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November 3, 2007


My close friends and I have a weird joke, one of those things that somehow always makes us laugh ... raise that hand up front and center and yell "Check, please!"

It's from a movie, Being John Malkovich, in the scene where the two characters played by Catherine Keener and John Cusak are having dinner. She asks him what he does for a living and he says, "I'm a puppeteer."

She immediately raises her hand for the waiter and says, "Check, please!"

We use this joke all the time when things get weird. You're talking about a date that went wrong, or this horrible job interview, or the time your car accidentally ran into a Volvo... raise that hand and say "Check, please!" like you just want to get a move on, get the hell outta Dodge.

I always wanted to be someone who could dismiss things so quickly, who could just shrug, raise a hand, say, "check, please!"

- - -

I can feel myself getting better at some things, slowly feeling more comfortable doing things which once seemed impossible and in other ways all this new stuff I'm doing brings up new issues, too. That's life, isn't it? The main reason I hid myself away, stayed in my house, stopped trying new things and stopped taking risks was that I needed to retreat from the unknown. At that time, just being all-the-sudden single and broke and broken was enough change. I needed my world to be very small, controlled, quiet.

But another reason that hiding and becoming a hermit worked for me was that it felt safe and I wasn't having to expose myself to judgment. Anytime you try something new or make a change or come out of your shell or especially put yourself on display (at a bar, at a party, work event, book signing, all of it is the same risk) deep inside there is a voice wondering what will people think? There have been times in my life that I didn't do things because I knew (or assumed, or expected) I would be judged harshly for them.

It's one of the reasons we don't take chances, try new things, change our lives (or change our hairstyle, even). We're just afraid of what people will say. More specifically - I was afraid of what people would say.

The biggest change happening in my life right now is not at all what I expected: I am having to give up on people pleasing. I am letting go of a part of my personality so deeply ingrained in me I thought it was impossible to change. But it is not impossible to change. The impossible never happens.

Every day I am actively having to let go the fear of being judged and found lacking. It's trial by fire, really, going from closely limited interactions with the world to suddenly interacting with strangers all day long. It's a much larger scope of being judged. And Lord, everyone has an opinion! I am learning finally that while of course everyone has an opinion (I myself have one or twenty-nine) it's the part inside me that has to change, the place always trying to be a pleaser, be pleasing, be good enough to some stranger, measure up to an opinion I can't even be sure of. It comes down to how well you know what is on the inside, and how much chatter you're willing to just let go of.

Imagine going from a life in which you speak to MAYBE three people a day -- on a busy day -- to a life in which complete strangers make ongoing assessments about your clothes, hair, makeup, accent, talent, height, weight ... all day long. It's perfectly normal to make assessments, we all do it, but finally what I am learning is that if I tried to please everyone I would be Britney shaving her head right about now.

And I think we are our own harshest critics because we know ourselves better than anyone else ever can know us, we are intimately associated with our broken and weak places. I have my flaws. But I like working through them, I like thinking that life is something that makes us better for having lived it and learned something. I don't talk about self-help because it's a topic, I really believe in self-help. I believe in making your own life changed. I believe anyone can grow at any age, I see it in my own parents who surprise me each day with the new things they're doing in life. Sometimes you make just the smallest change and it can ripple across your life, and I love that idea. I love that you can keep striving to be better, happier, more balanced and whole. It keeps me hopeful.

So I am changing. I'm trying so hard to just keep both feet very solidly in my own ground, the life of my own making, know my heart, know my own intentions, and let go of what other people think.

I see now that people will try to tell you who you are, or who they think you are, or ought to be. If you listen to enough people, they will all have different pictures. How can you be all those different viewpoints of yourself? You can't, pure and simple.

Sometimes I feel like God/The Universe/The Cannoli is testing me, then giving me little hints. For example, in a ten-minute period on Thursday night, a woman I know tangentially informed me that my book was "hokey." She used that exact word. "I could tell your publishing house does the Chicken Soup For The Soul books," she said. "I could really see the hokey parts, parts that were so cheesy."

I stared at her, perplexed about how to respond to that. Dear God Universe Cannoli, a little help please?

A few minutes later, another woman in my knitting group hugged me and told me she was so proud of me, that she'd read the book and loved it. I breathed, exhaled, thank you. It's as if some unseen hand is letting me choose which viewpoint will be the one I focus on, both of them exist: One telling me I suck, I'm hokey, I'm a cheeseball bad writer. The other saying thank you, I'm proud of you.

- - -

The strangest thing happened to me in Nashville. I sat in the airport O'Charleys having a beer and waiting for my plane to come and I just started crying. In public. It was the end of the most busy and stressful month of my entire life and I think I took a moment to think about it and I sighed and it was almost like a reflex in my body and I started crying. Luckily it was just the little cry, not the ugly cry and my back was to the restaurant and I was staring at the wall and it just hit me.

