Monday, April 28, 2008

Good Gossip

I am not always a nice person. I can be sarcastic and range from vaguely annoyed to insanely enraged by people. I snort with laughter over stupid mistakes or idiotic statements. I make fun. And I do it behind people's backs.

"I swear when he interviewed that he had a wife. But now he's here and doesn't mention her and doesn't wear a ring. I guess some men don't wear rings, but I think he would. He's kind of tall and has a hooked nose that looks like a beak, so a ring would say, 'Hell, yes, women find me attractive. I'm married!' So I think he would wear one." I blinked in surprise and choked back a giggle when, after she finished her statement, my lunch companion's eyes went wide and she covered her mouth. "I shouldn't have said that," she breathed. "I'm sorry."

"No, no." I waved my hand and paused between bites of scrambled egg while looking toward the pancakes on my plate with longing. (I couldn't eat them first because then syrup would have contaminated the eggs. And that would be sick and wrong.) "You're fine! I have a friend from grad school and when I met all her new friends - the ones she works with now? I told her they were fantastic and I meant it. But, I said that they're so nice! How can you call people names and roll your eyes at their beliefs and chortle at their misfortune because you secretly think they deserve it? She told me she couldn't and said that's why we were still friends. So I'm awful too! Gossip away!"

She nodded and looked relieved and we continued to swap stories. We'd met earlier at my desk - a collaborator and I - and walked across campus in bright sunshine and cool breezes. I admired her shoes (3 inch heels and she's 5'10". It's a good thing she's delightful or I'd have to hate her for being absurdly gorgeous. It hurt my neck to look up at her while we were standing together and talking.) and she complimented my hair as we moved toward a row of restaurants for our lunch outing. We found a cute place that serves breakfast all day and sipped water while venting.

"So I told Boss he should send her email and tell her to move her things from that desk she hasn't used in six months," I said in a superior tone while Annabelle nodded her support. "I mean, if nobody needed it, that would be one thing. But there's a new student and he's deskless! And she hasn't been there forever! It's selfish," I concluded and nodded decisively.

"He's a great collaborator, but he stores everything on multiple paper copies! I can't even fit in his office and he keeps making me print more work when I can see it sitting on the desk he buried under printer paper! I just want to take a big recycling bin in there and clean!" Annabelle finished by throwing her hands up and I made a sympathetic face.

"I poked him once," I confided when it was my turn again and she nodded eagerly, "and he's built! I was annoyed when I jabbed at him with my finger," I showed her my right index finger for clarity, "but then I was distracted by how hard his arm was." She looked thoughtful for a moment, then said she might have to find a reason to poke him too.

"They're adorable but he drives terribly!" Annabelle giggled. "I had to restrain myself from screaming when I rode in the backseat while he drove and his wife rode up front. And then I was almost sick by the time we got home from all the weaving and abrupt stopping!"

"I send one of my friends 20 emails a day instead of banging my head on the wall," Annabelle said and I nodded.

"I send Friend a lot of email too - people are in the conference room I need, I have to bug Boss every day to get comments on papers back or someone made me sit to wait for 30 minutes for a meeting! I think it's good to get it out."

And, for me, that's true. There are precious few people to whom I can turn and say, "Stop. You're Really Bugging Me." And I don't need to complain directly to the offender about a desk or mess. People have their quirks and while I embrace some of them, I grit my teeth at others. And telling other people about those annoying people is entertaining and funny and somehow helpful. Much of the time, there's nothing to be done about a given situation. It would not be good for me to seethe to a collaborator that if we say 3:00 for a meeting, be ready at 3, you self-important jackass! Instead, I take deep breaths, remind myself that impatience is a flaw of mine and wait. Then afterward, I tell a friend that said collaborator apparently wants to be a swarthy pirate because he really should shave. Or that I heard he can't be last author on papers because of some political power struggle so he's still battling his students for the first author spot. And we nod knowingly or shake our heads sadly at his lack of good taste or departmental structure. Then the next time I meet him, I can think 'What's up, matey?' and be amused rather than annoyed.

I could go back and look, but if memory serves, there have been no shortage of posts about VIMD (very important MD). She's a Really Big Deal and she knows it. Since my role was basically to make her life easier and reduce the time spent on this clinical trial to the bare minimum, I had to waste a lot of my time and take some hits to the ego to be effective. It took a long time for her to decide I wasn't a feeble-minded grad student (and was instead a reasonably-intelligent post-doc), but I realized we've worked together for well over a year now. And complaining to friends (hello, blog friends!) kept me sane while saying OK to needless requests or calling to check on that report yet again or putting in more time waiting for her to show up where she said she'd be. Yet that patience and attitude paid off. She likes me. We talk and laugh and she trusts that when I say something is right or done, I am correct.

"So you can have these," she said after we met briefly yesterday afternoon. I tugged at my shirt again - it was clingy and the bra I wore (one of the few I own that isn't white) did not work to reduce attention to that fact (Hey! Another example of things you tell friends and not colleagues!) - and took the papers though I'd already made my own notes. "And do you know anything about these?" she asked and my eyes widened with dismay. "They were on my desk when I got back from my trip," she explained, "and I don't know what they're for."

"I did it," I confessed, holding my hand out to take the stack of papers. "I'm sorry! I was going through files in here while you were away and I took out redundant copies of paperwork. I meant to shred them. I must have forgotten and left them in here instead. That's not good."

Perhaps seeing I was sincerely upset about this instead of being secretly pleased that I'd inconvenienced her, she smiled and shook her head. "It's fine," she said. "I put them aside for you anyway since you deal with all of this. I just didn't know if something more had come in."

"No," I sighed and shook my head. "I just came in and made a mess while you were gone. I really am sorry." She waved her hand and told me to forget it and I smiled sheepishly in return. On my way to toss them in a confidential trash bin, I realized I really do like her. I'm glad I got through this particular project and credit the willingness of people to listen while I whine and complain and huff out sighs of frustration with being able to do it.

"Don't tell Jason," A friend of a Friend said after she'd poured out her awful story about a miserable colleague. When Friend said she wouldn't tell anyone but me, I realized that gossip serves its purpose (or what I see as its purpose) only if it remains a harmless bit of private conversation. If anyone associated my full name with this blog in a public way, I'd take it down. It would hurt me to do so, but the cost of people reading about how stupid I thought they were one Tuesday or how that minor slight made me majorly angry last June would be far too high.

It's not my intention to hurt feelings or create conflict. I never want Penguin to know that I call him that or that I thought it was positively hysterical when he lost his voice that time. It finally hurt him as much to interrupt as it did me to be interrupted! It's a secret that I could have stabbed Dawn with a fork because she's so outrageously opinionated about everything at last year's retreat. I don't even want Brother's Wife to know I think she's painfully stupid. The point is to vent and move on. When one is as passionately dramatic as I am, irritation peaks and something has to shift for me to let it go. That shift is encouraged by gossip. And perhaps that's immature, but I can't help thinking it would be more so to gather a group of friends and talk about someone in full view of said person. Then feelings might get hurt, conflict is created because the attacked gets friends and battles back. Which just seems silly to me. Are there not more important things to do? Pancakes to eat? So I could lists blogs that make me roll my eyes and name ones I simply avoid reading because I think it gets ridiculous. But I won't.

I'll just snicker about them quietly with my friends.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I do the same thing. I once explained it as a photon being released as an excited electron (me) went back to ground state.

I may or may not have been working too long in the lab at that point.

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