Friday, October 18, 2019

Bad! Bad! Down On Myself

Part 18 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

Yikes! I’m getting the finger of life pointing at me, not pointing randomly around the room, calling out other people. It means business, definitely targeting me in particular and pointing with something very clearly on its mind. And here I am in the grip of fragile self-esteem.

My look, then, in shocked surprise, is one of recognition of what is happening as well alarm. Those creases on my forehead are a worried reaction showing the seriousness of my situation. I am clearly not a happy camper, not feeling happy-go-lucky, in fact, happiness shall elude me till I'm on solid group and feeling safer, a terrible predicament.

Yes, I’m wondering, “Why me?” I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve been a nice person. I held the elevator for a lady the other day. She wanted floor 4 so I pushed 4 for her. But there could have been other times, like searching for a parking place when I wasn’t exactly hoping others would find a space before me. I'd take the first space if my crippled mother was waiting. That's how she raised me. But consider this: There was in fact someone leaving a space, another guy was going to make a left turn into it, and I had a straight shot to get in it first. But I didn’t do it. So how about some points for me on that? (I was afraid he'd spit on me in the elevator.)

Here we could recognize in these situations both judgment and goodness, that I “finally” got it together and shouldn't be the high priest of being down on myself. It's harder than it sounds. Even considering it as I have in the last couple weeks, I’m getting down on myself more. I'm thankful for everything that isn’t dire but I’m still grumbling under my breath.

I could go along like this for a long time, making these determinations on the fly that THIS means this and THAT means that. Then at the end of the day figuring how the day stacked up as a totality. If only there could be a Self-Esteem General Headquarters, where all of us have sensors on our bodies, feeding real time data into the machine and getting a read-out. My forehead even now is sweating. I’m a little worried that all this prying into the mysterious issues of life -- what I deserve, what I don’t deserve -- might be a mistake.

How to go back and resume my former happy-go-lucky demeanor, casting aside the real time analyses, eludes me. I need a computer at the very least I can talk to. But anytime I type my symptoms into today’s computers, I get the same pointers each time. Like I type in “finally get it together” and I get a dictionary definition, “to begin to function in a skillful or effective way.”

This is really a psychological judgment day, without the ceremony. No high priest vestments, no darkness and gloom and harsh spotlight, no crowds passing through to the light of day with me standing alone in the darkness. I'd hate it but it'd be dramatic.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Uncle Alfalfa Feels Better

Part 17 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

Seeing myself in a crowd of people, indistinguishable from a bunch of idiots, really was the last straw for my withering self esteem. They say nighttime, our dreams, the interplay of hormones and zygotes, then zygotes taking on unicorns, the next thing you know you're either waking up a loser in the freak show or with a new, better, exciting and above-average breakthrough.

It happened to me. I actually felt it coming on me just before falling asleep. My toes were tingling, the hair on my legs stiffened, there was some unpleasant backfiring in the privates region, my stomach churned (in a good way), and my lungs -- this was scary -- only worked every other breath. One side breathed, then the other. That’s when I realized this was a genuine breakthrough and not just my physical form giving up the ghost. I opened my mouth like a werewolf and my eyes were on fire. I knew I would either wake up on the warpath or happily ever after.

I got up, paced the floor for an hour, put on my yellow tweed suit, and literally thrust my arm through the wall. I muttered to myself what I love saying to my enemies when I spray machine gun fire in their general direction: “That could’ve been your head...” Then I spit, took out my chaw and worked on a new plug. (If you haven’t chewed tobacco lately, for a plug nickel you can still get a nickel’s worth of plug, which isn’t as much as you could get in the Old West but it’s still nothing to sneeze at. For that you need ragweed.)

In one strange last straw moment I felt, indeed, this was the last straw. And did precisely what the moment called for, ramming my meaty fist through the slender wall, which, again, could’ve been your head. I wasn't discriminating. Anyway, the hole opened on tiny room I didn’t know about, which was the cubbie-hole where the house used to have a telephone. I reached in and first latched on to a mouse, which I promptly pulled out and dropped. Then I felt around, a nasty scatter of mouse poop, finally pulling out a small sheet of paper from an old notepad.

Shaking more mouse poop off, I held the notepad in the light and read an ancient note: “Uncle Alfalfa feels better.” This couldn’t have been more helpful to me if it'd been the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln's own notes. Because I am an uncle and my childhood nickname for about two weeks was Alfalfa, which I spurned at the time. See my excitement here? The lesson I took from it was, Just as Uncle Alfalfa felt better in the past, so could an Uncle once known as Alfalfa (2 weeks, maybe a week) feel better in the present day! Wow. Celebrate with me.

This stunning discovery was just the breakthrough I needed to reinvigorate my fragile self-esteem!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Lost In The Crowd

Part 16 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

Most people couldn’t pick me out in a crowd. Woe is me. Among the most frequent guesses, looking at the picture, is that I’m the guy in red, but that’s not right. My eye also goes to the guy in red. In fact, I’ve looked at the guy in red so many times over the years that I’ve lost track of the others. I could’ve been him, but of course I wasn’t. I'm just another nameless face in the crowd. Which, on thinking about it, isn’t so bad. There’s no particular judgment I have to face. No one can say I’m not smiling, not a happy person, not personable. Which usually I am, all that if not more.

But who cares? I don’t care either. Although I do like seeing pictures of strangers. I find them on Facebook; everyday I see more strangers. Each making their comments, liking things, arguing politics, spouting off, rabble-rousing, taking their place in the argument, staking their ground, carrying on on matters of principle, giving a witty answer, which sometimes I like, usually think, yes, that’d be among the top five witty remarks I’d expect to see! How terrible it must be at Facebook HQs looking at a dispute. Getting involved would give me a migraine. Work it out yourselves, stupid!

