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:

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Death of a Cheerleader

When I was thirteen, I had a huge crush on the boy who lived across the street.

He had dreamy brown eyes, and he totally rocked a short-sleeved plaid shirt.

Our little brothers were friends, and our little sisters were friends, and we were friends, as much as boys and girls could be friends in eighth grade. We would battle each other with rubber-band guns, or we would play basketball on the weatherbeaten court in the field behind his house. We didn’t have any classes together, but we sometimes exchanged notes in the halls (he wasn’t nearly as interesting a note-writer as my writer-friends were).

All of the blood left my head every time I saw him, but I didn’t really have any particular desire to have a junior-high romance with him. “Going with” someone didn’t make much sense to me, but that didn’t stop me from writing his name on my grocery bag book covers and asking the Ouija board if he “liked” me, too. My friends were very patient with me, and all of their ribbing of me was good-natured.

But then a girl in my Girl Scout troop started “going with” across-the-street boy. She was a cheerleader, and he played football, so it was a natural match, but for some reason, she decided we were rivals and acted accordingly. She was with him, and she missed no opportunity to rub it in. If she saw me when she was with him, she would quickly hug him and stick her tongue out at me behind his back. It was incredibly annoying.

So I did what any nerdy, literary-minded junior high schooler would do: I wrote a story about her. Read More

Week 37 Review: Is it Possible that Middle School Wasn’t All Bad?

This week ended much differently than it began.

I had two very bad days this week. I was absolutely down in the dumps and was certain things couldn’t possibly get better any time in the near future.

Nothing changed job-wise, but there were a couple of perspective shifts this week, including one that was quite unexpected, that helped to improve my mood.

The first was coming to an agreement with my husband about how much detail he’d go into about the play-by-play of his job search. We decided that he would share with me the facts (company name, location, dates of any interviews), but he would limit his speculation to the nature of the job and the company itself.

So he could say, “This job sounds like it’s mostly benchwork and there are no direct reports. I wonder if I would be happy in a job like that?” But he couldn’t say, “I wonder what it would be like to bike commute in the winter in New Jersey? I wonder if there are homes we could afford close to the site of the job in New York? I wonder if we could still get by as a one-car family in Maryland?” Those are the kinds of questions that have me scouring the internet at all hours, getting anxious, getting attached, then feeling despair when things don’t pan out.

Together, we’ve decided that I can support him by helping him talk through pros and cons of various jobs and companies and by proofing changes to his cover letter and CV, but we’re going to leave the talk about the location of the companies to a minimum until it comes to a point that we need to discuss it. So far, so good. That kind of frantic fact-finding is pretty addictive to me, though. I have a feeling it’s going to take some strong resolve to keep from looking at home listings.

The unexpected thing was more closely related to the Friendship focus of this month. I blogged yesterday about how my friend Jenny had posted quotes from notes I’d written to her in middle school. I felt more than a little agitated at the thought that my 13-year-old self was still alive and well and set loose on the internet. But as I thought about it more, I realized how valuable this turn of events was for me.

I’ve been avoiding all thoughts of middle school ever since we moved away at the end of eighth grade. I had filed the three years between 6th and 8th grade that we spent in Ohio in a folder marked, “Nothing Good Can Come of Looking in Here,” and left it at that. When thoughts would percolate up about that time, I would shove them back down saying to myself, “It was an awful time and now it’s over. End of story.”

When Jenny posted the excerpts from my notes, I had some fancy reconciling to do. I knew that she hadn’t posted them maliciously. In fact, she’d done it to be nice to me. This kind of friendship didn’t mesh well with my dismissing the entire experience as awful.

I discovered that there were some really great memories I’d hidden away with all of the painful memories and refused to think about. I remembered that the friendships I had during that time were the most intense of any in my life. I remembered how all-encompassing they were and how wonderful it was to feel so accepted and loved by my friends even as I felt so lost in the culture of middle school. I remembered the fun we all had writing together, how the notes were the first time I’d really engaged in that kind of play with the written word. I felt confident as a writer at that time. I felt powerful. It’s amazing to remember those feelings because mostly over the past 20+ years, I’ve remembered only the awkwardness and terror of being caught being different (which I unavoidably was).

I did not expect to end this week reframing my middle school experience as something positive after all these years. But here I am.

I also had some great conversations with friends from other stages of my life this week, And I got to hang out for several hours with many of my local friends during my daughter’s early birthday party Saturday. My new perspective on middle school has delivered benefits in my current life remarkably quickly. I feel less reserved and more free around my friends today than I did before Jenny’s post. There’s a peace and a connection that I feel with my friends that I think has been eluding me. It’s almost like Jenny’s post and her comments to me outside of the post have opened up the possibility that people hold me in their hearts even after decades apart, and that it’s possible to remember an awkward and confusing time with something other than fear.

I have a tendency to feel doubtful that I mean as much to other people as they do to me. As a result, I tend to approach relationships cautiously. I don’t want to get in too deep if that’s not going to be reciprocated (which of course becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy…if I’m not open to a deeper connection, I’m not going to get a deeper connection). Jenny’s post helped me recognize that I mean something to people, which makes it easier for me to let people mean more to me.

I don’t think I could have come up with a better Friendship Month resolution than this one that just happened to me without my intending it.