In the margins

I get a fair amount of daily email from clients. Although I work in the environmental industry, I do not work in anything remotely connected to conservation or saving the earth. If I did, I might think more about my habit of printing emails, especially those with detailed or complicated inquiries and requests. I like to have the printouts so I can write all over them with my own notes before actually typing up a formal response or picking up the telephone to discuss it.

Writing in the margins is part of how I process. I do not think I think as quickly or as on my feet as other, far brighter people do, and I have always taken notes on anything I hope to retain for future reference. It’s definitely a big part of how I learn.

But sometimes there are other observations or comments completely unrelated to profit margins or expense ratios or required follow-ups with third parties. Occasionally I correct the grammar and spelling. Or I puzzle out or look up unfamiliar acronyms. I love the online dictionaries to find definitions for new words, particularly with clients in different industries and product lines. There are a few people I hear from in a business context that write really, really well, and I get lost in how eloquently and succinctly they express themselves. Those are quite possibly the emails that make my year.

I am such a nerd.

Then there are texts. While I do not print those out, I might make notes about them, translate what I think they meant before autocorrect took charge of the missive. And I love the timestamps, the texts that come in while I slept because the sender was “thinking and had to ask before they forget.” Because I am just like that, too. I love text and email because I can send off my question while it’s freshest in my mind and whoever I’m asking can get back to me at their convenience. If it is ever something I need more urgently than a vague sometime later, I pick up the phone. In my book, voice mails are much more  urgent and must be dealt with first so I can remove them from the rolling to-do in my head.

There is just something wonderful about the printed word, even with bad spelling, wrong or awkward grammar, acronyms, and slang of all varieties. I like reading. I am a text-in-all-forums addict.

Recipes, instructions, ideas I find on the web, even personal notes from family and friends are likely as not to have my multi-colored ink commentary additions. Dishes I make regularly have my own pronouncements of their appeal or ideas to try to improve them, complete with failures crossed off and noted results. My favorite – OMG! DON’T EVER MAKE THIS AGAIN! on a Bolognese sauce that was supposed to be easy and sounded like it would appeal and turned out to be the biggest cooking fail of my lifetime. If you knew my lack of interest in cooking (and by extension lack of skill), you would understand how characterizing it that way makes it a Very Big Deal indeed.

When I was an admin and working in a word processing pool, I used to highlight edited text in the green or purple highlighter as I checked it against the final document I produced and returned. This served two purposes: satisfied my OCD tendencies to ensure I completed all requested changes and protected me from asshat professional staff that would be unable to resist more edits and would then state I had missed something rather than admit their actions. I also got into the habit of correcting grammar and occasionally clarifying the meaning by rewording awkward text passages. It mostly went unnoticed. It was the 90s and not everyone knew how to use word and excel. Plus, in those days, the professional staff might be complete heavily recruited brainiacs to the prestigious big 8 accounting firm where I toiled as a lowly admin, but that was no guarantee they could actually write or express themselves clearly in print.

Trainer J creates these cue sheets for me, complete with a photo he approves of illustrating the movement. It is my list of exercises to practice, in the order to perform each, and with the cues and instructions we went over relentlessly in our sessions. Looking at the list each day starts the soundtrack that plays on demand in my head. I have an entire series of these sheets, all covered in my own notes and scribblings about what to do or not do, things he said, questions I asked (and J answered), or what I thought during the learning session. Looking back at our earliest pages, I see a gradual calming of my nervous system, where I went from being completely freaked out every single Thursday to the light finally clicking on after a lot of sweat and maybe a few tears and lots of practice on my own between sessions.

Annotating today’s cue sheet reminds me that the title of this post is what I would use for a personal biography. For me, the sweet spot in life is there in the margins, away from the main text and illustrations. In all facets of life there are support staff of varying stripes doing their jobs outside the limelight; that is my tribe and where I feel I belong.

According to brain books I have browsed, the brain is divided into sections that do different things (over simplified, but this is not a post for neurosurgeons). According to me there are distinct sections of my brain that have nothing to do with anatomy. There is the portion that functions on pure instinct and would rule my life and choices based on prior experiences of fear, anxiety, and silence. In that respect I am not only living in the margins, I am actually marginalized by default. Me as professional victim.

Then there is the other part of my brain, the thin slice that considers itself a closet badass for its stealthy, brilliantly disguised beige-blend mannerisms. This glob of gray matter understands I rule the margins (in some bold purple or green or fluorescent orange color ink) by my own analysis of opportunities and making the smartest choices possible. That part of my brain will not allow me to be victimized or become an incredible shrinking woman by default. It is one thing to want to pull out my invisibility cloak and cower beneath it by choice; it is quite another to be outsourced as inconsequential because I am passively invisible and too afraid to ask for what I desire. I vacillate regularly between these two ways of living my life, but in the end, I pull up my big girl panties, step outside my comfort zone, and make myself meet the challenge. Sometimes it really sucks, too.

Earlier today I had training with J, and it started me down this rabbit hole and thinking about what it is like to feel empowered and to be powerful. I have no need or desire to exercise power over others; simply keeping me on the straight and narrow is a full-time job all on its own. But this training thing … I think I could learn to be good at this weight training thing. And it’s both a kind of terrifying and completely awesome idea. Goals still pop up, a reminder that I have nothing specific in mind, and I really am okay getting cozy without a defined end game. When I finally reach a milestone, I will have the ability and the confidence to recognize and to own it. Maybe the fun part is the getting there?

Until then, though, I am quite happy. I am hiding behind my invisibility cloak with headphones in my ears, practicing and perfecting my forms and slowly releasing the death grip on my anxiety and my fear. It’s a process, one tiny little step forward at a time.

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