Wednesday, November 01, 2006


I used to compete in and then coach forensic speech, which is competitive performance. At the end of each tournament, performers receive anywhere from 3 to 10 written critiques of their work, which also has a rank on it showing how they compared to the other performers in their round. Competitors receive a 1 for a best in the round and a 6 if they were the worst in the round and anything in between for average performances. Needless to say, it is very common for competitors to receive critiques that have a rank of 5 or 6 on them and state loudly, "This judge doesn't know what he's talking about!" Then, they list all of their observations about that judge that support their statement. They list of the terrible outfit he or she was wearing, make specualtions about which inferior school that judge was representing or nitpick mannerism such as slurping soda and tapping pens. Part of why I love teenagers is their inability to keep their disappointment (or any other emotion) out of their behavior.

I was as bad as anyone and this behavior carried over into my judging on occasion. As I made friends with other coaches on the circuit, we would talk a lot about our experiences as coaches and we would vent when a kid we thought deserved better got bad ranks. I was complaining about the grudge that I thought a judge had against my school and how useless his critique was. My friend Tom said, "In 20 years of coaching, I have learned that the most important critiques are not the judges that thought that my kid was the best but the judges that gave a good kid a 6. Speech is about effective communication and that 6 tells me that my kid did not communicate effectively. He put his information or emotion or entertainment out there, but the judge didn't receive it. That judge is going to tell me the most about how to help this kid get better." It was a watershed moment for me. I started to grow up out of my own teenaged competitor habits and began seeing tournaments with the eyes of an adult coach.

I have been slightly dishonest with you all. At the beginning of last week, someone commented on this post that was about my family and about my experience filing in small claims court for the money that my ex-husband has promised consistently but never repaid in the three and a half years since we were divorced. I erased the comment before anyone saw it because it made me very angry but I didn't want to let this guy provoke me into the intimacy of sharing intense emotion. He isn't worth that intimacy. However, I didn't want to just leave something so inflammatory up without a response. So, I deleted it. But as my anger that his total lack of empathy aroused has subsided, I began looking at his comment as if it were a critique with a 6 written on it. What am I doing wrong that causes me to miss the mark in trying to communicate with this guy? Why doesn't he understand me?

You know, Rebecca, in spite of your telling me you didn't want to be my friend, I had taken to reading this blog about once a month because I think you're a very good writer and, frankly, I just get curious to see how you're doing. But I don't think I'll be reading anymore. For someone who has claimed to just want to get past Dennis, you spend an awful lot of energy not getting past Dennis and taking satisfaction in not letting him get past you. I hope that eventually changes for you.

To give you some background, I did tell this guy that I didn't want to be friends with him. We had been friends but when Dennis left me, this guy sent me an email telling me I was a "bad person" and that he didn't want to be friends with me anymore. He never even asked me to confirm or deny whatever he had been told about what I did to make Dennis leave me. A couple of years later, when I moved into the city, he contacted me and said that he'd like to talk. He was not alone. I wrote about that influx of reconciliation in this post. While I felt comfortable with two of the three conversations that I had, I left this one conversation uncomfortable. I felt like he didn't really think that Dennis had done anything all that wrong by lying to me for 6 and half years and that he didn't understand why I was so hurt. He also wanted to take that opportunity to tell me his side of the story all about how his best friend (who was one of the other guys coming back to me) had betrayed him and how he was justified in not talking to him anymore. I felt strongly that if he was still the type of guy who could cut off the people closest to him without another word because he was insulted by something, I didn't want to trust him with my friendship again. Seriously. I'm not just writing that now in retrospect because of what he wrote in his comment. I have a three-point essay in my journal that I wrote as I was figuring out whether I was justified in doing something so drastic as to tell him that I didn't want to be friends anymore. So, I thanked him for helping me to resolve some of the painful issues of betrayal that I had from the events surrounding the divorce, but I told him that I wasn't interested in re-establishing a friendship with him. I said I hoped that he understood that I was in a new place in my life and looking for new relationships. I didn't go into details and I tried to be as respectful as I could. He responded and said that seemed weird, but that he wasn't going to argue with me. I thought it was all very amiable and adult, even if - maybe especially because - it was a little difficult.

