konmari-ish

This was an unfinished post originally written in early 2019, shortly after Marie Kondo‘s reality show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” had debuted on Netflix. I wasn’t going to post it, but figured some of you may be using your quarantine down time to declutter, so perhaps it still retains some relevance! 

In 2014, I read Marie Kondo’s now-famous book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up“. At the time, I had just been forced to move from a house I loved into a tiny apartment, due to circumstances not of my choosing, and I deeply resented having to dispose of large amounts of my belongings. My mom, rightly and logically, pointed out that it didn’t make sense to pay for storage to house items that could be replaced for less than what you’d pay in storage costs, but I stubbornly rented a unit to house what I deemed the most indispensable of my stuff. I reasoned that I’d be in a new house soon enough, and on some level it was faster and easier to move things than spend the time sorting and getting rid of them.

Fast forward to the present, 4 1/2 almost 6 (!) years later. I still haven’t bought a new house, and much of that stuff is still in boxes or garbage bags in my basement, so unless I take action, next time we move I’ll still have all of those belongings to reckon with. I recently sold another house and had to clean out the basement… I only ended up keeping maybe a third of what was down there. It actually wasn’t hard at all to part with most of it— if I hadn’t looked at it or touched it in years, how much did I *really* need it?

I remember that first year living in the apartment, on New Year’s Eve, instead of going out I decided to stay home and clean out my closet using the KonMari method. I blasted some music, drank some wine, and said goodbye to a decent chunk of my clothing. It felt good; an appropriate way to start the year fresh. Since then, I’ve practiced KonMari a few times on my clothing, but haven’t yet gotten past that step of the process to apply it to other items in my house. Still, the philosophy of KonMari–only keeping things that “spark joy”–has seeped into my consciousness, informing daily decisions and making it so much easier to part with things. Now, instead of feeling resentment, it feels liberating to be able to lighten the load and have less attachment to physical objects.

With the debut of Marie Kondo’s Netflix show, she’s been the subject of many a HuffPo or Buzzfeed opinion piece, usually written by millenial white women either breathlessly describing how transformational KonMari has been for them, or defiantly proclaiming that Marie will have to pry such-and-such personal item out of their cold, dead hands. I tend to fall somewhere in between, but the main problem I have with KonMari is how it assumes a certain socio-economic privilege. I watched a couple episodes of the series and literally felt physically ill at the amount of consumer goods that some of the families had accumulated. It was painful to witness that much crass, needless consumption when there are so many people in need, not to mention the environmental impact. Kondo assumes that you can fairly painlessly dispose of items you’ve paid good money for, simply because you don’t get a thrill from them any longer. This is a luxury many people will never know. Personally, although I can and do get rid of clothing I no longer wear, I own several items that don’t spark joy but that I have to keep anyway, because I either can’t or don’t want to spend the money to buy a version I like better.

It’s no surprise that a feeling of scarcity breeds hoarding and clutter. If you’re poor (or grew up that way), you’re going to cling to an attitude of “what if I need that someday?” rather than easily letting go. Through KonMari, I have gradually shifted from this attitude, drilled into me from my thrifty and frugal mother (to her credit, she’s evolved a lot on this over the years), to a realization that the advantages of alleviating the stress of clutter far outweigh any economic disadvantage to having to re-buy something you may have owned 5 years ago. When I cleaned out the aforementioned basement, there were a few items that were still new in their boxes. I knew I would probably never use them, so the hardest part of letting go was knowing they were worth money and feeling guilty that I should be having a garage sale or selling them on Craigslist rather than just giving them away. But my reasonable side (the one that knows I will realistically not do either of those things, and the items would continue to follow me around) won out, thankfully.

