This is a trick. It’s all a trick. But I’m not lying.

Have you ever met an a honest fraudster?

“Tell your story…”

That’s what Medium has written here when you start up a new draft. It’s grayed out, a UI affordance that tries to tell you what the purpose of this blank page is. It’s telling me that maybe I should write something here.

At the top, while I’m writing this, is a picture of my face and the motto I’ve chosen to include on this platform. I think it’s there to let me see how this will be viewed by others. It’s setting a tone, telling you that what you write here is going to be shared with other people. That your story is going to be heard. Perhaps even understood.

While I understand the purpose of these things, I don’t like them. To me it assumes I know who my audience is, and that I want to tell them a story about myself. Even if i’m wrong, that is what these things feel like to me.

I don’t want to tell you my story. I don’t want to change your mind about me. I don’t want to accidentally make you think that I’m on your side, or accidentally induce a sense of self-pity or guilt. But sometimes I can’t help doing it. I am a social creature and the need to belong — to feel validated — is strong.

On the extreme end, we have words for this in our language. They are often the words that we use to shame others into ‘better’ behavior: needy, clingy, learned-helplessness, dependent.

I’ve tried my whole life to be ‘better’, but I don’t know how. I’ve learned a lot about how other people think in hopes of avoiding the shame. But even now, after ~30 years of learning, hearing these things still makes me not like who I am sometimes. Most times.

Let me tell you a story.

“The anthropologists got it wrong when they named our species Homo sapiens (‘wise man’). In any case it’s an arrogant and bigheaded thing to say, wisdom being one of our least evident features. In reality, we are Pan narrans, the storytelling chimpanzee.” ― Terry Pratchett, The Science of Discworld II: The Globe

A persuasive story is like a stage show magic trick. The story walks you through a series of distractions while it sets up an emotional appeal in your head. The real illusion a magician creates is the one that lets you overlook the setup. You are wowed by the reveal of the trick, and walk away with the prestige stuck in your head.

Your brain is utterly convinced of the illusion and it is left in a state of awe. That awe is the feeling of your brain trying to believe the unbelievable as it fights in instinct to trust what it sees. A good story adjusts your world view by imparting a sense of trust. Your brain wants to believe.

I’m setting up the trust thing right now. This is me revealing to you a hidden truth so that you feel like I’m on your side. I don’t want to trick you. I’ve never felt like I’ve been on any side. I don’t know how to belong.

“But when you are dealing with a master of sleight of hand like my partner Teller, even the simplest activity may be a complex deception. […] To understand the complexity of Teller’s life, you need to know the seven basic principles of magic” — Penn Jillette, Slight of Hand

The trouble I have with writing stories is that I see thru the magic, and it makes it hard to distinguish from stage show magicians and the narrative fraudsters. Just like Penn & Teller’s famous Sleights of Hand, there are some basic principles of manipulating your audience with a story. A great speech writer knows these things, but not many bother to reveal setup of the trick.

With enough knowledge about human psychology (and enough practice) you can play these emotional appeals like a fiddle. Find a good rhythm to perform under, chose something to act as the assistant, and you’re well on your way to manipulating the hearts and minds of the masses.

Right now, I’m even trying to tell you what I’m doing, but I can’t help but trick you. People don’t like knowing how they are manipulated. They’d rather enjoy the emotional appeal of an dramatic story rather than the rage of feeling like they are being cheated. Knowing the mechanism behind the magic destroys the magic. Nobody wants to look behind the curtain.

I don’t want to do that to you. I don’t wan’t to manipulate you. But I don’t know any other way to tell you how I feel inside. This is me trying to lift my veil.

It’s scary. The best way to show trust is to make yourself vulnerable.

Let me share some insight.

“We are aware that we are embodied beings with egos, but we are constantly trying to get around this — all the while realizing, at another level, that we can never truly lose our embodied perspective or think with something other than our evolved brains. Layers of self-glorifying self-deprecation illustrate our complicated relationship with ourselves.” — Sarah Perry, Trying to See Through: A Unified Theory of Nerddom

I mentioned that I don’t like telling you my story, but I don’t have any other way. While I attempt to stretch my point of view to other’s shoes, I’m not very good at it. I end up defaulting to my own experiences which are woefully challenged at seeing the world thru others eyes.

My language reflects this. I am reflexively using terms like ‘I’ or ‘me’. I am limited by physics to only be able to inhabit one mind and one perspective. The views I invent to deal with the outside world are nothing more than actors on a stage. The play they are in is titled, uncanny valley.

You, the one reading this right now, are outside of my perception. To perform this trick, I have to assume you are human. I must assume you feel things, and can be persuaded by words. Of course this is obvious to anyone, but so is a magic trick once you’ve been shown how it works.

So what’s the trick?

An inquisitive mind may have noticed that I haven’t described how the trick is done, just the setup. This has all been part of the setup. Like Pavlov's dogs, your mind likely salivating in anticipation of the reveal.

That’s it. That’s the trick.

The big reveal is that your mind is a dog. Like a dog trainer, I’m feeding it insights. I’m doing it right now using an analogy. I’m guessing you are familiar with bell ringing pop-psychology trope, and I’m ringing Pavlov's meta-bell.

How I do the trick is simple: I assume your mind is a machine acting on inputs. Levers that I can pull to move your brain like a puppet. Strings that I can pluck to resonate an idea. I use poetic words to harmonize with the way your strings are tuned. All the little quirks that society has bread into your psyché are handholds for me. I attempt to fold your feelings like a t-shirt off the wash-line; Trying to fit you into my closet along with the rest.

I’ve had years of practice, but only because speaking doesn’t come natural to me. Did you know that the best pick pocket in the world was ‘born with fine and gross motor-skill deficits’? It’s true!

His story resonates with me:

“I have a different theory about that. That model of attention. They have fancy models of attention. […] For me, I like to think of it very simple, like a surveillance system. […] Attention is what steers your perceptions. It’s what controls your reality. It’s the gateway to the mind. If you don’t attend to something, you can’t be aware of it. But ironically, you can attend to something without being aware of it. […] For my job, I have to play with techniques to exploit this. To play with your attention as a limited resource.” — Apollo Robbins: The art of misdirection

Why am I being honest?

The trick I’m performing with Medium is the same magic of the mentalist, but using words. Like Medium tried to influence me with UI affordances, I’m trying to influence you into caring about me and my story. I don’t know how else to express myself and still be understood.

I need help. But I don’t know how to ask. I don’t even know what to ask for. I want to be understood but I am not a good story teller.

I’m sorry.

The real trick is the one I’m pulling on myself. There’s an illusion that keeps me from seeing from other’s points of view. I have my own curtain: years of shame and frustration of not knowing how to function better in this world. I’ve been struggling with trying to pull my own levers. I’m hoping you can see thru it for me, and point out the parts of the story I can’t seem to see. Help me find the levers I’m missing.

The clinical term for what I have is Autism. The label is rooted in the Greek word for self, autós. It can be characterized as being stuck in the self. A much better word for this condition would have it as a portmanteau of
sollicitudo and solitudinem, latin for anxiety and loneliness.

We are wired to tell stories. It’s how we look at the world. Even knowing this, our mind is swimming in it so often that it doesn’t even realize when the current changes. My defect is that I’m not very good at swimming; I’m more sensitive to the turbulence and am not able to glide thru the water as well as others.

In a society where language is how we cooperate I’m forever dependent on other’s voices to speak for me. I have trouble finding words and so I must often borrow them like an elaborate form of found poetry. The stories I do make are often soliloquies — talking to myself more than any perceived audience.

I grew up feeling like a monster, hurting people I love and not understanding the negative glares flashed my way. I understood the words, but they were full of shame that did not compute. I feel like a shitty robot trying to pass as human, but not truly able to see thru a human’s eyes.

I hate looking at the world this way. Not being able to fully see other people. Not being able to fully grasp their hopes and dreams or reciprocate their feelings. It’s not for lack of wanting. I truly do care underneath, I just feel trapped and don’t know how to reach out.

If I only could be more human. If its a choice between anhedonia of being alone and the pain of rejection when I reach out: I’d choose the pain.

I’m sorry I have to depend on you.


Thank you for paying attention to the human behind the curtain. It helps me not feel so alone.

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