Perception is Reality

One of my favorite places.

Miles run today: 10

Words written in my novel so far: 45,701

Kilometers my BFF is making me run tomorrow to benefit Haiti: 5

Perception is reality.

It’s one of those old PR phrases that has stuck with me through the years. When I was a teenager, I remember reading that simply swinging your arms when you walk gives the impression of confidence, making some stranger less likely to attack you.

So when I was home from college for New Year’s Eve one year, I remember going to a party with my good friend at one of her friend’s houses. The guy worked at Gap and had a fixation about my friend being a perfect size 6 classic fit jean. But I digress.

After the party, I walked with my friend back to her apartment along dark Atlanta streets. A car would drive by, and I would say, “Quick! Swing your arms!” I’m pretty sure that’s what kept us safe that night.

Back in middle school, the Age of Awkwardness and Vulnerability, I was introduced to a mean but interesting little game at a slumber party. It was exactly the sort of game that a.) would make men cringe, and b.) no middle school girl should ever play.

Today, they probably splash things like this all over Facebook. But back in the Dark Ages of Computers, we used pen and paper.

We were down in someone’s basement listening to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” over and over again. Each girl was given a piece of paper with a roughly-sketched table (now easily created on Excel), and at the top was a list of things like Face, Body, Personality. The list was passed around the room anonymously (Is any game amongst middle-school-aged girls truly anonymous? We knew each other’s handwriting like we knew every lyric to the latest Wham! song.).

Every detail of your outward being was scrutinized and critiqued. And then you got the paper to keep forever. Once seen, you can’t unsee things, people.

Just as I suspected, the old adage my mom kept chanting, “Everyone will be too worried about themselves to worry about what you look like/what you’re doing/what you’ve said” was wrong. Complete bunkum.

They noticed.

They recorded.

They reported their findings.

As I might have said before, it’s amazing that any of us survive our preteen years.

But I clung to the positives, the parts where they said I was kind and reminded them of Great Shape Barbie.

Years later, a.) I am very glad that no one has ever asked me to play that game again, and b.) I still try to focus on the positives.

Carrie Rubin, over at The Write Transition, wrote about the one word you would use to describe yourself and others. Do you project confidence? Kindness? Are you creative? Wild? Are you the dependable one? Or the cruise director?

How well does your own one word match up to how others view you? Would your family agree with the word you’ve chosen? Would your friends or co-workers?


33 thoughts on “Perception is Reality

  1. We used to play that game too at sleepovers, so it was obviously worldwide! I blame Judy Blume for it actually, I’m pretty sure they played that in one of her books and I think that’s probably where we got the idea. We used to play it quite regularly with different mixes of groups at sleepovers, I don’t know why we played it because everyone would always be deeply hurt by at least one comment on their sheets, in fact I still remember some of mine they cut so deep! They called me vain, can you believe it?! Why we would do that to ourselves I have no idea!

    • annewoodman says:

      I suppose it’s in the nature of preteen girls? At least I wasn’t the only one scarred by it. ; )

      I read most of the Judy Blume books but must have blocked that part!

      At least vain is something you can work on.; ) I seem to recall scathing (at least to me) comments about my appearance, which were much more difficult (if not impossible) to change. Oh, I am so glad I don’t have to live those years again!

  2. Oops, I was logged in on my limebird login rather than my own one when I just posted a comment – I wondered why it said it was awaiting moderation! I’m sure you’ll make it appear soon…

  3. Daryl says:

    I’d like to think that my word ONE word is something like capable, maybe it’s skilful, or perhaps competent–maybe it’s indecisive!!!

  4. Beautiful pic!

    I know that I am much harder on myself than my friends and family would be. You know, self-esteem issues. But, I guess I would pick “caring” for myself. Being limited to just one word would make defining anyone I know very difficult. Everyone is so complex.

    That sounds like a really mean “game”. Why would any teenager want to submit to the possible results? I know, peer pressure. But still, it would have to be painful.

    • annewoodman says:

      Dennis, from what I know of you, “caring” sounds very appropriate. Summing up anyone in one word is very difficult–we’re all so complicated. But it’s an interesting exercise.

      And yes, I think we are probably the most horrible to each other while middle-school-aged. Horrible.