My partner is radically anti-getting rid of things, which makes for a stressful household at times. He has moved twice since I’ve known him, and I’d say about 3/4 of his closet is comprised of shirts I’ve never seen him wear. He keeps books that he’s either read and will never read again, or will just never read. He has several boxes of VHS tapes (we’ve never once watched one.) But, this is just how he was raised— his parents have an attic, a garage, and not one but two pole barns filled with old stuff that they see no reason to part with, seeing as how they have the room to store it. While it’s true that some of it has come in handy (when our son came along, they already had plenty of toys and books at their house for when he visits, which is often), I personally can’t imagine the psychological weight of all those possessions. Then again, we are still in a stage of life where we’ll likely move a couple more times at least, whereas they are in their “forever home”. When I think about whether to keep something, what I *really* try to consider is whether I want it enough to deal with packing and moving it. 

I realize this post is over a year past being “on-topic”, but that’s life with a toddler! I’d still love to hear comments… are you using the extra time on your hands to do a quarantine purge, or is the crisis strengthening your hoarding instincts? Did you watch Marie’s show, and if so, what did you think? For further reading, this is a great article analyzing the show and surrounding backlash.

 

the life-changing magic of being tidied up

Marie Kondo is everywhere these days due to her new reality show, but her book and method of decluttering one’s home have been around for several years. The prevalence of articles and social media posts about her and her method of ridding oneself of things that don’t spark joy, got me thinking about the time someone practiced KonMari on me…

In the summer of 2015, my life was a tangle of loose ends. Living in a tiny apartment after my marriage ended, my existence pretty much revolved around going out way too much, and dealing with the anxiety of dating again at the age of 40. A certain friend of mine, K, had a lot more experience than me in this department… she’d been mostly single over the last decade, so I leaned on her a bit more than my other friends to discuss the ins and outs of Tinder, first dates, etc. I’m sure my boy-craziness got a little annoying or trying at times, but I thought I was at least in a better place than I had been when I was going through the divorce itself, burdening friends with the details of my failing relationship and how awful and depressed I felt. At least now I was having some fun?

Coincidentally, K had recently shed her single status and was dating a guy she had fallen pretty hard for, despite him being 9 years her junior. I’m not sure if she felt like my somewhat desperate demeanor was going to be contagious, but it was almost as if she was afraid my “energy” was going to somehow mess up her otherwise perfect life, despite us living 1200 miles away from each other. Funny, I never felt like her singleness was a burden or threat to me when I was in a relationship. I’d routinely listen to her prattle on about whatever guy she was crushing on, stories of bad dates, good sex, and everything in between. She had a habit of calling when she was getting in the car, talking at me for the duration of her drive time, and abruptly ending the conversation when I tried to talk about my life by cheerily announcing, “Gotta go!” because she had arrived at her destination. I’d accepted these calls as a fact of our friendship, without complaint or feeling put upon, because that’s what girlfriends are for… right?

K is one of those people who has a very busy life between work, socializing and other activities, so between that and the boyfriend, I didn’t think too much of it when she was difficult to get a hold of. At one point I suggested via text that we make a “phone date” to catch up, so that we could talk at a time that was convenient to her, since I had a more flexible schedule. A couple days later, I got the following as a response via email:

I am sorry to be harsh but I feel like you aren’t hearing what I’m not saying.  The reason I haven’t been reaching out to you is because I feel like we aren’t on the same wavelength.  It’s not something you did – I have changed a ton in the last couple years and my life has altered greatly.  I just can’t work to maintain relationships that aren’t feeding me right now and I feel like you want a lot I can’t give.  I care about you and wish you the best but I just don’t feel like talking or visiting – it’s just not where I’m at.  I hope you can understand and respect that.  I really do mean it with kindness.”

It slowly dawned on me as I re-read her email… I’d been Kon-Mari’d! This was well before “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” had become the international  phenomenon it is today, but the book had been out for a couple years at least, and K had read it and been quite influenced by it. In a funny and ironic twist, she’d actually credited ME with being the one to introduce her to the book/ method, although I don’t recall having done so. But the line about relationships not “feeding” her (what are you anyway, a vampire?) made it clear that this was the impetus behind her action. Friend no longer sparking joy? Kick them to the curb! Never mind if there’s 15 years of history there. Admittedly, K had always been more of a surface-y type of person than most of my other close friends, but I never imagined I’d be ditched for asking for dating advice, or because I was single and she was in a relationship.

