Tag Archives: insecurity

The Corner of My Brain Where Ann Lives

People leave impressions on me all the time– big ones, small ones, profound ones, good ones, bad ones, green ones. All different kinds of impressions.

But some people do a bit more than just leave an impression. Some people seem to inhabit a corner of my brain in a way that reminds me a lot like a photograph in the magical world of Harry Potter — more than just a picture, you know? Rather, an interactive depiction of the person captured.

I started thinking about this the other day as I watched someone give a PowerPoint presentation and found myself repeatedly distressed about things like hanging widows, inconsistently bulleted lists, and, worst of all: “neiserria gonorrhoeae.” Not italicized. Not capitalized (i.e. Neisseria gonorrhoeae) and I was just horrified. I found myself mentally screaming at the presenter: “You’ve got to have respect for the pathogen!!! Geez!!!” It was only after the fact that I realized where that intense feeling came from– it was Ann’s!

Ann was my advisor in grad school. I suppose when you spend 6 straight years under the tutelage of any one person, they’re going to leave a pretty big impression, yet… it’s so much more than just an impression. She truly inhabits a corner of my brain at this point and the thoughts that come from that corner belong to both Ann and to me. I was just as upset about the non-italicized pathogen name as Ann would have been– the thought was independently mine, yet clearly planted by Ann.

A photograph of the actual brain transfer in progress just before my dissertation defense.
A photograph of the actual brain transfer in progress just before my dissertation defense.

And there are other people occupying other corners and niches… most of them for the better.

My high school biology teacher, Ms. Bertsos (because I am completely incapable of calling her Gen, no matter how old I get and how long we’ve been Facebook friends) has her own space. I channel her when I make jokes about science and when I let my weirdness shine even in professional settings. Turns out, people seem to like me better when I’m genuine– and to be honest, that’s probably why I always liked Ms. Bertsos so much. I also channeled her every time I ever skinned a mouse, but that’s another story for another day…

Somewhere I have a picture of Ms. Bertsos making scrambled eggs over a bunsen burner for our AP biology breakfast bash... but it must be in Ypsilanti somewhere. Dang! No matter, this photo of Kelly and me was taken the very same day (see breakfast items in the background) and I've basically recreated the scene for your viewing pleasure. (Yes, this really happened.)
Somewhere I have a picture of Ms. Bertsos making scrambled eggs over a bunsen burner for our AP biology breakfast bash… but it must be in Ypsilanti somewhere. Dang! No matter, this photo of Kelly and me was taken the very same day (see breakfast items in the background) and I’ve basically recreated the scene for your viewing pleasure. (Yes, this really happened.)

My boss from the Writing Center, Sylvia, she occupies another area– it’s the area that makes me patient and thoughtful about my words. It’s the area that encourages me to be empathetic and to try as hard as I can not to judge other people. It’s the part the always assumes the best… or assumes not at all.

At this point I should think it would be obvious that I have only one picture of Sylvia and me... sad face! Brain transfer happened big time this weekend though, we were at a Writing Center conference in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
At this point I should think it would be obvious that I have only one picture of Sylvia and me… sad face! Brain transfer happened big time this weekend though, we were at a Writing Center conference in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Unfortunately, I recently recognized another occupant– one that’s not so good. It seems that there is a big chunk of my brain devoted to housing what essentially amounts to an amalgamation of every “mean girl” I’ve ever encountered. The thoughts and attitude of that mean girl are, as with the good occupants, both theirs and mine. And, without a doubt, the mean girl in my mind is a huge source of insecurity.

This morning at church, Seth and I ran into someone we knew up at Michigan Tech. She was an RA at the same time that we were and she was a pretty big fan of Seth (ahem). She was gorgeous then and she’s gorgeous now. Not only is she gorgeous, but she’s also the mother of a couple kids with another clearly on the way. Gorgeous, fertile, everything I am not… begin downward spiral.

The mean girls in my mind were after me with full force.

Seeing her, talking about her, the Facebook friend request she immediately sent Seth, sent me into a series of crazy thoughts– Seth could have been with her and, no doubt, he would have preferred it, seeing her makes him see how much he missed out on and how ugly I really am, if Seth had married her, he’d probably have kids by now and he’d have a pretty wife, I can’t be either of those things for him…  and so on and so forth… all the way to crazy town…

So in that moment of insecurity, I texted my friend Adriane (who was my RA when I started at Michigan Tech and is still one of my most favorite friends of all time). Her response, and I quote:

“Just be nice to everybody, maybe she’s not so bad. Besides you’re better than her anyway. Don’t let her ruin a minute of your day, it’s not worth it.”


I was letting the mean girl in my brain do all the thinking, rather than appreciating the thoughts of the crazy and awesome lady scientists Ann and Ms. Bertsos or the kind and compassionate and non-judgmental Sylvia.

