Friday, February 20, 2009

A Squalid Tale Of Love And Friendship

Due to the illegal activities discussed in this post, the identity of this man -- code-named 'Buck' at his request -- must be kept secret.

Of course those illegal activities fall into the category of youthful experimentation. Hell, presidents do this kind of thing when they're kids, before they grow up and get access to Halcion and shit.

The real mystery is this: just what is he doing? He's wearing headphones, using a capo, and has a tuner plugged into his guitar. A capo and a tuner... What the fuck is he

So this happened back in... Lordy. October of 1988. It was a different world. Punk had only been dead for ten years or so. (Hi, kids with mohawks and safety pins in their ears. You are just adorable.) This is a story involving my three favorite flavors -- sex and drugs and rock and roll. Consider yourself warned. Please forgive the wretched excess -- we were very young at the time.

Anyway, it was my kid brother Duncan's twenty-first birthday. (If you want some more info on Duncan, go check out Margaret Cho's book I'm The One That I Want -- she writes about him fairly extensively toward the start of the book. She also briefly mentions me -- "too intelligent to be sane" is the phrase she used.)

Duncan was really looking forward to the novelty of being able to drink legally and he wanted to make the most of it. So he chose two companions, one who could help him create a disgraceful shambles in public and one who would act as a designated driver.

Me and Buck, respectively.

At this point Buck and I had known each other for nine or ten years but our interactions had been peripheral. We'd see each other at certain social events, we had friends in common -- but we'd managed to avoid having anything resembling a conversation.

Duncan had devoted a lot of thought to the location of the intended debauch. He'd settled on the Jack London Bar and Grill in Glen Ellen.

His reasoning was this; Jack London was a working-class genius and alcoholic. Just like Duncan. Any place that bore his name had to be simultaneously low and brilliant, dank yet shot through with gleaming jewels of wit, a place dangerous and edgy enough so that those of us prone to unfortunate behavior could be ourselves without having to worry about giving offense.

Sounded good to me.

At the time I was living in a trailer park -- excuse me, mobile home center -- in Sonoma with my grandmother. There's another story about that but it's long and involved, featuring mental illness, saucermen, and a houseful of needle freaks and pioneer crackheads.

Let's just say that I was there at her insistence and for my benefit.

I had recently become involved with my first girlfriend, who shall be anonymous as she would no doubt prefer. Let's call her Trixie. She was seventeen; I was twenty-three; her parents approved, which I still wonder about. Trixie was a perfect student and daughter, very, very smart and conservative in her personal behavior. Maybe they trusted her judgment and figured she deserved an oaf if she wanted one. Anyway, at this point we'd met and fell in love on our first meeting, then met again and had our first kiss.

(Which was my first kiss -- hell, that night I held hands for the first time -- and doesn't that explain a lot? Story of my life -- I'm better with violence than with sex. Damnit. Oh, well, the misery has been good for my writing.)

Anyway, we'd seen each other twice at this point and being away from her hurt.

So Buck (man, couldn't you have come up with a better name than that?) and Duncan showed up at the trailer that night. My grandma was out doing something Christian Science-y, so we spent a few minutes talking in the living room and thumping one another before taking off.

When we arrived at the Jack London Bar and Grill we found out that we weren't going to have the evening we'd intended. It wasn't a dive; it was a motherfucking yuppie fern bar. I mean, there were ferns. Duncan looked around at the tasteful decor and well-dressed patrons and asked himself, "What would Jack London do?" He'd fucking get fucking hammered, motherfucker.

So we got a table in the bar and started ordering drinks and talking... Look, I come from a loud people. When Duncan and I conversed the subject was Weird and Profane and the volume was all the way up.

The bartender hated us -- he was giving us the stink eye on a continual basis. But the waitress?

You've got to take two things into account here. First off, Duncan was a really good-looking guy. More pretty than handsome; it made me want to fucking puke.

You know the girl who's one of the guys, you can really talk to her and feel comfortable around her and all the guys think of her as a real pal and she goes home and cries herself to sleep because she can't get a boyfriend? I am (or rather, was, thanks to Trixie and the missus) the male version of that.