Nothing zaps my self-esteem faster than being one of many. Because the vanity of the whole thing at that point is overwhelming and obvious. I’d be better off deleting accounts and sitting with a stack of books -- ancient poetry, philosophy, etc. -- and reading. Think of those old guys with the flowing beard, sitting by candlelight in a tall chair with a slanted table before them, lost in their own thoughts. With their thoughts having very little to do with everyone else. If there’s a billion people, divide the days of the year, Everyday it’s millions of people’s very special birthday, have a happy birthday, may all your hopes and dreams come true. Maybe get lucky tonight.

The only way to have and keep your self-esteem (for what it’s worth) is to exclude the masses and do things no one else is doing, which of course you never know. My day has a lot of necessary stuff, taking the dog out repeatedly, eating, doing dishes, checking the mail, making sure the bills are paid, fending off thieves, avoiding doctors, turning away romantic offers, watching for police. Speaking of the police -- this has me thinking -- two officers were at my place just yesterday. I peeked out the window but didn’t see anyone and didn’t see any cars. So I had to just open the door and there they were! They were looking for someone who used to live here. In the Big City every address used to have suspicious characters living there before. They took my word for it that I wasn’t him, but I was thinking I might’ve been arrested!

The guy used to live here and he's getting more attention than me, thankfully. Dozens of people used to live here, maybe a hundred. The Big City has ‘em coming and going all the time. Plus people living in boxes, under metal cowlings, bridges, etc. What do the police do? What do they want? Whatever it is, there's millions and billions of people they can stay occupied with, leaving me alone 99.999% of the time. Only yesterday, there I was, face to face. Thankfully not doing anything illegal. Except my dog may be behind on her registration, maybe, I’m not admitting anything...

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

An Appliance Factory

Part 15 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

It's painful to remember one of my early jobs, actually for a major manufacturing company, appliances. A long time ago someone invented the appliance, it caught on with the public, and naturally then they had to make them. And as far as I know they're still being produced to this very day. Along with the group activities meant for company pride and solidarity. Heave ho!

Yes, there was more to the factory that just assembly lines, warehouses, and stacks of parts. There were these team-working exercises -- varying in description -- that have stayed with me all these years. I bet I think of them every month or so. I'll be burning a little incense, the lights are dimmed or I have a candle, my hands are on my lap, my eyes closed, with a chunk of rope at the ready to tug on and maybe smack the wall. That alone refreshes my mind, I'm renewed, restored, rejuvenated and retired, since I usually fall asleep pretty quickly.

But we couldn't fall asleep on the job, because we always wanted our line or division to carry the day, and we won our share of gold stars. Which, if you won enough, you got a free cup of delicious, soothing coffee, so it was a big deal. It's been decades and I can still picture all these ropes being pulled around the company. The signal, a blast horn, sounded, like in a maritime harbor! The floor tilted and everyone clung to the rope, tugging with all our might, sometimes jerking the thing, which them was done in rhythm like in rowing (but pulling the rope) stroke, stroke, stroke, so satisfying the teamwork.

You can imagine the value. The teamwork took us out of our individual mind to a more exalted group mind, away from our own personal euphoria to something bigger than ourselves, a sense of exaltation, that all things were possible! We, each individual and the team as a whole, were bigger than we physically were. Each one, whether it was the tough guys up front or us weaklings down below, received something of beauty in the experience. Stroke, stroke, stroke!

Then there was a strange pause, a kind of hush all over the world, as we realized the team had achieved a climactic moment, the crest of the wave. We were urged on -- mentally not audibly -- and we pulled with all our might to put the team over the finish line and get our well-deserved cup of delicious coffee. They tilted the floor back in place and we went back to our work -- weakened physically but with an internal mental strength -- and achieved our quota of appliances boxed, shipped, purchased, and installed all around the country that very night.

Did it do any good for my self-esteem? I can’t say it didn’t, but it was brief. I'm average, not huge. It’s good to relieve pressure once in a while, ask anyone. But whether this kind of activity is good for a factory -- I know a lot of guys had a hard time looking their fellow guys in the eye for a while after. It’s like there’s a strange mental block, like we felt ashamed. And it's really not hard to churn out appliances without the group activities. Plus, I knew some of the foremen were embarrassed to force us to degrade ourselves like that.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Punished, Going Down


Part 14 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

That's me in mid-air slipping on a banana peel and falling. In a situation like that of dangerous circumstances and terrible consequences, bananas and gravity are your worst enemies. Of course it's also proverbial, meant to illustrate aspects of the experiences of people with fragile self-esteem.

But the connection with bananas/falling and having fragile self-esteem is only a thing of art. Because there’s no one-to-one discernible physical relation between the two. A person with great self-esteem -- never down on him- or herself in the slightest -- can also accidentally slip on banana peels. But their feelings on fragile self-esteem would not come to mind unless it’d be like this, “As a person with great self-esteem, I see no connection between any of that and slipping on a banana peel. It could happen to anyone, a person like me at the top of my game psychologically speaking or even an unfortunate dragged-down schlub with fragile self-esteem. It could in fact happen to me more frequently because, unlike the schlub, I'm not always looking down.”

Those are good thoughts, but when I go down, my first thought is always, “Yes, one more thing to add to all my other gripes. This had to happen to me, a damned persistent curse always working itself out, adding to my misery because misery is always a constant with someone with fragile self-esteem. Within a second or two my body is going to meet the floor, and there’s no way I’m going to escape it without feeling pain. Pain is a certainty. I may break something, although I hope I don’t. Let me get this punishment over with and perhaps I'll learn a lesson from it.” CRASH.

