My Voice

I had a fascinating conversation with some old friends recently. I’ve known them for 10 years in the virtual world of Second Life. We hang out a couple times a week, but in all that time I’ve never heard their actual voices. All our communication is via text.

Am I alone in this? When I read something, I “hear” what I’m reading inside my head. I’ve always done that.

But the other day, for the first time, it occurred to me that when I read what these two friends type, I have different inner voices for each of them. Based on their personalities, my mind has created a kind and gentle voice for one, and a straightforward, practical, no-nonsense voice for the other. Fascinating.

So naturally, I asked what my “voice” sounds like to them. I was really surprised by the answer. They said it doesn’t sound like my blog.

That’s intriguing. I think of this blog as me on a screen. I’ve taken pride in laying myself bare and being honest and vulnerable here. But my friends say that in my blog I sound like a strong positive woman, and when I talk to them, I’m more fragile.

Hmm… Yeah, I can see that. Since I write my entries several days in advance, I have plenty of time for multiple revisions. That means by the time my posts reach you, I’ve edited out a lot of the craziness, impulsiveness, negativity, and basic hysteria. (Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.) I think that makes the blog infinitely more readable, but perhaps it also makes it less “me”.

But when all is said and done, that’s the definition of true friendship, isn’t it? Someone who sees the unedited version of you, warts and all, and loves you anyway.

I’m a very lucky person.

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Mistaken Identity

There have been many instances in which people have made assumptions about me that weren’t true. I always find these experiences extremely disconcerting. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. I think of myself as someone who is pretty easy to read. But of course, I shouldn’t assume that total strangers know how to read me.

Once, I was shopping for a purse and my hands were full, so I put all my stuff on the floor and picked up a purse and looked inside to see if it had well designed compartments (as you do), and suddenly this store detective grabbed me rather forcefully by my arm. I looked at him and said, “What the hell?” and he apologized and walked off. He thought I was trying to steal the purse.

That reminded me of the many times I was followed by detectives in stores as a teenager. Yes, I was quite visibly poor, but that didn’t mean I was a thief. I’ve never stolen so much as a stick of gum in my entire life. (Well, that’s not true. I have walked off with my fair share of ball point pens. But I swear to you that it’s never intentional.)

Then there was the time when my greyhound ripped up my couch at 3 in the morning and gashed his leg wide open on the springs. I rushed him to the 24 hour emergency vet. The vet was hostile and uncooperative. I was freaked out and still in my pajamas, but that didn’t mean I was neglectful or abusive to my dog. He changed his attitude when I gave him the long list of very expensive medications that dog was on. Suddenly he looked at me in a completely different light. “Wow, maybe she does care about her dog.” That really pissed me off, because this was an emergency, for crying out loud. I didn’t have time to justify my character while my dog was bleeding out in the waiting room.

Once, while traveling in Turkey, I decided to rent a car for a portion of the journey. Simply because I was female, they wouldn’t rent the car to me unless I test drove it with them. They made it clear that they’d have felt much better if it had been my boyfriend driving. I found that quite amusing, since he’d been in no less than 7 car accidents, all of which were his fault. That’s why I did all the driving in that relationship.

I can’t count the number of times 911 operators have assumed I was a crank caller. I’ve also been accused of cheating when I hadn’t (big shout out to one of my ex’s entire freakin’ loser family), lying when I wasn’t, and being part of a bigger conspiracy when I couldn’t have cared less. I’ve also been told that I really must want children when I don’t, and that there’s something strange about me because I don’t want to dress sexy every waking moment of my life. Don’t even get me started on the innumerable times I have been considered less intelligent than I am.

There’s nothing more frustrating to me than being misunderstood. This makes me realize, though, that I get to hide behind my white privilege quite a bit. Most people assume I’m harmless, which means these negative situations crop up rarely enough to cause me outrage when they do. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a minority and have to contend with this bs every single day.

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Changing Your Tune

There are very few things that I find more irritating than hearing someone sing off key. That’s a bit ironic, because trust me when I tell you that you never, ever want to hear me sing. It’s kind of genetic. When my family launches into a Christmas carol, all the stray cats abandon the neighborhood. In that way you might call it a public service. Pest abatement. Yeah, that’s what it is!

But at least I know my kryptonite. I don’t force anyone to listen to me sing unless they’re taking a shower with me. I try to be compassionate and be a positive aural force in the world by keeping my mouth shut.

I’m assuming that all those bad singers out there have no idea how bad they are or they wouldn’t subject themselves to the humiliation, or subject others to the torture. That makes me wonder how many things we all do badly without even realizing it. It’s really mission-critical to be as self-aware as you can possibly be.

