I have been reading “Grace for the good girl” by Emily Freeman. I normally flee from titles like that, but I’d been reading Emily’s blog, and she kept hitting tender places I didn’t know were tender. So I broke down and bought two of her books, even though their covers made me shy away.
Well, it’s been peculiar. She’s describing me more thoroughly than most of my friends can. And every time I think, well, no, that’s not really quite like me–she shifts focus ever so slightly, and everything is looking at me again. The chapter I just finished was on responsibility and weakness. I’ve always blamed my attitudes toward responsibility and weakness to being an older sister/daughter and having a lot of brothers, respectively. But Emily didn’t have the kind of family growing up that I did, so I guess, “Nothing has come upon you except what is common to man.”
I wasn’t really getting into her “responsibility” section, until she started talking about “the purse” mentality. Taking it upon yourself to stock your purse so that no matter who needs what, you’ve got it. Physically, and intangibly. Yes, and yes. The whole purse section hit home like she’d been watching my life played out like a movie. And then she says,
For all the times that I rush around, both physically and mentally, trying to fix and influence the people and circumstances around me, I simultaneously feel resentful that I am the one to manage it all. Why doesn’t anyone else fix this? Why do I have to be the one? Even though I was the one who wrote the job description and hired myself to fill the role, I want to both quit and fire myself.
I thought, from the cover, this was going to be a feel-good, every-thing’s-okay, light and fluffy kind of book. It’s actually kind of uncomfortable to be reading a book written, apparently, by someone sitting inside my head. I wasn’t really ready for it. I wasn’t really ready for someone to nail every. single. weakness. I have.
Oh, and that’s another thing. “Weak,” she says, “Is not a four-letter bad word.” Honey, I have more brothers than you can probably count, and they’re like dogs that way. You don’t let them smell blood, or fear. “Hiding behind a mask of strength and responsibility is a lonely place to live,” she says. Ow. Yeah, it is, actually. I try so stupidly, ridiculously hard to pretend I’m strong and responsible, and I’m disappointed when they fall for it. To turn her own words back on her–sure, I believe that “weak” is not a four-letter bad word. For you.
She’s making me think, and honestly? I didn’t expect that either. (Arrogance, much? Yes.) One of the things that she keeps turning over is that we really aren’t going to discover anything new about ourselves; we’re only ever going to really re-discover old things about ourselves. Things that we accidentally or on-purpose buried as we grew up, but are really still US, deep down inside.
It jarred loose something I hadn’t thought on for a while, but I realize is (still) true. I hate everyone looking at me. I hate being the center of attention. I hate people looking at me. Why? I’m not sure. I’m still trying to figure it out.
But I remember my horror and mortification at loosing a baby tooth during a social gathering, utterly convinced that now everyone would be staring at me, and I just could bare that. People did wind up staring, since I was dying six kinds of deaths of complete embarrassment, but no one had the foggiest idea why I was upset.
I want to be hidden. I want to hide. I don’t want you to see me or notice me. When I find out you were watching and I didn’t know, I feel this odd sense of disquiet settle over me. I thought I was invisible. Even though I was talking animatedly and laughing.
I don’t want to wear bright colors, or flashy clothing, because that might attract your eye. I don’t want to tell you about any of the ways I might be different, because then you might see me. I’ve hidden my grades from my classmates for so long, I do it now without thinking about it. I referred to my solid, strong A for a final grade as “acceptable” to one of my professors, and he suggested that I at least meant “Acceptable.” I felt a big caught off balance. What did I mean by acceptable? I meant, I guess, that I was happy with my grade, but I wasn’t going to say how happy, because that would be drawing attention to myself. Sitting at the place of honor at a feast would be horrible, because then everyone would be looking at you. Stop looking at me!
Why? I don’t understand that part of it.
Everyone loses baby teeth, I get that. What’s the big deal? People wear bright clothing in the street all the time, and they aren’t followed by small mobs of people, just staring at them. Some people can confidently get good grades without being obnoxious about it.
I can’t say it’s because I want to fit in, because I like being different. I can’t say that–well, I guess do want everyone to just like me, but what does that have to do with bright colors and baby teeth?
If I have consistently striven for any one thing over the years, it is to be quietly invaluable. I want to be that hidden gem, that maybe few know about–but, oh! What a gem. Those clever few can see what an incomparable, incredible human I am. But, only, you can’t tell me, because I wouldn’t believe you, but just make me feel very valuable.
I confuse even myself. This doesn’t make any sense at all. Yet when I look back over the patterns in my life, I see the same things played out over and over. Do I want praise and recognition? Yes, of course. Kind of. After a fashion. I’ve repeatedly dodged recognition, down-played my accomplishments, sneakily helped people out, and generally felt barren, alone, and undervalued.
I do this even in my writing. One time I reviewed something on my Mom’s blog, as a guest post, and it kind of got spread around. I nearly died. I was so abashed and self-conscious. I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way, but it does for me. Um, hello? What’s the point of writing stuff you’d like anyone to be able to read and enjoy if you’re just going to turn into a self-conscious freak the minute you start showing any signs of success?
I don’t know. Maybe by the time I get to the end of her book, I’ll stumble on some other insight as to what has been making me tick. I thought it was just because I was weird, but if I was that different, how could she be writing a book about me?