I am writing this from the luxury of a hotel room, booked on short notice. Tomorrow, I will be staying with a friend for as long as I need to. Don’t worry too much about me; there is no risk to physical life and limb, though nerves have definitely been jostled.
This post will refer to real people and real events, but the names will be withheld to protect the innocent. If you know the people in question, I strongly advise that you talk to them instead of me; they are upstanding and lovely people in their own right and in aggregate. Any facts that I articulate poorly are not meant to slur them or their name. Indeed, I see what follows as a disagreement of ideologies, not one of interpersonal strife, worth telling as a cautionary tale of how different personalities intermix together.
To my coworkers, the few of you that know of this account and read here: please respect that I’m handling this at home and home only. I am still functional for work. If I do need to take personal time, I will take it.
I will open with the most cited images from the concluded Gunshow Comic, well known in software engineering:
In engineering, this image is used for a multitude of handling failures. The most common of these is a scenario in which alerting has failed, such that operations thinks: “everything is fine,” as servers slowly melt into their component elements.
This is an apt analogy, then, for how I have lived for the past five years. For those five years, I was told that everything was fine. Everything was fine... as my emotional abilities, resolve, and hope for a bright future burned to a crisp before my eyes.
And at the same time, I am also not the dog in the comic. Instead, I am also fixed as the viewer of the image, fruitlessly calling the dog to pay attention, to acknowledge that their house is desperately on fire. The dog, then, represents my situation and my place within it, separate from me. I scrabbled fruitlessly to handle a situation in which I, as observer, only had vicarious agency.
This brings me to the situation: socially, my house is on fire. The blaze was kindled in the heat of a difference of personalities, and it was stoked by burnout, fear, anger, tension, and a heavy dose of stress and shame. And I have chosen to remove myself from the situation, peeling myself out of the pane of the comic as the blaze continues to burn.
So what started the fire?
To fully understand the situation, consider the following analogy*: two cultural heritages represented as lead gears in a cogworks. On the one side, a culture of Mid-Western and European collectivism, in which the greater good is upheld by mutually supportive behavior. On the other, a culture of Southern individualism, in which personal and inter-personal growth and selectivity are valued over managing the greater whole. Imagine this cogworks trying to turn in tandem, as certain gears fit improperly or inversely at the teeth. The sparks from this grinding, often kept at cinders, have finally become the forewarned blaze as gears shifted within the system.
I am the Southerner. I resent the ways of my upbringing: the rhetoric taught to me was one of isolationism and ableism, and it took me years to reprogram. I am not proud of who I was taught to be then, and it was only through the help of compassionate friends and family (both online and off) that I was able to become the person that I am today.
During this reprogramming, there was always the potential -- yes, this was only a few years ago -- that these gears might one day fit. Indeed, at the outset, there certainly appeared as if that might be a possibility: as pieces locked briefly into alignment, starting to turn, frictionlessly. But this page is from the universe in which a flywheel fell out of balance, causing the entire system to, irrevocably, melt major sections and all of the hard work that went into them in a resulting blaze.
And in the heat of this blaze, I am told “this is fine”. This is not, in fact, because things are fine. It is a very firm and insistent plea that things be made fine, by turning only one of the gears rapidly and ignoring the fire. By ignoring the blaze, and killing the power to half the system, and cranking just fast enough, things might just be fine for what remains after the fire.
I am the portion of the system shut down by this plan. And it wasn’t fine for me, because it leaves me with the blaze created by the clash, and leaves me in the fire, and leaves my system to burn. In the past, I would sit absent, allowing the sparks and cinders and minor blaze to burn my hardware. "This is fine." This time, I elected to go elsewhere, suffocating the fire for lack of additional fuel.
The point of this is that for the past five years, we have been trying to run a household with two incompatible strategies. As people were added and removed, and as information and situations changed, things looked like they might work. When they did not, being the more isolated system, I bore the burden of deactivation and excess heat damage to keep things running. But by pressing one of the gears, as I did today, repeatedly, to try to finally make things fit, I am the one that sparked the resultant blaze that followed.
And in its aftermath, I feel treated as if I am the dysfunctional segment. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Surely I am the cause of the fire, because it occurred as the result of my tweaking, as I desperately kept many of the gears in alignment. Surely I am the cause of the fire, because I am the one that tried the hardest to make the gears fit, even when all I had were substitutes at odd angles and ratios. Surely I am the cause of the fire, when the inevitable blaze sparked from a situation with too many interlinked moving parts to begin with.
Such a conclusion would be a bad postmortem, because engineers know that these problems do not happen in isolation. There are many contributors to the eventual fire. And while no contributor is themself blameless, the most valued result is to learn something about the whole so it may be better addressed next time.
And so I have learned that this is precisely why social interactions are designed to have few moving parts, and why relationships work that way too. The cogs that don’t work are simply left free to spin, while the ones that do work remain to power the rest of the system.
It is unlikely for me to return to my almost-working presence in my own home, and for me to re-engage with the system of cogs that, while still in need of oil and repair, turns more freely now from my own removal. I can no longer be the person vigilantly trying to make repairs, grinding the gears when I should not be, all in pursuit of a system that finally turns clean with all connected working parts. I have been removed from the system, and I do admit to feeling better for finally turning clean myself.
Much better except, I cry now, for not being part of something larger than myself. I cry now, because I wanted that system to turn clean with me a part of it. I cry now, more so than usual, because all I ever wanted was to belong.
But belonging, perhaps, is another story for another day than this one.---
* This is borrowed from an analogy stated to me by one person in the situation, which fit especially well. I would normally cite them here. Instead, please recognize that this analogy is borrowed, and that for reason of not invoking them, the contribution is anonymous.