So when Duncan would leave the room and all the xx-chromosome types would start going goo-goo gaga over him, well. I would hate.

And Buck? Turned out that he spoke fluent French -- and he was not afraid to use it. Between the two of them they charmed the pants off the waitress. She thought they were cute and funny.

Anyway, at the start of things Duncan asked me for drinking suggestions and at that point in my career it wasn't going to be anything but tequila shots with beer back. At the time I used to say that if they could isolate the non-alcoholic component of tequila, the one that made you bat-fucking crazy, then that would be my favorite drug. (I have since found that I much prefer over-proof brown liquor.)

While I cannot recall any specific topics of conversation, I'd guess that we were talking about cyberpunk science fiction, the idea of starting some kind of collective household, the need for culling the human species and our preferred methods for eliminated the grinks and groinks, a variety of hilarious and terrifying assholes including Stephen the scar-eating hypnotist and molester of teens (When Duncan finally met Steven he looked at me and said, "I thought you made him up."), how frustrated I was to be discovering that I knew nothing about art, Drunks and Junkies We Have Known, the dulcet vocal stylings of the Anti-Nowhere League, the dreaded candiru fish, and the works of Jim and Hunter Thompson. Among other things.

Buck did something that not many people would have been able to do. He kept up with the conversation and added a lot. He also managed, after Duncan and I had gotten a sufficient load on, to steer us into the dining room.

We ate... there was... something. I know I put stuff in my mouth and it went somewhere. More than that I cannot tell.

When payment and tipping were done Duncan and I were guided through the door. Across the street there was some kind of mass arrest going on -- three or four cop cars were parked flashing and screaming and a bunch of cops were present and working hard.

Duncan climbed in the back, Buck climbed into the driver's seat and I opened the passenger door and stood there, staring.

Okay, okay, I'm a vulgar person. But I'm not one to behave in the sexist pig mode. I respect women -- the kind of respect that comes with fear. But this one time -- just this once in my life -- something slipped out.

I can still see her sillhoutte against the flashing lights, a black outline that was...

How shall I say this? I'm almost blind -- I've got a thing for women who at a distance, in conditions of poor visibility, are unmistakably female. Okay?

"Jesus," I said, loudly enough to be heard over the sirens, and then the tequila spoke through me like a spirit through a supplicant. "Will you look at that policewoman? My dick's getting hard!"

One hand reached out from the car and grabbed me by the belt and YANKED me inside; the car peeled out so fast my door slammed shut in an act of physics.

By the time we got back to Grandma's trailer (excuse me -- mobile home), we had managed to convince ourselves that my egregious behavior was comedy. Once inside Buck revealed the secret of his willingness to eschew drinking, aside from the one beer he had with his dinner.

While Duncan began raving at me about how much Trixie missed me and how I needed to see her, Buck went over to the spotless kitchen counter and pulled out a paper bindle and a razor blade and began chopping out fat fingers of white powder.


"No, it's crank."

"Oh, good, I was worried for a second there."

I had only done crank a couple of times but I'd seen a number of my friends destroy themselves with coke. I knew that speed was bad news in theory -- but in my limited experience it was a relatively harmless study aid. I would learn better in the coming years...

So we snorted the first round (jesus, the eyewatering shock of pain as that toxin-bitter grit hits your mucus membranes and sears its way into your bloodstream) and Duncan went off to make a phone call. When he came back he started to say something about me going with them --

-- and that's when headlights shone through the kitchen window as Grandma drove up.

Interesting thing about speed. It makes you go fast. By the time Grandma hit the porch the crank was gone and the gear was stowed and the counter wiped.

We greeted Grandma, exchanged hugs, and Duncan told her they were taking me with them.

"But it's a school night," she said.

"Grandma, I'm a straight-A student," I said. "I am a grown-up and I can afford to do this. It's not an issue."

"Well, all right."

Before we were out the door, Duncan turned to me.

"Bring some of your tapes," he said.

I grabbed a fistful of tapes, most of them ones that my friend Angel had made for me. (Angel had been my best friend for years when I lived in Santa Cruz, and she shows up in disguise in my novel.)

