– defensive covering for the body especially : covering (as of metal) used in combat
– a protective outer layer
My armor was exquisite, and in my mind it had no equal. It fit perfectly, to the point that it was hard to tell where I ended and it began. It wasn’t just a protective shell, though – it was so much more than that. It was a filter for interacting with life, both in what I projected and what my senses perceived.
And even beyond it’s filtering qualities, it could change shapes. There is a concept in computer programming known as ‘polymorphism’, where an object can essentially transform itself into other objects, provided there is a definition for how this transformation takes place. As I went through life, I mapped out these paths, and it became second nature to fit into whatever role the situation called for.
In my professional life, it was often required to act as professional people often do – use a certain vernacular, never questions the marching orders, to fight to the death and vanquish all foes. And that’s exactly how I saw the opposition to my professional aspirations: as opponents to be dispatched, with no remorse, and I really did have this vision of myself on some fantastical battlefield, carving a swath through all foolish enough to stand in my way.
One of the first jobs I worked that had a marked impact on me was a very hard physical labor job; and this fit into my warrior mentality like a glove. The hours were grueling, the physical demands were psychotic, the working conditions borderline inhumane, and the managers always wanting more. I absolutely loved it, and showed up early to both prove and punish myself – prove myself to my superiors, whose validation I required, that I was once again the best; and to punish myself with all the work I could find, because if I could survive this environment, my armor would grow thicker, and I would be one of those legendary hard-asses of yesteryear that people only whisper about in hushed tones, like a mythological creature.
I was such a fanatic about the job, that I was eventually “promoted” to a supervisory role and given 9 – 12 people to order around. It sounds so ridiculous to type or reflect back on now, but I would give grandiose speeches along the lines of “yes, today was going to suck, and no, I won’t bullshit you, we’re going to do it all again tomorrow”. I can project my voice very loudly when motivated to do so, and I did so on these occasions because I wanted the other “teams” in the building to hear me, to hear the army that I had, to know that we did not fuck around, and that we did our job like it was life or death.
It’s really quite amazing how even a person with grand delusions and a grander inferiority complex (such as myself at that time) can motivate people to do things that, normally, they would regard as totally nonsensical. Suffice it to say, we did our jobs so well because we were in the position that the work we did “fed” the rest of the building, so if we performed slowly, the rest of the building had it easy; if we performed too fast, the rest of the building would not be able to function because the “feeding rate” was too high to manage. We got yelled at a lot to slow down, but we wore these requests as badges of honor.
Experiences like this, and others, only served to reinforce my warrior mentality when it came to work – and as a result, the suit of armor grew more effective as it learned. When I moved on from that job and into the quasi-corporate world, of course it all came with me – and once again, it fit right perfectly. Except, now it wasn’t a physical presence, it was an intellectual one; one I was all too happy to engage in.
From the day I started that job, I made it a point to demonstrate my intellectual capacity to the utmost – even if I knew nothing about a topic, I would rack my brain in meetings to offer any opinion that the “experts” had not thought of or addressed yet. If I could beat them to the punch, that means I can essentially “steal” the idea, because then they are back-pedaling by saying “Yes, I was going to mention that …”. It is intellectually off-putting, both to the audience and to the speaker / presenter. Maybe that’s true, I am not sure these days – but at the time, the whole thing seemed like some level of corporate kung-fu that only I knew.
I also read a lot – books, Wikipedia, pretty much everything; so I have this vast amount of knowledge in my brain that is occasionally useful in ways that defy logic. In the strangest places, I have been able to quote Voltaire, Aristotle, Plato, or more obscure figures; and I would do so, relentlessly. I would usually blend it into some insight into the topic of conversation, like some kind of self-manifested Gordian Knot whose only purpose was to prove my superiority, prowess, and utter dominance (see, kind of like that).
And because corporate environments are notoriously places where long hours, drinking the kool-aid, and the willingness to fall onto any sword are highly valued, once again the armor I wore and the associated mentality was not just recognized, or just appreciated, it became the backdrop for the battle of wits that the upper managers were happy to let play out. “Let them fight to the death over who is smarter, can work more hours, can wreck their personal lives because of imaginary corporate brotherhood; we bill more hours and hire less employees because we don’t even have to ask them to work themselves to the bone, they do it anyway!”, I sort of imagine them saying, while they raise some drink with an umbrella to each other, on some beach on an island that no one is quite sure which country it belongs to.
Because the armor and it’s worldview worked so well in my professional life, I let it co-opt all parts of my life. My personal life became an utter disaster, and I could never figure out why. As I shambled through life and observed the smoldering wreckage of my halfhearted attempts at intimacy, I reached the only logical conclusion: personal attachments were for suckers and I didn’t need any of that shit anyway; it probably was some conspiracy by greeting card companies, just like Valentine’s Day. Love was just a biochemical reaction to a feeling of validation by some other person. Fuck that noise, I’m going to be rich and I’ll figure this shit out then.
