Saturday, October 20, 2007

Truth, or something like it: #1

Truth #1: The more you understand something, the harder it becomes to dislike it.

In my short and unrepresentative experience, I have found that this phrase applies to politics, religion and especially, people. While working in New York after college, I sat across the “cubical-farm” from a young woman who, on a good day, could be described as cantankerous. Months later I discovered that I was not the only one who had recognized this perpetual PMS – a colleague of mine had already deemed this woman the “Pain Train.” It would be difficult to understand how perfectly this name fit without having had the distinct experience of interacting with the Pain Train (PT). If someone complained about having a bad day, PT was quick to explain why her day had been worse. If someone had pulled an all-nighter, PT had a story about how she had pulled three all-nighters in a row. If someone was explaining his or her break-up woes, PT had endured Chinese water torture while eating Lima beans and being forced to pet a opossum, the last time she had been dumped. I will admit to ruthlessly negative thoughts about PT…I even went so far as to re-tell “PT tales” to my roommates, during our nightly debrief sessions. Although this was admittedly cruel, the woman did give me a lot of ammunition - she got run over by a hot dog cart while crossing Lexington Avenue and touted the fashion forwardness of her Velcro “easy spirits.” PT is also the woman who – even though your back is turned and you are striking your keyboard with more force than you use during cardio kickboxing to demonstrate the fact that you are CLEARLY working – will continue to tell you her story about how she hasn’t had a date in seven years because men are intimidated by her. There was never a time when I would have used the word "hate," but I definitely didn’t want PT to be the one that I was stuck with on a desert island, should that hypothetical circumstance ever come to fruition.

When I first learned that I was going to be working directly with PT, I felt dread. The kind you feel on Sunday night after a wonderful weekend. When I first participated in a meeting with her, I was sure that my worst fears were going to be realized. PT had an anecdote for everything and was “too swamped” (she had been in the office until 11:00 p.m. the night before, you know) to take on any more projects.

We had probably been working together for a month or two when it happened. Our supervisor entered the farm, casually asking for some ideas to support a new project that we were pitching to a client. I was new to the team and anxious to claim my stake as the resident creative genius, so I desperately racked my brain for something truly unique and awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, my brilliance must have been off reading the entertainment section of Yahoo!News, because I ended up stumbling over my words and offering what could only be described as a generic idea. Much to my dismay, PT stepped up to the plate and batted one out of the park. It pains me to admit this, even now, but her idea was sassy and completely in line with our target audience. The surprise of this otherwise un-noteworthy incident was that our supervisor wasn’t drooling over PT’s legitimately fantastic idea. In fact, she didn’t acknowledge that PT had spoken…or that she was even in the room. Chalk it up as one of those post-college, real life lessons, but it suddenly occurred to me that life is not always fair…even when it's you who is getting the better end of the deal.

It wasn’t an immediate transformation on my part (these character makeovers can take time), but eventually I stopped shoving my headphones in my ears – with or without music playing – when PT walked into my cubical vicinity. I even started to take interest in the train’s sordid, and undoubtedly only half true, love debacles. I also learned that PT was born into the middle of a very large, outspoken family. I learned that even though she is allergic to milk (which, for your information, is apparently very different from being lactose intolerant), she still eats ice cream from time-to-time, because it’s a “quality of life issue.” With sincere, but slightly lacking social skills, and more than a few extra pounds on her frame, eventually I realized that although she may not have ever endured water torture or any other physical abuse, PT definitely knew what it was like to fight for a little attention. In addition, she worked in an industry infamous for boasting a plethora of pretty, twenty-something women. After giving myself an attitude adjustment and many mid-conversation pep talks, I realized that if you held eye contact with PT and actually listened to her stories, they seemed to end more quickly and with fewer re-run episodes. It seemed so obvious, but all she really needed was to be acknowledged.

I can’t say that my growth of character was not without drawbacks (if PT ever does marry the exotic Swedish god from summer camp, I will mostly likely be forced to wear lavender taffeta gown and throw her a themed bridal shower), but I did gain a little humility and a lot of perspective.

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