Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Anguish of the Insecure

I used to be able to trick myself into believing that I didn’t care what people thought about me. I’m sure a lot of people are that way on the outside, though not surprisingly fooling themselves on the insides, like me. All my life, I tried to convince my psyche, convert it really, that I was some sort of rock, standing stalwart against the people’s wrath of disapproval, disparagement and denigration, my confidence a fortress of assurance, accepting that I am not perfect, but above the par set by society.

It only takes a trip to Disneyland by yourself to wipe away most of those beliefs as I found myself awash in self-consciousness. I got there early, soon after the park opened, and found myself standing in a relatively short line to Space Mountain, by myself. I was behind a small group of three guys roughly my age and a couple behind me who were engrossed in a quiet conversation.

Perhaps it was just the day, a little murky, rather cold and closed in with the clouds hanging low in the sky, but I found myself very insecure about being alone in line. I’m not sure what came over me, but I started searching out others in my situation and I couldn’t find any. As the cars returned into the “station” to drop off and pick up passengers, I scanned for open seats, only finding a couple in the five or six cars I scanned. What was I looking for? Some downtrodden, sad looking individual wishing he had someone to share Space Mountain with? Some loner, a recluse, hermit, an outsider? Who me? There was someone, a woman sitting by herself in the third row, a giant purse in her lap, that scattered look of confusion after a whirlwind rollercoaster ride, various expressions sweeping across her face. She’s alone and looks content, almost happy. Nobody’s judging her, mocking her solidarity and she seems confident. Then the people in front of her turned around and all three shared a few words, laughing as they disembarked and crowded through the exit. Wait, a man this time, equally alone with an empty seat next to him, but the results were the same, he was the odd man out in a party of three.

Maybe that could be me, maybe I could ride Space Mountain without sharp, aching pangs of torture from the feeling that everyone who sees me thinks that I am alone for a variety of mentally-impaired reasons: no friends, no family, psycho-Disney freak whose sole purpose in his pathetic life besides trying to reach the highest level in WarCraft in his mother’s basement is to ride Space Mountain on his birthday… maybe I’m with people that can’t ride Space Mountain? Maybe my family is waiting for me at the exit so when we go back home to Missouri, I can say that I was able to do it… and then I’ll wait with the kids while my wife rides it?

At any rate, I sadly said “one” to the ride operator and she put me in Row Three, all by myself. I pushed down my lap bar and a ride operator came by to instruct me to push down the empty lap bar too, to further signify my seclusion. It wasn’t that bad, I guess. I had just as good a time as I would have if someone was next to me, but at the end, I didn’t get to look over at someone and say—like the couple in front of me—“That was a great. What do you want to ride next?”

Since I wanted to put a couple of rides under my belt that I don’t normally get to ride—what with the kids and all—I made my way over to Indiana Jones, and again, there was no wait; I walked through the queue quicker than I think I have ever done it before, so quickly, in fact, that I was walking down the lines, through the caves and around the faux excavations completely by myself. Once I caught up with the line, I was surrounded by the usual small groups, families, friends, all chatting and buzzing with the excitement of the impending attraction, but then the line split, half going one direction and half going the other. I must have picked the unpopular line because there was nobody behind me and only two people in front of me. On a ride where the cars can hold 16 people and all of the other cars around me were filled to capacity, there were only three people in my car.

To further push me to the cusps of social abandonment, the couple I shared the car with left a one-seat buffer between us, like you would at a movie theater, so I couldn’t even give strangers the impression that I was with a group of people, that there was someone in this universe who didn’t find me horrifyingly objectionable enough to sit next to.

Well, that was over and I walked around the park by myself, something I didn’t have too much of a problem with, aside from envying all of those happy people with their families who had nothing better to do on a Wednesday.

