The ghost in the machine.

The ghost in the machine.

There’s a feeling I’ve always had, of myself and of interactions with others. I suppose we all get lost in the crowd at times, and we all struggle to make ourselves seen, but for me it’s always been more of a permanent state rather than a temporary disconnect.

It’s maybe the reason it was so easy to convince me that I was invisible in primary school, or why I became suddenly obsessed with the idea that I’d died in a house fire after reading R. L. Stein’s The Ghost Next Door (a Goosebumps book, naturally).

I feel like a ghost. Haunting the edges of the living, observing what they do. Copying what looks fun, but somehow never getting it right.

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As a child, I was pretty content to fade into the background. Most of the time, I still am. I always feared that any extra notice on me would reveal my flaws and that elusive ‘true nature’ that I was trying desperately to hide. I never knew what it was about me that was so terrible, so I would hide everything just to be sure. There was always someone louder around, someone who wanted attention and I was more than willing for them to take it.

That hiding built a wall of habits now decades old. Never let them see you cry, was the big one. I think carefully about what I’m going to say, when, and where I’m going to say it. I conduct conversations in my head, planning step by step any responses I might encounter, preparing for those.

How should I have my face? Should I smile? If I laugh will it sound forced, or natural? How should I look annoyed without making my face look weird?

Everything is considered. Everything is analysed.

You don’t get that time to think in regular conversation. I have conversation ‘banks’, databases of information and the right times to use them. Working in retail gave me a lot of that.

You could almost think of it as computer programming.

if (weather = raining) {

     conversation = ‘Finally, some rain!’;

} else if (weather = hot) {

    conversation = ‘Not sure I can take much more of this heat!’;

} else {

    conversation = ‘The weather has been interesting lately.’;

}

My deepest apologies to any java programmers.

You get the idea. Depending on who you are and what interests you have, I may select a piece of information from another bank. I’m rather proud of the little tidbits of information I know. I like to learn things about people’s interests so that these banks don’t run dry, and I’m capable of making interesting and relevant conversation.

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This stems from my desire to be part of things, and what feels  like a lifelong inability to achieve that. Even as a kid watching other kids play, I didn’t want to be noticed–but I did want to be involved.

And it’s hard to explain, when I’m part of so many things, how I still feel outside of them all. How I can be sitting in front of someone, talking with them, but when it comes to properly connecting, I am that ghost still and my body just passes through without impact.

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Perhaps it’s the fact that I overthink conversation that lends a sense of falseness to my interactions, resulting in a failure to communicate effectively. But unless it’s on a topic that I’m familiar with and personally passionate about, I find it very hard to know what to say at all. Get me started on one of ‘my’ topics, though, and you’ll see how fast I can talk and how genuine I can be.

Before you say ‘Just don’t overthink things and relax’, understand that I’ve been consciously planning, preparing and constructing interactions my entire life. I’ve always been very considered with my words, and I rarely put out an opinion before I’ve had time to evaluate a situation.

I  don’t even know how to not do that. Not without a substantial amount of vodka, anyway, and that led to the temporary belief that I was a much more fun person when I’d had a few drinks. I loosen up a lot, talk way too much, and I suddenly don’t care if economic theory bores you–I’m going to ramble at you about it anyway.

Still. It can be very alienating to feel that barrier between myself and another person. I worry that it separates me from others, makes them less inclined to spend time with me without another ‘normal’ person as a buffer, afraid that time with me alone will be uncomfortable or boring.

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It leaves me feeling like I am not truly ‘real’, not until I can learn more, do more, and talk more about things that comprise a ‘real’ person. As a ghost, I am easy to look through–to forget until you try to see me. I don’t take up much space or make much noise, I want to be as little bother as possible.

One of my goals with this blog is to ‘out’ myself and my thinking processes, to put in writing all the things that make me weird and strange, the things that make me feel ‘other’ in social situations. It’s my way of shaking the stigma I hold about myself and the things that I enjoy, taking a sledgehammer to the wall of habits and breaking it down.

I am a quirky person with diverse interests, and I should never be as ashamed of that as I was.

There are exceptions to the connection problem, of course. Largely people with whom I share an interest, fellow writers and lovers of the bizarre. Those who are also fascinated with words, cats, disaster documentaries, advertising, social media, public relations, true crime, TV shows, games, communication theory, how the world might end, customer service, management theory, psychology, computers, philosophy, #auspol and music.

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The other exception is communication via text. My keyboard frees me from the constant analysis of tone and expressions on others, monitoring and changing my responses to more favourable ones. It gives me agency to let loose the rants and rambles on any topic I like, without burdening anyone with the task of listening to it.

I am, in many ways, a ghost in the machine. An operator, observer, trapped by a wall of processes and systemised conversation. I will probably always pause before speaking, or not speak at all–I will probably always rely on banks of information to generate conversation.

But as long as I can free myself of this desire to shut down and hide the things that I think people don’t want to see, I’ll be on my way to having more genuine interactions with everyone.

Not just the exceptions.

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