This may be one of the strangest post requests ever requested, but shoot: I’d like to see you write about your proclivity to close your eyes while talking. For some reason, that stood out to me while watching the video.
There are a number of subquestions that interest me:
Why do you do it?
What causes you to do it and what does it do for you?
How aware are you of doing it?
What do you think others think of it?
I don’t mean to imply that this is in any way a strange behavior, and I hope you are not insecure about it. If anything is strange, it is my interest in these questions.
This didn’t seem at first like it would open a can of worms, but hoo boy does it. Years of practice have geared me to explain this in terms of the sheer degree of focus and reflection I feel everything anyone says to me deserves — and even the interviewer who conducted the interview to which Justin refers asked directly about this habit of mine and framed it in just those terms — but I can equally and oppositely explain it by admitting that my social skills are teh suck.
Okay, maybe I just fear that my social skills are teh suck, but flip open a textbook on autism-spectrum disorders and see if it doesn’t call out a habitual failure to make and maintain eye contact as one of the redder, wavier flags. I hold up a little better at age 26, but as a kid I couldn’t talk or listen to somebody while looking straight at them without chanting the internal equivalent of “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit” and thereby losing my train of thought and ability to respond coherently. I do genuinely want to give peoples’ questions due attention and consideration, but figuring out I could exaggerate the physical element of that and not have to look at people made for a useful trick indeed. For a while.
But that only covers one artifact of the childhood I inexplicably spent hammering “IF OTHER PERSON, THEN AVOID” into my personality’s source code. If I burnt vast swathes of my sixth year of life hiding in my bedroom with Parsec, I burnt vast swathes of my first year of college hiding in my dorm room with DVDs of Paul Thomas Anderson movies. Because that, my friends, is what you move 1200 miles to UC Santa Barbara to do: close the door and hope desperately that nobody invites you to something that might interrupt your Boogie Nights commentary track, while at the same time hoping desperately that somebody invites you to something that might interrupt your Boogie Nights commentary track.
I don’t know who to blame for this, but oh man, am I pointing my finger wildly. The habit of swerving wildly around possible human contact has a way of persisting on a deep, reptilian neurological level, even though I haven’t actually wanted to avoid people for a long time, where “wanted” refers to a function somewhere in the part of my higher consciousness that, I don’t know, reads a lot of László Krasznahorkai. Or seriously intends to. By myself. Alone. In a room. O LORD MAKE IT STOP
Bizarrely, and unlike a great many young people with hundreds of read books logged to my name, I didn’t endure a childhood filled with savage mockery. I can’t even recall a single instance of mild, garden-variety, they’re-just-doing-it-because-they-want-a-rise-out-of-you taunting, despite my habit of — shockingly — carrying both tabletop role-playing game rulebooks and photobooks of the world’s various domestic cat breeds. To school. There I sat in the dining commons, practically demanding an atomic wedgie, and nothing — although this policy of voluntary autism might’ve prevented me from noticing if day ever came.
“I’m afraid your child is deeply autistic,” says a grown-up’s voice bubble from off the panel in one of Matt Groening’s Life is Hell comics, compendia of which I liked to shove in my backpack alongside Ninjas & Superspies and The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Cats. “Me,” thinks the surreptitiously listening youngster in the panel’s center, “artistic?” This has since become my go-to term for those who display the same residual behaviors I so despise and futilely seek to eradicate in myself. “Man, was that artistic,” I’ll think to myself after spending half an hour instinctively spending forty minutes looking for an answer to a question on blessedly unjudging Google that I could’ve settled in a simple thirty-second phone call to a living being. Madelaine favors a certain kind of paper called Artistico, long logo-emblazoned boxes of which stand in the corner of our apartment. “Ugh, what an artistico,” I’ll hatefully mutter to myself after my more flamboyant acts of social self-sabotage.
Anyway, to answer Justin’s questions, I’ll clamp my peepers tight (just kidding! This is the internet, where it’s safe) and say:
Why do you do it? Impulse
What causes you to do it and what does it do for you? The atavistic impulse to hide, and it delays an immediate freakout now while bolstering the greater, more existential freakout going on even now
How aware are you of doing it? I know it’s an impulse, but I do feel myself doing it every time, which adds another tricky loop of meta-ness to deal with while I’m trying to talk
What do you think others think of it? “I definitely shouldn’t give this guy any money”
Instead of writing about my personal history, I should have just posted Socially Awkward Penguins: