Over the past few weeks I’ve been feeling a little uncomfortable. A little unhappy about my default presence in the world. Its something about the number of exclamation marks I feel the need to use in messages to friends to let them know I’m excited or happy about our plans. The need I have to end all sentences with emoticons, (particularly the obscenely sunny 🙂 ) to ensure people know that whatever I have written is to be taken in a light-hearted way. Something about the need I have to encase myself in bright colours, floral motifs, swishy scarves and lacy tights. About my insistence at breaking into song when people accidentally use quotes from lyrics in conversation. After another run-in with an angry customer on Saturday afternoon left me crying out the back of the pub on one of the barman’s shoulders whilst telling my other colleagues to ‘stop looking at me’, I kind of feel the time has come to TOUGHEN THE FUCK UP.
I’ve never been the hardest of souls. I squeal over pictures of small, fluffy things on the internet. I slept with a stuffed toy well past the time it was legal for me to sleep with another human being. My reaction, at 6 or 7, to the discovery of where veal comes from, was to run to the bathroom and throw up (my younger brother’s corresponding response to the discovery of where lamb comes from was, ‘but they only kill the bad ones’). My father, like many parents, spent years telling me which movies were not appropriate. However, unlike other parents, Dad still does it and I still listen – I plan to see ‘No Country for Old Men’ when I’m an actual grown up, which, by calculations, will be around 68 years of age. I cry in Qantas ads (and, I don’t mean I’ve been crying at Qantas ads whilst I’ve been overseas – I mean, I have, but that’s kind of understandable – I mean, I cried over Qantas ads at home. When I did call Australia home). I’ve also, to my shame, used these seemingly endless tears to my advantage, bursting into sobs once on the train when I couldn’t find my ticket and the ticket inspector letting me off the hook from a fairly massive fine (yes, that’s right, ladies and gents, I personally am the reason that contemporary feminism’s progress has halted and stereotypes of hysterical, incapable women in need of protection and care from the complex, overwhelming modern world live on). And, in my defence, I was genuinely worried about the fine, so it wasn’t like the tears weren’t full of real emotion. Furthermore, I never once asked to be let off! The ticket inspector came up with the solution on his own. Irritatingly, because of this need for real, live, spontaneous emotion, I still find it nearly impossible to cry on demand in plays (yeah, yeah, I know, drama teachers, crying on demand actually means very little about your skill as an actor, but, COME ON, the only acting skills the general public seem to be impressed by are crying on cue and the ability to recite great swathes of text at the appropriate time. Actually. Now that I think about it, they may be the only skills that actors possess. That, and not walking into the furniture, of course).
Most of the time I like that I’m such a soft-hearted person. I like that I feel things. I probably over-identify with Madame Bovary‘s desire for passion more than is strictly good for me. People criticise me for being anxious or over-reacting or taking things out of proportion, but the only reason I do all those things is because I care. I do genuinely care about other people and I don’t like it when they’re upset, angry or disappointed. This can, of course, be frustrating in customer service, sometimes, when the aims or policy of a business are in direct opposition to what might make someone happy. And, of course, the flip-side of feeling bad things too deeply is that I also get to feel good things too deeply as well. It might get annoying for outsiders, but being so excited you want to dance down the street, or so happy that you’re squealing is a pretty lovely experience. It may be a wild rollercoaster ride of emotions sometimes and there are many that would call it unhealthy (though not yet requiring medication), but I still feel the highs usually balance out the lows. And I’m neutral enough in between times to not wind up exhausting myself or the people around me.
But, after Saturday afternoon, I really began to feel the desire to be a tough girl. Bursting into tears at work doesn’t make me feel good about myself. It certainly doesn’t feel like something a responsible grown-up would do. And, much as I have, occasionally, used the hysterical crying woman thing to my advantage (see above story of the train tickets), I certainly do not want to be dismissed or ‘handled’, patronised or accommodated in a place of work (as a side note, I feel it is unfair to describe women as ’emotional’. Yes, some of us have a tendency to cry when things get tough, but men have a tendency to get angry, yell and/or punch each other when things get tough, and who got to decide that being sad was an emotion but anger wasn’t? That’s, like, the stupidest distinction ever).
Anyway, I need pointers on how to be a tough person, because the more I try to stop myself crying the more it seems I want to cry. Trying to explain myself is also an impossible task if I’m on the verge of tears, with each word becoming more waver-y and the longer I take to compose myself in between words, the worse it seems to get: ‘Well… all….. I…… want…… to……. say……… is…………WAAAHHHHHHH.’
I wonder if there is a tough girl program I could put myself through? Presumably the first step would be to convince myself I am not at all interested by fluffy things on the internet. I’d probably have to start eating meat again, and perhaps go and join a hunting team just to really get it out of my system. Perhaps I could just get people to stand in front of me and cry for hours on end until the desire to comfort or joining has been completely dulled.
There’s also the question of what kind of tough girl to be. There’s bad-ass tough girl, as typified by Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Or, there’s depressed-no-emotions-tough-girl, as demonstrated by Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenanbaums. There’s stiff upper-lip British tough girl, or the Queen, as portrayed by Helen Mirren in The Queen. And then there’s plain ol’ ice queen tough girl, like… Nicole Kidman in anything where she’s just had botox.
So many tough girls, so little time. I’m cutting it short because my computer’s about to die and I want to publish this.