Digression #32: Surviving the dreaded “You’re next”

My sister is getting married at the beginning of November. Is this a precious time leading up to a joyous occasion? Sure, but as the older, single sister of the bride, it’s also a treasure trove of opportunities for lots of people to pity me with the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head or under-the-chin-chuck. People are original, they like to put their own spin on things, but it’s all variations on the theme of a gentle tongue click followed by “Good for you holding out for the right guy.” or “It’ll happen for you, too.”

Since the family old maid getting drunk and sobbing through her speech or doing the chicken dance during the Bride and Groom’s first dance is a horrible cliche, I’m spending the next few months coming up with alternative coping mechanisms. So far the list includes:

Catching the bouquet, spiking it into the face of the nearest groomsman, and then giving a speech about the patriarchy, literally any speech about the patriarchy; it doesn’t even have to make sense. 

Taking a vitamin B12 shot. Would I like them to be tequila shots? Of course, but as an aging spinster, that just won’t do for health or decorum. Post-wedding I’ll be the healthiest I’ve ever been. Plus, a woman injecting herself with anything in the middle of a rehearsal dinner is pretty much guaranteed to deter anyone from approaching.

Giving the people what they want: weeping openly, rending my bridesmaid’s dress, leaving a trail of petals from the flowers in my bouquet: “nobody loves me,” “nobody loves me not.” 

Playing really dumb and forcing people to awkwardly explain to me why they’re suddenly so sad at this party. “I’m next for what, Aunt June?”

Eating the entire cake. If my sister doesn’t know me well enough to order a back-up cake in case I eat an entire sheet cake before the wedding even starts, she doesn’t know me well at all. 

Insisting on giving a heartfelt toast (even though there are to be no toasts) and then launching, without warning, into a monologue from Taming of the Shrew. “I remember when we were children, and NO SHAME BUT MINE.” 

Elaborately faking a lot of online documentation proving that it’s a long held tradition that the maid of honor gets every fourth gift.

And as a very last resort, getting married the day before her wedding just to get it out of the way. Any takers?

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Digression #31: Goals

Every year at work we have to come up with at least three professional development goals. These things are job-related and involve learning a new skill or increasing knowledge in a less-developed area.

Those goals are good and important, and I’m working on them, but I also have an extra, separate set of goals. These are the things I need to work on, but they maybe didn’t pass muster for the official yearly goals. The small but important things I just know will help me overcome the eternal conviction that I am a child who should be napping who instead wears heels and has an email signature so I can masquerade as an adult.

This year I’m going to:

Learn how to hang up in a conference call
In one-on-one phone calls I’m fine, but something about getting a bunch of people all on the phone at once makes exiting gracefully very hard. My instinct is to say ‘thank you, bye.” and hang up as soon as the meeting is declared to be over. But the thing about Skype meetings is that they often end Minnesota-goodbye style, probably because no body knows how hang up. It’s like two teenagers doing the “no you hang up” dance, but with eight people on the line. The meeting ends and everyone is waiting for someone else to be the first to hang up, and we’re sort of generally virtually milling. And sometimes, something important does come out in these last few minutes, so it’s kind of a risk to cut and run immediately. Eventually everyone just says “Uh-huh, okay, thanks, bye” over the top of each other six or seven times and then hangs up.

Maintain a generally decent posture for an entire eight-hour work day
I start with the best of intentions: I’m sitting up straight with my wrists poised over the keyboard in the most ergonomic fashion and my legs crossed neatly at the ankle like I’m Kate Middleton. By 2:30 I am hunched over, my neck at a weird angle so I can see the computer monitor while the rest of my body is 1/4 of an inch from my keyboard, which is lightly dusted with chip crumbs. People who enter my cubicle recoil like I’m a Victor Hugo character.

Commit to lipstick
I’d like to have the willpower and fortitude to pull off a bold lip past 11:30 a.m. I can’t stop wondering if it’s smudged or blotchy or needs a reapply, and also I can feel my lips drying by the second, so I usually just slink off to the bathroom to take it off without even making it to lunch.

