The other night at home I was gabbing ceaselessly and Leigh couldn’t get a word in edgewise. She commented on how chatty I am, and that no one would believe her if she told them. It’s true: these days I’m most apt to trot out the quiet, shy, demure Rebecca, who is a good listener, reserved, and mysterious. But the fact is, I can chat the pants off of people I know really well – but it’s just a matter of bridging that comfort gap. Maybe it’s the spring weather, or that I’ve been in Durham almost a year, but I’m itching to break out of my shell once again.
Earlier this week I had a chance – we had dinner with some lovely folks from church that we don’t know all that well. I had a good time, chatted a bit and enjoyed the company. But I clammed up once again when it came to the dreaded (imagine this with a slow motion voice, like a train hurtling toward me as my life flashes before my eyes), “What do yoooooooou do?”
I gave the facts, and nearly bored myself to tears. Yes, I’m currently working as a “Program Associate” at the American Sexual Health Association, but so what? That doesn’t light my fire. Yes, I have a terminal degree in playwriting, and I’ve written plays that have won awards and been produced in DC and New York. And the years when that was my primary passion had wonderful ups and downs, but it just isn’t my main squeeze right now (and there are a number of reasons for that, but that would be for another post). So I don’t really want to talk about whether I’m working on another play right now: I’m not.
The problem with questions about what I “do” is twofold: people don’t know what else to ask, and I feel that I should have a different answer. It’s on me to address the second point by recognizing where that “should” belief comes from, and then trying to let it go. I know I think people expect to hear about a singular, successful career path, and I have internalized the message that if I don’t have one, I am unworthy. I am not a successful adult. I am less than. I am a disappointment. Etc.
You might think that coming out as lesbian eight and a half years would have inured me to all societal expectations, not just about relationships. You’d think the process of recognizing and accepting who I love – no matter how at odds with society’s expectations – might have led immediately to the conclusion that all outside expectations are a bunch of hooey, and ultimately it’s madness to try to keep up with the Joneses, when I ALREADY AM A JONES. But it hasn’t been that simple.
My Mom had a book when I was young, I’m Okay, You’re Okay. We would giggle at the title and say it at random moments as family joke – because it sounded so simplistic. But I’m finally coming to realize that it’s true. Before I can unleash my chatty self on the world, I have to drop everything and really believe “I’m okay” just the way I am: no matter what I do, who I love, where I live, who my friends are, what I write or don’t write, what I believe, or how twisty-turny my career path may be. And yes, coming out gave me the tools to begin to question the malarkey of societal expectations – but it’s an ongoing process.
Recently that process has involved getting encouragement in a book I picked up randomly at the library last week, The Renaissance Soul. Reading it I feel affirmed as someone with myriad interests and not just one singular focus. So the next time I get the question “What do you do?” I want to challenge myself to give alternate answers. I want to be brave enough to say, “I’m a Renaissance Woman” and start wildly chatting about my current passions and interests. For example:
- I’m currently turned on by the tiny house revolution and working with my partner to figure out how to live our values of simplicity and sustainability.
- I’m designing a writing workshop that I’ll be facilitating this summer.
- I’m progressing on my journey of radical self-acceptance in therapy and am curious about other people’s own psychological and emotional insights.
- I continue to explore and share ideas about inclusive feminist spirituality.
And that’s just a beginning. I also want to flip this around and ask people about things other than their jobs (unless their job is something they love and want to talk about). Maybe I’ll try some of these:
- What are you currently passionate about?
- What was the most surprising thing that happened this week?
- What do you love and hate about this time of year?
What other questions should we be asking each other – for more engaging, connecting interactions? Leave a comment and let me know! Let the chattiness begin…