Nerd Voice

I find myself getting super annoyed by nerd voice.

So – I’ll try to own it, by saying “yeah, I realize these are my own issues,” and “yeah, I’m sure I have nerd voice on a fairly regular basis myself,” and “yeah, someone probably has plenty of good reasons to talk in this way, and it is a culmination of their life experience, and etc. etc.”

But, frankly, nothing ever forces my own personal realization of how un-accepting of other people I am like a big old dose of nerd voice. And, suddenly, instead of really hearing someone, I’m awash in my own narcissism and disappointment in my lack of empathy, while simultaneously analyzing the other person and internally blasting them with my judgement.

So – this is what I hear when I hear nerd voice. I hear someone mimicking the tone of authority, but with a slightly over exaggerated intonation, because I assume deep down they don’t fully trust what they are saying. In fact, when I hear nerd voice, I immediately begin to doubt the authenticity of whatever information is being provided. If at some point I question them, and they double down with their hyper-authoritarian tone instead of softening, I immediately brand them as an insecure idiot, and take everything they say with a dose of skepticism. Also, I think this has gotten worse since I’ve tried to become a more empathetic person.

So, back in the day the exchange would usually go like this:

Nerd Voice: “Clearly, a PC is a superior economic investment to a mac, especially since you can just duel boot the mac OS”

My Internal Monolog: This person is an idiot, must disengage as soon as possible.

Me: “Yeah, I can see that. Hey, thanks for sharing your thoughts with me – I gotta run to the bathroom, but it was really great catching up with you.”

Now, it usually goes like this.

Nerd Voice: “It is impossible to lose weight on a diet of less than 1200 calories a day because you’ll just slow down your metabolism.”

My Internal Monolog: This person is an idiot – wait, no. What is it they’re really trying to coney here? Why do they feel the need to state this? Are they fat? Are they self conscious about their weight, and do they have shame about their inability to cut their calories? How do they square this with the fact that people clearly lose weight on very low calorie diets?

Me: “Oh? Well, what about the Jews in the concentration camps? They got pretty skinny, and I’m pretty sure they ate less than 1200 calories a day. I assume, anyway.”

Nerd Voice: “Well, they probably lost a lot of muscle mass. I mean, it’s impossible to lose fat on a diet of just 1200 calories a day.”

My Internal Monolog: Zomg, don’t care. Not trying to lose fat. Wait – not everything is about me. Is often about them. Ok – what to they care about?

Me: “Ah, so you’re more interested in the process of losing fat than just losing weight, per se.”

Nerd Voice: “Well, yes. Obviously. I mean, why would someone just care about losing weight?”

Me: “Well, I used to wrestle and I’d try to lose weight to make a weight class.”

Nerd Voice: “Ah, but that was a special case. And, was probably quite unhealthy to lose weight in that way.”

My Internal Monolog: Well, I was in the best shape of my life back then, but let’s just let that lie. Ok, how do I change the topic to something less irritating?

Me: “Yeah, it was an unusual case. Although, apparently sometimes it can be good to slow your metabolism – I’ve heard of some people who eat very low calorie diets to slow their metabolism in an effort to live longer.

Nerd Voice: “Ah, well yes – if the intention is to slow the metabolism, then yes, eating low calorie diets could be quite effective for that. I doubt it would help you live longer though, that just seems like pseudoscience to me.”

My Internal Voice: Zomg, can you stop acting like you know everything! I was the one who watched the National Geographic special, not you! Oh my god, I still think you’re an idiot, and now I sort of hate you for having this conversation with me as well. Fuck, I am spiritually void – incapable of seeing the inner beauty in other people. Fuck fuck fuck!

Me: “Well, I’ve never tried it since eating less than 1200 calories would totally blow – ha ha ha. Anyway, it was great catching up with you, I gotta run to the bathroom.”

Later, I’ll usually reflect over why someone may feel the need to take a very firm position on a topic with little interest in the nuance, or subtlety of it. Usually, I’ll conclude that it’s a person who has not received a lot of respect for their opinions in the past (hence, why nerds or the more socially outcast often take this tone of voice) and be able to generate a bit more empathy for them. After all, I’ve had some pretty socially-outcast type moments in my life. A lot, honestly. And I get it, I get that they’re trying to like appear more authoritative so I’ll take them seriously because they’re not used to being taken seriously. But, my god, I find it so annoying.