Send an email before reading it fourteen times
There is a whole world of miscommunication possibilities. I know what I mean, but the odds of someone else understanding exactly what I’m trying to say as well seems so slim. It’s good to be careful, and confirm that I’ve been clear and I’m not unintentionally projecting some kind of tone, so re-reads are important, but I’m hoping to cut them down to like 12 per email.

Correctly judge when to use that emoticon
Emoticons have become oddly acceptable at work; we even have an emoticon menu in our instant message app, but that doesn’t mean everyone wants you to cushion the blow of that request with a smiley face. It is an animated minefield out there trying to figure out when using the little coffee cup will immediately reduce your credibility and when not throwing in a spinning sunshine will convince someone you’re distant and angry.

Know at what point of the day I should switch from coffee to tea
I’m just kidding; I have no intention of doing this ever.

 

Digression #30: The Five People You Meet Backstage

I’ve been open about my past life as a theatre kid turned children’s theatre teacher (who, let’s be honest, is also a pretty theatrical adult); this is unsurprising because theatre kids aren’t exactly known for their low profiles.

I’ve already talked about the hard-won lessons theatre taught me.  Now I’ll walk you through some of the people involved. Like with all people,  no two theatre kids are alike, but also like with all people, they do fall into certain types you’re likely to interact with, all of which I have a great deal of affection for, so today I give you:

The five people you meet backstage

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The “Mom”
She’s one of the older girls, maybe she’s about to graduate and become an actual adult. She’s probably helpful during rehearsals, but she really kicks it into gear the week of the show. She’s doing everyone else’s eyeliner, and helping them take it off later; she brought a case of water bottles, and they’re always cold; how? She shares her magazines and breaks up fights and also granola bars when the box that was in her bag is almost empty but half the lollipop guild is going to faint from not eating enough breakfast.

Most likely to say “If it’s not your prop, don’t touch it.” 

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The Class Clown
Like a regular class clown, but times ten. Quick, entertaining, and endlessly distracting to the other kids who all adore him or her. Perhaps most infuriatingly, the class clown is often capable of listening and talking at the same time, so while others will miss their cues and notes thanks to the antics, the class clown will hit every last mark.

Most likely to know how to juggle. 

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The Sneak Attacker
This kid shows up to auditions and barely says hello loud enough to hear when greeted. You wonder how this is going to go. They step up to the front, nervously look from side to side, and hit it out of the park. Stage presence, perfect pitch, eye contact that is somehow engaging and not creepy.  Everyone in the room is stunned. The song ends and the sneak attacker sits back down, not looking single person in the eye in the process.

Most likely to have a parent who comes up to the director after the performance and say “She never talks this much at home!” 

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The Crier
There’s no big secret here, this kid cries a lot: didn’t get a call back, did get a call back, opening night, closing night, rehearsals ran too late, rehearsals started too early. Multiple criers are likely to feed off each other.

Most likely to call mom in the middle of rehearsal. 

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The Cult Leader
This kid is so charismatic and knows it. The other kids flock around this person who is more than happy to have them around. You know this kid is coming thirty seconds before they enter a room because of the posse that precedes them. If this kid is practicing cartwheels for the next number, suddenly the entire chorus line has a perfect cartwheel. If this kid starts wearing a hat, hats abound.

If the cult leader is also a “mom” she’s the greatest ally of the the director and co. If the cult leader is also a class clown, forget it.

Most likely to get a flower from every other kid in the play. 

Toy-Story

So yeah, I guess you could say that theatre kids are not “normal” kids, but they’re also not super into football, so who’s to say what’s normal?

From one theatre kid to all the others past, present, and aspiring:

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Digression #29: A reflection

It’s been a little over year since I left the weird bubble that is being in college and entered the post-grad, young-professional, working-the-same-hours-week-after-week world.

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It feels like it’s been about five minutes but also fifteen years.

Something that I learned as a teaching assistant, or at least told my students over and over again, is the importance of metacognition. So 14 months after I moved back to New Mexico, I’m reflecting on some of the things I’ve learned so far. And yeah, it’s another list because my day job is technical writing so bulleted and numbered lists are my jam.

