words on words

Remember, you were warned.

The Price of Eccentricity

“We’re not even supposed to be in this game,” I heard him say. It was the fourth quarter, less than 3 minutes to go. “Too many of our players are injured so the fact that we’re even here is unbelievable.”

 

I was sitting at my local watering hole recently. I like to sit at the bar with my journal open, listening to conversations. Occasionally, there’s something interesting to be mined and recorded for later use. (If you find me at your local bar, be careful, because I’m definitely listening.)

 

I sat there for a couple hours, listening to their conversation unfold. By the end of their chat, they were both sharing details about their respective marriages, troubles they had. The one who’d clearly had less to drink was freshly married, his new friend married twice before. The one who’d been around the block a couple of times before gave him some advice on how to approach what was bothering him but that advice is not the subject of this week’s column.

 

I want to look at what happened at the start of the conversation. These two men walked into that bar that evening, not knowing the first thing about the other. However, with a football game on TV, they were able to form a connection, discussing the events of the game, stats on the players and an analysis of the overall direction of the team from the leadership. From what I hear, being a Miami Dolphins fan can be a miserable existence. Part of this is just the nature of being a sports fan in general.

 

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, in his book Don’t Trust Your Gut used data science to uncover how sporting events affect the overall moods of those in the stands. He writes:

 

In the minutes before a match begins, the average sports fan nets a slight boost in happiness (about 1 point on the 100 point scale) The average fan perhaps anticipates a win & gets pleasure imagining this win… if a fan’s team wins, the fan gets an additional boost of about 3.9 points of happiness… if a fan’s sport team loses, they can expect to lose 7.8 points of happiness. (A draw gives the average fan 3.2 points of pain.) … Sports fans seem to have made a terrible bargain. Since, on average, teams can expect to win as many games as they lose, a sports fan can expect to suffer more than he rejoices.

The connective tissue that these two sitting at the bar shared was a common misery in being fans of the Miami Dolphins. In a larger sense though, being a fan of sports is usually a good indicator of being a well-integrated “normie.” I understand that term might sound disparaging, but I promise it’s not. It’s usually used by eccentrics as a term of derision, but that’s not how I’m using it. On some level, I actually envy the average sports fan because they have a way of connecting to anyone, anywhere at anytime.

 

After I’d been frequenting my local coffee shop of choice for a few months, I remember one of the first conversations I had with the owner, he basically ran down the list of my opinion on the different sports teams that were associated with Miami. By the time he made it to the bottom of his list and it was clear I didn’t have an opinion on any of them, the conversation stalled and I realized that my aversion to sports viewing as a pastime is part of the price of eccentricity.

 

This title of writer that I’ve decided to adopt demands a certain commitment of time, namely to reading, in order to build a body of knowledge from which to reference. This costs time, a question of tradeoffs which I was forced to answer when I was trying to complete my first novel. As finishing the novel became more important to me, activities I used to devote significant amounts of time to, like gaming and watching movies, had to take a backseat until I basically stopped doing them all together. These activities are isolating in nature, which you can probably guess isn’t conducive to being “well-integrated” but I will discuss that later.

 

I was travelling for work during the time period in which I was writing it, and I remember overhearing that 3 of the employees that were in my age range were going to go to a baseball game later that day. When my boss asked me what I planned to do, I told her I was writing my novel–she was visibly surprised that someone my age would even be interested in such a thing.

 

I won’t lie–there’s a certain aspect of my ego that’s stroked when I prove I’m “not like everyone else.” Apparently though, the desire to emphasize one’s individuality, is actually a common trait among those in my generation. Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, wrote in her book iGen which analyzed the effects that growing up with the internet had on my generation, about this personality trait in the context of my generation’s approach to consumerism:

 

iGeners are materialistic nonconformists, interested in using money to stand out instead of to fit in… iGeners want products that will feel useful to them, make them feel unique and provide them with the convenience or comfort they want…

She also discusses iGen’s tendency to favor digital interaction over in-person interaction:

