Friday, February 04, 2005


It's hard living in a place where almost everyone has stunted social skills. I mean, I'm physically tired and worn out from dealing with people here. I just want to go home and not talk to anyone for days.

My pastor says that thing about islanders is that they live on an island. Then he leaves a pause for the laughter that an obvious definition like that should cause. He goes on to explain that people on islands are there deliberately. One doesn't just end up living somewhere where most conveniences of modern living are often unavailable. Part of that deliberate choice often comes from not fitting in socially anywhere else.

Now, some of you are forming pictures of cast iron pots and kettles in your heads as you read this and to you I stick out my tongue and say, "Thppss!" My social awkwardness (sometimes I'm a little feisty, for those of you that don't know) is nothing compared to out here. It's hard to describe. I'm afraid that putting it into words will make it seems less. But, after the 10th man has said, "Hey! wake up!" when he has walked into my store while I was reading (my book store, mind you) or suggested laziness in some other way, I have a right to be tired. Guys start conversations with, "Are you in a good mood today?" even if I have never been in a bad mood with that individual in the past. Another man has asked my name four times but still calls me Pyewacket (the store name) because he can't remember it. He's not even slightly embarrassed. He just walked in the store looking for Jane even though he has called twice today and spoken to me both times, learning that Jane wasn't here both times, saying only "You've not who I'm looking for," when he walked in. The warm fuzzies are just rolling out of me with greetings like that. This is in addition to all of the clumsy come-ons that are inevitable on an island full of bachelors of every age. Sometimes I'm charmed by them but lately I just want to tell Larry and Roger that it just doesn't matter how old I am. I think this stems from some confrontations that I've had lately. They fall into two categories: passive-aggressive men and pushy women.

Hannah, despite her peroxided hair and punk sense of style, grew up a hippie. She has traumatic memories of having to drink cashew milk, working at the food co-op and coaxing her stoned mother to clean the fridge or to arrive on time to school functions. She has brought to my attention that many people on the island behave passively-aggressively because that is the only way for hippies and other liberals to admit any kind of disagreement with anyone else. Anything more direct and it must be admitted that, no, we can't all just get along. So, when George, the founder of The Exchange asked me, "Don't you think everything looks better now? So much less clothing than before." I looked him the eyes and said, "No." When he asked indignantly "Why not?" I listed my reasons. This offended him to a degree that he attempted to verbally abuse me to get me to agree with him for 20 minutes. The fact that I wouldn't allow him to belittle me or my opinions but rather engaged with him only when his arguments were respectful and pointed out when his other statements weren't, made him more angry. Those of you with the pots and kettles in your heads are laughing but that fight isn't really what I'm complaining about. I will take responsibility for heated words and my occasionally abrasive tone in that one. Later, however, although George and the rest of the staff had approved the wording of a brochure I had written, George proceeded to rewrite every sentence, keeping my organization and ideas but changing the words and submitted that for publication. Plus, although he fought with every member of The Exchange staff that week, I'm the only one who didn't get an apology. I'm not teaching teenagers anymore and I just don't feel like dealing with those kinds of tantrums. Sure, I fight, but I go back later and try to find a resolution, not revenge. Another man implies every time he comes into the store that I'm lying when I say that I like living here. He says things like, "Well, have fun at home for Christmas. It was nice knowing you. Be sure to take everything with you," in this super smarmy Dale Carnegie tone. When I told him calmly, smiling and in a simple straight-forward way that I would prefer it if he didn't suggest that, he slowly boiled into a rage while he shopped for books, finally yelling that I should call the police (he said that four times) because he wasn't ever leaving. I never moved past calm and straightforward in that conversation. Again, it was like standing in the hallway waiting for an over-wrought kid to wind down.

The pushy women make me even more grumpy. I don't mind being told what to do when a hierarchy or even a relationship is already established. Bosses, mentors, directors, close friends, my mother, my father and Daniel: they all get to tell me when I'm out of line or when there was a better way to have done something. The other girl that works at the bookstore left me a list of "Things to do if I have time" that included shelve books, vacume [sic] if needed and to love and accept myself totally. Let's keep in mind that she can't count the money accurately, has trouble alphabetizing and doesn't read anything other than metaphysical books. #1 What does she think I do with my day? #2 Who is she to be giving me suggestions? I don't leave 3rd grade math exercises for her to practice with do I? Also this week, at choir practice, during the break a woman was speaking to the high school girl that sits next to me and I heard something about "and your neighbor . . ." Since the woman's tone was light, I continued walking toward them smiling and asked, "What about her neighbor?" "You need to sit up when you sing, too." What?!? I wish I had thought quickly enough to say, "Hi, I'm Rebecca, we weren't properly introduced before you started correcting me." #1 She walks in late every week. #2 We were sight-reading a difficult piece previous to the break and I was focused on notes rather than tone. #3 Who is she to tell me what to do? The director is the type to make her unhappiness with my behavior known if necessary. I would never dream of correcting a total stranger, especially in such a patronizing way. I was left gaping.

So, all of these slights and insults, both intentional and those rising out of simple social ignorance have put me on edge. This week it's hard to remember the sense of community that I love here, because it feels like a dysfunctional family with all of its hidden barbs and unresolved tensions.

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