So the other day, I walk into the break room at work, and find a group of already established friends sitting there talking. I sit down near them, because I am on friendly terms with a few of them, but we are probably not what you would call friends. They started talking about things I wasn’t familiar with and I was listening because I was curious, but I wasn’t sure what to say or how to say.
I used to be curious, super curious. I used to think that there was no such thing as a stupid question and would just ask, ask, ask. When I was younger, I read to learn things. I was an early advocate for using the internet to gain more information but before anyone could just regurgitate something they read on another unsubstantiated news page and when even internet articles had to site sources. I read and used the internet, because I learned early on, that while I wanted to learn and had loads of questions, sometimes my questions were considered combative or even just downright strange. I was not trying to begin any arguments, I would just want to see someone else’s side and would ask questions until I thought maybe I could understand. The other problem obviously being that people thought it was strange that I was asking these questions anyway.
Here is a good example: When I went to space camp (yes I did, yes I loved it, yes I would go back as an adult) I was stuck in a dorm with lots of other girls, my age and older. I have always been a low maintenance kind of gal. I woke up, I washed my hair, I brushed it, I put my trusty space camp hat on and that was it. The other girls would get up easily two or three hours earlier to wash, blow dry, curl and makeup before even stepping out of the room. I asked one girl whey she curled her hair, only to brush it all out again in the end, going from super made up, to a more casual pulled together look. She looked up at me with her large eyes and coyly said, “You’ll understand one day.” But I didn’t understand at the time. I mean, we were at space camp, simulated anti gravity and fake missions and putting on space suits!! Even now I don’t understand, I try to do as little as possible to get through the day and heaven forbid anyone run into me on a weekend. I would never, ever sacrifice sleep for my hair.
I spent so much of my youth reading and interacting online, when you can think and rethink all the lines out of a screen, that I wasn’t sure how to always interact with the people around me. The girls thought I was strange because by my thirteenth birthday, I still had not been kissed, while others had lost their virginities. And the strangest thing is when girls would pick on me for not getting the clothes right, and trying to “teach” me how to fix my hair and makeup, like a project, but when they were angry with me it was the first thing they attacked. They would give me gifts that they thought were hideous on purpose and then laugh when I showed them off. Unfortunately, when you live a small community where all the kids ride their bikes together and you’re the one being shunned because you don’t understand why they act certain ways, but you don’t care and they do, the thing I ended doing was hiding out the woods by myself, unable to even tell my parents that I had no friends.
I had mentioned before that I was reading Christopher Pike by 4th grade and moved up to Stephen King in middle school. I read about these amazingly fantastically strong women in extraordinary situations and I couldn’t even get through my weekends without wanting to break down. I watched Star Wars, Clash of the Titans, The Hobbit and I read these books about people accomplishing SO MUCH, and I would day dream all the time. Who knows, maybe if I set out on a hero’s journey I would have done well, except there were no hero journeys, just growing up. At this age, I already missed laying in the dirt playing G.I. Joes.
If I could have lived in a different world, where we all read books together and looked at the skies to learn astronomy, I would have been happier, but that’s not the real world. So much is about geography and I was stuck with some of these people. When I got older, these people felt I was stuck up and would sometimes become very hostile about this, another thing I never understood. What did I do to have such hateful things directed my way?
School wasn’t much better, sometimes I would ask questions because I really wanted to know the answer to things, and maybe I wasn’t smart enough to know to ask the teacher after class because How was I supposed to know that asking questions could be considered questioning authority? I was seriously thrown out of classes and even banned from a Sunday School class for this. Now I look back and realize they probably couldn’t answer my questions and I had one teacher accuse me of trying to make him look stupid. Honestly, though, at the time, I just didn’t know and I wanted to know things.
Even as I got older and moved from school into college, some professors loved the questions, but others, others saw it as a challenge. At one point I was seeing an academic advisor after questioning the validity of making me learn an entirely fake computer program that did not exist outside of the college campus to do all my homework on. I had a perfectly usable computer at home with programs that did the same thing, but the class only counted anything turned in on their specific program, which of course, everyone had to learn on their own time. The advisor explained that “College was not there to prepare people for the real world, but to create a more educated person.” This apparently included teaching an entire group of people to use an entirely useless program that no longer exists.
College moved into the work world where I would notice something questionable and would ask questions and then be pulled into a higher ups office to be told I didn’t know what I was looking at and to ignore it. But I DID know what I was looking at and I’m sorry that some felt that I didn’t have the necessary degrees to have an opinion but I do know common sense and I did know how to navigate DOS and my complaints were NOT off. But if I brought them up, then they would have to be addressed and some big wigs did not want to address them, but sweep them under the rug. The only silver lining in this was someone in another department who noticed that I was able to see and understand these who recruited me. I had some wonderful bosses who took the time to answer all my questions and foster that knowledge and educate me as far as I wanted to go. Then they left the company for more opportunity and I was stuck again with people who did not under any circumstances want me questioning anything.
So I moved offices and had to know a whole group of new people. I never understood how they viewed me until this past December when a few people said to me how “quiet” I was and how they did not know anything about me because of this. To me this was strange (and I had emailed Lela, who also thought this strange) because I feel I am pretty darn opinionated about certain things, though I also feel like I am willing to bend and compromise if someone takes the time to give me their point of view. I know I believe the things that I do and that does not make me right or someone else wrong. We all believe different things and all I ask that someone treat my thoughts and beliefs with respect and I will do the same to them.
I do make some very irreverent, off the cuff jokes sometimes, maybe even ones that may offend people, but I try to make them in front of people who understand it is just a joke and have a sense of humor. If I am unsure how people will take the comments, jokes or observations, I don’t say anything at all.
The thing about going into the lunch room, well I find it funny that at my age, I am still uncomfortable walking into a group of people. I know that even as a grown adult, I am nervous about meeting people’s parents, as I feel that I will be judged automatically. I am still afraid to say the things I want to because a lot of people don’t see people in shades of gray but see people as jerks or weird based on a few things they comment on. This is a world where I have to see these people more often than my own family and so I spend a lot of time thinking things in my head that never make it out in the open air. I know, I know, I shouldn’t care what they think, but sometimes it just makes things go smoother. I have been called may things over the years, quiet when I say nothing, a bitch when I give an opinion and weird when I ask questions.
In the end, I remember that while I may not work with them, I have some wonderful friends out there who love all parts of me and try to remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:
And most of what I think is people being confident, is really just faking it.