As much as I enjoy Mardi Gras, it is also, when the rubber meets the road, stressful. I get anxious about having all the stuff, about if I will be anxious, about if people are feeling included and happy, if the drinkers have enough to drink, if the non-drinkers don’t feel excluded.
This year, I ducked into a bar to get a shot to sneak into my coffee, and the bartender saw me and stopped me. I apologized, refused her offer of a refund or another coffee. But I felt awful. I thought I was so suave, could carefully work around liquor laws, I thought I had bona fides (don’t ask don’t tell, don’t flaunt, don’t pull that crap in the suburbs).
In pretty much every other realm of my life, I figure that the people I am with are the people I want to be with, and the people who seem to be hiding out somewhere doing something cooler are… not. But I can see the remnants of my fear that someone is “in,” and I am “out.”
My New York years helped. New York can be good at undoing the idea that everyone there is cooler. They might be, but there are also a lot more ladders of ego to climb in New York, and a lot of people are climbing them, or trying to. I realized New York City is basically one big high school all over again, with the celebrities as the popular kids. Or it’s high school all over again, go find some weirdos and get to know them because many of them are great. They don’t put in as much time in self-presentation.
When I was ten, and my parents were divorcing, I saw my classmates separating into cliques, and responded by making protest signs on my spiral notebooks, and holding a demonstration on the playground. The signs said, “We are the Sarah and Heather-its/We worship Sarah and Heather.”
My teacher that year had no fucking idea what to do with my weird ass. At the time I thought she was a bitch, but bless her heart. She was just a (possibly) nice white suburban lady trying to live her suburban white lady dream and go skiing. We didn’t have this term at the time, but she was basic.
The good thing about Mardi Gras is there is no structure and everyone involved is pretty weird, and very tolerant. I definitely seek out leadership positions when I can, and as I’m writing this, I think, there probably is a dark side to that, wanting to structure and control things. Becoming a teacher helped me so much with this. I undertook an endeavor I was not good at (no one is, really), and one I couldn’t survive alone. I stopped thinking that if only I were in charge, I could fix things. And this happened before 30, which was good.
Every time I get into that hierarchical thinking, I have to stop and remind myself: community is better than control. Shared power is better than horded power. I really do believe that, but my ego can sneak up on me, nonetheless.
A controlling mindset helps me avoid being vulnerable. If I shoot for letting anyone else do whatever they want, I can slip into resentment, to bad boundaries. To telling people I am fine with them not fulfilling commitments, or saying things that hurt me. My instinct is to make myself not care, to cut someone off, to run off and self soothe. “It doesn’t matter what my teacher/classmate/editor thinks of my writing, all that matters is what I think.” Well, not really. One writes to be read. At least some of the time.
Image: Daniel Hoopfer, “Death and the Devil Surprising Two Women,” ca. 1515, public domain.