posted on 6.19.20 / posted in After

I am scratching at the locks with my fingernails

A possibility occurred to me this morning that I immediately resisted.

Am I shallow?

I know I care about things, care about people. People who know me think I’m nice. I’ve heard them say it. Some even say they rank me above-average.

I sympathize with servers and bartenders, indefinitely, no matter how bad the service gets. I’ve been there. It’s hard. If a bartender spat in my face, I’d probably still leave 15 percent.

20 actually, because I’d think they must be having an especially bad night and if I tip poorly it will just reinforce their negative opinion of the public and their service will only be worse the next time I’m there.

Is that nice though? Maybe I’m a coward.

I let clients walk all over me. I bitch and moan later, but only stand up for myself when I’m ready to sever the relationship.

I went a year without being paid for a project and helped make excuses for that client. I felt bad for them even when I had to get a third party involved to threaten small claims court.

I had a regular subcontracting job and the agency was always months late to pay me, while still being frantically demanding of my time, and I let them lie to me for years of apologies about those unpaid invoices.

“Sorry, this isn’t who we are.”

“Isn’t it? You do this almost every month.”

That’s what I wanted to say. Instead I told them over and over not to worry about it, even when it meant my bills racked up late fees. They always paid me, eventually.

Well, except after I let them know I took a full-time gig. Even after that deadline to wrap things up they continued to make demands until I reminded them they still owed me $2,000.

Crickets.

I’m not pressuring them for it. I’m happy to be rid of them, still even sympathize because they were so nice otherwise. A big part of me even feels bad when I think what it must feel like to not pay someone. Even when I was broke I paid subcontractors I hired for projects, even if it meant I worked for nothing. It’s the right thing to do, sure, but mostly I can’t stand the idea of my brief moment of saliency this morning instead being-

Am I really just skating on someone else’s livelihood?

It’s why I accepted a full-time job and all but stopped freelancing. Because I allowed myself to be a doormat, I make the same amount of money for half the hours I put in before because my boss isn’t afraid to push back on rough-shot clients.

Which is 75% of clients because it’s 75% of people when they’re spending money. Even I gave Apple hell when my PowerBeats couldn’t stay connected to my phone.

As soon as I wrote that, one quick mental inventory let’s me know that if Apple had told me to go fuck myself, instead of mailing me a postage-paid return box, I would have turned around and grabbed my ankles.

Here’s the thing, this morning, the thought of being a shallow coward only intellectually sounds horrible. When I just let it settle into the back of my brain, it’s a shocking relief.

The truth is not that monochromatic. I’m nice. I do the right thing. If I want to be truly happy I have to open the iris all the way up and stare the shitty parts in the face too.

Am I nice because I’m insecure and don’t want people to dislike me?

Some truth to that probably. I come by it honestly. We’re all just byproducts of our environment and upbringing and my dad is a great guy, but the entire linchpin of his mid-life crisis was that he felt like he had to be someone else the 19 years he was married to my mother. Some of that is true and some of that is the same kind of bullshit I tell myself when I want it in the neat little bow of “I’m nice.”

Every great truth seems to present as a contradiction. It’s been three decades since I tried to escape Catholicism via Taoist source material, but I think that’s in there. The spoken Tao is not the eternal Tao, or some such.

I’m so committed an atheist now not only is there no God, there’s no Tao.

I don’t understand people, never have. Prior to narcolepsy meds, when I was a big open nerve all the time, I thought they made a little sense. Now that I sleep and am rational, I feel like a creature from another planet. In both cases though I feel completely at their mercy so much of the time, precisely because I really don’t understand what’s going on inside me when I try to make sense of what’s going on around me.

I think I know what it is though. It’s the safe walls of my nice guy. Being “nice” is as true as anything else, but it’s all distraction.

There’s a big moat of bullshit surrounding my perfect little nice-guy castle. I think there’s something better beyond these walls, better than the sum of everything positive I know. It’s hard to find the courage to Shawshank it out of here.

I wish I’d started earlier, when the moat was just a tiny stream of bullshit I could have skipped over and forgotten the smell a moment later with shoes that were still basically clean. But. I didn’t. Now I can smell it from the remotest corner of my nice-guy tower and I can barely see to the other side.

The clock is ticking though, so, take a last, deep, clean breath and let’s do this. No use wading in.