Surviving BarCamp 2011

“What are you doing today?”

“Going to BarCamp.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s basically a day of douchebaggery and business card distribution, thinly disguised as a day of informative seminars.”

As you may have guessed, I was less than enthused about the idea of spending my Saturday attempting to mingle with people I’d never met. Three years of working from home has made me weird(er), and I wasn’t much of a mingler in the first place. Thus, the idea of being thrown into a room of total strangers and expected to mingle is right up there with “mow the lawn” and “go to baby shower” on the list of things I would rather not do.

I went because I have finally realized that working by yourself at home is perhaps not the best way to stay on top of what people are talking about. Yes, there’s twitter. There are blogs. But neither of those involve BEER, so I went to BarCamp. If nothing else, I would suck it up and perhaps learn how to mingle. Or at least watch successful minglers (aka “marketing people”) in their natural habitat. As I often do, I psyched myself up in order to develop a positive attitude:

“It’ll be like Big Cat Diary. In your head, you can narrate in a British accent. If all else fails, you can do what all other socially awkward people do: you can mess around with your phone and pretend it’s the most interesting thing ever.”

I ended up being pleasantly surprised. While not all of the panels I went to ended up being super exciting, I did actually end up meeting some cool people. I had some very pleasant and non-fake feeling conversations. Yes, I gave out my business card to a few people, but all but one of those people asked for said card. I tend to get into a conversation and completely forget to even OFFER the card, being too distracted by whatever’s being said and the general sensory overload of being in a room full of people.

I ran into a couple of people I know from the coffee shop, one guy I dated for a while and a couple of people I know from Twitter. The surprisingly pleasant day was topped off at the after party, held in a karaoke bar. When one fellow got on stage to sing “Purple Rain,” the initial crowd response was, “hey, he’s actually pretty good.” By the time the guy on stage was hitting the super-high notes at the end, the reaction had grown into “stunned, awed silence.”

“That’s the guy who played guitar for Prince in the 80s!”

“That’s Dez Dickerson?!”

(Of COURSE I knew the guy’s name. Are you new here?)

After he was done singing, I went over and showed him the pictures inside the locket I always wear. Purple Rain-era Prince on the right, Morris Day on the left.

I survived mingling, and I’m glad I didn’t peace out early. I believe this BarCamp thing will have to happen again.

Little Boxes, Day Two: Norse Mythology

The last six months have been difficult ones without much comeuppance for the people who have hurt me. Many of these people have been guys. In fact, the drama got so bad that I swore off (until 2011) any kind of activity that wouldn’t be approved by a Sunday school teacher. The idea was this: if any guys decided to walk away without warning, it would hurt less. For the record, I was right. It did hurt less. Even if most of why he walked away was because I wouldn’t get naked.

What about the others? They show up, they fuck up, they get deleted. There’s either not enough of a relationship happening to bother with closure or there’s too much anger at the time to be coherent. I’m cleaning out some little boxes of hard feelings and writing some letters. I thought you might want to come along. Why? Because people like drama, rumor mills need rumor facts, and sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is tell someone the truth. We all just find it easier to walk away, but that doesn’t do any good. Haven’t you ever wanted to call a potential employer and find out why you didn’t get the job? They’re always too nice to tell you. You just keep making the same mistakes.

This week, I care enough to tell you the truth. I take ownership of some blame. I let go of some little boxes.

———————————–

Dear Sir:

I think the only thing that kept me from saying truly horrible things about you is that I know I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You were a derailed train and I was a misplaced jogger. I wandered off and ended up directly in your path. It was a mistake.

You were a swirling mass of pain. You pretended to be okay long enough to reel me in, but then our time together degenerated into nothing but booze and misunderstandings. I kept trying to be understood and kept failing. Runaway trains do not speak English. You couldn’t hear me trying to explain things to you because we have two different meanings for the same word. I kept yelling “hammer” and you kept handing me a socket wrench.

You said weird things, made me feel crazy, manipulated me and indicted me for crimes actually committed by your ex. All of that wasn’t even what made me angry. What made me angry was that I worried about you. I worried that you weren’t okay. I worried that the swirling eddy of pain was going to suck you down. I lost sleep. My back hurt all the time. I was never hungry. My teeth hurt all the time from being ground down whenever I was able to successfully drug myself enough to sleep. We were all scared that you were going to end up killing yourself and there was nothing we could do.

What made me angry was, for all of that concern, you had no discernible concern for me or anyone else. I was going through Hell at work and you didn’t care. You wouldn’t listen. The world was slowly snapping me in half and you didn’t have more than 10 seconds to spare before interrupting me. I couldn’t help you and you couldn’t stop cutting little slices out of me. By the time you’d left, I was calling hotlines just so I could say horrible things and only a stranger would know. The only alternative was to remove you and walk away.

I didn’t write you off and walk away as quickly as I should have because I was trying to at least remain friends. Part of me was doing so because I legitimately wanted to be your friend; part of me was just doing it to keep life non-dramatic for mutual friends. Trying to keep life pleasant and non-weird. Even now, I know that we’ll eventually end up sitting across from each other at some dinner or seeing each other at some party. We’ll have to know how to be nice. I just had to get you back across the moat where you could no longer hurt me. I had to not care about anything you said. I eventually got there.

