I have this very clear recollection of being twelve and out someplace with my mother. God knows why, but I suddenly said, "Nobody can make you do anything, really." My mom looked over at me (some feat, since she was driving and I was in the back seat) and said, "Yes, they can." I said, "No, they can't. Not really. Not if you don't want to." She said, "Jennifer, people make you do things all the time." I said, "But that's because you choose to. If you didn't want to, they couldn't make you."
Mind you, if I could see how weird her expression was, I might have dropped the subject. But then, back seat and all. She did raise her voice, though. "If you don't do some things, like pay your taxes, you'll go to jail," she said. I said, "Right, and as long as you know that, and it's okay, they can't make you pay your taxes." Mom misground a gear. "What do you mean, it's okay? It's not okay." "But if it was," I insisted. "If you thought about it and you decided you weren't going to pay your taxes and they might send you to jail but that was okay, then you wouldn't have to pay your taxes and no one could make you."
My poor mother. Here I was presenting her with an anarchist's argument on the way to soccer practice. No wonder I spent a lot of hours with a child psychiatrist. These days I try to avoid topics that I know will upset people. That afternoon, however, I realized I'd just cracked a code, stumbled upon a truth of being human that adults didn't want kids to know. Just for the record, I do pay my taxes. Sent those suckers off this afternoon, in point of fact. But I do think on some level, I was basically right. You can do anything you want, as long as you accept the consequences.
Another stupid conversation I shouldn't have had: I was being interviewed for a job. I'd known from pretty much the moment I'd walked in that this was never going to work, but I've never come up with any pleasant, polite way to say, "You know, I just realized I have to floss my cat, let's do this another time, shall we?" There ought to be some code, some universal phrase you can use to indicate to the other person that this is over before it begins and maybe instead of both wasting your time with each other, you could go down to Starbucks and get a venti upside down caramel macchiatto with extra whipped cream.
But there isn't, or if there is I don't know it, so I sat there for about 45 minutes listening to this guy talk about his former assistant and how she'd been ripping him off thousands of dollars a week and it had taken him over a year to notice. He would have forgiven all, he said, if she'd just admitted it and agreed to a repayment plan. "I've seen it all," he continued, "and nothing surprises me." (He'd already said this four or five times.) "There's nothing you can say that would shock me."
You know where this is going, right? Yep, right you are. Once again I opened my mouth without one clue what was going to come out of it, and what came out of it was, "So if I told you I was a space alien, you'd believe me?" And five minutes later I was out on the street, to quote the Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive. I may have just discovered that universal phrase.
Last one: I was sitting in the lunch room with a number of cow orkers and a Subject of Some Seriousness was under discussion. I forget what it was, but it was Serious. Opinions went around the table and back again. At some point somebody turned to me and said, "What do you think, Jen?" And I opened my mouth, again not at all sure what was going to come out, and said, "I think I'm more interested in what everybody else thinks."
Well, smack me with a rolled up newspaper. Are we sure that was me talking? Because I seem to remember that my job is telling other people what to think. Or was that BB (Before Buddhism)?
Hmm. I wonder what everybody else thinks.