Stupid Tuesday questions, North Pole edition

I hate the way I look in photographs.  It is the rare photo indeed where I can look at it and be happy with how I appear.  Part of it is that I have an uncontrollable blink reflex, so I look half stoned in many pictures.  But even when my eyes are wide open, in the overwhelming majority of cases I will still hate how I look.

This is not a new problem.  There was no picture of me in my eighth grade yearbook, because both the first round of pictures and the retakes were so lousy that the teacher in charge of putting the yearbook together acceded to my heartfelt plea to leave them out.  (Seriously, I was grateful that she was honest enough to agree that the photos were horrible, rather than giving me some BS pep talk about how they weren’t that bad.  They were that bad.)

[Aside — when I lived in New York City, I worked at a hospital that received visits from Santa Claus during the holiday season.  Now, this Santa wasn’t just any old St. Nick, but the real deal Santa from Macy’s, the “Miracle on 34th Street” dude who closes out the Thanksgiving Day parade.  Cunning me, I thought I would get a picture of myself with Kris Kringle to show kids who might be scared to be in the hospital.  I figured if it looked like I was chummy with Santa, maybe they’d be more at ease with me.  Unfortunately, true to form, the picture came out terrible.  I looked like a demented elf.  I discarded the picture lest children fear for Santa’s safety if they saw it.]

Now, I tell myself that I’m not photogenic.  That I must look better than that in real life.  I just photograph badly is all.  The only problem with this happy delusion is that people will often look at pictures that I think are just heinous and tell me that I look perfectly nice.  Which indicates a far more troubling possibility…

I just look as goofy in real life as I do in pictures.  Those aren’t “bad” pictures at all!  NO!  They’re perfectly good pictures, and I just look like that!

Needless to say, I find that latter prospect deeply unsettling.

So that’s this week’s Question — what Hard Truths have you had to face about yourself?  What would you prefer to deny, but are forced to confront?  What does an honest self-assessment reveal that you’d prefer to pretend isn’t there?  (NB. In the spirit of Stupid Tuesday questions, I’m referring to minor personality quirks or silly, anodyne idiosyncrasies.  If the truth you’re hiding from yourself is a deep yearning to go on a multi-state crime spree or torture small animals, perhaps that’s best saved for your analyst.)

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Even though I am capable of faking my way through them – my wife refers to this skill as Politician Mode – I am profoundly uncomfortable in most social situations, and would prefer instead to be at home. This has (perhaps not surprisingly) intensified since I quit drinking almost six years ago.

  2. I am almost not that bad at singing. Just close enough to be heartbroken that I really am, in the end, no good at singing.

    And yeah. Same deal with the pictures. I go around feeling delusionally attractive until confronted with photographic or mirroric evidence. Although I don’t think that’s the case for you, either in pictures or in real life. Although you do look better without the headlamp.

    • I am terrible at singing. At one point, one of my irrational fears (I keep a revolving list of the “Top 3″… hmm… that might be a good STQ…) was that while driving in the car and belting out Adele along with the radio, the signal would cut out and I’d be left to hear my own horrid voice screeching out, “SOMEONE LIKE YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!”

      With Adele having not released a song in a little while, the fear has subsided. But it still gives me shivers just thinking about it…

  3. I think I’ve often had to face the fact that when I’m argumentative, I’m just not very persuasive, and instead tend to become an ass. I always feel like I should be able to make incisive, great critiques (and maybe I do) but the end result isn’t a conversion to my point of view, but just a tendency for people to stop listening to me.

    • This applies to me, too. I’m usually not to quick at rejoinders even to the most answerable answers to my “arguments.” That’s probably why I prefer, in an ideal world, to frame things as “discussions” or “dialogues,” although my pride still gets in the way there, too.

  4. If the truth you’re hiding from yourself is a deep yearning to go on a multi-state crime spree or torture small animals, perhaps that’s best saved for your analyst.

    In that case….I’ll say I don’t like the sound of my voice when it’s tape recorded.

  5. With the exception of my senior year portraits, there doesn’t exist a photo of me that I particularly care for.

    As far as hard truths I’ve had to come to terms with: my obstinacy. There’s no real adequate way to describe it where I don’t come across as more of a raving bitch than I already am.

  6. I find that I lack motivation and sometimes an actual aversion to doing routine tasks. I get easily bored and sadly would rather do nothing than things that should be done with childlike spitefulness.

    • I have almost the opposite problem.

