Little Miss Don’t Disappear
One of my favorite movies is The Incredibles.
In The Incredibles there’s this moment where Violet Parr, a teenage girl who can literally turn invisible (an ability most teenage girls would love to possess) discovers she has the ability to make these big round circular balls of defense that can be rolled forcibly over bad guys in the general vicinity, flattening them. Her brother asks, “How are you doing that?” She replies, “I don’t know.”
So anyway, this is my 100th piece for Ordinary Times.
This may not seem like much of an accomplishment to most people, but it is for me. Wading into the public sphere to share my writing is not the type of thing that I could ever have seen myself doing. It’s taken me such a long time and so much personal work to get to the point at which it is possible for me to be here, to put myself out here for the benefit of strangers. It feels honestly miraculous. Like Violet, I don’t know how I’m doing it.
Pretty much every message I’ve ever gotten over the course of my life has been that I’m not particularly interesting. I was told that I’m not special, I’m not talented, I’m not extraordinary. I was told that the best use of my life is to put my head down and do the things that my parents, my friends, my teachers, my neighbors, my bosses, and later, my husband (who is a great guy, but who generally prefers clean toilets to an ink stained wife) wanted and expected me to do. Pretty much the only message I’ve ever gotten over the course of my life is to sit down, shut up, do what other people tell me to do, and don’t make waves.
Over time I’ve grown to realize that these messages were fake news; that it behooved the message-givers for me to act a certain way and that the “helpful” messages “for my own good” were actually people attempting to control my behavior for their own ends. But boy, when what feels like the whole entire world tells you the same thing again and again your entire life, it’s hard to see it as anything other than an immutable law, like gravity.
Every time I drop something, it falls to earth, and I am told that gravity on Earth is a constant of 9.8 m/s squared. Every time I tried to speak up, to stand out, even at times where the situation desperately seemed to require my input, my voice fell on deaf or angry ears, and so I assumed for quite some time there must be a universal law that governed my behavior. I assumed for quite some time that my place was in the passenger seat while someone else steered, and I wasn’t allowed to even change the dial on the radio.
Sit down, shut up, do what others tell me to do. Blend in. Don’t make waves.
Being a writer, a female writer especially, a female writer on topics that are controversial most especially of all, requires you to accept the fact that you are particularly interesting, to recognize your talent, to raise your voice and sound Whitman’s barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
I’m just saying it doesn’t come naturally.
It’s so strange to find myself, a person programmed for well-nigh 50 years not to make waves, here in a place like Ordinary Times, where tsunamis are regular events. Even stranger to find myself triggering some of them.
In most of my relationships -- indeed, all those I could escape -- at the first hint I got that people didn’t care for me, I was gone like a shot. Even if it was only temporary annoyance, just a hint that anyone might not like me, didn’t want me around, found me irritating or unlikeable or not worth their time, was enough to drive me away. I have made and lost a thousand friends over the course of my life and I always lost them the same way -- I just went away. As I was taught since the cradle, you sit down, you shut up, you do what the other people expect you to do even when those expectations are gross and unfair, and if you forget yourself for a minute or they seem displeased for any reason even if it’s over something out of your control, it’s time for you to go.
Like Violet Parr, I was Little Miss Disappear, and I ghosted away from so many people who I see in retrospect actually did care about me and were just having a bad day, or maybe I was. For a long time, my presence depended upon the constant and unwavering pleasure of others, and if others didn’t find my company enjoyable even just briefly that meant I needed to exit stage left. I lived by that rule for a very long time and it’s still a pretty big part of my psyche.
Thus it’s astonishing to me how much room I take up on Ordinary Times. I make drama, I cause trouble, I stir the pot. I take up space here, more space than I’ve ever taken up anywhere. I wrote 100 posts, some of which people even read. A fair few of which were controversial, even despised.
I am DESPISED! How weird is that?
Like Violet, I don’t know how I’m doing this. Yet I keep submitting posts. I didn’t vanish; well, I did vanish, but I came back somehow, more controversial, more despised. I came back at great personal cost to a place where people actually hate me for reals after fleeing countless situations where people hated me only in my imagination. I came back to this place where at times I’ve been me at my very worst on numerous occasions, where I’ve been shamed and called names and acted like an asshole. The most embarrassing moments of my life involve Ordinary Times. But I came back and I keep coming back, and somehow I didn’t die from humiliation.
Ordinary Times should be the perfect fit for someone like me. A little history, a little science, a little art and history and pop culture and politics and food. Even fiction sometimes. Ordinary Times should be the perfect fit for an eclectic dilettante with a lot of opinions, and it is. I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to be here. There is no reason why I shouldn’t be here. The only reason I shouldn’t, is because of lies people told me about my place in this world, lies that I took in so deeply I started to tell them to myself. But I never really believed them. No matter how many times the apple fell to earth, this little voice kept telling me, “I know, the whole gravity thing, but I just don’t think that’s right, I think that apple could fly if it got half a chance to.”
A member of OT told me recently that my fiction was good but that they hated my politics, and I laughed and laughed at that because my lies have always been more popular than my truths.
The truth is, I was right. This apple can fly. I knew it all along. It was good for more than sitting in a bowl while some other artist painted a still life of it. It was good for more than sitting in a bowl till it rotted. No matter how lovely the world deemed the lie, the truth was the truth. That apple never belonged in a bowl.
And so The Invisible Girl discovered a new ability -- to remain visible, but to make big round circular balls of defense and roll them into people. But it will never be easy for me. My primary superpower will always be invisibility. I doubt I’ll ever have a post I write where I love it unconditionally and post it without struggling under the weight of several tons of angst, where I don’t wake up at least once at 3am wondering if I should have posted it at all, where I can come in and read the comments and take delight in a hearty scrimmage. I’m still half-convinced my natural place is in the background, an extra in someone else’s show.
At the end of the scene in The Incredibles, after Violet admits she has no idea where her newfound abilities are coming from her brother tells her in amazement, “Whatever you do, don’t stop.”
So that’s what I keep telling myself. Whatever you do, don’t stop.
And I’m trying not to.
Art by Flyingpear https://www.deviantart.com/flyingpear/art/Flying-Apple-168772596