TBR List Declutter, Issue 47

Tangent: Duplicity, or Junior High: You Can Check Out, but You Can Never Leave

The other day I hosted an event at my house. One of those who attended brought a friend who was visiting from out of town. They were the first to arrive, so after we made our introductions, I sat down with them to chat. Watching this person’s body language, (turning away from me and towards the other person), vocal volume and direction, and conversational content (inside jokes with the other person), it soon became clear that, although the out-of-town friend seemed willing to include me, this person didn’t want me to be part of the conversation.

This confused me, and I pondered the situation after I’d politely excused myself to try to find something to do in the kitchen. This person is someone I see at least weekly, and at those meetings, we speak comfortably to one another. We joke and share stories, and I think of this person as a friend. Perhaps not a “bosom friend” as Anne Shirley would say, but a friend I’d invite to my house for snacks and conversation. It didn’t make sense to me that this person would want to talk with me while our children played at the park, but not when sitting in front of me in my living room.

Along these same lines, there have been a couple of occasions with another not-bosom friend here in which I mentioned or asked about something this person had posted on Facebook, and they mumbled and turned away. Their reaction was so confusing to me that I went back to Facebook when I got home and made sure that I’d friended the right person. I guess I can’t be entirely sure, but they looked alike, and they had the same name and the same children, so I feel fairly confident this was the same person. So why would they act in a manner that suggested I had the wrong person?

It’s like these two individuals are entirely different people in different contexts. My spouse relates it to a need to appear “cool,” and maybe it’s as simple as that. If being cool is the most important thing, then it makes sense to act differently depending on whom you’re with and what you think they would see as cool.

And now I read over that paragraph and the word “cool” seems so 1980’s, so junior-high that I just feel blah about the whole situation. If this really is the case, making friends here may well be more difficult than I’d anticipated. Because not only am I not cool (or at least not intentionally cool, which, of course, makes me cool), I am deeply suspicious of “cool.” I did enough trying to fit in and especially trying to fit in with the cooler kids during my school years to know that when I try to chameleon my way through social situations, I behave in ways that don’t make me proud of myself.

So I’ve adopted a “what you see is what you get” way of being.

I do my best to listen more than I talk and when I do talk, both to say what I mean and to mean what I say. I try to be who I am in every situation, which I hope is kind or at least not unnecessarily rude, tactless, or offensive, because often when I’m being myself, it’s honest, but it’s not pretty.

I don’t wear makeup, I don’t shave, I don’t wear Spanks, I get my hair cut once a year, and it’s been almost a decade since my last professional “mani-pedi” and even then I only got clear polish. Not that you can’t be honest and do these things, just that if I did them, I wouldn’t be honest. On me, those things are an act, and since I want to engage with the world from a place of honesty and openness, I avoid doing them.

As a result, I am not good at cultivating an image. I try to write the way I talk, and I try to be the same person on social media I am in real life. And most of my friends are—or seem to be—the same way.

Is this a California thing? My spouse certainly thinks so, and much of the evidence I’ve gathered seems to point in that direction, but there’s other evidence that doesn’t support that hypothesis but rather suggests that while a particular culture might support more duplicity or chameleon-like behavior, it exists everywhere. And besides, the two people I mentioned above aren’t from California, and for all intents and purposes, I am.

Is it a “stages of life” thing? Is mid-life a reflection of middle school?

And because I’m the common element in these situations, I can’t ignore the possibility that it’s me. Maybe my insistence on talking with people who don’t want to talk with me forces them to be rude and/or evasive to get me to leave them alone. That’s not a pleasant possibility, but it’s a possibility.

Whatever it is, I’m going to keep on doing my best to be who I am—and hopefully the best of who I am—in all situations, both when people are looking and when they’re not.

Visual Interest:

Moreton Bay Fig Tree, Balboa Park, San Diego, California

Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 651-670:

Title: Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women
Author: Traister, Rebecca
Date Added: 10/9/2016

Verdict: Go.

