A few years ago, I attended the Poinsettia Ball, which was THE main social event in our community. I helped set up the Friday before the event, during which time I learned how to make sure all the flatware is aligned EXACTLY the right way.
It was actually kind of fun… the setting up part.
But, then, at the actual ball, this man comes up to me, and he’s vaguely familiar, but I can’t remember who he is. He’s got a red tie on. He’s a bit stooped over. But I smile anyway when he grabs my hand. I usually get hugged upon greeting instead of a handshake, so I figure it’s okay that I don’t know who he is right away. A handshake means we aren’t on hugging terms.
And he goes to me, “Hi, Carrie. Are you still –zy?”
I lean forward, although trying not to lean too far forward because of the whole breasts-in-gown thing, and I say, “Am I still busy? Yeah, I guess so.”
“No. Are you still –zy?”
He’s shaking his head at me.
I back up, he’s still clutching my hand so I can’t get free. People swarm around us, getting drinks, admiring each other. They are all loud talkers and it’s not easy to hear.
“Busy?” I ask.
“NO!” he yells. “Ditzy!”
“Ditzy? Am I still ditzy?” I have finally evacuated my hand. What do I say? I have no idea. And because I just want to get away, I blurt, “Um. I guess so?”
I am immediately angry at myself for this answer, for being so shocked and surprised that I just let this random red-tie-wearing man define me.
Things like this always shock me. I had NO IDEA anyone perceived me as ditzy. Can newspaper editors (which is what I was then) be ditzy? Can former city councilors?
It’s amazing how many different perceptions people can have of you and how many different perceptions you can have of yourself.
So, after running away from HE WHO CALLS ME DITZY, I bump into a past teacher of the year, marathon runner,and told him the story. He actually gets angry on my behalf, which is SOOOO nice and says, “Carrie, do you want me to take him outside?”
“No,” I tell him. “I just want to know if I’m ditzy.”
“You are not ditzy,” he tells me.
Thank God for teachers of the year.
But there are two things that make me come back to this story as both a writer and a woman.
- As writers, we need to remember that not everyone always sees our character the same way – defines them the same way. And some people who define them are terribly wrong. But that’s a good thing to remember when trying to give our characters depth and layers.
- As a woman, I keep thinking to myself, “WTF?” Did I seriously let some random guy tell me I’m ditzy and agree? And then the immediate person I talked to was another man? Yes, second man was awesome. But why was I even so worried about how they defined me? What they thought of me? Why didn’t I go ask a woman instead? But more importantly, why did I ask anyone at all? The only person who should get to define you is you. I say that to people all the time. Why couldn’t I have said that to me? Why didn’t I think, the only person who gets to define me is me?