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British actress Olivia Williams with sabre fish.
About six years ago I became “Charlie,” as in the commercial — the girl who breezes in alone, hugs, kisses on the cheek, waves hello … the whole bit. I don’t know how it happened really.
I’d never in my life been the popular one. I was in the marching band for goodness’ sake.
In my late 20s I had my first child and gained a whopping 100 pounds. By my late 30s, and shortly after my last child was born, I began dropping the weight, naturally and effortlessly. In 18 months I’d lost 85 pounds and have kept it off ever since. I turned 40 in a size 6, and to quote the Divine Miss M, “I look good!”
A few years before the big weight loss my best friend moved 30 miles away to a small town and a gorgeous house. She started going to the local pub for what used to be our Friday girls night out. After a few weeks she invited me to come on down and join her. I could crash at her place if I stayed out too late and my husband was quite cool with that. He’d come along sometimes, have his own boys night out, or just stay home and relax.
I make friends easily. From life experience, education and just being a voracious reader I can converse at least a bit on just about any subject and am an avid listener. Some of the young ones there would look to me as “Mom” or big sister. Gruff and tough biker guys would talk to me when their dad — or their favorite bike — died. We sing, dance, laugh, play a little pool and get a little raunchy now and then. It’s your basic “Cheers” bar.
After a couple of years this evolved into me being “Charlie.” I walk in the door and I can hear the ripple in the room. I chat with a friend here, hugs and kisses there, half an hour with these folks, 10 minutes there, a dance, a game of pool. I just float where the spirit moves me.
My friend changed her ring tone for me to “Get the Party Started.”
What’s the problem?
Glad you asked.
As I got to know people there, made friends, this Charlie thing just evolved with no intention on my part. Things started to change a bit and the “Peyton Place” aspect came out in full force. “Why didn’t you say hi to me?” “Took you long enough to notice I was here.” “Oh, she thinks she’s all that.” “What, I’m not good enough for you to talk to anymore?” People would actually sit and stew if I didn’t acknowledge their presence in the first 10 minutes I was there.
I’ve never been the popular girl and I just don’t know how to deal with this. My every action and interaction have now seemingly become the favorite sport in the pub. Trying to spend time with those feeling slighted only gets me the “You’re throwing the dog a bone” attitude. It seems their whole pecking order in the pub revolves around how soon I acknowledge them and how long I talk to them.
I got a bit miffed one night when a rather petulant friend pouted at me for taking so long to “even see she was alive!” My answer, “I didn’t notice you coming up to greet me when I got here,” was a huge mistake.
Oh, big mistake. Huge.
I’m just a bit bewildered about how I became so important to their lives. How, to them, with a glance someone is perceived to be “in” or “out.” If I don’t talk to them I’m mad at them. If I decline a dance with Joe he’s not good enough for me. If I spend an hour holding a friend’s hand while he’s crying about his marriage failing I become a home wrecker. If someone compliments me on a new blouse or shoes I’m a rich girl with my nose in the air. (Honey, other than great leather boots and expensive bras, everything else is — to quote Gretchen Wilson’s song “Redneck Woman” — from “the Wal-Mart shelf half-price.”)
How in the hell did I end up back in high school???
I’m just the girl next door.
Get a piece of paper and a pencil or a pen. Think of all the people in the bar with whom you have issues. Write their names down. Write the issue next to the name — just a few words that express the emotion or the tension. For example:
McNulty. Owe her $5?
Wilson. Forgot to buy a round?
Owen. Broken promise?
Etcetera. Hates my guts? Wants my boots? Owes me money? Insulted my dress?
Put it all down. Then get out your phone book. Write down each person’s phone number next to the name.
Then call them up. Call each one of them. Say to each one that you enjoyed seeing them the other night but it was too noisy and crowded to talk. Say that you have pressing business at home and you might not be able to come down to the bar for a while. Say that another reason you are calling is that you had promised to do whatever it was you had promised to do and you’re sorry you haven’t gotten around to it yet. Or say that you hope what you said wasn’t misunderstood. Or say if only there were more time, but life is just so hectic. Or say, “no offense intended.” Or say that you were too drunk to know what you were doing. Or say that you fear you used poor judgment. Or say, “I just called to say I think you are a slob.” No, don’t say that. Be nice. Be nice and make it short and leave it on a high note. Say that once you get these pressing matters at home cleared up you hope to see them again at the bar in two or three months.
Then stay away from the bar for two or three months.
When you come back to the bar, announce that you are running for mayor.
The foregoing was the concrete suggestions part. The following is the speculative part.
It is alluring to be the center of attention. But partaking of a certain kind of social euphoria brings danger. The danger is that others’ expectations become central. You lose touch with your own needs.
Your own needs are not interesting to people in a bar. They have needs of their own. At first, you met their needs. But then Charlie started to have needs of her own. Nobody wanted Charlie to have needs of her own. Charlie’s entourage was not interested in meeting Charlie’s needs. Who has needs? It’s a bar.
When Charlie turned out to have needs of her own it looked like Charlie was trying to change the rules. People got upset.
In a nutshell it is the danger of fame. As I said, this is the speculative part. Fame is a set of asymmetrical power relationships. The crowd’s desire flows only toward the object of fame. The object of fame’s desire flows only toward his object of desire. That is the thing he is creating, the thing that he holds like a shield between him and the crowd. The desire of the one flows toward a private object of desire; the many are thus voyeurs, watching as the object of their desire pursues his own object of desire. Soon, though, his object of desire, having been discovered and brought to light, becomes their object of desire too. That is the commercial product he offers them: his object of desire embodied as a commodity.
The allegiance of the crowd shifts without warning. If they become bored, the crowd will drift away. So he must work all the time to produce. Thus he is driven to create ever greater spectacle. Either that or he must make peace with the shifting allegiance of the crowd. That would be preferable, from a psychological standpoint.
That is the situation you are in. You can no longer serve the crowd exclusively. Your own needs have arisen. You must tend to them. You have to back off and let the crowd wander for a bit, or they will devour you. But you can come back in a few months and run for mayor.
The meditation on the nature of fame is not wholly relevant to your case. But it is something to think about.
So write the list and make the calls. Stay away from the bar for two or three months. Let things settle down. Then come back and announce your candidacy.
“Since You Asked,” on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.
What? You want more advice?
British actress Olivia Williams with sabre fish.
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