J Redux

Twenty months ago I wrote about the reason I haven’t had an empty inbox since February 4, 2014. 

Because I had this Listserve email from j in Indiana:

for a long time, i needed the attention of strangers on the internet to feel good about myself, but i don’t anymore.

have a good day,

j

Indiana

It’s still there in my inbox. I haven’t read it in a long time. I thought I knew it well enough to not have to open and read it. I thought I kept it in mind. 

I haven’t. 

Tonight it’s the only item there (for now). And I read it, and it resonated. I found my post about it, and read that. 

I don’t think it ever goes away forever. I think I will always need the attention of strangers on the Internet to feel good about myself. 

Finding like-minded strangers to talk to on the Internet has been a pastime of mine for nearly half my life. And comments section idiocy or no, I find that strangers are less judgmental that my “real” friends on Facebook. 


Complimentary

I started this nearly a year ago. Last September, in fact. Maybe it’s time to finish it up and post it. I’d like to empty out my drafts folder by actually publishing posts instead of deleting them.

I went to a concert once, and as I watched the lead singer, I paid less and less attention to his voice and more and more attention to his body language. His posture, his movements screamed to me how well he knew the crowd worshipped him. And he was right; we did. Obviously, since we’d all paid so much money simply to be in the same (gigantic) room with him. It was an amazing experience.

I met a man a few months ago who gives a similar impression. At first glance, simply statuesque–beautifully smooth, evenly toned skin; quick, blindingly bright smile; achingly graceful; tall, slim but strong; all of the physical traits a modeling agency would die for. Truly a gorgeous man.

He’s more than a pretty face.

The sincerity of his compliments is as far from Regina George as you can get. When he compliments someone, he means it. And, while he is a salesman, it’s not a salesman’s hollow compliment. It’s an offering of a piece of his own self-confidence, handed to you on a silver platter, ready to be instilled in your own heart as it is in his.

Please tell me you’ve received such a compliment. They’re few and far between, but their meaningfulness more than makes up for their scarcity.

And yet.

Does a compliment from an attractive person have more intrinsic value than a compliment of similar caliber from an unattractive person?

It’s easy to deny our own negative traits; it seems more than second nature to blurt out banalities like I’m not racist or I don’t judge anyone or even the stunningly cliched beauty is only skin deep. How many people consider such phrases before their utterance? I’ll wager far too few.

There are compliments and then there are compliments. Like anything else. 

I hope your next compliment is complementary.


Instant Friendship

Today’s Daily Prompt:

Train stations, airport terminals, subway stops: soulless spaces full of distracted, stressed zombies, or magical sets for fleeting, interlocking human stories?

The two girls hadn’t spoken, or even made eye contact on the small plane that brought them to this airport; instead, they came together at the gate after their flight.

The brunette who’d worn her Walkman and kept to herself the entire trip reached out to the shy blonde, possibly because they were the only two teenagers in sight.

After mutual confessions of nicotine addiction, they giggled conspiratorially and agreed to find the nearest bathroom to sneak a cigarette before rushing on to the next leg of their separate but similar journeys.

Fortunately, no one else entered the ladies’ in this airport that had already banned smoking rooms, unlike Salt Lake City International, where they’d been a few hours ago. This was nearly twenty years ago, when smoking was not the social monster it is today.

They chatted amiably during those few moments of privacy, until the blonde girl realized she only had about fifteen minutes to find her gate to catch her flight home. They quickly flushed the evidence and exited the restroom.

A shuttle train whisked them between terminals during their last minutes together. The blonde girl smiled and bid her new friend farewell when her stop arrived, all too quickly. The brunette smiled in return, lifting a hand in goodbye as the doors sighed shut to end their brief interlude of camaraderie.

As the blonde girl headed toward her gate, thought of this experience slowly receded in her mind, and even more rapidly when she broke into a huge smile at seeing two of her best high school buddies waiting patiently on the hard, molded plastic chairs.

They’d called her mother to find out if and when she would be stopping at that airport, and taken a bit of time from their day to brighten hers.

