Skip to content

Our Digitally Departed | 2017 | Stop Watch


Our situation is analogous to knowing the grammar of a language, but none of the vocabulary.  

-"Data," Star Trek: The Next Generation

Grok Doubleplusungood and Jalad at Tanagra

If I do not figure out how to communicate with more people, I am going to end up alone.

You might think that, given that I am a writer who has loaded almost all of his talent points on linguistic mastery, I could manage to make myself known, but no. My sentences are puzzles I continually drop in hopes someone's eyes will brighten in comprehension. Phrases that will almost literally charm my pants off will make a most of the world consider you an obtuse prick. Context is everything.

Language isn't words. It is grammar, syntax, nuance, and the cultural baggage hauled behind those communicating. Any parrot can mimic words without awareness.

I have felt friction when those around me do not communicate in compatible ways. There is a variation of styles that my psychic immune system accepts. When someone's style - something programmed into them through repeated rewards as mine has been - contradicts, I cringe. Intellectually, I know that they are technically doing nothing wrong. They mistake the context I present, cannot respect it, or cannot understand it. To paraphrase the nurse practitioner who refills my prescriptions, speaking about herself, they do not understand why I would want or think what I do.

I barely manage to communicate because I have chosen to form a referential, facetious dialect understood by only a few and spoken by fewer, one that is exclusionary by design. I can make concepts understood, but I am not myself understood. I am like a teenager enmeshed in a slang that sounds clumsy in the mouths of adults, though mine wants you to know a thousand books and a hundred examples of visual media. At least baffled parents can depend upon Urbandictionary to have some idea what their sprogs are saying. You need a Bachelor's in English Lit and a worn out library card to deal with me when I really get going, an infuriating grin on my face as I implicitly dare you to know what I am talking about. My friendship is a clever game until it ceases to be. If you cannot keep up with or play the game, if you cannot play a game of your own, no handicap is permitted. We just will never get that close.

This is absolutely not bragging about the breadth of my education. I cannot field dress a deer or fix most aspects of the machines I rely upon. I am lost with higher mathematics, which limits my appreciation of any science I cannot cut apart. I just happened to have a brain that absorbs and repurposes trivia and rhyming couplets.

It is not merely my allusive brain. How I interact with other people on a personal level is rife with sardonic quips, followed by a goofy smile to assure them that I am only playing the part of a morbid jerk. As a teenager, I used to tell people "Teasing is how we show love in this family." I am not sure what that says about my own experiences, but it was likely true. Now, I have come to see that teasing is a seasoning and not a meal. The object of the teasing has to be on board with it, has to give as good as they get, or it is simply cruelty. In this way, I have seen a verbal jab land on the jaw of a loved one when I meant only to feint and parry their own as good sport in a game they were not playing.

Chris mentioned once that he believes I have an infinite capacity for black humor.

I could blame his perception of me on my day job. If I didn't try to laugh about children committing horrific crimes after a life of molestation and abuse, I would shatter and thereby be no use to my students. However, the darkness of my humor has a longer pedigree than that. I have always joked at those subjects that make me most uncomfortable because it was better than not dealing with them.

There are times when I repeat something remarkable - given that one of my daily activities is listening to podcast, I hear heaps worth reiterating - and Chris asks me to prove this. To my ears, this sounded like a challenge. I have had a series of insecure friends who tried to undermine me by calling my information into question to prove intellectual dominance, as though "Oh yeah, buddy?" is a valid strategy. His interrogatives recalled their attempts to insult me. Soon, I realized that he did not mean anything like that. He just wanted a source so he could find out more.

I know that Daniel at first found me annoying. In fact, I am aware of this because he wrote my ex a letter chiding her for being indecisive about whether she wanted to be with me and, in it, testified that he needed to warm up to me until my interaction style cooled. When I found this out, I did not take it as an affront. Instead, I was flattered in the extreme that he would extend himself in this fashion, much against his general preference toward noninterference.

He was not wrong to find me annoying. I was too exuberant, too loud. I lacked a confidence that now comes easily. When that style stopped working for me, when I found my own demeanor annoying and matured away from it, our friendship could proceed and deepen without the interference. We could finally begin to truly understand one another.

Daniel is reptilian by his own description. He will enjoy warmth on his own terms, but he would prefer to sit on a warm rock and not be squeezed by a child. My own style is mammalian, though now more feline than puppyish; I do not need to be nipping at one's heels or in one's lap to convey my affection and am content to be on my own.

Daniel has sent Amber and me a few postcards recently. We have gotten three in two days, though I do not know that he sent them bunched up or if the postal service just delivered them when they wanted. They are brief glimpses into his world now: while he sat around unemployed, while Kest was away at a convention, once he got a stifling warehouse job. He isn't lonely, exactly. He says, and I believe, that Kest fulfills his social needs and he is neither keen nor optimistic for the possibility of acquiring new acquaintances. The restaurants in his corner of Maryland are not open late enough for his pleasure nor, I'm sure, do they have the culinary flair to be found in the Hudson Valley, saturated with Culinary Institute graduates. He confessed he felt a pang when he realized that he couldn't just pop by and see us anymore, one we reciprocate. I am beyond thrilled even by these few remarks, even as I must decipher his handwriting beneath the franked postal mark.

He became the archetype of the right sort of communication. His means of making himself known are not identical to mine. For one, I cannot fathom him writing this sort of entry, of ever feeling the impulse. He does not trust writers and he is right not to.

He took some warming up, whereas I will try to like someone to the hilt if I like them a little. If they disappoint me early, the friendship regresses and remains there until I gradually change my mind, though I probably will not. I have unspoken grudges against a dozen people because they were not friends as I wanted them to be. It is not fair, but they are none the wiser for it.

Daniel was ours, our understood brother, for years. We could communicate perfectly in silence. In saying all this, I do not begrudge him Kest or his choice to leave. I love him. Every bit of this was deserved. When the parameters were in place, he made the only logical choice, one that fell instantly into place in my mind the moment Sarah pointed out to me that he had gotten engaged. He communicated fully and honestly, and that was what had to happen.

In general, if someone is not willingly engaging with me on something of a regular basis, I assume they do not like me and feel hurt. I stop putting in unreciprocated effort. However, this sometimes is not what they are trying to convey. Their programming is different from mine and I should learn what they mean, even when their actions and behavior would be an insult if I were doing it. Intention matter more than perception here.

My best analogy is that potentially apocryphal story about the whale whose song is too high. He is trying to communicate the best way he knows how (if indeed he ever existed and was not a glitch in some scientist's software), but no one can hear him, rendering him the loneliest whale in the world. He cannot be social despite his best attempts. I have associates who simply don't have the design to be my friends.

I cannot communicate effectively on most social media, where most people do their interactions of late. I post short, funny anecdotes and media quips on Twitter, which are disseminated outward. I can communicate that way, but I can never be the level of keyboard warrior social media requires. I don't want to hear about the fifth pregnancy of some creep from high school. I can't wish a happy birthday to a woman who has a completely foreign name now, whose profile picture is a baby squeezing a dog. The etiquette of these ostensibly meaningless interactions drains me. I choose my own mental health over being a drop in an indifferent ocean.

Since I have gotten my neurochemicals more in check, I have a far greater tolerance for other people's styles and their origins. I can convey my thoughts and intentions because I sleep through the night, thus less irritability, and my brain is less occupied with toxic introversion. When I speak with most people, I feel more engaged, abler to look them in the eye and really listen to what they are saying. I remember interactions in the past where I only listened enough to get through the conversation. If I didn't love you, I repeated in my head for you to be quiet and leave me alone. I was disrespectful, but I was unable to act otherwise, but I can begin to forgive myself for keeping it largely in my head.

What I took for a proclivity toward introversion was more a chemical inability to deal with most people - most communication styles - for very long. Freed of the burden, I can move more fluidly through the social world.

Without getting into the sort of philosophical linguistics that gave Jacques Derrida a career, we are never certain we know what another person means to communicate. We do not have the totality of their frameworks, so we can never have all their referents. Even with lovers, some part of us always remains an unreachable stranger trying to be understood. The mind of another can be a minefield, primed for you to trip over the wrong phrase to provoke in them fear or anger. Communication is so fraught with potential to be misunderstood that the fact that we usually move smoothly though our days is close to miraculous. Or, if not a miracle, it is a testament to the fact that we never delve much beneath the surface of interactions, because there be dragons.

With most, it is not worth all the effort of navigating and how exhausting would it be to attempt to make every interaction significant, even with people who want nothing more than to get home without your interference. Some interactions are best left superficial.