Initially, I took her missive more or less at face value, at least the part about being in different phases of life and not meaning it in a cruel way. I sent her what I thought was a graceful reply, acknowledging that although I was saddened to hear she no longer wanted to have an active friendship, that I accepted her for who she was and what she had to offer no matter what “wavelength” she was on, and letting her know that should she change her mind, I would welcome her back into my life anytime, no hard feelings. I even thanked her for the support she had offered through the worst parts of my divorce! But just a couple weeks later, I found out that she was in Detroit. This put things in a whole new light—obviously the timing of her email was directly related to the fact that she didn’t want to deal with my messy self hanging with her posse of perfectly poised gal-pals. Her actions seemed motivated less by what was “feeding her”, and more by a mean-girls desire to not be obligated to include me in social activities during her visit. Strangely enough, this realization made it hurt less, not more, since it confirmed the feelings I’d always’ pushed to the back of my mind about her superficiality. 

The most difficult part of all this was not losing her as a friend; I got over that part with surprising speed. It was the knowledge that she would have to tell our mutual friends what she’d done (since they’d wonder why we weren’t hanging out on her visit), and that I’d suffer the embarrassment of having people know I got friend-dumped. (Awkward, to be sure, but I also got over that more quickly than I’d expected.) Looking back, I’m sure it reflected much more poorly on her than on me. I mean, I hadn’t done anything other than be mildly neurotic about my romantic life, whereas she had cast off a 15-year friendship for totally selfish reasons. And she didn’t even follow KonMari protocol by thanking me at the end of it for my service!

For a while, we kept up appearances that everything was “cool” by continuing to follow each other’s social media accounts; she’d even throw me the consolation prize of a complimentary comment on occasion. (I’m sure this was stemming not so much from a genuine warm feeling, but rather to come off as less of an asshole to our mutual friends. Or maybe the relief of knowing I was now at arms’ length—phew!!—made her feel more comfortable to interact once in a while.) Then, on her 40th birthday, she posted something about how proud she was that she had made it to 40 with, among other things, “no divorces and no children out of wedlock”.

At that point any desire I had to keep up a friendly rapport went out the window. What a self-aggrandizing twat! I messaged her something like, “Funny, in spite of my divorce and kid out of wedlock, I’m doing better than ever.” I didn’t think the original comment was necessarily meant to throw shade at me personally (and if it was, all the more reason for her to piss off), but like, what a self-involved and judgmental thing to say. I know she has many friends other than me who have suffered the trauma of a divorce, or who have kids “out of wedlock” (what are we, in the 1950’s??? This is from someone who considers herself a proud feminist, FFS!) I also know for a fact I was not the only one taken aback by the comment, but I was apparently the only one who called her out on how it came across. For doing so, I got promptly blocked and deleted. I thought the dramatic and disproportionate reaction was pretty funny given that this is a person who prides herself on being extremely enlightened and self-aware. My message was merely intended to convey, “Hey, maybe step back and think about how your comments sound to people who have gone through those things,” or, “Everyone does life differently, there’s no need to act superior if people have had different life experiences than you.” (I suppose I could have phrased my message that way, but what can I say, my sarcastic side got the best of me.) In retrospect, I should have known that saying something wouldn’t actually get her to be self-reflective, but it really was less about that and more about standing up to someone whose words were thoughtless and offensive.

Ultimately, it was no love lost. I’m kind of glad it had the ending that it did, getting rid of any lingering feelings of nostalgia and freeing me from having her take up any space in my brain anymore. (Ok, yes, I did just write several paragraphs about her, but this is the first time in a few years I’ve even really given her any thought, partly because Marie Kondo is everywhere right now, and partly because I heard K was just in Detroit again.) Consider this MY final KonMari purge of anything having to do with her.