Another great point to make is it’s always something, again true for those not being punished as well as those of us who are. For someone like me, though, it means a lot more than for those who are completely innocent. The innocent slip and fall and may be embarrassed -- how I’d love to settle for mere embarrassment! -- but the rest of us feel and even know there’s something out to get us. Whatever our crime was it doesn’t matter. A punishment like this doesn’t really help. Or perhaps it does, in the sense that it’s one thing after another. Were I not being punished, I’d surely think of myself as more innocent than I am. But this judicious punishment -- one more punishment in a non-ending string of punishments -- keeps me dragging along at a particular pace and lets me know the trouble has not passed.

It’s interesting how these punishments are lined up, not in an obvious way but only discernible when the trap is sprung and experienced as if on a strict schedule. Going along with that, it’s also interesting that I don’t get, say, 10 punishments at once. It might be tripping over a board, my dog running into traffic, or a sack of dog poop catching fire on my lawn. One at a time. It’s never all three at once, an interesting aspect of punishments.

Well, here’s my response: I could much more easily shake my sense of doom and overcome my sense of fragile self-esteem if I saw a clearer, more blessed path in front of me than this drip drip drip of the negative. What a nightmare! And I genuinely like bananas, don't get me wrong.

Anyway, I thought all of that in mid-air. And my thoughts even went on for several more pages, mercifully excluded here, before I hit the floor. Which really hurt and was embarrassing. Several people were nearby. Also some snickering kids.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Ugly Or Fairly Not So Bad

Part 13 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

I haven’t yet attempted a definition of self-esteem, since the obvious assumption is we already know what it is. Simple. The whole thing makes me groan because defining things is one of the hardest things to get right. But it's always easier to attain if you at least give it a shot, with a quick disclaimer that it might not be airtight, wholly accurate, or satisfactory to all. The last point is obvious, because you couldn’t please everyone with mother’s milk, let alone definitions. But, crap, no one's going to do it for me...

Self-esteem is the subjective estimation of yourself, your personal sense of quality or lack thereof. For the extremes in the literature see I’m Shit by Sad N. Lonely and The Best A Man Can Get by Ray Zoar Blade. Both Lonely and Blade clearly take opposite paths. And as far as I'm concerned Blade just shaves the surface in his outlook while Lonely’s in a class by himself, meticulously accurate and exhaustive in his torment, which resonates with me as seen in each of my own torturous blog posts. But while I lean toward Lonely’s point of view, sharing his withdrawn/desiccated vibe, I’m still completely interested in Blade’s cutting style, actually to the point of adoration, yet suspecting it’s a boasting cover, giving us finally in the end two men with the same experience. Lonely as a wannabe, Blade a neverwas.

But, obviously, self-esteem is a thing you don’t have to read about or have expertise in to have real live-wire, exposed-nerve experiences with. For your life is exposed. You touch here, you’re shocked then swept up as a cinder. You touch there and you've bought the farm, depending if you’re at an auction sale or on your deathbed. For self-esteem is a combination of things, the good, the bad, the worse, the worse yet, the ultimate worse, then we're in negative territory. It can kill you, which potentially brings pain, suffering, shock, misery, heartbreak, despondency, torment and even braggadocio (cf. Lonely and Blade, et al. Reportedly, Sad N. Lonely howls at the moon even on nights when it's not out.)

My own problems with fragile self-esteem (and this is what you paid $100 to hear) were well known throughout my childhood. A quick review of my school pictures shows a child with his head down and eyes averted year after year. I was down, as we now know, but back then they blamed it on two things, being shy and very afraid someone in the immediately vicinity was going to steal my shoes. Well, shoes is now something I can take or leave. Yes, I was shy, and I was afraid. But I went through eight pairs of shoes in one week, so you tell me. Then factor in everything that every bashful, self-loathing person goes through; it all contributes to fragile self-esteem.

My illustration above, lifted without attribution from a scholarly periodical -- screw ‘em! -- shows the extremes of fragile self-esteem, one's beloved periodically seen as a wraith, a monster, terrible, and sickening, but then just as quickly can be seen as fairly not so bad and even kind of cute. How these things happen, we chalk it up to the strange extremes of self-esteem, alas, all wrapped up in one not-so-tidy fragile package.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Barely Worthy Of Lincoln

Part 12 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

I’ve mentioned here a number of times my closeness in spirit, temperament, and really in every other way, to Abraham Lincoln. In this age of claiming one’s spirit animals -- some pick their car, their dog, unicorns, the spirit of Liberace, or famous gangsters -- a long time ago I picked Lincoln. And against a lot of advice -- even my own family imploring me, “Pick Grandpa!” My siblings said pick Dad, Mom, even my pet rabbit Shed. On a larger scale I could've pick a teacher, or an animal outside the family, the lizard family, even Bigfoot!

But I've always liked inspirational heroes, astronauts, athletes, and Abraham Lincoln. Especially Lincoln. Because they drilled it into our heads when we were in school, “Lincoln’s great, Lincoln’s fantastic, there’s no one like Lincoln, Lincoln’s tops, Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln, the Great Railsplitter. Anytime we had to come up with any inspirational snippet of advice, “Be good to others” or “Wipe your shoes before stepping on the rug,” they likened it to something equally kind, gentle, and wise that Lincoln said. Lincoln was the Prince of Pith, always on the mark, the ready, set, and go of pithy stuff, memorable stuff, none of which I can think of now that you put me on the spot.

Let me look up something in “Famous Quotes of Lincoln," a cheap paperback I had rebound in leather. "My best friend is a person who will give me a book I have not read.” Lincoln said that. Meaning he and I have a lot in common, because I don’t read much either. Or how about this: “America will never be destroyed from the outside…” That’s good, because America’s where I live and I don't want it destroyed outside. Then there’s “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Ouch, this one’s kind of painful. I’m a vulnerable guy, very antsy, with extremely fragile self-esteem; right now I'm having the Code Blue of Fragile Self-Esteem.” I can't even pretend it's good. Yet if my Spirit Animal doesn’t see a problem with it, who am I to quibble? It's not good to be so low. Lincoln didn't say that, of course, because he's tall.

