Thursday, December 15, 2005

chatty kathy

been in this wonderful place lately where everyone around me seems like a new opportunity. today, while on my quest for a new phone, i recovered from my hangover with soup from panera. it was packed because chitown is currently freezing, and chicago apparently had the same fantasies about soup i had.

i sat right next to these two older ladies, both slowly munching on their sandwiches and talking about minutia. one of these women had a cane balancing delicately on my table, and i quickly noticed that they were talking about me as i sat right next to them. where's your cane, joan? / it's right there, on her table. / she doesn't mind it. / no, no, it's fine right there. / look at her soup! / it looks delicious. / it's potata. / what? / potata. / actually, it wasn't, so instead of being a bystander in my own transcript, i decided to lunch with them and see what happened. it's broccoli and cheddar, i said, and their faces lit up. one: that sounds delicious! / other: i've had it, it's sublime.

i read my paper and listened in on a lot of what they said. casually, they would ask my opinion on something just as i'd begin to tune out, so i learned to just stay engaged enough. they were oohing and aahing at the lights outside even though it was 1:30pm and nowhere near dark enough to show any particular magic, then i thought about how maybe these women went to bed at dusk. they talked of shopping to be done and cards to finish.

just as these women could be no cuter, the strangest woman entered. she shuffled in, and was remarkably younger than the other two; she was dressed sort of like Ouiser from Steel Magnolias - a little too much rouge, pastels and rich colors wildly mixed. uh-oh, one of my girls mumbled, here we go. Ouiser came in and immediately made one move their bags, demanding to sit down to tell her tales of consumerism. the woman closest to me complied, and i took her bag and moved it across the table from me. you're very kind, she said to me, and then looked like the weight of the world was on her shoulders. Ouiser launched into a diatribe of where she'd been, what she'd bought, then immediately started unloading bag upon bag of clothing items one by one and saying why she bought it, what the make was. "I got this for my son," she'd say. "Perry Ellis!", then she'd step side to side hugging the cardigan, sort of swooning into her dance. Jesus, one of my girls mumbled, what is this? a floor show?

then it hit me, as it has hit me several times for the past few months: we never really change from the time we are - let's say, 6 years old. i think this consistently, every single time i teach a workshop. a man, the strongest ceo of company x, when faced with the challenge of improvising, a task out of his comfort zone, will revert back to the meekness he had in the form of apology or anxiety. it may not be the same as cowering behind your mother's knee, but there's similarity. do we always show our truest selves when faced with adversity? in this case, it wasn't adversity, but it was peer pressure and commiseration that brought out an adolescence. i'm sure there are exceptions to this rule in some ways as we develop and grow, and you bet we get great at fighting whatever our demon may be... but as it stands? these women had regressed to the lunchroom politics of a middle school, and i wasn't going to miss a minute of it.


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