An Opinion Formed

I like to quip (even though it’s not grammatically correct) that I’m a judger who judges. And I’m not sure most people I meet would even know this about me, because I’ve learned to bite my tongue. There’s a whole lot in my head that never makes it out of my mouth. To be honest, I’m not very chatty.

A lot of my job is making judgments—analyzing information, presenting an argument, trying to convince people I’m right, going on the offensive if I don’t get my way. And I’ve thought, well, that’s just who I am, that’s just what I do. But at this point, I can’t turn it off, and I wonder if there isn’t some better way to be, some better way to act.

Are my constant critiques a defense mechanism? Am I missing an opportunity to connect, by distancing myself, by holding myself above others? And didn’t I just judge someone else, saying, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of”? What is my heart full of? Ridicule and contempt, and, God help me, self-righteousness? Because even though I don’t totally, 100%, ever believe my critiques—I sort of do, or I wouldn’t be making them.

Can I change? I doubt it. As Pop-Eye used to say: “I yam what I yam.” Don’t judge me.

A Great Man

The other day one of the admins said to her boss, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” She meant it as a compliment to herself, but it just made me want to pick up a pencil and stab myself in the eye with it. If the woman’s so great, why is she standing behind some man?

But I don’t feel like a rant today—that kind of rage takes more energy than I can muster first thing in the morning. I have been thinking about women and leadership lately, as I try to take on more responsibility at work. Mainly I think for me it comes down to learning how to do it and then making it a habit. You know, the habit of making the decisions, of accepting that I can’t be perfect, can’t try to be perfect and still have the necessary forcefulness to have people respect my decisions. Also the habit of being the one in front, so to speak. (Get it? In front, not behind—har har.) Women do seem to be conditioned to stand in the shadows. I feel like I can pinpoint the year when I learned that girls don’t take charge, learned it from other little girls. I don’t know where they had learned it from, and honestly I wonder. Their fathers? I didn’t have one, at least not one that was around. Their mothers? I can’t remember mine ever correcting my behavior as unfeminine. But that’s certainly what girls did.

It was fifth grade, for me, when I tried to take charge of the girls in my class—lead, if you will. I get a bit squirmy just thinking about it, even now. Who did I think I was? That’s certainly what the other girls thought. “Who do you think you are?” Girls collaborate, create consensus, and no one is above anyone else, no one leads, there is only, sort of, a first among equals. It’s all become a hazy memory of sitting in one of the wooden cubbyholes on the playground, feeling as though I’d let my girls, my group, my clique, down. I didn’t want to be thought mean. There was some disagreement … I can’t even remember, have absolutely no recollection, what it was about. But the other little girls called me mean. And I knew girls were supposed to be sweet, were supposed to be nice, were not supposed to be stuck-up and full of themselves.

I was a naturally shy child, but I was smart, and I knew what I was. Not the prettiest, which girls were encouraged to be. I wanted to be pretty, to have long blond hair and a pretty round face, instead of brown hair and brown eyes and the face I had—long, thin, cheekbones where the other girls still had plump faces—a horse face. Not the fastest, because I hated sports. Not the sweetest, because, let’s face it, smart and sweet don’t usually go together. Not the funniest, though I tried. But the smartest. I felt, for a long set of years between the beginning of puberty and say, 22, that I wasn’t girly enough. I couldn’t be girly enough, because even though I wanted to be, it never fit. I didn’t care about boys, or what they thought of me, but I felt as though I should, and it only confused me. Boys were almost all stupid and immature and knew no more about anything than I did, but we were supposed to defer to them, so I did. I loved clothes, but not girly clothes—I liked jeans and boots and sweaters and blazers. You should see the dress I picked out for my confirmation at 13. My best friend wore a pink and lavender floral dress with a lace bib and a ruffled hem. I wore a navy and white shirt dress with navy and white spectator heels. My sister’s friend later borrowed the ensemble for a job interview.

