Dishing it out, ripping it up and taking it

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Lesson du jour: Never write anything down

I learned two things in junior high school that still come back to me in a flash, even as the middle-aged broad I am now:

  1. Never write anything down – at least nothing incriminating. I say I learned this, and I think of it all the time. But it does not always stop me from writing stuff down that I shouldn’t. I am writing here every day, and I am probably capturing stuff I shouldn’t.
  2. Everyone is insecure. This will drive each of us to do things we shouldn’t. Usually it plays out in my own life like so: a friend is devastated by life’s unfairness in some form or another; I heroically decide to take it upon myself to cheer them up; I do this by skewering the objects of the unfairness – usually in writing; someone else intervenes and decides to exploit the situation (and in doing so reveals their own mechanisms for dealing with their insecurities), and my written ‘therapies’ end up in the hands of these aforementioned ‘objects of unfairness’, exposing their insecurities.

Not to be oblique here. An example: It was junior high school (this will set the scene, of course, for how juvenile all of this is). My best friend was torn to pieces because her crush (let’s call him Kangaroo Racer) started dating (inasmuch as junior high kids ‘date’) a girl we already disliked (we shall call her Hurk). Hurk had come to the school as a new student that year and had been so unpleasant when we would actually do everything we could to be nice. But that’s the nature of junior high. People are lashing out left and right. I look back and think, yeah, maybe she was just unpleasant in general, but it’s more likely that she was insecure about being new in school, and while she didn’t give a shit what my nerdy friends and I thought of her, she was petrified about not being cool enough for the popular crowd.

When it came to light that she’d begun dating my friend’s crush (I know – this all sounds so ridiculous), becoming the object of life’s great unfairness, I desperately wanted to console my heartbroken friend, and I wrote a nonsensical caricature-poem about Hurk. I don’t remember exactly what it said any more – it was unflattering, designed as it was to make my friend feel … better? Superior? I don’t really know any more. Having committed this “poem” to paper and handing it off to my friend, it then became someone else’s property and problem. My friend gave it to another friend (the exploiter in point two above), who, through her own insecurity and desperate need to climb at least one rung higher on the popularity ladder, took the poem and gave it to Hurk. (Anyone else hearing the theme song of the original 80s Degrassi Junior High now?)

I was blissfully unaware of these exchanges until later, when Hurk herself confronted me, crying, with a pile of shredded paper in her hands, demanding, “Did you write this?” Of course I immediately knew what it was and was guilty, but I felt somehow like I had to be a sarcastic asshole in this moment, waving my hands in a condescending circle over the little pile as if to indicate that I could not possibly know what a pile of shredded paper had once been, replying casually, “I don’t know. What is it?”

That’s the thing: I first, foremost and foolishly imagined she’d never see the thing. You can never count on this: again, don’t write anything down that you wouldn’t want everyone to see. And secondly, I never imagined, even if this too was me fooling myself, that even if she had seen it that she’d care. I suppose we all do care – we don’t want to be confronted with committed-to-pen-and-paper evidence that anyone finds us that unpleasant. We may consciously know that they do. But we don’t want to see it, feel it and experience it that directly and even clinically. Eventually I admitted that yes, of course, I had written it. I did so, if I recall, clinically. I don’t even know how I excused myself. Did I apologize? Knowing who I was then, I probably even wrote (again, committing shit to paper) an apology to her. Maybe I didn’t. I vaguely recall feeling defiant about this – why should I feel badly about offending or hurting someone who made such hearty meals of being a bitch to everyone around her (at least those whose ‘approval’ she didn’t need)? But that was the adolescent and often petty me. In the years since I have reflected on this event with some shame, thinking of all the ways I tried to justify it. It was 30 years ago, and it still pokes at my conscience sometimes. And, if most of what I know about the world is true, despite how it hurt her at the time, she probably does not even remember it.

