The following is about the deception of my perception. This is about the way I saw myself and the inaccuracy of my interpretation of life’s events. The paragraphs to follow are about moments when a light turned on in my head. This is about the moments of clarity when I saw life around me and realized that not everything is as it seems.
Up late with my usual bouts of mild to moderate insomnia last night, I began to think about the thought machine and the way we interpret events in our lives.
We look back at who we were. We look back at the previous versions of us. We see the one year change and the five year difference in the way we interact with other people. This is when we realize maturity is an ongoing thing.
My best friend and I often recall our crazy nights together over a cup of coffee. We laugh and sometimes we cringe about the facts of how we were at the time. My best friend remarks about the person he was. He remarks about the things he did during his younger years and says, “There are times, if I could, I would go back and strangle the me of my yesterday at least ten times or more.”
I relate to that.
In fact, I think most people can
Somewhere around the years of my late 20’s, I was older and nearly a decade away from my former self. I was not so small anymore or painfully thin. At this point, I began to physically grow and fit my frame. I was never big guy, per-se, or big as in muscular or big as in exceptionally tall.
I was not frail anymore or as young looking or the smallest. The years between me and my previous self were still strange though.
I struggled with the misconceptions of my perception. I was insecure. I was uncomfortable in the sense that I, an awkward feeling, uncomfortable young man in search of the so-called thing we call purpose could ever be good or as good as anyone else. I struggled in the uncomfortable comparison between me and other people. I compared myself by ways of appearance and financial security. I compared me to others because of the jobs I held or the car I drove.
I was improving though, growing, and coming into my own. However, still searching to find my true voice, I had so much to learn and much more ground to travel.
I was confused of course and always feeling cautioned by various aspects of life. But yet, I was working at a grown man’s job and doing a grown man’s thing. In comparison to some, my life was pretty good. In comparison to others, I believed I was less than. Naturally, I focused on the people I believed me to be less than.
I was out late one night with the boys, loud as always and with me being the designated driver, as always, of course, we found ourselves at the hour, south of 3:00am in a White Castle ordering burgers, which truly do no justice to the body. However, at 3:00am after a long crazy night with the boys, there is no place quite like White Castle. Although far from healthy or kind or gentle on the stomach in the aftermath, there is nothing else like a bag stuffed with, fries, onion rings, and small double-cheese burgers from White Castle.
I was in familiar territory; meaning, although I had moved away for several years, I was in my old hometown. The neighborhood had changed a bit. There were a lot of differences in my town. My old boyhood home now belonged to another family. The face of my old home had a face-lift and some of the landscaping was different. The old streets were surreal to me, almost like a seeing a piece of historical history that was pertinent to the upbringing of my life. I saw me and the inaccurate version of myself. Each time, I drove through the old neighborhood, I recalled a memory. I recalled my fears that seemed insurmountable to me at the time. I viewed them the way a boy would view a grown man, as if I were smaller, subordinate, and weak
So much had changed but yet, White Castle was exactly the same. I walked in to the bright, white-walled place, which, in fact, was too bright and my eyes needed to adjust upon entry. There was a mixed crowd here. There were a couple of the town’s vagrants. There were people stopping in from the nearby clubs, either Chelsea Street or Zachary’s. There were the young hooligans from the town, high and red-eyed, and then there was me and my small crew of friends who, by themselves, were far from small and would anxiously welcome a fight.
I waited on line, slowly moving one step closer to placing my order. The man in front of me was mildly loud and moderately annoying. There was something familiar about him. I swore I recognized him.
He was shorter than me, somewhat frail looking, bony-nosed, and not intimidating by any means. He had that lean about him; he had that wise-ass snare to his voice. He was quick witted and punishable. He was so familiar to me but I was unsure how or why until BAM, the connection hit me as hard as downtown bus moving fast in New York City.
This man was a kid once (obviously) and he was a year (or maybe two) ahead of me in school. I used to see him as so big and intimidating. I was afraid of him, and yet, there I was much taller and eagerly unafraid.
I no longer saw myself as small or weaker than him by comparison. I was amazed by him. I was amazed by how frightened I used to be when he would pass me in the hallways at school. And look at him now, puny and small, just like I always saw myself to be.
I smiled because I realized my boyhood fears were nothing more than boyhood fears. I laughed out loud, almost uncontrollably, which triggered his attention. It was amazing to me to see how small this man truly was. A few words were accomplished after and my old boyhood bully stood silently for the duration of his wait at the counter.
Perception is everything.
And everything is relative.
One of my struggles is that I often base truth from my interpretation. But what if my interpretation is inaccurate?