My biggest thing about Lincoln is just to keep him in my thoughts. And try to be worthy and responsible as a nice guy with such a great Spirit Animal tagging along behind me, trying to keep up. If he could just open doors for me, tell me when traffic’s coming so I didn't have to look both ways before crossing, and generally look out for my usually disastrous finances, all would be good.

But am I worthy of Lincoln, a guy with self-esteem so often in the pits? That's a good question, because Lincoln's a busy man. He’s got a lot to do. I could come up with excuses for him all day, and how do I know that’s not him as my internal voice being his own worst critic? What if Lincoln turns out to be the president with fragile self-esteem -- hard to believe? But I wouldn’t doubt it. Because why would guys like me be so drawn to him? Interesting stuff. If you don’t like it, please leave. But if you want to fawn over me like Honest Abe does, be my guest.

Friday, October 11, 2019

I'm Into Negative Lifelines


Part 11 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

So far I’ve clearly expressed the truth that my self-esteem is fragile and getting worse. The way it feels inside is … lots of jitters. I'm anxious all the time, ducking down so no one notices me, retreating to the back of the room, preferably the coat closet or somewhere to escape the staring eyes of others, always tempted to leave early or not show up at all.

Plus, I'm terrified someone might call attention to me, as in, “What was that strange thing you said the other day about ___?” Everyone turns to hear me, they’re smiling a bit, I break out in a sweat, I stumble out a few words before trembling like a snare drum, then end up throwing my apron over my head and running screaming from the room. The biggest thing I wonder about is why I'm wearing an apron.

I think I need a working buddy system, like on game shows where I get some lifelines before I'm completely booted out. Of course the problem with that is social settings aren’t game shows, which everyone knows is a game and they’re rooting for you. This is real life, and -- not to get too anxious -- you can’t really pause social settings to claim a lifeline without blowing yourself out of the water. Instant guilt.

So whatever lifelines I have need to be spent more surreptitiously. Like if I'm meeting someone, the conversation is extremely awkward -- my fears sabotage me as the rule, not the exception. I squint my eyes at a friend and that means, “I want to use a lifeline, meet me in the kitchen.” Where he chastises me for using a lifeline in the first five minutes. Then says, “You’re as good as anyone, stop worrying about wasting the world’s resources, you didn’t ask to be born.”

The friend adds, “If you’re paying attention to the conversation and not just your own insecurities, you’ll notice that the things others are saying aren’t exactly pearls of wisdom, but basic observations, ‘It’s hot at work,' 'The movie was bad,' and 'No, it’s not too hot in here.'" Even though I'm sweating through my underwear and telling myself I shouldn't feel sorry to be alive.

Anyway, I used up my last lifeline, all very regrettable. Then I was on the verge of making a scene and my friend saw my anxiety. I truly am a worm, so he accompanied me to the kitchen again:

“You’re now in negative lifelines, dude, this can’t go on. If you’re not happy, leave. If your self-esteem is that far in the toilet, you should probably avoid coming to parties. Yes, it’s going to look awkward if you get your coat from the bedroom already. What you should do is leave, then come back the next day and say you forgot it."

That’s pretty good advice, and imagine that, a bonus lifeline came through right when I needed it. I’m lucky like that.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Friends--Criminal Or Innocent


Part 10 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

Everyone likes to have a friend. It’s great for your self-esteem. There are of course some very antisocial people with something wrong with them, perhaps their wiring or some mental lapse became a habit, whatever, who would be the exception. Those of us who do like having friends know what they mean to us, fellow feelings, moral support, and someone to talk to. Other friends we have are more or less incidental, folks we know at the fringe, those who do particular things for us but we don’t see them often, like the guy who fixes our tires if we (rarely) are involved in a police chase and run over spike strips.

And everyone likes having the things that go into friendship. First, let me say, this again excludes those who are antisocial in various ways, whether they don’t like having friends period, or they have friends but aren’t eager to confide in them the various problems they may be facing, choosing rather to maintain their privacy and sweep the problems, or at least any discussion of them, under the rug, carefully concealing the fact that they are likely guilty of those problems and a lot worse, if we only knew. As for myself, it’s not an aspect of friendship that I really depend on, because I try to avoid all trouble, particularly of a criminal nature -- because police chases and replacing tires becomes expensive -- and anything else I may or may not do I keep to myself.

So we’ve learned so far that having friends is an unambiguous blessing and essential to one and all, depending on how the terms are defined. It is a blessing for those who choose to have friends and are not antisocial. And it’s also a blessing for those who choose not to have friends and are antisocial up the yin yang, because it gives them a distinctive to boast of, identifying them, setting them apart, that they are so dainty and special, at least in their own foolish world of worthless fantasy.

As for me, no, I have nothing to sweep under the rug. Never have, never will, and those times when I have had something to sweep under the rug, the way I do it, and the means of getting it done, to the extent that I maintain power over the circumstances -- I have been caught or ensnared in various nets over the years, police chases, pit maneuvers, poison darts, etc., thwarting my intentions -- I take my opportunities and make the most of them. Not only do I want the more obvious facts to be hidden, but anything and everything that might constitute a trail, even of crumbs, leading again to a complete exposure, everything naked to the light of day, perhaps including myself -- a bad feeling -- and whoever it is riding with me. Let me just say now, and I raise my hand to heaven on this point, I have no idea how she found her way into my bed, then on to the interstate. We were not actually friends, it was just a mutual quickie.