The boyfriend, incidentally, dumped her not too long after she sent me that email… I didn’t receive this news with any malice or glee whatsoever (in fact I felt sincerely bad for her), but it did reinforce for me that there’s a reason why I take a long view of friendships and don’t just abandon them when they aren’t actively “serving” me (maybe because I don’t see my friends as my servants?) I would have offered support and a listening ear, had she wanted or needed that, as I had many times before. Of course I have let certain people drift away in the course of my life if things aren’t jiving, but if I’ve made it a decade and a half with someone, I consider that person almost like a sibling, and treat it as a “for better or worse, in good times and in bad” situation. I place a high value on shared history; on the loyalty and commitment that long-term friendships represent—unlike family, it’s a chosen bond. Unsurprisingly, I also choose not to part with many of the sentimental items KonMari would have me throw out, such as old letters, photographs, etc. But if these things and people add a little clutter or disorder to my life at times, I’m OK with that tradeoff.

 

“I don’t drive into the city…”

 

I recently attended a work-related event in Plymouth, a charming and quaint little burg located about halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor. The event consisted of a dozen or so upper-middle-class white women meeting for tea and to discuss a chosen topic, “preservation”. I was contacted by the group’s leader and invited to share product samples and talk a little about my business. Others read poems, shared family stories or talked about their work restoring old homes. It was a nice event, if not really my thing, and the women were very sweet and friendly and supportive. But when I invited them to visit my place of business, I was taken aback and dismayed by how many of them replied sweetly, “Oh, I don’t drive into the city…” as if that were a totally normal excuse.

Wait, what?! These women seemed educated, and while “cosmopolitan” might be a stretch, they certainly weren’t the MAGA red-hat-wearers that I typically associate with fear of the city (Macomb county, I’m looking at you). The one who restores old homes was dressed very stylishly, in striped wide-legged pants, a turtleneck and a cool vintage beaded necklace. She looked like she could have been a board member (or major donor) at the DIA. Another was around my age and was also an entrepreneur in the same sector as me. To her credit, she actually did come visit and meet with me to talk business, but was perceptibly on edge about the drive, almost canceling at the last minute because of a light snow.

I really wish I had responded to them with, “Oh, really? Why is that?” I think some of them were literally just scared of driving in “big city traffic”, but obviously that wasn’t the whole story. I’m kicking myself for the missed opportunity to enlighten people that Detroit (especially any of the parts these women would set foot) isn’t some scary lawless place where criminals roam the streets with assault rifles waiting to rob, carjack or shoot any visitor (read: white person). Not to sound naive, but I honestly thought those anarchic, post-apocalyptic stereotypes were limited to certain subsets of Macomb and far Oakland counties (and others from farther afield who have never been here and don’t read anything about what’s actually going on.) It was pretty depressing to realize just how far we still have to go with the city’s public image when “educated” people who don’t even live 15 miles from the city limits are scared to come here.

Of course many of my fellow Detroiters would say, great, we don’t want those people here anyway. And while I personally wouldn’t mourn not having to share space with sheltered bougie suburbanites, the reality is that bodies equal dollars, and Detroit can use all the dollars it can get. I can hear the argument already–that those visitors would only spend money at businesses in downtown and Midtown, not the neighborhoods. That may be the case, but if some of that money is then used to pay the wages and salaries of residents, who may in turn spend money locally in their neighborhoods, I still think it would be a net positive. The more the narrative changes (i.e. “I went to Detroit and visited all these cool places and there were people of diverse backgrounds all hanging out and I didn’t get shot…”), the better for everyone, and we can continue to dispel the ugly clichés of the sort you see in the comments section of any article in the Free Press.

