As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, I’ve been spending a fair bit of time writing a book over the last month or so. It’s a memoir covering the first thirty years of my life. I’m not sure if I will ever release it to the public (it’s pretty stinky right now), but it’s been a good exercise in shutting off my internal editor and in sticking with a project. I’m about 60K works into the book (about 240 pages) and I’m only about half of the way through what I want to talk about in the book. I’m really enjoying the process of writing, though, and the further along I get, the most enjoyable the process itself becomes.
What I have found most valuable about writing this book, however, is a chance to analyze my life through the lens of time. And when I manage to chronicle those aspects of my life that I find to be of great import—those experiences that I remember and hold on to both mentally and emotionally—I begin to see certain patterns emerging. It really is a fascinating experience. For better or for worse I have, over the years, formed a pretty stubborn mental picture of who I am as a person. You only have to go back through my old blog posts over the last eight years to put together that mental picture of your own. (Side note: I have been blogging for EIGHT. YEARS. That’s insane.)
As I’ve started examining my formative experiences and memories as part of this memoir, though, I am beginning to see how deeply my self-painted portrait has been affected by one very specific character trait: my desperate desire to receive approval from everyone. I can go chapter by chapter of my memoir, reading story after story, and I am constantly awestruck. The life I have lived, which I would not consider a particularly happy one, would have been so much more enjoyable and fulfilling had I been strong enough or stable enough to follow my own road without worrying about others’ opinions of me. So many of my emotional stumbling blocks were built by decades of trying to fit my own idea of someone else’s opinion of what I should be–an opinion that, had I been able to look at it objectively, wasn’t anything at all like what I thought it was.
But I’m getting a little too “meta” here. An example:
I like to crochet. I learned how to crochet when I was probably five or six years old—possibly earlier. It was something I was really interested in. My mom taught me—despite not really knowing that much about crocheting herself. I had a large denim bag full of all different kinds of yarn that I would carry around with me. I had crochet needles, and knitting needles, and weaving looms. I started learning to sew when I was around seven years old. I really liked all of these things. But as I grew older, I stopped doing them. Not because I enjoyed them any less, but because I started going to school, spending time with other children, and realizing that crocheting wasn’t something that other boys did.
My denim bag of yarn was lost to the ages. We moved to Michigan when I was nine, and I didn’t pick up a skein of yarn for another 15 years. I had allowed my concern over what other people would say about me to have so much control that it caused me to stop doing something I truly enjoyed. It was so important that I was liked and popular that I would never allow myself to do something out of the ordinary like that. Ironically, by not being myself and failing to ever really achieve my perfect mental image of what I should be, I managed to make myself even less popular, less liked. I couldn’t be myself, and I couldn’t be anyone else, so I just was.
It wasn’t until I was many, many years older, and started working at the Hale Centre Theatre in West Valley that I picked up my crochet needle again. In the long hours at rehearsal where you weren’t doing anything, but you needed to pay enough attention not to miss an entrance or cue, I would sit in the corner of the room and crochet squares for afghans that I was making to send to my family. I felt safe doing that in rehearsals because, let’s face it—if there’s ever a group of people who understand what it’s like to bean outsider, it’s theater people. Most of the boys are gay, most of the women are uber-pretty but super-smart (a very unpopular combination) and almost every single person is a little off-center in one way or another. Nobody mocked my yarn and needle. Instead, someone would come up to me and ask, “Are you knitting?” Or, “I didn’t know you could crochet. What are you making?” Nobody cared. And a few of my family members got afghans out of it.
But I never took my crocheting out, for instance, when I was sitting on an airplane to fly home. That wasn’t a safe environment. I didn’t want to have to deal with people who thought it was a little “fruity” that some guy was crocheting on the plane. Yeah, it’s an uncommon sight—for a man to be crocheting. But I knew that if I crocheted on a plane, someone would make fun of me for it. I don’t know why that bothered me so much. I don’t know why I cared so much that some person I didn’t know, and who I would never see again, would think less of me as a person because I happened to be crocheting on an airplane. But I did. So I wouldn’t.
