For Real

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that made you question reality? Sometimes two people can draw such different conclusions from a situation that it makes you wonder if you come from the same planet. I had one of those recently.

A friend said, “You just called me an (xyz).”

I replied, “What are you talking about? That word never came out of my mouth. What I said was (abc).”

My friend repeated his assertion. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. Especially since we were communicating via text.

So I said, “Dude, scroll up. Where are you seeing (xyz)? Where? Show me.”

Long pause.

Then he said, “I just talked to (mutual friend E) and she agrees with me. I’m not an (xyz).”

Me: “Wait a minute! Where is this coming from? What are you talking about? I never said you were!”

Him: “It really hurts my feelings that you disrespect me so much that you think I’m an (xyz).”

At this point, my feelings were kind of hurt that he would think I was the type of person to say such a thing. So I said, “On my life, I never said that! I don’t know where this is coming from. If I struck some sort of a nerve somehow, I’m sorry. But I’m not responsible for the nerve being there in the first place. You’re pulling facts out of thin air, so I really think we should leave it at that.”

God, how I hate being misunderstood. Even worse, I hate trying to explain something that seems perfectly obvious to me, only to discover that the other person just doesn’t get it. “But… the sky isn’t lime green with purple polka dots! Look at it! Look!”

I would probably be easily sucked into a cult. Because eventually I’d just give up and I’d really want to believe the sky was purple and green, too. Anything to make the world make sense again. After a while, I might actually see a tinge of green. And maybe a spot or two.

Or not. Who knows?

green and purple

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Assuming the Worst

When I was 11 years old, I brought some candy to school. They were those little, sugary mints that most kids have seen a million times. My best friend back then was kind of gullible, though, so when she asked me what it was, I told her it was drugs. I thought it was kind of funny, because by all accounts I was the most straight-laced kid on earth. I wouldn’t have a clue where to get illegal drugs. (Frankly, I still don’t.)

She saw me eat the candy, and bunch of my classmates did, too. I tried to tell her it was a joke, but she wouldn’t partake. I felt bad about that.

Then she went home and told her mother. Her mother called my house right after school, before my mother got home from work. And she screamed at me. I mean, she really, really screamed. She called me a little drug dealer and told me I was going to hell. I tried to explain, but she wouldn’t listen. She told me I was never, ever to talk to her daughter again, or I’d be in BIG TROUBLE.

So I didn’t. And that felt horrible for the rest of the school year. Then we each moved on to different schools and I never saw her again.

Lately that seems to be a recurring theme in my life– people assuming the worst of me. There has been a very sharp uptick of that since the most recent election. And it’s not even about things political most of the time. Is this the world we now live in? Hostile judgments at every turn?

It always takes me by surprise when these misunderstandings occur, because I have the exact opposite problem. I tend to assume the best of people, and then I’m shocked when they show me otherwise. So these negative assessments always feel like they’re coming way out of left field, and I’m generally so stunned that I can’t think how to defend myself.

The bottom line is that I seem to be losing people. And I can’t decide whether that’s bad or good. Where these people ever really my friends if they can think the worst of me? Should I have to work so hard to prove myself? Am I absolutely clueless as to the image I put across?

I really would go live in a cave somewhere if I could find one with wifi and pizza delivery. And a supply of sugary mints.

sugary-mints

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On Being Hated

The other day I had to go down to the south end of my drawbridge to do some maintenance. During rush hour, that involves walking down to the traffic light and crossing the road at the crosswalk. On this particular day there was a homeless woman sitting beside the crosswalk button. When I approached, she said, “Did you have fun playing with Catherine?”

When I told her that I didn’t know Catherine, she replied, “I find that to be bullshit,” and proceeded to curse me like a sailor.

Needless to say I was a bit startled. I was really happy when the light turned red and I was able to cross the street and get away from her. Apparently I need to leave Catherine alone. Not a problem.

