Thursday, January 30, 2014

Ignore me

I dash into office; I'm late and have a half hour window before next meeting.
Me: Please ignore me! Don't look at me! Pretend I'm not here! 
Everyone: --
Me: Leave me alone! 
Everyone: --
Me: My inbox is crazy! I will get to everything, I promise! Just let me -
Stephen: Dushka. Nobody cares.

My team. Keeping it real.

What we need

Two men stand in the crowded bus. One carries a guitar, the other a briefcase. Every time the first strums, the second glares. "This is an enclosed public place. If you do that again I will break your fingers". 
After a few stops, he storms off.The man with the guitar picks tentatively. He plays softly at first, then fills the bus with a simple, clean, beautiful piece.I get off feeling so peaceful; and sad for the man with the briefcase. He missed out on exactly what he needed.

Friday, January 24, 2014

My life sucks.

I want to raise my hand and say I don't have anything figured out.

Sometimes - OK, often - I don't know what I'm doing. I feel anxious or sad or lost. I fight with my boyfriend, for example, and can't even articulate why we were fighting and I wonder how on Earth I got to be so very bad at relationships. On most nights I have trouble sleeping and sometimes, on bad days, I get up in the morning with a hole in the pit of my stomach and a sense that nothing is in its place or will be again.

I don't write about these things on Facebook because I want to highlight the good in my life. It's the internet equivalent of smiling for the camera: you're not being hypocritical; you want the photo to represent the moment in a way you'd want to remember it.

I bring this up because more and more people I talk to blurt out some version of "everyone on facebook is happier than me". It's not just facebook envy but a form of despair. It's not a fleeting stab of "I want that" but rather the deeper, more poisonous "I fear my life is not good enough".

I'm really bothered by the notion that my posts (optimistic, because that is what I am) might be in their minuscule, unintended way contributing to a phenomenon no one would want any part of: the sowing of a collective sense of desperation. (Because, you reap what you sow, you know.)

A social network at its best is intended to connect us, to open our eyes to another perspective, maybe, hopefully, to inspire and lift us. Not to make us feel (oh, the irony) lost in a mirage of our own fabrication.

I am proud of my life. I have moments where I am really happy. I also cower in fear and make terrible mistakes and fail (the unglamorous kind of fail, not the Michael Jordan kind of fail) and do things I regret. I feel irreparably heartbroken sometimes and then hate myself for being so fragile. The fact that you (I hope) don't see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It's all there, right behind the sunny evidence you regularly scroll through. Go ahead and ask anyone about illness and loss and sorrow and misery. I guarantee no one escapes it. (But who would want to be constantly exposed to that?)

I suppose I could try to start a movement. One that invites us all to regularly be uncensored, more raw. But you can't change the world's behavior. You can only change yourself.

So please, don't buy it. There is no such thing as a charmed life. Perfection is bullshit (not to mention, grossly overrated. The joy is in the flaw.) 

Don't waste a single second comparing yourself to anything. Do the best you can with the messy, absurd, possibly pointless life you were given and be proud of what you do with it and know that anything dark you go through everyone goes through. I know I do.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Let's hang out. Go away.

The first time I ever learned the definitions for an extrovert and an introvert, and how what defines each is the source of their energy, I considered it a revelation. I felt it provided a tidy, logical justification for so many things I didn't like about myself.

If I go overboard on the amount of time I spend with others I become insufferable - short tempered, impatient, depleted. After completing the Meyers Briggs test, I realized I rated high on the "introvert" scale. It shocked me. It explained everything.

I am often mistaken for an extrovert. I process many things, particularly of an emotional or logistical nature, out loud. I don't mind being the center of attention (that might be an understatement). I can be extremely chatty. I find humans delightful and strangers irresistible. I frequently interject in other people's conversations. (You know that person on the plane who talks to you even if you're pretending to read? That could be me. I apologize. But your book looks interesting. What made you pick it?)

I can also be very quiet, needing large swaths of time for myself, keeping my calendar free of social engagements for weeks. Recently, I was leaving my apartment, scurried into the elevator and quickly pressed (and pressed) the button for the ground floor. My boyfriend said it was impatient of me to not wait for the people behind us. "It's not that I'm in a rush" I whispered. "It's that I don't have the strength to say hello".

