It’s the first Friday of Christmas break, 2018. I’m a week into the halt of activity that has beset the small Canadian city I call home. For the past week or so, I have primarily been doing two things: 1) working on my business, and 2) learning useful shit to get better at working on my business. But by the time the first Friday comes around, my brain is almost as hopeless as my semester grades. Just almost, but I still sense that a slower day would do me good.
So I pick up my phone and set up a hangout at the residence of the largest friend group I have — a gang of three second-year university students. Later that day, I’m sitting at their dining table chatting. After the usual round of exchanged insults and banter, we get to the activity that was used as an excuse to set up the hangout in the first place: baking butter tarts.
Mildly excited, I whip out the groceries that Trace, the egotistical ringleader of the gang, had instructed me to buy on my way there. Almost immediately, she points out that I forgot something (fuck you, vanilla extract) and bought the wrong thing. (Okay, how the fuck am I supposed to know there’s different kinds of whipped cream?) That kicks off a long conversation about all the instructions that cannot be followed because of the non-matching ingredients. Everyone else chimes in and agrees that the baking cannot proceed.
As the conversation pans out, I grow silent. Because by the third syllable, I am beyond triggered. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s following instructions for food. You see, food has a special place in my heart—the magic that results from a spontaneous, instinctive composition of ingredients is one of the forms of artistic expression I most respect.
The superposition of someone else’s instructions citing exact quantities and specific steps for the production of this magic is an indirect insult to the craft and a direct insult to my identity. I mean, I get it — baking is about the right ratios. But when you insist on following everything to the letter and leave no room for experimentation, that’s offensive. The very prospect of a methodology driven not by passion and creativity but rather obedience and utility, for food, is akin, in my mind, to using a toilet brush to brush one’s teeth after using it to clean the toilet. It is absolutely inexcusable. Repulsive. Offensive. Vile.
In a gentle manner, I voiced this sentiment to the troubled youths hovering over the instructions for butter tarts. And all one fucker said was, “But they taste good if you follow the instructions.”
“Dick, food is not a means to a fucking end — it’s an art that you clearly don’t appreciate,” I fired back (only in my mind, thank goodness). My audible response was merely an, “Okay then.”
So for the rest of the baking session, I sit at the empty dining table looking at paintings to buy in a desperate attempt to calm my nerves as the stuffy cunts follow their baking recipe. When the tarts came out, they smelled and tasted amazing, of course, since they were practically constructed from solid sugar granules. I didn’t have a single bite of the damn butter tarts and continued to scroll through art for the rest of the hangout.
What’s interesting is you don’t have to look hard to see how different I am from these people in terms of values, lifestyle, and thinking. And really, that’s what this friction triggered by baking is all about. I don’t deny that part of my abhorrence for baking according to the instructions stems from my bad experience with obedience in my rough childhood. I don’t blame my buddies for not getting this — they have happy families where people sit in circles to talk about their feelings and all that usual wholesome shit. But my understanding of their lack of understanding doesn’t erase the huge difference in our character.
I mean, this group of butter tart-loving prudes are some of the closest friends I have, yet we are such enormously different people. I sometimes wonder if the only reason I’m friends with them at all is because my political incorrectness just scares off everyone else who isn’t Asian. Nevertheless, I learn to love such different people because the pool of potential friends who are even remotely similar has a population of zero. I’ve had to get used to socializing with such different people because I’m so different than everyone else.
Why? Maybe it’s the way I grew up. Maybe it’s the lack of emotional education from my absent parents as a kid. Maybe it’s the shit my mentally ill mom put me and my girlfriend through when she wanted to split us up. (Spoiler alert: the bitch still does.) Maybe it’s the trauma suffered when I left behind the first thing I learned to love unconditionally, my cat Kunyit.
Whatever the cause, the fallout of my wildly different personality is unmistakeable: go deep enough, and I’m completely alone. It’s only natural. My values are foreign to my closest friends, my challenges are unrelatable to the people I talk to all the time. My fears are mine alone, and my victories are celebrated in solitude. An extreme, yet accurate, analogy is that I live two lives: one that everyone knows, and one that only I know. They are so vastly different that if I could instantaneously make some of the people that know me best understand the life I live alone, they wouldn’t recognize it belonged to me.
Fuck, I’m sitting here writing this trying to pretend I’m looking at my solitary life from the perspective of someone else, and I cannot even imagine what is actually there, as an outsider. From the outside, I work, cook, exercise, and work some more. I’m always moving, always going outside, always running at 5AM, always talking to random strangers, always writing, always making. From the outside, I look like an uncommon patchwork of common things, thus everyone just calls me weird. But the picture all these little things paint as a whole, and the way they are put together, illustrates things that I don’t think anyone but me will ever be able to understand about me.
I’m not trying to be dramatic and mysterious — I’m trying my best to explain something in my most universally-accessible vocabulary. Even this is problematic because a lot of people aren’t familiar with the way I put words together, so they try to translate what I say into their own lingo. I get labelled with small words that have big, incorrect meanings. Bipolar. Autistic. Asshole. Selfish. Messed up. They’re each true to some extent, but it’s the big picture that matters. And I suppose either nobody has cared enough thus far to build the big picture, or they don’t know there is a big picture.
But also remember that I’m a genuinely happy, peaceful, ambitious, motivated person. This cocktail of traits is already extremely rare in normal people that don’t have to deal with a past like mine, so for me to have it means something. It means this dual life doesn’t weigh me down.
In fact, I see it like a superpower. A superpower that comes with great benefit, but also great cost. For instance, imagine a superhero that has the ability to turn invisible. Invisible Man has the benefit of having nobody see him whenever he wants, but he also has to actively choose not to use this power for ill will: stealing, spying, etc. And on a higher level, think about the fact that Invisible Man has to make a constant choice to stay seen, and stay with the people he cares about, in the life he cares about, when he could be anywhere doing anything he wants, and no one would know. This would require significant mental restraint — he would have to care about the people he chooses to be visible to very much, because at any point he could push someone off a building, or never see them again, or draw dicks on their faces with pink crayon when they’re asleep, and no one would ever know he did it.
In the same way, I’ve got a rare ability — a whole hidden personality — that nobody knows even when I try and show them. It costs me because this existence is incomprehensibly lonely. That’s the cost of being in a place nobody else knows about.
So I lie on the carpet and look at my future art acquisitions, and I listen. Finally, it’s time to leave. I walk to the bus stop with my girlfriend, who doesn’t take long to notice my melancholy. I attempt to explain the sense of desertion I am struggling with, but the words fail to convey the right emotions.
In some way, I suppose, there’s value in the fact that people don’t know the real me, even when I try and tell them. It means that I’m the only person alive who has a piece of knowledge that is impossible to share — an art piece I have been crafting for nineteen years.
I don’t know if I’m a hero of anything just yet, but this sure does make life rich?