So on the drive to... where the hell were we going? Anyway, Duncan sat in the back, I sat shotgun, and Buck talked with me about music.

I think it was Leave Home that he put on -- either that or Rocket To Russia. Now I'd heard the Ramones before -- but I hadn't listened to them. It was a fucking revelation. Then and there they became my favorite band. Their music was what I felt like inside. They spoke for me and to me. If I were a country, they would have been on the money.

Of course when you put on music and someone reacts that way to it, it tends to give you warm feelings toward them. Buck was obviously thrilled by my enthusiasm.

And when it was my turn to put in a tape, I chose the Screaming Jay Hawkins album Frenzy.

Let's just say the musical experience that Buck and I shared that night was mutual.

"Dude," I said, "you were such a dick the first time we met."

"Well, you were tall," he said. "Tall people were the enemy."

"I feel like we've always been friends and I just noticed it."

"I hear you, bro. We're friends all right," he said.

Or something similar... anyway, that's when things went away for a while.

When I woke up I was in a cramped space, laying on a narrow futon, almost naked and intimately tangled with someone soft and pleasant-smelling. Breasts were involved.

I had no idea where I was or who she was and my first thought was, oh shit. How could I do this to Trixie? The guilt made me feel as if I'd eaten a rock. A sharp one.

Then the woman made a small noise, just a little cry in her sleep -- and I recognized Trixie's voice and a sweet wave of relief washed over me.

That turned out to be one of the best years of my life.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

On Music, Friendship, And Therapy

A bit of juvenalia from my early twenties, since none of my current art projects are ready to show. I did mention that I first studied art and writing because I wanted to do comic books, right?

Hypermasculinity always seems to have a homoerotic component to it. And while I think of myself as completely heterosexual, it's hard to look at much of adventure fiction and the imagery associated with it and not see that it's got a queer component to it that's only invisible to most of the creators and most of the audience.

In other words, when they make a big deal in the media out of gay superheroes in mainstream comics, who are they fooling? All superheroes are gay. For pete's sake, they are defined by the fact that they wear fetish gear straight out of Tom of Finland. Of course if you told me that when I drew this I would have freaked out.

I've tried not to make a big deal out of it here on the blog but I've been going through a rough patch lately. My back has been killing me and I've been subject to a bad case of floating anxiety, the kind where you always feel as if the world is about to be pulled out from under you, where you wake up in the middle of the night and immediately start thinking about your problems and shortcomings.

February is the hardest month for me. My crazy always bites a little harder this time of year. As I've matured I've gotten better and better at handling this -- but this year things have been worse than they have for a long, long time.

As a result I've been getting about two hours of sleep a night -- which doesn't help the anxiety -- which doesn't help the the crazy or the pain. A big part of dealing with chronic pain comes down to will, which I have been sorely lacking.

But I'm not pleading victim here. The above paragraphs are a jumping-off point. See, last night I slept for eight hours. My back is in bad shape and I'm still going to need to restrict my activities in the near future -- but I have to look for the pain to notice it. The pain itself is not a concern. I have a calm, sunny disposition at the moment -- quite content with life and my place in it. Why?

Last night I got to hang out with my best friend, have a few drinks and some cigarettes, play music and talk.

This seems like such a small thing. And the term 'best friend' seems like something more fit for the playground than for use between a couple of guys in their forties. But it's the right term. Since this post is going to discuss a nefarious activity or two, we'll call my best friend Buck, at his suggestion.

We've known each other for about thirty years and for a long, long time now -- Jesus, somewhere around nineteen years -- we've been getting together to hang out on a regular basis. For the past while the routine has been fixed at twice a week, Thursday and Saturday nights.

We play the same handful of songs, me on bass and Buck on guitar, do some musical noodling and improvisation, share a few beers, maybe a shot or two, and every so often we go out on the deck to smoke cigarettes -- he's a habitual smoker, I'm opportunistic (if I'm around smokers I'll bum a smoke, otherwise I'm a non-smoker) -- and listen to music, trading back and forth between his and my collections.