But let’s also posit for the sake of argument that there is guilt, I suppose a casual acquaintance with someone -- perhaps a friend -- might come in hand, to help me get a good deal on new tires, or if the problem is evidence and a place to bury it, to conceal whatever is too big (or smelly and decomposing) to be buried later. Certainly we’ll wait for the city pickup and dispose of the sheets, triple-bagged, unmarked, and set those on the curb about three blocks away.

Whatever we may have sacrificed, and it’s been substantial so far, we hope we can recoup, enhancing and lifting our self-esteem, which to this point has been fragile.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Art Therapy Didn't Work

Part 9 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

It was probably ten years ago that I had the idea of doing art to help my mental outlook, which at the time was also a brief and challenging episode of fragile self-esteem (seven years) that dogged me like a hellhound on my trail. I was jittery, my hands shook, my body succumbed to the cold sweats, I was very irritable with family, friends, loved ones, and even strangers. Even the friendly guy who came around for the cancer drive, I about bit his head off: “Sir, take your book of receipts and talking points on the latest miraculous breakthroughs and leave my stoop. I told you once I can’t give, I told you twice I can’t give, and now I’m telling you nicely for the last time, I won’t give, I simply can’t, sir!” I physically seized him by the scruff of the neck and his pants and flung him to the other side of the road.

Later, trying to help myself recover, I went to an art store and bought a couple small canvases with the wooden slats built in and a box of oil paints. I really expected to dig in and enjoy myself in this new-for-me field, becoming an artist and painting the masterpieces that are typical with amateur painters. What happened next, though, wasn’t what I'd hoped for at all. Instead of painting, then running out and buying new canvases, always bigger and better canvases, I never painted a single stroke. The paints were left unopened. I couldn’t think of anything to paint, I’m not a good painter and drew a blank, and a couple years ago when I moved to The Big City I gave all the paints and canvases to Goodwill.

Recently, then, my fragile self-esteem again took that familiar journey -- it started like a nagging then persistent itch, then transformed into a blank pain which over a period of scant days became a gnawing pain. Once that happened, then, it was busy at the molecular level folding in on itself, reaching out and feeling for new boundaries to surmount, working on me 24-hours a day, taking all the time and opportunity it needed to go rogue. One day it hit me; I looked in the bathroom mirror and was wrapped in the self-esteem equivalent of tentacles, reaching out, curling back, and twisting at random. I swatted at them like swatting flies, but they only swatted back, cowing me.

So it was a south-of-the-border standoff. Making me think again of art and painting. With the brainchild idea that maybe this time the message of the tentacles -- the vision -- was, “Get out there and waste a few canvases. There’s companies just dying to make and sell canvases. With factories geared up for it in league with paint factories. You’re probably a good painter if you specialize in abstracts, no one can really criticize them.

This time, though, I didn't just stay home but went to a studio, thinking the peer pressure might really motivate me. But the time I got there my fragile self-esteem had entered a more viral stage of fragility. The good news is no canvases were harmed; they were all released back into the wild. The bad news is I don’t know what all the other stages of fragile self-esteem might reveal, negatively speaking.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Man Down!

Part 8 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

If you’ve ever been down on your luck to the point of someone calling an ambulance for you, you know that’s a particularly perilous moment in your life. You’re wondering, What happened? And struggling to get or regain the full context of your situation, because frankly you may have forgotten where you are and even who you are in the excitement. Once you’ve blacked out, you can't be sure if an hour has passed or just a few seconds. Maybe even 50 years! It’s scary stuff.

But say you’ve come to and a hero's helping you, a guy who called for help, and he's now feeling up your heart, discerning your heartbeat as best he can -- thumpa thumpa thumpa -- which goes on, thankfully, whether you’re awake or asleep. Something very serious must have occurred. You were on the street, not at home, not in the sanctity of your own place. You could've been injured if you were blindfolded and bound on a three-day drunk. Something serious happened -- maybe drinking drinks you weren't accustomed to ordering -- but you’re blank out on precisely what.

I’m trying to think back over my life, if I’ve ever nearly passed away in public. Particularly from self-esteem-related issues. Nothing’s coming to me. Absolutely nothing. Nada. Wait, there was the time I showed up at the junior high prom in Hush Puppy shoes, having had to walk the distance between home and the school in the pouring rain. My sloshing about on the dance floor elicited such murmuring and laughter that, yes, I nearly did pass away, hitting my head solidly on the mascot’s picture in the middle of the gym. In the haze I imagined them crying out, “Boy down!” They took me to the ER, where I was either brought back to life or woke up. Regardless, I had to admit the whole sordid affair, that I was a victim of wet shoes. Honestly, my self-esteem never recovered.

Wow, now that I’m thinking of it, nearly everything I did -- regardless of what shoes I wore, or pants or suspenders or underwear too small or car I borrowed or girl I walked home usually ended with the ambulance and yet another ding to my self-esteem, admittedly already fragile. You go through that enough and people expect it. With a history like that, always on the downward path, people gave wide berth to me, thinking I had a contagious disease that they wanted to avoid. I tried to dance, tried to cut in, and sometimes girls went into a swoon and also needed the ambulance. Which carried near tragic results for me when I also swooned and had to wait for professional care, who were already fed up with me.