That reminded me of something that happened about a month ago. I was walking down the sidewalk in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. That is kind of the LGBTQ hub here in Seattle. A man across the street started screaming at me. He called me a “dirty dyke” and told me I should repent.

Being mistaken for a lesbian bothers me not at all. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last. But hey! I am not dirty. I shower. I floss. I shave my arm pits and everything. The nerve of some people.

As an average-looking white woman, I have the luxury of being shocked when random people hate me without knowing me. I will never have to resign myself to prejudice because I rarely encounter it. That makes me a very lucky person indeed.

So twice this month I got a tiny little insignificant taste of what it must be like to be a member of a minority. Being misunderstood and hated without being known is a really confusing and frustrating experience. And the sad thing is that there seems to be very little that you can do about it. It’s like being forced to stand there while acid is poured on you, by dint of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You may not have any control over the emotions that come at you from others, but you have all the control in the world over the type of energy you put out. The best way to be a positive force for change in this world is to make sure you are not one of the acid pourers.

hate

Smile Means Chisel in Greek

As someone who majored in a foreign language in college (I wasn’t thinking at all about how I’d pay the bills upon graduation), I have spent a lot of time thinking about the things that get lost in translation. Words are not mathematical equations. The word for something in French does not “equal” the word for that same thing in Tagalog.

Words are not just the signifier for objects. They have cultural and emotional connotations. Don’t believe me? If you say swastika to a German, it will bring up a completely different range of memories and emotions than if you say svastika, the word for the very same symbol, to someone in India. There, it’s not the dreaded symbol of the Nazi party. It’s a symbol of good fortune, luck, and well-being. You’ll often see the svastika on wedding invitations.

On top of that, pile on the fact that some languages are vastly more complex than others. When translating from a language that consists of, say, 430,000 words, to a language that has 100,000 words, how can you “make” one word equal another?

It amuses me when someone believes that they have fundamental comprehension of any text, particularly the Bible, which has been translated through so many languages, so many cultures, and so many historical perspectives. It’s like handing a high school class a first edition of the Canterbury Tales and asking them to convert it into modern slang. You’ll get wildly different results.

Is it any wonder that there are so many misunderstandings within the United Nations? I would argue that it’s virtually impossible for people who speak different languages and come from different cultures to completely understand each other. The beauty is that they even make the attempt.

I am someone who revels in the differences in this world. Without that variety, things would be awfully uninspiring. If we weren’t occasionally forced to entertain different perspectives, our minds would become rigid, inflexible and closed. Then what would be the point?

canterbury-tales

On Being Misunderstood

A few years after my high school graduation, I ran into someone I went to school with but didn’t know very well. He said, “In high school, I always thought you were a snob.” That floored me. In high school I was a lonely, troubled, insecure girl who would have given anything, anything to have more friends. If anything, I thought everyone else was better than me, not that I was better than anyone else.

Similarly, I once ran into someone I used to go to college with who assumed at the time that I was always stoned out of my mind. Huh? I was so rigidly straight-laced and such a good girl that I probably missed out on a lot of college fun. I was in my own little world, yes, but that was a defense mechanism because I was scared, out of my element, and socially awkward.

I’ve got an ex-boyfriend who likes to post on his Facebook page that I cheated on him when I never did. In retrospect I probably should have. I was that miserable. But I didn’t.

And I once worked with a woman who was convinced I was out to get her when in fact I was simply trying to figure out how to get along with someone who liked to be confrontational for no logical reason. She also thought I didn’t like her because of her race, when in fact I didn’t like her because she was crazy. Race didn’t even enter into the equation for me.

It’s exhausting, being misunderstood. It frustrates me. And once someone has the wrong idea about you in their head, it’s nearly impossible to get it out. Protesting a negative only makes you look worse. When someone says, “I don’t kick puppies,” it makes them look like the worst of puppy kickers. And yes, a puppy kicker would say that, wouldn’t he? But so would someone who is being wrongly accused.

It sure  makes you wonder, though, how many people you’ve made inaccurate assumptions about.

Calvin