We talk about how the women in our lives are trying to assassinate us through sexual denial and willfully crazy behavior, affirm that we love them enough to let them do this to us, confess our own odious behavior and figure out how to minimize it, discuss political news in increasingly loud and angry voices, cast our thoughts back to the joys and miseries of our rather unpleasant childhoods, I talk about my creative work and school, he talks about his job and how much he loves his son -- now sons. The arts, literature, nature, world culture, science, mythology, history, language, and a bizarre gallimaufry of other subjects are discussed, dissected, and delighted in. It's good to have a smart friend.

No matter what mood we're in when we start, by the end of the evening we've entered into what we call 'band space.' Low key but energetic, calm but confident. The music and the drink and the company and the ritual of it all work together to evoke a very specific mental space.

Do I dare to risk the wrath of the gods by using the word 'happy?' Yes. I do. We wind up happy. It's very, very rare for one of us to leave band practice in a bad frame of mind -- and even then, it's a better state of mind than we had going in.

It's our therapy.

There was a TV show that went off the air recently that I was very fond of. It was called Boston Legal. It's appeal was very straightforward -- one part freak show, one part 'I am right, you are wrong' porn, and one part friend porn.

(Then there was the Shatner factor -- William Shatner played a character named Denny Crane who was clearly Captain Kirk in his filthy degenerate dotage. This is an example of what I think of as the principle of actor continuity -- all the characters played by a certain type of actor are the same individual at different times in their lives. For instance, the Jeff Bridges character in The Big Lebowski wound up in that state because of what happened to him in Tron. But I digress.)

Buck never watched the show and one night I was explaining to him that the emotional core was the relationship between the characters Alan Shore and Denny Crane, how at the ending of each and every episode they were sitting out on a balcony overlooking Boston, discussing the events of the day, sipping whisky and smoking cigars, and basically affirming that as long as they had their friendship, as long as they had that time together, all was right with the world.

And as I explained that, I looked at the cigarette in one hand, the glass of Anderson Valley IPA close to the other, looked over the railing at my wife's garden in the moonlight below us, and looked at my best friend.

I realized that we'd been doing this long before that show aired and would be doing it long after -- that when I watched those balcony scenes, what I felt wasn't envy. It was an affirmation of an important part of my life.

Last night we got together for the first time in a long time -- and as I said, last night I slept for eight hours, my back is tolerable, and I'm in a good mood. I love my friend; I missed my friend; I saw my friend and now I feel better. And I know that it went both ways.

He's being a good husband and father these days, attending to his family now that his second child has been born. He's doing the right thing and more power to him. We're going to have to change the pattern of our time together -- we'll be over at his house and his kids and wife will be part of the mix.

But seeing him last night made me realize that it's all gonna work out fine.

I was going to tell you about how we found out that we were friends but this post is already too long. I'll save that story for tomorrow. It involves, as I mentioned above, nefarious activities, Jack London, my sorely-missed brother Duncan and a coming-of-age passage, The Ramones and Screaming Jay Hawkins, a trailer park, class warfare, and just a wee little tiny bit of amnesia.

It's a pretty good story. I think you'll like it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Further Conversations With The Missus

Of course it's not as if she never gets the better of me... Here's a sample from the day thus far.

Conversation the First
(In the dark, at five in the morning, after a night of insomnia.)

The Oaf: The thing is that it set off my obsessiveness. It's like the time my buddy and I mixed it up when he said that rotation is gravity.

The Missus: Well, there is a type of rotation that is gravity. It's called Coriolis Force or something.

The Oaf (grits teeth): You mean Centrifugal Force. That isn't gravity at all. It's constrained inertia. Under some circumstances it can mimic gravity...

The Missus: I think your friend was probably right. It makes sense to me.

The Oaf: No, gravity is a basic force. What you're talking about is just --

The Missus: Yeah, I think rotation is gravity.

The Oaf (briefly contemplates getting up and fetching a string and a bucket and some paper and colored pens with which to draw diagrams): Whatever.

Conversation the Second
(In the kitchen, as the dogs lick out plastic containers previously holding stock.)