I’m taking this trip down memory lane just trying to understand what happened, why I gave up on that early sense of “take charge” for a life in the shadows, a position behind that hypothetical, theoretical, “great man.” I think I felt like everyone expected me to fit into this mold that no part of me fit in, and the only thing I could think was to just disappear. I can’t be that girl, but I can give up that belief in myself, I can carve it out of me, that self-confidence, and hand it over. I can believe that you know how I should be, and that I’m less of a person because I can’t be. Neither a great man, nor a great woman.

I worry about my niece, now that she’s getting closer to puberty, to that age, to a realization that there is a way girls are “supposed” to act, and that it doesn’t always conform to who she is. She’s prettier than I was, and blond, but she’s also whip-smart, likes comfortable clothes, no fuss, and is a natural-born leader. I worry she’s about to be gutted, as I was, made to pay the price I paid for not being a proper girl—her self-confidence. And I hate for her to think she’s anything less than amazing, just by being herself. I can already catch a glimpse of the woman she’ll one day be—a great woman, I hope, one who doesn’t want to stand in anyone’s shadow.

Tolerance

Sometimes I think that I, like Gandhi, have never met a Christian. I hear in the gospels stories about humility, forgiveness, tolerance, rejection of violence, acceptance of those who are different, and learn that all of us are equal before God. What I hear, out of the mouths of self-proclaimed Christians, is judgment. Make that: Judgment, with a capital J. These Christians are just plain better than other people, and they pity the rest of us, who are unsaved and hell-bound. They’re happy to try to save you, but please don’t talk about any of those deal-breakers for the righteous, like evolution, equality between the sexes, or, God forbid, for homosexuals. I mean, come on, Jesus wasn’t talking about those people. And sure, he forgave that adulterer—but he was a man forgiving a woman. That’s the divine process—woman sins and man forgives. End of story.

This particular rant is brought to you by a conversation I overhead at work, between two righteous, Christian men. “Do you know,” started the conversation, “it’s the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz?” If you aren’t scared already, wondering what two middle-aged, affluent, white Christian rednecks are about to opine about the Nazi internment and attempted extermination of the Jews, you should be. “We think we’re so high and mighty here, but we have abortion, tens of millions of babies killed, right here in America. It’s ten times worse than what the Nazis did.” “Sure, I mean, Planned Parenthood.”

At that point, I had to get up and shut my office door. Did I … Did they …? Could they really have …? I couldn’t change the expression on my face for something like ten minutes. The first part of the conversation should have warned me, but I’m used to this coworker talking about his church, and all the wonderful, Christian things he does there. Apparently, there is some Christian novelist, who writes thrillers about terrorism, and Muslims, and somehow works in the gospels. So, I thought (sitting in my office, trying to ignore him and not succeeding), like 24, only … Christian? So, torture, murder, mayhem, death, but … wait, what? This author had spoken at his church, and made this startling comparison between Planned Parenthood and the Nazis, and he just had to share.

It’s hard for me to pinpoint what bothers me most about this exchange. I’m not offended people are saddened by abortion—I get it. In a perfect world, all pregnancies would be wanted, and all people who wanted children would have them. Okay. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that perfect world, and we never will. Women will want abortions, and unless we think women should die trying to get an otherwise … Okay, let me sum up: “God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes, ‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to choose.” (Thank you, Everlast.)

As for Auschwitz … Really? That was the best thing you could come up with, to say about concentration camps? “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Luke 6:45)  That was the only thing you could find, inside your heart? Abortion in the US is worse than the holocaust? I feel certain you have no real understanding of what happened—I know you don’t. And that’s when I decided what really bothered me: Such willful, self-righteous ignorance. Willful, because he could educate himself, but he’s certain he already knows everything there is to know. Self-righteous, because he smugly condemns Planned Parenthood and all those abortion-wielding Nazis, with no sense of compassion or humility. And ignorant, rendered incapable of learning.

Maybe Jesus overestimated the intelligence of his followers. There’s no parable, after all, about a woman ending a pregnancy—not even for health reasons—so really, how could we know how to treat people we think did something morally reprehensible? Our only options, clearly, are hatred and condemnation. Yes, we heard that in the gospels, right after Jesus went all Jack Bauer.