There is nothing like having a breakdown in an airport restaurant to make you feel sane, balanced and full to the top with self help (so much that it overflows in the eyeball area.)

Part of it was just finally un-tensing, I think. And part of it was wanting to go home, to a place I love so much that it is what I refer to as my most enduring relationship. I can blame it on being tired, or in emotional overdrive, or that I finally realized so clearly that everyone I knew growing up is now married with children. Understanding finally what a strange, colorful, long road I am choosing. I love it, am blessed, love my new life, but it is still new and the old pictures you held for yourself (and the pictures people want to put upon you) aren't always in harmony. Sometimes you need a minute to adjust.

And at the signing in Nashville a lady approached me toward the end of the evening and informed me in no uncertain terms that I did not have a Southern accent at all, she could just hear the California. (Just two days earlier a woman in Peoria had mentioned she could barely understand me through my thick Southern accent.) I sat there for a second, not sure what to say. It sounded like an accusation, almost, and I wanted to apologize, am I not Southern enough, not this enough? Not that enough? All those automatic people-pleasing feelings rose to the very top, feeling like whatever way I talk is wrong. I took voice and diction for years to lessen my accent because I was determined to "talk normal." And here it was all over again, right in my face, never being good enough.

That was the exact moment it dawned on me that I am never going to please everyone. End of story. No discussion. NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. It was like a lightening bolt, the proverbial "a-ha!" moment, as if I had been trapped inside a darkened room for thirty-six years and all the sudden I opened the door and walked outside. GIVE IT UP, LAURIE. YOU WILL NEVER EVER PLEASE THEM ALL.

So I just laughed. I laughed. I shrugged, made a joke about saying "fer shure" all Valley Girl style, and I signed her book. I decided in my own heart that she was just making conversation, and observing some "hey dude" in the twang (I have lived in surfer-dude-valley-girl land for 15 years you know, it better have sunk in by now! Like totally!) and then I do believe I may have hugged her. Or maybe I just wanted to hug her, I can't remember. All I know is that in that moment I had to make a decision -- choose to believe she was judging me and I had not measured up, or choose to believe she was just making chitchat and it honestly does not matter if I measure up to anyone anywhere except myself.

I chose the latter, and I am SO FREAKING GLAD she came to that event or I would never have been given that one illuminating moment. No one can tell you who you are. And even if someone says something about you ... you don't die. It doesn't make you less-than. You can laugh, you get to decide how to take that comment. You get to let go of it. It's a decision.

That's the key, isn't it? There is so much I want to do in my life, I feel like I've been given a second chance. All these ideas take me way outside all my comfort zones but I want so badly to see just what I am capable of. Can I play tennis? Maybe I would be good at Pilates? Maybe I can write a fiction book, maybe it could be really good. Maybe I like hokey cheeseball self-help and maybe that is my thing. Maybe I can be the best damn hokey cheeseball author ever.

Each person takes risks differently, I guess. Mine seem so silly on paper, in words. Even my own judgment is exhausting.

- - -

So I am tired of worrying, tired of not being this enough and that enough, too much of this, talks to fast, too short, too fat, not polished enough, too much makeup, not enough lipstick. Wear black to hide stains! Wear colors, because you have on too much black! Talk slower, talk faster! It is impossible to make everyone happy. So I am letting it go. After all, the impossible never happens. It's a waste of time to bother with it.

God, I love that feeling of letting it go, even if it causes you to leak tears in the airport, even if it causes you moments of panic, even if it does feel like a change you never thought you could make. I'm sure there will be more moments when I have to remind myself all over again to just freaking let it go. But now I finally understand how to do it, even if it isn't habitual (yet) or in my nature (yet.)

Let go of the negative things, let go of not measuring up... because if your hands are holding onto the judgment, they can never be full up with the hokey, cheesy good parts. And there are so many good parts to focus on! The face of each person I meet who gave me their time, who smiled, finally putting faces to names! Remember that one time they laughed, the one time I got to hug someone who needed a hug, the time Liz chatted with me before I had to go on stage and she calmed me down, just talking about cats. The Wisconsin cheese-shaped erasers. Houston ladies, all of them. Seeing high school friends and college friends and my family. Leaving the damn house! Seeing new cities, rolling my little black carry-on bag through an airport like I mean business. Getting ready for Miami, excited. It is very exciting, all of it, even the scary parts.

Yes, it is so much better than trying to please everyone. Because I got that memo, it is never ever going to happen. NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. I am just fine with that.

You know how this one ends, because I am proudly cheesy and hokey that way....


Posted by laurie at November 3, 2007 11:28 AM