I guess perhaps a more interesting question would be, why does it bug me so much? I mean, at least part of it is it reminds me of my own insecure moments when I try to overcompensate. But, another part of it is that I stop believing that there’s gong to be any possibility of making any sort of interesting conversation or emotional connection. I start believing, “Ok, this person is mostly interested in impressing me, not about connecting with me.” Which, is possibly wrong – if I were able to convince them that I valued their opinion, they would likely become more open to my own point of view. But, it’s so hard all of my body language is screaming “I want out of this conversation!” Even if after the fact I can understand what happened, in the moment I find myself a lot more stuck.

Practice, I suppose?

Self Absorption and the Homeless

One of my friends regularly tells me I’m too self absorbed, which is probably a fair point. I think about myself a lot.

However, one thing I’ve noticed is that often the people accusing me of being self absorbed seem to be suffering from a similar affliction themselves. In a way, it would make sense – the most self absorbed people would be the most annoyed about not getting as much attention as they would like in a conversation. They also may be the least likely to see that, sometimes, people have good reasons for being self absorbed.

One time I tend to be very self absorbed is when I see homeless people on the street. There are a lot of homeless people asking for money where I live, and when I see them, I will often go out of my way to walk out of their line of site so they will not see me. Sometimes, I will pretend like I didn’t hear them talk to me so it won’t be “awkward,” even though deep down we both know I did. Or, I will dismiss them with a quick “no, I’m sorry” or just give them a dollar and quickly get on my way. I feel afraid when I see them in the street, even though I know they won’t hurt me. I’m afraid of the confrontation that may ensue.

And I know that, more than money, often what they just need is a little recognition. One of the most painful things, I’ve been told, about being homeless it that people just ignore you as if you were completely worthless. I know this. I know that, ideally, even if I can’t give someone money that by giving them the same attention and respect I’d give anyone else, I am giving them the message “I see you, and you are worthwhile,” and I know that is a message many homeless people need to hear. Despite the fact that I know all this, I still regularly ignore homeless people.

Two days ago, a young and articulate homeless man stopped me on the street. He thanked me for my time, and asked me if I’d get him something to eat which I did. After talking to him further, I bought him a razor, some deodorant and soap at a local Walgreens because he said his lack of grooming was hurting him during his job interviews. He told me he felt bad about asking for what he needed, and I told him not to – that it was a joy to give to someone when I felt appreciated and respected. We parted ways with a hug, and I ignored all the other homeless people who talked to me on the way home.

I am able to occasionally engage with homeless people now, usually by chatting with them. But, I had to forgive myself for ignoring them first. I used to criticize myself all the time – how selfish I was! How much pain they were in, and I would willingly buy myself a latte, and not spare 50 cents for a starving person. What did that say about me? What type of selfish, self absorbed person was I? Thing was, that whole line of reasoning was too painful for me to go down often. So, usually, I would avoid the homeless and not engage with them so I didn’t have to confront these uncomfortable thoughts about what type of person I was.

However, eventually I came to forgive myself for ignoring the homeless people on my Starbucks run, and a funny thing happened. The more I was able to forgive myself for ignoring homeless people, the more I was able to engage with them. When my head was not filled with self-criticism, or actively involved with suppressing it, I had room to listen to them. Every time I have made the space to listen to a homeless person, they have been profoundly grateful. I can now see I was not avoiding them because I was selfishly hoarding my money – I was avoiding them because it is emotionally difficult to engage with someone in that much pain. I could give every homeless person I see in a day 50 cents, no problem, but I can’t take on that much of their experience without becoming profoundly depressed myself. So now, I do what I need to do. If I have the time, and emotional energy, I will talk to a homeless person – see what they need, and if it’s something I am able to give. And if not, that’s ok too.

I’m still working on it. I’ve noticed that the ones I help the most are the nicest and most articulate homeless people, and that probably the ones in greater need of help are some of the more difficult ones. But, I also know I’m not there yet. I’m still too full of ego to engage with someone who can’t moderate themselves for me, and that’s ok. It’s ok to be self absorbed. Because you can’t just replace self absorption with compassion magically, you have to give yourself what you need first.

The Ring Case

In Europe, there was a push for a while to label photoshopped images in magazines to “discourage the altering of photographs in a manner that could promote unrealistic expectations of appropriate body image.” (New York Times, Nov 2011.)  I watched a recent South Park episode where Wendy shouts “Kim Kardashian is a short, overweight woman who manipulates her image and makes average girls feel horrible about themselves.” The general assumption is that photoshop, these images, have the power to make girls feel bad about themselves and that we should do something about that.

It’s a view that I usually sort of buy into. Whenever I see a view of a beautiful woman, who is likely photoshopped, I usually mentally compare myself to her or feel angry. Part of me just wants someone to make it go away, and I deeply sympathize with people who want to legislate it away – and maybe it would even work, I don’t know. But, I don’t have the power to make it happen, this is not the world I live in. So, why worry about that too much?

