The Year I Decided to Be Okay With My Weirdo Self

It’s my birthday month, so that means in addition to demanding a chocolate cake that I will refuse to share, it’s time for my annual “This Year I’m Going to Change” existential crisis. Every year I imagine a magical version of myself with none of my…let’s call them “quirks” instead of  “neuroses,” shall we?

This mythical Jessie doesn’t panic at the thought of traveling alone. She is strong and independent! Nor does she have a meltdown when her plans change unexpectedly. She is breezy and easy-going! She’s certainly not crying in the corner, hating herself because her brain feels like a swarm of bees. She’s fine! It’s allllll fine.

Clearly the face of someone who’s JUST FINE, THANK YOU.

But I regret to inform you (me?) that we will be skipping the existential crisis portion of the birthday ritual this year.  

Why? There are many reasons.

Too tired.

Too old.

Too busy.

All true! Except maybe the “too busy” part. I’m terrible at a lot of things, but relaxing is NOT one of them.  

This is 90% of my life and I will not apologize for it.

But there are many, many things wrong with me and while I don’t exactly LOVE these qualities, I’m finally at the age where I can accept this is just how I am:

anxiety out the wazoo

Ah, the most popular millstone around everyone’s neck: anxiety! Who isn’t anxious, right? It took me way too long to figure out what having anxiety actually meant. Somehow it never added up that my odd little things were…you know, diagnosable. I just thought I was a weirdo.

Let me give you an example: I overthink everything. Like, to the point where I can take the smallest event—like carrying a slightly-too-full cup of hot coffee— and psych myself out so much that I literally cannot do it. I get so worried about spilling the hot coffee and burning myself that my hand will start shaking and I physically cannot carry it.

That’s insane! I am insane.

And going to any sort of social function sends my brain into panic mode:  “Should we eat before we go or will there be food? Will there be alcohol? What kind of monsters don’t serve alcohol?!  Will we be standing or sitting? Because then I’ll know whether to wear heels or flats. What should I wear? Will I be overdressed if I wear a dress? Will I be underdressed if I wear jeans? What’s the parking situation? It better not be on the street because I hate parallel parking. Unless I get there early and can just slide in. But I don’t want to be too early…”  

My brain never stops, folks. It. Never. Stops.

awkward but not in a cute way

This is not Hollywood’s idea of awkward, people. Let’s just get that straight. I’m not the quirky yet beautiful heroine adorably tripping and falling while somehow managing to look glowy and perfect.

oh, dear me, how embarrassing. [sips champagne]

I’m just…like, I don’t know what to do with my body. Do I let my arms hang? Do I put them on my hips? If I meet a person, when is it appropriate to hug and when should you just wave? Or is waving stupid? Do I shake hands? Do people still shake hands? And don’t get me started on high fives and fist bumps. I want to find the bro (you just know it was a bro) who started the high five/fist bump genre and throw him in the Pit of Despair à la The Princess Bride.

And my awkwardness isn’t limited to body movements. Because while I am folksy when meeting new people, I am NOT a smooth conversationalist.

Allow me to explain. Folksiness gets me through a conversation with the cashier at the grocery store. Because that is a very short interaction with a defined beginning and end. It is over when my groceries are bagged and I can walk away. No pressure, therefore I’m cool as all get-out.

I’ve got more get-out than you could possibly handle.

However. Put me in, say, a room full of coworkers for a long meeting where I end up sitting next to someone I don’t know: disaster. What do I talk about? We’re stuck in this room for 2 hours. He works in a completely different department and I don’t even know his job title, because I’m a writer and I don’t know what other jobs are. I just assume it’s all accounting?? What do other people do? I have no idea! My mind will literally go blank. I know people say that but I’m not exaggerating: all thoughts, intelligence, quips, memories, etc. are GONE. It’s like looking at a blank TV screen only it’s my brain. Then I panic and say something only a completely brain-dead person would say, like “This room holds a lot of chairs.” WHAT? That’s not a thing! Meanwhile I want to die and so does he and why can’t all humans come equipped with a cyanide tooth like in the movies?

So jealous!

super self-consciousness is my superpower

To the surprise of no one reading this memoir of a truly disastrous human being, I sometimes (frequently) feel self-conscious, a term I will use instead of “shy” because that is a ridiculous way to describe a grown-ass adult. Say the phrase, “Aww, she’s just shy!” and do you picture a middle-aged woman nervously speaking in front of other adults?

OF COURSE NOT. You picture an adorable 4-year-old who doesn’t want to go onstage for her preschool Christmas pageant.

Jerry Seinfeld once joked that “according to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

I’m here to verify that this is not a joke, because I would literally drop dead on the spot if I had to give a eulogy. Just shove aside whoever is in the coffin so I can join ’em.

