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Some Thoughts on Pretending to be Someone Different

Some Thoughts on Pretending to be Someone Different

Over the past several months, there have been a number of things that have gotten me thinking about roleplaying. Not just the kind you do in games, or on stage, but all the different ways we pretend to be someone other than ourselves, why we do it, and which kinds are OK and which ones are not.

I’m going to be very brief here, because this piece about how it relates to my own life needs a post of its own. I grew up with constant reminders from my parents and teachers about how I was a disappointment in so many ways. I spent a lot of time trying to please adults by doing what was expected of me, despite the almost constant evidence that it was wasted effort – I always fell short of expectations no matter how hard I tried. This in itself was roleplaying, obviously, and was the impetus behind my fantasies of becoming an actress or a musician or a famous writer. Not only would I become a person who was well-known, popular, and praised enough to make up for all the criticism, but on top of that, IT WOULD SHOW THEM ALL!!!! Well, I succeeded at these roles as well as I did the ones I was fighting against, but it wasn’t until much later that I realized that the failure was a good thing; it prevented me from having to live my entire life being someone different in order to please others. Roleplaying games and BBS storyboards were a great place for me to pretend without any of the pitfalls of doing it in real life. Sadly, my forgetfulness, inattention to detail, and frivolity were often unwelcome by the people who put much more thought and effort into creating and continuing the stories. I no longer resent the people who criticized me (or booted me out) because I now understand how irritating it can be when you work really hard on something and even one person treats it as something far too trivial. It was fun while it lasted, though.

Again, there’s far more to tell, but I wanted to just touch on a couple of things so that people reading this know that roleplaying has been a big part of my life, both good and bad. Being the type of person who obsessively wants to know everything about something that interests her, I’ve researched and collected information over the years whenever I observed or experienced it as a psychological phenomenon, or watched as the playing of a role directly caused some kind of consequence. As a person who has availed herself of psychological care, I’ve delved quite a lot into the issue as a whole. Understanding it in myself has made me quite sensitive to detecting and observing it in others. And that’s where this blog post actually begins. . .

Roleplaying of all sorts used to require quite a commitment. Communications with others were primarily face-to-face. You needed to pay close attention to what you said and to whom so you could remember to keep your persona (and all your other lies) consistent. It was not something you did for fun as much as something you did to protect or improve your social standing or career. Serious business, indeed. I think pretty much everyone had to do it to some degree just to conform to current behavioral rules, but in that way, they had been taught how. It wasn’t a choice, just something done by rote.

In my lifetime alone, communication methods and speeds and geographical availability have changed dramatically. It was only about 25 years ago that personal computers and modems gave people one of the most ingenious ways to roleplay – the Bulletin Board system. It started from the moment you logged on. The first thing you did was choose a handle, and from there you could be whoever you wanted (within limits). Nobody saw your face or heard your voice, they knew you by your writing alone. Unless you decided to get together. This actually happened quite a bit, since most people called BBSes that were within their free local calling area. Sometimes the person and the persona were quite alike, but sometimes one was clearly better company than the other.

Still, though, being able to pretend like this didn’t eliminate the real-life version. Girls still would change the way they acted or the friends they associated with in order to get a relationship or social connection they thought they wanted. Guys would still outright lie to these girls to get what they wanted, and lie to one another for all kinds of guy reasons (some of which still make absolutely no sense to me!) Anyone who wanted something badly enough was far more willing to say or do things they normally wouldn’t rather than put thought into whether or not they really wanted it or why. I would guess that this has been going on throughout human existence, and will doubtless continue until its end, even though it has caused unhappiness almost exclusively.

Now we’re up to today. The opportunities to roleplay in cyberspace are almost limitless. Anyone can have a blog, post to forums or comment on other peoples’ blogs, and the number of social networking sites is mind-boggling. It’s not surprising that people choose to let themselves be someone else online, but often when I know someone both IRL and online, the difference between the two can elicit some pretty potent emotions. I admit – the person I am online is different from the person I am, but not in any premeditated or deliberate roleplaying way. I feel much freer to release the snark on someone whom I feel truly deserves it, but to hear me debate with someone face to face on something we view oppositely, you might never guess I had an ounce of vitriol in my body. I spend a lot more time thinking, researching, editing, and composing what I write, but offline my mouth is sometimes not even remotely connected to my brain. Overall, though, what you see is what you get.

