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Unhinged - Oddities

I Am a Ball Bearing
August 1, 2002

Fear that eats love that eats life

by Gary Cozine    PrintEasy

A ball bearing is a machine part designed to reduce friction in systems that have moving components.

I was born in Oregon in 1968 and raised in northern California the youngest of three boys. I attended high school and college in New Hampshire. Email to a FriendAfter college I traveled around the country for a few years working as an actor before entering graduate school outside of Chicago. Following graduation, I moved to Los Angeles where I currently reside. Politically, I consider myself a liberal. I'm 5'11" and weigh 146 lbs. I'm a non-smoker and I've never been married or arrested.

Ball bearings are initially formed out of larger pieces of metal in a process called 'heading.'

I grew up on an isolated but busy stretch of road in northern California. If my friends and I wanted to hang out, it required an adult getting in a car and driving a kid somewhere. This placed the burden of entertainment firmly upon my shoulders. Some of my earliest memories are of hiding or building forts. I would take a few kitchen chairs, place them together back to back in the living room and stretch bed sheets over them. This was my first foray into architectural isolation.

Just off the kitchen under the stairs in our house was a cubbyhole. The space was shaped like a triangle with the highest point being on the left as you entered and descending along with the stairs above it to the floor on the right. A painted piece of plywood served as Text Bitea door and had to be pulled away from the wall and replaced once inside as a person would if sealing himself into a crate. Inside there was an exposed light bulb with a pull string mounted on the wall. Although the space was austere and I had a comfortable bedroom upstairs, much of my time was spent in this secret hideaway. From this cocoon, I was able to track my parents' and brothers' movements within the house while remaining invisible to them. This fed my need for separated togetherness.

In the deflashing stage, ball bearings are rolled between metal plates to remove edges left over from the heading stage.

Psychologists have made a pretty good living telling people that their mature selves are forged in childhood. We are told that patterns established early on will come to dictate our adult lives.

One day when I was about seven or eight my brother and mother were going somewhere in the car that I didn't want to go. I snuck away and climbed up into a tree in our backyard. From my branch I could survey our driveway. When it was time to leave, they both made repeated, unsuccessful attempts to coax me down—it's possible my brother suggested throwing rocks in order to dislodge me like a wayward Frisbee. Finally they gave up, got in the car and drove off. When I saw the car pull away, I panicked and came down from my perch, stupid with desolation. While I was contemplating this Copernican turn of events, our car pulled back into the driveway—they had simply driven out of sight, turned around and come back (an ingenious stratagem that no eight-year-old could possibly have envisioned). For a brief moment, standing there in the driveway, I felt like Sally Field, but when I saw my brother get out of the car I immediately forgot my relief and ran as fast as I could. He chased me all through the large field that bordered our property. Eventually he caught up with me—he was (and continues to be) eight years older than I—and dragged me to the car.

Twenty-five years ago I was so vehemently opposed to accompanying my family on a trip that I resorted to ursine tactics—yet today I can't even remember where they were going. I know of no other childhood memory that so neatly encapsulates my competing desires for staunch independence and my terror of being left alone.

I was relatively well-liked in grammar school. I don't think popularity is scientifically quantifiable, but ask any kid in any school in any town in any state who the popular kids are and he will recite the list with more celerity than his multiplication tables. The summer after I turned twelve we moved Text Bitefrom California to New Hampshire. That fall, when I entered the eighth grade, I quickly learned that my reign as a minor celebrity had come to an abrupt end. I don't know if it was the cultural differences between one edge of the country and the other or my own diffidence that kept me from fitting in, but I went from being one of the kids that other students sought out at recess to play with to being one of the kids that other students sought out at recess to beat up. This could perhaps be marked as the turning point in my self-esteem.

Ball bearings sit in a track called a 'race.' The spherical ball bearings go round and round inside the circular race.

