Category Archives: Random

Why Don’t You Smile?

Recently I had a conversation with a person whom I consider a good friend though we don’t typically see each other outside of the context of SCA events. When there the general camaraderie is such that we are all more relaxed and friendly with each other, but even so, there is a level of reservation that I keep with any number of people, and a select list of others who “get passed the walls” as it were.

You know how you can be having a perfectly ordinary conversation and all of the sudden you find yourself talking about something a little more “close to the vest” than you expected to find yourself discussing? Yeah, that happened. This person commented that they liked me but they never really understood why they liked me.

At least not until recently when they realized that more often than not they don’t see a smile on my face but they know that when they come and talk to me that they will get a smile out of me, and one that is genuine. So the question came up; “why don’t you smile?”

I’ve known inside myself most of my life why I don’t tend to smile all that much except around various people, but I never had to verbalize it to anyone before, so I struggled a bit to explain.

And then I got home and this was on my TV:

Now, I’m not going to say that I am nearly as hard assed as Sherlock Holmes or anything like that, but certain things he says in this scene rang true with me.

First, the simple acknowledgement of who and what he is. “I am not a nice man.” I don’t tend to think of myself as a nice man either. I am “acerbic” and cynical. I also have a sense of wonder and joy that I try to use to counter that. Not exactly a Holmesian trait but there you go.

Next, the acknowledgement that it is unlikely to every change. Yeah, I’m very set in my ways and although one of those ways is to try and embrace changes to make myself a better person I also realize that there are things that will probably always be out of my reach.

Then the acknowledgement that there will be fall out from the kind of person that he is. Yeah, I’ve said it all along that if I f*ck up I’ll do my best to accept responsibility for it and to try and make it right. Holmes has that ethic, we just have different sets of priorities for the things that we’ll take responsibility for.

All of this leads to the statement “I consider you to be exceptional. So I make an exceptional effort to accommodate you.”

Wow. What a powerful statement.

Again, I am not professing in any way to be as intense as Sherlock, but this phrase rang very strong with me and put all of these thoughts in to focus.

I am reserved until I am not. When I have let you in that is because I consider you “exceptional” and I am making that “exceptional effort” because I value you.

I have “resting bitchy face” or whatever you want to call it. I’ve been called out on it my whole life. As a kid I’ve gotten yelled at (and worse a time or two) for “giving looks” when all I was actually doing was sitting there thinking, even to the point of being utterly unaware of what was going on around me. My natural state is largely neutral and when I’m in neutral I often look blank, angry, or worse.

For me to show emotion does take an effort. For me to let you in does take an effort. If there is a smile on my face, if I am laughing with you, it’s because I am comfortable enough to be vulnerable, which in the end is what this is all about.

No, I am not as bad assed as Sherlock, but I can and do identify with what he is saying, and not saying in this speech. The implied compliment as well as the dire warning.

I wish this clip went for another few seconds because the next part is what lands the whole thing. Watson says to him “No one can continue to live with someone like that forever” (or words to that effect) and his response is “To thine ownself Watson….”

The Self Esteem Battle

So, I haven’t written in a while. There is a reason for that. Haven’t had an ounce of time. I started a new job which entails a fairly long commute (but it’s a good job and I like what I’m doing so you take the good with the bad), and of course the holiday season has been upon us. Like a plague.

However I haven’t forgotten you people out here who read me and I’ve been thinking about what to write lately.

So I recently got back in touch with a friend of mine from many years ago. A wonderful lady who had a strong impact on me growing up. And apparently I had a pretty significant impact on her as well, so fair is fair.

We were talking not to long ago and she mentioned that she felt she had self esteem issues. Hmmm. Well, honestly in today’s society that is not to uncommon a problem. We are continuously inundated with messages about our relative value, attractiveness, intelligence, etc etc etc. Our news media spends more time focusing on the so called “beautiful people” than it does on the real issues of our day. Everywhere we look we are shown how someone else is more popular, more successful, more whatever, and so we mostly have a constant state of inferiority going.

Except for me.

Okay, so that is utter BS of course, but there are times when I am genuinely surprised by how often I am told by other people that I always seem to “have my shit together” as it were.

“You’re so smart.” “You’re so aware.” “You’re always in control of yourself.”

Uh, no.

Okay, I’m a pretty smart guy. But I know tons of people who are just as smart or smarter than I am. I also know a ton of people who are dumb as rocks.

I’m aware because I’m always watching out for the next thing that is going to come along and bite me in the ass. I’m in control of myself because I’m absolutely terrified of looking and being scared. I’m even more terrified of losing control of myself because I know the terrible things in my head and how much I could hurt someone with them if I wasn’t careful.

And I’m scared. All the damn time. Why? What if I’m not good enough? What if I’m not successful, happy, ‘beautiful’, smart enough?

Ever since I can remember I have always been one of those people that has gravitated to the lost soul. Many of my friendships over the years started out as being the person who other people just opened up to, or being the person who saw a lost soul and actually took the time to ask “what’s wrong?”

I really don’t mind being this person. I like to help people. I like to listen to people. It makes me think that in my own small way I am helping to make the world a little better. (At one time I seriously considered going in to psychology and becoming a therapist.)

You know when you have one of those moments where the absolute perfect phrase comes out of your mouth, and it hits you so hard that just roll it around in your head for days? I had that happen. And the thing is, it’s not particularly profound on the surface. It may not even be particularly profound in it’s first few layers. But still I found it interesting enough to want to explore it.

Here it is: Self Esteem is not about who you are, it’s about who you want to be.