The three embraced, happy to see each other again after having so many miles between them. A brief tinge of regret for those extra minutes spent with someone she’d never see again caused a second of pain, but this was quickly overridden by her joy and surprise at her friends’ thoughtfulness.

They said their goodbyes, and the girl boarded her plane home with a full heart, still wearing a smile.

***

Ah, the nineties. When smoking was still okay in some airports, and you didn’t need a ticket to surprise someone at the gate. Airports can be magical places; at least, they once were. I’ve only seen those guys a handful of times since, but this memory stays with me, as fresh as yesterday’s breakfast. A mushroom and cheese omelet, if you’re wondering.

I do wonder, though: if we’d had cellphones or Facebook then, would I still be in touch with that other girl?


Heavier Reading

I finished reading Rachel Bertsche’s MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend a few days ago.

I’ve been thinking about friendship, and when I found the book, it seemed fitting. Between infertility and infidelity, over the past few years I’ve become more and more reclusive. I stopped working full time about four years ago, but I still socialized with real live people on occasion. That slowly slipped away into once a month, then once a year.

My BFF since sixth grade lives less than five miles away, but we rarely see each other, and we seldom even talk or text. She has other friends, and I crumbled in on myself.

I used to go out and hang out and do things. I remember doing that, but it feels so far away now. I think I’d like to do that again, sometimes, but it’s scary.

When I got the job engraving two years ago, I completely freaked out more than once before my first day. I didn’t want to leave my safe place. I couldn’t leave it. Stupid comfort zone. Mine had gotten very small. By that time, the only way I interacted with anyone outside my immediate family by myself was here.

But I went anyway. And I talked to people. And oh my goodness it was hard. But at least I only had to talk to my coworkers, as I hadn’t been trained in anything besides engraving.

Then last year I decided I wanted to get back into pizza, because I needed some time to myself, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to take any if I didn’t feel obligated. Even with that familiarity, it was hard. And still scary. I cried a lot. More than I’ve ever admitted to anyone. I don’t know that it was a bad decision to go back; I just know it wasn’t right.

Really, what was I thinking, going back somewhere that I’d had to pop a pill just to function there most days?

When I left I was already back engraving, and I was actually glad to stay after the season when asked. The past few months I’ve been making more friends at neighboring kiosks and in housekeeping, and I’ve come to realize what I’ve been missing.

That’s wrong. I realized it when a friend came to visit from Wisconsin, and I met her to help with a research project and catch up a bit. I even told her that it was the first time I’d left the house to do something just for me in years.

I want to do that again. It’s so hard not to say I can’t, but that’s how it feels, almost a physical impossibility.

So I read this book.

I marveled throughout at her ability to actually go out and meet new people on purpose. To actually call them back and make and keep commitments.

And since I couldn’t possibly do anything like that, I bookmarked passages to write about.

Because that’s my thing. You know that saying, those who can, do? I’m the addendum: and April, go ahead and write instead of doing.

But I notice now that what I marked for later thought isn’t really about making friends in general but about being picky when making friends.

One passage was about friendships outside of your own race, and she confused me a bit:

I’m not particularly proud of the fact that I have only a few black friends, so I’d be thrilled to add some diversity. [. . .] I’m not going to befriend someone I wouldn’t otherwise, solely based on skin color. But would I be happy if one of my best friends ended up being black? Or, just not white? Yes.

I don’t get it. And I don’t know if I can really explain how I don’t get it, but I’ll give it a go.

When someone says they’re ‘not particularly proud of’ something, doesn’t that boil down to at least a little bit of shame or embarrassment? It’s a subtle undertone, but it’s there. People are ‘not particularly proud of’ cheating on a college final or drunk dialing an ex. The phrase has no place in a description of friendship.

And being happy because a new friend is not white? Let’s substitute, shall we? But would I be happy if one of my best friends ended up being fat? Or, just not skinny? Yes. how about tall/not short? Or pretty/not ugly?

Your friends are your friends because of who they are, not what they look like.

I remembered this tidbit when I reached another section when she arrives at a birthday dinner party of four in which she’s the only white girl:

[T]he truth is I infrequently end up at dinners with more than two races represented. Which is just embarrassing. Needless to say I’m pleased, as I’m hoping this dinner will be an opportunity to change that.

