Pre-coffee: I am easily endeared

I’ve recently come to terms with my impossible-to-kick propensity for projecting onto strangers. It’s just a thing I do. And I do it with a confidence that is pretty unreasonable, by any standards. Is it fair to the people I observe? Often, no. My perception is dependent on countless variables, very few of them being controllable by either myself or the person in question. Chance! It is what life is all about. But many times, the portraits I blindly paint of strangers end up sympathetic and even affectionate. My last blog post, admittedly, was not a great example of this – it was a prime example of my ability to project, but she was unlucky enough to land on the negative end of my Spectrum of Bus Strangers. Today, we will explore the other end. Is your heart ready to be warmed this crisp September afternoon? Because I’m not into guarantees.

Over the course of the summer, I grew very fond of a mother-son pair across the aisle from me. She had an accent – something Eastern European – and cropped brown hair, a kind face. More often than not, she was wearing a cardigan. I never saw her without a crossword puzzle in her lap, which I liked. Her young son, probably ten years old, usually elected to sit in the seat behind her with his clunky, slate gray laptop. He held it like he’d never owned anything more precious. The reflections of light in his wire-frame glasses sometimes obscured his eyes, but never his quiet excitement. One morning, I overheard a conversation between the mother and our bus driver (this was an exceptionally personable bus driver, and he reminded me of a train conductor from the fifties) – she explained that her son was attending computer camp at my university. As if a kid at computer camp isn’t sweet enough, I immediately thought of the woman’s love for her boy. She took the bus into the city with him every weekday for at least a month, presumably dropped him off at his class and waited for him to be done, and then accompanied him on the peak-traffic bus ride home. This gave me a lot of feelings. Her supportiveness. Her sacrifice of summer days. Her dedication to making sure her kid got to do something he loved. Oh, my heart. Seldom does a pair of strangers strike me with such poignancy. Devoted parents everywhere: I admire and appreciate you on the highest possible level.

There was also the Animated Phone Conversation Lady. On any other day, I would have been irritated out of my mind with this woman. Her voice was loud and gruff in a chainsmoker kind of way, and she made clear her impatience with the person on the other end of the line. But for reasons I do not remember, I was in a very good mood that day. I paused my music just in time to hear her snap “she!!! is going!!! to lunch!!! with PATRICK!!! at noon!!!” Her anger was somehow good-humored, which sounds impossible but I can assure you it is not. I loved having no context for this conversation. Earlier, she had identified Lunch Date Patrick as “that freaky fucker” and I was automatically endeared to her. One communication disaster blurred into another as she left her daughter a voicemail, calling the girl’s father by the wrong name and correcting herself a second later. “Hah, oh my god, I promise I know who your dad is.” By the end of that call I think she’d noticed my attentiveness and laughed as she explained her state of mind as “pre-coffee.” I stifled an “I love you, who are you” and simply told her I was familiar with that feeling. I hope she got her coffee. And I hope Patrick lives up to that nickname, even though I’m not sure what that would entail.

Honorable mentions include the edgy guy self-diagnosing on WebMD; the scraggly, white-haired old man with a cane, his dog, and the fresh-faced girl the dog nuzzled into with a sweetness and familiarity only achievable by mangy dogs; the frazzled new bus driver with dark eyes, cracking jokes about how he preferred driving semis cross-country over this shit; the toddler who defiantly held a Starburst over a crack between seats as her mom warned “don’t you do that! ohhhh, don’t you do that!” – and then she dropped it; the man with the freckles and a baseball cap who described the Seattle summers of ’59 and ’71 as “sunny, but not this kind of heat”; and finally, the driver who tossed his trash into the little bucket at the front of the bus with such accuracy that I knew he must have done it a billion times before.

I love people. I really do.

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Edit.