In the last few months, I’ve been picking up a lot of my Home Ec. skills again. I bought a sewing machine and made curtains and my own clothes. I’ve been baking more than Sara Lee. I’ve been decorating like I was trying out for a show on HGTV. And tonight, I picked up a skein of yarn and a size G crochet needle and started working on another blanket. And for a while, I thought, “Man, I’m glad I’m alone at home so I can do something I enjoy.”
Why, in the name of all that’s good and holy, can’t I crochet wherever the hell I want to? Why couldn’t I go sit in the crocheting group that meets at the local fabric store for two hours every Saturday if I want to? Who cares if I was the only guy there? Sure, it’s a little different, but so what?
And the funny thing is that, for as much worrying as I do about my “sissy” hobbies and how they make me look, they’re not that big of a deal. I have a male co-worker in his late 50s who told his wife that I had been teaching myself how to sew again. She mentioned that she really liked sewing, and he replied that he didn’t even know how to turn on a sewing machine, let alone make clothing. She offered to show him how the machine worked, and he played around with it. The next day at work, he said that it was actually fun, and he enjoyed learning how to sew a little.
The head maintenance guy at my apartment complex was in the office when I took Luke the Dog™ over to get his daily cookie, and I mentioned that I was crocheting. He’s a rough and tumble guy from Texas who does appliance repair and building maintenance for a living. He drives a beat-up pickup truck. And he asked me if I could show him the pattern that I was using, because he wanted to start crocheting again too. Color me surprised.
I have another group of friends who create amazing costumes and props, and dress up to go to the comic, sci-fi, fantasy, and steam punk conventions. They play dungeons and dragons, video games, take photos, make movies, and always have a great time. And their hobbies are a little outside of the ordinary. But they are some of the happiest, friendliest, and most fun people I’ve ever had the opportunity to spend time with. And they don’t care at all. They do what they love, and they’re happy. I do what I love, and for most of my life, I’ve been embarrassed or ashamed, and I’ve been unhappy.
I have spent such a huge portion of my life trying to be what the cultural zeitgeist says I should be as a thirty-something male. First, I tried being a 30-something Mormon male. Then I tried being a 30-something Gay male. Well you know what? I’m Matt. I’m sick and tired of trying to be this idea of a person that has nothing to do with who I am. I am tired of feeling like a failure because I fell short of an ideal that isn’t all that unique, special, or beautiful to begin with. I’m tired of hiding my true personality, skills, talents, and abilities because somehow, along the way, I developed this crazy idea that the things I like to do aren’t socially acceptable or, more importantly, that it matters whether they are socially acceptable or not.
To quote the Broadway musical, La Cage Aux Folles:
It's my world that I want to take a little pride in,
My world, and it's not a place I have to hide in.
Life's not worth a damn,
'Til you can say, "Hey world, I am what I am."
I am what I am,
And what I am needs no excuses.
I will never like sports. I like building things and carpentry, but I also like crocheting and sewing clothes. I’m a balding redhead who still has dreams of playing the romantic role in a musical. I don’t like alcohol. I am attracted to men. I can bake better than almost anyone you know. I write and sing syrupy music that I really like. I like being outside, but I really like sleeping in my bed. I’m pale and a little chubby. I don’t like loud crowds or going out. I want to learn how to shoot a gun. I like staying at home alone or spending time with a small group of friends. I don’t know how to fall in love in a healthy way. I’m intellectually smart, and emotionally stupid. I geek out over computer games like a 12-year-old. I’m a nerd. I like to garden. I’m a good conversationalist. I’m a pretty good writer.
I am not a stereotype. And I’m not a failure because I’m not a stereotype. And if the world doesn’t like it, the world can bite me. I don’t care what you think anymore.