Paranoia versus Baseball

If baseball players are good with F- batting averages then you have nothing to lose either.

I want to talk about paranoia without invoking the DSM-5, but the level of paranoia that I experience sometimes feels pathological.

I wonder how many of you have experienced the terrifying conviction that a cruel joke is being played on you. Have you ever wondered if a friend is a full-blown double agent for a politically insignificant but ideologically powerful fringe cult? Or just a double agent for Russia? We’ve all read the stories about grifters and career liars. Could we detect them all?

I have great instincts. I say yes more often than no. I believe in love. I trust people so that they will trust me. But sometimes, I fall prey to the most absurd paranoid fantasies. I fall so deep into them that they prohibit my ability to act rationally with the people I suspect are training against my personal interests. 

A friend says to me: this all being a conversation I have exclusively with myself, that the trick I am playing, the con game, the exploitative behavior, is my own. I am my own grifter. It is a part of my brain convincing me not to trust the gut feeling I have, that wants me to move faster, deeper, harder into pleasure and freedom. The paranoia is meant to prevent me from surrendering to desire, the focus of which is to create art. The friend who guides me out of this paranoia, whose confidence in me surpasses my own, tells me it is imperative I let art reign. That’s why we have to curb paranoia.

And look. So many conspiracies are real. Would you blame anyone who distrusts “facts” in these days? I’ve absolutely been the victim of some terrible tricks. They probably didn’t make me stronger but I’m impressed I moved on, and the tricksters are paying for their mischief with incredibly boring lives.

This is another reason I want to avoid the Diagnostic Statistical Manual whose definitions of paranoia focus on the brain. I prefer working with something much closer to my throat. 

Now I’ve just figured out from really listening to my friends, that I do need to remember that the paranoia is the double-agent, because making art is irresponsible and the brain (The State) wants to shut it down. I’m also listening to the very advice I offer shy artists all the time. The questions I ask them are:

What do you have to lose? What can’t you not do?

I use baseball analogies in talking about risk and talent, because it’s apt and because it is such an amazing sport. Permit me to use the analogy now to convince you (me! I’m convincing me, Anne Ishii, you dummy). So for starters:

Fact 1: a baseball player is considered good, phenomenal even, if they hit an average of less than half the balls that are thrown at them. This verges on a success rate closer to the theorems of evolutionary physicists. In most competitive environments, .350 is far far below failing. But a baseball player’s success is measured organically as an aggregate of many other factors. And even then, a hitter with a high batting average sometimes gets excused from field duty, and in some situations, is even excused from running. Can you imagine? Moral: virtuostic artists are annoying, just like 100% players don’t exist, because they’re robots.

Fact 2: baseball is absurdly slow and yet somehow incredibly dangerous. Three plus hours on the field for seven consecutive nights just to find out which team exhibits better teamwork, and everyone gets injured through repetitive stress or the occasional ball straight to the head. Moral: careers are endurance sports.

Fact 3: even with drugs and rubber-loaded bats, it is incredibly difficult to cheat in baseball. Most teams meet the bar wherever the status quo sets it. The rules are just ridiculous enough that everyone gets a chance. It’s super strategic and also super ad hoc. Moral: I have no clue. It’s just interesting.

Thinking about these facts makes me realize how difficult it is to build conspiracies when you commit to the absurdity of a game of baseball. I’m not saying you should metaphorically play along with fucked up rules; to play despite system cheats like designated hitting, pinch runners, racist team owners and franchise mascots. I’m saying that we’ve already surrendered to absurdity, and coming out with an F- might still make you a worthy teammate. In which case, the answer to the question—what do you have to lose?—is really, actually, absolutely nothing.

I think the only thing I can do for many emerging artists is to inspire confidence. Your shit may suck. But I want to hear confidence. I know it’s out there. The paranoia will also be there. Maybe we can be ok now with the idea that we’re being tricked in some nefarious plot device. It is just shame telling us to stop looking for each other. I would look forever for you if I could. I would never seek out shame.