I realized the other day that this summer will mark 20 years since I moved here. As someone who has the ability to move amongst and relate to people from many different socioeconomic strata (I grew up in a suburban area and have a college degree, but I am also a low-income city-dweller), I have an opportunity to exert positive influence when I encounter skeptics or outright critics. Next time someone tells me they don’t come to the city as a rule, I’m going to do better to tease out of them exactly why not, and to give them a different perspective.

hot springs eternal

There’s something about hot springs that, for me, is really special—the literal immersion of oneself into nature. I’m not much of a swimmer and I hate being cold, but the idea of just sitting in a warm pool in a magnificent natural setting is highly appealing. In the bleak of a Michigan February, I find myself pining for these places of beauty and warmth. I’m making it a point to seek out some hot springs on my next trip down south (perhaps this one, or this one when it re-opens), and am toying with the idea of a trip to Iceland, where geothermal baths are plentiful.

September 2001, Niigata Prefecture, Japan

It’s late in the evening. We’re on our way to Niigata to visit the island of Sado-Ga-Shima, famous for its gold mines and legions of feral cats. We stop off at an onsen, or traditional Japanese hot springs bath.

As with most things in Japan, there is a cultural learning curve. Bathers enter the baths nude–a personal article of clothing such as a bathing suit would be seen as unclean; sullying the water. 44-year-old post-pregnancy me would, ironically, probably be less self-conscious than my 27-year-old self was about public nudity. But thankfully, the darkness obscures us. We sit in the open air, bathed by moonlight and warmth and heady infatuation.

***

June 2010, Buena Vista, Colorado

On a blindingly sunny Saturday, M and I hook up with our old Detroit friend K, who has offered to act as tour guide that day since our host D has to work. She drives us obligingly a couple of hours out of town to Cottonwood Hot Springs Inn & Spa, with a stop for a hike at the beautiful and scenic Roxborough State Park. Despite calling itself a “spa”, which might connote something fancy, Cottonwood is a kind of funky, unfussy place where you can rent a lodge-style room or even a campsite. It makes me happy that these kinds of places are largely accessible to the general public and haven’t been overly commodified or made exclusive. Overseas, I would expect as much, since other cultures consider it more of a “right” that everyone be able to partake of a natural attraction regardless of income. But, given our American tendency to privatize and bleed every dollar we can out of tourists, I’m pleasantly surprised whenever that’s not the case.

cottonwood

***

October 2014, Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal

Winding through the mountains of Sao Miguel island, my best friend A and I happen to pass a sign for Caldeira Velha, a park with hot springs, and can’t resist pulling over. We don’t have a whole lot planned for this trip, other than to see where the road takes us. We park the car in a lot off the twisting road, and walk towards the park. The red dirt path pops cheerfully against the intense, saturated greens of the forest. We reach the springs, where you can actually see the water boiling up out of the ground in spots. A small waterfall flows gently over a ruddy, moss-covered rock face and into a natural pool. We don’t have bathing suits, so we roll up our jeans and sit at the edge of a smaller pool, like a large bathtub carved into the rock, submerging as much skin as we can. There’s an autumn chill in the air, providing a welcome contrast to the deliciously warm water. We sit in silence broken by the occasional birdsong or foreign chatter, and meditate on our good fortune.

IMG_2217

A couple of days later, we are in the town of Furnas, known for its hot springs and geothermal cuisine, in which pots of beef and root vegetables are stewed low and slow in the ground. This time I am prepared, having bought a cheap swimsuit in a tourist shop the day before. There are two main baths in Furnas. One is in the Terra Nostra botanical park; a huge pool of mineral-rich water the color of milky tea. The other, which we decide to try, is the Poça da Dona Beija, a series of five pools of different temperatures set amidst lush subtropical foliage. It’s dusk when we get into the water, and a fine rain mists our faces. We make small talk with a couple of young Canadians who have overheard us speaking English and who we recognize from our flight. The iron-rich water stains our nails and skin and swimsuits. We splash around, blissed out by the cool rain, hot water and the beauty of twilight fading on the verdant gardens.

eulogy

The following was written on August 16, 2015 and I feel enough time has passed that I can share it now. If the person this was written about reads it, I hope they know I still very highly regard the time we shared, and wouldn’t change a thing.

