Monday, December 8, 2008

Mean Girls

Today James Gobel asked me, about 20 minutes into our meeting, "Are you a nice person?" to which I replied immediately, "Oh my god, no, not at all." And then, "I mean, what does nice mean?" And then, "I mean, do you think anyone is really nice all the time?"

This has been on my mind today-- this morning I got an email from someone I lived next door to during middle school. She had read my blog and a posting I wrote waaaaaaay back in October about the 7th grade girls in our neighborhood, of which there were many. She apologized for having been hurtful and it was very sweet and made me think about that time when meanness high and self-esteem was low. I was certainly astounded by this meanness last summer at Farm and Wilderness, where even Quaker girls spit fire. My favorite story is one where a 9 year old told the camp director she wanted her to die. They were sitting in a minivan on the first day of camp. After seething for about an hour, her parents huddling outside the car on the dirt road, the kid finally got out of the car, took her swim test and proceeded to have a great 4 weeks.

I'm going home in less than two weeks and have been making lists of things to remember or get while I'm there to bring back to SF for new drawings. Before going to camp this last summer I was going through my old desk drawers to find stationary to bring with me and was confounded by the number of letters and postcards I wrote in grade school but never sent. Some of them are as simple as "Dear Jillian Bittel, The Grand Canyon is awesome!" while others dabble in emotional complexities I can't even begin to describe here. What's interesting about these postcards and letters is that they create performative spaces for the people writing them-- small little stages where words are chosen to direct and shape how someone else will perceive their authors experience.

Certainly this relates to the email I got this morning-- I hope that this girl knows that I've hardly seethed and conspired against her for having not been the nicest to me in middle school. To some degree, I could probably write her an epic thank-you letter-- one day I showed up to school crying after a tragic and lonely walk to school and it was that day that Hannah Kohut asked me if I wanted to sit at her lunch table. My story hit an elbow, changed directions and now here I am.

The email was short but lovely because it basically said, "I'm sorry that girls are mean, and that we were girls, and therefore mean." I'm sure I have droves of these unwritten letters I could and should write-- to ex-friends, ex-partners, ex-coaches, ex-teachers, etc... It's weird and kind of wonderful how virtual communities like The Facebook enable this sort of reconciliation, where one can offer and accept 'friendships' without the danger of mincing words into dramatic pulpy confessions, pleas for repentance or notifications of acceptance. If you're reading this, I invite and implore you to post your own comments, stories, and apologies here. This morning I told James that I think I could write whole encyclopedias of apologies. Guess what he said. "That sounds like a good idea for some drawings...."

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