Ways You Are Better Than Me
You don’t make people uncomfortable with your extreme reticence. You know how to hold a conversation with a healthy admixture of wit, empathy, and erudition. You are modest (not prude; there is a distinction). You don’t make self-deprecating comments in a transparent attempt to procure compliments. You write prompt thank-you notes. You can focus on intellectual tasks if you haven’t masturbated today. You can sew, with a machine and by hand. You can even tat. You give homemade Christmas presents.
You shop when you need to replace something, not because you’re depressed. You are prudent with money and have an IRA. You don’t constantly spend your meager earnings on meals out and then regret it when you see your bank statement. You don’t feel the need to wear unique shoes in order to make other people like you. All of your personal effects, from papers to clothing to kitchen utensils, are eminently organized, according to chronology, color, size, frequency of use, or any other applicable category. You don’t have stacks of books and magazines scattered about the house. You never leave an empty bowl of ice cream on your dresser for a week until it’s all crusty and sticky.
You jog at least three times a week. You put yourself through college by working two jobs and ever since graduation you have never worked less than 50 hours a week. You don’t complain about your job. Your blog shows sleek aesthetic style and effortless, succinct posts. You consistently reply to the many comments your posts receive and you find the time to visit and comment on other people’s blogs. You have something more professional-looking than a Blogger blog. You don’t feel lost and floundering in a sea of computer programming acronyms. You don’t constantly check your @replies and retweets.
You live in a real city that is close to an ocean. However, you don’t look down on rural folk or people from mid-sized cities. In your international travels, you seek out locals, not just other Americans, and have meaningful discussions about politics with them. You take the time to learn the names of the leaders of any country to which you travel.
You know some rudimentary phrases in ASL and don’t smile awkwardly around deaf people. You visit people in the hospital without feeling nauseous and you know just what to say to put ill people at ease. You don’t have to boast about your dubious accomplishments in order to get people to like you. People are naturally drawn to you because you are warm and demonstrative without being cloying. You are interesting as a side effect; you don’t cultivate what you think is an interesting personality as a means of gaining acolytes. You are tolerant of the fact that not everyone grew up in a literate household or had the chance to get a BA like you did. You don’t feel annoyed when Facebook friends can’t use the word hopefully in its correct sense or when they don’t know how to spell Hosni Mubarak. You are not cowardly; on the two occasions that other girls have hit you, you’ve fought back, rather than covering your face or stammering meekly, “What the fuck?”
You don’t get jealous of your best friend when she snags a perfect job on the very first interview, even if she got called for the interview after sending out only one resume. You congratulate her and mean it. It doesn’t bother you at all that she gets hit on repeatedly and you get ignored when the two of you go out drinking.
You don’t really go out drinking. Well, you do, but you have like one or two drinks and call it a night. There was never a point in your life when you had to have a sip of vodka first thing in the morning to stop the shakes. You find drunkenness rather distasteful, or at least beside the point. You have better things to do and healthier ways to deal with your excess emotions. You don’t have excess emotions. You react to everything exactly as you should. You don’t fake-cry at funerals; you never feel an inexplicable urge to burst out laughing. You cry because you really miss your great-grandma and all her smells. You know that she was a great woman and your feelings about her are not conflicted at all.
Children love you. Why shouldn’t they? You give them the respect and attention they deserve, and you don’t get tense around children; your behavior is exactly the same around them as it is around hospitalized people or your close friends. You are involved with your nieces’ and nephews’ upbringing. Your friends’ kids call you “auntie.” However, you broke up with your last boyfriend because he was pressuring you to have children, and you plan to wait until you are financially prepared and can start saving for your children’s college fund. When you do have children, you will be able to play a game of Candy Land with them without wanting to stab out your eyes with a spoon. You will be able to get your children to comply with reasonable requests without resorting to yelling, bribery, passive aggressive coercion, or ad hominem insults (which you’ll regret five seconds after uttering). You will cherish every minute you spend with your own children and never once wish you could just have 24 hours without having to tell them why or fetch them a cup of juice. Because of your thrice-weekly jogging habit, you will lose all the baby weight in three months, easily.
You have never once used your penchant for writing as a badge of superiority in social situations. You write not for personal glory but because you want to contribute to the grand conversation of literature. In approaching your writing, you don’t, with every breath, think about how your writing serves, in some inarticulable way, as revenge for all the times girls were mean to you or ostracized you in your school days. You don’t alternate writing an outline of your first novel with a draft of the speech you plan to deliver upon winning the National Book Award for said novel. You are widely read and didn’t find The Great Gatsby mind-numbingly boring. You can enumerate, in a cogent 3,000-word essay, what exactly you don’t like about Franzen’s Freedom, but why, in spite of your personal distaste, it remains a cultural touchstone. You don’t write articles that are simply self-indulgent lists of your own shortcomings (disguised as effusive praise for imaginary people) as yet another excuse to turn attention back on yourself.
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If you’ve been looking for a chance to say something then this very well could be it.
I wish to God I’d had a list like this when I was 23.
Answer phones better than anyone else has answered phones before. Relay messages so brilliant, they bring people to tears. Turn the coffee run into the choreography of Swan Lake. Become best friends with every intern and every underling and every taxi driver you encounter.
I remember taking the pen and notebook from that woman outside the courtroom, flipping to a clean page in the book, and writing, JESSICA IS SAD in big, bold, uncoordinated letters. “My sister is going to be a good writer someday! Look at how nice her lines are!”