I articulate myself well and do so publicly. If one cared to, I believe I am one of the easier people to begin to begin to know. There are literally millions of words, time-lapsed slices of who I have been, who I think I am, who I aspire to be. Of course, most people are never going to bother. It is a massive expenditure of time and effort to read most of what I've written and I know from looking back how much I have improved, meaning that I know how weak I once was. Most people I know have never read one of my novels, to say nothing of the contents of these entries. That aches because I feel like I am putting in a great deal of effort to convey a particular message, but it is not one people want to receive. I have these fantasies of post-mortem compilations of my entries, cunningly selected and edited. I imagine what it will be like to be dissected, discussed, and finally understood, but I do not imagine that will happen.

I want to trust someone enough to be without barriers in my presence, someone whom I can just unreservedly adore. It is almost a romantic proposition, though any whiff of romance would shoot up every barrier I had, my social immune system to impropriety. Anyone who wants to be more than my friend can never even be my friend.

I have this fervent desire not to float away from social connections to the world. At the same time, I don't want to try to have people picking at my lock. I want the keys that fit. Anything else leaves filings around, eroding either the lock or the pick.

I want to be understood by someone whom I feel is safe for a mutual knowing. For all the kindness and warmth I am discovering in other people, I don't trust them and I do not expect to be understood. This is not pessimism. I talk constantly - or I am communicating constantly, more so than most people do and likely more than is wise - and it doesn't result in people really understanding me.

I have no caginess, even for how wily my mind can be. I crave to be understood or why reveal so much of myself on a daily basis? I am not flashing people, but sitting naked and only slightly obscured, in case one might want to take a small peek to see what I have going on. When I have offered myself and people still persist in not knowing me, of finding me a mystery when I assure them the answer is upside down on the last page and all the clues are in bold, I feel distraught because I know I have been understood and accepted and now I am not. I assume I will again, at some point, but I do not know when that point might be, if it is close or far. I sigh to think of the work of the shared taming.

I was highly sociable with several people in my past, but I don't believe they knew who I am now. This companionability and the awareness that deeper understanding is rare is one of the reasons I do not abandon the women with whom I was romantic in the past. I loved them as well as I was then capable and tender them well for having held a piece of my soul for years. I felt understood by them and I do not want that to abate simply because all concerned have graduated to more suitable relationships. I was willing to negotiate a friendship after the dust settled because I believed there was something special to our relationship that shouldn't die purely because we will never again visit the other's bed; I want to be understood, even predicted, even if it comes at the expense of loving me (though I feel you can't understand someone, really, if you don't love them a little and you certainly cannot love someone you do not understand. Anything else is an infatuation, a charge of chemicals in your brain that dissipates with time and contact.)

I need to communicate, to tell stories even when I feel my audience misses the point. It is why I am so apt to offer up anecdotes from my life when I encounter someone whom they might entertain. It is not wise - or would not be if I didn't constantly write my life and thoughts out on the internet - because it hands weapons to people who have little reason not to use them. It puts me at a disadvantage, having made the relationship instantly uneven. This, too, is a test: what will you do with this glimpse? Most do nothing. They do not wield it as a brick, to dash my skull open or build a foundation. It remains inert mud until it erodes.

No one communicates fully with me yet who didn't already. I want to be able to talk to someone without fearing or administering judgment. That is a part of my early communication: "Here is this strange fact of my life or thoughts. Are you going to cringe away?" I do not yet trust someone not to, though no one has that I am aware. (I would be aware, scrutinizing the corners of their eyes - where disgust is fractionally housed - for telltale wrinkles.)

So much of it is instinct, which cannot be argued with, or should not. When I connect with someone as I want, it is an instantaneous click and that is all there is to it for me. I clicked instantly with Daniel and Amber. I felt immediate discomfort around Dan Jurow, who later solicited a minor for sex. Who can dare say, with that scant sample size, they I shouldn't be trusted implicitly?

I can produce a thousand tired analogies - catching fish, sorting wheat, sewing implements oddly hidden in loose, dry grass - but they are all too glib. I want to find those with whom a deeper relationship is possible and that does not come from referring to imperfect matches as fries or chaff. There is not a lick of malevolence to this - I hate more wasting their time. I don't think there is snobbery, since I am assured there are wonderful people with whom I will only ever be an acquaintance. There is a sense of longing. I have quipped to Amber that, should my job disappear, we might as well just move far away and start fresh, assuming that we've met anyone in an hour's drive worth meeting. This is categorically untrue, but I cannot deny the appeal of fresh potential.

Soon in Xenology: Adventures. Spring. Heermance.

last watched: Trigun
reading: 1984
listening: Great Big World

Our Digitally Departed | 2017 | Stop Watch

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

eXTReMe Tracker