I’ve always counted “editing” among my most-developed talents, along with things like “alphabetizing books” and “eating entire pizzas by myself” (obviously I’m a pretty well-rounded person). I actually enjoy editing essays and stories – anything written, really – and I honestly couldn’t tell you why, because I’m not one of those people who’s like I’M RIGHT all the time. I like to think I possess at least a little humility. But nonetheless, I get kind of excited when I receive a stack of crisp, white paper on my desk with a sticky note on top, reading “HEY I love you you’re the best can you pretty please edit my paper if you have the time? Love, (roommate’s name here).” I’m crazy, I know.

Pictures are another thing I love to edit. Nothing too fancy – I ditched the fake sunspots and color isolation a long time ago – but there is something so satisfying about taking a picture and then adjusting the brightness and colors until it is exactly as beautiful as it was in my mind, the moment my eyes took it in. 

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

You’re probably like alright, alright, get to the point. I edit essays. I edit pictures. I edit people.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about fixing other humans – that’s not my place. I also do not mean that people aren’t good enough for me, or aren’t living up to my standards. If I ever end up on that high of a horse, I would like someone to promptly knock me to the ground. What do I mean, then? I think in recent years (possibly even months), I’ve realized how incredibly idealistic I am. I thought I was practical, through and through – not the case, much to my surprise. I meet people, I create an image of them, I ignore certain things if I like the person enough. I assign them traits, lifestyles, habits – thanks, overactive imagination. I make them fit, all nice and tidy, into my life. How convenient, right? Not so.

To a reasonable extent, I absolutely support having your head in the clouds. It’s fun. But people are not characters in a novel. Of course I try to imagine them complexly, but in the end I am simplifying them, flattening them, editing them. Basically, partaking in this seemingly harmless exercise puts limits on who people can be AND how I/we/you can interpret them. Like, pieces of me totally contradict other pieces – I don’t make sense, and neither does anyone else. I’m just starting to see how unfair it is to “create” someone and have expectations before they even have the chance to show me the many amazing, unpredictable, unexpected facets of who they are. Maybe they won’t fit into the box I’ve built, but I don’t want my life to be neatly organized in boxes anyway – I’d rather have everything scattered everywhere (like my bedroom).

Here’s to not editing people. They don’t need my rewrites.

But here’s to editing papers like a total maniac.

Somethin’ Stupid

I really hate feeling stupid.

It’s kind of always been a problem, but it would suffice to say being surrounded by intellectual and driven college students has done a decent job of amplifying that fear. See, I’m just not one of those people who likes to puff out my chest and draw myself to my full height when I know something someone else doesn’t- not saying that makes me a better person in any respect, it’s just a big personality difference. A personality difference I have encountered a lot in my life.

I think it’s necessary to insert a little disclaimer before I get too far into this, just so the point isn’t mistaken: I’m not asking for pity. I hate pity. I’m not whining either… hate that too. Wow, I kind of hate everything.

Anyway, I know I’m not the only person in this world who hates feeling stupid, yet feels stupid, like, all the time. Also, I know we (the people who hate feeling stupid, yet feel stupid, like, all the time) are not actually stupid. We are damn smart. Yeah, we aren’t experts in every possible field- I only consider myself an expert in Disney theme parks, flossing, and avoiding vegetables- but seriously… who is? I’ll answer that for you: nobody. We just live with people who know different things than we do (like the unit circle and James Bond movies). But it’s important to remember that we know different things than they do, too; no one is inferior, no one is superior.

Of course, it isn’t easy to see the world that way. Discussing with someone a topic I don’t know much about… yeah, it’s in my nature to feel belittled. That’s when I kind of shrink into myself, like a timid little turtle, as sad as that picture is. Where some people would throw a punch or feign knowledge, I let myself feel small. Which is bad. And no one should do that.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: the two “personalities” I mentioned earlier have to be aware of each other. The people who are more eager to share their knowledge/opinions have to be careful not to do so in a pretentious or disparaging way, and the people who feel stupid, myself in particular, have to suck it up a little. Maybe everyone feels stupid, and we all just deal with it in different ways.

A thought I will leave you all with: it’s stupid to let someone make you feel stupid. So don’t do it.

I will also leave you with a song I’ve been enjoying a lot a lot a lot lately, because I’m nice.