I'm a shut-in. This is my story.
For five years I have been a recluse. I don't leave the house for months at a time 1. I venture out into the world only when it is necessary to maintain my isolation. I'm not agoraphobic, I'm not depressed, and I'm not insane 2. I simply don't socialize.
There are a lot of names for people like me. We are called shut-ins, hermits, recluses and so on. These words mean different things depending on what media you have been exposed to. To some, a hermit is a monastic human living high in the Himalayas connecting with his inner self through meditation and isolation. Some picture a crazy, bearded, old fellow, cooking up whiskey deep in the Appalachian wilderness. Some picture a Howard Hughes type, they imagine man that harvests his fignernails and wears tinfoil hats to keep the aliens out.
Preconceptions are a difficult thing to overcome. The meanings we assume of words are our biggest obstacle to communication. Instead of fighting an uphill battle against meanings, let us leave the words we know behind and introduce a new one.
Hikikomori is a Japanese word which means "pulling inward". It has been used as a label to describe an emerging phenomenon in Japan, that of adolescents withdrawing from the world. We aren't going to stick to any hard definitions of hikikimori. Instead, we are going to use it only as a convenient placeholder to refer to a spectrum of individuals similar to, but not necessarily, like me.
The label will be used as a tool in uncovering meaning, it wont be the meaning; meaning is not a label. Set aside any biases, hold back any prejudices and save judgment for later. We can always figure out how to flame me later. Complimentary rocks and pitchforks will be provided next to the comment section.
You don't just get up one day and say "Fuck it, people suck. I'm not going out anymore". It's not that you cant do that, believe me, there are people that can and do, it's just that the world wont let you. If you just quit the world immediately, without any warning, then the world freaks out; a million text messages will be sent, cops will be called to check on you, interventions will be held, walruses will be dispatched on rescue scooters. Well not that last one, but I have to keep you, the reader, on your toes.
In the aftermath of emotional implosion; friends, family, colleagues and even strangers will metamorph into an invasive species from planet Concern.
Want me to come over?
Is there anything I can do?
Just let me know man.
We are here for you.
Remember we are all in this together.
Parents will interrogate you about your vitamin intake and whether you are getting enough exercise.
You know Uncle Mike swears by the root of the igaawoo tree. Have you looked into it? They have some of it at that shop... Hmm, what is the name of it again? It's right next to the subway.
MIKE! Which subway is the igaawoo tree on?
What are you talking about?
You know that root thingy? The store you get it from?
Uncle Mike (laughing):
Honey, I was joking. That was Marijuana.
(awkward 15.345 seconds of silence)
Have you tried vitAH-men C?
You'll be smothered by so much attention and help that eventually you might actually want to kill yourself 3.
I have never emotionally imploded but I imagine it's much like a Californication episode or one of those coming of age novels where the depressed protagonist loves that girl but that girl doesn't love him so he like is all sad about unrequited love so he gets really down and does something stupid like take a lot of pills and try to ride his bike 4 and then through a series of unlikely events he meets this manic pixie dream girl let's call her Sam and she is like all kinds of adorkable and she has them anime eyes and she has this friend Garry that is a little bit Autistic and he thinks the whole world is actually just a run-on story on a collision course with a period and if they don't act exactly like the teenager writing style trope they will all die and the protagonist is taught how to live and falls in love and they.
The point is that you cant just up and quit the world. To leave the world completely one has to cut ties slowly and steadily. You have to tug, warp, twist and tear at your connections until they're stressed enough to break. It takes systematic and conscious effort to leave the world.
It takes a "special" type of person to be willing to be push everything and everyone away until nothing is left. To understand how I became such a "special" person, we have to start at my beginning. This is the story of how I faded from the world.
- There are occasions when I have needed to leave the house in rapid succession, but averaging things out over a year, I tend to get out about 8-12 times a year. There have been years when I have gone 5-6 months without leaving the house even once.
- Clinically, my behavior would be defined as a "personality disorder". Medically speaking, insanity can be defined as something that violates social norms, which is loosely the definition of a personality disorder. However, in everyday usage "insanity" typically refers to "psychotic" behaviors. Please don't get caught up in the semantics though; language is about communication, not semantics.
- Over concerned humans must cause at least some percentage of suicides. Someone needs to compile the stats and do a TED talk stat.
- A very dangerous activity. Do not drink and bike!
- On a serious note I'd like to briefly state that this is a positive aspect of society. I'm in no way advocating you leave depressed people alone, just that you give them gentle space and not smother them. But don't take my word for it, ask depressed people how they feel.
Labeled and processed.
Humans abhor things without labels. It's in our nature to label anything new we encounter. If we cant label it, then we ignore it. If that fails, then we get rid of it or kill it. When I was born humanity already had labels ready for me.
I entered the world on June 15th, 1990 at sometime in the afternoon. I cant remember exactly when, but I imagine it was at convenient moment for all involved. I have always been very tuned to the needs of others and surely would have arrived at a prearranged time. My name would be Kenneth Luke Erickson. I'd be male. I'd like blue. I would be a Gemini. I would be Christian. They'd chop off some of my penis so I'd never forget that last one 1.
My first name meant I'd be ruggedly handsome and one day like riding horses and impressing ladies by showing off my manliness in rituals of masculinity; if my mom only knew what the name Kenny would come to represent for my generation. Throughout my childhood the southpark comparisons were endless. I liked hoodies okay. The name would eventually start to be associated with effeminate gay men. Funny how names do that, they're like a pendulum, one generation a name cane mean masculinity, and the next not. The Jason's being born today better watch out. In ten years when people think of Jason they might not think Jason Statham and Jason Bourne but rather Drag Queen Jason.
My middle name gave me all the attributes of my Grandfather. I'd be French Canadian. I'd have an addictive personality. I'd be introverted and obsessive. I'd be just like him.
My last name meant I was 25% Norwegian and my fathers son, which meant nothing. My father was a deadbeat, a drug addict, a loser, I'd be nothing like him. I'd look a lot like him, but I'd be nothing like him.
Barely thirty seconds old and already I was so much! It wasn't long before they added more labels. I was a quiet baby. I was chubby. I walked and talked at a normal age.
As my capabilities developed, so too would the ability of others to label me. I had no idea how much trouble I'd have fitting into my labels, of course if I did, I surely would have been labeled a "freak" and been whisked away to train with a bald guy in a wheelchair. Funny how one thing could have changed my life path so much. My life could have been so different. Us freaks are all one bald guy in a wheelchair away from our true destiny.
- What is it with humans and genital mutilation? I really think we do it just out of jealously. "No fucking way is this kid going to have his entire penis when I don't." The cycle starts when some crazy dude chops off some other dude's foreskin, because hell, sometime you know you just wanna cut some foreskin, and from there, jealously takes care of the rest. It only takes one crazy dick to cause dicks for generations to be forever mutilated, The Butterfly Dick Effect.
My earliest memories are fuzzy. They are not cognitive like my other memories. They come in flashes of emotions, sensations and visual images. They blur together and I often have trouble distinguishing between what really happened and what my brain has inserted to fill in the blanks.
My early years are not something my mom talks about much, I guess it's too painful. I have zero contact with my Father's side of the family; so what little I know about my early years are fragments gleaned from memories and from my Mom. What I do know is that I was a very quiet baby. So quiet in fact, that my Mom once made me cry to determine if I was even capable of crying.
I do remember that I had a rich imaginative life and liked being the center of attention. My mom ran a large daycare and I spent a lot of time being the clown.
Most of my memories from this time period are from my Grandmother's house. I loved her house, not because I was particularly fond of her (although she did bake excellent cookies) but because she had a pool, and I absolutely loved the water 1.
Most of my thoughts from this time period were spent reflecting on the next time I'd get to swim. I was apparently quite fearless around water and had to be watched carefully. Around water, if I was left unattended, for even a moment, I'd go jumping into the deep-end.
Water was a sensory escape from a world I found overwhelming. Underwater everything was dampened. Underwater the world was quiet, calm, predictable, and above all, free of hostile human voices. When I was underwater, for a brief moment, I could have no worries, no cares and no concerns. Underwater I just was. I'd let the water overtake my senses and I would fade away into my mind. To this day, I cant survive mentally without a daily shower. Although I have since learned to replicate the quiet of showers with the power of headphones.
I have never known my Dad. My mom left him when I was four. They were both drug users and to escape the drug usage my mom left him. I have only blurry memories of him. None of my memories of him are positive. I imagine this is not because he was a particularly bad person it's just that only the strong memories stick in a four years old mind.
I remember being terrified to go on visits with him. I remember being so terrified at the prospect of a visit that I would wet myself. I don't know if my fear was due to psychological issues or if he was dangerously violent. I don't remember ever being hit by him but I do remember him hitting a lot of things. My impression has been confirmed by my mom. She has said that he was the type of man that was violent against things not people.
My only real insights into my Father have been gleamed through other family members and my brief visit with him eleven years ago. I prefer not to speculate further on the attributes of a man I have never known, so I'll leave off my discussion of him here.
All in all, I imagine it was very a good thing that my mom left him and went to live with my Grandfather, which brings me to the next chapter of my life.
I guess I'm kinda different.
When I was four my mom relocated us to live with my Grandfather. My Grandfather was retired and spent most of his time traveling around the country in a VW Camper. His home base, the place where we would live, was a cabin in Idyllwild CA, a small town nestled in the mountains above Palm Springs.
It was quite a drastic change from the chaos riddled life I was used to. Instead of a zillion daycare kids around it was just me and my mom all day. There were no arguments, no fights and no worries about visitation. I felt safe and secure. Plus, the first four years of my life had been way too noisy, I needed some quiet. I have a lot of memories from this period of my life, all of them positive.
Moving to the cabin afforded me a lot of quiet time for expanding my imagination and exploring the nearby woods. The one on one attention from my mom (who was struggling to leave drugs behind and thus not working) is likely the basis of much of my cognitive development. We spent most of the day playing a variety of games and reading.
I don't know if I have always had a visual memory but my first memories of using it are from around this time. My favorite genre of games were memory games, more specifically, matching games. Y'know, the one were you flip over cards and remember their location. I became so adept at it that I could easily and consistently defeat adults.
The phenomena of, irritated adult wants a rematch repeated itself throughout my childhood. Unbeknown to them, I was so addicted that I'd often lose or win by a slight margin to goat them into a rematch. Even then, I was able to make up for my social disabilities by a keen awareness of human psychology.
My naturally mnemonic memory has been a main driver in my approach to learning ever since. Although at times, I have used it as a crutch to avoid actually learning. It's surprisingly easy to fake your way through multiple choice tests.
For most of my early years I was aware that I didn't fit in but blissfully unaware why. I was weird and not the kind of weird that garners positive attention either. You know the type, they're the kids that say the darndest things. Everyone compliments those kids and showers them with attention. Those kids win friends and influence adults. They go on to be full of themselves, incapable of growth and afraid of failure.
I pushed kids away and adult saw me as someone that needed help. Not only did the other kids dislike me because I was strange, but then their parents would force them to say hello to me. Believe me, forced hellos are enough to make any kid into a sociopath. I just wasn't very good at accumulating friends or unlocking achievements.
Sometime in 95 my Grandfather, Mom and I undertook an epic eight month road trip. I indulged my curiosity, developed a love of camping, hiking and the wilderness 1. It was during this trip that I had my encounter with an insight lacking mine tour guide.
"Does anyone have any questions?"
"How did they get all those lights down here?"
Everyone promptly burst out laughing at the adorable five year old. I was crushed. Not only did these humans find my question laughable but more importantly, no one bothered answering me. Wasn't this a perfectly normal question? Was it not worth responding to?
What kind of unqualified tour guide was this? Shouldn't he know something as fundamental as lighting of the cave? He works here every weekend and he has never bothered asking about the lights? Wait, why are they laughing? Is the tour guide doing one of his impressions again? Cant he take his job seriously!!?
I now know there was nothing sinister going on. Laugher is a typical reaction to autistic type questions, normal humans don't care about light bulbs. How many humans does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: no one gives a fuck.
For some reason, that perplexes me too this day, adults are unable to mirror 2 children. When faced with an intellectually developed child the monkey brain that establishes empathy fails to properly operate and malfunctions. These malfunctions come out as gibberish humans incorrectly refer to as baby talk. You know what baby talk is? It's a baby attempting to speak their native language. Your baby is trying to speak properly, maybe you should do the same.
Somewhere out there, there is a cognitively aware baby that feels relentlessly mocked by humans that think they're bonding with him or her. They'll realize something is wrong when he or she grows up to be a serial killer.
This was my first realization that something was different about me. At the time, this event destroyed a great deal of my willingness to ask questions. I carried this memory around with me like a battle scar on my hippocampus 3. This wouldn't be the only incident nor the most significant, but it is definitely my earliest.
All this is quiet strange, because I don't think anyone else has lost any sleep over my traumatizing memory, but I like to imagine someone did. I call him Jason.
Jason was just nineteen when it happened. He just stood by while a five year old was severely traumatized by an ignorant mine tour guide. It wasn't that he couldn't see what was happening, it was that he was too afraid to do anything. You see, Jason had been bullied in middle school by the merciless tour guide Dick. Dick himself, had been teased endlessly for his unfortunate first name and he in turn, took out that pain on Jason.
After that day, Jason was so traumatized that he went from being the star of the police academy to being such a disappointment that everyone was surprised he even made it on the force. I like to flash ten years into the future of Jason's life and imagine him then. His dreams are so haunted by my face that to sleep at night Jason has to take two Ambien. Even with the meds, there are still nights where he wakes up screaming and covered in sweat, my brown eyes gradually fading from his retinas.
Things never worked out for Jason. He lost his highschool sweetheart, a Portuguese skier, when she dumped him and eloped to LA with the Rock Star Tim Minchin. Eventually he recovered emotionally and settled down with Stacy, a cheerleader from his highschool. They got married when she was 18 and he was 21.
Stacy was hot but she was dumb as a doornail. Actually, she was dumber than a doornail, for doornails seemed quite capable of holding things level, something Stacy was incapable of. As a way of coping with his feelings of inadequacy and of course the haunting memories of my face, Jason would constantly remind Stacy of her stupidity. However, unknown to Jason, Stacy was not just dumb, but also vindictive, passive aggressive and most importantly, just a teeny bit psychotic.
Stacy had been slowly poisoning Jason with rat poison for the past three years. Although, for the first one and half years she had mistakenly been using rat feed instead of rat poison. The only side effect was that Jason had grown an extraordinary amount of hair; something researchers in a Texas pharma lab would independently discover years later and market as a cure for baldness. Ironically, one of the symptoms of prolonged rat poison consumption is hair loss. That irony would be lost on Jason as he would be dead, also bald, and one just cant enjoy irony while bald.
Eventually Stacy got the hang of it and successfully murdered Jason. It was slow and painful and Jason suffered chronic medical issues for years; and don't forget the chronic psychological issues from my haunting face. Fuck you Jason.
Now that I got that out of my system we can get back on track. Man this writing shit is emotionally difficult. I should take up drinking, move to Southern Idaho and develop paranoid theories about black op government organizations. Probably not though, because Southern Idaho is too much like Utah and paranoia is just so much work. I wonder if I could automate my paranoia or outsource it to an Indian.
It was on this trip that my Mom and Grandfather discovered the beauty that is Northern Idaho. My mom made plans to relocate with her fiance (now ex-husband) and I to North Idaho. A couple years later my Grandfather would follow. I was excited about the prospect of moving but also deeply concerned about leaving my Grandmother's pool behind. One needed to swim as often as possible or risk some sort of unknown serious medical issues or something.
- The irony of my love for the wild is not lost on me. I used to think that eventually I'd end up a hermit in Alaska. After my recent descent into isolation I have resolved to never let myself head down that road.
- Dustin Curtis summarizes what Monkey Thought Neuron is in an excellent post at http://www.dustincurtis.com/mirror_neuron.html
- A campus that memory attends. The most famous memory campus is cleverly named "Total Recall". Every year memories from this college compete in building completely useless concrete canoes. Which they then race in an annual competition to demonstrate they contain as little brawn as they do brains. Proving yet again that tradition defeats rational memory.
- Stacy lived out her life happily as a lesbian. She is happily married to a recently divorced Portuguese skier.
Hey there Idaho.
I didn't attend kindergarten until I was six 1. My first day started with excitement and curiosity; but also much anxiety. I had many questions but few answers. Why do kids go to school? Cant I just learn this on my own? Why cant my mom go with me? Can I bring a doll 2 or stuffed animal? Will I have to talk to people?
Despite my worries, I still anticipated the day with excitement. When the time came, I ventured forth into the school with determination and I imagine much swagger. Then I ran out of the building screaming. I had to be forced to stay. I never was a difficult child, so the extent of said "force" was to walk me back inside. I stayed.
I had no idea how I was going to get through this five days a week. This unrelenting hell of noisy and stupid five year olds.
A is for Apple.
There is a picture of an Apple right there on the wall next to the "A". Surely we all know what an A looks like?
A is for igloo
A is for umm...
facepalm I thought, I'm six, I'm too old for this shit. Only with less french. At the time I knew a bit of french, but discovered that adults didn't allow children to speak french. I imagined this was due to some sort of secret privileges adults acquired by initiation rights run by Barney 3. All hail the Free Barney Masons!
Peace came a few hours later when the teacher finally became fed up with the children and escorted them outside, where I imagined they would be re-educated and learn to act like civilized educated humans. I thought, "thank god" finally this teacher realizes these children don't belong here. Now we can get some actual learning done.
I want to learn how they make those cubbies. I wonder, how do they get the plastic rods through the wood? It must take a particularly strong human. I mean, I cant even budge them. Do they have a specially designed human for this job? Doesn't look too hard. I bet with some proper training I could do it. I wondered if they would hire me.
Kenny, don't you want to go out and play?
I found this question absolutely silly. Outside was where the noisy kids just went. Why in the world would I follow them? Outside wasn't even limited to the children from this classroom, outside was populated by an undetermined number of classrooms. I mean, there must be like 100 kids out there, perhaps thousands. Yeah, no fucking way. If going outside to play was so enjoyable then why was she inside.
It was possible the other classrooms possessed quiet children and these children had become annoyed by our classrooms populace. Perhaps taking it upon themselves to murder our classroom and wipe the scourge of them from the face of the planet; but I wasn't taken any chances getting caught in the crossfire of an epic school battleground. If Saturday morning cartoons had taught me anything it was that schoolground battles could quickly get out of hand. No way was I going out there.
She informed me that during recess all the kids went out to play. I informed her that this was nice and that this was exactly why I was staying inside.
"Kenny, I think you'd like playing outside."
I thought, I can do this... I can kick her in the shin. I'll tell her "if it's so nice outside then she should play outside". That will put her in her place. And while I'm at it I'll demand SNACKS and that NO ONE be allowed within two feet of my personal space or they will be thrown into a Mortal Kombat arena where they will fight to the death. Come on Kenny, stand up for yourself!
Just imagine you are Kevin Sorbo and she is that evil triple headed dragon. Don't look her in the eyes! That is how she turns you to stone! Close your eyes and just go for it!
I went outside. Every recess for the rest of the year I went outside.
I spent the next school year avoiding my one school "friend", a hyperactive kid that managed to injure himself for my entertainment at least twice. I'd like to think he went on to star on some MTV show and made millions injuring himself. Most likely though, he ended up working at MCDonalds and every Friday he gets drunk and drag races his idiot friend Stan.
All through that schoolyear I became thoroughly aware that I was different. My mom did too. That would be the last and only year I attended a public school. I was homeschooled until highschool, at which point I enrolled in a distance education charter school.
- Not technically true as I had some homeschooling in CA; and given CA's strict homeschool laws this required some sort of monitoring. I have vague memories of going to a school and being completely uninterested in some teacher whose face I cant remember, except only enough to tell you that she was frightening plain. The kinda of bland face you expect to find in a Peanuts cartoon. She had a vague replica of a human face, endless and thoughtless, yet still, somehow there. It was like she was an Android or a body snatched human.
- At the time I had no idea that this was one of the reasons for my rejection by society. I dropped the dolls fairly quickly when I realized they were a girl thing. No one had properly informed me of these things. Thanks mom.
- No, I'm not joking. I seriously believed that adults were members of a secret society and that Barney was somehow involved. The privileges included but were not limited to complete access to come and go from the north pole. I had plans to somehow convince Barney I could be a leader in their society due to my intelligence. For many years I had a speech prepared in case of a chance encounter with Barney. I could convince him I was worthy damnit. When a kid informed me that Barney was a girl it only served to re-inforce my belief in the conspiracy.
The only thing I remember being interested in before the age of nine was swimming and my imagination. I didn't read much, but I loved staring off into space and imagining stories. I loved making up stories about space, warrior races, super powered saiyans, or the wall. Everything was alive and everything had a story.
I had an elaborate and detailed fantasy world that I obsessed over. Every time I mastered a new skill it would be incorporated into my fantasy world for me to practice out 1. I mastered social skills like jesting, joke telling and laughing at the weird kid. I mastered martial arts like kicking, hitting, kicking and the always useful Kamehameha. Quick try to say Kamehameha ten times really fast. There was no point to that, only to make you feel silly. Embrace the silliness!
In my world, I was a benevolent dictator that was loved and admired by all. Always the underdog, my success was rarely anticipated and this made it all that more impressive. Idealist, but when backed against a wall I was pragmatic.
I had a elite team of followers whose skills were only exceeded by my own. I called my elite squad Jack, Jessie and Joey. They were named that way not because of a lack of creativity on my part but because the name of your sidekicks should always rhyme; they should feel as one. If minions feel they have separate identities, a revolt is not just possible, but plausible.
It was during my ninth year that I begin to replace my fantasy world with online gaming. I discovered the Microsoft Gaming zone and begin playing chess and checkers obsessively. I was good for my age at all the games I tried but it was checkers that drew my interest.
Checkers has a strange community. A few factors have caused this; it's got too many variants, there is no money in it, the number of players is small 2, and it has a major lack of respect. All these factors combine to create quite the eclectic community 3.
I began to notice two things about checkers that intrigued me;
This wasn't a simple game. I was continually wiped off the board by players stronger than me. What was this? Can't chickens master checkers? Why was chess so much easier when the rules were so much harder 4? Had I been lied to again? Was this another thing society told me that was utterly wrong?
The champions were playing in the same place as me. In chess, the champions were unreachable, they were mysterious enigmas I could only read about. In checkers, I could talk to the World Champion. This both fascinated me and encouraged me to take up the game.
The final catalyst was the fact I lived near a chess senior international master and strong checkers player, Richard Callaghan. Rick was a retired lawyer, former world class correspondence chess player and Virginia state chess champion.
Meeting Rick was the strangest stroke of luck I have ever experienced. I can only imagine how different my life would have been had we never met. At the time, there was only around 150 rated chess players in all of Idaho and he was the only rated checker player in the entire PNW. I was 30 miles from the only chess IM in my entire state! The closest other chess masters lived all the way in Seattle. Rick encouraged me to take up checkers instead of chess and my checkers journey had begun. 5
Confession time. I have never told anyone this, but I still practice social skills in my fantasy world. Chances are if I ever meet you we have already had at least five interactions in my head. I have worked out all your traits, weaknesses, and communication styles.
If I really fear your social skills or your martial arts, then we have had at least 31 battles. Why 31? We battled the agreed upon 30 times but because you're a sore loser we had to have one more battle. Grow up man, it's just a fictional battle in my head.
- It has been that way since it's drastic decline in the 30's when chess gradually became the dominant American board game.
- Checkout the trailer for King Me at http://vimeo.com/36505480. In two minutes your preconceptions about the game will be shattered.
Ignorance persists so heavily around checkers that I feel I have to briefly address it.
Hell, it's quite possible you think I'm joking. I assure you I am not. Checkers has masters and grandmasters just like chess. Checkers players dedicate significant portions of their lives to it just like chess. All popular checkers variants are well beyond the range of complete understanding by a human.
Checkers and chess have very different learning curves, produced by the very different qualities they have as games. I'm not going to do a lengthy analysis of the games but I feel it's worth briefly addressing some common ignorance about them.
It is counterintuitive but too get good at checkers is way harder than chess. This is due to the "critical" nature of the game, one wrong move and it's all over. You cant reposition a piece, there is no backwards. You only have one type of piece.
To the ignorant, these qualities of checkers seem like they make the game simple, they really just serve make the make the game brutal. In checkers, masters mop the floor with weak amateurs. In chess, weak amateurs routinely go up against masters and even occasionally win.
Chess lacks criticalness, which makes it much easier to play well. In chess you can conduct yourself on general principles and get by quite well. Checkers is a game of calculation and brute pattern recognition, chess is a game of principles. There is a famous chess quote that say "chess is 99% tactics", this is literally true in checkers. Once you get the hang of learning checkers the learning curve becomes a matter of relentless training.
In contrast to checkers, learning chess is not linear. It is a very rich game and requires a lot of refocusing. Getting good at chess is relatively easy but moving beyond that requires a study regimen that scarcely resembles checkers.
Neither game can be said to be more difficult, they're just very different games. If checkers was a sport it would be sprinting and chess would be the biathlon. Both take equal amounts of training, but one has a much clearer path to mastery. After I got good at chess I seemingly hit every pitfall possible, but that is another story.
Rick would become one of the most important people in my life. He and my Grandfather were the only father figures I had growing up. Rick would profoundly influence my approach to learning and to life. He never judged, always encouraged, and most importantly was a role model for humility.
My only regret is that after becoming a shut-in I lost contact with him and didn't get a chance to say good bye. He died in Feb 2010, only a month after my Grandfather's passing. At the time, I hadn't spoken to him in three years. I was embarrassed to contact him and admit my life had gone nowhere in years. I avoided him and continually planned to re-initiate contact when success found me, success never found me and I never did re-initiate contact. I'm sorry Rick.
Connection on 64 squares
Checkers and chess for me weren't escapes, they were ways of connecting. On 64 squares I was king! There were no arbitrary socially invented ways of playing chess or checkers, everyone played by the same rules. I wouldn't get in trouble for breaking convention, in fact, any deviation from norms was celebrated as creativity. The only moves that mattered were good ones. On the board I could communicate! On the board I could be aggressive. On the board I didn't have to hide. On the board I was myself.
Checkers and chess were the only worlds that never rejected me. I was measured not by my oddities but my solely on my ability. At chess tournaments I was social, funny (sorta), outgoing (sorta) and confident. It was my element.
In 2002 I went down to Las Vegas for the National Checkers Championship, chaperoned only by my 72 year old Grandfather 1. I had played the previous year and did rather poorly, but was confident that this would be my year.
Without the prying eyes of a mom that expected me to act a certain way I was able to be myself. I was social and let my curious nature take hold. I asked strange questions of checker players. I ate subway every day and learned to converse with security guards and tourists. I laughed and joked and stayed up until all hours watching and playing games. Hell, I even said hello to drag queens in the elevator 2. Mild social interactions for most, but for me, they were very significant.
Despite some psychological implosions in key rounds I was managed to take 7th place in the minors division. This is the equivalent of a 7th place finish in an under 2200 division of a chess tournament open. For a 12 year old it was not a bad result at all, but was far below my expectations. I was seriously disheartened and demoralized.
Mid tournament (while just trailing first) I lost a key round against a fellow junior that intentionally harassed me until I lost. It took me awhile to recover and it honestly ruined my tournament. Psychological implosions would later plague my entire chess career.
When I returned home, the financial state of the family had deteriorated (due to divorce) and I knew that would be my last checkers tournament. Tragic, at the time I was progressing at a phenomenal rate and would have likely became a world class player. Shortly after my 14th birthday I would challenge for the World Suicide Checkers Championship against the World Straight checkers Correspondence Champion 3. As far as I know, this makes me the youngest world championship challenger in any variant of any board game ever. I would lose the 12 game match 3 1/2 to 6 1/2.
I knew that I was going to have to take up something else if I was going to get to play OTB (over the board) again. I had played chess off and on but started to take it very seriously. Despite my best efforts, I never became more than a strong junior at chess OTB. Although, my results online were quite good. Psychological implosions plagued my tournament results and I never got a handle on them. Some scholastic players nicknamed me the "draw king" for my uncanny ability to turn won positions into draws.
Despite my inability to play to my best I was able to win many scholastic tournaments in Eastern Washington. This gave me just enough confidence to continue playing through much of highschool. All the while, delusionally hoping that one day I'd play just like I did online (I averaged a 2000+ ICC rating).
Unfortunately, I lived 50 miles form any chess area and was never able to play enough to develop a comfortableness playing over the board. At sixteen, as my rating relative to my age (1600 USCF) became increasingly average, I quit in disgust. I have not played a tournament of any board game since 2007.
My mom was never too concerned about my ability to handle myself in the world. By the time I was eleven my intellectual and emotional intelligence was comparable to a young adult. Although I have always been odd, I have never had issues detecting the emotions of others and I have a keen awareness of my surroundings.
I likely could have attended college by fourteen if I had academically applied myself. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it), formal academics always bored me and I despised a system that wanted me to jump through endless hoops to prove myself, I'd rather spend that time actually learning. There was a brief time near the end of highschool graduation where I regretted my lack of focus on academics but today I'm glad I didn't bother. Somehow I graduated with a 3.9 GPA despite not giving a shit. If it wasn't for distance education, which meant little need to prove myself I probably would have been a highschool dropout.
- At the time I had never encountered a drag queen in my life. I was homeschooled kid from North Idaho, so my exposure to the world had been severely limited. I only vaguely knew what a drag queen was. After conversing with them I was afraid I had sinned. Thanks religion.
- Results from my match can be seen in the web archive http://web.archive.org/web/20070808144518/http://draffts.com/isca/news.html
- My checkers results can be found under the name "Kenny Hunt". http://www.usacheckers.com/nats2001.php and http://www.usacheckers.com/nats2002.php At the time I was going by my Step Dad's last name.
Never show what you love
Bullying for the neurologically different can be much harsher. It's not that bullies are intentionally meaner to us, it's that they don't understand the greater impact their actions can have. They don't understand how some "harmless fun" can be torture for us. Most bullying is not done by monsters. Most bullying is done by normal humans that don't perceive the extent of what they're doing. 1
Play keep away with a normal persons hat and you're just taking their hat. Play keep away with an Autistic persons hat and it's possible that it's his best friend named "Charlie". It's highly unlikely that Charlie enjoys flying at highspeeds through the air into greasy hands. You're not playing keep away with a hat, you are tossing around and abusing his best friend. It takes a damaged monster to play keep away with someone's dog or their younger sibling, but most will think nothing of playing keep away with the weird kids hat.
My tendency to bond with inanimate things was a catalyst for my fear of sharing what I loved. My life was riddled with incidences of people playing keep away with my hat or taking my stuff, stuff that had names, identities and feelings. Fortunately, my social interactions were always in groups with heavy adult supervision and bullying was never too severe.
Bullying didn't become an issue until around 12-13, the age when males start to feel the need to assert their dominance and coaches see bullying as normal behavior. Fortunately, I was big enough and smart enough (one must know what buttons to push) to scare the living shit out of those that physically bullied me. However, my ability to scare bullies off from escalating into physical bullying, did not lessen the impact of the emotional bullying. The harassment for being the weird kid and the pressure from coaches/teammates to play at my perceived level (I was quite good but also didn't give a shit about winning) simply got to be too much and I gradually quit all sports.
My most prized possessions until around thirteen were my checkers books. They were old (some dating to 19th century) and I loved the texture and feeling. They had been through the hands of countless players and contained many scribbbled notes. My collection was carefully acquired by saving allowance money, collecting change, and those given to me by generous players.
My checkers obsession during the spring of my 11th year had become quite extreme. I studied perhaps 8-9 hours a day and had few other interests; swimming, reading science books, ok so I guess I only had a couple other interests. I had completely shirked any attempt by my mother to get me to do schoolwork. Nothing she tried would pull me away from my precious checkers. I imagine her frustration had been building for quite sometime and it was inevitable that I was going to face her wrath.
I was always been quite difficult 2 to discipline. I had/have no non-productive interests and if the need arises I can occupy myself for a day or two by staring at a wall. You couldn't take away the normal things (video games, tv etc held no interest to me), you couldn't send me to my room 3; hell, you couldn't even reward me, because I liked nothing, besides the stuff I really really liked. My mom had few choices. In a rage she threw my entire collection of checker books out my window, severely damaging many books. I was beyond shocked, beyond devastated, and beyond hurt. This remains one of the worst actions ever committed against me. In my mind she might as well had burnt my room down.
I had bonded immensely with my books. To have them thrown out the window into the dirt was like watching one's pet get kicked repeatedly. I stood there in shock watching the dirt and dust settle upon my friends, my colleagues, my collaborators. Their scuffed pages were reminders of all the laughs and thoughts we shared. My god what had she done! It was not intended as emotional abuse but it certainly was. They know not what they do.
Learning to hide what you love and never outwardly show affection for things or people is a gradual thing, but this event definitely catapulted me towards a personality disorder. I gradually learned to never ever show what I liked for fear someone would destroy it.
Nowadays no one has any idea what my favorite possessions are. I have trained myself not too bond with the things I use continuously. It is very dangerous to bond with things that people see you use. I re-direct any of that tendency onto to other things and often express it through online identities 4.
- Unfortunately this renders many anti-bullying campaigns redundant for non NTs. Such campaigns are based on the idea of generating empathy but you cant make children feel empathy for those they cant understand. Bullying of those that are very different is always going to be a problem humanity will have. It's human nature to punish those that they cant understand.
- There is a persistent ignorance about homeschoolers lacking socialization, an assertion I find laughable. Homeschooling done properly, frees up more time and increases true socialization. I was involved in sports, chess, and a wide range of homeschooler organized activities. 90% of the homeschoolers I have ever encountered were as equally if not more involved in social activities.
- Fortunately I have always been very well behaved. I used to joke that I could stay alone in my room for years, it has ceased being funny. For those who know me online, now you know why I create so many novelty accounts.
I think I might be an Alien.
During my twelfth year I developed an intense interest in anomalous and fringe science. Books by the likes of Graham Hancock, Charles Fort, Charles Berlitz, Michael Cremo and Whitley Strieber were strung across my floor for months on end. I devoured every weird book I could get my hands on. If it was strange, chances are I had read it. It wasn't long before I discovered a popular conspiracy theory espousing the idea that Alien abductions were a breeding project.
At the time I was grappling with the realization that I wasn't Neurotypical.I had realized from a young age that my interests weren't mainstream but I had assumed that internally, everyone was similar to me, they just hadn't discovered the wonders of chess, checkers, life, the universe and everything.
To my horror I begin to discover that even those with similar interests weren't like me. A typical conversation would go like this:
You like science books!!?"
Which one did you read yesterday?
Yesterday? I like Carl Sagan. I've read Cosmos. A Brief History In Time is awesome!
How many books on science have you read?
Like dozens! I love the stuff!
Per week? I can barely get through 5 a week.
No. Like total.
I wrote most of these incidences off as the result of people that weren't truly interested in the subject. I mean, if you like something, then you spend every waking moment on it right? These humans were fakers and pretenders. I just had to find someone that was actually interested in what I was interested in and they'd be as equally obsessive. I gradually discovered that my obsessive special interests were not normal. Neurotypical people do not spend every waking moment studying the thing they love.
Gradually I begin to realize that I was a freak even among the freaks. I felt so alone and isolated. Where did I fit in? Where were the humans that were like me? Are there even any humans like me? What the fuck was I?
Believing I was an Alien was a natural conclusion for someone that continually failed to find a place to belong. Concluding I was an Alien was yet another way my identity as an outsider was re-inforced. No wonder I couldn't relate to humans, we weren't even the same damn species.
- It was only as I became more active on the internet that I discovered I wasn't alone, that I wasn't an Alien. Intriguingly, I'd discover that many fellow members of my sub-species also felt like they were Aliens at one time or another. It's a pretty typical feeling for non-NTs to feel alien. One of the largest forums for Aspies is called wrongplanet
Against the grain. Culture is a meme. Normal is a virus.
Being different sets you against the grain of the world and going against the world is very dangerous. When you push against culture, culture pushes back. Culture labels and isolates anything different, because anything different is a threat to the survival and propagation of normal. Culture only allows differences to exist in a quarantined safe zone.
Culture turns us into the sum of other people. We cease to have our own identities and become the labels given to us. You become a label whether you like it or not. You can deny the label all you want but society will treat you like the label anyway. You either accept the label you're given or learn to conform to a different one. A human without a label doesn't exist.
Culture makes certain that anything different is quickly picked out, labeled, processed and put into in it's proper place. When we think of bullying we tend to think of kids being physically or emotionally harassed. Most bullying isn't done by malicious individuals, it's done by the system. Most bullies are unaware that they are simply henchmen of culture; enforcing the definition of normal where ever different is found.
Where there is weird, they will appear. Have no fear, The Normals are here. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it hyperintelligent flying penguin? No, It's Captain Normal! And he just killed the person that suggested he looked like a "hyperintelligent flying penguin".
Being different means constant pressure from culture to conform. You cant avoid the pressure, you cant rebel against it, you cant rise up and punch it, and you certainly cant ignore it. Normal is everywhere.
It's inevitable that anyone different starts to feel isolated and rejected by the world. When you're constantly reminded that you don't fit in, you eventually give up on fitting in. I gradually gave up on trying to fit in and focused on pretending to fit in.
Fake by default.
For those that are different, labels are survival tools. The labels others give us become our easiest means to avoid hostility. You learn to pick and choose the right label to get the result you need. You cease to be you and become the sum of labels. Gradually you learn to turn off who you are and to become the labels you need to survive.
Don't like the way someone treats you? Play the jerk label. Need to extract yourself from a hostile situation? Play the psychopath label. Want to avoid going to a concert because loud noise overwhelms you? Play the social anxiety label.
It doesn't take long for labels to take over your way of expressing yourself. Falseness has a way of growing until the real you ceases to exist. You become nothing more than the sum of your current labels. You start being fake by default.
I was around eleven when my weirdness started to impact my ability to function in the world. My quirks were no longer being ignored by my peers. Around the age of eleven human children begin to take up their sacred duty of protecting normal from whatever may threaten it and I was an enormous threat to normal. I quickly became an enormous target.
I gradually learned to hide all my quirks; to never show my sensory issues 1, to never make strange noises, to never engage in strange behaviors and to speak in a proper human fashion using simple clear words. I had already been the type of person that constantly analyzed human behavior but now I made it a full time project. I learned all the tropes and psychological ways humans communicated. I studied psychology books by the ton. I spent hours watching and listening to stand up comedy. It wasn't long before I became a pretty decent pretender.
When you only to pretend to fit in it's difficult to connect and I gradually became incapable of keeping any close friends. When you're fake with someone all the time you don't bond with them and you cease to care 2 much about them, they in turn, cease to care about you. The last time I had a close friend I was twelve years old. Man that sounds sad when I write it out.
Around this time my Mom and my then Step-dad got divorced. Not only was I being socially rejected but my step-dad used me as an excuse for the divorce. I was angry and pissed off at the world for rejecting me. I knew there was nothing wrong with me and it made me angry that everywhere I turned I was told differently.
I was emotionally struggling and not a single person cared. I felt so alone and isolated. I felt rejected by everyone. My mom leaned on me for emotional support and responded to any of my cries for help by blaming herself and threatening suicide. I used my new found knowledge from psychology books to try to trace down the source of my problems. If no one else was going to help me then I would. I didn't need anyone.
I started to feel that my problems were due to a lack of communication. I don't express my emotions; I'll just start expressing them and it will all work out! Yeah, I can solve this thing, emotions are easy to fix! This is going to be so simple! I would just start communicating to the humans around me and once they understood me then they would be nice! It never occurred to me that mentally ill humans lack rationality. Mentally ill humans are well, mental. You cant expect the mentally ill to act rationally. I was so very stupid for thinking otherwise.
Over the years I would learn that most mentally ill humans are ridiculous and completely unpredictable. My expressions of my emotions resulted in my mom threatening suicide (because she "was a piece of shit". her words not mine). Kenny, the divorce is not your fault. Kenny, I'm going to kill myself if you don't shut up. To this day I keep things to myself when talking to my mom.
I ended up in counseling.
I was actually excited about the prospect of counseling. After some thought, I begin to warm to the idea. I didn't like the negative stigma of needing help, but I got over it when it occurred to me that no one would ever know. OMG I was finally going to have someone to rant to!
"Now Kenny everything you say in here is confidential. Except, your mom does have a right to my notes."
Well fuck, this is going to be about as useful to me as sun tanning lotion 3 is to a penguin. Now I just have 45 minutes of stressful fakery to look forward to every week. Thanks a lot for all the emotional help.
Does this guy have any idea how emotionally unstable my mom is? How much she will harass me if she finds out I have an emotional problem? Do you know how much she likes to snoop? She'll be getting the notes from this session the moment we leave. I said none of that out loud. If I had, I would have had to kill myself before the age of fourteen just to make the fallout stop.
My first technique was to try shutting off during counseling sessions. However, he became annoying and eventually he wanted responses from me. I played the shy closed off kid that didn't know how to express his emotions verbally. Which ironically, wasn't too far off from what I was.
I eventually learned not just to fake certain behavior but to completely turn myself off. I learned to shut the fuck up and be someone else. My new found abilities made me feel super human but they decreased my ability to connect with the world. Now, I wasn't even vaguely being myself, I was playing a completely different person. How could I connect to another human when it wasn't even me they were connecting with. I retreated further and further into myself. In my mind I was complete. In the world I was a fragment.
- Humans are real jerks when it comes to sensory issues. To this day, I'm very careful not to cringe or show facial expressions when a sound irritates me because you never know when someone will think it's funny. Physical abuse is easy to stop but you cant stop assholes from making annoying sounds.
- The key to closeness is realness. Who would have thought it.
- Not technically accurate. Ice is very good at reflecting sunlight and the atmosphere above Antarctica is pretty shit, so sunblock might actually be fairly useful for a penguin.
Fade from the world
In my teenage years I gradually went from socializing 2-5 times a week to only going out once a week, but that too would decline. By the time I was 16 I socialized only a few times a month. I was straining what few relationships I had to the brink. I had refused so many social interactions that people had stopped asking. I either had to come back to society or separate completely. I chose the latter. I was so fake to all my "friends" that I didn't even care about completely disconnecting from them.
I reasoned that I was only going to "go monk" for a year or two while I got a business off the ground and became successful. I was going to set the world on fire but that was going to take hard work. In my mind I was better then everyone else. I was more functional, more devoted, more capable and more motivated. I was above the weak humans that needed social interactions. All these other humans were wasting their lives on meaningless things while I was pursuing greatness.
Between the ages 16 and 18 I systematically destroyed my ties to the world. I quit everything. Although, there wasn't much too quit by this point. I stopped going places and stopped interacting with humans. I even quit chess and stopped going to chess tournaments. I decided not to get my driver's license and completely cut off myself from the world.
I didn't feel like I was failing at life. I felt like I was finally taken control of my life. In my mind I was being confident. I was telling the world to fuck off and let me be myself.
People are surprisingly easy to push away. All you have to do is refuse their offers to go out and eventually they stop asking. The hard part is the excuses. Fortunately, labels provided me a convenient out. People already expected me to refuse invites for weird reasons and thus my continued refusals surprised no one.
It didn't take long for me to unlock 100% isolation. By the time I was eighteen I was pretty much friendless and completely free of any social obligations. I felt free! I was going to set the world on fire!
I was eighteen and like every young, intelligent, idealist; I was gonna change the world. I was gonna launch a business. I was gonna make tons of money. I was gonna buy all the things. People would like my designs and I'd be in all the css galleries. People would be like, "man, this dude should do blog interviews"; but I'd be like "Dude, I don't believe in blog interviews". I'd have like this really deep reason why and people would be like "wow dude, I never realized interviews were so stupid.". But really, I'd just be too busy to answer emails.
I'd have Skype calls with my biz partners and we would spend the day sharing stupid meme images in basecamp. We'd read 37signals and discuss how to emulate their awesome. Then one day we get this new dude on from Britain and he wouldn't know how we worked so he'd feel all apprehensive. He'd feel stressed and have all the worries, but we would make him feel all relaxed by showing him how cool we were. Look dude, we share stupid meme images in basecamp, we are just normal dudes. All his worries would fade away and the British guy would become an integral part of our team.
One day we would get coverage on TechCrunch and everyone would be like:
My god how did that happen?
Theme companies are making how much!?
Holy shit! Congrats guys!
Don't forget the little people!
Stay small! Stay grounded!
Fuck. None of that happened. I was eighteen and I had destroyed my first business.
In Feb 2008 I launched a service called PSD2CMS; a PSD to Joomla, Drupal, WP/whatever theme service. It wasn't significantly successful but it was successful enough. I was the first into the game of what would become a sizable market. The theme marketplace was just starting to explode and there was a massive need for such a service. It was the natural iteration of the popular PSD 2 HTML services that existed at the time. It would have been a viable business if I hadn't completed messed it up.
The dream quickly fell apart as my complete lack of experience made a head-on collision with my complete lack of stress coping skills. I must have spent more time closing down the business than I did running it. By the time I had paid off freelancers and refunded angry clients, I had netted about $2500 over six months.
I was exhausted and I was disheartened at my failure but confident that it was a fluke caused by poor coding skills and a lack of experience. I thought, I'll study web-dev seriously for a year or two and then return to set the world on fire. I was so very wrong.
The last four years of my life have been a series of failures. I know what you're thinking, "failure is normal". Yeah, failure is normal, but what I do is more like failing to fail. I have yet to even get another business off the ground. My rationalization for a couple of years was that I "wasn't ready". I needed more experience! I needed more knowledge! In recent years I have had to get more creative with the lies I tell myself.
Everything goes great at first. Development is smooth, collaborators are excited. We are going to set the world on fire. Eventually the time comes to make the last push towards a launch. This is when it all goes horribly wrong. This is when my psychological issues take hold.
I become unable to take the pressure and start sabotage myself and the project. I always have a set of rationalizations at the ready. I was so busy with client work! So many things went wrong! We made terrible technology choices, we should have gone with tech instead of tech.
I have never intentionally derailed and destroyed my projects. I'm not sitting playing PS3 while the ashes of our ambitions fall around me, it's much more subtle than that. I'm startup mindset incapable. I cant gravitate from one mode to another. I cant pivot from developer to marketer and back again. Development goes fine because I can get into a routine. I wake up every morning and do the same thing all day. Unfortunately, startups are anything but routine.
Startups are unpredictable and chaotic. There are emails from beta testers to answer. There are Skype chats, phone calls, app deployments, support tickets and Apple submission processes. All of these I avoid like the plague. I create problems, because whether I realize it or not, I desperately want to keep my routine. I want to code. I want to solve problems. I want to feed my curiosity addiction. All other things are just distractions.
Regardless of how it happens, it always ends the same way. The project never gets launched and I move on. Sometimes bridges are burnt, other times we part ways with no hard feelings.
All I can say to the people I've failed is that I am sorry. Sorry for letting you all down. Sorry for not being open enough. Sorry for not being honest. Sorry for all the businesses I've destroyed and all the friendships I've strained. Sorry.