In reality, it wasn’t ever a contest and it isn’t now. Seth and I are Sleepless in Seattle style MFEO and I’m sure that our Tech friend’s family is happy too. We’re doing our thing, they’re doing theirs, and we just happened to end up in the same small town. We have MTU in common, we were all RAs, and we have all, no doubt, had some time to grow up. The person I am now is still, admittedly, jealous and insecure a lot of the time– but being a nice, albeit crazy, scientist overrides all that. So nice to everybody I shall be.

Thanks, Adriane! You can hang in my brain too 🙂


PS: A “hanging widow” is what we in the biz (of being crazy) call it when one word of a longer title on a PowerPoint slide gets bumped to a second line and it makes everything look crazy unbalanced. Three options to get around it: 1) re-word the title to make it shorter, 2) make the font a bit smaller, or 3) hit enter somewhere else in the title to make it two relatively even rows of text.

Honestly, I was anal before I ever even met Ann– she just helped to shape that crazy into what it is today. I think I’m actually glad for that. She knows how to make a presentations look nice. And I do love presenting things; total adrenaline high. More on those nerdy highs to come!

B was for Beetlejuice, except it’s not. It’s for body image.

B has been a total B. Nagging at me. Not because I didn’t have a B thing to talk about– I wrote a whole post about the movie Beetlejuice! I had a hilarious story to tell about it and it’s a movie I love… but it just didn’t seem right. Beetlejuice is a great movie and everything, but it’s not exactly life changing like Love Actually or Sleepless in Seattle (me and Mindy, rom coms are where it’s at). My heart wasn’t really in it and I didn’t come up with the answer until this morning. Finally!

I spent the day today doing yard work. (After making Sethy some pancakes, of course– half chocolate chip, half blueberry. I’m such a good wife.) I started by mowing the lawn and I had a bit of an audience. Youths!

The park across the street was infested with teenagers! (Infestation = 6ish, right?) Including two bitty little scantily clad girls sunning themselves on a picnic table. Even at the age of 30, nothing (nothing!) makes me more insecure than teenage girls. And this morning was no different.

As I wound my way back and forth and back and forth across the front yard, sweat dripping down my brow, I could have sworn these girls were looking at and laughing about me. One may have even taken a picture. And I found myself trying to figure out what I’d do if I ended up as the newest Internet meme– move over awkward penguin, here comes sweaty muffin-topped lawn mower! NOOOOOO!

Do me a favor and don’t repin that one, ok? No matter how clever or hilarious the saying… pretty please?

In addition, holy cow am I ever narcissistic. And insecure. And disturbingly focused on my body when there are so many other awesome things I could have been focused on– the gorgeous day, the smell of the fresh cut grass, the tulips and rhododendrons blooming, the invigorating exercise I was getting (I love the sneaky kind of exercise you don’t realize you’re doing), etc.

Over the past year or so, I have gained an awful lot of weight. And I’ve kind of been meaning to tell you about that for a while– another unpublished post that just didn’t seem quite right. But the truth is, body image is a big deal to me. And it’s bigness is two fold.

First, your body image is important to me. I truly want you to be happy in your own skin. I want you to know that you are beautiful. And it is crazy important to me that you know that whether you lose 47 pounds or gain 58, I will love you all the same. Your number, your appearance, your body… it’s just there to hold your soul.

Second, my body image is an absolute obsession. And I am not nice. I’m not nice to myself now, at my highest weight, and I was not nice to myself even at my lowest weight. My internal dialogue is so at odds with how I legitimately feel about others, it’s unreal.

I was mean today, but there was a point, a few months ago, when I made some important realizations about my own body… and now that we’re at the letter B, I think I’m ready to share:

Following the death of another friend’s iPhone and combined with our complete inability (read: laziness) to plug our phones in to a computer to back them up, Seth and I broke down and bought space on the iCloud. Automatic back-ups? Yes, please!

To accommodate the huge initial upload of files to the cloud, Seth asked me to spend some time going through my pictures and deleting ones I didn’t want to keep. Fair enough, we’d done a lot of comparison shopping by photo– makes a lot of sense when you need the information, but becomes quite cluttered once you don’t. So before even getting out of bed on one weekend morning, I spent an hour or so flipping through all of the nearly 2,000 pictures I had accumulated since I first got an iPhone in October of 2011.

I was somewhat floored scanning back through all that time by how many pounds I have lost, gained, fluctuated, upped and downed and back again… my weight. Dang. But here’s the thing: no matter how much or how little I weighed in any given picture, every single one of them represents a moment, a memory, something worth hanging on to. And in every single one, I am happy.

Several pounds over several years... but thousands of happy moments!
Several pounds over several years… but thousands of happy moments!

