Mistake II

entry_172Lost in thought, I accidentally sprinted up eight flights of stairs this morning instead of six, passing my floor in a daze. I was thinking about the mistake I’d made when I was but a lad of eleven. Singularly well-burdened of intellect, I was, even then, wont to losing myself in contemplative spells, to the detriment of chore, courtesy, and couth. So it was that I found myself dangling from the business end of my stepfather’s clenched fist, my slackened feet leaving circular furrows in the gray mounds of his father’s ashes. One might conclude that my mistake lay in tipping his precious urn in the first place, especially as I was using it for balance as I sought the box of porn magazines in my stepfather’s den closet. But in hindsight the far greater mistake was my reaction to the fury directed at me.

In spite of my precarious position, I suddenly felt the urge to laugh. I tried to stifle it as soon as I felt it coming on, but it was like the onset of a sneeze. My field of vision contracted as time slowed, until all I could see beyond my elder’s immense white knuckles were his bulging eyes and quivering jowls. He was so consumed with emotion that it summoned in me a kind of dark joy. More! I wanted to shout. I wanted to see him combust into a plasma cloud of rage, as I shrieked with joy from the excess of it.

I tried to hang onto reality, mindful of the myriad physical repercussions that would surely befall me if I allowed myself to be swept into the throes of laughter. It seemed I had ages to imagine the gristly aftermath, but however inappropriate, I couldn’t help but to surrender to mirth. I felt the right corner of my mouth curl upward ever so delicately, in spite of my every determination not to allow it to end like this.

Reality! My stepfather’s countenance was a marvel of form yielding to function. He was anger incarnate. In a way he had transformed into something other than human. No longer was he digesting stomach contents, or pushing out fresh ear hairs, or suffering macular degeneration. At that very moment in time every process served the singular function of shaking me over his paternal remains like a ragdoll.

And yet the image of it became a cartoon taunting my mind, a vision of myself whooping like a retarded child on the Octopus ride, “Wheee! Wheee!” The laugh overtook me in a spasm, and I snorted through my nose as I averted my face. It sounded a bit like a sneeze, in a way. An awful lot like a sneeze, except for the trace smile now dooming my right cheek. Maybe he didn’t see though. From his angle maybe mine was an expression of abject horror, a grimace of fear, or of self-loathing at least. But a moment later I was choking with laughter.
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entry_171Thousands of fake lives were at stake, and I’d dropped the ball. Actually, I’d selected the wrong menu item, and as a result the jukebox uploaded the wrong telemetry tape. I was a rookie, still in training, but to my authoritarian instructors I was nothing more than a liability. My supervisor was playing terminal jockey in the pit next to me until I figured out the process. As he snatched the light pen from my hand he said, “You load the wrong tape, you compromise the mission. What if we’d been live?”

The technicians worked to reset the scenario as I searched for the right words, which hadn’t yet been invented. “I’m sorry,” I said, inviting the worst. “I thought the-”

“You made a mistake,” my supervisor interrupted. His very being seemed to exist solely to point out my erroneous state, like iron filings standing up around a magnet’s field. “You can’t make mistakes when you’re feeding the Console.”

There’s always been a flaw in my character that is triggered when people tell me things that are already apparent. It makes me want to do irrational things, and it’s as seductive as the desire to press the soft spot on a baby’s forehead with my thumbs. Come to think of it, that’s probably another flaw in my character.

In this case I merely responded to my supervisor, which was at least a highly inefficient use of our time. “It was a mistake,” I said, “so I can only try not to do it again.”

He looked confused. It was the same look he might have given to his father’s fists when they failed to pummel him one night for daring to speak his mind. Now was not the time for commentary. “No. You can’t try not to do it again, you have to not do it again.”

I didn’t waste a moment. “Well if I did something wrong again then that would be, again, a fresh mistake,” I said.

“Don’t do it,” he said.

“Well you’re assuming… See, I didn’t mean to do it to begin with. It was a mistake, so by its definition it’s something that happened when my intent was to do something else.”

He blinked at me. “You do what you’re supposed to do and don’t do anything else. No mistakes. You’ll be more aware from now on, so keep your eyes open and do it.”

“You’re missing my point,” I said. “Even if I did the exact same thing again, it would be a new mistake. Because the first time I made the mistake it was the first time I’d learned it, so the lesson was simply a naive sense of ‘don’t do it.’ But now, if I did it again, it would be after having learned about the mistake once before, so the lesson would be more about realizing how this mistake can happen in spite of all of my previous learning, and then incorporating that data into my actions going forward. You know, countermeasures.”

My supervisor slapped his palms on the table and bleated, “look, I’m not interested in a philosophical debate!”

“I was just kidding,” I said. Cherry on a sundae.

Still, it was a long while before I gained confidence in that procedure. A big part of that has to do with the way my mind works, which is incorrectly. In any given situation one may expect a fair chance of eluding blunder. It is rare, in fact, for situations even to seem matters of right or wrong. But, given the choice between making a right decision or a wrong decision, I will invariably choose in the wrong, even after I’ve backtracked to take the right path. This is partially because experiencing wrongness leaves much more of an imprint on me than any meager chemical reward for doing right. “Don’t do that again,” is hardly sufficient to guard against making a mistake.

It plays out like this: I realize that I’ve done something imperfectly, so the next time I come to that branch in the path all I can think of is the horror I felt the first time. And since that was the first time, it stands to reason that I must have relied on instinct… which would dictate that I do the opposite of what my instincts tell me to do this time. So I compensate in the opposite direction, and it all cancels itself out, and I end up making the same mistake again. It just reinforces my predisposition the next time, until I can do no right except through accident.