I sat on a bench on Main Street and took some pictures of some things I saw, a few great shots of the double-decker bus screwed up by stroller pushers who walked right into the frame. I put together a panorama of the stage they put together to show the premiere of the third installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, quite a grandiose production just to show a movie, as they completely took over the south tip of Tom Sawyer’s Island (soon to be called Tom Sawyer’s Pirate Lair… at least for a while) and all of the walkway in front of the river in New Orleans’s Square.

I passed up Star Tours, Matterhorn, Big Thunder Railroad, all rides that I knew I wanted to go on, because I didn’t want to wait in line by myself, where I thought all eyes would be judging me, castigating me to that of a class of social misfits, someone unpopular, impossible to befriend. After all, if he can’t even find someone to go to Disneyland with, there’s got to be a problem.

So, my friend Tris showed up and we at lunch in California Adventure and went on the Soaring Over California then back to Disneyland to see the 50th Anniversary video with Steve Martin and Donald Duck in the theater that Lincoln used to wow the audience.

I was no longer alone at Disneyland and I felt more secure… and I kick myself for betraying all the effort I put into convincing my brain that being by yourself is okay. When I was a kid, I preferred to play by myself. I reveled in the quiet time when I could develop my imagination, my inner dialogue, my own feelings on the ways of the world. I could make up my own games, my own rules and my own outcomes. And now I spend a lot of time by myself, writing, editing, screwing around on a variety of projects nobody but me is interested in, so why is it such a big deal to be lacking company in a public place?

What is further upsetting is that I was probably the only person who even remotely considered my solitude as something bad. Perhaps there was a dad straddled with three screaming kids, each trying to claw his way to a different ride, and he spied upon my isolation as a refuge, a sanctuary from the chaos and the pandemonium that is his day at the Magic Kingdom. Maybe there was a woman who was insanely tired of hearing her husband blather on incessantly about gibberish and only wished for a moment that she could find peace, quiet and a hushed calm.

Maybe being alone isn’t such a bad thing sometimes, and I should take more satisfaction in these times when nobody is trying to convince me that the 50-minute line to Dumbo isn’t that bad or when nobody is pooping in his diaper while he’s tucked under my arm.

But then again, Disneyland wasn’t designed for the single rider, the lonesome tourist trying to eek out some enjoyment while shrugging his responsibilities at home or at the office. Disneyland was made for families, poopy diapers and all.

Naw, that won’t stop me from going, and although I’m sure I’ll still be forced to struggle with those internal voices of condemnation and insecurity, each anxious voice clamoring over each other in my head to be heard, recognized and internalized, I’ll persevere, plod forward in line by myself because I enjoy the freedom of doing what I want, when I want… just at a price I guess.

And wouldn’t you know it: I could stay home all day for five solid weeks and nothing would happen, but the second I get within earshot of a boisterous crowd and blissful music, I get an important phone call. For grins, I turned in my resume for an automotive editor position, and where it asked for salary requirements, I added 65 percent onto what I currently make, thinking that they’d get to that number and round-file my resume. Sub-consciously, I probably did that for two reasons: 1) I really think that I should be making more money than I do now; and 2) If they threw out my resume, then I wouldn’t have to make any important decisions.

So, am I looking for another job? Yes and no. Yes, because I always look for new jobs, even when I am very happy with my current one. I kept a steady watch on the job search sites just in case something interesting comes up, and you never know what’s out there that you might like better—I’m still holding out for pillow tester or chair tester. And no, because I am very happy where I’m at right now. Plus, I’m interested in keeping my charming interview expertise fully sharpened just in case I need to whip them out at a moment’s notice. Plus, it is always good to keep an eye on the horizon, you never know what sort of opportunity may float by. In the long run, regardless of my salary needs, I’m in a good place right now, and I can’t see myself going back to a full-time-in-an-office job unless the offer was just plain too good to be true.

After all, who out there has a full-time job and went to Disneyland today in the middle of the workweek? (besides you, Tris.)

1 comment:

Tris said...

Now if we could both just get six figure jobs at Disneyland...


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