This is not really about Christmas. It’s about caring too much about what other people think and how that trait of mine is slowing eroding away.
I’m not sure if you know this about me or not, but I used to be younger.
As a younger person I went to this place they call a school, which I guess is some sort of torture-resistance training facility. Except because it’s only training, you can’t stop the torture by giving up the information so it’s probably closer to the concept of torture than real torture is.
Anyway, if you haven’t been, they do have guards to keep you there (under the guise of being “teachers”) but the torture itself is actually done by other people your size.
Those damn kids!
Picture me at 10-ish years old, at the end of Christmas holidays, a day before returning to school. I’m at home, messy hair, old sweater and no socks, and as unhappy as a snake in a snowstorm knowing what’s coming.
What am I doing? I’m preparing my Christmas list.
It’s early-January, I’ve already gotten my gifts, so it’s not the traditional Christmas list you may be familiar with.
It’s the answer to this question: what’d you get for Christmas?
I knew it would be asked of me thanks to years of experience in the torture chamber called school. And my goal, as with most things at that point, was to fly under the radar and not attract too much attention. I didn’t wanna give up any information that my tormentors could use to enhance the torture.
My list of “wadjaget” needed to be generic, so I didn’t lay claim to liking anything that might have been uncool. But it needed to be substantial enough so nobody thought I was too poor. And I’m not good on the spot, so it had to be rehearsed.
I would mentally prepare the list for a couple days before going back to school. Then I would practice it to make it sound convincing. And I would revise it and prepare for follow-up questions. I would never lie but I would try to frame whatever I did get in a way I thought would be most acceptable.
Thinking About What Others Think
Making my post-Christmas Christmas list is the earliest example I can remember of me crafting my public image.
We all do it. We say certain things or take certain pictures to give other folks a certain impression, even if it’s not who we are or what we are. I’m not even saying that’s bad. It’s often the first step in the fake-it-till-you-make-it route of self-improvement. Look at my (outdated) LinkedIn and I’m wearing a collared shirt and the background is a stock photo of a modern, clean white office. That’s not an accident, but neither is it a shirt I ever wear. Or is that office a place I ever go. Or look at my Twitter — I’m in a coffee shop in one picture and on a bike trip on the other. Yes, those are both places I’ve been but they aren’t my essence. I can’t even drink coffee!
The point is: I’m really trying to be done with that. I wrote about this relating to clothing a while back. And homes. And one post that I didn't write talked about it concerning food. I’ve been practising this for years. I’m really trying hard to go deeper though.
I would say the goal is to not give a shit, but really it’s about giving the bare-minimum shit. Like with a proper diet. You give a little shit every day, but not too much shit all at once, or going too long without giving one.
A Recent Example Not Relating To Toilets In Any Way
I work remotely which means I spend a lot of my day in our spare bedroom on my computer on video calls.
In my last apartment, I had it set up with a nice shelf full of very specific items to give an idea of my world — a plant, a french dictionary, drumsticks and some video games. You had to look closely but it was all there. There were also a couple of framed paintings on the wall next to it, each with an interesting story if anyone were to ask.
That's all gone now though.
Moving to my new place was kinda frantic and it took us some time to settle. So that video call background has been an ever-changing assortment of boxes and unused furniture and unsorted items for the past few months.
It wasn’t as nice, but it was authentic.
And that’s all I really want to be at this point. Authentic. Honest. Usually wearing one of my three pairs of GapFit athletic pants that I picked up in three consecutive weeks because they’re made of some magic material that’s far too comfortable and durable for something you’d expect to get at the Gap so I had to stock up.
In person, you’d find that I’m short and thin and don’t look like what someone might expect a "man" of my age to look. I don’t speak loudly or authoritatively. I’m used to being underestimated. I’m used to being asked if I’m living in Montreal for university, even if I graduated university 15 years ago. Lawyers, bankers, basically anyone in a suit — they all tend to talk down to me.
I’ve tried to counteract this at different times by dressing better, wearing collars and jackets and fancy sweaters and nice pants and real shoes.
I'm done with that too.
This past summer, I had to do some paperwork at a lawyer’s office. I went wearing sandals and shorts. I carried my documents in my favourite half-neon-green shoulder bag. And it was the first time I can remember I was okay with just being there as whatever ‘me’ was that day. Everyone else at the table was in a suit. Great! That's awesome, they looked great in suits, keep it up. Let's mingle and be ourselves.
And maybe that’s how you picture me anyway — doing as I please as I go about my day. But the reality is that I think and plan about every little detail of how I might be perceived. And while sometimes I may ignore what others might think and buy a Volkswagen Beetle, me default is to let it consume me and feed into my perfectionism.
“What should I wear, which folder should I store these papers in, should I take an Uber so I’m not sweaty from the 10-minute walk?”
But all that is just making Christmas lists after Christmas so the other kids don’t have a reason to put you down. No thanks.
I wish I could say I understood the process of going from caring to not caring, but I think it’s simply a matter of getting older, finding supportive people who care about you even when you’re at a low (and I have quite a few lows) and actively mentally fighting against those negative thoughts so they don’t spiral out of control.
So even if I start some days out caring, I’ll fight against that, and carry on as if I don’t care, and, over time, have more and more days on which I genuinely don’t care about what the world at large thinks about me.
Because I’ll be too busy caring about myself, the people I care about, and the things I believe are important. Everyone and everything else can take a number.
...including cancer. It's tough to move past a post like last week's and not talk about it or write a follow-up, but just like after cancer, you gotta keep living the way you've been living and for me that's writing about Christmas insecurities.