Does your confidence ever suffer? Why?
Not as much as it used to; lack of confidence is no longer something that permeates my life and personal identity, but we all have our structural damage, and mine always seems to strike in the form of selling myself short. I set high standards for other people, but nearly impossible ones for myself, and why? Because I’m vain, insecure, a perfectionist, I fluctuate between inferiority and superiority complexes, and I feed on validation. Because I want to be impressive, and no-one’s harder to impress than me. Because I’m too human for my own good.
Do you lose confidence when you don’t feel attractive?
Of course, because I’m quite visually oriented, but again, it has more to do with meeting my own standards than society’s. Maybe that’s a warped upside, but it is what it is. Most of the time, though, I’m cool with my physical appearance, in that it rarely factors into my sense of self-worth—it used to, particularly after I moved up north and put on so much weight and just went around feeling trapped in my own body. I still don’t love my body, but enough work has gone into improving it that I’ve achieved a point of, “You’re not ideal, but you’ll do. For now.” But I lose ten times more confidence from writer’s block or creative ennui than I do from my premenstrual zits. Surely that counts for something.
What makes you feel confident about yourself?
My individuality, more than anything, then my humanism, then how passionately I can give a damn about something or someone, once I do. My determination to be and express myself has cost me a lot of alleged friends, but at the same time, it’s rewarded me with Paul, ie. the best thing that’s ever happened to me, so it’s impossible to underrate the positive.
Have you ever been bullied?
Ouch. Guess it's time for some full disclosure about my school experience. Kindergarten through fourth grade, apart from a certain teacher who should be receiving my therapy bills any time now, weren’t so bad. I wasn’t the best or most popular student, but I wasn’t exactly suffering…most of the kids, and the teachers, probably saw me as an eccentric loner who rocked at reading and science but sucked at math and sports, dismissing me accordingly. No problem, except when my inner attention junkie had the floor. Fifth grade was pretty brutal, my first taste of full-on bullying…I don’t know what was going on; I think one or two of the popular boys just singled me out for their own reasons and, being as well-liked as they were, more kids jumped on board than didn’t. Lots of crying myself to sleep when I was ten. In grade six things leveled out again, but I’d changed somewhere along the line; my trust and work ethic were a shambles, so I spent every day in every class with my guard up, completely spaced out, carrying a grudge from the year before, and waiting for the worst-case scenario. Seventh grade on was where the excrement hit the air-cooling device, and it was set on a loop. The whole school was a booby trap of abuse, attacks, standoffs, and threats, and the only way to avoid it was to hide or ditch. Which I did. Often. Once for so many consecutive days that a rumour got started wherein I’d offed myself. Actually, I think that was when I had pneumonia, but still…I hated school with a pitch-black passion, and if I didn’t have a legitimate reason to stay home, I’d fake one.
Have you ever bullied anyone?
You know, I suspect I have, because I’m a naturally abrasive person, I don’t always use a filter between entertaining thoughts and expressing them, and when you’re in a situation like mine, you take your revenge where you can get it. But I don’t remember any incidents in detail, so bullying must not have much going for it, at least not for me. I do know that I’ve said some horrible things about Andrews, North Carolina (the setting for all this) that weren’t entirely called for. Obviously Andrews was the wrong place for me—I belong somewhere more metropolitan, bohemian, freethinking, and conducive to my interests—but that never licensed me to look down on people who could be happy in a down-home rural atmosphere. Finally, something that does in fact require an apology from me.
How did bullying or being bullied make you feel?
Being the bully, as I said, didn’t have much impact on me, other than making me feel like a douche in retrospect. If I felt anything positive in connection with it at the time, it was most likely gratitude that I wasn’t the target, for a change, and human emotion doesn’t get much cheaper than that. As for being the target…you feel, or I felt, either invisible or way too prominent in all the wrong ways. It was just an inescapable sense of worthlessness, or inability to do anything right…because even when I tried to fight back, in my total ineptitude, I was accused of egging it on or bringing it on myself. So, yeah: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. To give credit where it’s due, it did inspire me to fully embrace being an outcast. At first, I tried to conform and fit in and dress like everyone else and like the same things they did, then an epiphany point-blank asked me, “Why bother? Has it stopped them from making hell out of your life? No. Consider this your license to cut loose and be yourself…or at least find out who that is.” Most significant, though, is the reality block it created…while it was going on, and for years after, I had no use for the real world. In this case, I am totally at fault, but it explains why my grades were such a bastion of suck: at home, instead of studying or doing my assigments, I’d read, write, watch movies, blast my stereo and act out scenes from all those things, anything to disconnect or dissociate myself from who I was at school. It was, I knew even then, an effort to become someone else—still me, but from a different point of view, where I was appreciated, if not admired. What if I were a rock star, a futuristic action heroine, part of the in-crowd; what if I lived in a city where I could walk by the water during the day and under neon lights at night; what if there was a guy who openly and proudly considered me—as in, me—the love of his life? It was also a way out, the only viable way I had. I couldn't work up the guts to run away, and suicide was too no-going-back, too uncertain. So escapism won because it was the most gratifying, not to mention the most fun. It was good for my creativity, but bad for my social skills…even now, once in a while, I struggle to get out of my head and do things, rather than just imagine them. Luckily, I have more incentive than ever before.
How do you deal with bullying?
At this point, I don’t bother with it; I don’t engage them, I don’t accept their game invite at all. My instinct when someone starts giving me static, especially online (which seems to bring out the asshole in a lot of people), is to leave the situation, treat myself to a little catharsis about how some of us need to go home and rethink our lives, then it’s water off a duck’s back from there. As for how others should deal with it…your guess is as good as mine. I learned the hard way that whatever you do will most likely make the situation escalate before it improves; one thing that does give me some relief is the fact that it’s become such a hot-button issue now. What I’ve noticed is that it’s comparable to rape, though, in that you see a lot of victim-shaming going on—they asked for it because of their style, or because they’re gay, or they’re overweight—so I think the first step is to start putting the blame where it belongs.
Do nicer or more interesting people seem more attractive to you?
Yes, because when looks are all a person has to offer, and their entire life is consumed by maintaining them, then it’s like trying to get full on the smell of a five-course gourmet meal. For me, it’s the Kim Kardashian effect: I would gladly do her makeup for a photo shoot, but would I want to get coffee or a beer with her after? I doubt it. Shallowness, I can forgive in non-excessive doses; we’re all shallow to a point…hollowness is a dealbreaker. Though I do appreciate physical beauty, I’m not threatened by it for its own sake, nor do I think it automatically cancels out any virtues or enjoyable/ useful attributes available from the same person. But appearance is an empty container; it’s made to hold something, preferably something besides (or at least in addition to) vanity, malice, hypocrisy, nihilism, etc.
(I didn’t answer the next two questions, because they struck me as rephrases from the CONFIDENCE section.)