For example, we all know people with negative attitudes. They’re draining to be around. They make you feel as if your very life force is being eaten away by the sheer weight of their pessimism.

I can think of several people like that. Their default position is mistrust, doubt, and cynicism. They assume the worst and expect others to convince them otherwise. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the energy for that.

I know one guy who wonders why no one will spend time with him, and can’t understand why he can’t get a date. To the rest of the world it’s blatantly obvious. He’s toxic. He’s a downer. He’s the very antithesis of a pleasure to be around. No one looks forward to spending time with him.

I’m not sure why he can’t see it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting everyone to turn into Little Mary Sunshine and go through life farting rainbows. But it’s also a lot to ask of people to expect them to stand still while you suck all the good vibes out of the room.

I really don’t know the solution to this, other than to take a good hard look at yourself and think, “If I knew someone like me, would I look forward to being in that person’s company?” If not, perhaps it’s time for you to start singing a different tune.

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Please Like Me

I work with someone who doesn’t hide the fact that she doesn’t like me at all. Her perception of who I am is so far from my actual motivations that it baffles me. It’s as if when she looks at me she sees someone else entirely, and that person is despicable.

It’s a shame, too, because I suspect that we have a lot more in common than she realizes, and it sure would be nice to have a friend in this town. I really do want to be a team player and have a harmonious and cooperative work environment. But the fact is, her attitude about me is not going to change. That’s just the way it is.

A few years ago I probably would have wasted a lot of energy in pursuit of her approval, and even more energy beating myself up when I didn’t succeed in my attempts. I come by that honestly. I was trained well. I grew up with someone who took a very special delight in being imperious and disapproving. It was a power play of epic proportions. I was taught that despite my best efforts I was never going to be good enough.

That person is no longer in my life, and I can’t tell you how liberating that is. It didn’t take long, once the negative reinforcement stopped, for me to realize that I am good enough, actually. In fact, I’m much better than her toxic butt ever was. What a concept.

I used to go through life thinking that I needed everyone’s seal of approval. Now I’m kind of shocked that I so willingly gave my power away like that. If you walk around thinking, “Please like me” all the time, then it is someone else’s decision as to whether you are a successful individual. Would you want that responsibility for someone else’s life? I wouldn’t. It exhausts me just thinking about it.

So, I have a coworker who doesn’t like me. I do find that disappointing, and I sincerely wish it were otherwise. But beyond that, frankly, I couldn’t give a flying f***. It’s her problem. It’s also her loss, because I think I’m rather good company.

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[Image credit: treehugger.com]

An Appeal to All Supervisors

I’m sure the very people who most need to read this are the very ones who won’t, but nevertheless I have to try. If I manage to influence just one person to change for even one hour, then I’ve done something great.

Supervisors wield more power than they realize. Often employees spend more time with them than they do their own loved ones, so they impact people’s lives a great deal. They can make one’s working life a living hell or a pleasure. They can cause one to go home feeling exhausted and emotionally drained or empowered and confident and ready to take life on.

I genuinely believe that the average person wants to do a good job. How hard is it to give them positive feedback when they do so? It only takes a minute and it costs not a dime. If you allow your staff to shine, you will shine by association. If, on the other hand, you are so busy jealously guarding your turf that you expend all your energy keeping people down, you will wind up looking like the a**hole that you are. Everybody loses.

This problem isn’t a new one. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, was written in 1843. He described Mr. Fezziwig, Scrooge’s old boss, as follows, “He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them up: what then. The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Sadly, the Fezziwigs of this world seem to be the exception, not the rule. And that’s so unnecessary. Making people’s lives a living hell is also counterproductive and cruel. So take a minute to think about how people feel after an encounter with you, if not for their sakes, then for your own. After all, as Jacob Marley learned the hard way, we wear the chains we forge in life. In other words, karma’s a b**ch.

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Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley in Scrooge.

How “Little Mary Sunshine” Looks from the Darkside

A friend of mine recently posted a meme on her Facebook page that said “Slow progress is better than no progress.” My first thought was, “Great. That would be comforting if I were making slow progress.” The fact is, I have felt as though I haven’t moved forward in years. If anything, I’ve been sliding backward.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. Quit my job, sold my house, went back to school. Graduated with honors. Applied for hundreds and hundreds and HUNDREDS of jobs. Even got one. It lasted two whole days. Fortunately my old job was still waiting for me. Of course, now I have twice as many expenses, so this job isn’t sustaining me like it once did.

When someone tells me I need to get a positive attitude I want to punch him in the throat. If you get an electric shock every time you push a button, it’s SANE to not want to push that button anymore. So imagine what it feels like when someone tells you that you should push that button with enthusiasm. Yay team!