The Oaf (In reference to Amanda, the Australian sheepdog.): I wish she wasn't getting deaf. I hate having to fetch her.

The Missus: Well, the next time you call her try thinking her name really loud.

The Oaf (Gives a look of cold loathing.): ...

The Missus: She's telepathic.

The Oaf: ...

The Missus: Shut up. I know it's woo. Just do it.

Conversation the Third
(In the parking lot at Berkeley Bowl.)

The Oaf: Man, the sight of that old guy gave me the willies.

The Missus: Which one, the one in the walker or the one in the wheelchair?

The Oaf: The one in the wheelchair. The way my back's going I've got to wonder if I'm gonna be in one of those when I'm that age.

The Missus: You won't live to be that old. You're going to die when you're sixty.

The Oaf: What the fuck?

The Missus: You're going to die when you're sixty and I'm going to die when I'm eighty. We'll die at the same time.

The Oaf: Telling someone they're going to die when they're sixty is no way to make them feel any better.

The Missus: Maybe I'm not trying to make you feel better. (Locks eyes with oaf and delivers a fiery gaze as her hair coils around her face, Medusa-fashion.) Maybe I'm just torturing you.

Today's Final score:

The Oaf: 0
The Missus: 3

Two Bios With No Self-Deprecation, And One With Just A Little

Well, I found out that this is the print they want at the Gualala art show. It was the best of the early pieces in the series but it's not my favorite anymore. It'll do, though. Imagine this at 3' by 4' on canvas.

And here's my page in the artist's book that's currently in production. The woman who advised me on the contents said, "Nobody reads these anyway," so I figured I'd give them something not to read.

Well, I managed to get through the two bio pieces without slandering myself. Here's the first, for the mystery project that I'll tell you about on March First.

Sean is a writer and artist who hovers in-between the fine arts and illustration and uses a wide variety of both traditional and digital techniques.

While he loves the dinosaurs, he likes to work with the full span of extinct life forms. Why limit yourself?

You can find tons of his art and casual writings at his blog, Renaissance Oaf.

And then something more extensive for the Gualala show.

Sean Craven is a writer and artist living with his spouse Karen Casino in Berkeley, California.

He’s had his fine art published in the literary small press, including magazines like Mean Times, Artfuck, Hand To Mouth, and Milvia Street. He’s the assistant editor, art director, and resident artist for Swill Magazine, which has been studied at the Columbia School of Writing and is in the permanent collection at The University of Wisconsin at Madison. It's also read for the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror anthology.

His paleontological illustrations have been published in Dinosaur World and Prehistoric Times magazines and have recently been featured on the University of Bristol’s DinoBase website, side-by-side with work from the top artists in the field.

His fiction has been regularly published in the small press and he’s recently made his first two professional fiction sales. He’s also worked as a scriptwriter for Mondo Media, producing Internet cartoons such as The God and Devil Show and Absolute Zero. Most of his scripting was done for the award-winning cult cartoon Thugs On Film, which made it off the Internet and was broadcast on BBC.

Fine art and scientific illustration, literature and genre fiction – Sean occupies a very odd cultural Twilight Zone and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

And here's the bio that's being used for the Ten Nails anthology, which features Thinking Caps, my booze & brain surgery story. And yes. God help us, it's true.

Sean Craven once did an experiment involving two twenty-two ounce bottles of 7.2 per cent Maximus India pale ale, a half pint of Wild Turkey 101, and a reputable online IQ test. The rules were simple – drink the booze on an empty stomach first thing in the morning and take the test, skipping any question that required any thought. Rigorously adhering to the principles of drunk and lazy he scored a 98, which he thought explained a lot about America. Of course nobody who was really intelligent would pull an idiot stunt like that.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Arguing About Extinction

Look out! Look out! It's a man eating dinosaur!

Haw! Haw! Haw! I crack me up. So what's this all about? I'll let you know on March First...