My dad was fed up as well, because you only get a certain amount of trips in the ambulance before the charges skyrocket. He had to work two jobs just for the dances I went to. Then guys who saw my weakness attacked me from the dark bushes for laughs and I might find myself sprawled out in the road, run over or worse. What’s worse than that? Remember the rabid dog epidemic of 1977? You would've thought some of my so-called friends would’ve helped, but they used the argument, “Dogs gotta eat too.” Sprawled out like that really makes you think. Mostly very negative stuff. In fact, all negative stuff.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Weakness In Numbers

 Part 7 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

The troubles we have are a tremendous weight. But if we start looking around, it can help. Being something of a shrimp myself, and having that affecting my self-esteem, there were a couple of choices how to face it. There was the obvious “Hang out with other shrimps” choice, since it’s true there’s power in numbers. And I guess I did take some comfort there. In a club of shrimps a few years back they voted me “Most Likely to Recede” a few times, just a thing we passed around because we didn’t want anyone feeling bad by not winning once in a while.

But after a while you realize it’s a big world -- like a classroom globe but larger -- and you’re only holding yourself back if you hang out with just shrimps to the neglect of the rest. You need to branch out beyond that one community. Maybe you go 50 miles from home. One time I was 200 miles from home and, God as my witness, I stayed there a few days. And the people! I bet I saw a hundred people, each one larger than the last! All these people, you find shrimps and big people kind of mesh together, no big deal.

Since then I've been on a lot more trips and have seen people in such magnificent numbers it boggles the mind. With signs reading, “Now Entering Africa,” “Now Entering Asia,” “Now Entering Des Moines,” “Now Entering Texas,” and so forth. It’d be fun to be a frequent traveler and have your picture taken by all these wondrous signs. And it's also good to see the signs at the outskirts of little towns, “Population: 565,” etc. None of these places specify if they’re big folks, important folks, flakes, shrimps, people of high self-esteem or of low...

It gives hope to all of us, although there’s a lot of people who’d have no appreciation of it, given that they already have hope. But for the rest of us, anything that moves us a step or two closer to feeling we’re all right with the world is a precious enhancing of what we started with. When my friend The Big Man lifted me up and showed me a world stretching well past the wooden fence, that was an eye opener. Then all my trips took place, where shrimps of all colors and nationalities and languages were revealed, along with big folks, tall, wide, each one beautiful in her or his own right, I about lost my lunch. “You mean to tell me?!” Yes, they did!

The only difference now is I’m again a little “under the weather” when it comes to self-esteem. The Big Man’s been away for a few years. He went to Wisconsin supposedly to get his car out of hock and I haven’t heard from him since. Wisconsin! What would it be like to go to Wisconsin? It must be great, since he went there and we haven’t heard from him OR his car this whole time.

I suppose he might've gone to Wisconsin to get away from me. That's probably what happened. Tired of shrimps, I bet he is.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Look On The Bright Side

Part 6 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

It’s been a great day. I checked my pulse, it’s still there. Looked around, the eyes are still working. Thought a few things, brain’s sputtering like normal. Went to the bathroom, the usual weak stream. But I have an excuse. I keep seeing spiders in my bathroom but I’m very reluctant to mess with them. To a certain extent I leave them alone, figuring they’re doing some ecological good even if it isn't obvious. But they do freak out my once strong stream. And I’ve checked other vital signs, vitality’s in place.

Plus, every day is potentially great and usually is in fact. Even if you’ve got the huge thumb of life and existence on you, as long as it’s not squishing you to death, you can convinced yourself it’s a great day. Also, of course, I’ve had the dog out a few times today. She’s having a great day. But it suddenly hits her that she has to go, so she comes and makes noises to me indicating that fact. “OK, I’m just finishing up this blog, give me exactly 28 seconds and we’ll go out.” I’m happy she understands that, because she certainly appears to.

The only thing not so great -- and I’m very tired of it -- is my fragile self-esteem. If I had three wishes all three wishes would be to shake this feeling of dread, queasiness, and this great sense of heaviness in that one very vulnerable aspect of life. My usual confidence is dangling by a string, the ship of state has run aground, and my well being is well in abeyance.

A huge thumb could be holding a guy down, though, for multiple reasons, some bad to the person but some good. For the bad, that side of the equation my biggest suspicion is some aspect of existence has me right where it wants me, nefariously. All avenues of escape are blocked. They’re monitoring the situation in this scheme of things to stifle and stymie, and basically put the old kibosh on my options. Say I want the option of high self-esteem, [buzzer] Sorry, your request is denied, please try again. But there could be a good side to it as well. Sometimes in health you lose an ability temporarily, like a broken leg, and an attempt to walk on it might be actual walking but it can’t be sustained. So being sidelined is positive.

But I still feel like I could easily overcome fragile self-esteem. Me. Usually bubbly, effervescent as an antacid. I've never heard an antacid take no for an answer. You drop it in the water and it fizzes everytime, promising, “These bubbles of deliverance are your savior. This is my word, my bond, my promised relief is already in sight!”

Thank goodness... Anytime now...

Saturday, October 5, 2019

My Beautiful Spirit Arises

Part 5 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

I’m struck right away by the question, When will my beautiful spirit arise? Or, Why should I have any self-esteem at all? Yes, I’ve been in deep dog-doo mourning its fragility. That’s common to many of us, which includes me. But even though it's common doesn't mean it's a just complaint. Because I’m only seeing it from my own point-of-view -- my selfishness is blind as a bat -- obviously a common thing with socially self-oriented creatures. I want it just because I want it. Me, me, me, kick me down, turn me 'round, fetch a pail of water, me!

Being social, of course, it's useful to have stronger self-esteem. Since we’re always in a pecking order of sorts. Like at the dinner table in a family of 12 kids. You don’t want the oldest kids depriving the youngest. So your mother has to be there with a 10-foot cane pole and a paperweight duct-taped to the end. The kids get out of line, the oldest ones hogging the pizza or burgers, she has to come down hard on their heads. And send them promptly to their rooms without food. It’s only just. “You ate your fill yesterday and your brothers got nothing. Now you get nothing and your brothers their fill. And so forth. (Contact me for more parenting tips, available on need-to-know basis, plausible deniability possible.)