And then there are those who will criticize you for still being picky. Don’t want an emotionally abusive guy who constantly shouts at you in your life anymore? “Why not? He’s a guy. You’d be less lonely”. Or, “Oh, look! There are job openings for prison guards. You could do that.” Yes, because I want to be surrounded by people who want to kill me every day. “But you’d be making more money…”

The problem is, what’s the effing alternative? Doing nothing? Yeah, that’ll get you somewhere. Self-sabotage? I’m quite adept at that. I cover myself with fat to keep people at a distance. I’m sure my constant depression and exhaustion radiates out of me like the cry for help that it often is. I wouldn’t hire me or date me either. What a relief. No surprises this way.

A counselor recently told me that failure is a form of success, because you learn something from it. I looked at her and thought, “Does this woman sniff laughing gas or what? Can she really BE that deluded?” Yes, I bring failures on myself, but the economy, the fact that I’m aging, and the fact that employers and men can afford to be more discerning these days because they have plenty of prospects doesn’t help either. Failure isn’t success. Failure is just one more volt that that surges through the electric button that you’re expected to push.

Another friend says I need to figure out what’s holding me back. I KNOW what’s holding me back. Fear of rejection. I have been electrocuted by that button so many freakin’ times my hair is starting to smoke and I’m developing a nervous tick. If I don’t apply for that job, I don’t have to be reminded that they don’t think I’m good enough. If I eat enough cookies, when a guy isn’t interested I can blame it on the fat, not on me.

Self-sabotage may as well be self-mutilation. It’s the emotional equivalent of cutting my thighs with a razor blade. So now I guess the trick is to figure out how to keep pushing that button with a smile on my face. Because that will feel soooo much better.

But in the mean time, kindly stop telling me to let a smile be my umbrella, would you?

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The Emotional Space Theory

Yup. Here comes another one of my theories that probably isn’t original with me. We often measure people by how we feel about them. We talk about how much we love this person or dislike that person. My theory is that there’s an entirely separate system of measurement which should be taken just as seriously—that of emotional space.

Some people just take up more emotional space in our lives than others do, and for the most part that’s not a good thing. Quite often you can measure how resistant you are to change, or how low your self-esteem is, by how much emotional space you allow people to take up in your life, often to your detriment.

For example, let’s say you have two brothers and you love them both equally. But one, Andy, just seems to have more in common with you. Andy is comfortable to be around. He “gets” you. He’s the person you go to for advice. You finish each others’ sentences. He is a positive force in your life. You love him to pieces, but he doesn’t take up much emotional space, and that’s the healthiest relationship you can possibly have with another person. That’s what you should strive for.

Your other brother, Leroy, on the other hand, just seems to suck the life out of you. When he calls you, it’s just as likely to be to bail him out of jail as it is to tell you happy birthday. He shows up intoxicated for Thanksgiving and makes an a** of himself. He’s always bringing drama into your life. You love Leroy, but he makes you worry. He makes you cry. He makes you shout. And he makes you feel guilty because when he leaves your house, you’re usually relieved. If ever you want to have a healthy relationship with Leroy, you need to find ways to reduce the amount of emotional space he takes up in your life. Because, you see, that is your choice, not his. He doesn’t get to decide. You do. My advice would be for you to start by reading the book Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.

The emotional space yardstick also works with people whom you dislike. For example, you really can’t stand your Aunt Lola. She’s Uncle Carson’s third wife, and why he bothered marrying an exotic dancer who is 50 years his junior you will never know, but there you have it. She’s now a part of the family. She doesn’t take up very much emotional space in your life, however, because they live 600 miles away, and you only run into them at the occasional wedding or family reunion. She looms much larger in your cousin’s life, because she is convinced that Lola is trying to get her written out of the will. While you can commiserate with your cousin, you’re not losing much sleep over the situation yourself.

But you also dislike your coworker, Dave, and he’s making your life a living hell. You lose quite a bit of sleep over Dave, as he undermines your work every chance he gets. You also are developing ulcers and a nervous twitch. You are pouring so much of your energy into the situation that you’re actually starting to undermine your own work. You might want to consider learning whatever lesson you’re supposed to learn from Dave, then gain some perspective, take disciplinary action if absolutely necessary, and move on to more productive obsessions.

Take a moment to think about those people whom you have allowed to take up the most emotional space in your life. Now ask yourself what would really happen if you reduced that emotional space to a more manageable size. How would you do that? And what would happen if you did? In what ways would your life improve? Only you can determine your boundaries, and only you can make those boundaries perfectly clear to those around you. You are the surveyor of your own life. Only you can determine what’s out of bounds.

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