« I do believe I have an account here. And a savings account. And a certificate of deposit. | Main | Harry Dupree »

February 27, 2008

The Brick Wall Theory

The picture of the Liquor Bank prompted a slew (slew! a word so underused!) of emails from kind, caring readers who emphatically suggested/declared/empathized with what they see as my binge drinking/addiction to alcohol/insidious disease and they equally emphatically let me know I should immediately join a 12 step program/return to Christ/check into rehab.

I assure you I do have a problem, but the intervention was needed weeks ago and it was with those DAMN CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES from Whole Foods. Finally one day in what can only be described as a flash of illumination in the addict haze I realized I could simply stop buying the truffles thereby avoiding having them inside the house and, by proxy, inside my mouth.

It was a shaky few days and there were definite signs of withdrawal. But then I went on vacation and detoxed on pasta.

- - -

I get a tremendous amount of email like that and I almost always try to ignore it and don't mention it ("what you focus on expands" sayeth Oprah), though I am certain it's partially to blame for my glacially slow progress on fixing my many email problems. Email just seems so judgmental.

The only reason I'm even addressing it this time is because I have been thinking a lot lately about who we are, and how people see us, and how that changes the choices you make ... if you let it. Been thinking about how folks get a picture in their head of a person and when they discover anything that doesn't fit the predetermined picture it just shocks the pants right off them. Been wondering if I would have made the same choices when I was younger if I had cared a just a little less what people would think of me.

The older I get the less invested I am in what anyone else thinks of me, and not coincidentally I get more me everyday.

The Brick Wall Theory

In my college biology class I was bored and underwhelmed and had three hours twice a week to sit in a wooden chair and daydream. That was when I developed a theory about relationships. It became a pretty robust theory and I called it "The Brick Wall." (By the way, I am FULL of theories. My friends have to hear my theories on everything, it is really funny. They sometimes throw things at me.)

So, anyway, at age 19 it seemed to me that men came at a new relationship with a woman as if she were this cute, adorable, perfect little brick wall. But then the guy would discover some flaw and whoops, take out one brick. Or maybe he finds out she is grumpy in the morning. There goes a brick. She's jealous about his ex-girlfriend calling night and day? There goes another brick. Maybe two. And before long, this perfect woman he's met is just another partially exposed pile of bricks and not the delightful picture of completion he expected. She's a big messy pile of bricks and he goes looking for a new, perfect brick wall and the cycle starts all over again.

In the Theory, women come at it a different way -- not better or worse, just different. Women start with one brick: A man. They get a brick each time they find out something new about him (likes animals: add one brick, good kisser: brick, calls the day after the first date: six bricks...) and so on. Before long she is putting together a picture of this man, assembling her brick wall of him out of the things she's uncovering. And here is the key to my teenage mind's theory: when there are big open spaces in the brick wall, the woman will use her willpower and love to fill in the gaps. Sometimes this holds that brick wall together for a long while. But if the gaps are filled in with her personal mortar of love (instead of real bricks from him) the whole thing just collapses. And just like the guy, she finds herself staring at a big pile of bricks.

(Also, it is possible I was deep in my existential literature classes at the time, duly noted.)

I didn't draw a final conclusion from my old Brick Wall Theory. It was just a way of explaining how I thought men and women approached romantic love differently. Gave me something to think about while staring out the window in Biology class.

Now that I am much older and many bricks along, I think my theory was a pretty accurate one in some ways. Sometimes I feel like my life is just one big classroom full of what I fondly call AFGOs. (That stands for Another F***ing Growth Opportunity.) (I am also very classy.) Learning about perception was the class I took in 2007. I woke up, showed up for life, and got a big lesson in bricks. For one thing, nothing exposes you to "input" faster than putting a piece of your life out to the public. And then meeting said public. I wouldn't change it for the world, because it is how I developed my Bricks Don't Float theory.

Bricks Do Not Float

* Also, note to self: develop catchier name for theory

Bricks don't float. When you are flowing down the river of your life and you reach out for bricks, you will slow the flow and get to see a whole lot less of your river in your lifetime. If people are always throwing bricks in your river, and you see those bricks and start gathering them and holding on to them and keeping all those random, mismatched bricks other people throw at you, you will again slow down and maybe even stop and you'll be stuck in the same stagnant pool of water for a really long time.

But bricks happen. People will try to tell you who you are everyday and twice on Sunday. If you just ignore the bricks, let them sink to the bottom, you can keep going with the flow of your life. Keep moving on up, along, forward. Sometimes the bricks hurt and you may pause for a moment, but then you let go of it, drop that brick and just keep going.

