Reading a random blog the other day, I learned of a book called Bitter is the New Black : Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass,Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office, by Jen Lancaster. I have NOT read the book, and while the review I read was favorable, I wasn’t tempted to run right out and buy it.
Anyhoo…one of the things the review mentioned about the book is a list the author calls the “Jen Commandments”, which is a list of things about her that her friends and loved ones just need to accept. As I understand it, and remember I’ve never read the book, they are the non-negotiables, the things that are just wired into her personality. This idea got me thinking. I mean, such a list would need to include the stuff that maybe you want to change about yourself but have given up on being able to. The things that you know your friends don’t like but put up with anyway because…well, they’re your friends. Or your family.
What, I wondered, would be on my list (if I created one)? It isn’t possible to set such a mental challenge for myself without quickly deciding to write it down and post it in my blog! So, here’s my list. Its not exhaustive – I am well aware there are other items I could add:
10. If I am angry or irritated about something, anything, it will sound in my vocal tone, which will become harsh and vehement. And you will think I am mad at you…but I’m not. If I am angry with you, I will normally hide it from you. To recap: If I sound mad to you, it can’t possibly be at you.
9. I will tell you every detail of my vacation, my workout, or the movie I watched last night. But if something truly meaningful has happened, or my emotions have been deeply engaged, you will have to ask probing questions if you want details.
8. I like to use the wonderful vocabulary I developed as the result of an expensive liberal arts education. If you don’t know a word, say so and I’ll define it for you. That doubles my fun!
7. I drive the way my father taught me to. I do feel bad when it terrifies my passengers.
6. I get mushy and sentimental. Often at really inappropriate times (karaoke night at the bar, while doing dishes at your house, when everyone is finally being relaxed and silly). You will know this is happening because I will kill the moment with my need to express my sentiment.
5. I have been known to bring my slippers with me to friends’ homes. When I put them on, I might imply that the inside temp at their place is not fit for warm-blooded mammals.
4. I procrastinate, then panic. I take you with me to the panic place.
3. I try to stop myself but “I told you so”, or a variation on that theme, slips out.
2. I overreact. My first thought, comment or reaction is usually suspect. My third thought or reaction is invariably better and/or more appropriate to the circumstances.
1. Out of sight is out of mind. Bills, friends who live across the country (or town), societal ills, the five items I need every morning but forget to buy when I stop at Walgreens. The public library once sent me to a collection agency for unpaid fines. I kept forgetting to return the books because they were underneath a pile of crud in my apartment. I don’t intend to be a deadbeat, it just happens.
OK, so it might be fun to think about this list, and to suggest that the items on it are unchangeable aspects of my personality. To ask my loved ones, colleagues, and in some cases strangers, to just suck it up. It is tempting to believe that these traits are inborn, that like Jessica Rabbit I can say, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”
The unfortunate truth, though, is that these traits are not things outside myself, beyond my scope of either management or responsibility. I can impact them through conscious attention. And I do try, though I am imperfect in both conscious intent and in the application of effort.
And so I’ve decided to let Jen Lancaster keep her “Jen Commandments” without horning in on her clever concept. I’m thinking of mine as a “Jen Pack” – ten things I’d like to change about myself. Ten things I would like to ask my loved ones to be patient with in exchange for my promise that I’m working on them.