So I got into a bit of a kerfuffle with one of my writing buddies this week. Allison made this post over on her blog, The Volcano. You should go read it – but to put her position into the least-nuanced terms, she ran across some information regarding a so-called animal sanctuary that claimed to have ecological concerns at heart while operating as a tourist trap. She thought it would be more ethical to let the animals go extinct than to engage in that kind of abuse in the name of saving the species.

And I went kind of nuts. As I wrote to her in an email –

Again, I know my response here is way, way disproportional -- you just had the misfortune to tap into a subject that's one of my obsessions, and you hit a high-pressure node of opinion.

When it comes to this issue I feel very strongly that we as a species need to prioritize other animals much more highly than we do. I’ve got an elaborate framework of logic built up around this but in the end it’s an emotional response. My allegiance is to life in general before my species.

(When it comes to individuals my feelings are different, of course. I’ll tend to value those I know over those I don’t – which means that I’ll take a lizard I love over a human I don’t know, or a human I know over a dog I don’t. This isn’t rational; it’s just the way my priorities operate.)

But in the end, there is something about allowing a species to go extinct that seems like, well, a sin.

I can rationalize this by saying that someday humans may achieve a less-destructive relationship with the environment and it might be possible to allow the species to return to the wild if we had viable breeding populations in captivity. And it’s entirely possible that individual species could have their populations supplemented by captive-bred stock if dedicated preserves are allocated to them. And so on – I have some links below where related ideas are discussed with more clarity than I can bring to the subject.

Still, my reaction is, as I said, an emotional one. Extinct is as gone as it gets. You can’t replace a species that you’ve killed. The biome, Gaia, the ecosphere – whatever you want to call it, it’s my primary emotional allegiance and an extinction impoverishes it. And us. And me.

Here’s a snippet from my email exchange with Allison.

Please note that I am in no way denying that some horrible shit happens in this realm, and that a lot of bastards blanket themselves in save-the-Earth fuzzy bunnies and green fields as a cover for their rotten behavior. That doesn't mean that we should deny the value of the best work in the field. In a world where I read this in the news...

Extinction Fear For Black Rhino

... I cannot feel a sense of acceptance. When I see this I cannot calmly accept your position that --

In nature, species live and species die off. Working to prevent extinction is yet another example of how man inserts himself into the wild.

That statement really sounds as if (and I doubt that I'm reading you correctly here -- but this is how it sounds) you're putting the efforts of these folks --

Saving Rhinos

on the same level as the poachers and boner-pill freaks who are bringing about rhino extinction. As if it's possible for us to exist without affecting the environment. As if there is something fundamentally wrong with making an effort to deal with specific ecological issues. I just don't buy it.

At a different point in our exchange I suggested that if human-caused extinction was natural, then how could human-assisted survival be unnatural?

Allison also said that she’d might view my arguments differently if I could provide her with some examples of stewardship, of the ends I favor being pursued in an honorable fashion.

Here’s how I responded.

The place to start looking for models of stewardship would be in the examples that I mentioned already. First, the California Condor (and you might want to look around at the rest of this site).

The Peregrine Fund on California Condor Restoration

Gerald Durrell is the one man who's influenced my thoughts on this subject more than anyone else. Here's a brief look at his legacy.

A New Vision At The Durrell Wildlife Trust

And here's his ethos regarding zoos.

The Durrell Policy For Zoos

If you want an example of that ethos in action you might want to look through this and see which animals his zoo is helping to survive.

He's also written a large number of books that detail his efforts. They aren't heavy tomes -- they're intentionally light and amusing. He wrote them to fund his efforts, and they still work to that end. If you're interested I'd be happy to pass some on.

There are wildlife rescue groups everywhere. Here's an accessible local organization that you could take a closer look at before you dismiss the possibility of stewardship. It's just one of many.

International Bird Rescue Research Center

And later…

... on a much baser level, this kind of activity can be one of the most beautiful things a human being can do. One aspect of humanity that is dear to me (and you know there are damned few of those, he snarled) is our ability to engender bonds of affection across species.

What I'm saying here is that the animals involved might not agree with your position. Yeah, those temple tigers are being fucked over but you should ask the lion in this video about his opinion of animal rescue.

