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Monday, November 27, 2006

Gauntlet up-taking

The real world has caught up with Caspian, bringing his excellent run at NaBloPoMo to a halt. I'm not half the blogger he is, but in hopes that I can pull off being 13.3% the blogger he is, I shall post on each of these last four days of November and allow Caspian to claim my posts as part of his NaBloPoMo run. The technical term for this is "DuoNaBloPoMo," I believe (if one of the participants is a female deer it's "DuoNaBloPoMoDoe," and if one participant is a female deer and the other a devotee of solfege it's "DuoNaBloPoMoDoReMiFaSoLaTiDoe").

Last night I was driving from Iowa City to Decorah, and for the last hour of the drive - the bit with winding two-lane roads through hilly Northeast Iowa - I was driving in rain and fog, with visibility often not much past the end of my hood. And for most of that last hour I also had at least one car driving right up on my back bumper. I don't consider myself a tentative driver, but given the conditions I didn't think 60 miles per hour was called for; apparently that made me a jerk. Apparently the courteous thing for me to do, as a fellow resident of Highway 150, would have been to hurtle blindly through the fog, knowing that I'd be able to see turns in the road in time but trusting to the good folks at Nissan (div. of Engineering, Deer-and-Random-Detritus Proofing) for anything else that the highway might hold.

It frightened me how tempting it was to give in to that pressure, too. To make an unsafe choice (indeed, a life-threateningly unsafe choice) because someone I didn't know obviously wanted me to and was angry at me for not. Someone who wasn't even a someone - just one in a series of angry headlights off my back bumper. It made me wonder where I draw the line - apparently I'm not willing to risk my life because someone I don't know wants to get back to college a little faster after Thanksgiving break. But I know that I'm often willing to bow to group opinion when activities are being planned and I'm a limp noodle in the face of someone I know who's actively angry with me - I'll make almost any concession to end the confrontation. Where's the line? When do my decisions become my own? How different would I be if I'd grown up in a different environment? If my family had never left Texas, or I'd never worked at summer camp, or gone to a state school instead of Wartburg, or even if Matt hadn't decided to study camping ministry or Jason's girlfriend hadn't needed a ride to her scholarship application?

It's scary stuff to first think about and it's mentally exhausting even once you realize that growing up with opinions and values affected by those around you isn't something that can be avoided even if it were something that should be. Not the sort of thing one wants filling their head while descending into a valley that looks like it might well harbor King Kong as idiots blind you from behind. I usually quite enjoy the drive to Decorah; last night I was thrilled to finally get there so I could drive south instead and let the back-to-school traffic have its own lane.

Apparently I'm going back on Friday, but by Friday we're supposed to have single-digit temperatures so fog shouldn't be a problem. Good thing; I can only handle so many automotive existential crises in a week.

Must've been all the brow-beating you got from me that conditioned you to avoid conflict so assiduously. But darn it, the silly voices had to be done my way, or else what's the point?
I have been thinking about this a lot since we talked about it a while back... about social personalities. From what you say here, one might make a case for calling yours "chameleon". This is excellent for creating harmony and avoiding conflict... but on the other hand, harder for your friends to know what you actually prefer.

My social personality is different in a lot of ways from yours (inflexible, maybe even :-), but also currently in flux due to culture shock and readjusting to having friends and roommates around.

After four years of extremely confrontational German culture I am far more likely to stare down anyone who's angry at me (or just ask why they're angry) than to just give in.

And when people tailgate annoyingly - I just slow down and force the issue. Call it passive-aggressive, but it works for me. :-)
Once in my youth I was complaining to my dad about tailgaters (not the sitting around and drinking beer before a football game kind of tailgaters, though that would also be irritating if it took place on highways), and he responded with a story: When he was younger, someone was tailgating him, which he didn't like. To encourage the tailgater to back off, he hit his brakes just briefly, which sent the tailgater careening into the ditch. He said he didn't stop to help the person.

Not to question the authenticity of the story, but my dad also used to tell me that if I bit my fingernails, my fingers would get infected and fall off. I also remember him telling me once that if I fell between the floor joists in the attic, I would plummet into some kind of infinite abyss...
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