I was looking through my notes of things to write about this morning, and I saw that I had written “taxidermy recommendations.” I couldn’t remember what exactly I meant by that. My first thought was a Buzzfeed type article, “Top Ten Animals to Taxidermy and Why” (definitely a raccoon—so easy to get in New York) or maybe “5 Taxidermy Tips to Make Them Look Real” (spray their mouths with a mister to make their teeth glisten).
But the note wasn’t about that. I know nothing about taxidermy other than, A: it is expensive, and B: it is creepy. But then I remembered that I wanted to write about how, because of a few props for a film I researched a while ago, every time I go on ebay, a bunch of listings for taxidermized* animals pop up. Most of them are birds, but there’s always rabbit or two that makes the list.
*Until recently, (aka several seconds ago), I didn’t know that the past tense verb was “taxidermized” and not “taxidermied.” Huh.
The reason I found the internet suggestions so funny was, at the time, I didn’t have internet in my apartment. This meant that I did most of my shopping in public spaces, especially cafes. And I’m sure I made a lot of nosy latte drinkers nervous when they peeped my screen. I thought it would make a funny blog post: me, this white girl in hipster cafes feeding my taxidermy fantasy.
So, anyway, I was planning to write about taxidermy, but since I’ve about covered that, I’m going to shift gears to two things that stole my attention this week. If I’m being honest, they both stole my attention nearly equally, but one of them people cared a lot about and the other no one wanted to listen to me discuss.
The first, and most interesting, if we are to believe popular opinion, is that a grown adult person literally tried to bully me this week. And because I was feeling upset about an unrelated incident (someone I really care about is sick) and because I was PMS-ing, I reacted quite emotionally. The woman, who is an adult—I’ll call her Clytemnestra—confronted me in front of a whole room of people because she thought S. and I were talking about her. Actually, what she said was more like: “Hey. If you and S. have something to say to me, you can say it to my face.” She said this very aggressively, like I imagine Clytemnestra would.
It was very weird. S. and I weren’t talking about her—not to bring up the adult thing again, but we are adults and don’t make a habit of trash talking people while we are IN THE SAME ROOM, and we were talking about my parents upcoming visit, my distress around the bad news I had gotten earlier, and, because I’m me, we were discussing what food we had in the fridge and my continual anxiety about it going bad. But the whole confrontation was very Disney teenage drama, and I honestly couldn’t think how to react because I was so surprised.
It was déjà vu. I—my boring old self—had an experienced identical reaction and wave of emotions once before. In tenth grade, and I had sort of friendship with a boy named Owen. It wasn’t even really a friendship; it was more of an alliance. In small towns, there aren’t a lot of options of friends to pick, so you pick the ones that have something in common or are useful to you. His use lay in his shared habit of doing crossword puzzles during lunch. And he was good at them. The librarian, (who was a lesbian, which was amazing in small town Vermont—No wonder I was fascinated with her) photocopied the crossword every day and left them on the community tables so that we all could try solving it. Maybe this is standard library practice, but I thought she was an angel and a genius. I still follow her on Instagram. Our school didn’t have a real cafeteria, and while some kids ate in the basement of the gym or outside or on the front step, there were a few of us who liked to sit in the hall outside the library, doing our puzzle. I didn’t do this every day, (not until I was a senior, anyway), but I did it a lot.
Our sophomore year, Owen began dating a girl in the senior class who was so cool that I didn’t even think she knew my name. Which is impressive because my school had around 400 kids, so you had to actively ignore people to not know them. One day, I was packing up my backpack outside the gym. It was the end of the day, and it wasn’t freezing. She was walking by me, and I happened to make eye contact.*
*Since I was teeny tiny, I’ve always tried to make eye contact with people. I don’t like it when we pretend not to see each other.
Anyway, this girl, whose name was something short and cute and cool, looked at me and said, “You need to stop being so obsessed with Owen.”
I remember that moment because she was just so wrong. So wrong. And it was so unexpected. I was surprised that she knew who I was. I was surprised that she cared what I did. And I was surprised that she felt threatened by me. Her nastiness remains one of the top ten most surprising moments of my life.
