Developing Thick Skin
Giving Less of a Fuck What Other People Think
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I’ve always been fucked, really. My personality is such that I’ve perennially wanted on one hand to be accepted by others and to fit in, and on the other hand to flip society The Bird.
This is tricky, especially in contemporary times. With tribalism now the dominant cultural shape-shifter, it has become harder and harder to Be Me. I know I’m not alone here. In fact I think the vast majority of people are not actually on one side or the other, whether that be politically, culturally, spiritually, etc. Yet there is increasingly more and more pressure to “pick a side.” (Especially, obviously, in politics.)
I’ve always been a freak. By that I mean: I’ve always been me. Inherently, fundamentally my own person. It’s strange eschewing social norms and simultaneously feeling desperate for love and acceptance from a group. I have historically both wanted and not wanted people’s acceptance.
In high school—during my teen years—this meant punk rock, until I opened my eyes and grasped that I’d simply become a non-conformist-conformist; the only difference between a punker and a yuppie was the costume we wore, and the set of social norms and values we espoused, but really, just like the radical left and radical right, there was much more in common at the core.
Then there were my early twenties, which I refer to as The Kerouac Years, wherein I hitchhiked across and all over the United States, hopped freight trains, moved constantly, dated myriad broken women, started and dropped out of college a zillion times, drank like a madman. At 27 I got sober and thus began The Writing Years. Twelve years later, nearly 40, I’m still there.
I was never a nerd nor a jock. I hated traditional sports but was a sponsored, competitive surfer, big into skateboarding and BMX. When I phased out of these non-trad “sports” in my mid-twenties my cherished love morphed into backpacking and long, epic hikes. Nature. Road trips. Travel. In 2016 I spent 2.5 months in Western Europe, four weeks of which were walking 450 miles across Northern Spain on El Camino de Santiago, the “Walk of St. James.” (Click here to read my previous post about El Camino.)
I’ve always had a small but close-knit group of genuine friends. Usually they were spread out, maybe a few locally (wherever I lived; for a long while I was in many different cities) but the majority always seemed to be in other cities, other states, sometimes other countries. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been more of a private, one-on-one type of person. True, legitimate conversation is my tour de force—meaning a back and forth, authentic listening to a friend, repeating what they said and asking follow-up questions, and then relaying my life to them. (A rare art form, conversation, in current times.)
But, in general, I’ve spent most of my life—literally in some sense, figuratively in another—“alone.” It’s just my nature. My mom once said “the world would be a lot better off without people.” She was both serious and not serious. I agree with the sentiment. Human beings are tough and slippery, like a scaly salmon you just caught from the muck of a shallow lake. I yearn to be vulnerable, to give my love easily, to trust, but so many times I have been hurt. Being hyper self-aware (both a blessing and a curse) I grasp that I, too, have often hurt others. Ah, the sad, indefatigable reality of the Human Condition. We are weak, deeply flawed, wounded, insuperable.