Aha! Embarrassing. I knew it! See? Undertone.

But why be embarrassed? That’s what I don’t get. Your friends are your friends. So what if they all look alike?

I will say, because of where I went to school and lived and worked, I’ve been the only white girl at the table more often than not. But that doesn’t explain her embarrassment, only my confusion at being happy about non-white friends.

A friend is a treasure. Not an embarrassment. Unless you mean an embarrassment of riches.

But what really gets me is one sentence later on:

And I’ve always wanted a gay best friend.

Because gay men are a much more valuable commodity in the friendship game than brown women. I guess I’m hipper than I thought. You remember those new mall friends I’ve made? Yup. One’s a black gay man.

This post sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Like I hated every page of the book. But I didn’t; I simply made note of the parts that stuck out to me.

I’ve read more memoirs so far this year than the rest of my life combined, but none so prosaic as this. Long distance hiking,
being lost at sea, having cancer in China, and yes, Orange is the New Black as well.

It’s easier to read between the lines when the subject is familiar. Everyone makes friends; Rachel just set out on a mission and wrote a book about it. I never got so involved in her story as to ignore the words she uses to tell it.

But these are my favorite:

The courage to wear plaid pants has, to me, always signified the sort of person who isn’t uncomfortable anywhere.

That’s a sentiment I can get behind.


Road Trips

I’ve taken a lot of road trips, more than just about everyone I know who’s never been a truck driver. I love it. My roadtripping heyday was between 1997 and 2000, no cellphones, no GPS, just me, my car, and my road atlas, devouring the miles, listening to the radio stations come and go.

I took most of my trips to meet friends I’d made on mIRC. I logged a ton of hours chatting, and I was fortunate enough to have a work schedule and finances conducive to this hobby of traveling thousands of miles to hang out with strangers.

I worked seven days on and seven off, and made my ‘local’ trips on my weeks off. By ‘local,’ I guess I really mean continental US. I made several trips to Virginia, St Louis, and Des Moines, and one to California. I quit my job to take the two big ones to Canada, Edmonton and Yellowknife.

I’m thinking of starting a series of tales of my adventures. What do you guys think? Do you like road trips? Where have you been?


Time Warp Tuesday: Blogging

20111210-155048.jpgLet’s do the Time Warp again!!

Yes! I’m participating in another Time Warp Tuesday, hosted by the lovely and talented Kathy. This week we’re talking about blogging.

I was determined to participate when I saw this week’s topic, but I thought I might have been biting off more than I could chew once I got into my archives and realized that it was actually a pretty difficult decision to pick just one. But I did.

This one.

I wrote this less than a month after I started this blog, and although I’ve rewritten it in several ways since then, the core idea remains. I love writing for itself, for the pure joy of it, but it’s even better when it’s for a purpose.

I have immeasurably more purpose to my writing now than I did such a short time ago.

Of course, I have the purpose I began with, just to get it all out. I don’t think I had any idea there was so much in there in the first place! So many trials and tribulations that have led to where I am today, so much pain and heartache that I’m volunteering to display. And to what purpose?

To better understand myself.
To better understand others.
To better understand why.

To explore my own conceit. I can’t help but consider how conceited I sound, talking of my ideals and trying to be the person I never was able to be before, the person who would dare to speak up.

But the more I revisit this theme, the more I think that maybe that’s who I’ve been all along. Even when I was the child who couldn’t go ask the neighbors for help when my mom broke her ankle because I was too shy. Even when I was the teenager who bowed to peer pressure way more than was good for me, just to fit in. Even when I met the man I knew I’d marry, but was still too shy to say anything to him about how I felt.

Even though I was never able to be the person who could stand up to the bullies and make them back down, I could always be the person to be there for their victims and make sure they knew they weren’t alone. And isn’t that all I’m doing now, with our own bodies being both the bully and the victim?

I may still be painfully shy on the outside, but I’m not alone. And you’re not alone. Isn’t that what blogging is all about?