A friend of mine, who I have never met in real time but have spent some time getting to know via social networking and her awesome blog Metal, Misery and Mayhem, left a comment on my previous entry about the gym that has me thinking. She said that perhaps some of the rage that I feel towards the anorexic woman in class, and her in turn towards an incredibly annoying sounding co-worker, could be natural alpha instinct.
This intrigues me because I’m often trying to figure out exactly how much of my behavior is natural personality, and how much is damage-related. I struggle with my natural instinct toward cranky reaction to much outer stimuli found in normal life.
My equally awesome friend, Mr. Eerie Von of Danzig fame, says that I should simply embrace the fact that I am naturally crabby and stop wasting time examining the bitch lint inside the mental bellybutton. This metaphor is mine by the way, he’s far too cool and busy to talk about bellybutton lint, metaphorically or otherwise.
And indeed, I have been crabby since birth. Bear with me as I share a few tedious childhood details: I was a difficult baby, or “colicky” as they used to call it. I cried and cried and cried. And then I cried some more. When I was three years old my mother wrote in my baby book, “Mary has a VERY low frustration tolerance.” The word “very” was underlined numerous times, in a what looked to be a weary hand.
I think there was an enormous sigh of relief when my brother was born a year behind me and turned out to be the happiest thing in a diaper. He was roly-poly chubby and wore a smile a mile wide at all times. He looks as if he’s giggling in every baby photo. He was as happy as I was cranky, from the get.
When the two of us were old enough to walk and talk it became clear who the alpha was in the relationship, as I dictated his every cheerful toddler move. I was always coming up with new plans for action that ended in him getting hurt, in trouble, in tears, and once on a bloody trip to the hospital for stitches. I loved my brother, he was my pal and it wasn’t that I wanted to hurt him. I just pushed the envelope with a brain too young to follow logic through to envisioned consequences. And he was happy and open and willing to follow orders. I was authoritative: get on this scooter and I will push you down the long hardwood floor hall as fast as I can and then I will let you go spinning out on your own a few feet before you hit the radiator at full speed. He would waver for a moment, his baby survival mechanism holding him back. I would point with stubby finger. Get on the damn thing, what could possibly go wrong?
Once we ventured outside of the safety of the family unit and into the social river of ravenous pirahna that is grade school, things shifted. I was already bookish and shy outside of my home, and learned around third grade that I was not attractive, primarily due to poor eyesight and the unfortunate need for glasses with very thick lens.
First year of glasses, blissfully unaware that my social life was about to go straight into the crapper:
So I shut the fuck up publicly. For years. I was still Bossy McBosserson with my younger siblings, but outside of their orbit I remained a silent egghead, opening my mouth only to answer questions pertaining to sentence diagramming or algebraic formula. And although I wasn’t bullied, I was a nerd of the deepest order, and did get the occasional mean comment thrown my way. It wounded me deeply enough that I still remember where I was standing and what I was wearing when Dan Something-or-Other called me a dog to his friend who had a locker next to mine. I was beyond mortified when I found out my nickname with the boys in 8th grade was “tits on a tube”. The irony of this was not lost on me, by the way, when I noticed some years later that Sebastian Bach had bought his teeny wife a rocking pair of tits to go with her non-existent frame. If only I had known then what I know now.
But I digress. The point is, I have spent some time being distinctly non-alpha and I am grateful for the lesson of compassion that it taught me. But I never want to go back there again, it’s painful and powerless.
Once I got contact lens at age 16 and realized that most of the boys in high school were nitwits, I was back in the bossy game, often by default. We’d be forced into work groups in Social Studies and everyone would sit there staring at their notebooks instead of choosing who worked on what end of the project. I couldn’t take the lame duck energy, it was too much like wrangling my four younger siblings. So I’d yank the pad of paper out of someone’s hand and assign tasks just to get things rolling.
And then all of a sudden, I was REALLY alpha, obnoxious alpha, like completely OUT OF CONTROL alpha. I was famous, sort of; I looked pretty good so guys liked me; I was angry for all kinds of reasons and cultivating a badass persona that had more to do with wanting to be Catwoman when I was ten than anything based in reality:
And I had a whole crew of girls who would do whatever I told them to do. I’d say, “I don’t want to talk to her.” The person in question would approach and someone would step in front of me and say, “She doesn’t want to talk to you!” I would mention there was someone I didn’t like in the room and someone else would “accidentally” spill a drink on them. Can you imagine? It was crazy. It was AWESOME. I still can’t believe anyone listened to a word I said. And of course it was rotten and I abused it to the point that even I finally noticed that I was a big fat jerk. And I’ve been trying to find my way back ever since.
Luckily for the world, or at least New York City, it was temporary. Sometimes I watch Oprah on TV (okay, constantly I watch Oprah on TV) and I think, wow, I wonder how hard it is for her not to want to shout “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!” every once in a while. You know, just to see how it feels rolling off the tongue and if the staff would start making frantic calls to locate a guillotine. They’d probably ring Martha Stewart first to see if she had one stored in one of the million rooms of her fancy Connecticut country home.
Since then I have sifted through the rubble of the standard semi-damaged childhood psyche and navigated through a day to day existence in which I have often been too quick to state a thought or opinion in too blunt a fashion. Sometimes something sounds funny in my head and then after I say it out loud I see the face in front of me crumple and I think, ooh, filter is clearly not working. And someone is then sad or angry due to my bad behavior and I feel like a piece of shit.
I have a third friend who will walk into a room, beam the widest smile, and dive right in with each person in the vicinity: what’s your name, what do you do, your eyes are so pretty, are you married, do you have children, how is the cheese dip? She’s genuinely interested in everyone. Her energy is open and there is never a moment where she looks uncomfortable or appears annoyed regardless of whether she’s surrounded by strangers or loved ones. People step on her shoes and bump into her and she doesn’t even notice.
I want to be like that! I don’t want to be prickly and the one who always tells the waiter who gets what meal because I’m impatient and annoyed that no one has their shit together enough to raise their hand when he calls out the dish. I want to be gentle and kind and interested in everyone in the room. But I also still secretly want to be Catwoman and only 10% of the people in the room seem genuinely interesting to me. Small talk makes me break out in hives. I’m uncomfortable around new people. I’m annoyed by people bumping into me! Mraow! Hiss!!
So again, the question remains, how much is natural alpha and necessary for survival and achievement, and how much is just being an asshole? And how do you clean yourself up enough mentally that you can do right by your fellow man while still retaining the essence of who you were meant to be, of what makes you interesting and different?
Clearly I have no idea or I wouldn’t have just spent yet another hour writing about my same old shit like it’s the most fascinating stuff on the planet. I think this entire blog entry may be a flimsy excuse to post a photo of Julie Newmar.