More coal, please!


Angry little flats

In our Western mythos we tend to believe that Christmastime is transformational to the personality. Scrooge metamorphosed from naughty to nice. The Grinch’s heart grew three sizes. For the most part, traits like nastiness, selfishness, general bluntness or impoliteness are traded for caring, empathy, generosity and good cheer this time of year. This Christmas season I, too, find myself mid-personality-makeover, however I’m pretty sure my personal switch-a-roo will not end with me surrounded by a praising community that has bestowed upon me the honor of carving the roast beast.

This year I’m consciously opting to be less nice.

No visions of sugarplums here, oh, no. Instead visions of outspoken bitches, incurable curmudgeons, the nastiest nasties. You see, unlike old Ebenezer my fault lies in niceness.

In high school I was told by my peers on countless occasions how nice I was and, as you can imagine, my yearbook became an archive devoted to this “fact.” I wasn’t invisible per se, everyone knew me as the nice smart girl, but few had any sense of me beyond that label. And I am nice. I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. I don’t like to let people down. If you hated a movie, I’m the kind of girl who will tell you you’re right and I’ll find something to hate along with you. If someone else loves that movie, hey, I can love that movie, too. No need to disagree or make anyone uncomfortable. The problem, as you may already notice, is that my brand of niceness often presents itself as the elimination of all difference, a quick and easy shuffling on my part, a rewiring of my beliefs and opinions and of what I am willing and unwilling to do. To me, being nice is a blotting out of myself so you don’t have to see anything unlike you. My gift to you (whether you asked for it or not) is a mirror, a voice that tells you the shape of the world is exactly as you wish it to be, a constant pat on your back—all I ask in return is that you like me (you reeeally like me) and you never ever get upset with me. Ever.

And I rarely get angry. Sure, I’ll hear the song of my failure in the lilt of your voice from time to time. I’ll catch each snarky remark, be sure of it. It’s not that I don’t notice the goads, the beginnings of a disagreement, an argument or fight—on the contrary, I hear them loud and clear and often with the volume turned up to eleven—it’s just that I must avoid all conflict. It wouldn’t be nice to engage. I just stuff the irksome things away, pat them down nice and tight, hoarding them within all the while honing my anger into a fine precise point. Should you be lucky enough to receive the stab of it at long last you’ll most likely not understand why I’m so angry. “Where did this come from?” you’ll say. “She used to be so nice!”

I am tired of this, reader friends. I am tired of not actually knowing whether I like something or not. I am tired of anxiously waiting to find out what someone else, someone surely wiser, smarter and better than me, thinks so I can then situate my point of view. And the truth is I’m not really that nice. My television fantasy husband is Larry David from “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Larry David! He’s like the worst man in the world and I love him. When Chelsea Handler or Kathy Griffin or Margaret Cho or Wanda Sykes breaks someone down, smashes them to bits with wit and an explosive barrage of filthy language, I relish in it. I envy it. Inside me is a hot burning fire of hatred and I know my mouth can be brash, can be smart (not just intelligent).

Speaking and sharing this side of myself is so very hard, since my lobotomized Pollyanna self so wants sweetness and light and perfection, but I’ve been actively working against her a lot lately. I’m practicing disagreeing with people. I’ve forced myself to stay in an argument/discussion about the ills and benefits of The Social Network. I’ve gotten in uncomfortable Facebook “fights” over some recent rape cases and I refused to let go of my position—refused to avoid it or ignore it or ultimately agree to something I didn’t believe. These are things that maybe you take for granted because you’ve always had a voice and your identity wasn’t wrapped up in my four letter word, “nice.” But to me this is painstaking and horrible-feeling and exhilarating and freeing and huge. My self is growing by the day, my heart not so much.

So while you’re holly and jolly and hugging and loving and honoring the reason for the season, I’ll be working on my humbug and wondering What Would the Grinch do? I’ve gotten some heat for saying this before, but I’ll say it again and try not to cringe this time: sometimes it’s important to be selfish. And if you don’t like that you can (kindly) go fuck yourself.

4 Responses to “More coal, please!”
  1. Angela Vasquez-Giroux says:

    Hear, hear, Ana. I think, all too often, life is separated into two camps: two political parties, two colors, two economic class (the haves and have nots), and two methods of dealing with difference: to diminish, and to make it extreme. We see a lot of the results of that extreme approach in politics, where members of opposing parties insist on demonizing and insulting each other. I think your approach — the diminishing, with best of intentions, is in part a reaction to the constant racheting-up of the more extreme approach.

    I’m so glad you posted this. Because there’s a middle, and I think you’re carving it out in your own life: it’s less “can’t we all just get along” and more “can’t we talk about this like reasonable adults?”

  2. Jessi says:

    Ana, I love you. I feel you. I don’t think I have quite as much of the “nice” problem but maaannnn do i hate and avoid conflict. But when someone REALLY fucks you over and you have to say enough is enough, I still feel guilt and regret (even though all I’ve done is stand up for myself). I’m with you on the selfish point too. If you don’t care about yourself, why should anyone else? I take care of a lot of people (it’s one of my many jobs!) but man, if I don’t take care of ME, then everyone suffers. And for every good deed and gift that people do for everyone else this season, they should do or buy a little something for themselves too. And that’s not Grinchy, that’s just smart. ;)

  3. Ana says:

    Exactly! I don’t think it’s a bad thing to take care of ourselves and stand up for ourselves, but it can be hard sometimes especially when you tend to be the person who bends for everyone else. I totally learned this too nice behavior from my family so when they see me speaking up they sometimes tell me to just keep it to myself or do something I don’t want to do because, come on, it won’t be that bad! Too much “niceness” can be toxic and I think we need a new word for “selfish” since “selfish” gets such a bad rap. I wrote about this kind of selfishness for school once and sadly my profs thought I was a total asshole.

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