Bad habits can become a lifestyle
If you're fake for long enough you'll eventually start to fake yourself. The same tricks you pull on others you'll start to pull on yourself. And trust me, there is no better person at deceiving you than you. You know all the right things to say to make you feel good. You know all the buttons to push. You know all the quotes, phrases, logic, rationalizations and flashes of epiphany that you'll swallow hook line and sinker. You're your most deceptive foe. You could sell yourself invisible snake oil from an imaginary salesmen in an invisible desert and then congratulate yourself on your luck.
Habits when left unchecked have a tendency to become a lifestyle, especially for someone like me. I have an uncanny ability to do things day after day, regardless of whether or not the habit is positive. When the habit is positive I feel like I'm super human. All these other humans need breaks or suffer from burnouts. I'll code for six months without a break. I'm awesome!
When the habit is negative I either ignore it or twist it into something positive. Faults either become necessary sacrifices for my super human powers or they are re-interpreted as strengths. My faults became my strengths and my strengths became the proof of my power. My lack of socializing wasn't a fault, it was a strength. I was better than those weak humans that needed other humans. I was an island and I was God.
Look at all those Github repos, look at my Chesscube rating, look at all those lines of code, look at what I can code, look at how much I know! I'm a god damn cousinfucking Einstein! Who says this knowledge takes ten years to learn? What losers, if they just focused like me they could do it in 40% of the time.
Bad habits are easy to rationalize and good habits are far too easy to worship. I have kept myself in a perpetual state of self-delusion by poor reasoning. It's only in the last couple of years that I have realized that I'm not super human 1 and that was only because my failures became too much for my brain to doublethink around.
They say hindsight is 20/20. Unfortunately, it breaks down when you don't look at your actual past. Life is the series of choices we remember making. When something goes wrong it's easy to see it is as not a choice. There was too much stress. Your dog ate it. Your clients were assholes. It wasn't part of gods plan. And on and on... I now realize that to fix myself, I'm going to have to be myself; and to be myself, I'm going to face myself.
- It's funny how stuff sounds when you actually write it out. Everyone sounds full of themselves when we share our actual thoughts about ourselves. Writing out what you think about you is a good way to face your bullshit. It's a good way to stay grounded. As you may have gathered, it's not something I've learned to do until recently.
- I used to get ice cream for my birthday but I drove my siblings insane by eating a scoop everyday religiously. They don't give me ice cream for birthdays anymore. It makes me sad, I like ice cream.
Life is a project
I never set out to be permanently reclusive, it was just meant to be a temporary thing. The plan was simple, I'd focus harder than humanly possible for a year or two and then reap the benefits. One day when I was ready, I'd flip the switch in my brain, turn on "new Kenny mode" and then off I'd go into the great wide world.
On occasion people would notice my awesomeness and ask: "Dude, how did you learn so much?". I'd wink, grin slightly, and say: "hard work". They would never know. I'd carry the secret around with me and one day in the far off future I'd write some blog post about "how I spent a year in my room and became a genius".
I think I might have been a tad delusional. First of all, it turned out to be a lot fucking harder to the learn stuff I wanted to than I thought it would be. I still cut a decade or two of learning down to five years of constant focus, but it did not nearly go as fast I planned. Most importantly, I became addicted to my lifestyle.
In the last couple of years I have intended to leave my hermit lifestyle behind. I was ready learning wise. I was a damn good coder. I had read a ton of business books. My chess was strong. I could do all I wanted and more. I was ready to set the world on fire. I couldn't do it. I had become used to my lifestyle.
I tried turning on the 'new me switch', but I forgot that I still had no idea how to be me in the world. I forgot that I still wasn't normal. I had become less normal than I was before. The real me had become so weird that I didn't dare act even a fragment of my real self. I tried going out a few times but I was so fake that it hurt to breath. I carefully faked every hand gesture, every word and every personality trait, it was exhausting.
I had become surprisingly adept at faking. I was multitudes better than before. Being a comedy buff had paid off I guess. I could play anyone like a master. I could be outgoing, funny, and social. I had Matt Damon mode at will.
I started to think becoming a sociopath was a decent path for me. I'd become completely fake and never let anyone in. I'd be 100% someone else. I wouldn't have to do it forever just long enough... WTF am I saying, no one would ever accept me. Yeah, I'd have to be fake forever now. How would I handle that? I began to toy with idea of various lifestyles involving sociopathic behavior.
Maybe I'd take up serial womanizing, like that guy in Mad Men. I could do that. But then again, sex is pretty yuck. Wait, I'm stupid, just don't even bother with the sleeping part. If you don't sleep with women they'll assume you're just extra douchey. Okay, I got this, I just need to devise a step by step plan to achieve this identity. Wait, I'm going to have to drink Alcohol for this identity. I cant stand the effects of Alcohol, it makes social interactions impossible to fake. Scratch that.
You know what, I'm pretty good at faking things, so maybe I should be an actor? Yeah, I could do that. But what would I do in my free time? Holy shit I got it, I'll be a serial killer actor! They'd never see me coming. Then I was like, what is the point of serial killing if you don't enjoy killing? I guess I could build cool death traps like Saw? But that would hurt people and seeing people in pain takes all the fun out of death. I'd have to make sure I couldn't hear their screams. How would I know if the traps worked well? Video evidence? I cant stomach horror films though. Maybe the traps could be non lethal so I could ask them about their effectiveness? But then they would be in a lot of pain and probably not talkative. Plus, I faint at the sight of the blood.
I wonder, is there anyway I could get the serial killer experience without actually killing or harming humans? I guess I could be a serial catch and releaser. I could capture people and then put them in a non-lethal maze and let them escape by solving a series of mind boggling puzzles. How would I motivate them without the looming threat of a horrible painful death? I got it! The winner would be the one that collected the most pogs by the end. People love pogs! But what would I use for prizes? I guess I could use money. After all, I'll be a super wealthy actor. But what if one of them gets hurt during transportation or has a peanut allergy and dies? What the hell can I do with my new sociopathic skills?
Yeah, so sociopath definitely wasn't going to work out. But unless I was fully 100% fake I really didn't want to bother faking. Why be only half me? Once I realized that I had no choice but to be myself I started to drift.
Like my writing I've been drifting for years now. Occasionally I'll wake up and say: "This is the day". My new found motivation gradually dissipates as my commitments pile up and I fail to take action on the things that matter. I keep underestimating the mental effort required for me to get my license, move out, acquire faster internet, get my medical issues 1 fixed, etc. I put them off and never do them.
Inevitably my personal issues take a toll on my ability to function. I never say exactly what is going on and since I'm not normal, I don't have normal personal issues. How do you tell your client you didn't get work done that afternoon because you you had to finish counting the bumps on the drywall on the south wall of your room before your brain let you focus on MongoDB queries.
Because I'm a shut-in, even my normal issues aren't normal. Like when my siblings are running up and down the hallways and I cant focus. Or when I spent three extra hours sitting at the courthouse for jury duty because I don't have my license and had to get a ride. Or that time I spent the two days waiting for a new keyboard because I broke mine and had to ship a new one.
Before long I'm committed to a shit ton of things and I am so stressed out that I cant focus long enough to fake my way through life. Inevitably I implode and disappoint everyone I had commitments to.
The only way to be myself, is to be myself.
When you are so different there is no frame of reference to figure life out. I don't suffer from the normal issues. There is no guidebook for being me. I've had to learn everything from trial and error. I do great when I can generate my own guidebook from feedback in the environment. Progress in programming, chess, checkers, even comedy and writing can all be quantified. But how does one quantify progress psychologically? How do you get measurable feedback about your emotions?
For me growing intellectually or physically is a piece of cake. It's the emotional stuff that throws me totally off course. It's easy to think you're a emo-superman 1 when the only one that evaluates you is you. For example, it took me years to learn that my emotional reactions would vary based on environment. I'd get up to speak in front of a group only to realize that holy shit humans aren't like bathroom mirrors. They talk, they lack reflectivity and they laugh when you make funny faces. Driving a car wasn't like NFS. Playing chess online wasn't like over the board.
Each life lesson took years to sink-in. I wrote off every single failure as a fringe event. I had a million explanations. I was tired that day. I drank too much Mountain Dew. I had a cold. It felt like a green day 2. I wasn't focused enough. I was distracted by a high-gloss human with boobs.