In fact I’m highly reliable if you look at the situation in the wrong way. My compass needle just faces South. If you know that then you can compensate and still get where you need to go. But don’t take my word for it.


entry_170When I say that I enjoy failure, it’s not some clumsy euphemism about the thrill of facing an insurmountable challenge. Neither am I referring to the opportunity to gain wisdom from past mistakes. Rather, I’m talking about the delicious sting of failure itself. The knowledge that neither the sum of my resources nor the strength of my will was enough, in the end, to see me through. And all the better if this truth, that I am unequal to the task at hand, that I am no more effective than a jellyfish in a blender, is witnessed by as many people as possible. Let the world know–I should find no opportunity for extenuation or sanctuary.

I like to feel the full brunt of inadequacy, and not because of any kind of cultural guilt or unresolved childhood issues. I’m not playing reverse psychology with my expectations, or attempting to forestall cynicism. I do not court failure by aiming low, for that would be as pointless as aiming ridiculously high. In fact, ideally I would aim square in the middle, right for that sweet spot, then still fail, forsaken by my very instincts. I enjoy the flavor of incompetence. I do not fear success, I simply have no appetite for it. I like skunk smell. It’s not a fetish, it’s a preference, and if it should lessen your opinion of me, then I’ll thank you to tell me about it in excruciating detail.

That ubiquitous need to succeed, that all-too-common attitude of righteous entitlement, they do not visit my den of blight. I wish to have less–or better yet, to have what is mine summarily taken from me through my own inaction. And I want my friends to watch it happen. “He had it all,” they will say, and I will agree with them. “I know,” I’ll say, “I did have it all, and I deserved most of it too. But in the end I was equal neither to improvement, nor upkeep, nor even to mere ownership.” I will say this to their backs.

Let it break or wither or stop working for no apparent reason, and let me never understand why. I don’t even seek the easy satisfaction of answers. I’ll make do, instead, with failure in any form, large or small. A typo or a train wreck, it makes no difference to me. They say you can’t fail if you don’t care, but I don’t care: I want to fail. I’ll cling till I suffer, a victim of circumstance, a boil of determined resignation.

I know what you’re thinking, but when I say that I enjoy failure, it’s no lie geared to catch you with your guard down. I’m driven to tell this through neither humility nor pride, but rather so that you’ll understand when I don’t live up to expectations, when I fail to raise the bar, or to even find the bar. In fact, the bar is broken, and it’s my fault, and I’m admitting it now. Blame me if you must. No sweat off my back. I am a hapless creature.

But I still got your girl.

Invisible Connections

entry_169I had a friend who was always mindful of the path he took to cross a room. As he navigated between two chairs, around the table clockwise, and over to the coffee maker, an invisible line was drawn behind him like a spider’s thread. Such was his belief. Returning to his origin by a different route would spell entanglement, his efficiency declining throughout the day as he became ensnared in his own past.

My friend’s philosophy never worked for me because of the cognitive load. Where was the true origin, after all? Was it reset at will at the beginning of each day? After first coffee? Could the line be severed under special circumstances, or was that against the rules? My fear was that these questions could never be answered to my satisfaction, as seductive as the concept was. But my position was that if one was going to hold a belief then one must stay true to it regardless of the inconvenience involved.

Which is why I prefer to obsess over imaginary things that don’t require as much attention to physics. My obsessions should be troubling, inherently, but intuitive. Thus, for the most part, my preoccupations all have to do with social affiliations. These are the taffy-like connections that form spontaneously between people, usually those in close proximity. For these nonverbal accords to be struck, the sole requirement is that a group’s constituent members find themselves properly arranged. What denotes “proper”? Well, that is an elusive thing.

Office Orphan

By way of example, say that you’re at work and need some technical support. You stroll over to the technician’s desk only to find them having a conversation with someone else, so you linger at the back of the queue, waiting until they’ve finished their dialog. However, a connection of sorts has already been made, and when your party suddenly gets up and leaves with the other person, you must wait where you are until your party returns. Are there any other realistic options? Trudging back to your own desk without an answer would be as inefficient as it would be humiliating. Or, to follow the two of them… well, that would be tantamount to stalking. No, you must wait for as long as it takes. It’s a burden, clearly, for what if they have gone to lunch? Or what if they’re both enjoying a stress-induced bout of amnesia, and are even now wandering the streets, shirtless, howling?

Spontaneous Servitude

Or maybe you stop to speak to a friend briefly as you’re leaving a party. It’s unfortunate that you didn’t spend more time talking to them during the party, but you were busy exploring the house. But say, did your friend find the opportunity to see the amazing cellar? You enlist the host to take your friend on a tour, and a moment later you watch as they both descend the staircase. Unfortunately, your transaction has committed you to a tacit contract which effectively bars you from leaving the party until your friend has returned, no matter how long that takes. If you left now it would appear as though you had consciously ditched your friend. And to follow them… well, not only would that be stalking, but it would also seem like you were looming just to gauge your friend’s level of cellar appreciation.

Social conduct is tricky business, even without the additional burden of subconscious game-playing. But it’s only the structure imposed by these games that prevents disparate groups from engaging in melee after orgy after melee. Have you ever wondered, as I do, what perverse constructs keep your friends on the visitor’s side of the orangutan cage? Even now, are those around you obsessively labeling, ordering, and concatenating each interaction in inscrutable ways that would be impossible for them to articulate? If so then be glad of it, for I believe that we are all merely savages in costume, momentarily distracted by the music of creativity, lest tooth and groin have their final say.