People think I’m insightful, but my observations seem really obvious. Anyone who’s ever played against me in fighting or strategy games knows what an utterly ruthless tactician I can be. It’s not about thinking outside the box; it’s about thinking outside the room the box is stored in. I’m capable of memorizing lengthy procedures and scheduling around them; I used to have my college commutes calculated down to individual steps. I’d like to think it was practicality over OCPD, but I know better.

I’m also a really good traveling companion. Whenever I travel in a group, I’m usually the one with the map or an idea of where to go. Give me a little time to figure out the layout of a new place, and I’ll quickly adjust to it. I explored Paris on Le Métropolitain, and I didn’t speak a word of French. Someone even asked me for directions! The pigmentation of my skin is ambiguously olive enough that I can pass for a local most of the time. Since I’m good at reading facial expressions, I don’t always need to verbalize to communicate. I’ve also got a cast-iron stomach; I’ve eaten local cuisine that have left others bedridden for days.

Huh. It’s surreal reading the last few paragraphs. I know I’m good at all of that, but it clashes with my personality. I’ve mentioned before that I’m introverted. It’s not a flaw (no matter what social expectations say), but it’s completely the opposite of adventurous side. Wandering a foreign city? I’m fine. Stuck in a crowded room? I’m lost. I’m really shy and uncomfortable in social situations. It’s tiring and awkward, and it makes me look arrogant and aloof. I don’t want to talk about my interests, because I just end up confusing the other person. People are sometimes intimidated by my use of direct eye contact. It’s a tactical measure; people know I’m paying attention, which puts them more on edge and gives me the advantage. I’ve also been accused of being a charmer, which always seems bizarre to me. I’m not trying to be charismatic; I’m trying to survive the conversation without making a fool of myself. You’d be amazed how far a smile, a joke, and polite conversation can get you. I’m always taken aback when women (and men, with surprising frequency) try flirting with me. I never know what to say, and I just want to back away as quickly and gracefully as possible.

Ye gods, I’m actually blushing now.

I need to work on the social skills. I get that. I’m not good at connecting with people beyond a purely academic level. It’s just scary, awkward, and unnerving. I wish I had a stronger voice, too. It’s annoying when people can’t hear you because your indoor voice is apparently a whisper. I can hear myself just fine. I wish I was more physically coordinated, too. I can hike for hours at a time, but I’m not good at conventional sports. I did pretty well in jujitsu, though…There are so many other things I wish I could do better. When I have the time – I’m heading out to a party now, incidentally –  I’ll make a list. It’ll be a long one.