Friday, April 24, 2009

Outside The Bubble

Posted by C at This Matters This Day.

Liz Lemon has done it again. Put a window on something that, in retrospect, felt close to the truth…

Last time was the reunion episode. Weeks later, when wondering idly why some people from high school still haven’t ‘friended’ me – when they had friended others. Not just ‘the popular kids,’ but even kids more off-the-grid, now FRIENDING the ‘popular kids.’ Then, the episode came back to me.

Liz was at her reunion, and discovered that she was mean in highschool. That her reverse-snubbing, her snub-or-be-snubbed was NOT invisible. That the popular kids didn’t like her because she wasn’t likable.

I laughed and payed no real attention. Thought it wasn’t one of the better episodes.

Later – much later – weeks later… **gasp** …

When you are 15-16-17, sharp-witted and imagine yourself slightly better than those around you – the prettier ones, the more together ones, the ones who aren’t so afraid of trying, of proving themselves, of fitting in… ooops.

You become Liz. Snarky, with thinly-veiled quick-witted asides that are – oops again – sarcastic and more than a little mean.

I thought then that those honor role kids just didn’t get me. The truth was something else. I just didn’t want to play. And thought I should get by on my (under-appreciated) looks and (underexercised) raw intelligence.

OK. So flash-forward. Now those same kids – the ones who tried? Who made it all important when, I, in my infinite wisdom (and 2.75 GPA) suspected it wasn’t? Those kids have kids. And their kids are in private school. And they play with my kids. My kids who are woefully unprepared.

I could list the reasons why, or how they are unprepared: mom works, mom is scatter-brained, mom is not wealthy, mom has no idea what the rules are… but the truth is this: Mom doesn’t want to play.

On last night’s 30 Rock, we saw the return of Dr.Drew Baird. (Moment of silence, please, to acknowledge my disproportionate love of Jon Hamm…) The premise was that he is so good-looking that people expect little of him, and fill him with lies. So he’s a doctor that doesn’t know the Heimlich, is awful in bed, and cannot play tennis – and has never waited in a line.

Again, good show. I laughed. I was mad that Jon Hamm was leaving again, (c’mon Liz! Do you HAVE to be the bearer of Truth?) and I laughed harder when Jack Donaghy explained The Bubble and the loss of the Bubble. I laughed ‘cuz it was funny, right? A ridiculous premise?

Oh, shit. I laughed ‘cuz it’s True!

At the risk of being exposed as more narcissistic than I feel (although I guess even narcissism has its roots in self-loathing, but I digress) – I was driving home from my son’s third grade play almost in tears and realized… ooops… I GOT IT!

Now, the almost-tears were for a number of reasons. Chief trigger was that the set looked great. I had derided the moms that made a big deal of the set – thinking that this is third grade, they are walking up to microphones, the play isn’t blocked, each character is shared by six kids, etc. And TWO of my props were rejected as inadequate, and my son’s Zukerman costume was Not Quite Right, even though we got the same Farmer Costume memo as every other mom.

The secondary trigger was the Perfect Moms who told me afterward that my son was great – Moms whose children I did not know, moms themselves whose names are filed somewhere in my back brain where they cannot be accessed as I am trying to anonymously high tail it out of a multimillion dollar performance facility (where my son just performed a walk-up-to-the-mike rendition of a play written for about 8 kids along with 59 of his closest friends.)

You see, friends, I lived in The Bubble. Because while high school may not be kind to the I-think-I-am-prettier-and-smarter-than-you-so-I-flirt-too-much-and-laugh-too-hard-when-I-get-the-grown-up-jokes-of-the-AP-English-teacher-and-treat-everything-with-a-note-of-disdain-and-irony… your twenties? Especially if they got to occur in the nineties? In your twenties, folks eat that shit up.

All the sudden – for a minute, maybe, or for something like six or seven years – I was IT.

I ran in a circle with famous people for a college internship and later, I had a great job. I had loads of friends, I had loads of sex, and I had great hair. I dressed well and drove free German cars. I was connected. Professionally, personally… I felt untouchable. I flirted as I breathed. I got promoted. I worked way over my head, and I gathered in large chummy packs at the neighborhood bar in the tony neighborhood… that I walked to.

Because no one ever accused me of making things look easy, I assumed my aggressive wheel spinning and frenetic pace meant I really was working hard.

I assumed, that somehow, without actually working for it… I had earned it. I believed my press.

My eventual husband believed it, too – he would say later that his initial impression was that I was ‘out of his league,’ he imagined that I had it together – because there was so much of it, and it looked confusing to the outsider.

I was In the Bubble.

And inside, it actually was confusing. But it was contained, somewhat.

All that happened, besides growing up and getting married and having kids and folding into private schools (quite by accident, but again I digress) is that I outgrew the bubble. And now? 40, with those intrepid kids in tow … the bubble is gone.

The mess is no longer contained by the walls of the bubble, and I am exposed to the (god love him, still-with-me) husband. I am invisible among those working harder, with more qualifications and a more complete rule set. My confusion confuses them. They expect more of themselves… shoudn’t I?

Inside the bubble was better.

So, somehow? Now, I guess? It’s time to grow up. Or at least fake it a whole lot better.



Anonymous said...

God, I thought the exact same thing when I watched the Reunion show. I was so Liz Lemon.

High school felt like a zoo to me, and I was the raw meat. I tried so hard to fly under the radar that people who tried to be nice to me got rebuffed. I totally didn't get it.

I was a mean girl. And awkward. I really cringe now to think about it.

My 15-year reunion is coming up this fall. I have since become "friends" (I think, sort of) with the smart, together, cool kids...which is just weird for me in a lot of ways. I am paralyzed by anxiety just thinking about whether it'll be different now, or if I'll magically transform back into the too-tall, too-awkward, trying-to-hide-my-lack-of-confidence girl. I hate that girl.