Once, I took an introduction to shiatsu massage class, and half way through I was feeling very relaxed and open. Suddenly, a voice in my head said “I’m going to die soon.” I was deeply unnerved, and not really sure how to take it. I tried to resist it, but no reassurances I could give myself could reassure me that I wouldn’t die soon. What was soon, anyway? Two days? Two years? Two hundred years? Who was this “I” even referring to anyway? Me? Who is me? And who was this voice talking to? Also me, the same me? Why was it not “you’re going do die soon?” (In fact, when I repeated the story too a friend, I remembered it as saying “you’re going to die soon” – I couldn’t keep straight who was “me” and who was “you” when referring to the voices in my head.)

Anyway, I came to the conclusion that even if the voice was completely prophetic, nothing had really changed. Except, when I walked home that night, everything looked different.

As I stepped off the subway, I entered a room completely plastered in express ads. The ads featured skinny women in lacy clothes, with heavy eye makeup, and that slightly open mouthed expression that is so common these days. “Pouty” I think it’s called. I remember when they’d first put the ads up, I’d been so angry. My eyes could not escape them, no matter where I looked. They even had ads plastered on the floor – I was allowed to walk on the pretty women, as long as I looked at them.

But, when I entered that room that night – full of awareness of my own mortality – I didn’t feel angry. Or sad. I felt amused. I stopped in front of one of the large vertical ads, and stared up at these woman who were probably about twice as tall as I was. And, I can’t recall the exact feeling now, but I remember finding it funny.

Since then, sometimes when I pass the ads, I still feel angry. I have tried to remember what it was I found so funny, and I don’t think it’s quite something I can put in words.

But. It had something to do with the pouty expressions, carefully engineered to completely hide the inner world of the models.

Once, when I was a child, my grandmother showed me a case with a beautiful ring in it. She took the ring out to show it to me, but I was more interested in the case. She let me play with the case, but when my brother saw me playing with it, he wanted to play with it too. I had seen ring cases on TV, and had realized that people valued them which was why I wanted to play with it, but I didn’t understand the ring inside was the valuable part. When my brother saw me with the ring case, he was tricked! He also assumed the case was the important part. We sat there fighting over the case, completely ignoring the ring.

Maybe the media is like a giant ring case shop, with huge, beautiful ring cases on display – more elaborate and more ornate than anything that has existed before, most of which you could never afford. And in the corner, there is a bucket full of beautiful diamond rings that you pick up to go in your case.

You enter the shop, and go over the the bucket of diamonds rings in the corner. You spend a minute or two staring at them, then turn to the man who runs the shop and ask, “Can I have one of these?”

He laughs at you, in a condescending but indulgent way. “Sure,” he chuckles. “Help yourself to whatever you want.”

So you reach in and take a big fist full of diamond rings, and put them in your pocket. “Thanks!” you say, as you head out the door. And, he shakes his head with a bemused sort of pity. What type of fool are you, that would want a handful of rings without a good ring case to keep it in?

Goodbye

Apparently, there are 4 things you should say to someone you care about who is dying.

  • Please forgive me
  • I forgive you
  • Thank you
  • I love you

When it came to say goodbye to my grandfather, I forgot all of those except for one. I love you.

He is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s, and hardly ever talks. When I visited him six months prior, he didn’t know who I was. My mother asked him if he remembered me, but he said no. Still, when he looked at me – perhaps it was just wishful thinking – but I sensed some recognition. I look somewhat like his sister did when she was my age, so maybe he didn’t know it was *me* per se, but had a sense of my familiarity.

This time, he was bed bound and slept most of the days. Sometimes he seemed to know people were around, and sometimes his eyes drifted into an invisible distance. My father has already lost both his parents, and told me he thought my grandfather was nearing the end. “When they get this way, it’s usually a matter of weeks.” We were visiting from America, so this was probably the last time I would see him alive.

My final day there, I had a few minutes alone with him right before I left. He was awake and looking out the window, and I walked around to be in his sight. I couldn’t talk loudly, because I was on the verge of crying, so I bent over his bed to bring my face close to his, and put my hand on his.

“It’s time for me to go now,” I whispered.

“Oh, ok”

“I just wanted to tell you, that I love you very much, and I wish you the best with whatever comes next.” Then, I kissed him on the forehead.

He opened his mouth as if to respond, but no words came out. So, he looked right at me, and smiled. I think I smiled back, I’m not sure.

Then, his eyes drifted away again. I looked back at him one last time as I walked out the door – and that is probably the last image I will ever have of my grandpa. Laying in bed, blue eyes vacant as he stared at things I could not see. I hope those things were beautiful.