As I get older, I seem to both be meeting more new people and also caring a little less what they think of me. If I were the kind of person who knew about math, I’d try to write an equation that maps out the degradation in how much I care about how people see me versus how many people actually see me and how that compares to my age. I don’t know what it would look like in terms of math, but in ten years, I’ll probably just be a rolling cloud of curses, weird clothes, and the pungent smell of garlic-stuffed olives.
As I get older, I’ve also noticed I’m developing some fun little personality quirks that manifest in delightful things I do–or really, really want to do–while in the pleasant company of friends, family, or near strangers.
Whenever I’m in a quiet place, the kind where everyone is sharing in a little low-burn anxiety, I have this overwhelming impulse to just let fly the most shrill wail my body could produce. I’ll be sitting in a theater, the previews will have just ended and it’ll be that quiet moment before the movie actually gets started. In that space when the lights are dim and the anticipation is building, I have this powerful, consuming urge to throw my head back and fill the room with my wild, hoarse shrieks.
Not hiding the filth I eat
This is a more recent series of developments. At the beginning of grad school, I had this weird notion that I was an adult. I also had this even weirder notion that I had to act like one. “Acting like one,” for me, entailed not letting anyone see the kind of bullshit filth I ate in my office because I figured it would ruin the image of capable youth at the top of their field that I certainly inspired in everyone around me. I figured that if anyone saw me eating an entire tube of peanut-butter stuffed pretzel snacks, they suddenly wouldn’t be able to believe I could also be a good teacher. I hid so many trashy snacks in the cabinets behind my desk. If anyone had ever reached behind my chair, they’d think I was keeping a pet freshman, but I wasn’t. It was me. I ate the pretzels. Now, as time has worn on, I’ve stopped caring that I eat like a student while I’m at work. I spend enough time around them. It makes sense I take on some of their habits, especially when sometimes they give me snacks because I think they can see how weak grad school made me. But I don’t hide anymore. I’ve grown calloused enough that I’ll raid a vending machine and sit in the student union surrounded by past, current, and potential future students, and if any of them come up to me, they will see the same glazed, apathetic stare that they should come to expect from someone who is eating pungent garlic chips right before talking to a bunch of students in very close quarters.
I’ve mentioned before how a small, relatively common insect could put me in the ground with as much effort as it would take to ruin some kid’s flower picking. Because of this inexcusable weakness to springtime insects, I carry around a few shots of Epinephrine. Presumably, if my standard defense of “getting really zen” doesn’t keep me from getting stung, then I have to shove one of these things into my thigh and hope someone more in charge of their heartbeat calls an ambulance.
Along with two shots of life-saving heart superchargers, the doctor gave me a practice shot. It looks exactly like the real ones, except there’s no needle. The purpose of this is to show everyone I’m typically hanging out with how to jab me if a bee ever does the same. However, I’ve developed this habit of not telling people it’s a practice needle. I like to just work it into a conversation. “Oh, yeah I’m also getting allergies this season. You know what else I’m allergic to? Bees. Isn’t that terrible, but I actually have this cool needle in case I get stung by one, and you use it like this,” and then I pull the cap off, and shove it into some part of me that I think looks the most disturbing. Usually my neck. So far, nobody has laughed as much as me.
I think I like this new, more apathetic and fun version of me. I don’t feel pressure to look or act a certain way. I just make sure my work is good and the people around me don’t hate me too much, and things are nice.