Happy New Year, kids! I hope everyone’s festivities were sufficiently festive. And the holidays before that. Sorry I didn’t post anything last week. It was Christmas and I was busy making a few hundred cookies. I don’t know why I decided that would be my project for this year’s celebration, but it’s been a week and I’m beginning to regret it. When I was finally finished bringing the Cookiepocalypse upon mankind, I posted this photo on Facebook:
The picture got a perfectly reasonable number of obligatory likes and a couple of comments. Nothing I wasn’t expecting. Except for one. It’s been rattling around in my head ever since. The back and forth between myself and my buddy Jess:
Jess: Pure, unadulterated awesomeness.
Me: I cookie like I have children, man.
Jess: It’s a good way to cookie. A good way.
Jess (one minute later): Wait and p.s. Cookieing like you have children would mean 2 batches of shitty shortbread/gingerbread with terrifying decorations and a hangover from how much you had to drink to get through it.
Me: A fair point.
First, I don’t know what cookieing like I have children even means. Like, make more? Because spawn have to eat? I don’t know. Secondly, let me be clear. Jess has two kids. They’re beautiful and smart and well-mannered little nibbles of awesome. Should either or both of them turn out to be the President or the King of Mars or that rock star who eliminates world hunger, I would not be shocked. I’m only issuing this disclaimer because that comment could be read as an outsider’s perspective on what it must be like to be burdened with kids while trying to make tasty holiday treats.
It sounds, basically, like something I would say.
And here’s the thing: Jess is amazing. She’s one of those people who makes it all look so easy. She’s an attorney who specializes in environmental law, saving the world by shutting down one gross factory farm at a time. She’s got great kids, her husband is a dedicated minister and a freaking adorable gentleman (full disclosure: also my best friend from high school). She’s hilarious and gets all my geeky jokes. Remember my post a while ago about being intimidated by badass women? I was thinking a lot of my mom and Jess while I was writing that. So when she said that about the cookieing and the kids, it rocked me a little. I never in a million years would have expected that comment from this particular woman. I’ve always had this Norman Rockwell-ish (Rockwellian?) version in my head of her doing Christmasy things. Everything turning out beautifully, with ease, and if it doesn’t everyone has a good laugh and a beer over it, no face covered in flour and butter and sweat, great house flawlessly decorated, except for the adorably lopsided knick-knacks made by the awesome fruit of her attractive loins.
Now, we can all agree that this is an unrealistic depiction of anyone’s life in the long term, superhero or no. Anyone can manage it for a day, that perfection, but it’s impossible to do it all the time. Unless you’re Martha Stewart, and I feel like she may snap one day and blow up a bunch of craft stores or something. We never see the icky bits of other people’s day, do we? The spats with the partner, the piles of dirty laundry, the monumental effort it takes not to scream at the kids, the headaches, the dog shitting on the rug, the leak in the basement. Social media has made these blind spots bigger. Because we don’t have to post anything but the best pictures and the cutest stories. I read an article last summer sometime, I think, about psychologists identifying a new type of depression that’s specifically tied to envying other people’s lives on social media and, conversely, trying to depict one’s own life in a certain way on social media and not feeling that it’s good enough. Oh, how far we’ve come.
Thinking about Jess’s cookie comment for the last few days has made me feel like a pretty tremendous asshole. Not because of what she said, but because of my own assumptions about what her life must be like. Wonderful, sure, but in my head I edited out all the realism, cleaned it up, took out the hard parts and the tears. This could be dangerous. What if she, or any other friend, came to me because they were having a hard time or a going through a rough situation? Just hypothetically? Because I’ve got this idealistic nonsense bumping around masquerading as reality, I might proceed as though whatever problem is less than it actually is because either A) all the other awesome in her life will balance it out or B) she’s awesome enough to handle it well and doesn’t really need my help because I am, provably, a loser. Both of these are unfounded, dismissive, asshole maneuvers. Am I less likely to think those things because I’ve gone through all of this in my head already? Sure, but it scares me that it’s something I may do without thinking, or that I could have ever done it in the first place. And these are people I’ve known for years and love dearly. I fucking know better. What assumptions and preconceived notions do I have about other people? Groups of people? Anonymous or faceless or voiceless people?
I bring all this up for a reason. I’m not just kissing my friend’s ass or airing my latent jealousy. As you know, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I do not need yet another vector for failure. But this week is my three-year Blogiversary so I figure it’s as good an excuse as any to set myself a new writing goal. If it carries over into my real life, all the better, we all win.
I’d like to rely less on assumptions. I’d like to learn how and when to ask the right questions, rather than jumping ahead based on what I think the answer is. I’d like to get better at recognizing when my arguments are fallacious or unfounded or circular. I’d like to make fewer overgeneralizations. I’d like to stop lumping things together and pigeonholing without evidence. I’d like to be more careful when I’m being critical, more considerate when being analytical.
I’ve been writing these posts for three years. Sometimes I feel like I’ve done excellent work and sometimes I feel like the hackiest hack to ever hack. I think both are true, but I think I can do better. We can always do better. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to figure people out because I genuinely do not understand their behavior. I can’t grok quite a bit of what is considered “normal.” I have these questions that seem unanswerable because I don’t get the basic mechanics of how a lot of people think. Sometimes I feel like I’m stumbling along with bad directions, a colorblind kid trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube.
A while ago, my mother-in-law told The Husband that she thought she made a mistake in not teaching him to want stuff enough. That it made it hard for him to relate to people. I disagree that it was a mistake, but agree that he has a hard time understanding other humans. But I feel like that’s an advantage in a lot of ways. Similarly, I was never really taught how to fit in with people, how to adapt or camouflage myself. And while I try to be a strict follower of Wheaton’s Law and strive to solve every problem first with kindness, I tend to ignore things I don’t understand which has made me dismissive at times. I have a history of running roughshod over people’s feelings and not realizing until it’s too late. I can be harsh, inconsiderate, selfish.
Some of you are going to read this and tell me not to be so tough on myself. I will take that under advisement. Meanwhile, I hope that I can improve both my writing and my brain function, and possibly my limited interpersonal skills, by making these small changes in how I approach the world. I predict that I will often come across as befuddled, if I don’t already. I don’t really know.