I have a very bad habit of not fixing things that are broken. When I first arrived in L.A. I did temp work for a sales firm. My job was in marketing, helping to coordinate and increase attendance at various events. After I had been hired on as a full-time employee my boss asked if I had any interest in going into sales. I told him no. After I was moved into my new sales position I decided that although I had no skills or desire to do the job, the extra money sure was nice. Every time I considered getting out, they would raise my commission. Money will assist you in maintaining very bad habits. It's like sex—sometimes you'll stay somewhere much longer than you should simply because you really like having it on a regular basis.

After I had been there a few years rumors began to circulate that the company was going to be making cuts in personnel. Some of my colleagues started polishing their resumes and going on interviews during increasingly longer lunch hours. I did neither. All indications were that sooner or later I would be out of a job, yet I made no attempt to find work. The truth was I didn't like sales all that much and had no desire to find another sales position. What I discovered was that I often choose comfort over risk, stagnation over growth. I wanted to break that cycle. The reason I viewed my layoff as a blessing in disguise was because I knew that left to my own devices I wouldn't leave. I elected to move by staying put. When it came, I accepted my layoff with equanimity.

Unfortunately this passive-aggressive approach has not been limited to my work environment. My most recent (I want to be specific here) ex-girlfriend and I were together for close to two-and-a-half years despite the fact that it was almost immediately apparent to everyone but me that we were completely incompatible. Although we were caught in a destructive spiral that seemed to have no beginning or end, I refused to leave. The more miserable we became, the harder I fought to keep her. During one of our many, many 'breakup' fights—the quotation marks here indicate not a lack of suffering, only of permanence—she confided that she just wanted me to be happy. I thought at the time, without irony, that that was a horrible thing to say to someone you loved. I didn't want to be happy—I wanted to be with her. This pattern of breakups followed by my obstinate attempts to gain her back lasted longer than my pride will allow me to admit publicly.

Many ball bearings have no visually distinctive properties of their own and reflect the surrounding environment—but always out of scale and proportion, like a funhouse mirror.

I was twenty-one before I owned my first pair of jeans, I don't drink alcohol or believe in God and I've never been in a fistfight. If you find this absurd to read you should try writing it. In America, eccentricities such as these are a one-way ticket to Mutant World, population: you. Text BiteEvery person at some point in their life is apt to feel out of place, but I suspect that my own sense of such is a bit longer-lived than most. My conviction that I was a member of a traveling freak show ('Step right up and see the abstemious-corduroy-wearing-atheistic-reclusive-pacifist') is probably not unique. But trying to divert the attention of those gawking at you by pointing at the other freaks only seems to attract more interest to yourself. I hope that I've surpassed the age where I feel sorry for myself about such things. At some point you have to start asking yourself if maybe you feel the need to be different and isolated. Recognizing your complicity in personal eccentricities is a standard hurdle on the road from childhood to maturity. Of course mere recognition does not confer the power to change anything you see—it just allows you to see it.

If a ball bearing is irregular in shape it will not roll properly and will cause friction, which causes heat, which is the enemy of machines.

I spent a decade of my life training and working as an actor. From the age of eighteen when I entered college until twenty-seven when I moved to L.A., I was devoted to the revelation of internal truth. The craft of acting requires opening yourself up to uncomfortable emotions and situations and then sharing those emotions with whomever happens to be watching—even, it seems at times, people who don't much like you. An actor exists under conditions of maximum visibility and minimal protection. But something changed around the time of the demise of my last relationship—I stopped acting. Not because I didn't enjoy the work but because I couldn't stand the exposure anymore. I didn't feel secure. Although I've always had an interest in writing, over the past five years I have steadily migrated towards it and away from acting. While good writing requires many of the same elements as acting—the confrontation of painful facts among them—it can be done in such a way that the author never has to meet his audience face to face. I have shifted from the most exposed, physically vulnerable craft to that which only exists in the mind. I seek safety.