Project List: n/a

Title: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
Author: Mayer, Jane
Date Added: 10/9/2016

Verdict: Go. I must have been feeling masochistic on 10/09/2016 when I added these titles. They’re probably good for me, but I’d rather eat kale and read fiction.

Project List: n/a

Title: America’s Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Back-Room Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System
Author: Brill, Steven
Date Added: 10/9/2016

Verdict: Go. See above.

Project List: n/a

Title: Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy
Author: Daley, David
Date Added: 10/9/2016

Verdict: Go. See above.

Project List: n/a

Title: Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS
Author: Warrick, Joby
Date Added: 10/9/2016

Verdict: Go. This one I actually thought about keeping. But I decided not to.

Project List: n/a

Title: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Author: Vance, J.D.
Date Added: 10/9/2016

Verdict: Go. Best I can tell, this book is an Ohioan trying to make his rise to success sound all the more impressive because he grew up in Ohio. I myself escaped Ohio (and by “Ohio” I don’t mean the state itself but the state of mind in which I was trapped while living there), but I don’t use it to try to make myself look more impressive. And he went to Yale. I can’t imagine this book being anything but self-aggrandizing, reductionist, and/or offensively one-sided about a place much of my family calls home.

Project List: n/a

Title: Between the World and Me
Author: Coates, Ta-Nehisi
Date Added: 10/9/2016

Verdict: I’m reading/listening to this one now. Forty-five minutes left on the audiobook. One good walk around the neighborhood, and I’ll be done.

Project List: n/a

Title: The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria
Author: Giovanni, Janine Di
Date Added: 10/9/2016

Verdict: Go. I almost kept this one, but then both positive and negative reviews said that the author inserts herself into the story quite a bit. I know that’s popular in nonfiction right now, but I loathe it.

Project List: n/a

Title: The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities
Author: Breyer, Stephen G.
Date Added: 10/9/2016

Verdict: Keep. It will almost certainly be dry, but I would like to have a better understanding of how the U.S. Supreme Court influences/is influenced by U.S. foreign policy. Or at least I think that’s what this book is about. Either way, I want to learn more about how the Judicial Branch works before it’s completely dismantled by the current administration.

Project List: none.

Title: The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race
Author: Ward, Jesmyn
Date Added: 10/9/2016

Verdict: Keep. I was on the fence about this one, but I ended up keeping it because I think there’s value in listening to many voices about race, and this collection of essays offers many voices.

Project List: none.

Title: The Boy Who Played with Fusion: Extreme Science, Extreme Parenting, and How to Make a Star
Author: Clynes, Tom
Date Added: 10/13/2016

Verdict: Keep, so I can hold it over my kids’ heads if they’ve not accomplished something really impressive by the time they’re in high school.

Project List: none.

Title: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Author: Spark, Muriel
Date Added: 10/13/2016

Verdict: Keep. I heard of this when looking through a list of Dame Maggie Smith’s movies. The movie didn’t grip me, but the story is still interesting, so I figured I’d try the book.

Project List: none.

Title: Friends for Life
Author: Norriss, Andrew
Date Added: 10/15/2016

Verdict: Keep. I don’t remember how I came across this one, but it looks like it might be awesome.

Project List: none.

Title: Brothers
Author: Lieshout, Ted van
Date Added: 10/19/2016

Verdict: Keep. Hesitant about this one, but the author’s Dutch, so I’ll keep it. And if that seems like a non sequitur that’s because it is.

Project List: none.

Title: The Couple Next Door
Author: Lapena, Shari
Date Added: 11/1/2016

Verdict: Go. As much as I crave a psychological thriller, I’m not sure I could get past the couple leaving the baby for a stinking dinner party.

