Over the years, I worked very hard to accept negative situations as they present themselves. If I’m uncomfortable or if I don’t agree with something, I force myself to walk away. It isn’t that I’m afraid or I shy away from negative encounters. It’s that I find showdowns a waste of my time and energy.
In past, whenever I engaged, I always won. Afterward, I never felt elated with my victory, instead, I experienced guilt for smacking another human being. As if there was no decorum of living. Like animals in the wilderness, fighting for no coherent reason.
Nowadays, I’ve developed a system. When I’m faced with negative situations, first, I try to walk away, not say anything and let it fizzle in the universe. But there’re times when I know walking away will not diffuse the situation. Then I take the second step: I write a carefully worded email detailing the issue. I share my feelings and point-of-view. The important thing is, I never read the reply. Because if I do, I know I’ll want to engage. I find this frees me. This way I say whatever I need to without engaging.
Unfortunately, last Monday, for the first time since February 2009, I lost it and engaged in a confrontation. I spend the last week analyzing the circumstances and myself. It was impossible to avoid it. And I didn’t feel guilty afterward.
It started innocently. A few months ago, a member of my writing club announced that he and his friend were planning to start a critique group. I belong to few writing groups, but I’m always looking for more, so I signed up. There is no harm in exploring. Right? It took few emails to finalize the time and location. Even though I committed, I was extremely apprehensive. I didn’t actually know these people; I was to meet them at one of their homes. I don’t like going to strangers’ houses, especially when it is dark outside.
We were five: three of whom I’ve never met before. And Cherry (name changed), who belonged to my writing club. I’d spoken to her twice, only in the passing. Like others, she was an unknown entity.
Once I met them, I felt silly for worrying. They were writers of different genres and experiences. It was an easy interaction. There was comradery, laugh, a positive feeling, and a good feedback. I didn’t feel unsafe; I liked the group. After a month, I met them again. This time, we were four: all women. Before leaving, I suggested another date and time.
As I drove home, I realized that I’ve committed to the wrong date. Immediately, I send a group email announcing my unavailability and suggesting an alternative date. After a couple of emails, a new date was decided. And Cherry was the primary person replying to these emails.
I marked the new date in my calendar and continued with my life.
One late evening, while I was at a concert, during the intermission, I saw a missed call and a text message from an unknown number. The message didn’t address me by name. When inquired, the unknown number replied, “your writing group,” and didn’t identify themselves.
Of course, right now, it is so obvious that it was someone from the new writing group because I presented the story that way.
At the time I got the message, I marked it as a spam or wrong number. I get gazillion text messages with vague content. Some asking for an unknown person, or setting time to meet for coffee/ drinks, or demanding personal information. I’ve learned not to engage.
One thing is for sure, whenever anyone new has sent me a text message, in their first text, they always address me by my name and always sign off with their name. I follow the same procedure. Doesn’t everyone? Otherwise, how are we to identify each other?
The next day, Cherry’s email rebuked me for missing the meeting and not replying to her call or text. In the gentlest terms, I reminded her of the previous rescheduling emails and my reasons for not answering unknown numbers. She apologized; she demanded I save her phone number.
This email communication with her left a bad taste in my mouth. But I marked it as shit happens, and I moved on.
Last Monday, I met Cherry and the other two women for a critique session. Cherry gave me a cold shoulder. I thought everything was resolved. After all, she’d apologized. She chastised me again and again and again for not saving her phone number. I wanted to ask her how was I supposed to save your phone number if I never had it.
I disregarded her demands and continued to talk to her, as I thought she needed some coaxing. Frankly, I didn’t have the time to get into things, twice. One of the women read wonderful poetry. (Seriously, I wish I’d her work to post here.) Then Cherry read her fiction piece. With others, I gave her my feedback. She would not reply to me or listen to anything I said. By this time, we were almost an hour in the meeting. And her negativity was all around me.
I wanted to switch-off my Surface and just leave without another word. But her chastising me as if I was a child had greatly pissed me. This was one of those times when people make it difficult for me to the walkway from their nonsense. What was I to do then, lay down my head for slaughter? Nah. I live a Zen life. But I have not reached the stage of turning the other cheek.
I confronted her. She said, “Yes, I was giving you negative feeling . . . I didn’t get the rescheduling email . . . you called me a stalker.” At this point, I seriously lost my mind. Wouldn’t you?
There was no ambiguity in our communication. Everything is in the emails. Literally, black and white and on the damn paper. How can a self-proclaimed writer not have the ability to comprehend written word? With that discussion, I was sucked into this vortex on meaninglessness. I felt getting dumber by the second. The woman with wonderful poetry gently chimed in that she got the rescheduling email. Cherry replies, “I didn’t get it . . . sometimes emails go into a black hole.”
How could I argue with nonsense? The woman with wonderful poetry calmed things down. I read my piece; I got good feedback. And we pretended that the blow out never happened.
Now for the last week, I’m contemplating if I still want to be part of this new writing group. I like the people, I got good feedback, I enjoy their writings, and the drive works for me.
But what about Cherry? Will she change? Do I need to print and highlight all our email communications before I beware meet them? Is any critique group worth screwing with my peace?
I admit that Cherry is almost four decades older than me. But that is not an excuse to chastise me. No f***ingbody scolds me. She certainly doesn’t have the right. I wonder also why didn’t the other two women didn’t stop her. Do they’ve their own Cherry-stories? Or Cherry though that it’s easy to push me because I was the only brown person among the all-white cast? Or she a bully by nature?
I don’t know Cherry’s reasons. And truthfully, I don’t even care. I know in my gut that she will repeat her behavior. It is just a matter of time. I strongly believe in Maya Angelou’s words, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.”
Finally, I see Cherry very clearly.