I don’t hate you and I’m not mad at you because I understand that thing about the runaway train. You may think I magically turned your friends against you. Even if I had that kind of power (and I do not), I wouldn’t have done that. With proper apologies, we’d all welcome you home. With proper apologies.

-Amy

Little Boxes, Day One: “Dude, Where’s My Retribution?”

If there is one phrase that I’ve gotten really damn sick of uttering to people in the last six months, it’s this one:

“Dude, I wouldn’t do that to you.”

In other words, somebody does something semi fucked-up to you and, when the other person doesn’t understand why you’re angry with them, you explain how they made you feel and have to point out that you wouldn’t have done something like that to them. Please note that I used the phrase semi fucked up. Truly, deeply fucked up actions result in immediate and permanent deletion. Sometimes you just say, “there is nothing good that can come from having this person in my life” and move along.

I’m sick of people treating me like my feelings don’t matter and then just having to walk away from the whole thing. I mean, what’s the alternative? Write them a well thought-out email about how they hurt my feelings? Well, we’ve already established that said person doesn’t really care about my feelings; what would be the point of letting them know they hurt me? Maybe I could could write something down about how much I hate them? Well, all that accomplishes is releasing more shit into the world and opening up myself to a possible reply from that person which would probably just make things worse. I guess you can always beat the hell out of somebody, but that’s also bad karma and a good way to end up in jail.

What’s a girl to do? If the problem can’t be worked out or the crime is really heinous, I usually just walk away. I thought this was a pretty effective, simple and dignified way to handle things. As it turns out, it just boxes up the problems. Seals them up with packing tape and then they just sit there. You want to ignore them, but there are your feelings, all boxed up and still just as they were when you put them there. Maybe a little skinnier and paler, but there they are. The other person gets to go on, and you end up with all these damn boxes.

There’s no retribution.
There should be.

The person who hurt you is never made to answer for what they did. You get to lie there metaphorically bleeding and they just get to walk away like nothing happened and keep behaving in whatever fucked-up way they choose. They’ll hurt more people and then, when people start to catch on to them, they’ll just move to a new city and start over. Like serial killers.

Usually, I just have to comfort myself with, “the life that he/she is headed for with that kind of behavior is far, far worse than anything I can deal out.” It’s true, but it’s cold comfort when all you really want is five minutes and a pair of steel-toed boots.

For example, when a pack of douchebags laid me off six days before I was supposed to close on my house, I wanted to key their cars so badly. SO. BADLY. Instead, I thought “the way you operate is going to bite you in the ass eventually, and that’d be way better.” I left their cars alone. That business eventually ended up having to cut 70% of its staff. What’s left of the company is a laughable shadow of what it could have been.

I’ll admit that, because I am a flawed person, I really enjoy the fact that everyone in town is slowly realizing that those guys are douchebags. However, the little box of anger is still there. It’s not like keying their cars or beating them up would get rid of the box of anger. I could focus on how I ended up doing just fine without them. I could remind myself that everybody else from the company got laid off later, in the middle of the recession. But nothing makes the box go away.

Have we all become so afraid of consequences that we’re afraid to call people out on their bad behavior? Is there no come-uppance anymore? Is everyone content to just become sort of passive-aggressive? Or is just walking away the more mature, adult thing to do?

No, really. I’m asking. I need answers.

Living on Marshmallows

Nothing slaps me in the face like someone implying that I have been shoved into the borderlands, the arm’s-length conversation. The weather. Talking about the weather is the Monet print of conversation: palatable to everyone, but completely devoid of any meaning.

These are the conversations we have with strangers. We don’t want to say the wrong thing to someone we don’t really know, and we don’t want to commit any party fouls. We keep things light, inoffensive and non-committal. We talk about weather, tv, music and movies. We most certainly do not talk about politics, religion or the things that have hurt us. It’s our way of keeping polite society and not running around pissing people off 24/7.

The trouble arises when we treat our friends this way. I have had, and know people who have had, friendships based on little more than drinking, playing video games or watching football. I have no problem with those activities, but asking someone to survive solely on those things is like asking someone to live on marshmallows and Pop Tarts. Technically, you could do it…but you’d puke a lot and look like hell. One day, football season ends, the friendship’s basis is gone, and you feel lonely and like you’ve wasted your time. One day, you realize that you’re surrounded by people yet all alone.

I’ve been spoiled.
My friends actually TALK to me.

The communication between two people who have each decided to let the other in is so much more rewarding. You can exchange ideas that might make you think for more than two seconds. Someone brings up a topic, and it gets you thinking for a couple of days. You don’t get that when you talk about the weather. Talking about the weather is like someone saying, “I don’t want you in my brain.” My gut reaction is to be hurt. Not wanting me in your brain implies that you think I’d do something horrible in there, which implies that you think I might be a horrible person. It also implies that you don’t want to be in my brain, which makes me think that you just don’t particularly care about anything I think. If that’s how things are going to go, I tell you this: our lives are too short for that.

