I like to think consistency is one of my better personality traits. I like plans. I like order. I like having at least a passible ability to know what to expect… not that you’d know it by my fairly fanatical love of routine and schedule. I can get along without being scheduled or maintaining a routine, but I’m hands down better when there’s at least some level of effort put into restraining the forces of chaos.
I’ve long suspected that what seems to me a natural lack of consistency in most people is at least one of the reasons I struggle so much in dealing with them. In general, we’re a wildly inconsistent bunch – running hot and cold, present or distant depending on the day or hour. It’s hard to account for the vagaries of human inconsistency and I don’t always respond well to that.
Yes, I also recognize that expecting other people and the universe to bend to accommodate the way I best function is something of a fool’s errand – and one of my less endearing personality traits. What can I tell you, I’m a pretty uncomplicated guy running on a ridiculously complex operating system. It could be a bug or a feature. It rather depends on your perspective.
I’ve got to remind myself from time to time that I really can’t control the world or the people in it through personal preference. I can, however, mostly hold the chaos at bay here inside the well-defined boundaries of Fortress Jeff. I’ve put a fair amount of blood and treasure into making it “just so.” It’s into this world that I’ll choose to retreat every time, to dwell among the animals and the books, when I literally can’t even with people any more.
American tourists dropping like flies in the Dominican Republic. Squeegie Kids attacking commuters in downtown Baltimore. Random violent acts in shopping malls and on the street. People generally behaving like assholes in every conceivable public space – some dangerous, some simply stupid beyond all comprehension. The average person spends their day surrounded by threat vectors without every really knowing it. It’s probably for the best. If most people really understood what a dangerous place the world was, I’d wonder how they managed to get through the day at all.
There’s a saying that I’ve often heard repeated, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” While I’ll admit this bit of received wisdom isn’t 100% accurate, experience tells me a whole lot of dumb and dangerous stuff happens between midnight and dawn – things that wouldn’t necessarily happen in the full light of day. I long ago adopted a corollary to this Midnight Rule, which says “That’s the kind of dumb shit you can avoid by not leaving the house.”
People look at me cross ways when I say it – perhaps too loudly and often. Yes, yes, I know that most accidental injuries happen in the home. Slicing your finger open with a kitchen knife or falling down in the shower are unfortunate to be sure, but can also largely be avoided by not getting too distracted from whatever task is at hand. The outside threat vectors, though, are far more difficult to control for – the disgruntled coworker, the squeegy kids, and all the great long laundry list of stupid people out there wandering around in the world at large. What all of those vectors have in common is that they are abso-fucking-lutly not in my house.
And that, friends, is in large part why I go places for the most part when it can’t be avoided, but am otherwise entirely happy to pass the time reasonably secure from the kind of jackassery you open yourself up to by going places and doing things. I like to think I’ve done reasonably well by sticking to the ideas that nothing good is happening after midnight and dumb shit can be be avoided by not leaving the house. I don’t suppose it works for everyone, but I’ve found it to be a sound basis for getting by.
It shouldn’t shock anyone to learn that I keep extensive lists. Everything from books I want to read to what groceries I need ends up on lists I keep on my phone for quick reference and for ease of making additions or deletions. It’s an old fashioned model lightly updated by technology. It is not, however, foolproof.
A few staple items, like rice and potatoes, I usually buy in quantity because so much of what I cook is loosely based around five or so key ingredients. They get used quickly and replenished on a regular basis. Because they get used and replaced so quickly, I occasionally find that the lists haven’t kept up.
It’s on days like that – like today – that I find myself conflicted between two compelling, but mutually exclusive, desires. I can either make a quick run into town to pick up the onion necessary for meatloaf I’ve planned for Sunday dinner or I can stay home avoiding people and use onion powder as a sad substitute.
I deeply love a good meatloaf. I am also appalled by the idea of dealing with the general public when it isn’t strictly necessary. Surely you can see the hooks of the dilemma on which I find myself stuck.
This is obviously what’s meant when they “adulting is hard.”
It’s not exactly a secret that I’m not a fan of large groups of people – or of people in general. My misanthropic tendencies run pure as a mountain stream and remain one of my most consistent personality traits over time.