The truth is a hard pill to swallow. When you do, it's like being orphaned from reality, again and again. Whenever I face myself I quickly rationalize my way back to a place that allows me to continue as I was. Inevitably the problems and stresses pile up until I cant take it. In the last several months I've realized that I have two choices; 1. Learn to be myself OR 2. Fade away completely.
I'm never going to engage in the world unless I connect with it and to connect with it I have to be myself. Basically:
I have to name my toaster, imagine the life story of the mailman as a character in a Kaufman esque universe, where his wife is played by his wifes twin sister, one of the sisters was a secret agent but the original wife died, and since the mailman is a sleeper agent from a top secret government project her sister had to step in and play the wife, when they have family dinners she has to quickly change clothes and pretend to be herself;
Then, I have to share that with person next to me so we can bond over shared interests or something. Yes, I do that. Shut up, it makes me awesome.
I realized this and was going to try be myself. Unfortunately, I have psychological issues (and unfriendly humans) that have made it impossible. In recent weeks I had become depressed. I didn't even know what I was feeling at first. I had never ever been depressed, it's why I could survive emotionally as a shut-in. I thought maybe it was medical issues so I started walking five miles a day 3 and taking vitamins. Nothing worked though and I still felt like shit.
It was only the last several weeks that it started to occur to me what I was feeling. It was this thing humans called depression that I heard so much about but never understood. I pushed the feeling deep down and I felt better for a bit, but it was short lived. I made plans to focus really hard for 30 days, I'd finish up important stuff and then deal with my emotions. I would just set my emotions aside for awhile and go on without them. It didn't work.
Depression started to make me feel helpless. It was zapping my productivity and killing my desires. Not one to let me interfere with myself, I set about to fix it. I was not going to be beat by some stupid human emotional weakness. I started to see depression as a problem I could engineer a solution to. I first had to determine the cause.
I had never been depressed before, so what changed? Well, for starters, I had way too many commitments. I had two active projects and a zillion stagnating ones. I had a mail app, a design app, a full-time job, a design discussion site, a game, and I wanted to launch a blog. Yep, I might have just a tad too many commitments.
All these commitments were zapping me of autonomy. I had become a shut-in because I couldn't stand losing self-direction, now I had no self-direction and I was still isolated as fuck. Every day and hour was spent working for someone else, accomplishing their goals not mine. There was no me time.
I had rules to prevent this from happening but I had broken all of them. I started working on client work on weekends. I had stopped being open about schedules and gave vague deadlines for everything. I had stopped communicating properly. I had gradually lost control of the one part of my life I always had control over. Of course I was depressed, I was incapable psychologically of coping with this. I had become 100% fake.
Then, it hit me like whirlwind, I was solving psychological problems, like a programmer. Holy shit, I thought: Can I fix my own mind using the same skills I use to learn things? I'm amazing at learning, if this works, I thought, all my problems will be solved.
That was a few weeks ago. As I started to analyze myself using my re-discovered approach I realized that I was going to have change everything.
- Anyone else picture a depressed Superman played by Gerard Way? I did and I'm ashamed, deeply ashamed.
- Yes, I remember things non-linguistically. I'm weird, get over it.
- Ironically, this caused me to develop actual medical issues in my feet. I have so much trouble dialing back when I set my mind to something. I knew rationally that going from zero miles a day to five miles a day was going to cause trouble but I did it anyway because the anxiety of stopping was too stressful. If I ever develop a drug addiction I'm going to have to consume like a teaspoon of cocaine a day just because I consumed some the day before.
I'm taking all the skills I have learned from learning and applying them to my psyche. I'm going to re-build and re-form my emotional centers from the ground up. I'm going to take my unhealthy mental state and refactor it into a functional vibrant self. I'm re-life-ing.
First things first, to become myself, I'm going to have to first learn to be myself. I cant quantify what I am if I'm isolating myself from insight. I'm adopting an open by default approach, both to myself and to others. If you don't like who I am then you can go fuck yourself. The more I want to avoid something the more I'm going to force myself to face it.
You cant solve a problem if you don't even know what it is. You cant be doing one thing and claiming to be doing another. Well you can, you just don't actually make any progress on your problem. If I applied my current approach to life, to programming, I'd be asking questions in the wrong language, about the wrong subject, to the wrong community; I'd be trying to solve a clojure problem by asking ruby questions on stackoverflow.
The way to make sure you are solving the correct problem is to break things down. You have to get so close to the source that no matter how hard you try you cant over complicate it. Everything must be 100% clear or the problem will cease to have actionable solutions. Things have to get so simple that action becomes not just natural, but the default direction.
I have two major sources of complexity in my current life; 1. I have too many commitments. 2. I live in a toxic environment.
I'm cutting back on my commitments and focusing on low(er) stress ventures. I'll be attempting to make money by writing books (Leanpub here I come), developing open source software, apps and games. At least for now, I feel I'm not capable of handling SAAS products. Why I tried to do SAAS for so long, I don't know, I guess I'm stubborn. I will be cutting down any ongoing contract or freelance work to four days a week. I'm tired of killing myself with insane workloads for clients. No more weekends spent working. Sorry, I just cant do it anymore.
I'll be relocating to a better place, one with a community I feel I can get involved in. I am open to relocating anywhere, so feel free to make suggestions. I'm actively looking for a low stress coding job so feel free to checkout my github and send offers my way.
Cut the legacy code
Like any overcomplicated project, my life has accumulated a bunch of legacy it no longer needs. I'm taking a step back and asking basic questions like; "What is it that I am?" "What is my purpose?" "Do I really need this?" A lot of things that I have accepted, tolerated, or even asked for, I don't actually need.
I'm questioning everything about myself and getting to the heart of what I am. I'm no longer accepting anything from culture, parents, friends, colleagues or society at large that I don't think is rational. I'm not drawing silly lines in the sand but rather maintaining a constant awareness of what I am. I'm to going to be open and have a open mind. I'm going to change, adapt, and constantly refactor myself.
I'm starting off with my name. After some reflection, I have decided my current name is legacy. Western naming conventions come from an outdated era when populations where small and you were unlikely to leave your village. It's ridiculous to hold to things because culture says we should.
I'm dropping my name and following in the footsteps of FM-2030 by changing my name to something I choose. I've chosen K-2052. If you need something to verbally call me you can use a phonetic pronunciation of the letter K, i.e Kay. If you need a short version just use "K". i.e "Hey K, did you finish your time machine? Wait K, I think someone might be reading this".
There is nothing special in my choice of the letter K. Although, in many languages Kay means "water" which is very apt, considering my life long obsession with water. The meaning behind 2052 will be explained soon. Ultimately though, the meaning behind my name is what I give to it. I'm not my labels.
It's important that I test my social skills, that I make sure I quantify and measure my progress at every turn. No more deluding myself that I can activate my skills whenever I want. If I believe I have a social skill I'm going to force myself to test it out.
I'm focusing on fundamental skills and mastering them absolutely. I'm going to be trying all the human activities I have avoided for so long. It's time I get out, live, and learn all the human things.
Publishing this was hard but it felt like my only option. For years I have not been living my life, I have been delaying it. Five years ago I paused my life and now it's time to choose between play or stop. I'm pressing play. The world pushed me and instead of pushing back I hid, now I'm pushing back. I'm determined to be myself no matter the consequences.
I know that facing what I am and facing the world is really going to hurt, but I now know that I can survive it. I know that eventually all pain fades away and you're left with only scars. I know that no matter how shitty my emotions tell me things are, that it's not actually that bad. I'll come out the other side no matter what. I'm going to step once more into the fray, come whatever may.
I still recognize that I'm different, but I now recognize that this doesn't mean I cant fit in. At least, I believe it doesn't. I'm not going to try pretend to be normal anymore, I'm not normal. But I am going to try live my life more connected. I think I can find humans that will accept me, and maybe if I'm just a bit lucky, I'll find a few that are like me.
For now, I'm going to;
Get Out. Live. Grow. Change. Fight The Urge To Fade. Until the zombies wipe us all out (except me because I have a plan), ~K-2052