Project List: n/a

Title: Small Great Things
Author: Picoult, Jodi
Date Added: 11/1/2016

Verdict: Keep. I have this sense that I hate Jodi Picoult novels, but it turns out I’ve never read a Jodi Picoult novel. So, I’ll give this one a try and see if I hate Jodi Picoult novels.

Project List: none.

Title: Shelter in Place
Author: Maksik, Alexander
Date Added: 11/1/2016

Verdict: Keep. Europa. Literary. The hereditary nature of mental illness. All reasons to keep this one on the list.

Project List: none.

Title: Leave Me
Author: Forman, Gayle
Date Added: 11/1/2016

Verdict: Keep. Tidbit: I kept thinking Gayle Forman was Oprah Winfrey’s best friend Gayle (whose last name is actually King). That aside, I’m going to keep this one because it sounds light-ish, and that’s what I’m looking for right now.

Project List: none.

Title: Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella (Tyme, #2)
Author: Morrison, Megan
Date Added: 11/1/2016

Verdict: Go. Too much flash for me.

Project List: n/a

Title: Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World
Author: Stevens, Nell
Date Added: 11/1/2016

Verdict: Go. A memoir about being unable to write a novel. Why wouldn’t that be appealing to me? I mean, why would that be appealing to me?

Project List: n/a

Eleven more titles off the list for a total of 258 of 670 (34.4% of the original 750, 38.5% of the 670 I’ve considered so far).

Any thoughts about which I kept and which I tossed?

3 Replies to “TBR List Declutter, Issue 47”

  1. This is something I think about often lately. The cool factor. I feel more needy of cool now, in my 40s, than I was in my school days. I never even considered it before. Maybe because at that time I didn’t need to put in too much effort 🙂 but now I really could use some artifice to help. The thing is, what you see as an act, a mask, a falsity, I call an armor, a protective cloak from behind which I can feel safe. You might prefer to go out in the world naked, in a manner of speaking, as you are, and that is brave for sure, but maybe a bit reckless too, from where I’m standing. Why wouldn’t you protect yourself by shaving those legs and painting those nails, you know? (Not that I paint nails much, but I do remove body hair, as per patriarchal societal requirements.) I don’t know if there is a right way or wrong way, other than on personal, individual basis, like everything else. I wished I was brave enough not to care, but I there are advantages to playing by the rules, and I am not ready to let go of that. Like I feel maybe people would care more about my writing if they perceived me as somewhat cool? You know what I mean? Yeah. It’s hard to be principled and I am too weak.


    1. I think those things we do to fit into the societal norms are both armor and artifice, neither of which is inherently bad. I’m not sure why I don’t do those things. The simplest reason is that they’re uncomfortable to me (razor burn, fingernails that feel sweaty), and if I’m uncomfortable, I’m anxious, and if I’m anxious, I can’t think about what I’m saying or where I am or the person I’m with or anything except that I’m uncomfortable. It’s not the kind of being present that I prefer.

      Aside from discomfort, in general I’ve found that my most meaningful experiences happen when I let myself be vulnerable but aware. I don’t mean vulnerable in the sense of letting people take advantage of me, but vulnerable in the sense of being open to emotional intensity. Thoreau annoys me, but like him I want “to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” (Of course, the rest of that quote involves “cutting a broad swath and shaving close,” which is somewhat ironic given my hirsute pursuits.)

      I also like to push things a bit. If I don’t shave, maybe other women will feel comfortable not shaving, and eventually the whole cockeyed system will crumble. It’s like when I was breastfeeding. If I saw another mother nursing in public, I would sit down near her and nurse my child, too, to normalize the experience for her and for anyone watching us. Strength in numbers, right?

      Or maybe all of this is just an effort to disguise laziness as something noble. I think women should do what makes them feel empowered, preferably while reflecting on why that makes them feel empowered. And is something truly empowering, like empowering to the depths of one’s soul, if it’s not authentic? (And what is authenticity anyway?)

      Liked by 1 person

Your turn! What's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s