A couple years ago I read a great blog post from someone else (wish I could find it!) about why your weight should never prevent you from taking a picture… explaining that as your weight has nothing to do with your worth as a person, it also has nothing to do with your worthiness of being remembered as part of a moment in time. I think I recently proved that to myself.

Regardless of how I feel about my body, and no matter my pants size, neither my body nor my pants size defines me in any given moment. What defines me is my presence in the experience– with my puppy, with my niece, with my friends, with a donkey… whoever, whatever. It’s the experience that shines.

Honestly, I don’t care at all about what you or anyone else weighs. But I stress about my weight, my size, my appearance a LOT. My photo tour, however, was an hour long, 60 pound tour of why I should stop. Not a single one of those photos means any more or any less because of my size. Intellectually, logically, I know that. Fat, skinny, or just right, whatever that may be, I’ve got a fat heart… and that makes me perfect exactly as I am.

See? I can be nice even to myself on occasion! I can find a place of body image that brings me a sense of peace– and I need to keep flexing that muscle for the purpose of strengthening it, to turn this obsession into something considerably more positive.

B… is for body image.

But because B was also almost for Beetlejuice, I better share my little story, eh?

The movie Beetlejuice came out when I was in preschool. My cousins were in town one weekend and we went to the movie theater to see it. (Trusty old Showcase Cinemas Ann Arbor… how I love(d) thee.) Fortunately for my parents, The Fox and The Hound was also in theaters, so my cousin Spruce and I were taken to that while the big kids got to go see Beetlejuice. Fortunately for me, my cousins all talked about Beetlejuice on the ride home and I got a pretty good sense of what it was about.

My mom got a phone call home from preschool about the appropriateness of the movies she and my dad were allowing me to see the next week. My mom was somewhat surprised– The Fox and The Hound had some difficult material, yes, but it was rated G and she didn’t really feel it was inappropriate. Except I had told everyone at school that I saw Beetlejuice and told them all about it. Because I was a liar. And I really wanted to see Beetlejuice.

(Sorry, mom… and sorry, Mrs. King.)

I didn’t see the actual Beetlejuice movie until many, many years later, but I was absolutely in love with the cartoon version. When I finally saw the movie– omg, it was a revelation! Just brilliant! And I’m still in love with it to this day. In fact, Harry Belafonte’s Jump in the Line (aka shake, shake, shake, senora) is my second favorite* song of all time.



*Second only to Dancing in the Moonlight (everybody!). I don’t know what it is about that song, but I just groove to it every time it comes on because it’s the best. BEST!

I have a hard time getting over things… cannolis help.

I’ve worn a lot of different uniforms for a lot of different reasons. I played t-ball, soccer, and basketball as a kid. I ran cross country and played soccer in high school. I was in the marching band (the magic of polyester, topped with a big black hat, and a half foot tall sparkling silver tassel to top it off) and marched around the Lincoln High School football field and through parade after parade in the city of Ypsilanti dressed in some seriously crazy stuff.

Please take a moment and enjoy this ridiculous-ness... I'll wait.
Please take a moment and enjoy this ridiculous-ness… I’ll wait.

I also worked at Showcase Cinemas Ann Arbor and wore the uniform for both concessions (again with the polyester, but at least no tassel) and ushering/cashiering (where I swapped out the plastic apron for an additional layer of polyester by way of a vest).

{Source-- omg, you can find anything on the internet!}
{Source— omg, you can find anything on the internet!}

But none of those uniforms compared to the one I didn’t realize I was wearing.

When I was in middle school, I was super uncomfortable with the way I looked. Getting dressed was the worst and I spent hour after hour after hour trying on outfits for school the next day– trying to find the thing in which I looked the least fat (vanity plus insecurity in a 13 year old, good stuff). Unfortunately, there was never an outfit that was good enough and I ended up reverting to the thing I felt most comfortable in: a jacket.

We weren’t actually allowed to wear coats in the school, so that was somewhat problematic because the thing I felt most comfortable in was a sleek running jacket my dad let me borrow. But I managed to outsmart the system. I had gotten the coolest (to me) University of Michigan wind suit set at Meijer and that was the thing I felt most comfortable in. And the jacket, as part of a set, was, at least in my mind, innerwear not outerwear. So I wore it. I wore it pretty much every day, over every stressed-over jeans and t-shirt kind of outfit and with my matching pants at least once a week.

I guess I never really thought about what that jacket looked like to other people. All I knew about that jacket was that I didn’t feel fat in it– and at that time, that was enough.

It was only several years later (like several, several, maybe 10 or so) that I found out that I was being made fun of… pretty much always… by a lot of girls who called my jacket my “uniform.”

Look, there goes Rachel, in her uuuu-ni-foooooo-rm.


