…would be a fitting title for my autobiography at this point. But I’ll make it short and burn it for this.
Pretty early on in my life I realized two things; first, I was smarter than a good portion of the people around me growing up.* Second, I wasn’t around a lot of people growing up. Situated on a farm in a small town without internet access, the outside world was a mysterious thing, and it seemed that everyone with better access to the resources it held had an advantage over me. Me, who was smart, but not much else.
Thus, I desperately grasped every straw of possible enlightenment I could reach. I was that kid reading Sherlock Holmes in hopes that it would make them smarter. Even earlier, I distinctly remember sitting in my room one afternoon when everyone was out doing work that I was too little to help with, boredly assembling the same 100-piece puzzles on repeat, listening to the news radio until I knew all the news by heart, and thinking: This is not enough. It was like I could feel the world turning below me while I was sitting on my ass, doing nothing.
I hated kindergarten. I loved elementary school for the most part. Not the social interactions, not the formality and repetitiveness, and not shop class, but pretty much everything else. Finally, some of that knowledge. When it came time to pick a secondary school form, I was eligible for all three**, and my mom let me decide.*** So I picked the hardest and fanciest one. I would be the first of my family to go there. I would prove my smarts and live up to all the expectations I expected the world to have of me.
I did okay. There were smarter kids, but I was still above average, and I wasn’t as much of an ass as them. Emotional intelligence. The other kind of smart. At least that’s what I consoled myself with. I needed something to keep up my frail self-image. I started acting eccentric, played the misunderstood genius. In retrospect, I doubt anyone bought it, and I doubt anyone got enough time off their own drama to care about mine.
At uni, things weren’t that easy. I got into a prestigious one, and though I am an advocate of the inverse Joan Jett approach (I don’t give a damn about your good reputation), there were some awfully smart people there. People that had had access to the internet their whole lives when my family had only gotten it two years prior. People who hadn’t bought their first laptop a few weeks before starting the first semester of their degree in computer science. How would I compete? The answer was a combination of hard work and method acting.
I’d gotten better at playing the mad genius, and my studies gave me the insanity to back it up. I didn’t have the quickest wits and by far not the most knowledge, but I was the one who took the most and the weirdest electives, and I earned some notoriety as the guy who never slept. Because I didn’t. That one was real. There were times when I would sleep about two to four hours a night for four days of the week, and not at all for the other three. And when I came to campus in the morning, I was awake while the rest of the clique was downing coffees left and right. I’ve always hated coffee, can’t drink it. I ran on adrenaline and cortisol.****
Now, I’ve gotten older (and perhaps wiser) since then and I can’t do that shit anymore. But the mad genius is still a large part of my identity, especially in my humor. I like to entertain and surprise by dumping absurd amounts of time and thought into things, often details. The Magnificent 42 and Luddstein’s Calendarium are relatively mild examples of this, and they won’t be the last. Because I do like what comes out of it.
What I don’t like is that part of me still does it for show. I often announce beforehand that I will hilariously overengage in some project, probably out of some fear of my friends – or the world in general – losing interest in me. When I don’t manage to procure the time or the energy to undertake said project, I end up feeling like a half-prepared magician, about to go on stage, hands shaking, knowing full well that half a trick is no trick at all. No work, no wonders. And the show must go on.
Except it doesn’t. There is no show. During my recent Christmas / New Year’s vacation, I found the time to take a look at my Jira backlog of tasks that I should really get to, the last steps towards my almost complete self. It had lain abandoned for a few months before that. At first, I was disappointed at my lack of progress. Then I noticed that most of the tasks had either grown to be or always been irrelevant – if not to me, then certainly to the outside world. A list of urgent tasks became a list of things I can maybe do someday if I feel like it.
It might not sound like much, but this realization was a huge step towards freeing myself from that state of perpetual not-quite-readiness. My only New Year’s resolution – I don’t normally do those, it was lucky timing – was to avoid doing things because I feel like I have to, and instead do more things that I actively enjoy.
As bland as it may sound, it’s worked out quite well for me. Except when I got obsessed with the idea for a blog post about a movie that I’d seen a few days after it came out on New Year’s Day. It’s a great movie, I have a lot of thoughts about it, and when I saw it, almost noone else had written about it. My chance. I started to write. At some point, I felt the need to compare it to a bunch of other movies I’d seen that had explored similar motifs, so I spent a whole Saturday re-watching and analyzing those movies. The article grew larger and larger. Finishing it would be tedious, but time was of the essence.
Then I had an idea for a webcomic that I felt way more like working on. So I did. Because it was more fun. There are other reviews out there by now, mine’s still almost done. And that’s okay. It’s not only okay in a general way, like everything’s okay. It’s especially okay since noone cares. I think there’s two or three friends of mine currently reading this blog. And even if the audience was larger, every person in that audience would still have a life of their own. It’s been over a month since my last post, but you, dear reader, will live on.
And I will live on, too. My friends won’t actually lose interest in me and the kids at school, being a metaphor for the world at large, were never interested in me in the first place. If you, as a part of the world, find yourself growing interested in this blog, I think that’s pretty great. And while I do hope I can maintain that interest and further enrich your life, I won’t drive myself crazy over it, and I won’t make any promises.
That being said, there might be a webcomic appearing soon. And maybe a movie review. They’re almost done.
* Talking about the community here rather than my family. My family has in many ways been an island of sanity in this world. There’s some seriously stupid shit lapping ashore, but it by far beats drowning.
** There are three tiers of secondary schools in Germany. The first, “Hauptschule”, is the shortest and aimed towards preparing you for practical jobs. The second, “Realschule”, runs a little longer and gives you more options going forth. Lastly, “Gymnasium” is the highest tier. You get the most complete education over the longest period of time and you have the best chances of getting into a university.
Think about it like this: At Hauptschule, economics is how to transfer money and pay taxes. At Realschule, it’s how to do the same in a business context, plus planning your costs vs. your income ahead of time. At Gymnasium, it’s the top five things you could hypothetically do to ameliorate financial crises if you were head of the ECB. The tax thing? Go ask your mom about it.***
*** Thanks mom.
**** Just as bad for your health, but entirely for free!