Do you also see now why my friends JUST LOVE ALL MY THEORIES? They are all equally cheesified. Remind me to tell you my Bumper Guy theory one day. It is delightful.

Anyway, bricks are your pre-conceived notions of a thing. Bricks are what you bring to the wall. They aren't what the wall brings. Maybe the wall wants to be made of stones. Or clay. Or maybe the damn wall wants to be a boat.

- - -

I used to meet people and learn about them and then unconsciously fill in the places where I didn't know stuff about them. I would bring my own perceptions to their table. For example, after being married for a while I would just assume to know what my ex-husband wanted for dinner or what kind of movies he'd prefer or whatever -- such mundane things -- but I believe this kind of familiarity and assumption prevents people from really seeing each other with fresh eyes. Letting each other grow, change and evolve. It's like that one relative in your family who knew you at age 13 and to him you are still the gangly, messy chatterbox 13-year-old and he can't move past his perception of you even though you are now the CEO of your own corporation.

Grandma did this to me a few months back. I was washing dishes in her kitchen and she said, "I have never seen one person change so much in my life!" and I said, "Who, Grandma?" Because, you know, this could be some juicy gossip! I wanted to hear who had changed!

And she said, "You! You used to be so messy and now every time you are over here you're washing dishes or scrubbing something. I have never seen anyone change so much and become so particular."

I sighed.

"Grandma, I was thirteen! I had a messy room when I was thirteen years old!" But she was already off in another room.

The truth is, it's hard to look at someone who is close to you, familiar to you, with new eyes every day and let them be .. whoever they want to be on that day. We put expectations on people. We bring our own life experience and social conditioning to their picture. I have done it. Used to do it daily. Without ever examining my thoughts, I just made assumptions about folks. Assumed I could trust someone even though maybe they can't keep secrets. Assumed someone was a peaceful, centered person when inside they were falling apart at the seams. Assumed someone liked green beans, or whatever. It was me projecting my stuff on them.

I think it's normal and everyone does it.

Having said that, it's liberating to let go of it. It's been the strangest sensation for me. I had to start letting go of my expectations for others because I saw how many people had ideas of me that were not just inaccurate, they were downright polar opposite. You could read every word I have ever written and not know with any real clarity what my political leanings are or what my religious beliefs are or what's happening in my personal life. I could be engaged and planning a wedding. I could be in love with a 19-year-old bag boy from Ralph's. I could be eschewing relationships altogether. (Eschewing, another totally underused word!) I could be moving to France. Or North Hollywood. Or calling a pet psychic named Daria.

Can you ever truly know another person?

Because I don't think you can. I think it is impossible to really ever know someone else all the way through, and amen for that. It sure makes life more surprising. The upside is all selfish, of course. Letting go of my need to have people fit my expectations has given me the chance to stop living up to anyone else's picture for me.

I have been learning that even if the assumptions a total stranger makes about me are false, that's okay. It's not my job to always defend myself or set the record straight, or share every detail, or tell all my juicy gossip. I never expected to be someone who lived any part of her life publicly and now I am, a little bit. So I have had my good days and my challenging days, and the good days far outnumber them. If I hadn't been challenged in this way I'm not sure I would have arrived where I am in my own personal life so quickly. You figure out who you are real quicklike if a hundred people are telling you who they think you are. I had no idea I would end up being so grateful for anyone being so off the plot.

Since I want people to let me be whatever I pick on that day, I have to do that for them. That is kind of the way it goes. I am learning to just let go of my assumptions and allow my friends and my family to be who they are. Allow the surprise. Stop being so full of assumptions. Stop assuming I can size folks up based on their footwear (I had an ENTIRE THEORY built on that alone). And it seems the more I focus on myself and my own stuff, the less I even notice other people's issues. It's a relief, actually. It's a nice break from all the judging I used to do.

- - -

So, for the record: no, I am not an alcoholic, I am not joining a 12-step program and you do not need to email me me again to let me know I enjoy the tipple, for I have already received that memo. In triplicate. Also, I live in Los Angeles for chrissakes, joining a 12-step program would help my career! But unless I get back on the truffles, I think I'm doing okay. I'm happy, my life is good, I'm making jokes about all this but truly I am grateful for your concern. I know it comes from a good place.

And I thank you for finally inspiring me to take action on my email issue and change my address and develop a system and all that. Thank you. I'll be doing that all weekend long.

And one last thing: whatever you do, STAY AWAY FROM THE TRUFFLES. They are lethal. I tell you what.

Posted by laurie at February 27, 2008 9:10 AM