Wednesday, June 30, 2010

As another sees us

I used to play a game as a kid. As my mom would drive us through Nanticoke on the way to my grandmother's or the grocery store or somewhere else, I would look out the window at people on the street. More often than not, the people would suddenly look at me, even if they had originally been looking somewhere else entirely. For more than a few moments, I would be looking at them looking at me. I wondered about these people on the street: who were they, where had they come from, where were they going, what were they thinking, who had they last talked to, what had they had for lunch, how were they feeling? And eventually I developed a game where I would look at a person and project myself into their consciousness, scan their thoughts and their feelings, and see the world through their eyes. See myself through their eyes.

It was all an exercise of imagination, of course. No one can really do that. But I gave myself a few seconds to conjure up a backstory for these people on the street and try to picture how they saw the world. How they saw me.

(I still do this, sometimes, though it's a lot more dangerous when I'm driving. And most of the people I scan on the streets I immediately tag as "insane" or "criminal," neither of which is anything I can work with.)

Believe it or not, I tend to be a very private person. I only let a few people into my innermost world. And usually my reaction on seeing their reaction is the same thing that Lenny on The Simpsons said when a wall of his house collapsed, revealing him sitting at his kitchen table in his underwear eating beans out of a can: "Please don't tell anyone how I live."

In recent weeks I have been trying to reach out to a few people, to try to expand into the Big Wide World. And I think a few of these burgeoning relationships have been derailed by the ugly reality of the schedule I live by: four, or five, or more consecutive nights of work, all but one of them twelve hours long with an hour's commute tacked onto both the beginning and the end, followed by several daytime hours of incoherent exhaustion and several more hours of blissful unconsciousness, with the whole shebang followed by three or four days off, one of which is a "recovery day", all of which are lived in a semi-nocturnal state. And that's a best-case scenario: most weeks I do not know for sure if I am working on a given night until a few hours before the start of that day's shift, and I do not know if I will be required to work overtime until a few hours before the end of the rotation, and even then, scheduled overtime may be cancelled up to a few hours prior to the start of the shift.

I tell people that on days I am scheduled to work I am "non-existent," and this is almost literally true. On those days, just about everything that makes me me is tucked away in cabinets and crevices inside my mind for safe keeping and later unpackaging.

And it gets worse: I have several non-overlapping groups of friends, and they have learned over the years that they may go weeks or even months without seeing or hearing from me, because during those weeks and months I will be somewhere else. In the past this meant I would be off with some other group of friends, but lately it has come to mean that I am probably off hiding somewhere, trying not to spend money I don't have.

For some strange reason, some people have a hard time coming to grips with this fractional existence, and often decide that they'd rather take up with someone who has a more stable 9-to-5 work week with weekends off. Or, at least, that they'd rather not try to fight their way through my unpredictable and highly unstable schedule, and decide not to get involved at all.

Seeing my schedule through their eyes has made me look at it in a new way. No longer is it a just a pain and an annoyance, but now I see it as a deterrent to forming any sort of new long-term relationships. In that sense, I'm glad this is all going away no later than December. I sincerely hope that whatever I find down the road will be more conducive to success in this arena.

'Cause I'm really hating this schedule these days.

OK Go: This Too Shall Pass (marching band version)

Title reference: "As Another Sees Us", short story by Harlan Ellison about a group of astronauts being observed by a colonial life-form made up of millions of tiny insect-like aliens.

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