Despite my misgivings about people and groups, I’m a reasonable enough adult human being to know that both are sometimes unavoidable. While social engagements aren’t something I seek out, they are a fact of life from time to time. In those circumstances, I’m perfectly capable of behaving myself in polite company, of making small talk, and generally being a pleasant enough human being.
So you see, what I mean when I say “I don’t like people,” is I don’t go out of my way to find them, but I’m perfectly aware that they are a simple fact of modern life with which I have learned to contend. I learned a long time ago that most people need far more social interaction than I do in order to feel some sense of community or fulfillment. I’ve made peace with it. Mostly.
I’m never going to be the guy who wants to be the center of attention at a party of social event. Like Mister Ed, I’ll likely never speak unless I have something to say. Others may be more tempted to flap their gums to fill in awkward silences. That should in no way be mistaken to mean that I’m going to stand in a corner looking surly for the duration of the event. Just because I don’t usually want to doesn’t mean I can’t play nicely with others when the need arises.
Sometimes, you see, circumstances demand that we do that which we would not otherwise do, not because it’s how we’d rather spend our time, but because it’s something important to the person asking us to tag along. That said, I find myself growing less and less accommodating by the minute. If I’m going to be condemned in either case, I’d rather be condemned for what I am rather than what I am not.
I’ve always had trouble finding my mental focus in loud environments. I don’t know if that’s what makes the hermit life so appealing to me or if it’s the other way around. It doesn’t really matter which caused what. The end result is the same – sitting at my desk with glazed eyes completely unable to cobble together a single coherent thought. It’s just one of the many joys of existing in cubicle hell.
If I’m honest, I’ll admit that the day to day isn’t as bad as I feared, but with that said the bad moments are absolutely hellish. At one point this afternoon I was an unwilling third party participant to at least six conversations taking place simultaneously within 20 feet of my desk. Keeping track of the thread of my own thoughts proved to be something between challenging and impossible for the better part of two hours today. For the record, that doesn’t lead to good staff work and leaves me feeling just about as annoyed in this particular workplace as I’ve ever been. That’s no mean feat.
When other people leave the office they’re in a rush to meet for dinner, or go shopping, or engage in some other socially acceptable form of human interaction. When I leave I can’t get away from that sort of thing fast enough. Home is far from silent, of course. There’s the clatter of dogs on tile, television or radio humming quietly in the background, HVAC noises, or appliances running. Somehow those things manage to not be distracting. Half a dozen overlapping conversations, on the other hand, leave me tired and more than a bit frustrated with my own inability to focus through the distractors.
Whatever reason, the subdued sounds of home, a good book, and something pressed from the fruit of the arbor feels like exactly what I need to steady myself.
It’s been about 30 hours since I’ve had any direct, face-to-face contact with anyone. Some people might find that unnerving, but It’s been pretty much dreamy. Sure, I’ve been pretty much in regular contact with the world through email, text, Facebook, Twitter, and Insta, but if you can avoid all of the awkward, annoying, and generally tiresome interacting with the general public, why wouldn’t you?
I have no idea of the furthest extent of my capability for hermiting. I think the longest stretch I can remember was four days. Generally I’m forced out of the house in search of fresh tortoise food or the need to work for a living long before the desire to actually leave ever crops up. If sustenance for the critters living under this roof weren’t a factor, I dare say I could hole up for months without incurring any significant trauma or anguish.
Alas, all good things must come to an end so if anyone needs me I’ll be over here getting myself into a mental space where I can pretend to be an engaged and productive member of society. Wish me luck.
The last of a good day’s sun is creeping across the tops of the back yard oaks. I’m more of a sunrise guy, but there’s something to be said about this dusky time of day too… especially on a Sunday night, which I assume we all find at least a touch melancholy. As the light drains away from another weekend, I’m almost willing myself into boredom in an effort to extend the day just that little bit longer – a fool’s errand to be sure – but it’s a well established part of the Sunday evening routine.
I don’t have much of anything to add to that little observation. The weekend was uneventful and unremarkable in nearly every way. Some people would find that disappointing, but I tend to consider it an achievement… So if you’ll excuse me I have an appointment with the back porch, a cold drink, and the setting sun.
And that’s just about perfect.