Owen was better at crossword puzzles than I was (and eventually, he’d also score better than me on his SATs, securing him a spot at one of the good Ivies, not just a stupid ol’ women’s college like I went to), but other than that, I didn’t think about him unless he was directly in my eye line.
But his girlfriend thought I was competing with her. At age 16, I was speechless. I remember thinking, “I must have heard her wrong.” I mentally reviewed her comment like eight times. Did she mean that? No, I can’t believe it. Are people really thinking about me? Why? It sounds cheesy to say, but her energy was so angry. I didn’t think I could inspire that level of anger in anyone. Especially a near stranger.
After that, I made it a point not to talk to Owen anymore. It was actually easy because we weren’t that close. And Rebecca (the eventual valedictorian) was much better at crosswords anyway. It didn’t feel like a loss to me, I just made a small adjustment and upgraded my crossword partner.*
*The crossword we did was in The Valley News, the local paper. And it is about six hundred times easier than the New York Times puzzle. A few weeks of memorizing the clues (“Meadow” = “Lea”) would lead to near completion every day. However, I still never finished one by myself without Owen and then later Rebecca’s help. Turns out I’m not very good at crosswords.
Clytemnestra’s confrontation this week felt exactly the same as my high school one. It was like putting on a worn pair of sweatpants after rediscovering them in the bottom of the drawer. Except unpleasant instead of comforting. It was only the second time an angry irrational woman had accused me of something I wasn’t doing, but it felt familiar. Maybe that’s because it’s what we see on TV all the time.
But TV isn’t real, and real life isn’t like that. Maybe that’s the point—there was nothing I was doing or not doing. It’s my presence combined with whatever feelings they have in their head that bothered them. They were writing their own show.
Even though I’m more than ten years older, I reacted in the exact same way I did in high school: easily and simply removing myself from her company. I can easily tweak my schedule so that I will rarely see her.
A couple of people suggested that I talk to her. I don’t want to. She’s suffering some battle with an imagined version of me that doesn’t have anything to do with the person I actually am. The simplest solution is often the best.
I generally assume that people don’t think about me ever. I have a busy life, and other people must too. Who has time to hold grudges or obsess about what random acquaintances think? Not many, I hope. It is upsetting because this incident, which disturbed me for a couple hours and then yielded a blog post and then lived out its complete life (if all goes well), reminded me that women—not all of them, but many—live in a haze of insecurity. They believe they are being judged on all sides and sometimes are. They don’t trust anyone. They don’t trust themselves. And they walk on eggshells.
Which leads me to the second thing of this week that had taken up a lot of my thought space. I saw two ads that blew my mind. One was for eye drops, which isn’t crazy but what is crazy is that they were marketing them for the SOLE PURPOSE of making one’s eyes more “luminous.” I hadn’t been thinking that my stupid regular old eyes weren’t luminous enough until their ad made me consider it. The second—and possibly worse—was for ARM SPANXS. That’s right, ARM SPANX. Like to make your arms smaller. THAT IS CRAZY. My biceps cannot be chained down or wrapped up. No, thank you. But, it does give women a new handful of insecurities. And as long as they are selling, they will always be tapping into that well. Crepey chest. Cellulite. Skinny legs. Big legs. Not matter what, there’s something wrong with you.
These things—Clytemnestra and the ads—are not unrelated. The world would have us believe that we are constantly being criticized. And that’s exhausting. And it’s unfair. And it’s all—all of it—the fear of being talked about, the arm spanx, the general bullshit—just a giant waste of time.
Insecurity travels like electricity through an advanced power grid of ads, exchanges, instances of eye contact, entertainment, well-meaning comments and snide comments alike. It pulses through obsessions. The only thing I can say is try your best to avoid it. Adjust your schedule. Adjust your media, your circle of friends, your thoughts. Take it out of your life and out of your head as best you can. Take up a hobby to channel your focus. Even taxidermy is less toxic.