This is what got me thinking; I am not satisfied with me right now. I like who I want to be. That’s why I am always working on being a better me. The better me who is my goal is a moving target. Every time I make today’s me better, tomorrows me gets a boost. Tomorrows me raises the bar just a little bit.

It’s about the journey, not the destination.

However most people (myself included) tend to be stuck on who they are right at the moment. It’s a bit of a trap. When we take a blow to our self esteem, it’s a blow to who we are right now, not the person we are trying to be. The person we are right now isn’t good enough, whatever that means. But it’s the shield of who we want to be in the future that can be used to protect us, to support ourselves through the current onslaught.

You have to be able to recognize what is really happening. Is it really an attack on us or just someone else lashing out at us from their own insecurities. If it’s just someone lashing out then that’s their issue and we can shrug it off. If it’s a real issue for us then we need to understand the nature of it.

If it’s a real issue we have to understand that who we are today isn’t a finished product. Who we are today is simply the next step in our evolution. If we take responsibility for ourselves, for our evolution then who we are tomorrow won’t be the same person who took a hit to their self esteem today.

Confession time; I’ve taken a lot of hits to my self esteem recently. This time of year is hard on me for a lot of different reasons. And yes, my life is getting better. Finding a good job is a thing that goes a long way towards helping with that. Spending the coming year on several things for myself that I know make me happy will go a long way towards that as well.

I’ve already begun making plans. Not “resolutions”. Making plans.

Because who I am today is not who I want to be. Who I am tomorrow is going to be better because I am going to make it that way.

SCA Arts & Sciences

Last night while discussing my various projects with some friends one topic in particular came up I think needs sharing.  The idea of what the arts and sciences really are within the context of our SCA game.

For those of you who are reading my blog but don’t know what the SCA is simply think Renaissance Fair and you’ll be close enough to understand most of this.  The only other thing you need to know is that within the context of this game we have a group of people we call “Laurels” who are the artisans and scientists of our group, attempting to recreate and create (no that isn’t backwards actually) whatever they can from historical knowledge and forms.

When I look at the Laurels I wonder about how much of what we do is art and how much of what we do is science.  As a Laurel I was elevated to that rank by virtue of artistic skills.  Admittedly these were artistic skills which no one else at the time was engaged in, so the bright shiny newness of it was (and still is) of great reward and pride.  But it was still artistic skills.

As excited as I am by the things I’m looking into now with recreating the telescope and planning some of these models of ancient inventions I’ve begun to wonder more about the technical/scientific side of what we do or should be doing and encouraging.

One of my friends stated that I was on a more classical definition of arts and sciences with the idea of arts being the “knowledge” and sciences being the “practical”.  And certainly we’ve joked about some of the same kinds of things within our organizations such as the axe test.  You know, “hit with an axe.  If it’s destroyed it’s an art.  If it’s still there afterwards it’s a science.  Hence with a bottle of beer, the bottle is an art and the beer is a science.”

Amusing, but not really useful.

Of course within the context of our game it’s kind of hard to say “hey this guy understands geometry really well.  We should make him a Laurel!”  Our ranks would swell dramatically.  But how do we decide who and what is worth our time?  This question comes up pretty frequently in the context of whether or not a particular person has gained the appropriate amount of knowledge and/or skill to be considered individually.  But I don’t think we discuss the relative merits of art and science in and of themselves.

The above definition of “knowledge vs practical” seems, on its face, to be reasonable but on further consideration I’m not sure it works for us.  Or at least for me.

I tend to think that art has a practical side to it and that science can be elegant and therefore artistic.  The two intersect at what I think of as “the elegant solution.”  We all have had art projects that had some difficulty in being completed and were solved by an elegant solution.  And I think we’ve all had technical problems with a project that required an equally elegant solution before becoming overburdened by complex problem solving.

But in the context of our SCA game we really want to see something tangible.  So, while an understanding of geometry is certainly a solid scientific study, until it’s applied to something practical I’m not sure it’s going to be Laurel worthy.  Though I’ll concede, and even support, a pure research Laurel if they have truly delved into an area and brought some new understanding to it.

There is, however, a very visceral satisfaction in the application of science.  I have long stood out in the dark at night and looked to the sky for its beauty and inspiration.  But put a telescope in my hands and suddenly I am not just inspired by beauty but I am also driven by curiosity.  And let that telescope be created by my own hands (even if just from a kit) and my curiosity isn’t just inspired, it is magnified (pun only slightly intended).

My goals are expanded by the fact that I am as equally inspired by the beauty of the stars as I am by the elegance of the tools.  Galileo’s telescope is literally little more than a couple of nested tubes and a pair of lenses.  With such humble tools he made discoveries that changed the way everyone looked at the night sky and the world around them.

That is science to me.  The inspiration to craft the tools and to solve the mysteries.  The need to know.  The curiosity to create.

How do we look at that kind of thing within the context of our SCA game?

Sure, we have people who faithfully recreate garments from portraits or portraits from pigments.  We cook food from recipes which say little more than “throw these things together in a pot and cook it till it be enough” but we turn out feasts!  These things required research, theorizing, testing and ultimately the application of skills and knowledge to craft an end product.

But we call that “art.”  Or sometimes we call that “art & science.”

Other than a pure research Laurel I can think of no one in our game that has been elevated to the rank of Laurel who got there for “science.”  (If any of my friends know of someone please tell me.)

So I wonder, what will it take?  What will we need to see from someone in order to say that this person is recreating a medieval scientist?

I’m sure that I’ve wandered into strange waters here.  But if you’re out there and reading this my fellow SCA members, I’d certainly like to know what you think.

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