August 20, 1997

I've always kinda known that I was built in such a way that I could be, very, very easily, an addict. Vicerally, I've stayed away from alcohol and drugs, and I've been lucky in that I have asthma, which keeps smoking completely out of my realm. I have addicted myself to soccer, spinning, and reading, instead. Mostly harmless or even healthy, though when I'm in a deep funk or depression, I can get really, truly self-destructive with all of those. Folks from Temple Square can tell of the time I went down for a visit with a bruise covering the inside of my left leg from mid-thigh to past my knee. I'm presently sporting blue and purple and green all along the outside of my right leg and on the right knee as well as missing skin from left thigh, right elbow and chin.

Soccer violence is easy to see as self-abuse, but self-abuse while reading? What? I can hear some people thinking or wondering. Kinda like the jokes about being addicted to email or Internet correspondence, or Usenet junkies. Which I have been, to some extent, to what some folks would also call self-abuse.

The reason I bring all this up is because I stayed up until 5am last night reading Mirror Dance which is mostly focussed on Mark, Mile's clone and younger brother, who is the classic abused and self-abusing type. It brought home a whole lot of stuff that I needed to look at, now that I'm in a stable and safe environment. My behaviour under stress was hway, hway too obvious for me to ignore given my usual analysis of the main character.

I'll admit that I avoided the book because of the name of the protagonist, actually read around it and finished all the series before going back to this novel, which concentrated on Mark, all the others are on Cordelia or Miles, and there's one that focusses on Quinn. Then with Mark comes this neatly packaged emotional bomb in it.

I have a tendency to binge on books, read them from cover to cover and not put them down until I've devoured them, sometimes to the detriment of my job, my eyes, of past relationships, and of my health. But they're such a lovely way to escape, you know? Escape the now, the pain, be it emotional or physical, and escape who and what I was and be someone and something different at a gut level. It was how I could be not-me, where I could always succeed in the adventure the protagonist was doing. There's a reason one of my names was Jaer, who was the person who was told several hundred stories and became the progatonist of each story. I never liked tragedy. I wanted to kick Thomas Covanent from cover to cover. The summer after I broke up with the first guy I ever had sex with, I spent most of the first three months borrowing 20 Harliquins a week, plowing through all of them, cried my eyes out at the end of every happily ever after and then did it again and again and again. No one stopped me either as my parents were convinced that reading was good for me, and, besides, it kept me quiet and out of their hair.

There's this line in the book where Elena is asking Mark, "Why do you do something painful to yourself to deal with pain?" and he replied, "Think about what a toothache does to your concentration." She only replied that she didn't want to think about it. I understood.

My brain works really really fast. It takes a problem and chews on it, can't let it go, can't get rid of it, can't stop agonizing over it until it figures out a solution. Until I figure out a solution. I can't stop. There's nothing to take me out of the loop other than pain or an equally significant distraction. When the problem is something that is completely out of my control, I agonize until the agony is a burden itself. That was something that Markleford showed me, over and over, about myself.

The book's Mark was so completely alone, so completely out of place. An alien in a land where everyone there was comfortable, or at least had a place that was their own in the land. I've always known I was different. In Indiana, the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes was difference enough. But then add to that language that sounded like American English but based on Chinese grammer, an intelligence and knack for the technical combined with a female form, and the ability to live a book's word images and you had odd, strange, alien. My SAT's had not only the approved 800 on Math for Caltech, but also a 750 for verbal. A geek girl with words? Two of two hundred in my Masters Degree class in Electrical Engineering, and fighting everything from admiring classmates that wanted to take me out on dates on homework nights to teachers that asked me to bring them coffee. Books made so much more sense than real life. Even when every muscle was aching at four in the morning and my eyes burned so much that when I tried pulling my contacts out I'd cry for twenty minutes, it was good distraction from the constant pain of being Other. Sometimes, through reading another's writing, I'd find that I wasn't really as alone as the real world made me out to be, but those that were like me couldn't be touched or spoken with.

Until Usenet.

Anyway... Last night, I'd stayed at work until about 8pm, getting more coding done, as the schedule's starting to get very tight, and I'm not nearly where I need to be to make schedule. Which the project leader knows, today. John and I had dinner at a very nice little Italian place. Then we went home and John eventually went to sleep as he had an early meeting and I could sleep in a bit if I wanted and drive myself. So we kinda agreed that it would be okay for me to do my usual stay up until 1 or 2 or even 3 and read. There's even a rather loud German coocoo clock that marks the hours and the half hours... and I just never heard it, I was buried that deep in that book. Next thing I know, John's getting up to go to the bathroom, and he's calling down going, "Are you still reading?" "Uhm... yeah." "Wow. It's 5, you know?" "Eeep."

It feels so much like self-sabotage. I need to have a clear head, real concentration to code. I need to have my sleep to function, to be able to interact with the people I need to interact with to get the interfaces hammered out. There's this problem that goes through eight classes, five linked lists, multi-threading, and involves a random deleting of objects that are looked up later through a method that's being used unexpectedly, and there is no way on or off earth I'm going to be able to even keep it all my head, today. And it wasn't until I was getting ready to sleep last night that I realized that I had read as I had because I was terrified of today: of having to tackle that problem because I'm still rusty from not doing extensive coding for nearly half a year of documentation, spec writing, and training material design; of having to tell the project lead of my fuckup... and had despaired enough to subconsciously decide to just fuck everything up.

I also have a late soccer game tonight. The last of the season, so I won't have this excuse for the next several weeks, thank goodness.

Carl Rigney said that courage isn't really a lack of fear. It's the ability to not let the fear do the deciding for you.

So I decided to tell the project lead again about where I was and he had a few choice words to say about it, but didn't really think it was as bad as I thought it was. That eventhough someone else was sliding the schedule some, he wanted my app done as soon as possible for integration and futher testing that was two features beyond my original scope. So he expected me to use my extra time getting the two things the customers had asked for into my app. Which is to say, it's under control. He knows about it, now, can plan around it. I still have to do it, but it's under control.

And I now have a handle on a not-conscious action that I take when stress comes down that makes it even harder to handle the stress. I'll probably sleep in tomorrow so that I can hit the hard problem tomorrow and get the new features designed at the high level today, which doesn't take quite the same level of concentration. So that should work out, too.

Hee. I also remembered to eat. Shrimp Ceasar for lunch. Yum. With the game not until 8-something, I even managed to not eat until about 2pm, to give it a chance to last.

© 1997 by Liralen Li

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