I forgive people body language most of the time. Even when I get mixed signals, I am willing to do the math and factor it all in. I figure it’s up to me to decide whether to take them at their word or take them at their gesture, and sometimes I have to compute the two together to get closer to the real story.
An example would be a typical situation like seeing someone you know and consider a friend at the grocery story. They are in a hurry. They greet you welcomingly, yet their body language suggests they are busy and really don’t have time to chat. They have either broadcast intention gestures of sprinting off to complete their errands or they have greeted you with palm out wave which tells you they see you. It says “hello,” and “I must be going.”
But what about when people betray their feelings about you with a brief or suppressed laugh?
There have been times I think I understand that kind of laugh to mean nice things, and there have been other times when the laugh signals deeper issues. Absorbing the meaning of someone’s unconscious snort or ridiculing bark of laughter might hurt, but in the long run, if you have the heart to parse it all out, you should be grateful that person showed you how they really feel – as hard as it may be to swallow.
Let me describe the last time I was aware of being laughed at in this way. It’s not a funny or nice story, and I’m trying to tell it as if it really doesn’t matter to me in the least. Those who really know me will know I am lying. These laughs torment me, and I really wish I would stop. That is why I’m writing it here. Instead of telling this story over and over to anyone I think might be sympathetic, I am laying it out here and I hope I am able to deflate it, murder it, or at least, move on.
I was at a party. It was at a friend’s house. A birthday party, and there were a lot of people I knew by reputation and Facebook, and some I knew from my long history of being here. There was a couple I was just getting to know because I had applied for a simple, part-time executive assistant job.
This job was like several jobs I had applied for during that time. I felt I didn’t get them because of my age and over qualification. In fact, two executive assistant jobs came and went and my interviewers even revealed they were going to hold out for a younger person. That sucked, but there it was.
I won’t go into how soul-killing all that is. I will also decline to outline all the other slights and bumps I experienced trying to make up the deficit in our family income and outgo.
So, at this party, this couple is reeling off a list of reasons why I was not suitable for the job. One of them was they decided to go with someone with more digital and visual experience who was much younger. But, in my mind, how can you have more digital experience than someone who has been doing it since the beginning? I mean, I’d been doing it for a decade before the person they ended up hiring was even freaking born.
So I wondered how hard to press my case as a visual and digital creator. This was a party, after all, but for two people who had been leaving me dozens of texts and messages about the job (and some of them even texted for my husband to deliver, which seemed inappropriate to me) had suddenly gone dark and this was my first time to see them.
But, I soon realized they weren’t interested at all. I detach myself from the conversation because I feel my defensiveness rising and I need to keep it in check. Then someone handed me their camera and demanded I take a picture of a group of people.
As I look at the back of the camera and am surprised by how grimy and greasy it is, the man who had handed me the camera says, “It’s easy. Just press that big button. Want me to show you?”
Before I realize it, I blurt, “I know which button. I’ve been a professional photographer before.” And that was when I heard the laugh.
It was short, derisive and perhaps only meant to be heard by the ones doing the laughing – the couple I had tried to work for – but I heard it. And now, I could not unhear it.
I handed the camera back to the man because now, I didn’t want to touch the camera, let alone hold it near my face and look through the viewfinder. I wanted to take it all back. All of it.
I went out onto the patio, hoping to get my breath and cool off, but I ended up leaving right then without saying goodbye.
Why have I tortured myself with this memory? Maybe it’s because nearly every time I leave the house other than to go to the grocery story, I have an experience like this. Why? I have no fucking idea.
Face book shared a stupid-assed memory with me the other day and it was all I could do not to start up shit about that too. I tried to help another friend by giving them a headshot photograph on a rainy day because she needed it right away. I scored a breakfast burrito and $20! But then I heard, out of her mouth and to me a week later, “Well I got this guy down in Santa Fe who is going to do it. At least he knows what the fuck he’s doing.”
I have to say, it can be crushing. And if I have ever said things like that to people and they torture themselves with it like I have, I am so sorry. You have no idea. Or maybe you do.
I have been a visual artist and photographer long before I fell to using my words for a living because pen and paper are not expensive, compared to darkrooms, Nikons and rolls of film. Because I have my words and no one can claim I haven’t earned a living with them, although there are some who think I should just stick to being an editor’s wife and not try to reclaim my own place in the world of … what’s the word all the magazine writers like to use now? … “Makers.”
So. Now my story is all told. Now I need to STFU about it, not only verbally but in my head, because, you laugh, but you have no idea.
I entered the “Seven Day, Seven Black and White Images with No People and No Explanation” challenge on Facebook, but I was not challenged by anyone, and I did not challenge anyone. I challenge myself to be quiet, now, and just make.