I do not wish to live on marshmallows.

Timbre

He’s leaning out of his chair sideways, slowly making his way to having his head down by the floor. This is odd, since office chairs weren’t built for this kind of activity, he’s a rather tall fellow and probably hadn’t been called upon to be that flexible in some time.

“Um…what are you…?”

“I’m trying to see where you’re looking, because it’s not at me.”

No one likes a smartass psychiatrist.

It’s not that I’m not listening, or that I’m lying to you or somehow not interested in whatever you’re saying or doing. It’s mostly that there’s a LOT of stuff to look at in any given room and I’m taking it all in. The smell of the room, the things in the room, whether one of the chair legs is nicked. My eyes are taking in the weave of the rug pattern and trying to make it make sense. If we’re standing, you’re probably not in my eye line anyway. Unless your name is Frodo.

I never even realize that I’m doing this until hours later, at which time I yell at myself for not making better eye contact. “Amy, other people think you’re disinterested or lying when you do that.” “I know! I can’t help it.” (Self and I have similar discussions about interrupting people. We’re also working on that. We do not mean to be assholes.)

My shrink accused me of having some kind of “intimacy issues.” I really did give that possibility some thought. I mean, he’s a doctor and everything, but I think he’s wrong. I don’t care if you know everything I’m thinking. Hell, ask something. I’ll tell you. It’s just words coming out of my head. I do it on the internet all the time. I don’t secretly think that I’m a terrible person. I’m not plotting much of anything. Well, ok, there may be some light plotting, but I promise it’s all for the common good.

What’s the problem? Why will it take months for me to reliably LOOK at you?

Part of it is because, when I look at you, I am REALLY looking at you. It feels terribly personal, and I don’t want to invade your personal space before I’m allowed to. Part of it is because, while I’ll tell you anything, I can’t always do it while LOOKING at you. Part of it (a big part) is just habit. I used to be terribly shy, terribly nerdy, little, awkward, pale and usually had my nose stuck in some dorky non-fiction book about fashion, music or European history. I didn’t get teased much because I was good at hiding.

I’m still a lot of those things, but I just don’t care anymore. The stuff in me that I don’t want you to see isn’t something horrible like “I’m secretly a murderer.” It’s stupid stuff we’ve already discussed: panic/anxiety disorder, neurosis, the occasional insanely bitchy thought, and a speech impediment that I could totally tame if I would just not talk so quickly.

I guess sometimes the lack of eye contact is shyness. Or that eye contact feels too intimate to do someone else’s husband or boyfriend. Or that I don’t know you well enough to let you wrap around my spine like that. People who wrap around your spine can hurt you, ripping that spine out like a pull on a zip car.

Not that I get protected much on that last one. You can not look at someone all day and still end up missing the way they smell or what their voice sounds like. Or the thing they do with their hands when they listen to music while driving. Or the way that one piece of hair curls. That one dimple. An ear lobe. An oft-worn bracelet. Every loved person isn’t just a pair of eyes; everyone I love is a puzzle of up-close pictures, but I still know what color everybody’s eyes are.

Schadenfreude Casserole

When everybody says no, no, no
Well it’s your misfortune and none of my own
Wrong, wrong, wrong
Well it’s your misfortune that sweetens my song
-Mike Doughty, “Your Misfortune”

I don’t understand the concept of keeping one’s problems and past difficulties all to oneself. I also don’t understand how “oneself” is actually a word, but there it is. I think that people’s past troubles and painful things makes them interesting, human, and understandable. Somebody trying to control you? Probably because they don’t feel very in control of their own life. It doesn’t excuse the controlling behavior, but it makes you more able to address it in a helpful way as opposed to a “fuck you” way.

Having someone tell you about the stuff that hurts them kind of forces the other person to let you over the little moat that they’ve built around themselves. It’s a sign that they trust you enough to feel like they don’t have to put on the glossy party mask for you. Instead of “fine, and you?” you get, “well, here’s what’s really going on.” It’s so much more useful, and it elevates conversation into an actual bonding experience rather than just a way to fling words at each other in some attempt to reassure ourselves that we really are “fine…and you?” People are not game show hosts and should not be expected to be happy all the time.

Granted, we all know that one person who seems to always be in a constant state of OMGWTFBBQ. I call those people “chaos magnets,” and I’m not talking about them here. As we’ve all learned, the best way to handle a chaos magnet is similar to how most of us handle a homeless person. Be nice, maybe help a little, then get out of there. Only through societal censure can society police its members. In other words, after a few people bolt for the door, the chaos magnets start to get the hint and start getting their shit together.

The people I am talking about are one’s friends, parents, and significant others. You’d be amazed at how much you can learn about a person’s motivations just by asking them what their most painful experience has been. It’s the things that hurt us that make us evolve as people. The joy just makes us want to tough out life long enough to keep learning. Pain is the broccoli, joy is the cheese sauce. Yeah, boyeee…it’s a vegetable metaphor.

There’s also a new post at Kill The Radio Star.