So here’s what’s happening right now: a quiet Saturday evening, crickets and a cool breeze. A snack of shrimp “cooked” in lemon juice with sea salt, thyme & shallot, drizzled with good olive oil and garnished with some charred cherry tomatoes. A not-quite-chilled-enough glass of Peñedes, but it’ll do. A bouquet of flowers I bought in a lame attempt to cheer myself from a loss that, although I predicted it long ago, was nonetheless heartbreaking.

I don’t know how to say this and I may regret writing it. But someone very, very dear to me has, for reasons known only to that person, chosen to withdraw their already tenuous friendship from my life. I’ve wanted to write about this person before, because they amaze and thrill and delight me, but for reasons of privacy I kept it to myself. Perhaps down the road, with distance, I can tell our story, but not any time soon.

My reaction to this loss was surprisingly calm. I had always known there was an inevitability of our connection dimming (for a multitude of reasons I can’t get into), but I always thought it would be a gentle tapering off, where we gradually stopped spending time together but remained friendly acquaintances. That was actually more or less already happening, and although it didn’t make me happy, I accepted that this was the natural order of things; a friendship like ours, while a thing of beauty, just isn’t cut out to be sustainable. When we unexpectedly hung out recently and had one of the best times I’ve had all year (and maybe with anyone ever), it was a pleasant surprise, but I didn’t see the overall trajectory shifting. What I should have remembered was that every previous time this person had pulled me in a little closer, they subsequently felt the need to shove me away with an even more violent force.

For most of my friendships, although I try not to be demanding, I have a very basic set of social expectations, of the sort that most of us do. However, ours was a different story. I had learned with this person a while ago to accept only what they were freely offering to me, and not to ask for, let alone demand, anything more than that. My time with this person was so special that I was willing (and more or less happily so) to forgo my usual friend expectations: text me back in a semi-timely manner, let’s hang out sort of regularly, etc. I quickly learned to hold back, take cues and wait until I was called upon to spend time with, rather than suggesting any social activity.

This may sound to most people as if I was some sort of doormat, desperately waiting around for a phone call or text. Not at all. In fact it was strangely liberating to have this kind of a friendship. For perhaps the first time in my life, I knew for an absolute fact that I accepted someone 100% for who they are and not anything that I wanted or wished they would be. And as a person who has spent far too long in unhappy situations because my expectations on others ultimately led to disappointment, it made me so incredibly happy to know I was capable of that! I don’t think I could say that before about anyone who wasn’t my immediate family member (or maybe my best friend A). This was huge progress for me personally, and has carried over into other aspects of my life and other relationships. In fact I think a big reason why I’ve been able to let go of so much anger and be at peace with M is a direct result of what this friendship has taught me. It’s made an immensely positive difference in my life.

What I’ve thought about in the last few days is this: I still love this person dearly. I’m very much hurting. I don’t at all understand their actions, which were swift, angry and honestly a bit cruel, but clearly the 100% acceptance thing wasn’t working both ways and I suppose this is just something they felt they needed to do. I have no choice or say in the matter. With other friends, I’d likely have attempted a reconciliation by now, but I don’t think that’s the thing to do here. Perhaps in time they’ll reconsider, and I really hope that’s the case. But no matter what happens, they can never take away the happiness I experienced being part of their life. They can never erase the beautiful memories, the corny inside jokes, the meals we prepared and shared, the philosophical discussions, the music we played each other, and the absolute sense of psychic connection with another human being. I will cherish all of those things even if they can’t or won’t, and my memories won’t be diminished by this act of severance. My heart is full of both love and sadness, but at least it is full, and that is something to be grateful for.

***

Postscript: Months went by in which I neither saw nor spoke to this person. On my end, I was afraid to reach out because I didn’t want to push or force anything (and probably also because I didn’t want to suffer more rejection.) Eventually we saw each other, and much to my delight and relief, big (and sincere) hugs were exchanged. These days we don’t really interact anymore except when we run into each other around town, but that’s ok. Just being able to appreciate what we had, and knowing that we are at peace, is enough.