I knew I wasn’t a cool kid. I knew there were a lot of mean girls in my school. And I knew better than to think I wasn’t the butt of many of their jokes. But it still hurt. And bad. Even though it’s been a whole lot of years since and I never actually heard it, I frequently think of those comments… those girls… those feelings…

It’s like in Harry Potter when Dumbledore lets Harry gaze into a memory in his Pensieve– it’s so much more than just a memory. It’s an experience, full of feeling. That’s what it’s like in my mind’s eye every… single… time… that memory strikes.


It struck this morning. I got dressed, I put on a gray turtle neck sweater and black slacks. It’s kind of a go-to outfit for me, but I was feeling pretty ugh about it this morning. I wanted to put that jacket on– to be comfortable. And the memory came back. The mean girls were talking about me behind my back.

But when I walked in to work this morning, my friends were all gathered in one office and busy planning our Italian-fest lunch. I was instantly struck by how much I adore all of these women… not one mean girl in the bunch! When they tease me, it’s totally to my face, and it’s nice to be in on the joke!

I thought about the contrast between the Micheles, Maries, Aimies, and Debs of my life as an adult and the Connies, Kellys, Lauras, and Taras of my past. As we grow up, our community becomes driven more by choice than by circumstance. Today I feel that very poignantly… and I have chosen well (and not just because Marie made us homemade cannolis today… although that’s part of it).

Pure delicious-ness!
Pure delicious-ness!

This afternoon, I ate a lot of Italian-ish deliciousness to say “ciao!” to my friend Marie as she heads off on a two week adventure of a lifetime (to Italy, obviously)… I could have used my jacket. And in my new, friendly girl world, everyone would have said, “There goes Rachel in her comfy jacket— she’s awesome for doing what feels right! Dang!” Because that’s what friendly girls do.

I’m still not a cool kid, but the people I have chosen to surround myself with really don’t care. The facts are these:

  • I have bushy, early-books-in-the-series-Hermione-like hair.
  • I use way too many Harry Potter references.
  • I get nervous around people I like and ramble uncontrollably.
  • I sweat copiously when nervous. And I’m often nervous.
  • I wear the clothes that I feel most comfortable in, stylish or not. (Usually not.)
  • And sometimes I hang on to my magic wand while I’m watching tv or talking on the phone.

But I like my curls (raise the roots!), Harry Potter is sheer genius and I plan to love it and read it again and again for the rest of my life (always…), some people like the way I ramble because it means (1) that they don’t have to do all the talking and (2) they certainly can’t sound worse than me, black is pretty much my favorite color to wear anyway and sweat really doesn’t show, confidence comes from comfort and confidence is always classy (stylish or not), and the wand… maybe that’s just a little bit weird. But it’s fun, I like it, and I really don’t care.

I know I’m 30 years old and I know I should be over it. But words HURT. And I wish I didn’t even know that those words existed. But I do. And I’m going to have to move past it. Especially considering that it’s likely I’ve hurt someone in that same way– we all say hurtful things at times. Especially when we’re young. But I know without a doubt that I’ve grown up to be a much kinder person than that. And I hope that those girls did too.

I hope that they grew up to be kind. I hope that they don’t feel the kind of hurt I still frequently feel when those memories creep up on me. And I hope that if they have children, they’ll help them to be kinder people than they were as kids. That’s my plan for my own someday babies, anyway.


Fun fact: the movie Mean Girls is actually based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. Tina Fey knew the basic premise of the book, but hadn’t actually read it yet when she won the bid (is that the totally wrong terminology???… perhaps the rights? the opportunity? the chance? something?) to write the movie script. Fascinating, right?! I fully intend to read this book… eventually. It’s on my “Women’s Interest” book club reading list. Its the fourth book club on my list of “Book Clubs I Want to Start” because I really am that girl of all the characteristics listed above.


PS: I know these posts about getting made fun of, and perhaps what might be considered “bullied” this day and age, can be something of a downer. I really don’t want you to think it was all bad though. I really did have some great friends all throughout elementary, middle, and high school (see Emily, Kelly, Stephine, et al) and despite (literal) wedgies in the hall (I really wish that weren’t true) and the occasional overheard negative comment or two, I was a happy kid having a good time at my school. I cheered for the Railsplitters, I played on the teams, I went to the dances, and painted my face for pep rallies. All American kind of stuff. It’s just impossible to extract the mean girl (and boy!) stuff from all of that and unfortunately, as an insecure chubby girl, a lot of that is what really stuck.


PPS: Ok, I actually wasn’t even chubby. Not after like 8th grade anyway. I just thought I was and let people tell me I was. But from where I sit now, dang, I was svelte!! (Kidding, I just looked up svelte and it means “slender and elegant”… I was slender, not elegant. But svelte sounds so good there, all italicized, doesn’t it? Let’s just leave it and move on.)