My social difficulties at school manifested from my very first day at Little Meadows Nursery School in Toledo, and both of the threads that created those difficulties stemmed from the television I watched in my earliest years. I devoured Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood every weekday, so my eagerness to come to school and learn even more things didn’t exactly endear me to my new classmates. In addition, because I was hooked on The Gong Show, my sense of humour was already spiraling out of control. I loved the silliness of the show, and I wanted to be silly like all the people who got all the big laughs on the show, so I would often act in completely random ways thinking that I’d make everyone laugh because I was too young to know what I was doing.
Between getting off on the wrong foot at every school I went to (something that followed me through college), and the way my father kept our family pretty much isolated from normal social activities, this created a huge problem for me that still affects me today. I’ve blogged before about how I’m not really sure if I was a born introvert, or if my difficult childhood turned me into one, but I’ve tried to find the blessings in my solitude over the past few years. Even today, being an English professor who’s also a teetotaler already puts me in unicorn territory, and I just don’t see myself having anything resembling a social life any time in the near future. I’m okay with that most of the time, what with pandemic concerns and how much work I still have to do before I can draft my next book, but there are times when it really gets to me.
One of those times came a few nights ago, when I was watching the Twitch stream of someone whose comedic stylings I really admire. All the stuff of hers that I’d seen previously was relatively orthodox in nature, but for this stream, everything just seemed so random that I felt like my mind was flying apart trying to understand even the smallest bit of it. Part of that comes from those early difficulties I had trying to “be funny” and understanding now that randomness isn’t funny in and of itself, and given that I sometimes use small jokes in my classes to try to help my students get through them, I have a good reason to want to understand comedy on that level. There was just nothing to understand about what this streamer was doing, though, but it was working, and everyone in her chat room was really enjoying it.
I was enjoying it as well — it kind of reminded me of how I reacted to The Gong Show back in the day — but it was also making me uncomfortable. Something about it just made me feel like it wasn’t meant for me, and as the stream became more and more random, I felt like I couldn’t take it any longer. I kept watching, though, even as the streamer faked a few endings before finally ending the stream for real.
Because Twitch chat remains on even when a channel isn’t broadcasting, though, this led to a good number of the hundreds of people who’d been in the chat earlier just hanging around and speculating that this was yet another brilliant fake-out by the streamer, who would soon start broadcasting again and regale us with even more entertainment. As the minutes drew on, though, more and more people left the chat, until there were only a few people there. I still didn’t feel comfortable participating, so I just listened to some music while staring at my screen while the final few chatters were talking with one another. (At one point the streamer did type a solitary question mark in chat, but that was it.)
One of the chatters at one point remarked about how hanging out in the chat for the stream was fun because it allowed them to pretend that they had friends. I almost typed “I wish I had friends” in the chat, and that’s when I had to close everything down and try to figure out what the hell was going on with me. It’s not like I don’t have friends, but it’s also true that I haven’t really made any close friends since I moved to Wisconsin nearly five years ago, largely thanks to the whole teetotaler thing. Maybe thinking about that made me realize that the last close friend I was in physical proximity to was Hedder, when I was living with her in Colorado Springs before I moved to Wisconsin, and how this September is going to mark the first anniversary of her passing. Thinking about that is certainly a good reason for me feeling so bad there.
I’ve spent a good deal of time these past few days trying to make sense of all that stuff, but I’m not really getting anywhere with it. Maybe, like the comedy, there is no sense to be made of it. I guess I’m feeling now like I did in those first days of school, when no one wanted to be around me and I couldn’t figure out anything that was going on. Unlike then, though, I know enough to just shut up now and not get myself into any further difficulties. Even if hunkering down in my solitude can be painful sometimes, it’s still better than the alternative.