I still understand the appeal of creating an alternate persona, but what confounds me is when the online persona maintains itself even when communicating with people who know them in person. Despite the fact that everyone knows how easy it is to be misinterpreted, despite the lack of urgency to post the moment you’re done writing, and regardless of the potential that other real-life people might be affected as well, people write things as their online persona without pausing to consider the repercussions it will cause in their real lives. Even if your persona is dealing with people who are not part of your real life, interacting with others in a way that suggests that you might meet in person, or that causes an emotional attachment that would interfere with or damage real-life relationships for the other party never seems to be considered. Plus, while any competent computer user could track someone down and find who he or she is on multiple online locations, roleplayers frequently link to themselves, even if each of their online selves are different from one another. I’m not saying that people who experiment with alternate roles online should be castigated or abhorred for doing it, just that they should remember that behind every other persona is a person, and that sometimes deception is not just good, clean fun.

What happens, then, is that all the normal roleplaying we do in real life, which already has the potential to make us unhappy, isn’t fixed when we go someplace else and pretend to be who we want to be to make up for it. Worse than the harm it might do to others, it is also a way of inflicting harm upon yourself. Consider how the comparison between your pretend life and your real life affects you. Most likely, you won’t want to pretend to be someone who is less appealing in any way. Your persona will be smarter, more attractive, wealthier, better traveled, and so on. In this way, you have created entirely new ways to not measure up. However badly the criticism from others has convinced you that you are unworthy of one thing or another, pretending to be the fabulous creature you always wanted to be and then having to face your less-stellar life only gives you more reason to find yourself wanting. You’ve given yourself an unattainable goal that will insure that everything you could ever possibly accomplish will be a failure by comparison.

Maybe at some later time, I’ll address one or more of the many incidents and experiences that cumulatively gave me so much to think about. Maybe I won’t. This is long enough as it is, and I still have other viewpoints on the same issue that will be just as wordy, and still encompass the whole idea. I might not even remember many of them by the time I’m done, and that will probably be a good thing. For now, if you’ve made it this far, thank you for indulging me.

Argh! The Smell!!!

Argh! The Smell!!!

I am on the third “odor-destroying” product on the family room carpet. It didn’t seem like it was the carpet was the only culprit, because the cat pee smell in the room was still strong, but not over by the treated area as much as the rest of the room. I had already washed a bunch of fabric that had quite obviously been peed on, but just in case, I started checking some of the other pieces. Yep. The ones that didn’t smell like pee smelled like they’d been in storage too long, so I started pulling everything down and sorting it to wash.

The prospect of washing all that fabric is daunting enough, but when I started realizing that I had three loads, at least, of cold wash just in reds, I started re-evaluating my hoarding habit. I really should look at these more critically. Lots of that fabric makes me feel inadequate, because it’s one more thing that I haven’t finished staring me in the face. It’s supposed to be there to inspire, to play with, but instead it’s driving me away from sewing entirely. Yeah, there’s going to have to be some garbage bags next to the hampers. Sorry, fabric, but if I can’t see myself wearing you soon, you’re outta here.

I’d sell it, but that would keep it in my house even longer, and turn it into yet another thing I have to do. Almost all of it was cheap or free, and if there were a formula to figure depreciation of its worth over time, most of it would have reached a negative value. Let me go find those garbage bags. . .

I Can Hardly Wait for Surgery.

I Can Hardly Wait for Surgery.

A couple of months ago, I found a lump in my breast. I wasn’t really worried, because it was one that had already been identified (along with several hundred others) as a cyst – it was just a lot bigger than it used to be. So I pulled out the number for the place where I get my mammos, and whaddaya know, I was a year overdue. So, I made the appointment, got exactly the diagnosis I expected, had a couple of cysts aspirated, and all was well and good.

Except for one thing – when they tried to fax the info to my ob-gyn, they said that I was no longer a patient of theirs. News to me! Yeah, I was overdue for that appointment, too, but come on! I had to pay a huge chunk of change to get my records transferred down to them when I moved, and now they have nothing on file? WTF?!?!?

Well, I had intended to change doctors anyway, so I made an appointment with one who’d been recommended to me and got the mammo records sent there (other records are still MIA, but that’s another story.) At the exam, the doctor was astonished at the size of my uterine fibroids – as was I. He wrote the scrip to send me for an ultrasound, and I joked with him “ooh, does this mean I can get the hysterectomy I’ve been dreaming of?” and he chided me not to jump to conclusions.