      First, I use chores as a way to procrastinate. For example, if I have a choice between working on my dissertation writing and doing the dishes I’ll often do the dishes instead.

      Second, I tend to be obsessed with getting chores out of the way as soon as possible because I don’t like them hanging over my head. On the surface that might seem like a good thing, but it can beget an unobsessive, inflexible mindset on my part. Certain days and times are reserved for certain chores, and there’s little variation: Tuesday morning is laundry, Monday evening is cleaning the bathrooms, for example.

  7. I am a psychopath when it comes to folding laundry. I have a particular way of doing it (which isn’t really the “right” way but it leads my drawers to being more orderly… something VERY important) and few people can replicate it and god help you if you do try to fold my laundry and don’t meet my standards.

    For a long time, I thought this was the result of everyone else’s moral inferiority. Thankfully, I’ve realized I am the actual weirdo. This was about the time I got together with Zazzy. This realization is probably 40% responsible for our longevity. My previous gal and I used to fight to no end about the topic.

    This is just one of many things but is the funnest one to talk about.

    • You would hate the way I put my laundry away. At the laundromat, I just scrunch everything up and stuff it in my duffel bag.

      I’m also bad with dishwashers, even though we don’t have one now. I have a “preferred way” to stack the dishes and even commit the rudeness of rearranging someone else’s job right after the person puts their dish in.

      • I do that to my husband – rearranging the dishes – because the way he puts dishes in the dishwasher annoys me. There’s no logic or reason behind it, and he gets half of the dishes washed that I could because of his haphazard style of dish placement.

        • this seems sensible. Is your husband really that untrainable? I’d have him redo it himself, under your supervision, when it’s time to run them.

          • Honestly, while it might irritate the bejeezus out of me (along with him leaving half a cup of coffee in his cup in the sink – pour that shit out!), making him watch me as I load it would only cause problems.

            I fought the laundry battle (no mixing whites with colors, towels are separate or with denim, etc) – because I got tired of bluish-pinkish-purple socks which were once white, etc).

            It just means I have to run more loads of dishes in the long run.

            I mean, if the only thing I can really complain about his how he loads the dishwasher (and maybe his socks on the floor), I’m ahead of the game compared to a LOT of wives out there.

          • So, what, his “habit” costs you… $10 a week? pretty expensive habit, I’d say. (that’s 30 minutes of rearranging dishes at $20 an hour, because it’s your free time).

          • There are conversations out there that people would pay $520 /year (amortized weekly) to avoid. These people would call that a bargain.

            Or so I have heard.

      • I have a theory that no one thinks anyone else knows what the hell they are doing when it comes to loading a dishwasher.

        • Updated Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Household chores.

        • As I said to boegiboe one, “Zazzy doesn’t even know that there is a right way to load a dishwasher!”

          All-in-all, I’ve gotten much better about my anal-retentiveness, because it simply wasn’t worth the time to indulge. I’ll still contend that it is entirely reasonable to organize a household bookshelf first by subject matter and than alphabetically within each subsection. But I no longer demand that we only buy books that won’t upset the careful symmetry of each shelf.

          • I’ll still contend that it is entirely reasonable to organize a household bookshelf first by subject matter and than alphabetically within each subsection.

            I second that. Heartily.

            And I routinely rearrange dishes in the dishwasher, because there is a right way to do it, dammit!!

          • Darlene likes to organization our bookshelf according to which books or authors she thinks should go together.

            “Oh, I think [insert ancient philosopher name here] and [insert contemporary fiction author here] make sense together.” It’s actually kind of great, especially when done ironically (Let’s put Augustine and Irvine Welsch beside each other!)

            For CDs, I generally prefer alphabetical by artist and then chronologically when you have multiple releases from the same artist.

          • Jon,

            High Fidelity has a great scene where he rearranges his music autobiographically, based on when he came to acquire the record. Really funny. More importantly, I love the idea of creating little social clubs for books.


            There IS a right way! Zazzy will often half load it, stop, and slink away muttering, “He’s just going to change it anyway…” Which is true! Yet I still insist that she not only help with the dishes, but she help the RIGHT way!

          • I was thinking of exactly that scene when I wrote my comment, which is why I didn’t put my preference for sorting more strongly (and autobio would be more difficult when combining mine and Darlene’s collection).

            I love the look of awe on the other guys’ faces when he finally tells them how he’s organized it. The music nerdiness of that movie is wonderful.

