Tuesday, February 12, 2008


My Dear Reader,

I recently realized that the "cool" kids I knew growing up—the ones who managed to break just about any rule and get away with it—were people who simply had the gift of strict obedience to the millions of unwritten societal rules that govern our everyday behavior. Try standing in an elevator and facing away from the door, and you'll know what I mean. There are some things we do that are just wrong, without rhyme or reason, and they make us extremely uncomfortable. I have a theory that our rules of behavior are more complex than we even comprehend, because I've known a few behaviorally savvy people who could stand backwards in an elevator and escape unscathed, and I've come to the conclusion that the laws of society are kind of like the laws of physics, and that when we understand better we can do more. Unfortunately, when it comes to the behavioral laws, I'm generally the kid sitting in the corner with the dunce cap, unless I'm lucky enough to find myself in the presence of someone else who is an even bigger social idiot. I have proven beyond any doubt that I can make just about any conceivable situation about as awkward as possible, to the point that my blunders would probably astound you. Of course, I'm not the worst in the world—like I've said before, on a scale of one to ten, with Steve Urkel as one and the Fonz at ten, I'm about a six. For those of you keeping score at home, that means that I've barely got a D in Life. It appears that because of my seeming inability to comprehend the rules of society that I tend to become inevitably "stuck" in certain situations, where all that I have learned from Madre and Padre have abandoned me, and I feel like I've come across a pocket of space where gravity is considered passé. Allow me to explain.

Several years ago, when my height failed to exceed four feet, I found myself playing with a friend in her backyard. At one point, she ran into the house and told me to wait, promising me that she would be right back. Your powers of imagination will be put to the test, Gentle Reader, when you try to imagine the way I felt when, after waiting for a good ten minutes for my friend to return, I looked through the sliding glass door and into their kitchen and saw the family sitting down to dinner. Now, I knew quite a lot about dinners by that point in my life, and I knew that there were very strict rules that governed their operation. Singing was not allowed.* Playing with food was extremely distasteful. But above all, it was an act of treason for any person to interrupt another's dinner unless someone was bleeding or on fire. I was neither, which put me into quite a dilemma. If I knocked on the door and asked them to let me go home, would her father wave his hand and say, "Off with her head"? What if her parents didn't know that their daughter had invited me to play, and they thought I was a robber or other miscreant? No, it was too much to risk. I looked around, and saw only one means of escape: a door in the fence that led to freedom. Besides the fact that I would have to walk past window and give away my presence, there was one major problem with this escape plan. The fence was about six feet tall. I was seven. It was then that I determined that I would have to live there. I told myself that it wouldn't be so bad; there was a lot of ivy growing along the back fence that would make a great make-shift bed, and maybe I could convince my friend to come by every once in a while and give me a slice of bologna. It took me another ten minutes to gather the courage to walk to the door, stand on some rickety boxes, and reach the latch on the door so I could go home. Needless to say, I was traumatized for life.

I always thought that as I got older, I would develop social graces that would protect me from awkward situations. In fact, it was something that people kept telling me was around the corner. "You're just a kid," they'd say, or, "you're just in your awkward teenage years." After that, people started saying, "you're only a freshman," until I was no longer a freshman, when they seemed to have run out of excuses. I'm pretty sure that this means that I'm doomed. In fact, though I have aged a good fifteen years since I was trapped in my friend's backyard, there are still instances where I get "stuck." Like last week, when I had to do a group presentation. You see, there were a lot of people in the group, so we delegated. Some people were presenting, while others were in charge of doing research and getting materials in place. I was put in the research category, and I fulfilled my duty as well as possible, but when it came time to give the presentation, I had this idea that the entire group was going to stand up, even if only a few were designated as presenters. Now, at the time I was suffering from a mild head cold, which was affecting my judgment, so I'm sure you can understand my discomfort and confusion when the only people standing in the front were me and the assigned presenters, and I'm sure you can guess that that discomfort was intensified when the other three people started acting out a scene from the book we were supposed to do the presentation on, meaning that it instantly became painfully obvious that I was not in on the joke. So I did the best thing that I could possibly do. You see, I couldn't really just go back to my seat. I was already standing in front of the class. So I just kind of inched my way to one side of the room, put my back against the wall, and slid down until I was sitting on the floor. While I watched them. For ten minutes. It was just plain awful.

It's kind of funny when the same kind of social disaster happens to you long after you are supposed to have outgrown awkward behavior. And just a tinge more embarrassing than it has to be. Still, I guess it makes for a good story, and at least I can write stories without a fear of being awkward.

Regards, best wishes, and social comfort,

-Cecily Jane

* This rule was drilled into me as a child because of my constant attempts to disobey it.


Lina said...

Standing "backwards" in the elevator is sooo fun! People give you the wierdest looks but you aren't actually hurting anyone so they can't do anything about it. I love to break harmless social norms, try waving at strangers for no reason the next time you're stopped at a stop light, and give them a big smile while you're at it. It's fun to see how many people wave back while trying to figure out if they know you, and how many people turn away quickly because they are sure that you MUST be insane if you don't know the proper etiquite for waiting at a stop light. If you force yourself to break some of those social "rules" more often (only the harmless one's of course, for example holding the door for someone probably isn't one you should drop.) then maybe you wont get so uncomfortable because you'll get used to not caring what people think of you, or you'll start to find their shock amusing at least.

Molly&Charles said...

I second that motion. Unless it's just a form of adhering to higher social norms. You're adhering to the cool kid norms by breaking the normal kid norms.

Molly&Charles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Funny stuff! Awkward situations are the worst. MJH