Unknown said...

Ok, I don't watch those shows so I have no idea what you're talking about there, but Healing from High School is my specialty.

EVERYONE was a creep in high school. Popular kids, unpopular kids, it doesn't matter. We were all assholes and victims. Our brains were still forming. We were not yet whole people.

You simply must get over it.

Instead of popularity, aim for integrity, both for yourself and your kids. Instead of worrying about what everyone thinks, worry about what the people who mean the most to you will think. Do the best YOU can, when it comes to your kids, whether you can afford the "right" schools and the "right" lessons and the "right" activities or not, whether your costumes is "just right" or not.

I had a very healing conversation, when I was about 19/20, with a girl who had been UBERpopular in my high school. I confessed to her, "Even after your accident (in which she was paralyzed from the waist down, permanently), I wanted to be you. Everyone was worried about you. Everyone was praying for you. Everyone knew who you were. I really believed that if I had been in that car instead, no one would have even noticed. There wouldn't have been daily announcements about how I was doing in the hospital. It wouldn't have even been a blip on the other kids' radars."

"Are you kidding?" she said, aghast. "Amy, I always wanted to be YOU. You didn't have to conform to what everyone expected of you. You could wear what you wanted, date whoever you wanted. You could be yourself. I always felt like I had to be who everyone else thought I was."

On the outside looking in, on the inside looking out, high school sucks for EVERYONE. It HAS TO, because we learn how to deal with real problems through those early practice problems. Please, do yourself a favor and let it go. The absence of "the bubble" that you talk about, I think, is the fact that everyone else has moved on to more important, more meaningful pursuits.

Frankly, I think it would be exhausting, at this point in life (married with kids) to try to be popular. Just be yourself. People will respond much more warmly to a genuine person than to someone who is trying to attain some imaginary status.

Good luck. Growing up is hard. I can only imagine how much harder it is when you're 40.

Anonymous said...

OMG My bubble is gone too. I was in the bubble when my husband met the "out of his league" me. but now...he sees "out of the bubble" me. Lets hope he cannot chew thru the ropes :)

CatrinkaS said...

Amy... wha...?

Feeling you totally missed the point.

I am "over it," and actually had a great time in high school. Still have many good friends from that time.

The "bubble" refers to the person I was in my 20a- on top of the world for a minute, and feeling absolutely entitled to it. It's more about letting myself understand that it's OK to work at things - socially, personally - rather than affecting (or adopting) disdain at how hard everyone else is working.

Polly Prim said...


Sorry, I'm with Amy. If you actually were having a good time in high school, what was all the thinking-you're-smarter-than-the-other-kids-laughing-at-the-AP-English-teacher's-jokes stuff about?

And, what's with the third grade play and the set being better than it needed to be? What was all that about?

What, exactly, is the problem you're describing?

CatrinkaS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CatrinkaS said...

Maybe, if you read the long-since-edited post I used to start my own blog (back in March) after I sent in this version to HBM, it will make more sense. Or not.

Anonymous said...

I didn't get that you were being self-critical. I think I just don't "get" your voice, you know?

Unknown said...

I don't understand why no one gets what CatrinkaS is saying! It is so clear that she is not whining about her HS experience. In fact, she seems to have had a good experience, with the usual HS nonsense. Ladies, put down the mean pen and re-read the article. This is NOT about Wah, how rotten HS was. You want rotten cruel HS experience, I will be glad to fill you in on the cruelty of those years. But who cares! I think Cat is saying don't believe your own press. I know her now and when she was in her 20's, shared that life and it was ridiculously fun and we were untouchable and superior (we foolishly thought so) and now we realize we weren't. Cat is the most down to earth, kind, funny, smart and totally at home in her world now. So believe me, HS is NOT what she is talking about and it's time all you ladies let it go too.

Her Bad Mother said...

I got it, Catrinka. If others don`t get it, no big - although please, everyone, please keep kindness as the first rule.

Jennifer said...

Interesting post. I feel that I "got it" after the first read and summed it up to this - sometimes people feel better by making others feel worse. It happens all the time. I appreciated this post as I interpreted Catrinka's life experiences as being humbling...She seems retrospective, I can relate. Thanks for sharing. :)

Anonymous said...

I think it is about looking back, and trying to figure out who you were "when" and deciding to do things differently, or to find some lesson in 'then' to apply to now.

gudnuff said...

For what it's worth, I LOVED THIS POST. My jaw dropped in soul-clenching recognition of what Cat was saying. Thank you, Cat, for posting this. I am struggling with some similar issues now, in my early 40's, with a third-grader, dealing with other mothers, with echoes of high school reverberating in my head and my gut, thoughts/feelings/behaviors dancing oddly with both the present and the past all at once. It is surreal. And it is confusing and honest and scary and brave and a constant clash of confidence and self-doubt and how much is ME and how much of someone else's high school-ness is affecting this dynamic? Is that what SHE thinks? Is that what I think? Etc.

Let it go. Sure. No problem. Let it all go. Who cares. Stop thinking so hard. Except this is my life PLUS my kid's life now, and this isn't high school, this is me at my most authentic, most mature, most adult, right? I mean, if not now, when, for god's sake? If I'm not the most adult, mature, authentic person I can be NOW, in my 40's, showing my child how to be a mommy, a professional, a wife, a member of the community interacting with other "adults"...if I'm not at the top of my game now, will I ever be?

I could go on. But I won't. Because Cat has captured it so well already. Thank you, Cat. You rock. This was an awesome, deep, very meaningful post that spoke to me in a profound and helpful way. I really appreciate you sharing your very personal thoughts and feelings about yourself. Awesome job. This will stay with me.