I have this memory of being in the 6th grade (or so – could be a year more or less, not sure). I used to do these things that today I would refer to today as Social Experiments, or Performances, or Art, but as a kid, they were just things I was playing around with. Summer camp provided especially fertile ground, given that every week a new crop of kids would arrive (I was one of the kids who was enrolled for the entire summer, so I was always there, but it was otherwise a revolving door of other people my age). And summer camp is so perfect for this sort of thing, because it’s not quite school and not quite real life.
One of the first ones I did was to decide for a week I would be the most unhappy person on earth. I complained about everything, all the time. If I stubbed my toe, I made a huge deal out of it; and any kind of slight or sadness I felt was reason for me to go on and on and on about. It really was pure performance – acting this way is not in my character at all, and I have the distinct memory of staring up at a beautiful blue sky one afternoon and trying to find something ugly about it to complain about. Kids my age fled from me, except for a few well-meaning types who must have taken pity on me and tried to cheer me up. By the end of the week, they were done with me, too. No one wanted to be around me, and it was understandable: I was a completely miserable person who never saw the good or pleasant in anything. I took comfort in manipulating the interactions.
For the next week, I decided to do the opposite. I showed up bright and early on Monday morning with a big smile on my face, and spent the entire week being sweet as sugar to everyone around me. Anything negative or dark that came my way, I just hastened it out and laughed it off. I remarked on how wonderful the weather was, constantly. I went way out of my way to never talk about myself and only say great, positive things about other people. The response was a bigger surprise to me than the response of a week before: people absolutely loved it. I mean, I knew they’d like it, but I wasn’t expecting how much they’d go for it. They fell for it. Everyone wanted to be around me. Popular kids invited me into their cliques, and counselors cut me all kinds of slack when it came time to do unpleasant tasks like swimming lessons. It was 100% fake, but at about 11 years old, I had figured out the secret to climbing the social ladder.
As a result, I lost almost all faith I had in any kind of human interaction. The whole thing seemed like a huge game — and a boring, silly game at that, which I had already figured out the ending to. I started really fucking with people around then. I went to a playground (this was outside of camp) and decided I was going to transform into a cat. I crawled over to a group of kids my age who were hanging out there and addressed them with a meow. The kids freaked out and fled — they literally ran away from me, and I was left standing there, alone, in the middle of the playground. I concluded that this was it; an honest reaction, and from now on I would be a cat. (I quickly changed my mind later that day when I remembered one of the popular girls from camp where I had been all smiley had invited me to a slumber party, and that I really wanted to go. Thus ended the cat experiment. Human interactions were stupid and fake, but by god — there would be potato chips and pizza and other forbidden foods at the party, and that totally one-upped knowing better than all of humanity.)