Christian the Lion

Yeah, that is brute-force sentimental propaganda for my position... but here's some more information on the park where the lion in question was rehabilitated.

Kora National Park

A similar interventionist organization is here.

The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center

Again, I have to ask if you are genuinely opposed to these efforts?

There were a few more issues and nuances to our discussion, but those were the main points. Right now we’ve retired to our corners to think things over. I’ll admit that my example of the California Condor isn’t the strongest – this is an animal that seems to need a Pleistocene ecology in order to thrive in the wild. It will likely need captive breeding programs permanently if it’s going to survive.

But something in me just doesn’t want to live in a world without them.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Few Thoughts On Self-Deprecation, Victim Culture, And So On

I have mixed feelings about this one -- but I like the mood. An early attempt to mix paleo-art and brocade print influences. You'll see more of this in the future.

"Goodnight, cedars. Goodnight, Allosaurs. Goodnight, moon..."

I have to write a couple of different biographical notes on myself, one for an art show and one for The Impending Big Mystery Project. I've been dithering about them for quite a while now and this is turning into a source of stress in my life.

I've been realizing a few things about myself lately. One is that my habit of self-deprecation is not charming. It's kind of odious. There's a difference between humility and self-abuse and I frequently cross that line. Last year a teacher gently pointed out to me my habit of deflecting compliments and after contemplating her comments for a while I came to a realization.

When you tell someone that you really aren't worthy of their compliment, you aren't just insulting yourself. You're insulting them as well. You aren't doing a damned thing to make them feel good about having done something nice for you. This goes against my ethics. When someone compliments you, it's appropriate to respond in a way that gives them positive feelings in return. I know, this is obvious, but I'm...

Heh-heh-heh. If you're familiar with me, at this point you know that the following words are gonna be some variant on, "a fucking idiot," or "a social retard." See what I mean?

Let's take a step back. While that concept may be a familiar one to a lot of people, I'm not all that comfortable with the positive, happy side of life. I'm trying to come to terms with the possibility that life is a good thing. And so I have to make an effort to learn a lot of lessons that other people have given to them in childhood.

And this is another facet of the same problem. There's a temptation here to present myself as a victim when I make those kinds of statements. When I grew up, the people around me who were able to claim victim status seemed to get a hell of a lot more out of the people around them then I did. I see victimhood as a source of power.

When I look at the bio section to the right of this, the statement in the blog title above, I can see how deeply this is ingrained in me. The message I'm putting out here is, "I'm damaged goods and deserve extra care on that basis."

That doesn't do me any good. I'm trying to put myself out in the world and marketing myself as an object of pity is a one-way ticket to loserville.

One of my old friends from high school contacted me a couple of days ago. It was great to hear from him but I felt a sense of anxiety about how to tell him about my current position in the world. Was I a hardworking Joe who had a streak of bad luck? Was I a parasitic loser?

When the missus asked me what was wrong and I explained my worries to her she got angry.

"You aren't either of those. I wouldn't be with you if you were."

There is something about the idea of being a success, of feeling pride in myself and my work, that scares me. I'm not an ordinary person -- I have gifts and deficits that keep me from being able to even consider passing for normal. But I need to work past the feelings of shame and superiority that are engendered by these things. Right now my sense of self is a bubble blown from a pipe -- it's big and shiny and it swells and swells and swells...

... and then it bursts.

I need to develop a set of good feelings toward myself that aren't grand and flimsy. And one way of moving toward that end is to present myself to the world in a less sweaty and desperate light. Rather than saying, "For the love of god, take pity on this hapless soul, this tormented genius," to say "Here I am, and I've got something to offer." And then to prove it.

It's the old fake-it-til-you-make-it principle. I mean, I'm always going to be a seething mass of neurosis, but I can modify this. I can be more healthy. And the next step is to stop making an effort to burden myself with false humility and genuine shame.

Wish me luck. I'm gonna need it. (Shit! There I go again! Do it right , oafboy.)

It's about time I allowed myself a little pride. It won't be easy but it'll be worth it.

(Not perfect -- but better. Give it an 'E' for effort. One step at a time, oafboy. One step at a time.)