Dirt

We have a new coworker, dry as dirt, dry as bone meal, dry as the Santa Ana winds. Not good dry, not funny dry, but dry—voice a monotone worthy of emergency weather radio, choice of conversation so far yogurt and the weather. After two minutes in her company I start to think about cutting my toenails, washing base boards, counting grains of sand, about putting grains of sand into my eyes and making tiny pearls. Eye pearls, I’ll call them. I might go blind, but I’ll be rich. Wait, did she stop talking? Is she done? Thank God!

I heard recently that boredom is good for you, that somehow it leads to increased creativity. I don’t know if that’s true. If I get bored I get tired and anxious, as it usually means I’m stuck somewhere, like prison. Or jury duty, or the DMV, or work when I’m not busy. Boredom, apparently, goes hand in hand with bureaucracy in my experience. If I’m home, I’m never bored, so, to me, boredom always comes with an arbitrary physical restriction. I once had a temp job so boring—start over, I’ve had quite a few temp jobs that were so boring. In my boredom, I have: made sculptures out of paperclips and rubber bands; written short stories; fallen asleep; read books; played solitaire … and still I can’t recommend it as a creative experience.

Big Fish

“I thought you said you had competitive pricing.” Man, he wants to argue. Does he think he can get this sailfish stuffed before it rots? It already smells like a cat ate it and threw it back up.

“Fifteen dollars an inch.” It’s a little high, but it’s not crazy. Plus, how does he even know? I doubt he even caught this nasty fish, probably bought it from the boat captain, and the boat captain probably had it from three days ago. “It’s a big fish.” I’ll add that in, maybe that will make him feel better about the price. “You want it done right, don’t you?” I can see his eye twitch—and I’m going to say he don’t care.

“It’ll cost more to stuff it than it did to catch it.” He’s leaning in, getting crazy pig eyes at me.

“But it’ll preserve it forever.” You’d think people would remember this. You think this is easy, what I do? You think you can find this anywhere? “Forever costs money.”

“Forget it, I’ll find somebody on-line. Ever heard of the internet, man?”

The internet? That’s his comeback? Even broke has standards.

I close his cooler with the tip of my shoe. “Man, you go ahead and try.”

Macabre

His office is terrifying. The first deer’s head is positioned to look out the door, its head turned as if startled, its blank black eyes staring into you. A turkey fans its tail feathers by the end table. The boar with its six-inch tusks seems to peer around the desk, half-hidden by the blue recycle bin. Behind him, a bobcat plays with a bird. Another deer’s head, this trophy waiting to be hung, rests sideways on the couch, as if awaiting the shrink. “My whole world is gone,” he might say. “Also, my body.”

There’s probably more but I can’t take it all in, the incongruity of this dead menagerie in his office. I almost expect to see Snow White, waxen and stiff, posed in a corner, a bird on each finger. What sort of man does this? What is he trying to tell his employees, decorating his office with the animals he’s killed? Is he trying to flaunt his masculinity, his cunning, his wealth? God knows this freak show wasn’t cheap. I don’t linger outside that door, won’t let those dead eyes keep watching me. I even hold my breath when I pass, expecting the smell of decay and formaldehyde to curl out the door in a swirling green vapor, as if it were the laboratory of a mad scientist. The whole thing seems mad to me, creepy, disturbing, the product of an unstable mind. Of course, he is the boss.

Signs

Yesterday at lunch I spotted a dolphin, and then, this morning, heard and saw a bald eagle. Is this bragging? Is that what you thought you’d read about, when I started, “Yesterday at lunch …”? Am I still confined to a cafeteria, or a McDonald’s, and the confounding dolphin is stuck there too, waiting on line for Fillet-O-Fish?

It was a hard day, yesterday, and when I spotted the fin, I thought, It would mean something if I saw a dolphin. I had just thought that, had just finished thinking it, and not a heartbeat after my overly emphatic mean, the dolphin resurfaced in profile—nose, fin, tail, no mistaking. And I thought, well, this is awkward. Do I make it mean something, or do I accept the coincidence? I’ve eaten at that park several times over the course of the past year, and this is my first dolphin sighting. When I told my husband about the dolphin, he said, “Dolphins are good luck,” but I knew he was kidding. He’s an atheist.

Then, this morning, first thing as I sit down at my desk, before I even sort out why my computer won’t turn on, I hear a bald eagle. They have this most incongruous, cheerful little chirp, quite out of place for such an imposing bird, and it’s unmistakable once you know it. “That’s a bald eagle!” I said, even though no one was around to congratulate me. I looked out the window and saw two flying away from me, and again I thought, I don’t know, maybe those aren’t eagles, when one cut straight across my field of vision, left to right, no mistaking. Later I told a coworker. She said she’d seen them, too, but I didn’t believe her.

I’ve seen bald eagles at work once or twice, over the past year, as they fly over our building towards the bay, so it wasn’t singular. All the same, I thought about that “lucky” dolphin, about seeing not one but three bald eagles out my window this morning, and I thought, maybe I’m just looking for a sign, because sometimes I do. And then I decided, maybe that means something.

Curve Ball

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. Or a curve knife—ha ha ha! Didn’t see that coming, that lethal throw out of (as it were) left field. Great joke! Maybe this explains the mythical figure of the trickster, Wily Coyote, the idea that there is a divinity whose job it is to Fuck You Up. Wouldn’t that be a great job description? “Go forth and fuck with people, for all eternity!” Sigh. At least that dill-hole is employed.

This is the third layoff in our little marital world, along with one “take this job and shove it” and one where the boss got to the shoving first. I’m not all that depressed, really—this not being the first, and the sky not having fallen. But it is, well—it’s always an adjustment, financially (duh) as well as in our relationship, renegotiating who does what and who gives whom a hard time about “pulling his weight.” All those conversations, the score-keeping, the usually running tally that goes on between husbands and wives—all that becomes verboten, too mean, too trenchant, too violent, too unnecessary. Not that I mourn the loss of the score sheet, but it’s an adjustment, nonetheless, and it takes time. I myself, unemployed, said many times, teary-eyed, “I’m doing my best!” Sometimes my best was watching TV and taking the dog for a walk, and I understood how that could be infuriating, but there were times when everything I was doing seemed so futile, so pointless, that I just couldn’t torture myself by doing it any more.

I think that’s the most infuriating thing for the One Who Is Employed—that you can’t control the other person, that it affects them more than it affects you, but that it does affect you, and you feel like that should Matter, and your partner feels like you should Shut the Fuck Up.

I have hope; I won’t despair. After the last time, I prayed—well, I’ll be honest with you. After the last time, it felt like a sin, all my despair, all the tears, the recriminations, the anger. Like a sin, to have wasted so many months of my life worrying, unhappy, when I was healthy, with every comfort, not starving, a good husband, friends who didn’t care that I was unemployed. It felt like a sin, all that despair, so I cried about that, and vowed to do better. I didn’t know there would be a test.

Senescence

I don’t like going to the gym. Not for the usual reasons, or at any rate what I imagine the usual reasons to be. I feel better if I exercise, enjoy feeling as though I am not just observing a slow decline into senescence and eventual death. It is boring, though. I’d rather be playing. Not sports, because I don’t like teams and I’m not competitive—but playing, an otter in a pool, a pig in shit, a dog chasing its own tail. I’d say “like a child” but children are exhausting. My niece is not yet two and she’s up, down, thither, hither, and yon. It’s as if everything is new to her (of course it is) and she can’t get enough. Sleep is repugnant to her, until it absolutely can’t be avoided, her eyes drooping, legs no longer working, head lolling. Of course puppies do that, too. It’s adorable, until it’s you chasing them around, feeling older, closer to death (blissful death), wondering how in the world anyone could have that much energy.

Maybe not everyone is like this—maybe Tom and Giselle chase their children around while maintaining their above-average looks, never getting winded, never wishing they could stop for a moment and drink their latte while sitting down. I turn pink when I exercise, down to my eyelids, as if I were going to pass out from heat stroke. I don’t understand all those mirrors at the gym, as if witnessing my own hideousness should encourage me. Instead I realize, for the umpteenth time, that in spite of all the classes, the instructor’s ass is a 10 and mine is—well, I won’t rate it. Suffice to say I think about stringy old chickens, tough old birds, every time I catch a glimpse of my red, sweating face. Stupid gym. Stupid old age.