Naturally, if you have enough dysfunction taking place not only at the dinner table but throughout the house, with relationships marred and mangled by selfishness and everyone insatiable, it can be a downer. And mothers can’t be everywhere at once. In fact, they're often with the rest of the coven desperate to find new ways to negotiate their families through the modern world. It’s to everyone's benefit for new generations to born and raised, or so they say. It’s part of the propaganda package most of us accept, and I’m not saying it’s wrong. Or maybe it’d be good in the long run to destroy the planet. It'd clear the way for something new to arise in five or six billion years, Nature taking the long view. With no one here those eons take just a blink...

But what about me? Let’s leave feeble mankind aside for a while. Mankind gets all the press and it gets too much. I want to know what’s going to happen to me, me, me now. As far as I can tell, I’m the center of all things. Certainly my own thoughts are uppermost in my mind. I get hungry, thirsty, and even now I’m craving the lust of the flesh (not really, just throwing out some red meat.)

My hideous blobbish form is rousing (see graphic). Whatever bands have held me down, I concentrate my strength with intensity to cast them off. My fragile self-esteem, enforced on me by outside powers, shall be no more! I shall arise from this squalor, and like powerful blobs everywhere, coat the world itself with my being! And when that dries, a second coat. Arise! Arise! While I still have life and breath, I shall arise, and … take over the world! ... Who am I kidding?

Friday, October 4, 2019

People Making Fun Of Me

Part 4 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

Most of us -- the exceptions are unconscious slobs and oafs -- don’t like even the thought of being laughed at by others for the “wrong” reasons. Of course it’s great if they laugh if we say something purposely funny, like I used to read from a book of riddles: "How do you drive a hot rod? Go on your honeymoon." But we hate it if they’re laughing at us because of horrible appearance, something stupid we’ve said, if they think our parents look funny, or they’ve tricked us in some way.

Most of this starts in childhood, when everyone’s looking for conformity, lack of conformity, poverty, some physical defect, a defect in your family, or your mother’s army boots. I used to have an adult in my life -- at school -- who would say things like, “Your dad’s short, you’re short!” He thought these things were funny and worth saying over and over, not just to me but most kids.

Certainly if you’re walking past someone, maybe a group of guys, you’re aware that their whole group dynamic has some stereotypical aspects to it. They’re a distinct group, you’re an outsider. Anything about you that's different -- and it doesn’t have to be significant -- will be used for laughs. If that ever happens to you, stop and give them a psychological diagnosis about every in-group’s longing to set themselves apart by looking for even small differences between themselves and others.

You get enough of this completely despicable behavior, and you think, "How can I get back at these bastards? That's when you start hatching at least the outlines of a plan. Destruction of their car. Getting down to brass tacks on their other possessions. Sabotage of their school records, raiding a farmer's market and piling spoiled fruit and vegetables on their lawns, squeezing out their pimple medicine and refilling the tube with hot sauce, etc. I no longer advocate anything like that -- it's illegal and no one should do it -- oh, crap, I just got something in my eye, wink wink.

That said, if it’s merely kids trying to get laughs, you can laugh along with them, although I don’t see kids do much of this anymore. In fact, I don’t even see that many adults -- or the stereotypical hoodlums of old -- doing it. They’re all off with prostitutes, doing drugs, robbing liquor stores, or some, to their credit, are quite good citizens, guiding tours in local museums, serving in schools as adjunct staff, teaching assistants, or are away from the main drag in other specialized helping agencies. Do-gooders are getting the last laugh.

Still, let’s assume it still happens somewhere, like way back in the days of old. If you let it get to you, as most of us have, it poses a threat to your self-esteem. It’s happened to me a time or two, and you start thinking and you look around. What can I do about it?

Thursday, October 3, 2019

My Report Card

Part 3 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

One of the counselors I've had over the years is someone I'd definitely recommend. I mean I would recommend him if he would only clear away about six years of unpaid bills, which frankly have slowed my recovery from fragile self-esteem.

It was under his therapy that I learned to use affirmations and his theories on me seeing my life as a thing of hope and beauty, no matter how hopeless I obviously feel and how awful things are. He taught me one very potent mantra: “I’m gonna be dead someday, what can I accomplish today?” Unfortunately, I haven’t accomplished a lot, but I do have a grave plot on hold, despite the cemetery board’s continual threats that if I don’t put money down they can’t guarantee it’ll be there when I need it.

Just today I was working on one of my mantras, looking deeply into the mirror and my own bloodshot eyes and affirming myself, “Get used to me world, I’m here, deal with it, loser.” If I say that a couple hundred times I'm able to go out in public and function for several minutes without any self-esteem attacks. Giving me time to grab a few groceries and pay for them if the line has less than three people. On some of their busier days I've had to drop things and run, or simply steal things.

My ability to take baby steps (and more) are reflected in my early report cards. My deportment was judged Fair (which I think means really good), and I need good deportment for outings, for my good attitude and general friendliness. Also it has to do with the appropriateness of my attire, and I've found anything's better than nudity.

It’s not perfect system, though, since I don't change clothes very often. And I believe if I can sit at home and smell myself, others in public probably can too. But until I get explicit complaints -- and there’s usually someone else near enough, it could be them -- I’m just going to keep on going as I have. I don’t like wasting money on soap. I think that if you show up at the cash register with a bunch of soap, to the checkout lady that’s the same as a signed confession that you're the one that stinks.