 

ambush 1990

The fat little man ambushed us, limbs and appendages flailing as he stumbled toward us, his breathing labored from the effort, or perhaps nerves. In his hand was a 10-franc note, the pretty one with the cartoon drawing of the Little Prince on it. He waved it in our faces. “Regardez! Regardez comme il est beau,” he huffed, gesturing at his shriveled penis. His clothing lay in the bushes a few yards away. We saw the thing unrolling in slow motion—his progress out of the brush and onto the path in a wooded area of the Bois de Boulogne where we had taken a shortcut on a perfect summer afternoon; his brandishing of the bill in our faces; his chubby hand reaching out to grab my small, still-developing breast. We walked at a clip, our pace having increased as soon as we’d seen him out of the corner of our eyes, but it didn’t occur to us to run; in his nakedness, he somehow seemed less of a threat.

As we left the woods and re-entered the open expanse of the park, we giggled nervously and incredulously over what had just happened. We thought of the clever, biting things we would have said or done, if only we’d been quicker-witted: stealing his clothes; telling him “C’est beaucoup trop petit pour moi.” We didn’t feel scared or upset particularly, even though something far worse could have taken place. We were in that bubble of teenage-hood where invincibility trumps reality, and in the end, secretly savored the thrill of a brush with danger and a crazy story to tell our disbelieving friends when we got home.

on being awkward

No one likes to feel awkward. The word itself makes me cringe as I type it, with its strange w-k-w string of consonants that just seems more wrong the longer you look at it.  Awkward situations, awkward relationships, awkward phases… the adjective connotes something not merely uncomfortable but discordant; askew.

I-Love-Dick-Kathryn-Hahn
The inimitable Kathryn Hahn in “I Love Dick”

I have been awkward ever since I can remember. I’d like to think that at least sometimes it’s in a cute or charming way, à la Clare Danes in My So Called Life, or Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles (and yes I know I’m dating myself terribly with those references!) Although I’d love to be one of those supremely self-possessed, polished women who always says the right thing and never does anything embarrassing, I’ve come to accept that that’s probably–no, definitely–not ever going to be me, and that’s ok. As I get older, I gain greater self-acceptance with each passing year, and I try to embrace my awkwardness as one of the many personality quirks that makes me who I am.

Even now in my forties,, I still occasionally gravitate towards shows about awkward teenagers. I recently discovered two such shows on Netflix, both British, one called The Inbetweeners about four teenage boys, and another called Some Girls. They’re terribly funny and I think anyone tired of today’s polished teens (you know, where every girl has perfect hair and a dewy glow and looks like she was dressed by a stylist, and even the supposed “nerd” characters are just hot chicks with glasses) will find them refreshing. Incidentally, did anyone watch “13 Reasons Why”? I have so many issues and complaints about it (not least of which is that the main character is a perfect example of the aforementioned super-cute-but-supposed-outcast girl), but I hate-watched the whole thing anyway.

Of course there are plenty of shows for adults with awkward females as the main character, à la Bridget Jones. I find most of these pretty annoying. One remarkable exception is Chris Kraus in the new Amazon show “I Love Dick“. I suppose I identify more with her brand of awkwardness, which is harsh and painful, more so than the cloying cutesy-ness of, say, Zoë Deschanel’s character Jess in “New Girl” (derp, derp). Chris Kraus perceives that she’s obnoxious or abrasive to others, but it’s like she can’t help herself, and we can’t look away. This, to me, is an infinitely more interesting heroine, although there were times when it almost became difficult to enjoy because it brought up familiar, unpleasant feelings of being that person who no one really likes much because you can’t rein yourself in enough to fit in.

I guess at this point in life, I’ve pulled back from social interaction except with people who have mostly known me for years. It helps that I have a mate and am no longer out and about all the time. I can put my head down, not stick my neck out. I am “safer”; less of a wild card. My awkwardness is more contained and bounded.

There are so many feminist implications of the awkward female trope that I can’t delve into now, but here’s a really excellent article about the role of the “female loser” as protagonist.