I went a couple of days later, and things had gotten so much bigger that the tech couldn’t show the student I’d agreed to let practice on me any of the markers to indicate what she was looking at. I joked that she should look at the ovaries, too, so the student could see what polycystic ovaries looked like, too. That wasn’t on the scrip, but after she saw them, she took images of those for the doctor, too. I asked her how many fibroids she thought I had, and she said at least six, but a couple were so big that she couldn’t tell if any others were hiding. Oh, dear!

Sure enough, at my followup appointment the doctor said that surgery would be a really good thing for me. Everything’s coming out on June 18th, and I’m thrilled. Moreso today than since this whole diagnosis thing started, because I’m so uncomfortable and crappy-feeling. I couldn’t wake up this morning for anything. When I did, it felt like someone was stabbing an ice pick through my left ovary, in through my abdomen and out through my back. Even now that the pain has abated, the pressure is interfering with blood flow through my left leg. I feel like there’s a stiff tube instead of a femoral artery running up my inner thigh and into my groin. My left foot keeps getting tingly, my left knee is numb off and on. I’m wishing this trip to the hospital were happening even sooner.

If I weren’t aware of this, I’d be concerned enough to go to the emergency room – it’s not my imagination going wild. The cysts and fibroids in my breasts got bigger, the cysts and fibroids in my uterus and ovaries got bigger, and the lipomas in my legs got larger – I even found some new ones (OK, probably not new, just undetectable before), so something’s going on that’s affecting all of them. I would guess it’s hormonal, so this surgery should help all of it. Too bad I couldn’t get a doctor to agree to do this before, but better late than never.

Ugh – catching up.

Ugh – catching up.

Schools were closed for two days because of snow. Delayed opening for the high school for the next couple of days because of HSPA testing. Badly-needed dentist appointment missed because of snow, hair appointment missed because of lost track of time because of days off because of snow. Gotta reschedule those, have to schedule mammogram because those lumps are probably the same old cysts getting bigger from hormone changes, but it doesn’t pay to take chances. Edit and email minutes, meeting for a different group tonight, gotta type and print stuff for that, still need to hit grocery store and restaurant supply store and get back in time to take kids to music lessons. Desk is overrun with receipts to be recorded and filed, other papers that need calls, letters, or filing, still figuring out the new bluetooth headset as well. Lots of clay to condition and bake, rugs and floors that need vacuuming and washing, laundry in both machines and more in baskets waiting for washing or folding. Two new cats that need intensive socializing and six litterboxes that need cleaning. Did I mention that I don’t work? Heh.

Something about Hacking.

Something about Hacking.

We had what appeared to be an emergency last week, when one of the girls was told by someone she was IMing that he might have transmitted a virus to her that would completely wipe out her computer. There was much scrambling around for blank CDs to copy her files onto, hubby checked every possible way for a virus to get in as well as ran a regular virus scan, and I had to calm down a justifiably upset daughter. She does everything on that machine, and it would have meant losing art, writing, photos, tutorials, correspondence, and homework. Fortunately, it turned out to be a false threat, but it got me thinking.

You see, this young man and his friends enjoy hacking, creating and combating viruses and worms, challenging each other by passing them around (or teaching those less computer savvy a “lesson”). However, they don’t seem to think things through to all their possible outcomes, a typical hazard of, well, being a teenage boy. It brings me back to the early BBS days, when I had to deal with teenage boys who didn’t understand that they couldn’t have everything their own way, and couldn’t do things to people in real life to “teach someone a lesson” for something they didn’t like online. And, just as it was then, this young man simply couldn’t understand why my daughter was upset, why his offer of a rebuilt gaming computer and a half-hearted apology would not have been sufficient had she really lost everything. Then, as now, the ability to understand and empathize isn’t a well-developed trait in this demographic.

The problem I have is that I wish I could get these boys to really understand, not to punish them or work out my anger, or anything like that, but just to get it, because I know several of them, and they’re decent kids. If hubby wasn’t a computer genius, if he didn’t know how to safeguard the computers and fix things in case something went wrong, it could have been a huge-ass deal, indeed. 15 years worth of digital photographs. Downloaded programs, and programs we’d have to search through thousands of discs to find again. All the tutorials and game mods I’ve ever written, handouts for classes I’ve taught. Plus, since hubby works from home, all kinds of confidential information and work for clients could be compromised – the kinds of things a person could lose his job for. Of course, this is why he’s put in all kinds of protection, but there are some people out there with just as much to lose who are vulnerable. Were they to be hit, they would certainly not appreciate a cavalier attitude, nor would they let these kids off because they were just playing around. I don’t think, though, that they’d understand even if the ramifications to others or the consequences to themselves were outlined. It hasn’t happened so far, so it’s not going to, right?

I don’t know. Would they understand it if it were put in a more personal perspective? Say, oh, what if some kids were playing around with a slingshot or BB gun, and that car you’ve been restoring for years got messed up. Would it be OK if they offered to lend you one of their bikes? After all, they were just fooling around. And they’re sorry, geez, chill! What if someone found the case of CDs your band made and played frisbee with them all, leaving them scratched and broken all over the parking lot? Well, they didn’t know how hard you worked on them, and they can’t afford what you paid for the studio time, mixing, art, or production, but what if they feel kind of bad and give you a stack of blanks from Staples? That’d be OK, right?

Nah, that probably wouldn’t work, either. But at least I’ve said it and gotten it out of my system.

Typing One-Handed!

Typing One-Handed!

Oh, the things we do for our kids! Saturday was the day of the band competition hosted by our school. Lots to do, much rushing around, and of course I had made enough cookies to feed an army. I came into the school holding them in one large metal tray, and as I made my way through the doorway, the corner of the heavy steel door smashed into the back of my hand, sandwiching it with the metal tray. Ouchies.

Of course, I then stayed until the competition was over, and took the band daughter home before heading to the emergency room. Lucky for me, the hospital had a minor emergency department (which was just about to close) so I was in and out in no time. Nothing’s broken, but I’m in a splint for a couple of days.

Good thing the metal splinter I got under my fingernail on the right hand doesn’t hurt too much. Got that moving band equipment on Friday. Marching Band is one heck of a dangerous activity!

A Sad Way to Start a Birthday.

A Sad Way to Start a Birthday.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been nursing a couple of litters of kittens back to health, with varying degrees of success. The shelter released them to foster because they were scheduled to be euthanized, but had the potential to get healthy if they got the kind of one-on-one attention that a crowded, busy shelter just can’t provide.

A couple of them needed to be syringe-fed because they wouldn’t eat. One had me up all night twice keeping him warm and waking to an alarm every hour or two to give him water from a dropper. They went through a round of one antibiotic, then some went through a round of a stronger one, and some of them also had to put up with ointment being put in their eyes twice a day. It was important to watch to make sure they were each eating well, drinking enough, and having the right kind and volume of poop and pee every day.

Two of them recovered beautifully. Two of them seemed fine except for a goopy eye, which even so was improving. One still had a rattle in his chest, but was otherwise a happy, active, normal kitty. One had been a walking mucus factory until this past weekend, but now had big wide eyes, normal breathing, and a nice round kitten belly. The last was still having a hard time, but it was clear to me that she was less goopy than she had been – both eyes were open, if a little red-rimmed, she’d stopped sneezing, and she was right in there with the others when it was time to eat or play.

So I wasn’t worried when I sent them off with our adoption co-ordinator to the shelter for their next round of immunizations. Time for a wake-up call.

The last two I described were put to sleep immediately. The others have been given a week’s reprieve – isolated in a cage at the shelter to see if they clear up, put to sleep if they haven’t. B., the adoption coordinator, argued with them about putting them back into their foster home, or releasing them to the rescue organization so they wouldn’t be the shelter’s responsibility, to no avail.

The whole family was devastated. Even hubby, who essentially merely tolerates the cats for my sake, was in tears. I keep turning the waterworks on again when I think about it. Last night, every time I didn’t have one of the little boys snuggling into my neck, nursing on my jaw and making happy feet on my neck, I fell apart again.

I got used to letting the cats go when it was time for them to be adopted out. That became a happy occasion, because I knew they’d be going to a permanent, loving home (with a lot fewer cats competing for attention!) Each time I’d go in to the center to clean and see one of my fosters had found a home, it felt wonderful. This is completely different. Their fate will not be affected by how pretty they are, or how cuddly they are, or how goofy they look when they’re playing, or how much they love to be with their people. They can’t charm their way out of this.

We can’t do anything except hope that they all look healthy by the end of the week (which is, essentially, doing nothing, but feels like doing something). It’s raised some serious questions in the house, though. We won’t be fostering any more cats that aren’t free of the shelter system – falling in love with a cat who might be deemed unsatisfactory and destroyed later is too damaging to all of us. The question is, will we continue to foster, and if so, will we insist on being selective about what cats we’ll take? There’s a lot to think about.