I hate speaking in front of people. It doesn’t even have to be a large group. I don’t even have to be speaking! Just seeing heads swivel in my direction and all attention focused on me is cause for a heart attack. Take the awkwardness scenario from earlier and magnify it about 93736 times. If my awkwardness was a person, it would be the size of the Incredible Hulk.


I could go on. And I have gone on for an unforgivably long time. Well, guess what. It’s my birthday and if I can’t narcissistically drone on about how I’m a special little snowflake, when else can I do it?

This year instead of vowing to change my entire personality, I’m going to try to learn to live with it. Let’s face it, if I haven’t changed in my 46 years on Earth it’s probably not going to happen.

Just don’t ask me to make a speech because I will haunt you after I drop dead, you murderer.

Happy Birthday to me. Stay weird, folks.

How I Missed 18 Years of Pop Music

When I was 12 years old, my mother threw away a cassette tape of George Michael’s leather-jacketed masterpiece, Faith.

The tape did not, in fact, belong to me. It belonged to a friend. I foolishly left it on my dresser and once my mother saw “I Want Your Sex,” it was all over but the screaming (mine). She not only threw it away, she pulled the ribbon apart with such savagery that no amount of pencil twirling would fix it.

It was a massacre.

In our house, we weren’t allowed to listen to secular music. For the non-religious, that means Music of the World, or That Which Shall Not Be Played Lest We Burn in Hell. In other words, normal music.

We did have an approved list of secular music that was deemed appropriate, for reasons that were never fully explained. The Approved Secular Music List, in no particular order:

  • Neil Diamond
  • Alabama
  • The Carpenters
  • John Denver
  • U2 (I think my mom has a weird crush on Bono)
  • Chicago
  • Oldies (50s, 60s & 70s)
  • Big Band
  • Movie soundtracks (subject to scrutiny—Grease didn’t make the cut)

So while my peers were listening to Madonna, Cyndi Lauper and Guns & Roses, I was stuck with the above list or —shudder—80s Christian rock. If you don’t know what that sounds like, imagine 80s rock, then strip away all the cool stuff and add super-cheesy lyrics about loving Jesus.

It’s the musical equivalent of whatever this is.

To be clear, I have no problem with the sentiment of loving Jesus, it was the musical execution I objected to.­­ I just found it painful and embarrassing to listen to songs that sounded like love songs but were not. At all.

It was almost impossible to even sneak a listen to normal music because my parents (especially my mother) had a highly tuned ear for shenanigans. Any time my radio dial turned to our local Top 40s station, she would suddenly pop around the corner like a disapproving Jack-in-the Box.

So where did that leave me? An 80s and 90s adolescent who had no idea who Boy George and Kurt Cobain were but could sing the entire Music Man soundtrack.

But looking back with the blurry vision of my adult self (I’m too chicken for LASIK), that restriction sort of…freed me?

Because once I turned 18, I joined the once-great enterprise of Columbia Record Club and bought about 50 CDs for a penny (or whatever honeypot they used to lure music fans into their sticky web of Too Good to Be True). But unlike 99% of members, I actually came back and purchased full-price CDs every month until…they went out of business, I guess??*

If you listen closely, you can still hear Debi in Accounting chortling with glee.

This was the 90-iest time of the entire decade and I wanted it all: TLC. Nirvana. Jewel. Paula Cole. Sarah McLaughlin. Live. Offspring. Green Day. Beck. Bjork. Alanis Morisette.  Salt-N-Pepa. Blues Travelers. Mazzy Star. Rusted Root. Dave Matthews Band. Weezer. Tori Amos. Toni Braxton.

I bought countless CDs, from every genre.

So when people dismiss certain genres or musicians with a sneer worthy of Elvis Presley (whom my mother also disliked), I can’t understand it. Or when people hate an artist just because they’re mainstream.

And it’s not because I’m an old grouch, shaking my fist about kids today and whatnot. I mean, I am. But my bafflement comes from 18 years of being left out of everything mainstream. Of everyone talking about New Kids on the Block when I’d only kind of heard one of their songs. Slumber parties were a nightmare. Do you know how hard it is to fake-sing lyrics in a roomful of 11-year old girls?

As if tween girls singing “Pour Some Sugar on Me” isn’t awkward enough.

However, being forced to listen to her parents’ favorite music doesn’t mean she can’t learn to appreciate it.

Because (twist!), I love musicals. I love oldies music. Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans” is one of my favorite songs. Chicago is one of the greatest bands of all time. Anyone who’s ever heard Karen Carpenter’s rich contralto vocals must admit her voice is like a cozy blanket for your ears. And it’s kind of cool (?) that I’m one of the few Gen X-ers who can sing a Skeeter Davis song in its entirety.

While I’m still bitter about missing the popular music of my childhood, I have to admit my expanded musical tastes would never have happened otherwise.

But don’t tell my parents that.

*Apparently Columbia Records didn’t go out of business until 2009. Props for long outstaying their welcome, like an elderly aunt who can’t read social cues.