          • RE: Music organization – I used to employ a couple systems, reorganized once or twice a year to make best use my physical shelf space and any newfound conceptual ‘links’ in the then-current system. People trying to find things in my collection were often baffled, because they did not ‘get it’ and so could not locate the record they wanted.

            The girl who became my wife understood it almost immediately. She would sometimes ask questions or debate the system or choices made therein, but she understood what it was intended to do and how to work it. 🙂

            But I reached a point (back when I was DJ’ing, and pulling stuff out and re-filing it weekly) where the sheer size of the thing got too unwieldy to do anything but go alpha/chrono (though I still segregate electronic/dance, jazz/blues, and hip hop from the main body of the collection, and even within the main collection I will sometimes break with alpha whenever it makes sense to me to group, say, a solo or side project’s records with the ‘main’ artist’s records).

            Any other system took too much time each week, and the sheer volume of records was making it harder and harder to make new acquisitions fit into the conceptual spots they needed to fit in (whereas with alpha, you can just shift stuff left or right as needed).

            Let’s just say that many, many people I know, upon reading or seeing ‘High Fidelity’ made it a point to tell me that the ‘Rob’ character reminded them of me.

            I got better. 🙂

            And I pack a mean dishwasher. You can always shift something to fit one more thing in. The secret is not to get too wedded to any positioning until the last minute.

            When I am just throwing a few things into an empty dishwasher, I often don’t bother with positioning much at all, since I figure the items are likely to be require shifting anyway when the next meal’s items go in, so why waste time now. This part drives my wife nuts – when she comes in after me, she contends she is having to move items unnecessarily; whereas I contend they would likely have needed to be moved anyway and it is better to have a mostly-blank slate to work with, instead of having to fit the new items into the prearranged Tetris.

            My wife will often do bookshelves in a way that just looks overall ‘symmetrical’ with regards to book size and color (though all of an author’s books will generally remain together at least). Like a flower arrangement.

          • I don’t have a dishwasher, but I can pack a car or moving truck better than anyone else, and by god there is a right way to do it that maximizes the use of space.

            Sadly, I now do all the car packing when we go on vacation.

          • Glyph’s argument makes a whole lot more sense than Darwy’s to me. That said, I mostly plan my meals out in advance, and it’s pretty easy for me to know what dishes are going to fit where. I do remarkably little rearranging (perhaps because half the “somewhat dirty” dishes are on the table/counter)

          • Jon,

            Have you read the book? If not, do so! Hornby is fantastic. And it feels like he had Jack Black in mind when he wrote that character, they nailed the casting so well.

        • Well, my husband likes to face 2 dishes towards each other, rather than ‘stack’ them inside each other. That’s what annoys me. He’ll go [ ] [ ] instead of [[[[.

          • Well, I know he has a fantasy of me in a ‘Slave Leia’ costume.. does that count? I keep telling him that the Jabba costume is more apt to be found in my size…

  8. I am very good about going to the gym and working out.

    I am not good at just getting a salad for lunch or something like that and like complex carbs way too much. I don’t eat a lot but will always pick something like a muffin for breakfast over oatmeal or yogurt.

    Also when it came to theatre directing, I was good enough to make it through grad school (though it also helped to be a “model student” in the words of my Dean) but am probably not good enough for a professional career. I always marvel at the people who were able to create whole shows from long rehearsal processes and a glimmer of an idea. These people are way more avant-garde than me. I need a script by a playwright really but that is not where the interest is these days. The people who get noticed are directors who create shows out of whole cloth.

    • The shows also always have interesting names like Santa Clause Will be the Death of You or A Very Merry Scientologists Christmas Pagent.

    • Though I did have a reputation in grad school for liking intellectual/challenging plays at least.

      Though some people thought this made my work too cerebral.

  9. The last time I shaved, I saw that I had the start of a double chin (magnified one-thousand fold whenever I looked down).

    I will never shave again.

    • Oi vei, I’ve had this happen a few times. Somehow I keep telling myself that if I just chewed more gum, my chin/neck would tone up. But alas…

      You know what is the worst? When you go to get a haircut and they tie the drape too tightly around your neck and it forces all your neck fat up into your chin and makes even a single chin look like a double or triple chin and all you can do is sit there and think about how horrible your haircut looks because you can’t quite figure out why you look so ghastly in the mirror and then you get home and think, “Oh, hey, it’s not that bad afterall.”

