Golden Guides

I have a pretty vivid memory when it comes to the early 80s; especially considering the fact I was only four in 1984. I remember that year quite well because it was when I got my first Golden Guide––a series of pocket-sized books about nature, originally released in the 1950s. Stars was my first acquisition in the catalog and it sparked in me an interest for reference books that was insatiable. I would eventually collect just about every entry there was––Birds, Reptiles and Amphibians, Cacti, and even Tropical Fish––and I was proud of this collection. Last night, as I went to sleep, I thought back to an afternoon in 1986 on our back patio when my parents had friends over and I showed one of the women these books. I watched as she flipped through the pages, ran her fingers over the images, and made comments like, "Oh, now isn't that interesting." In retrospect, she was obviously patronizing me the way most adults do to small children, but at the time I loved it. A warm sensation went through my body as she showed enthusiasm for my things.

A normal kid would have presented this woman with one or two books and then gone back to playing with his toys. I, however, went back to my room to get a new Golden Guide each time she was done looking at the current one (despite the fact that she was only looking at them to be nice). Considering I had at least thirty different Golden Guides at this point, this must have happened about thirty consecutive times––and each time, despite the fact she was having a conversation with my parents, she would give me the same positive attention and look at each entry with the same level of detail. I think there was actually a moment where I thought I was doing her the favor by showing her all these books. Can you imagine that, however? Going over to your friends' house for dinner, showing their kid some attention, to the point that he goes back and literally brings out every single toy he has, so that you can continue to validate his possessions for about two straight hours? What kind of kid does that?

You could chalk that behavior up to the solipsism of an enthusiastic young person, if you really wanted to, but deep down I know what was really going on: it was the budding seed of narcissism planted deep inside of me––an enjoyment of the idea that everything I had to say and do was important without taking into consideration the feelings or needs of others. It's only solipsism if it eventually disappears. My narcissism did not, however.

While I don't consider myself an extreme narcissist, there's no denying that, when you look at the personality checklist listed in any basic psychological evaluation of the condition, I fit a number of those qualifications, if not all of them. But, of course, to write a blog everyday you have to have some narcissistic qualities, otherwise there would be no way you could keep it up. The main reason blogs fail, in my opinion, is because the author eventually loses interest after receiving little to no response to his or her words. However, when you're a narcissist, you never believe that's the case (or you quit because you don't want to believe that's the case). There was an article in the New Yorker a few weeks back about how tech CEOs never think their company is the one that's going to fail, and how this confidence is almost a requisite attitude for capitalism right now––otherwise, why would people continue to start new businesses when the odds of success are stacked so highly against them? Only a narcissist could believe so boldly in his or her own abilities.

And only narcissists would believe that people want to constantly read updates from their lives, see pictures of their vacations, and hear long, drawn-out stories about something funny that happened to them this past weekend. And only narcissists will get upset, on the verge of tears, when you criticize them or call them out on this behavior, forcing you to eventually acquiesce and tell them they are actually a nice, genuine person in the face of all that rage. They like to argue, to correct others, and to dominate the conversation, but don't you dare try to out-do a narcissist at their own game––they can dish it out, but they absolutely cannot take it. That's why blog comment fields often turn into name-calling, one-upsmanship, and general negativity. Narcissists didn't start writing blogs so that some jealous troll (because that's what every negative reaction must be the result of--a jealous troll) could crap all over it.

My attempts to out-grow my narcissistic skin have made generous leaps and strides over the last few years, but in recognizing my own tendencies I've become hyper-aware of this behavior in others. It's because I'm so ashamed of my own past transgressions that I tend to take a zero-tolerance policy towards others. However, giving a blog to a narcissist is like giving a bag of heroin to a junkie, or a book of matches to a pyromaniac––I'm not always sure that receiving attention from tens of thousands of people is good for my own personal growth. The only way I'm able to maintain my composure is by outlawing any photos of myself and turning off the comment field (which helps me to avoid positive feedback––which is what 75% of it is: "Nice post!" "Good job!")

However, in this day and age, the internet is like a giant playground for people like me; it's an entire society built around narcissism. My generation--the kids who grew up thinking they were special and better than others--definitely fulfilled its prophecy: to create more opportunities for self-adulation. However, the irony of all this social media is that part of being a narcissist is not knowing what people really think about you; it's simply part of the disease. You don't know what people are thinking because you're convinced that everyone is enjoying what you have to say (plus, you're too busy thinking about yourself).

But when you talk all of the time and think you have funny stories to tell, most people are not enjoying what you have to say. Most of the time they're waiting for you to shut up.

That's why I approach the Spirits Journal with more trepidation these days. It's only over the last five years that I realized how deeply my narcissistic roots reach. So while I like to believe that my blog is the exception to all that hot air out there, that's exactly what my narcissistic personality wants to believe: that I'm the exception.

But that's what all of us who write blogs have to believe. Otherwise there would be no blogs. There would only be straight-forward news and reference books; only Golden Guides.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll