For as long as I can remember, I’ve been prone to high levels of self-monitoring and self-regulation. Pretty much every action is accompanied by at least a modicum of premeditated thought (as best I can tell), and many by more than a modicum. I’ve also developed some pretty immediate internal feedback loops, taking stock of each action and doling out either congratulations or chastisement to myself.
This process is reflexive these days; as best I can tell, my particular habits of internal self-regulation are the result of external consequences when I was insufficiently effective at restraining my inner weirdnesses. Much of this comes from childhood, of course. I was always in (at least) the 95th percentile of height and weight for my age group. When young, if someone gets hurt, the first glance goes to the biggest kid in the vicinity. Cultivating a reputation for gentleness helped redirect the attention (not out of any cunning misdirection – I’ve never had much of a violent streak). That, plus lots of focus at home on politeness, has led to an adult mentality that’s heavily focused on not imposing myself on others. (The junior high years also stand out as a time of intense social policing by peers that led to strong self-policing of particular behaviors.)
I find variations of this are common among many of my friends and loved ones. It’s also possible they’re very common among humanity generally (or at least the parts with cultural backgrounds and guidelines like my own) — I just don’t want to project my experience, or those of my admittedly unrepresentative social circle, onto everyone else.
An end result of all this is that I have a hard time putting myself in the head of someone who generally doesn’t give a damn how they are perceived or reacted to by others. The punk, the James Dean-style “bad boy,” the true free spirit, the archetypal artist. Even within the realm of creative expression, the most comfortable forms for me are writing and Lego-building, and I think it’s not a coincidence that both are shaped by rules and clear parameters, whether socially agreed-upon or physical. Even at its most freeform, writing with any degree of intelligibility still has a clearly defined set of rules and relationships between words that are either followed or intentionally bent or broken within certain limits.
Given time and instruction, I’m sure I could pick up the underlying “rules” for music, painting, or even interpretive dance, but each of those strikes me as less defined – and therefore tougher to self-regulate within – than writing. There’s also no question that I don’t exactly push hard against the stylistic conventions that do exist when it comes to prose, and poetry is unquestionably more daunting. Ultimately, there is comfort in clearly understanding the externally maintained rules that can be violated in self-directed ways for particular effect.
The thing is, there’s more to life than comfort or effectiveness. Much of my life up to this point has been an exercise in constraining myself in the interest of comfort and effectiveness, and there remain without question parts of my life, such as my day job, that are best served by those principles. Outside of those areas, I think my life could stand to be less restricted, or at least less subject to self-imposed restriction. Certainly my writing would benefit from a little less self-regulation, at least on first draft, and my personal life would probably gain a little extra flavor if I could at least relax the boundaries I’ve created for myself.
To return to the realm of the fictional, I suspect there’s a reason the werewolf remains my favorite of the classical monsters, followed by the…“aggressively eccentric” scientist. Werewolves explore loss of control in its purest form, and the aggressively eccentric scientist rejects the conventions of their field with far greater confidence than I feel I could muster right now. Recognizing that the boundaries I’ve created for myself are in many ways more restrictive than those suggested by ethics, morality, or society, I could probably stand to give my inner monsters a little more time outside of the dungeon.
Within reason, of course.