      • Does the gum thing work? I don’t know if I’d be able to chew enough gum to fix what I got goin’ on, plus I am really prone to biting my tongue, hard – like puncturing bloody holes in it hard (what can I say, I am a clumsy chewer I guess). Maybe I should get this.

        The beard is definitely good camouflage in the meantime.

        • I’ve heard that it works, but I have yet to see results. My amateur hunch is that it would help if done in conjunction with the necessary diet and exercise, but I don’t think it can overwhelm a bad diet or lack of exercise.

          Generally speaking, I shouldn’t complain about my weight; I’m pretty fortunate in that my body responds quickly to dieting and exercise. When I do gain weight, it goes two places: love handles and neck/chin. So even if I’m not in a particularly fat stage, I have all the markings of someone who is.

  10. As a photographer, I want to reassure you that being photogenic is nearly orthogonal to being attractive in the flesh. Some features just translate better to two dimensions than others. Some people tense up as soon as they see the camera and invariably look less attractive than they are. The more worried you are about blinking, the worse the picture will look.

    • This makes a lot of sense. There are a number of celebrities (Goldie Hawn’s daughter, whose name is escaping me at the moment) looks amazing on film and horrible in photographs.

        • Yes. Her. If I see her in movies, I think she is a genuinely very pretty girl, despite not being my type. Whenever I see her in candid photos, like red carpet or whatever, she looks like a completely different person. Very strange.

          You know what else I’ve noticed? People who think (and maybe rightfully so) that they have a “good side” and somehow always position themselves so to display it, which makes most photos look really awkward because they’re always looking off to one side. Strange.

    • I know someone who routinely destroys all photographs of themselves. I think it’s half “I look horrible in the photo” and half “any photo I leave around is one more thing that people can wank off to”

      • If it’s any additional consolation, my good Doctor, I look acceptable in about 1 photograph out of every 900 that are taken.

    • You and I are in the same boat. At this point, it’s the Titanic.

  11. I have a deep yearning to go on a cannibalism spree. I share this with you because I already ate my analyst.

    Truth: I suffer from the occasional schadenfreude. Wish I didn’t, but the downfall of sanctimonious hypocrites sometimes fills me with glee.

    • So, you are in the market for a new analyst then.

      “Schadenfreude” – interesting that you would use a german word…tell me about your mother…

  12. Man, I’m going down the list, hitting just about all of these. . . especially the arguing about how to arrange the dishwasher.

    In reality, for me the harsh self-assessment is, contrary to my dreams of ascending toward the top of the corporate ladder, the fact is, I’m not a particularly inspiring or effective leader and I likely never will be.

  13. 1) Answer the first: I don’t know when to shut up and when not to.

    2) Non-answer: Russell, I am not a photographer, so Lindsay probably already made this unnecessary, but I am quite comfortable saying based on a limited perusal of your facebook page that most photographs of you are perfectly innocuous, even attractive, AND that you are far more aesthetically pleasing in person. “Orthogonal” is the perfect word.

    3) Answer the second: I eventually realized that learning to communicate by reading a surfeit of Dickens and science monographs before the age of ten meant that I was the one with the communication problem, not the enormous number of people around me who spoke and wrote differently. And even more eventually, I realized that I maybe liked me better when I let that communication problem out to play every so often anyway. So I’m not just a stuffy Victorian writer with an undue affection for the passive voice, I’m an unrecalcitrant SVWWAUAFTPV. But I don’t let it get in the way of what needs doing.

    • 1) I did not experience this trait in meeting you, but then our time together was far too brief. When I am lucky enough to share your company again, perhaps I will form a different impression. As it is, I found you a perfectly charming conversationalist.

      2) You are tremendously kind. Thank you for salving my poor ego.

      3) This reminds me of an essay about communication styles by David Foster Wallace that I read some time ago, I think in “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” or maybe “Consider the Lobster.” Anyhow, he basically argues (in so many words) that people who speak like ultra-nerds have their wedgies coming. As one who speaks in a similar manner myself, I share your attitude.

  14. Hard Truths: I am a pompous ass who doesn’t know when to apologize. I also don’t know when to shut up, but that’s less of a bad thing.

    • Well, if you learn to shut up, you’ll have less stuff to apologize for, so there’s that.

      • You’d think that would be the case…. wouldn’t you?
        Being too quiet can be just as much trouble as being too talkative.
        (Witness Blaise taking me to task for assuming he’d know who Mark Zandi was…)

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