I would do pretty much anything to avoid a large party. The last one I was at was, alas, New Year's Eve at my house (long story). I asked people to leave two hours into the New Year and barely had enough strength to make it up the stairs to my bed. (I was vaguely worried I'd hurt their feelings, but a couple of days later they told me they were really impressed with how well I had done. See? Humans. Delightful.)

I have been known to leave a bar 6 minutes (not that I was counting) after I walk in if I determine it's too populated. I don't like having more than a handful of people over to my house at one time. It makes me feel I'd have nowhere to  go if I needed a place to hide. I have a distaste for small talk that borders on aversion. 

At work, I'm surrounded by people. They have gotten used to me saying things like "go away" as I see them approach my door. It's just that being interrupted is pure torture. When I get home at the end of a normal day I need space so badly I often sit in corner with no light, no book and no devices.

Many of the activities I enjoy the most are solitary by nature. Swimming. Reading. Writing. Yoga. When social plans are cancelled what I feel, even when I really want to see the person in question, is relief. If a beloved friend calls from abroad announcing a visit and asks if she can stay at my apartment, I offer to pay for her hotel room. My friends know I'd do anything for them, anything, as long as they don't inadvertently threaten the room I need to retreat. 

After being squarely extroverted and squarely introverted and pretty much every grade in between, I now believe that we all have a possibility to be intermittently one or the other. To be one thing all the time - many of us are just not that clear cut. It can depend on the year, the weather, our mood, our caffeine intake, our glucose levels, our saturation point, the level of heartache we happen to find ourselves in and who knows what else.

Why does this matter? I often feel I need to recharge but have no inkling how to go about it. A book? A nap? Dinner? Learning where my ever-moving boundaries are is so much harder than I thought; but when I get things right I become a better person.

We all want to be better. We want to be spared the merciless spectacle that is to witness ourselves being resentful, snippy, petty. We don't want anyone to see what we look like when we are feeling overextended (I mean, it makes my hair look really frizzy). 

It's easy to jump to the conclusion that PR people are extroverts, but many of us like to write and ponder and research and do things that do not involve being in the midst of others (sometimes). Us introverts network well, thank you. Just one on one, rather than "working a room". We are smashingly inventive during a brainstorm, just not one that is taking place in the presence of others. And my observations on a document will be so much better if you give me the document. No, I don't want you to "walk me through it". And, tell me. Why on Earth should we all have drinks after work if we've just spent the entire week together?

Recognizing our textured, beautiful complexity and getting to understand, respect and accept (ah, accept!) our ever changing, ever evolving, mercurial selves - resisting the temptation to throw anyone into a category, even after reviewing Meyers Briggs results - means I unlock the mystery of how not to put myself in a situation that will compromise me.

It means that even if it makes me feel selfish and like a terrible friend, maybe I shouldn't be throwing New Year's Eve parties at my place. It means, hopefully, that I will more frequently be able to smile to my neighbor in the elevator. And just as importantly, it means too that if on that plane trip my travel companion says he'd rather not talk, I nod knowingly and let him be.

This post was originally published in The Holmes Report.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Milk, with a teeny bit of coffee

The first time I ever tasted coffee was at my grandfather's house. We went to visit and the next day I woke up early and he was already up, standing alone in the kitchen. He set a big mug in front of me, poured boiling, frothy milk into it from a battered metal pot, added lots of sugar. Then, a touch of coffee, the black liquid barely staining the white. I still drink it the same way.

My grandfather died yesterday. I didn't know him very well, but it fills me with joy to know he watches over me first thing every morning.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Not a morning person

Me: I'd like to end once and for all the single most tortuous battle within me: the discrepancy between what I feel and what I should feel.
Boyfriend: Example?
Me: Why do I still feel anxious about things I can't control? Why can't I always summon grace when I feel wronged? Why can't I replenish faith at will? Why can someone hurt me when I should be beyond their reach? Why do I worry if worry is pointless? Why do I feel an incandescent flare of rage when my heart should only harbour love? Why don't emotions have reins, like wild horses?
Boyfriend: Welcome to being human. You're going to be late for work.

Boyfriend. Not a morning person. 

(Photo: National Geographic.)