Tuesday, May 26, 2009

An Explanation

Sometimes my friends must wonder about me a little. I've just gotten through a mostly good weekend filled with close friends and family, but there were a couple of chunks where I just didn't participate.

It started with Rock Band, mostly. It's a hell of a lot of fun, and there are enough of us to play and switch out easily, and we're all pretty much competent on any given part. I'll gladly drum and strum for hours...

Except that I don't sing. I'm the only one, and while there's only mild ribbing about it, and lots of encouragement, and the fact that this is likely the most comfortable environment I could have for it, I don't sing. This weekend, another game was brought in, focusing solely on vocals. I didn't participate (and I could have almost certainly been more polite about it, which I regret), and I think they changed things around more quickly than they would've otherwise, to re-include me. I finally did it once, when not everyone was there. I think I owe them an explanation as to why.

Those that know me well know that I have had issues with anxiety (social situations in particular) in the past. I'm talking, break down whimpering, fetal-ball anxiety. I'm over most of that, but I still limit my face-to-face social circle because of it, and I'm even uncomfortable even speaking to them sometimes. I'm much more comfortable with a letter (or a blog post, as the case may be) -- I can think more slowly; correct hastily placed words; nuance my language, etc. As an example, I wrote the first draft of this post the last time we got together, more than a month ago. Like I said, though, I'm mostly better on all that, though I still don't like to pick up the phone. The fact I have close friends at all speaks to it.

How does it all relate, though? Weirdly enough, singing (though not performing or speaking for people in any other way) remains as probably my only really paralyzing anxiety. I still recall first grade, where I was informed after about three seconds of mandatory choir tryout that I had no tone and would be relegated to chorus for the rest of my schooling (at least until choral shows involved optional classes, instead of cramming everyone on stage for the yearly revue). My brother, who was spectacularly devoted and caring in many ways, mocked me for twenty minutes the one time I sang along with the radio in his presence. I've replayed these events and others like them in my head for decades. I occasionally think I have at least a reasonable singing voice, spurred on by the fact I have a decent announcer's voice, if nothing else. I usually stomp that thought into the ground in short order. I don't even sing in the shower -- I mumble, hum, or play songs in my head, all because I'm afraid of hearing my own voice, or, even worse, that someone else might hear my feeble attempts from the other end of the house. I am literally terrified of the thought of singing in front of other people. I have no idea how I managed to do it even the once. I think I was either getting angry at myself, or at everyone else; there is the occasional "put up or shut up" aspect. Given how great I am at expressing myself, it was likely a passive-aggressive way to say "back off and don't ask again", which backfired for two reasons: I didn't do it for everyone, and people might get the idea that if I do it once, I'll do it again. I don't know if that's true, but that's how it feels in retrospect.

I mentioned to someone a while back, that if I had the game and an empty house, I could probably get over the anxiety. It's immediate, objective feedback that has the potential to say, "You don't suck". It would either confirm that I shouldn't be singing, or give me a chance to get over my fears a bit of a time. If I can handle singing out loud, I can handle other people hearing it. Like I said, the only people who would likely ever hear it are my closest friends and family; they're not likely to mock me in a cruel manner (I know them well enough to know that there will be mocking, regardless. We'd mock a professional; it's what we do). One even asked if she'd ever get to hear me; I believe that she genuinely wants to hear me, would never be critical, and just wants me to enjoy myself. I want that as much as anyone.

I could probably get to the point where I'm comfortable singing with them. I can't get there with them around, though. I have this thing where I have to improve things alone. Every instrument I've ever practiced has been behind closed doors (didn't do a lot of good with drums, but it's hard for non-drummers to tell if you're skilled if it's the only sound going on). I exercise alone. Ironically, if I want to convince myself I'm good enough for my friends, I have avoid them. It sucks, but that's where I am. I've torn away most of the crippling fears that used to wrap around me. This one's still sticking, and I want to work on it. In an empty house with the shades drawn, but, still, I want to. They probably won't hear me until I do.

Friday, May 1, 2009

My son, the confidence man

I should've expected it sooner; he is my kid, after all.

So it turns out that my son has been scamming breakfasts at school. We had been mystified at the charge bills, the "free lunch" applications and calls from the school saying he was on "alternative meals" until we paid up. He eats at home, and has a lunch packed every day. However, these charges kept piling up. Finally, my wife gets in contact with the head lunch lady for an explanation.

The boy has been eating a second breakfast at school everyday, in addition to his home breakfast (No word on "elevensies", though). In addition, he's supposed to be on "alternative" meals, since he maxed out his account limit -- alternative breakfast is milk and a pack of graham crackers. Despite this, he's been getting milk, juice, and cereal every day. How you ask? Pure cute mixed with pitifulness, that's how. He just doesn't have the money (which is true, since we don't give him any). This has been sorted out rather quickly, now that we know what's going on, but the kid's a good manipulator.

Now, why should I have expected this, just because he's my spawn? Because I did almost exactly the same thing. My school lunches at that age cost $0.50, with a quarter for milk. After the main meal, you could buy ice cream for an extra quarter. With this setup, my parents provided me with a dollar a day. Being the greedy little sonofabitch I was, I decided that a daily quarter was more valuable than a daily ice cream (this thought process led me to accumulate over $100 over a couple of years, which was not insubstantial given my age and the decade involved). Over time, my teachers noticed that while I looked longingly at the ice cream, I never purchased any. Given that I lived in a little craphole of a trailerpark within sight of the school, they assumed I just didn't have the money, and started slipping me ice cream. They never actually asked me if I had the money or not, and my little 5-year-old mind went "SCORE"! The situation lasted until the first parent-teacher conference, and I didn't get in trouble, since I hadn't really lied to anyone to acquire the ice cream. Still, that experience was pretty typical, and my son seems to be following in my footsteps.

Now we just have to wait until he manages to get engaged with a team sport, and see if he gets involved in a gambling scandal, like I did with soccer in 3rd grade.