In the same vein, and during the same time period, another close friend had been going through life-altering bad times, and the intensity and closeness of our friendship led me to try to cheer her up by writing critical, disparaging, but ostensibly comical, persiflage about people who had been our friends – or people who had peripheral connections to our circle of friends. I had written these things before the “Hurk” poem cited above. Once more foolishly, I had no idea that the friend I was attempting to console with my negative causticity would hang onto those notes, and more than a year later, wheel them out as the centerpiece of a slumber party she hosted, to which she had invited all the characters who had been so maliciously maligned in my letters. The attendees phoned me as a unit to give me a piece of their minds, and strangely, I again felt defiant – I justified it to myself (i.e. all total bullshit – “nothing I said was untrue, even if I did so in the most vicious way possible“) while listening to the slumber party guests. Nothing they said mattered to me. All that mattered to me was that whatever fragile trust I had had left with the friend was gone.

But the point of recounting this now (apart from having ripped up some papers and having my memory triggered by seeing the shredded pile), again more than 30 years after the fact, is that I still realize – perhaps even more than ever – the truth in the fact that we are all insecure. Especially as the raw, dewy not-children, not-adults whose bodies and feverish minds we try to navigate in adolescence. Despite my faulty tactics and hurtful actions (I take the blame there), in some ways, my heart had been in the right place in that I was committed, at all costs, to delivering comfort and pain relief to my friends. It is not that I was not sorry – I was and am. I did all the comforting and consoling entirely the wrong way – at other insecure people’s expense – which always backfired on me in the most instant-karma means possible. But I took the knocks on the chin. I’ve never been someone who can dish it out but not take it in equal measure.

But then, most other people are smart enough, or lazy enough, or both, not to commit their insults to paper.

Lunchtable TV Talk – Reign: Historical fiction

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Most women my age – and probably a fair number of men, too – watched and maybe even loved the CBC/PBS miniseries, Anne of Green Gables. Megan Follows, while she has had a rich and long career since, will never quite shake her identity as Anne Shirley. And Gilbert Blythe, Anne’s academic rival, friend and eventual husband in the Anne of Green Gables series (a series of Canadian books set in Prince Edward Island, Canada that adolescent readers have devoured for the many decades since they debuted), had life breathed into him by Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie. He has appeared here and there in other things, perhaps most recently and notably in The Good Wife, but he has been tied all his life to his reputation-making role as “Gil”. Sadly, Jonathan Crombie passed away this past week at the age of 48, which plunges the hearts of “kindred spirits” of my age into “the depths of despair” – to use some of Anne Shirley’s over-the-top, verbose, well-loved language.

Ultimately, though, this was not meant to be about Crombie or his passing. (Or to question the “dying young” passing of Canadian actors who graced Canadian tv institutions. Referring here to the 2007 death of Neil Hope, who was “Wheels” on the original Degrassi Junior High.) Instead, I had just been watching this week’s episode of Reign, which sucked me in despite not being my style at all. In large part, I tune in week after week to watch Megan Follows’s regal, scheming performance as Catherine de Medici. Follows finally outshines her past, defining role as Anne Shirley and is the one reason I keep coming back to Reign.

This is not to say that Reign isn’t a decent show. I like these kinds of historical fiction programs in that they may not paint a full or accurate picture of historical events, but they breathe life into long-past history that may ignite curiosity in those non-historians among us. We might then make moves toward reading real history and finding out what in these programs (like Reign, The Tudors and Wolf Hall, to name a few recent entries) is true and not true. History brought to life, regardless of creative license employed for television audiences, can only pique interest and perhaps make history a more interesting subject for otherwise disinterested generations (each generation, at the risk of sounding like a cranky old person, seems less and less interested in history).

I am driven by my viewing of Reign to go back and read the history – and often enjoy the modern music pairings that make up the soundtrack. Occasionally an interesting person will turn up as a guest star – Amy Brenneman as Marie de Guise (a great piece of casting!), Yael Grobglas as Olivia (best known now as Petra on Jane the Virgin) and even Battlestar Galactica’s Helo (Tahmoh Penikett).

Considering all these factors, especially Megan Follows’s presence, now that I know the show has been renewed for another season, I will continue to watch (even if my mind is very much stuck now on Anne of Green Gables, Anne and Gil and Jonathan Crombie, resting in peace.)