Monday, September 03, 2012

The Look

Autumn seems to be arriving early this year. We have not had huge amounts of rain, and so far (knock wood loudly) we have avoided the wrath of any hurricanes or tropical storms. Still, it is a bit windy and rainy. My back yard, which was leaf-free after my efforts on Sunday morning, is now covered in a blanket of yellow and brown leaves, all from an apparently dying chestnut tree on the property behind mine. Maybe it is because I am prepping a class in Greek and Roman mythology that I am reminded of the myth of Sisyphus.

Today is Labor Day, and true to American tradition, I have spent much of my weekend at picnics. Many of you who read this blog are not believers in astrology. However, I considered this weekend to be an education in the Aries/Taurus cusp personality. I am an Aries/Taurus cusp; so is my mother, and so is one of my friends, the one whose house I happened to visit on Sunday.

At the Sunday picnic, my friend had a ton of excellent food--some wonderful Italian specialities, every conceivable meat on the grill, and loads of good desserts. She was constantly running around, taking things out of the oven, preparing things, running here and there to do things. Whenever anyone asked if they could help her, she said, "Nope, got it under control." Similarly, when I was at my mother's house today, there are some things she will let me help with, but with others she will say, "Nope--leave that for me, I have my own system."

At my mother's house, one particular dish she was cooking did not turn out properly, and she was very vexed throughout the entire meal. I said to her, "It's fine, it tastes fine, it's not the end of the world. " And of course I know that if this happened at an event I was giving at MY house, I'd want to pull out the knives for hari kiri. I tell my mother and my friend not to worry so much about having everything perfect, and I know damn well that I will criticize myself for years afterward if I screw up the same thing. It's the case of the pot and the kettle. I have had friends stay at my house, and I think they sometimes get vexed with me, because I usually don't let them do anything, and I'm adamant about it. I've tried to be more relaxed, but I have a real thing about my own house and kitchen--I know where everything is, and I have a system for putting everything away, doing dishes in the proper order, etc. We tend to be the same way about our jobs--we know what we're doing, and we don't like others messing up our system, even if it's well intended. As my mother put it, "it throws you out of your rhythm." I totally get that.

My mother is a rather tiny woman; we are the same height, but she has a considerably smaller frame. Still, there are people who find my mother intimidating. "I have no idea why," she says. She's not openly aggressive. But she told me a recent story that illustrates why she is feared, or at least respected. My mother has been the head of the shelving department at a large public library for about 30 years. Recently, in the children's room, a couple of kids were diving off the ledge by the bay windows. One of her shelvers approached the mother, concerned that one of the kids might go through the window. "I wouldn't want that to happen," said the mother, who did not move from her computer to see what the kids were doing. So, the shelver went over to speak to my Mom. The kids must have heard, because they temporarily quieted down. Then they started up again. My mother came out from the stacks, and approached them, shaking her head, and wagging her finger. And she gave them The Look. The kids stopped immediately and sat down.

The Look has been my mother's weapon of choice since we were children. It is far more effective than yelling or physical violence. All she has to do is give you The Look, and you will wither instantly into submission. It's really a superpower, and I told her she should handle it as such.

As an adult, I don't have the mastery of The Look, though I'm more immune to it now if my mother gives it to me. I prefer honest, face-to-face verbally calling someone out rather than just giving them The Look. But I don't think I do it as effectively. This is probably why my mother prefers I be silent in conflict, rather than speak up. But her battle weapon is different from mine.

When it comes to personalities, we know we're not always right, but we know what we think is right for ourselves. And if anyone tries to talk us out of what we think, openly argue, or belittle our points of view, we get like agitated cobras ready to spit venom. Which is why when we have family arguments, it's so much worse; we are equally stubborn and entrenched in our viewpoints, and neither side will budge. Over the years I have learned to use humor to break such impasses. And I know I'm not going to change her way of thinking (nor she mine), so I go out of my way to avoid arguments. Neutrality is far better than war in such cases.

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