The Scarlet Letter

… is one of my least favorite books. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate its literary significance and the importance of the messages and themes expressed in Hawthorne’s famous novel. But – and I say this as someone who loves classic literature – it’s a downright slog to read. I’m glad that I read it, but I will never pick it up again.

I read The Scarlet Letter in 11th grade, back in 2009. And my teacher at the time had our class participate in an experiment to make us understand, to at least some degree, the trials and tribulations of the socially-condemned Hester Prynne.

We had to make a ‘letter’ and wear it around school as a brand for a day. So, if we considered our personal “flaw” or perceived “crime” to be greed, for example, we would make a “G” out of craft materials and pin it to our shirt. As a seventeen year old girl, I picked “A,” but not for adultery. It was for ‘anger.’

I was often angry in my teens, and that anger bled into and impacted several areas of my life. It caused me a lot of frustration, stress, and irritation. It was the root of many personal issues I was experiencing at the time, and vice versa. And I spent that whole day with an “A” on my shirt to announce it to the world… and really, all it did was make me angrier because friends/peers would constantly ask me, “what’s the ‘A’ for?” and it was annoying. But, I digress…

However, the lesson did, at the time, make me think about how anger was affecting my life. I have been able to let it go, per se, as I’ve grown older. And now, eleven years later, that lesson has crept back into the forefront of my mind. Anger is not what I would consider the ‘root’ of my issues now, but I might wear a different ‘A’ as a twenty-eight year old in the year 2020 – an ‘A’ for anxiety.

It might not be an obvious thing, nor does anyone make me march around town with some visible indication that I suffer from anxiety, thus allowing others to scorn me. Times have changed since the Puritan era. But I can feel that ‘A,’ burning a hole in my chest, every day. It is not visible, but I know that it is there. And, of late, it has been swallowing me. Part of it is definitely due to the state of the world at the moment, but there are also other roadblocks in my personal life that are making that “A” blaze brighter and brighter, if only on the inside. And there’s a big ol’ neon ‘D’ right beside it. It’s probably obvious what that stands for.

I am trying not to let it consume me. It’s difficult. I can feel the weight much heavier than ever before, and that creeping dread digs its fingers into my skin more often than usual. I mean, I know – I’m a basic white girl who has been afforded many opportunities in my life, so my issues are trivial in the grand scheme of things and when compared to what others are going through. This isn’t a ‘boo hoo, feel bad for me’ type post, it’s just cathartic to get it out there. And I know I’m not alone.

It does help a little to know that, even though we do not outwardly wear our own scarlet letters, everyone has at least one. And before judging others, I try to think what their own burdensome letter might be, and how it might weigh on them. Some guy cuts me off in traffic? He’s probably fighting his own battles. The person who ordered the last cake pop at Starbucks? Maybe they needed that sugar boost to get through the day more than I did. Knowing that we are not alone can make those letters feel a little smaller, even if, for some of us, they will never disappear entirely.

The ‘A’ may be heavy, but I do wear it with some measure of pride. It has not defeated me yet, nor will I let it.

First Impressions

Despite all the times I’ve been told how important it is to make a good first impression, I notoriously suck at it. Really, I should say it’s a (constant) work in progress, because I am (constantly) working on it.

I have a few things working against me from the get go. The first is occasionally crippling anxiety. The second is an often overwhelming sensation of self-doubt. The third is a horrendous case of RBF, or Resting Bitch Face, which causes me to look perpetually angry and unapproachable even though I’m probably thinking about kittens or debating whether or not to stop for Starbucks on my way home. And the fourth is my voice, which harbors a naturally “harsh” pitch. So, in short, I’m a mess.

But, due to a recent promotion at work and some positive changes to the way I treat my mental health, I’m on a kick to try and “improve” myself, and one of the steps I need to make is getting better at first impressions. I’ve even been practicing my handshake, which is already much improved!

I’ve been told by people that I am now friends/acquaintances with that they were “intimidated by” or “afraid of” me when we first met – which, if you know anything about me, is absurd. I’m about as intimidating as a Jigglypuff. This is me, when angry:

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Not scary at all, right? Of course, that’s partially my own impression of me, which is skewed. I suppose that I make bad first impressions because I look and sound mean, unless I make an effort to actively soften or mask the rough edges of my personality. Combine that with anxiety, and it’s a recipe for disaster. For the record, I’m all in favor of the “be yourself” mentality. I’m not ashamed of who I am as a person in general. But when being myself is prohibiting my ability to network, make and maintain friends, appeal to readers, or do my job effectively, then maybe there are some things that need a bit of tweaking.

In my self-improvement efforts, I have been practicing my eye contact when speaking to people, especially when first meeting them. I usually avoid this like the plague, but I’ve been finding it much easier as I do it more often. This has helped to soften the blow of the other factors working against me. However, it’s more difficult to rein in the “RBF” because it’s the natural state of my face. To combat it, I’ve been attempting to be more attuned to what my face is doing when I’m around other people, and especially when speaking to others. I don’t want people to think I’m bored with what they’re saying because of my face, when oftentimes, I’m genuinely interested. So I’ve made an effort to be more aware of the rest of my body language as well, such as my posture and arm-crossing/whatnot, so if my face slips, at least the rest of me appears engaged.

I also try to be more aware of my tone of voice. As the unfortunate bearer of a distinct, naturally monotonous alto with a dry sense of humor, an affliction many other women also suffer from, I have been making a concerted effort to add inflection and enthusiasm into my voice, in proportion to what I’m saying. I sort of think of it as adding invisible emojis to my sentences. Again, I don’t think of it as being “fake.” I think of it as trying to accurately project what I’m feeling or what I intend to convey without being sabotaged by the natural state of my voice/face, and I do think it helps me improve how I come across when meeting people. I don’t want constructive criticism to sound like lambasting, or genuine compliments to sound sarcastic. At least, until I get to know people enough that they become aware of and understand my idiosyncrasies.

And, of course, one of the most important parts of making a good first impression is… earning the chance to make a second, or third. Or, if first impressions go awry, working on making the second one better, if possible. Get knocked down, get back up. Keep plugging away at the things I need to improve. I am a big “catastrophiser,” as in, my thoughts continually stray into “worst-case scenario” territory, but I’ve been getting better at not giving up at the first misstep, and forging ahead instead. Stare fear and anxiety and “what-ifs?” in the face, then stomp all over them.

If anyone else has good first impression tips or advice, or have faced a similar struggle, I’d love to hear from you!

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.