  1. Desk flats are second only to sticky notes as far as office supplies go. I really revolutionized my work life when I started keeping a pair of ballet flats in my desk drawer. They’re perfect for when people want to go for a walk or if around 2:30 I just get tired of shoes that aren’t shaped even approximately like a human foot.I love a good pair of heels as much as the next gal, plus I’m too cheap to have my slacks hemmed, but it’s nice to have the option to choose function.
  2. Some things you can’t just walk off. About a day and a half into my vacation, my knee started to hurt. My knees aren’t great, and so I thought it was just regular knee pain, but it bothered me the whole trip. I got home, resolved to take it easy(ish), and waited. Six weeks later it still hurt, so I went to an actual doctor who told me that I had a problem that “doesn’t really get better if you do nothing.” It’s hard to be needy, even if that neediness is a normal thing like going to the doctor when I’ve hurt yourself. But some things don’t go away on their own, and sometimes admitting I’m needy is the beginning of getting better, or learning how to do something new, or growing a deeper relationships with someone.
  3. Guilt and accountability are not the same. When I first moved back I was sad about leaving all of my friends and also sleepy all the time because my body couldn’t figure out how to function at this altitude again, and I would think “why aren’t you writing; you should be writing; seriously get up and start writing;” and then I would I let the next episode of Community start playing. I wasn’t writing, but boy was I feeling awful about it. And that actually didn’t make me write any more often. What I eventually figured out was that what does work is setting manageable goals for myself, working my hardest to meet them, but being gentle and trying again when I don’t; good friends who for some reason agree to read my stuff are expecting me to send them things; and having a surprising number of coworkers and friends and people my mother talked to about me ask genuinely interested, low-pressure questions about my writing.
  4. Kindness encourages creativity. I started learning this before, but I only recently realized how true it is for me. Sometimes there’s an idea, particularly in acting or writing (or I would imagine other kinds of art that I’m really not good at) that you prove your own value and mercifully reveal the truth to the people around you by being as harsh as possible, sort of a tough love mentality and a way to make yourself seem smarter.I’ve been reworking a project I started in school again, and it is kind of rough. In the reread, I’ve realized how kind and generous my workshop group was. I don’t want people to lie to protect my feelings, and this group was honest about where it wasn’t working, but their presentation was kind, and the attention to the things that were doing what I wanted them to was genuine and specific. If they had charged in brutally honest without considering the person who was responsible for those rough spots, I would never have looked at it again. I was talking with one of the people from that group this weekend, and I told her that in looking at it again, I realized how kind they were to me. She said, “I stand by that kindness. And I would do it all again.” (And then I cried a little because it’s been a long week.) So I think that’s the last thing in my list: Choosing kindness is something I can stand by.
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Digression #28: Taking it Personally

“I have an unpopular opinion,” I said the other day to the assorted family members in the living room who had not asked for my opinions unpopular or otherwise.

Nobody told me to stop so I continued. “I’m so tired of all the personality type exams and classifications and stuff.” (What can I say, I’m eloquent.) “They’re everywhere, and it’s too easy for people to excuse not doing things and exclude people who don’t fit into the same boxes as they do.”

Before you swear off my blog, slamming your computer shut in the 2018 equivalent of hanging up the phone angrily, I’ll acknowledge that I was being unreasonable; my  feelings of anger toward these classifications is a me problem. If you love your four-letter Myer’s-Briggs letter combination and Enneagram type, please bear with me.

In the last week I think I’ve had the beginnings of a change of heart.

But I’m not there yet in this part of the story.

Twenty-four hours after gracing anyone who would listen with my opinions on classifying people, I went to church where my dad’s sermon was on different temperaments and their associated traits framed as Winnie the Pooh characters (a move which he swears was planned for weeks before, and not to spite me and my anti-label platform).

I grumbled internally the whole time and out loud to my dad after the service was over.

“I’m all four of those and none of them,” I declared, a statement that pretty clearly put me in one of the four camps. I was frustrated by the continued push to categorize, but mostly I was frustrated by how badly I wanted to be effectively categorized, how much I wanted to fit.

So for a long time I talked about the labels that I’d recently claimed to hate in order to pick an identity.

Four days later at work I walking into an extended-length staff meeting, and immediately upon seeing the giant sticky notes on the walls full of bulleted lists of character traits, grouped according to cardinal directions (I’m a North, thank you for asking), I knew exactly what was about to happen. I laughed the cold, bitter laugh of a cosmic loser and pushed aside my irritation and anxiety for the next hour.

I won’t bore you with the details but in the three days following our staff meeting I had two more experiences centered specifically around this same thing, so I’ve been forced to think about my loudly voiced unpopular opinion a lot this last week, and all of the thinking has softened that opinion.

But I can’t completely admit that I was wrong (and yeah that may or may not totally fit with all of my various numbers and letters and types), so first here are two things that, when out of control, lead to my original assessment:

  •  When value judgments are assigned to the way other people are wired just because they don’t match the way we do it  — I am a task-oriented, fast-paced person and that particular category sometimes gets a bad rap (although we’re often too busy getting stuff done to notice) and some negative adjectives attached to it, which led in part to my resistance to accepting that I was, in fact, a North. tl;dr: If you’re an introvert it’s not helpful to call extroverts shallow and if you’re an extrovert it’s not helpful to call an introvert selfish. It creates an us and them mentality and it bums me out.
  •  When “who we are” keeps us from stepping out of our comfort zones — When the freeing, helpful, comforting types and classifications become a box to stay in, they lose their effectiveness.

Here are the reasons I’m willing to admit I might have been wrong:

These labels and categories are supposed to be helpful, not stifling and not necessarily indefinite. At the staff meeting I spent several minutes walking nervously between North and West, my most commitment phobic qualities on full display. I was afraid of making the wrong decision and locking myself in, that was the wrong way to look at it, and it wasn’t productive.

It’s cool to not feel like a freak. It can be nice to recognize myself in a list or description and to see other people who do the same.

It is not just HR speak that understanding to some extent how other people think and communicate makes it easier for me to have healthy relationships with those people, in my professional life and personal life. Even more than that, it makes me less selfish. If I’m willing to give other people the benefit of the doubt and try to approach things from an angle that might work better for them, I’m spending less time actively thinking about me (and my myriad opinions), and that’s probably a good thing.

 

 

 

Digression #27: The Princess Dilemma

Growing up I always wanted to be a Disney princess. I’ve read the critiques of unrealistic expectations and issues with perpetual damsels in distress, and I’m not claiming that they’re ideal role models, but here’s what I’m all about:

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They get to sing whenever. (Not only is Belle singing in public, she’s openly dissing her whole town and getting away with it.)

 

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They’re full of unbridled enthusiasm.

 

 

87ecd50ac7e9d15319019a06583681d8_w200.gifThey marry handsome, charming princes who I assume eventually come to love them for their intellects, kindness, and conversational skills.

 

 

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And come on, the GOWNS.

 

 

 

 

But all of this has turned into a strong lesson in the realm of being careful what I wish for because I have drawn comparison to Disney Princesses in one particular way.

What’s that, you ask? Did I get any of the above royal traits?

No.

I mean, I do sing whenever I want, but the world is not cool with it.

My “magical” characteristic looks a little more like this: RNjZ.gif

Except the woodland creatures are not animated or well behaved, and I am not smiling.

Here’s the thing, I don’t like “outside animals.” Why? Because they spend all of their time outside, which is gross, and I assume that every thing out there is rabid. While I understand they can’t all be rabid, it’s impossible to know which are and which aren’t, so it seems like it’s better to be safe than sorry.

But sometimes those outside animals decide they like me so much that they want to be inside with me.

