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.

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