Written Tuesday, August 11, 2020

I think a lot.

I wonder if my recent blossoming fascination with human connection is really truly the deep, significant, profound glimpse of the true path out of the less-lovely aspects of the human "condition." I wonder if maybe it's just me projecting my fundamental angst and pain, or if all these people I talk to about the horror of loneliness are really, truly leaving our conversations with more hope and interest in nurturing the connections of their own.

I say lots of things.

Sometimes there are responses and there seems to be a moment where people think I've said something helpful, or useful, or insightful. On occasion people will even thank me for things I've said - whether large or small.

For a while that seems nice, and I leave those conversations with a little more hope and interest in human connection for myself.

I fear lots of things.

I worry that the way I write, the stories I tell, the perspectives I try to share, are all just a little too hard to manage. I seem to make a difference, sometimes, and I'm happy about that and proud of my ability to do it.

But I worry that it doesn't leave any room for the reality of what goes on in my head - the stuff that isn't sculpted into words or conversations. I worry that the act of translating my actual thoughts into words - the very act that enables human connection in the first place - particularly in a time when I cannot safely be around anyone in physical space - is so painfully expensive that I'm racking up some kind of emotional debt by trying to communicate at all.

I'm sure this makes very little sense, especially to anyone who has ever spoken to me in realtime - and even moreso for those who have talked to me without keyboards being involved.

I speak quickly, often with considerable precision and clarity. Words flow to me at a speed that must seem "easy" to most people.

What I have almost never admitted, to anyone, until now, is that it is not easy.

To explain this, I need to take a short detour.

I love music, and particularly the "live" performance of music. Instruments are endlessly fascinating to me, and watching a truly skilled musician work magic on their instruments is... well, the best word I have is that it feels, to me, like a gift from the universe, every time.

It takes tens of thousands of hours of practice - hard work, failure, patience, exhaustion, learning, trying, faltering, succeeding, repeating - to be that good at anything. Music happens to be one of those activities that can "look easy" when done by someone that has invested that kind of time.

I wouldn't call myself a particularly good musician, but I've invested enough time of my own to know when someone is doing something remarkably difficult and making it "look easy." There are certain things in music that are shockingly hard to do that don't "sound" (or look to the eye) particularly tricky. There are also certain things that sound amazingly impressive that are - with a tiny bit of training and theory - recognizable as fairly easy.

To me, words are not easy, and communicating in language is expensive. It costs time, emotional energy, and a level of focus and attention that is - despite all appearances - massively taxing to me.

It only looks easy because I have spent so much time practicing.

Incidentally, I only started practicing because of one of the most influential pieces of advice I ever received. I have long since forgotten the subject, but I remember a moment as a young teenager, struggling with frustration and confusion because the ideas I knew were right seemed to make no sense to the people I was trying to talk to.

My dad took me aside and calmly explained that being right - or even having a useful idea - wasn't the problem. My thought process wasn't to blame; the source of contention was my inability to relay what I understood. As he said, "even if you were the smartest person in the history of the world, it'll never do anything but hurt you and frustrate you if you can't find ways to communicate with everyone else."

Parental advice often doesn't quite work on teenagers, and considering that I had what can only be charitably summed up as a difficult, traumatic, and somewhat bizarre childhood, it's a minor miracle that I even listened to him. (It's a somewhat substantially larger miracle that we still speak to each other frequently, but that's another post for another time.)

But from that moment, I took it on myself to learn to communicate.

So now, two decades later, I like to think that I've at least gotten some kind of skill accumulated in that department.

I want to try something, now, that I've never quite had the courage to attempt before, nor have I really fully understood how deeply I need to make this attempt.

In most of my writing - which tends to be for professional, academic, or some flavor of semi-formal purpose - I try to find structure, and make things flow in a progression that suits the reader. For personal things, what I write much more closely resembles my actual thought process. There is meandering, there are cycles, there are revisitings of things, themes that unfold and emerge, ideas that vanish in the fringes of a half-cohesive paragraph and unexpected clarity that seems to come unbidden from the midst of it all at the end.

