Happy and Miserable: Confessions of an Apparent Gemini

More Than a Memoir

Happy and Miserable shares stories from my life by exploring several powerful personality dichotomies while suggesting that we are all made up of contradictory qualities.

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1. Introduction

“Gemini is characterized by the Twins, Castor and Pollux, and is known for having two different sides they can display to the world.”[1]  – The Gemini Personality, by horoscope.com[2]

  

1.1. A Boy and His Book

They say the first sentence is the most important. No, not really. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that. I just thought it sounded like a cool first sentence. It’s strange that I should open this book with a lie, even if it is just a joke, since I’ll tell you later how important honesty is to me and how I’ve dedicated myself to the truth—but, then, everyone says that. I don’t think jokes count as lies… but perhaps now is not the time to go into it. Maybe later. First, I’d like to explain the title of this book.


I chose the main title, Happy and Miserable, because it encapsulates the collection of dichotomies naming each chapter herein. This book draws attention to my contradictory nature and, hopefully, to the fact that we are all so constructed.


I mean “happy” in the way meant by Aristotle: not a transient emotion but a state of being; not a feeling but a life free of scandal and full of virtue. For Aristotle, a man cannot be truly secure in his happiness until he is dead, being never certain while alive what tragedy might befall him.[3] No one who knows me will ever accuse me of being a happy man in the usual sense, but I contend that my adult life, in sum, has so far satisfied Aristotle’s description. Fingers crossed.


With “miserable” I mean to draw attention to the fact just stated: that no one thinks me happy. I am quite reserved and do not often wear a smile. I speak, usually, in a soft, monotone voice and often about unsettling ideas that tend to make people squirm—something I expect to replicate in the following pages. I don’t do this simply to provoke but because I find challenging topics among the most interesting. If everyone in the room agrees with me, we’re all probably victims of cultural indoctrination; we are at least in an echo chamber. Besides that, we’re all probably wrong. Anyway, what’s the point of saying something that everyone already agrees with? By frequently taking a position against the norm, however, I appear to be always complaining, leading people to assume I am miserable. I can’t fault them—I display all the symptoms.


The subtitle, Confessions of an Apparent Gemini, is built from several parts. I do not subscribe to astrology, hence the qualifier “apparent” in describing my status as a Gemini. That ridiculous system does ascribe to me the symbol of the twins, however, and I admit that the personality traits that purportedly accompany this symbol are ones I recognize in myself. But I believe these same traits are in most people, if not in everyone. I have called myself an “apparent Gemini” in an effort to highlight the dichotomies in my nature, while hinting that the supposed source of that nature in the stars is bullshit.


In writing this book, I was forced to examine myself in ways I had not previously exhausted. Certain beliefs about my personality that I had taken for granted as true became somewhat less obvious after considering the presence and strength of their opposites. In deciding how to write this book (and whether or not to publish it), I came to another realization that gave me some pause. If people don’t read my story, they won’t know me; if they do read my story, they won’t like me. This is why I have called these chapters “confessions,” and I suppose I prefer the risk of disdain to the guarantee of obscurity, because here we are.[4]


My stories are important not because they are mine but, I hope, because they are everyone’s. I have tried to tell the human story using my own life as the setting.[5]  In the following chapters, I hope you see your stories but with different details. This is why I am prepared to share such a damning examination of my own mind. If you take an honest look within, I expect you’ll discover similar skeletons in your own closet and perhaps not judge me so harshly.


Or I may be dead stinkin’ wrong and have instead produced a uniquely qualified look into the mind of a mild schizophrenic. The National Institute of Mental Health describes schizophrenia as “a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves” and says that “people with schizophrenia may seem like they have lost touch with reality.” I have assumed that my dichotomous ways are typical in most people, but maybe they’re not. The NIMH lists the “negative symptoms” of schizophrenia: “‘flat affect’ (reduced expression of emotions via facial expression or voice tone); reduced feelings of pleasure in everyday life; difficulty beginning and sustaining activities; [and] reduced speaking.”[6] I confess to all of these symptoms throughout this book. I don't mean to make light of a very serious condition by casually self-diagnosing, but with these symptoms and chronic delusions of grandeur, the shoe does seem to fit—at least enough for one dance.


You may say, “I’ve seen the chapter titles. How can these polarized personalities, both within and across chapters, all reside in one person? How do these comprise a unified individual?” Shocking news, Billy: the unified individual is a myth—an illusion. The argument for this thesis can be made in many fewer words than I have used in this book, but I have tried to be entertaining while only implicitly arguing this point. 


I will appear to contradict myself and to make too much of either my heroic or my villainous side, depending on the given occasion. Throughout, I will praise myself enough to make you sick and castigate myself enough to make you sorry. This impossible collage may not be how we see ourselves as we go about our lives, but it is, I think, how we truly are—composed of inconsistent traits that are often worthy of substantial shame. I have offered myself as an example of what an honest look at oneself can reveal, and it’s not always pretty. In fact, I think I come out of this looking quite ugly, and that is fair enough. I wanted to be honest about what I’m made of; if this is what I am, I have no interest in hiding it from anyone, least of all from myself. Or, again, I may just be a schizophrenic, in which case, what are ya gonna do?


* * *


Life may be one continuous story in which every detail is related to every other, but for the purposes of story-telling, I think it helpful to view life as a collection of many overlapping yet somewhat independent stories. This book does not tell the story of my life as a singular string of events (as would an autobiography) but rather identifies several powerful personality dichotomies that I think fairly ubiquitous and explores them in the context of my life. As I do serve as the “main character” in these stories, I think it proper that I introduce myself.


I’ve lived two lives. Not literally, but I have good reason for dividing my time on Earth into two distinct parts: my second birthday was March 2, 2003, when I was paralyzed by a car accident of my own making at the age of 19. Virtually nothing of my life before that point has stayed with me. I had been an athlete but now lack the use of my legs; I had been an artist but now lack the use of my hands; I had been a musician (though for humor only) but now lack power behind my breath.


The two things that have stayed with me are my family and my stoicism. Immediately following my accident, however, it may have been ignorance more than stoicism that kept me from crashing into emotional oblivion. I knew nothing of the permanence of my condition and thought (for some reason) that dedication to a rehab program would restore me. I was wrong. Nothing known to modern medicine could save me from what I had done to myself. 


A quadriplegic’s life is not easy… but whose is? I contend that my life is easier than most and suits me about as well as any other could. I understand why people are surprised by this, but the belief is sincere. No one will ever say of me, when I’m gone, that I appeared to be happy, though I am quite sure I have lived less unhappily than most every one of my contemporaries. I should like to remind the reader also of Aristotle’s meaning of happiness, which is much more important to me.


I remember crying only once about my new life and the one I had lost, though I admit it has probably happened at least a couple other times as well. This unique memory is of a time years after my accident, in the privacy and comfort of my parents’ house. My mother and I sat together on her couch one evening and cried. My stoicism is strong but not impenetrable. Without my parents and three brothers, I would have been lost. Without them now, I would still be lost. Hell, even with them, as this book will show, I may yet be lost.


* * *


● By now, you should be aware that you are reading Chapter 1 and that it is an introduction to both me and this book.

● Chapter 2 discusses some ways in which I consider myself both younger than and older than my years. I highlight my physical condition and my treatment of my parents to demonstrate that my social and physical maturity make me both young and old.

● Chapter 3 exposes a large sampling of actions from my sordid past and my attempts to battle the resultant demons as an adult. With this, I provide an examination of my moral self and show that I am both good and bad.

● Chapter 4 explores ways in which I am both arrogant and insecure. To show this, I document my history in pursuit of the fairer sex and my attitude toward my own intelligence. The very fact that I wrote and published a book about myself, I think, foregoes any denial of my arrogance, but I am, like everyone, also insecure.

● In Chapter 5, I share some ways that I am generous but offer the reason why I think that generosity feels unearned. Due to this, and the fact that I nearly always get my way, I am left feeling exceptionally selfish.

● Thinking big and burning out has been one of the most recurring patterns of my life. Chapter 6 details a number of projects I have begun and from which I have walked away. I use these as examples in support of my claim that I am both ambitious and lazy. 

● I am less confident in the universality of the content in the final two chapters. I might actually be different in these cases, but let’s find out. In Chapter 7, I discuss my history of changing my mind about large, important ideas but remaining stubborn about seemingly insignificant ones. I am both open and obstinate.

● Finally, I am both emotional and stoic. Chapter 8 looks at my emotional side, and lack thereof, by considering my response to (usually) traumatic events and my estranged relationship with Love. 


* * *


At times throughout this book, I will speak to you as a friend in conversation—at others, like a thinker arguing a point. I regularly employ uncommon vocabulary and make uncommon references. These were chosen carefully and in the belief that they are best suited to both challenge the reader and enhance the story. I hope to inspire the reader to look these up when unfamiliar, as I do when finding an unknown item in my own readings. I have wanted, for a long time, to produce work that contains academic concepts yet is accessible to the common man. This is not exactly the sort of work nor the quality of academic rigor I had in mind, but it will have to do for now.


Everything recounted herein is meant to be the truth, but all I can do is tell you what happened to the best of my recollection. Sometimes, these accounts will be given in sober tones and sometimes in humorous ones. Likewise, some sections and chapters will be written more casually, as collections of stories, while others will be more overtly argumentative; I let the intended message of the given section dictate. We can’t be serious all the time but nor can we be always smiling. I think an examination of life that explicitly draws attention to its duality ought to reflect this charge in its style. I’ll also use footnotes to add a little charm now and again.[7]


    

[1] Castor and Pollux (or Polydeuces in many ancient books) are twin sons by different fathers in Greek mythology. Castor has a mortal father; Pollux is the offspring of Zeus. You know he gets around. When Castor is killed, Pollux makes a bargain that they share in his immortality by alternating days alive on Earth and dead in the underworld. It always seemed to me that Castor should have been the divine one after seeing Nicolas Cage in Face-Off. His brother, Pollux, was a dork.


[2] Horoscope.com, “The Gemini Personality,” www.horoscope.com, 2018, https://www.horoscope.com/zodiac-signs/gemini (Accessed: March 20, 2018).


[3] According to Aristotle, virtue is accessible only to old men, requiring a great deal of practice. We, of course, no longer restrict our notions of virtue to only one sex these days so we can toss that bit out, but the age thing may yet have some merit if we believe that virtue is a skill to be honed. Aristotle and Jonathan Barnes [ed.], “Nicomachean Ethics” in The Complete Works of Aristotle (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 1729-1867.


[4] It was not my intention, but in reading what I have here produced, I realize I have likely alienated myself from everyone I have ever met and from everyone I will ever meet who knows me through these words. What have I done?


[5] Many will want to say that my perspective is limited to that of a white, heterosexual male (or some other combination of intersectional characteristics) and therefore cannot be considered universal. I can’t deny this. But, as I will say several times in a later chapter, this book is not meant as a work of philosophy. Claims like, “This is the human story” are not meant to be taken too absolutely. It’s not that I think the claim entirely devoid of truth, but I am not here trying to argue a case with philosophical rigor—I’m trying to examine myself and entertain.


[6] National Institute of Mental Health, “Schizophrenia,” nimh.nih.gov, February, 2016, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml (Accessed: March 20, 2018).


[7] Hi.

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