 

Some maintain that all the uproar over screen time is misplaced; teens are just connecting with their friends online, and the rest of their lives have stayed the sane. This graph strongly suggests that this is not true: with the advent of social media & smart phones, teen’s social lives shifted decisively away from in-person interaction. They spend much less time with their friends in person than teens in previous decades did–about an hour a day less… on average, today’s teens are spending less time with each other in person and more time online than teens did 5 years ago, fundamentally changing the lives of adolescents…

This has led to an overall apprehension to social interaction from people in my age range, a fear that I myself have also suffered from but have come to learn that’s fully within my ability to change. I wondered for many years why it’s been so difficult for me to talk to strangers as an adult, and while part of it is an overprotection of a fragile ego, I’m also aware that part of it was a lack of developing the skills that integrate one socially. I think back to a party I’d been asked to attend while travelling in NJ last spring and my seeming inability to interact socially with anyone other than the person who invited me there.

 

I’d been thinking recently as to why it is that people my age seem to be so afraid of socialization, and the conclusion I drew was that it was the lack of social cues that come with in-person interaction would create more anxiety about how you’re being received because you have no data to work off of. I found myself delighted to discover this theory was corroborated by Dr.K of HealthyGamer on one of his streams:

 

 

I’m lucky to not be completely isolated. I have groups of friends, both locally and abroad, so my situation isn’t as severe as it can be for others who have less social ties. But I do question my “sanity,” in a distributed sense. I’ve heard Dr. Jordan Peterson argue that sanity is a distributed system–when you are integrated in a family, a community, a workplace and a place of worship; your behavior butts up against others and their reactions essentially check your behaviors as being able to be integrated in the group or forcing you into the outgroup.

 

The “sports fan” is one such “check” of your integration in the social fabric. As someone who adopts the mindset that it’s my responsibility to do what it takes to intergrate myself socially, the seemingly obvious answer is to be the kind of guy that watches sports if I’m looking to integrate with those who do. But that’s not necessarily the answer for me.

 

I’m someone that prizes my time very highly. I’m trying to build a career as a writer and that demands a time investment that most people are not willing to make. I don’t want an average life and that demands not doing average activities. I’ve had to sacrifice a lot of the comforts that my friends and family take for granted as part of what makes them “normal.” However, what I find is that getting rid of those time sinks (namely gaming and binge watching television) have actually improved my mood and forced me to grow in ways I hadn’t been doing before. What I find interesting are the emotional reactions from some I express this too, as if the fact that I’ve chosen to minimize the presence of these activities in my life poses some kind of threat to their decision to watch hours of Netflix or TikTok or whichever given consumer platform of their choosing.

 

What I do aim to find is a community of writers whose pursuits are parallels to my own, chief among them the pursuit of truth. What I must overcome is an apprehension to exposing my ego to people I don’t trust, by looking at them as friends I haven’t met yet. If you find yourself in a similar position where it’s difficult to make social connections, I would encourage a similar mindset shift in order to accomplish this task. Because chances are that you can do it & the question then becomes: will you?

 

(The Dolphins lost that game by the way. Go figure.)

 

Recommended Reading

 

  • The History of the Board Ho by humdog (presented by Default Wisdom) is an interesting read as, despite being from 2004, articulates the fashion in which I used to use platforms like Twitter and personal blogs: basically a dump for my anxieties and deepest personal fears. The platforms were basically spaces for me to be mentally ill in public, which isn’t healthy or helpful to anyone, and the commodification of performative mental illness that has spawned in the years since. To some extent, we’ve all been “board hos” at one time or another, but it’s important we understand what we’re really doing and humdog paints a lucid picture.
  • How DEI Is Supplanting Truth as the Mission of American Universities by John Saller over at The Free Press articulates what is one of my main issues with the state of the university system (perhaps rivalled only by the perverse incentive structure created by a “federal guarantee” student loans, but that’s a discussion for a different time) in the US.

This Week’s Quote:

Never forget: this very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.

from “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield

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