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.
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…
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.
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!