So I was really taken aback to see his comment on my post. There is such smooth venom in it. And it shows that he really doesn't understand me at all. Which begs the question: how have I failed to communicate with this guy? He's right; in several posts I have a certain glee at dealing out some minor hurt to my ex-husband. Maybe I haven't done a very good job giving background to those folks that haven't been with me since the beginning: once I knew that my divorce was inevitable, I realized that I wanted to come out of the experience healthy. I didn't want to be the archetype of the bitter divorced woman who is always the confidante to the small, pretty, charmingly clumsy blonde who is the romantic heroine in the movies. So, vengeance of any sort wasn't an option for me.

But, do you know what? I just went back to check my posts since being back in Chicago. Only three are about Dennis in any length more than a passing comment to give background. You can find them here and here. There is also, this one about giving him the finger the first time I saw him after returning to Chicago from the island. After reading these three again and re-reading the post that caused this guy to comment, I have to disagree with his premise that I "spend an awful lot of energy not getting past Dennis and taking satisfaction in not letting him get past" me. I was going to spend some time in this post doing a self-inventory, seriously considering whether I have been allowing myself to slip into unhealthy behavior using the excuse that enough time has passed that I won't damage my soul now if I indulge in a few minor occurances of glee at his misfortune. But I don't see enough evidence in these posts to merit that space. If I can't get past Dennis, it is because Dennis continues to make himself a part of my life by doing things like bouncing checks that were supposed to pay back the money he spent going over my minutes on my cell phone calling his mistress while we were still married.

I made the decision that I was going to come out of this experience healthy. Being healthy is all about balance and up until recently, I had swung all the way to one side of dealing with the intense hurt of losing my husband not through death but through deception and his choice that I wasn't worth his time anymore. For the most part, I let him beat me up emotionally and turned the other cheek, attempting to forgive and move on so that my life wouldn't orbit around his anymore. But now that I have broken orbit, I need to swing a little bit to the other side of recovery and fight back just a little. I needed to regain just a little bit of power in the relationship and when I learned that he was getting married again, I decided that I would feel less powerless if I forced him to pay the rest of the money that he owed me.

Coincidentally, I dealt with this guy's betrayal of our friendship back then in a similar way. I was quiet. I didn't try to argue my case. I tried to forgive and move on. But when he hurt me again last week by flaming my blog, I took back some of the power in the relationship by telling him that I never wanted him to communicate with me again in any format. Also, I might have mentioned that I wasn't a "fucking newspaper" and that I didn't care if he canceled his subscription. When he responded to my email in flagrant defiance of my request, I simply deleted the message without reading it. I don't need that kind of negative energy in this life that I'm trying to build from the ashes of the life that he was a part of.

As a coach, I now look for the clue to success in the critiques that proclaim that my students have failed and try to teach that philosophy to the kids. I don't let them disparage their judges where I can hear them and most of the time I'm right: respect even those you don't like and who are mean to you because they probably have the most to teach you. However, sometimes schools hire their bus drivers to judge tournaments if the scheduled judge calls in hung-over. Other times, judges are hung-over. Occasionally, judges are so caught up in taking down the competition so that their own kid can win, they rank unethically. Kids don't have the experience to be able to weed these critiques out and disregard them. All 6s look the same to them. But I can tell when a judge has his head up his ass. I don't point it out to the kid; I simply change the subject and read what the next one has to say.

It's time to change the subject and move on to the next critique. Because if this guy thinks that I'm clinging to my life with Dennis after all that I've been through these past three and a half years, his ability to get his head so far between his knees that he looks like a grotesque pretzel is all that he'll ever have to be proud of.

And I'm not interested in freak shows.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are far to intellegent, kind, confident, and special to spend any more of your time worried about what this guy thinks. I am a complete outsider, I met you after you had been on the island for a while and have been reading your blogs ever since. I have thought that you are a very strong woman because you hardly ever mention you ex and what terrible things he did to you. You have chosen to take the high road and live a life where you don't question what you did wrong or what you could have done different anymore. I for one respect that. I don't at all think that you are being vindictive for wanting to get what has been promised to you by a man that promised a lot of things to you. He needs to grow up and realize that the world does not revolve around him and that there are consequences to his actions. ~Kate