On my usual trundles through the internet, I ran across a brief tribute penned by Placebo's frontman upon hearing of Bowie's death. There's a photo heading the article, of a 40-something Bowie -- tousled hair, a hint of eyeliner, scattered blond stubble -- with his arm hooked around a very, very young Brian Molko. Molko, in full glamorous face, looks back at the camera, wide-eyed with the exact mixture of excitement, bewilderment, and terror one would expect from someone who'd just learned that his lifelong idol not only knew he existed, but thought he was kind of a neat kid, and wanted to be friends. And had him in a sort of an affectionate headlock. On camera.

I don't think I've ever worn that expression.

There are a lot of people I respect. There are a fair few of them whose skills I think are admirable. But there's no one whose praise means the world to me, and never has been. Back when I was the age where you're allowed to put people up on pedestals, I was strongly discouraged from idolizing anyone. It wasn't difficult; given the behavior of my cohort at the time, I saw other humans as stupid, arbitrary, and generally kind of mean. Why would I want to be like that? Why would I even want to be involved in that? And then I got too old to ignore the complexity of other human beings, and everyone, no matter how skilled or accomplished, seems like just another person like anybody else, when you get right down to it.

I make it a point to learn things from watching other people these days, but that's independent of what they think about it. I have an unfortunate amount of experience at learning from counterexample, which tends to displease people if they find out about it. I made that decision, in fact, specifically because my mother seems bound and determined to never learn anything from anybody, and look where that's gotten her.

Sometimes I feel like my life has just been one long desperate effort to not make other people mad at me.

It's not that I don't get praise; it's just that it's generally very confusing. It always seems to come out of nowhere, for things I don't feel I'm trying particularly hard at. It dates all the way back to childhood, where genius was quietly expected of me, every effort was met with a deliberately low-key 'I bet you can do more' (note to educators: This is not how you 'challenge' gifted kids. This is how you drive them insane), and then someone came in out of left field, gave me an award that nobody even told me I was up for, and vanished again. I still find it impossible to predict what other people will be impressed by. The best I've been able to do is make the polite 'normal' response to it automatic, so it doesn't become a big awkward thing.

I pour the most effort by far into pretending that I am a functional, reliable human being who can communicate effectively with other human beings. The reward for doing that right, of course, is that nobody notices. Always sprinting full-bore to stay in the same place.

I am a little fed up with pretending to be normal. Since my tolerance for unpleasant environments seems to have dwindled as I've gotten older, I've made up a list of things that will make me have a catastrophic meltdown if I try to deal with them on a regular basis at work. It includes things like 'scheduling me before noon' and 'brightly-lit or open plan offices' and 'giving me a task and then interrupting me every five minutes'. Basically, I either need a very limited number of afternoon or evening hours in an environment where I am always doing something and am allowed to queue things up and and handle my own task-switching (e.g., I'm surprisingly okay at waiting tables), or any amount of work that I can do at home, in a dark room, in my pajamas. I am told that St Elizabeth's out here in Brighton has a lovely and competent staff, but for once I don't want to have to go introduce myself to everyone in the local ER right after I am forced to quit a job.


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