Just to review my other marks. I got better at spelling, thanks to the computer checking everything. Arithmetic isn’t needed thanks to calculators, and anything under 10 I can use my fingers. I’ll just put out a little note to any of my teachers who may have survived this long and are reading this. Thanks to all of you, for nothing. I’ve got fragile self-esteem and I’m pinning the blame on you! You did this to me! I’m coming after you!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Misery Adores Company

Part 2 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

What about you? Did you ever get one of those childhoods where anything that could go wrong did go wrong? And it ended up doing a number on your whole personality, to the point that on a good day you’re still a big fat zero? I see a few sad hands. This month we’re touching on these unfortunately common issues of fragile self-esteem. And that's the proper way of saying it, as editor-in-chief here, although I realize all too well that “Misery adores company.” But if it weren’t for my fellow-sufferers, probably no one would believe the things to come. Our dismal past exposed to a disbelieving, disapproving public!

Of course I should know quite a bit about it, and I could even be called one of the foremost experts on it. I think that’s true, at least, and I’m flattered if you think it too. But the story could be told as well by my sworn enemies, wherever they are, those who tormented me beyond all sense. And yet I’m willing to concede they perhaps had good reasons, even if they were only reasons of their own. The degree to which indeed I was "squirrelly" hasn't been conclusively proven. But certainly they know who they are, to the extent that I’m that memorable, and it’s not hard to imagine that wherever they are they’ve made a success of their lives. Perhaps as prison guards, mafia hit-men, factory foremen, professional wrestlers, or gym teachers.

I know this much, I’m certainly not going to look up any of them. And I’ve avoided class reunions for this reason. Because anywhere there’s a punch bowl there’s a potential drowning. And I’ve managed somehow -- a guy hypnotized me at the shopping center once, about the time I took Abraham Lincoln as my personal spirit animal -- to live a semi-proud life, semi-proud of myself for respecting myself enough to sit up and take nourishment. Today I had my usual bowl of plain oatmeal, and just because my fragile self-esteem is such a vital part of my outlook, two pieces of burnt toast with butter past the expiration date.

Some of you may have sympathy for me. I'm proud to have your sympathy, because that lets me know that in a rough and tumble world there are still good people. So let me confer a few blessings your way. "This reader, among my best friends, knows a sad sack story when he or she hears it. May he or she be free of all bullies, evil-doers, letchs, trolls, souped-up athletes, gym teachers, prison guards, towel snappers, and extortionists. Let his or her self-esteem be up there with the immortals, who know the glory of righteous suffering but wouldn’t inflict unnecessary pain on a fly, killing them, yes, because we’re trying to avoid the next global plague, but quickly and with mercy."

Did I do the pledge yet? Looks like I didn't: “I pledge destruction to fragile self-esteem, and to the mental conditions from which it thrives, one person, under valued, too divided, with happiness and private showers for all.” Now, c’mon, guys, get me off this damned nail!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Self-Esteem, Code Fragile

Part 1 of 30
My Fragile Self-Esteem

This series exists because of troubles I've had recently with fragile self-esteem. I can't seem to shake it. But it's my hope that dwelling on my problems with a laser focus, and allowing nothing to enter my mind except my problems, then trying -- hook or crook -- to alleviate my problems, the good, the bad, the worse, the whole toilet, I might regain my once-proud self-esteem.

The first step, of course -- as every hack counselor says, and they charge $50 for this alone -- is to admit you have a problem. The only reason I hesitate to “admit” I have a problem is because I’m not so sure it’s my problem. OK? Maybe it's the crummy counselor doing some kind of mojo money-leaching whammy on me. But whatever it is -- it's a whammy -- I definitely want to save the $50 by doing it myself.

Here's my actual argument against the first step, admitting I have a problem. The problem is a combined effort, mostly of the world against me, singling me out, the big thumb of nature on the scales of justice making things tough for me. “My” problem, therefore, started off as someone else’s problem. And it’s been assigned to me -- by pesky counselors and those in their thrall -- as a kind of truism that applies to everyone and therefore has to apply to me. But look at it this way: Some folks have polio, rickets, sea-legs, hickys, eczema, dog breath, Italian breath, gout, heartbreak of psoriasis, stage one diabetes, dandruff, dry scalp, pulled leg, dizziness from merry-go-rounds, fear of flying, and runny nose, but that doesn’t mean everyone has it.

If I have low self-esteem, and the more I think of it the more likely it is, it's not uncommon. Most guys like me, I guess, who feel dumb, cheap, insubstantial, a big nothing, and virtually unfit to live thanks to the judgment of God, have something at least bordering on low self-esteem. It’s not that I don’t want to admit it, well … hell yes I have low self-esteem, or I might rephrase that, I have fragile self-esteem. Whether it’s low or high isn’t the issue, but how strong it is or, the way I’m experiencing it now, how fragile it is.

It’s that fragility, then, that starts popping up in other areas of your life. A bunch of family friends are killed in a car/train collision and you go to pieces, crying, briefly in grief. Similarly, there’s no known order to people coming down with dreaded diseases. It might take this one, that one, then someone in Japan, then someone in Europe. And you don’t care. But suddenly there’s a local outbreak, and, again, another group of friends -- your best friend, his wife, their kids, his brother, his family, and even another friend on the other side of town, his family, and in fact his whole neighborhood -- and again, damn the luck, you’re sad, beating your breast, and willing to confess, the world’s against me, my self-esteem is squat! Then there's childhood troubles, dad wasted away after a hard day's work, slaving away to keep my in diapers.

Fortunately none of that stuff happened to me, except the diapers, so I haven't got it that bad. But if I did -- God forbid it ever happening to me -- I’m sure I’d be abject, the object of rejection in terms of my feelings and my sense of self. Yes, I admit it, if the whole world went to hell, at least in regards to the folks I personally know, it’d dent my self-esteem. Just having to justify myself in this regard -- therapist or not, fifty bucks or free -- my self-esteem is feeling increasingly fragile.