One of my greatest difficulties in life is figuring out what other people think of me.

You would think that with the amount of gear-grinding I do working out the thought processes of other humans, I would be better at that, but no. I like to think I have at least average acuity at realizing when someone wants me to go away, and nowadays I can usually work out when I'm being hit on. When someone's interacting with me directly, I'm good at figuring out if I'm communicating my mood correctly, mainly because that's the one thing I ever bother lying about. (When people care that I'm having a shitty day, they want to express it by giving me attention, which unbeknownst to them is just about the last thing I need. Easier to not get into the explanation.) Other than that, it's mostly a big, hollow question mark.

It is not necessarily an absence of feedback. I tend to ignore gripes unless they're constructive criticism about something I can change, but I've made a conscious choice to remember compliments for a good long time. I do get them. For the most part, I don't know how the frequency compares to other people's experiences, other than the ones having to do with appearance. I gather it is not normal for strangers to stop you on the street and get you to take out your earbuds so they can tell you how lovely you are. I intentionally got used to that one when I started modeling, because when you work in an industry that literally runs on how wonderful other people think you look, you get that sort of thing a lot from people who really mean to praise you for your ability to do the job, or just express happiness that their project seems to be progressing well with you in it. It's bad form to get discombobulated by what is essentially professional feedback, good or bad.

Others take me by surprise every time. When I do stage work, I am generally satisfied with my work when my director is happy with my performance. You get a lot of both compliments and complaints from directors, after all; they are trying to translate a thing that exists only in their head into physical reality using a ragtag collection of other humans, none of whom have any useful psychic powers. I figure myself to be professional and competent at it. Things from audience members beyond the traditional 'it was a lovely performance, I enjoyed it very much,' required by etiquette always knock me for a loop. One of the Post-Meridian Radio Players happened to catch me at Arisia and gave me a capsule summary that boiled down to HOLY SHIT I DID NOT KNOW YOU COULD DO THAT. I think I was about twelve the first time I recall being stopped by a total stranger who was in the house so they could tell me how wondrous I was on stage. Over twenty years now and the best I've ever been able to do is train myself to not look poleaxed when that happens, and that's mostly because that just makes it awkward.

So I do get told of specific things I have done well. I have no complaints there. My outlook is probably skewed by my stubborn belief that most people are pretty okay, or at least too lazy to be mean most of the time. I went through the phase where I thought humans were horrible as a teenager and it wasn't much fun, so I don't figure on going back.

What I don't know is how other people weight these things, rank their relative value in life, and put them together with whatever goes on in their heads about what they think is going on in my head, to come up with a general opinion of me. Do they think I'm some kind of amazing wunderkind? Is it intimidating? Or are they flashes of talent notable mainly because they're from someone who otherwise isn't much noticed? Am I 'fabulous! you must meet her!' or am I 'poor dear, she tries her best'? I assume nobody thinks of me much when I'm not in front of them; it seems less narcissistic than the reverse. So if they do say things to each other, I've no idea. Do they think I have an exciting life, or are they glad they're not me?

Things I can never know.

You'd think I could figure it out from observing how they interact with me in person, but I can't. My internal procedure for decoding social signals is somehow strange. Most people, I think, learn social skills as they're growing up, first by learning to deal with surface/explicit signalling, and then later learning what a lot of those things "really" mean, in different contexts. For various and sundry reasons, I didn't; at the age where most people work things out organically, by trial and error, I was deeply isolated, and what little chance I had to practice was disrupted by the authorities in my life "explaining" things from what I will politely term a somewhat skewed point of view. I did not have a chance to start on the shallow end of the pool and paddle out little by little. I got hucked into the deep end and had to sink or swim.

As a result, though I can breaststroke like a motherfucker, I actually missed most of the introductory lessons on doggie-paddling my way through polite surface interactions, and have never really figured it out. A lot of "polite fiction" sorts of camouflage completely pass me by. Since the "polite fiction" level is what most people who aren't intimate friends with each other react to, this means I can't even do the thing where I try to put myself in someone else's shoes and observe my own behavior as an outsider. I can't assess any of it for the same reason the radiology tech can't look at your X-ray film and give an opinion on the color of your shirt. Useful in some respects, profoundly annoying in others. I've gotten myself into trouble on a number of occasions by commenting on something I thought was common knowledge, only to find out that not only is it not obvious to anyone else, but that the person I was commenting on was trying very hard to conceal it, and I hadn't even noticed.

For the same reason, I have a hell of a time figuring out what other people look like to third parties. I know what I think of Alice, and I know what I think of Bob, but I have absolutely no idea what Alice and Bob think of each other until I see them interact and can read their reactions directly. This also causes issues sometimes, which I cope with in large part by just letting everyone harbor suspicions that I might be a space alien. Few of the people I like would consider this a problem, and it's as good a paradigm to operate under as any.

I do make some effort to convey that I'm a well-intentioned space alien. I manipulate my own presentation at least as much as anyone else. We all try to put our best foot forward, whatever foot we think that is at the time. I try to behave like the person I want to be, within reason. It's a fairly straightforward process. I like being "the one with all the crazy-awesome dresses," so I wear crazy-awesome dresses. I also like being "the one who pops up unexpectedly in all kinds of random places," so I try not to turn down things that sound like harmless adventures. Deep down, I've always wanted to be the Doctor -- not the impossible fictional part, where I save the universe all the time and always win because I am literally a deus ex machina, but the mostly-attainable part, where I'm curious about everything and difficult to rattle and speak up when I think a thing that is happening is Absolutely Not Okay.

I have absolutely no idea if it works. It might do; I've had a few people tell me that I have some kind of mysterious 'star quality', but whether that is the general consensus or they are just kindly madmen, I do not know. I hesitate to assume. I think twice -- sometimes three or four times -- whenever I'm doing one of the celebrity profiles and I'm about to note I grok something a famous person does because I do the same thing. I have the nagging feeling I'm going to be brutally slapped down by someone who takes my observation as an entitled demand for the same kind of social capital that said famous person has, even though I haven't earned it. I actually assume I have the thing in question in common with some unknown number of other humans on Earth; I just point at famous people because I can find footage of them on YouTube, and can therefore give links so everyone else can see what's going on. It's as much an effort to explain myself in terms of public examples as the other way around.

Some things do make me wonder, though. I'm aware that I have charisma -- or at least that I can turn on a social mode that other people characterize as charisma -- mainly because there is a class of charismatic behavior that comes down to having intense curiosity and some skill at indulging it without making other people feel like they're being interrogated. It's not the only kind of charisma out there, but it's one I point at a lot when I do profiles. I have to have it, because I ask a hell of a lot of weird questions, all the time, and I've never once been punched in the face.