About ten years ago, while I was still acting, I did summer theatre in Illinois. I fell for one of the actresses in the show and we carried on an intense relationship for several months. I had recently become obsessed with facing my fears and spent much of that summer trying to confront that which still frightened me. I learned how to do a back flip off of a diving board, I went skydiving for the first time, and I would often traipse out into one of the surrounding cornfields in the middle of the night just to prove to myself that I could. I wanted to conquer what I considered to be my irrational fears. One day the actress came to the airport to watch me skydive. Before my jump I knelt down next to her and confided that I had no fear of dying but I was terrified of losing her. The fact that I am writing this should tell you two things—I didn't die, and she is no longer in my life. When she left me it was as if someone had opened the hatch on a space station. I would gladly jump out of a thousand planes a thousand times if I could spare myself the trauma of losing one woman like her.

If a ball bearing were to escape its race it would, with the assistance of gravity, seek out the lowest possible elevation. For instance, if there were a nearby grate at the base of a slight declension, the ball bearing would roll towards it, drop through and disappear.

Are some people just born with thicker skins and more resilience than others? If so, this is a gift—a much greater gift than being born attractive or tall or smart. Hollywood is littered with the corpses of beautiful people who lacked a proper sense of self or couldn't shut out pain without drugs or food or sex or violence. In the end it all comes down to belief in oneself. If you have confidence and self-possession—man, that's the ballgame. Everything else is just the road to ruin.

After being laid off from my sales job I had no employment whatsoever for eight months. For much of that time, I sat home alone all day reading and watching TV. The only time I saw people was at the grocery store or when I played softball. And I made an unexpected Text Bitediscovery—nothing prevents you from sitting home alone all day reading and watching TV. The universe is utterly indifferent to how you spend your day. No one comes to your house and drags you back out into civilization. And if they do, it's only for a few hours a month—after all, they have jobs and families of their own which require attention. Maybe the shocking thing about life is not how easy it is to drop off the face of the earth, but that anyone does anything else. The overarching law of nature is that of inertia.

My own inertia became obvious—I stopped dating because I found the cycle of excitement/expectation/disappointment exhausting. I didn't vigorously pursue jobs that I thought I might like because I didn't believe in my ability to excel at them. I stopped acting not because I ceased loving it but because I couldn't stomach the audition process and inevitable disillusionment. And following the breakup of my long-term relationship I avoided becoming involved in another one because I was unable to picture it culminating in anything but misery. Perhaps I suffered a failure of imagination more than anything else.

I don't believe in fate or destiny—these are just other words for personality. And personality manifests itself through patterns of behavior. Eventually patterns yield results. The problem with trying to break patterns is that you are essentially trying to break yourself. If you don't like who you are it can be as difficult to transform your persona as it is to change your height or where you were born.

Opportunities in life are a maddeningly impenetrable combination of genes, environment, chance, timing and initiative. Ultimately, you can only control your own actions and you must take responsibility for them. The ways in which you hurt those around you is terrible and real and the number of witnesses it usually creates almost guarantees its discovery. But the damage you do to yourself, alone, often goes undetected. When you realize that you are solely responsible for the person you are, you approach the true meaning of loneliness.

My life has become controlled by fear to such a degree that I no longer remember what it feels like to operate without it. It seems I exist solely for the purpose of protecting myself from pain. Fear can be a useful emotion at times—it saved many an ancestor from ending up in the stool of a cheetah—but too much of it ruins everything. If life is an inexorable march from strength to weakness then I don't want any part of it.

Clearly the security of my isolation is deceptive. I have shielded myself from the pain of everyday vicissitudes—awkward dates, failed job interviews and derisive laughter for artistic pursuits—but it's a zero-sum gain. The suffering I spare myself in the present is delivered in the end in the form of a squandered, vacuous life. This big hurt can only be avoided by embracing the smaller pains. And they can only be embraced if I don't disappear.


Most of the research on ball bearings was derived from the following website:

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