I don't rewrite or edit these posts, generally. I don't go back and change words or sentences or directions. This is almost entirely stream of consciousness - and the effort required to write it is far more than just the effort to press keys on a keyboard for an hour. I knew exactly what I needed to say when I sat down to write this; I knew exactly how to get the point across; and I knew exactly what shape the whole thing would take in the end. The process of turning that knowledge into words is what is so immensely difficult.

How do I explain that I can see this entire set of ideas as a sort of swirling mass in my mind? How do I find words for the fractal kaleidoscope of detail and understanding that exists in my skull? Could I even find images to try and explain it?

I don't understand things in words. When I understand something, I literally visually see the idea in my head. It is not a static picture or a simple combination of shapes and symbols. The more I understand something, the more detail becomes visible - shapes, designs, movement, patterns, shifting, evolving.

I do not feel things in emotions. I feel in something that I can only describe as music, and emotions come by attempting to translate that music into something that I can explain and communicate to someone else.

When I try to learn something, the first step is to get all the pesky words and feelings to quiet down - a struggle immensely complicated by the way my brain tends to work. In some venues, this is what would be termed "ADHD" and "autism" - except I take deep, bitter exception to the idea that the way my brain works is some kind of disorder, or pathology, or disease. I am not to be cured, not to be treated, not to be fixed. My difference does not merit the fear, the pity, the stigma, the disgust, the impatience, the bewilderment that so many people like me are forced to live under.

I carry many things that have required me to learn how to be invisible: growing up in a "third culture" configuration, being trans, being a lesbian, being neurodiverse. If I have learned any particular survival skill in my time, it has been to disappear.

The time for that is over, now. I need to be seen, and that requires facing up to my entire reality - and refusing, for all the awkwardness it will inevitably cause, to hide who I am.

I need to say that I often despair of actually convincing anyone how disconnected, alienated, and isolated I feel - even when talking to various groups of very similar people. I need to say that the act of connecting is, to me, both a vital need and a massively expensive undertaking. I cannot live without connection, but connecting takes something from me that is virtually impossible to quantify.

I do not understand social interactions. This may seem absurd to anyone who has spent time interacting with me, but it is true. I simply fake them. I do the words and the gestures and the patterns because they seem to help other people still want to talk to me again. But I cannot see why those things are useful - they do not fit into the mural of comprehension in my mind.

I see - by which I mean I truly understand - when a connection is working. I see when people respond to those connection attempts, not by the words they say, the expressions their faces make, or other cues of that nature, but by the way their own movements in life are altered.

I see when someone really, truly resonates with me, because as I look at their actions, their choices, their overall existence, the shift in their direction becomes a clear sort of vector in my mind.

How do I tell people that I know that moment of alignment, of connection, as a sort of visceral music? I can explain it with mathematical analogies, with metaphors, with all the prose I could wring from my exhausted brain, but will anyone ever actually hear that harmony as well?

Or will it all just be lopsided attempts at cramming an inner universe of immeasurable beauty and intricacy into the pallid, ineffectual shards of linguistic frustration?

Have I learned to communicate what is actually going on in me, or have I simply gotten good at faking it for the practical stuff so I can at least get by with daily life?

Will I ever really be able to convince anyone that I don't withdraw because I want to be alone, but because trying to interact linguistically often becomes too tiring to be a good idea? Will anyone ever understand that I suddenly leave conversations not because I have lost interest or energy, but because the ideas are moving too fast in my mind, and I need to let them thrive without trying to torture them into mere thoughts?

How many time will I say, to someone or even no one in particular, that I just want to feel like someone else will put literally any shred of effort into understanding me? Is there a magic number of attempts, after which it might actually happen?

Or do I need to be more clear about just how much effort this costs me - something I (apparently) do so effortlessly? If I make it "look easy", will anyone understand why I feel so alone every time I try to talk?

Will this make a difference?

Or will I click Publish, start preparing for bed, and wake up tomorrow into the exact same world all over again, with a smattering of mild reactions, and no change?


I only know two things for certain, right now.

The first is that I can, intellectually, conceive of a world where this does have an effect. But I cannot see it. I can see a world where this does not do what I hope it will do, in which case, I will try again another day.

The second is that the music is too much, now, and I need to go hear it for a while.