As I went through all these experiences, the armor just became impenetrable – and while I was deeply frightened about someone seeing the armor as being just that, an outer layer not representative of who I really was (although who or what I really was seemed like an unsolvable mystery), the armor gave me comfort and safety because it was battle-tested and had proven itself countless times. And I also began to view others this way – I just assumed everyone had this exterior layer, and all kinds of sick shit went on under the surface. And this belief also bled into my personal and sexual life as you might imagine, in what I can only describe as “the most confident facade”.
Owing partly to the fact that I was now conscious that others had this outer layer, and perhaps the other part to the fact that I viewed every interaction as a life and death struggle (I think the scientific term is “being a dick”, not sure), I honed my skills at finding weakness in others and exploiting them to my fullest benefit. It really is hard to describe it, beyond the quasi-warfare tone I’ve adopted; my entire personal identity was predicated on the notion that I could be the best at anything – and to prove it, I would prove it everywhere and in everything.
And perhaps most insultingly, I was 99% of the time extremely humble and reserved about it, always quick to remind that “anyone could do it, it just took a little thinking is all”. Like “gee, shucks, Mr. Clark, I know I just ran into a burning building and came out alive, but anyone would’ve done that, right?” And the answer was a definite no, because there’s never a line waiting to go into a burning building – it’s only the delusional and the foolhardy who do that shit. Or firemen, but in the analogy above firemen don’t exist.
Because of this state of mind, perhaps more poignantly, this state of being, I found very little happiness or joy in anything; I just did stuff because … well, what the hell else was I going to do? So even though I had put “classical” drug use behind me years ago at that point, I became a very heavy alcoholic. The kind of alcoholic that even other alcoholics look at and are like “whew, that dude’s a fucking alcoholic”. Every trope you’ve ever heard about an alcoholic, I probably did – not out of happenstance, either; I actually made it a point to see what the tropes were like by seeking them out and engaging in the behaviors. I’m rational dammit! And to understand something, you must have done it at least once; otherwise, you’re just observing life through some weird filter of non-manliness.
So I drank in the morning, at night, on the job, off the job, I drank when I said I wasn’t drinking … it’s just an endless list of “what the hell was I thinking” items. So, now I’m melting down because of raging alcohol abuse, but excelling professionally because I have no life, want no life, live for the job, and didn’t really care because I was drinking all the time which made me feel good. And it went on like that, for years and years and more years. It got to the point where my perspective on life was this nihilistic pit of despair that even Nietzsche would grumble at.
There was no purpose in life, only that which we assigned to it in order to form some sort of self identity and integrate the various pieces of our life. Which meant that morality itself was an artificial construct, and was context-sensitive – it was relevant in the human mind and society, but to the universe or some other form of life, morality was an empty shell, devoid of purpose or origin. This, in turn, meant that raw capitalism and my warrior mentality towards it was perfectly acceptable; if you don’t want to be fed into the meat-grinder of capitalism, sack up and get what is yours, or get out of the way and find a sunny place to wonder where things went wrong for you, and say bullshit like “money can’t buy happiness”. This … this is a small encapsulation of the utter contempt and hostility I had towards the gift of life, the world in which I lived, and of the people around me.
The armor had grown roots at this point, and I had lost all sense of direction in life; I would make huge life altering decisions because I could always just reshape myself into whatever the situation required and go be a chef, or a pilot, or a garbage man – I didn’t really care because I was supremely confident in my ability to handle anything. It was in 2014 that the first chink in the armor appeared. I did not know it at the time, but this scratch in the armor would eventually lead to a rebirth of myself – I am the same person, and hold some of the same academic views (e.g. I still believe in gravity), but everything is different now; like I am seeing the world for the first time.
When I wore my armor, I would look at things and see death – I’d project how long it will last, on the manner of it’s demise, am I affected or how can I benefit from it, should I hasten it along (because, after all, I’m the arbiter of existence, apparently). These days, I look at the world and see the wondrous nature of creation, of life, of happiness, of people who are in love, and many more things which I “knew existed”, but which I never knew really existed.
It feels like the directionless journey has come to an end, the sojourn has finally ended, and now I have found my home – the armor is on the mantle, to be looked at from afar, but never to be worn again. It is cursed, and it is a curse of my own creation; it’s effects on me are absolute, and the devastation without equal.
I spent a very, very long time walking alone – by choice, mind you, as opposed to angering some thin-skinned demigod; I do not feel that I am alone anymore. I know I am not alone anymore. While I acknowledge and understand that the transformation of self that I have gone through has been one largely accomplished by my own actions and choices, immense gratitude, appreciation, and thanks are long overdue for those who have helped me along the way. And from my vantage point, there is one person above all who … who has had an immeasurable impact on my life in this current incarnation and many others; who has probably saved my life in ways I don’t fully understand yet, or ever will.
But, that is a story for another time.