3 Traumatic Stories: 

  1. One night in my dark living room, I feel something move across my foot. Much to my infinite horror, it’s a frog who followed the dog and me right in the door. I knew I had to act quickly because frogs are unpredictable and fast, but mostly because I had to catch it before my dog realized it was in the house and ate it. Without thinking too hard, I scooped it up and ran it back to the grass. Then I went in and washed my hands definitely more than once.
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    Nope.
  2. It’s the spring of my last year of school, and I’m in my living room probably doing homework or watching TLC (the two most common occurrences that year). I hear a dog bark outside, and my dog runs over to the closed sliding-glass door and goes nuts. I walk over to investigate, and there, clinging to my screen door is a squirrel who has just been scared by the neighbor’s dog. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen them up close, but squirrels have the weirdest feet/hand/finger things; I still get a chill imagining those little grippers looped into my screen door. His crazy eye looks up at me, roving wildly, begging me to show benevolence and let him in where he can clean my kitchen and help me bake a pie. Obviously I closed the blinds, went in the other room, and pretended like I didn’t have a screen door.
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    Oh, I don’t think so.

  3.  My first apartment was a basement with a window partially below ground. So of course a tiny, baby bunny fell into the hole where the lower half of the window was. I watched him try to hop out for a while, but honestly, he wasn’t even close to getting enough height, so I did what any adult woman would do in a time of crisis: I called my mom. After ruling out every scenario that avoided even the possibility of my touching a bunny, she suggested I open the window a tiny bit, and try and get the bunny to run in to my cat carrier. I was skeptical, but also unwilling to watch a bunny die and then decompose over a period of weeks. Still on the phone, I crack the window, and the bunny freaks out and runs away from me. This is normally the direction I want wild animals running, but this time I need him to run towards the open cat carrier. So I sort of shoved it towards him, trying to coax him in and block the window, but I did a bad job. It was like the world slowed down as that bunny ran right past that cat carrier and my arms and jumped off the window sill and onto my carpet, pinning himself against my bed frame. I dropped the phone and screamed, because there was an outdoor rabbit and all its fleas and germs in my house. I picked up the phone, ignored my mom’s laughter, and while hyperventilating, put a sock on my hand and shoved that terrified bunny into the cat carrier. I ran up the stairs, the bunny hopping in the carrier the entire time, and let him run off into the yard where he was probably immediately eaten by a hawk or something.  Then I burned my house down.

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Couldn’t pay me enough.

Each of these chilling events happened in Minnesota, so I’m hoping that the fairy dust or whatever has worn off, but if a prairie dog or rattlesnake tries to catch a ride with me, I’m moving somewhere with two sets of doors like at bird exhibits and staying inside forever.

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Digression 26: The Sticking Point

This post is a broken promise; it’s kind of about the fries again.

It is about my all-or-nothing self, over-indulgence or over-restriction. It is about crying in my car last weekend because I ate something super carby and delicious and I felt bad for eating it and I felt bad for feeling bad. But it’s not only about food, sometimes I just get stuck.

I wash my hands two or three extra times for good measure.

I wonder if I’m being too needy with my friends; I wonder if I’m being too distant.

I check and check and check again for social media feedback.

I cringingly go through the worst presentation I ever gave in school (which was several years ago and did not actually impact my grade).

Is the alarm set to go off in the morning? Is it now? But is it still?

There is so much thinking all the time.

The thing that totally doesn’t work, is to start thinking really hard about how to get unstuck, because in that case the focus is still whatever I’m stuck on.

Maybe the problem isn’t the fixation, but rather the subject of the fixation.

I’m never not going to be thinking (I sometimes write papers and edit storyboards in my sleep), but I want to be more intentional in what I’m thinking about. Even if that means thinking about whatever I was stuck on and something else at the same time and not freaking out that the first thing is still there. I want to give less space to the spiraling trains of thought that don’t matter and fill that space with better things big and small.

Grace. Real, acted upon, no-holds-barred grace.

 The face my 13-year-old sister makes when I pretend like I know how to dance.

The best episodes of Parks and Recreation.

My parents reading to each other in the kitchen.

The way waves sound when they hit the shore.

Hard-copy letters from my friends.

All of the words to all of the songs in all of the musicals I have loved.

Hot air balloons crossing in front of the sun.

People who remember my birthday, and my favorite anything, and that I hate running.

 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. — Philippians 4:8 (emphasis mine).