When I was living and teaching ESL in South Korea, I earned
a nickname: Ballsy Mollsy.
It was not uncommon for me to approach a stranger in a bar
and ask inappropriate questions. Or, maybe I was with a group of friends, and
wanted to steer the conversation in a more exciting direction, and would pose a candid question to a group that would earn laughs, but few answers. Maybe I would just stumble out to the next bar in search of new conversation without
telling anyone, but that was more stupid than ballsy, fyi.
As chance would have it, one day last month, I attended a
play my friend was performing in, and I ended up sitting next to the 25 y.o.’s
mother. “How did it even come up?,” he answered via text. When I told him, he
replied, “That’s right, I forgot you talk to strangers.” (Indeed, how we met.)
I do. I talk to strangers. I mean, how are we ever to meet
anyone new if we don’t talk to them? Like the other day, waiting for my
burrito, I ended up waiting on the bench next to this guy I see
around my neighborhood a lot, who I’ve seen working at the café on the corner. We
struck up a conversation, turns out he’s a nice guy, we had a pleasant chat about movies,
and he went off with his burritos for himself and his girlfriend.
It’s not always about “meeting dudes;” in fact, it’s more
than often not about that. I just like to find out about people, not walk around like
the Ants that they talk about in A Waking Life who, unseeing, run into one another and then walk around and continue
on their way, antennae down. I mean, that’s what New York is for. 😉
I suppose I learned this from my mom. My mother is
notoriously gregarious. To the point, growing up where it was embarrassing, and
not a little evidence of her manic tendencies. But, still. We’d be in a store,
she’d exchange more than a cursory Thank You with the cashier or salesperson. We’d be on a
bus, and she’d ask the woman next to her about the museum she’d just
visited, based on that metal entry pin tacked to her lapel.
Sometimes, she’d flirt with the cashier or waiter or
whomever. There was a base note to her conversation that wasn’t just cordial or conversational. Pre-divorce, this was a little unnerving.
But. A few years ago, she recounted a story to me that she
held as an exemplar of growth and self-aware change.
She was in Zabar’s (Manhattanites will know), and was in an
aisle next to a couple. She could overhear them debating which of the cream
cheeses they should get. If the tofu spread really tasted like cream cheese, if
the chive was better than the dill?
My mom. Had an opinion. She always does.
The success came when she didn’t offer it. She reported to me that she realized they were not
asking for her help, they didn’t need her help, and she picked up the chive tofu cream cheese she loves, and
went on her way.
Trust me. This is a big success. To “mind your own business,
and have business to mind” is a very important boundary to learn. I was amused
at how proud she was of herself, too, like she knew that she was learning
something, that she was changing something.
I mean, it’s part of the reason our relationship has been
able to grow where the one with my dad has faltered: she really is trying to
change. And it shows.
Like all of us, change and growth takes time, isn’t simple,
and sometimes means taking contrary actions.
But sometimes, how we behave in the world influences others,
too. How she interacted in the world helped to inform how I do. Now, sure, I’m
not Holly Go Lightly everywhere I go. Sometimes I wish I had a burka. But
sometimes, the purchase of a burrito is transformed by the simple act of
connecting with another human being.
I leave you with this: I received a card in the mail this
week from a friend. In it, she thanks me for what I write here and on my
Facebook; that reading “me” helps to buttress her flagging spirits.
I told her how much that meant to me. How much it means to
me that my interactions with the world are making a difference; that I’m not
telegraphing into deep space for purely selfish and masturbatory reasons. I
never really know if how I’m choosing to express myself here is “too much” or “too honest,” and
I have to trust that those of you who choose to click on the link to read me
do so because you find something here, even if it be self-congratulations for
not being as bipolar 😉
To hear that how I behave in the world influences and
affects people for the better is one of the greatest gifts of having big balls.