I sat at a book store signing copies of a short story I wrote and interacting with different readers. Some would stop by and discuss my writing. Some read a few of my poems, which I had printed on leaflets and handed out to those that were interested. I was new to the literary world and I had already undergone an assassination by critics, editors, and the literary gods of all kind. I was humbled and intimidated. I was certainly uncomfortable in my chair and trying my best to appear, “Cool,” or act “As if.”
A man came up to my table and began to discuss the literary world with me. He spoke in great lengths about the written word and the misinterpretation of “Real” authors. He emphasized the word, “Real” author by defining the word in air quotes with both hands. He went on to tell me how my writing lacks the proper structure and that at best, my writing was clunky and uninteresting. ‘No one will ever buy it,” he said.
Then he spoke about the way he writes and how he formulates his manuscripts. I listened submissively for a good 20 minutes or so before asking the man, “How many books have you had published.”
I expected his answer to be much different from what it was.
“Oh,” said the man while straightening up and backing away from my table. “I’ve never been published before.”
I allowed this man to browbeat me for a good 20 minutes, crushing my hopes, because again, I believed I was the smaller subordinate. I attached my insecurity to the conversation, which allowed him to continue in a bully-ish sort of way.
I listened as his words, like knives, cut the flesh of my dream, slicing at my fears, cutting the main arteries of my insecure thought and causing my dreams to bleed out and die; only to find out that in all actuality, this man had no idea what he was talking about.
Regardless to the result of my effort, at least I put in the effort. whereas this man; he never even dared to give this a shot . . .
Too often, I allow my thought and feeling process to dictate the way I see things. This is where the deception of perception comes in to play. We seldom see us in the way that others see us.
It is said that when complimented, we often struggle to see the compliment within ourselves. In my case, several times, I can recall moments when I was complimented and yet, I blew this off as inaccurate or (excuse the language) it was just bullshit!
But as for critics and criticisms, these things have a way of staying with us. Negative comments cling to us like a thousand tiny fish hooks in the skin, which is painful, but they hurt even more when ripped out from the flesh.
So what do we do?
We protect ourselves at all times. we create a shield or an image to hide behind. We create a fantasy version of us to act as our hero and protector. Meanwhile, deep down, all we are is a bunch of kids, frightened as ever, and scared of rejection.
I used to think it was my mouth got me in trouble. And one could argue it was certainly so on more than one occasion. But what is my mouth without my mind to tell it what to say. The cognitive mind does not see things as relative. Instead, the cognitive reacts under assumption to our interpretation of previous history.
Take a child that was picked on in class (like me) and have them sit in a room where a crowd is off in the corner, laughing out loud about something unrelated and unimportant. Although grown and decades away from moment of bullying, the assumption of laughter is something that sparks feeling. Therefore, in an effort of protection, the mind assumes the worst.
“It has to be about me.”
Meanwhile, the laughter in the corner has nothing to do with anything cruel —yet, to the cognitive mind, we have entered into Defcon 1 and prepared for war.
Back to the man in the book store—
I viewed him as a man of authority, which in fact, he was not. I saw him as someone of intelligence, as someone that knew better than me, and as someone smarter than me; and whether he was smarter or was not is irrelevant; however, because of the inaccuracies of my perception of self, because of my insecurity, because of my cognitive mindset, I believed that I was his subordinate. I believed that I was less than, when, in fact, I was not. was me and he was him. Period. End of sentence.
I learned that my assumptions are often based on fears of rejection and fears of shame and insecurity. Human nature works this way. We fear the worst.
We assume the worst, but in reality, the bully that picked on me in the hallways at school was nothing more than a little kid picking on someone smaller than him. And the guy in the bookstore, he was just a writer with the same fears as me, repeating the same distractions, like a parrot given a cracker, and saying things that were placed on him by someone else. This had nothing to do with me, but yet, I took ownership. Needless to say, I took ownership of something that didn’t belong to me. This was all his. This was just some guy’s way of pushing of his self-based resentment to feel better about the fact that he failed to try and never took a shot.
Truth is no one is stronger than me unless I give them my strength to be by allowing them to dictate the pathways of my life. Physical strength is certainly relative. But no matter how strong your arms are, a weak hart is still a weak heart, and this is where the true strength live, beating strongly, right in the center of my chest.
Eventually, if we are lucky, we come to a moment of realization. A light goes on and, “Ah-ha,” we have a moment of clarity . This is when we realize that our fears are not always facts, that not all things are equivalent to the experiences of our past, and that perception is not always true or friendly.
Therefore, beware of assumption.
Be mindful of interpretation.
And more importantly, be careful with the deception of perception because this kind of deception has a way of holding us back.
Trust me on this
Note to the reader: about that saying my best friend has about strangling the me of my past, I feel that way every time I see the cover of the book, “A Summer In The Kitchen.”
This was the second short story I wrote and I wrote this without the intention of publication.
Safe to say the writer I am now is different than the writer i was then
But at least I still write