Friday, February 9, 2007

Apples to Apples Introspection

Lots and lots of fun at a friend's birthday party this weekend. Great company, lots of laughs. We played "Apples to Apples," which is the awesome.

Swiping this description from
Apples to Apples consists only of two decks of cards: Things and Descriptions. Each turn, the current referee selects a Description and players try to pick, from the cards in their hands, the Things that best match that Description. The referee then chooses the Thing that appeals most and awards the card to the player who played it. The unusual combinations of Things and Descriptions are humorous to the extreme, and will quickly have the entire room in an uproar.

Simple, but the fun lasts for hours. After the kids went to bed, we played the variant where one adds "... in bed!" to the end of each Description or Thing, as appropriate. Instantly funnier. As RH said to me later, it was an easy audience to please. RJ and EVH were supposedly playing for the first time, but showed phenom characteristics, winning most of the cards between them.

EVH: [finishing non-humorous conversation] ... I don't know. Maybe I'm just really demanding and tough to please.
Me: In bed!!!

Helped to wash dishes (meaning I helped to dry them), chatted a bit, then called it a night. A late night. As EVH and I walked back, I remarked that sometimes I felt as if I was performing in that kind of social situation, and perhaps beat myself up a little about it. Later, she called me on it. Not the performance, but the self-flagellation "Why do I DO that?!"

I've been thinking about it ever since, and thought I'd try to get my thoughts down. It's not about feeling like I have a fractured personality (though there's a very tiny bit of dissociative self-critique going on). When I'm in a group, I feel a little bit like I'm on a stage, performing for people. At the same time, I guess I'm not a very generous performer, but an attention seeker. When I was a lot more bitter, this would lead to biting, nasty sarcasm. I try to control that now, but I think it's just mellowed to snarkiness (snarkishness? snarkosity? snarkadoodledoo?). And general joke-telling. And thread-jacking for my own humor (yes, I'm even and on-line attention seeker). And good, funny, fake-story telling. And tasteless-story telling. And the fact that comedy is my top posting-label.

Ok, bit off-track there. Centering back to the feeling of being on-stage. I exaggerate my expression, deliberately seize up potentially funny misunderstandings, exaggerate my gestures, and generally ham it up. That evening's examples: Within 30 seconds of walking in the door, I was trash-talkig about Apples to Apples. I complained to the judge about every card I didn't win. I was demonstratively non-gracious about every card I did win. And it's not that I actually have any of my ego invested in being successful at Apples to Apples (I don't), but that I have ego invested at being thought of as the funniest guy in the room. So that's part attention-seeking, part competitiveness (about being funny?!), part self-validation?

So is the root of all of this "pain"? That's such pop psychology; I know my pain affects my behavior, but causes it? I've been a smart aleck as long as I can remember (part of deflecting attention from being the smartest kid in the class? Maybe). Is that rooted in pain? I can't think why. But the more emotional pain I'm in at any phase in my life, the more biting and nasty my humor is. I wonder whether this behavior is about times in my life when I'm compensating for something. Being smarter. Being darker-skinned. Being heavier. I think I've gotten over being smart through a combination of going to Caltech (suddenly in the bottom 5%!) and just realizing that it's far from being that important or the central part of my identity. Being non-white? I don't think I've ever had shame about it; I'm proud of my my multi-ethnic heritage, but maybe if I generalize to feelings of "fitting in," I start getting somewhere that feels truthful. Being overweight is definitely an isolating experience, and though it's not all about the external (being healthy is good in it's own right), social acceptance is an undeniable part of it. So fitting in. And if people are following my lead, I must be fitting in, right?

I just flashed on the episode of Beauty and the Geek (the first season, I think) which I saw. Maybe it was a marathon. Anyway, there was an incredibly geeky guy (this guy, I think) who clowned around all the time, behavior I had incredible contempt for. Ouch.

So maybe I'm playing the part of the fat, geeky clown who needs love. Or maybe I'm getting over the feelings (I hope), but I have behavioral inertia.


  1. Hmmm...I'd venture to guess we all seek a bit of attention in one way or another, so I don't think that is much of a problem. Especially since your way of doing so is (in my limited experience) funny and appropriate for the situation.

    Would you call yourself a natural leader, John? You seem like one to me, so perhaps the characterisics you are beating yourself up about are your leadership tendencies coming out, more-or-less?

    Anyhow, I had a great time last Saturday and it was very enjoyable hanging out with you!
    NOT in bed.... ;-)

  2. > appropriate to the situation

    Do you mean that I didn't behave the same way at Institute? That's an interesting point, if true (I hope it's true). It's not as much social time during the class. I'm focused on listening. I'm intellectually engaged. Maybe I'm not trying to impress anyone.

    > natural leader

    I think my organizational skills are too weak to characterize myself that way. So maybe I'd succeed in a leadership role if I had a good XO.

    What qualities do you mean when you see me as a natural leader? Aside from my calves and forearms.

    > fun

    Definitely fun (in bed).
    Good mix of people (in bed).
    Hopefully we can do it again (in bed).
    I've heard there's an expansion pack with new fun stuff (in bed).