  5. Carrie Rubin says:

    Thanks so much for the mention! It’s much appreciated. And as I wrote in my post, it was quite the experience at the funeral to have my sister-in-law read the one-word descriptions my mother-in-law had chosen for us all before she died. Really powerful to learn how I was perceived by someone I so admired (and luckily she had a nice word for me–phew!)

    And I must admit, I’m quite relieved to have been a quiet introvert in middle school! I never experienced those kind of games. 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      Carrie, I think it’s great that you had a wonderful relationship with your mother-in-law. And what a nice memory to leave behind for her family!

      You were very fortunate to have escaped some of the middle school cruelty. It definitely forced me to have a thicker skin.

      • Carrie Rubin says:

        I bet. Girls can be notoriously cruel to each other. I experienced a few episodes, but I really was lost in my own little world, so I don’t recall much. I’m sure the snickers were there (how could they not have been with my gangly tallness, my big glasses, my permed hair, and my non-designer clothes?!)–I just didn’t notice them. 🙂

  6. Bernie Brown says:

    Whew! I’m glad we only messed around with the Ouija board at slumber parties in my era. Not sure I would have survived the game you played. I can’t think what anyone could fault about your appearance, Anne. I don’t remember the circumstances, but one of my daughter’s friends and I had occasion to give one another one word descriptions. I loved her description of me: multi-faceted. I want to keep that one.. Incidentally, mine for her was “fearless,” which I think she is to this day.

    • annewoodman says:

      Ooooh! You are definitely multi-faceted. I love that! You are also so adventurous; I’m always impressed by all of the activities you’re involved in and trips you take. All of it adds up to a very interesting, fun friend!

  7. Melissa says:

    Oh the evil things young girls do…sigh. My one word…Friend. Have a great weekend!

  8. jmmcdowell says:

    I chose “complex” for myself on Carrie’s post. Coworkers and friends might choose something like capable or quiet. My siblings would probably say spoiled (I was the youngest by many years).

    I am glad to say we never played that game. We did the ouija board bit and “liftings.” Those were spooky but in a fun way for middle-school age girls. 🙂

    • annewoodman says:

      Oh, I like “complex.” That’s a good one for you. ; )

      We did liftings, too! I was always too scared of the Ouija Board because I had read a YA novel about an evil twin who was in a coma who stole her good twin sister’s body and went about doing bad things. It was pretty creepy.

      • jmmcdowell says:

        A story like that might have put me off them, too! 🙂

        We actually asked it once to write a story for us. I can’t remember anything about it except for one line of dialogue that has stayed with me forever because it was so funny. “By golly geewillickers—I must pick my strawberries.”

        I’m not sure who came up with that line!

  9. J-Bo says:

    I’m going to use that trick when I walk alone at night. And that is an awful, awful game. We just played MASH. But great compliment about Great Shape Barbie!

    • annewoodman says:

      It’s easy to be Great Shape Barbie when you’re 12 and have legs 3/4 the length of your body and no fat. ; ) Later, like when you’re 50 or 60 or 70, is when you need that kind of compliment. ; )

  10. 4amWriter says:

    I think it is called a Slam Book. At least that is what I remember ‘playing’ in middle school, and it was indeed a horrifying experience. I was not popular in school, but I lived in a big house with a swimming pool and so girls wanted to be ‘friends’ with me. However, at sleepovers I discovered their true feelings.

    I hated those years.

    Then along came high school…

    • annewoodman says:

      I actually felt that middle school was more difficult in that way than high school. At least by high school, many of us had our “things” that kept us occupied (music, drama, sports, art…). So we were becoming people in our own rights by then. Middle school? Raging hormones and too much time on our hands.

  11. Ravena Guron says:

    We just did things like 21 dares and made each other sniff feet and stuff. And murder in the dark and all that. And ghost stories. But we never played that… although I did see it done in a film where the MC was told she had a large nose and it haunted her for the rest of her life. Anyway. 😀

  12. Amy Mak says:

    That is a terrible game…and I remember it well. Something that still haunts me is seeing a girl get a package in middle school. Inside were a ton of letters from her “friends” about how much they hated her. She was never really the same, outgoing girl after that. Happy to say I wasn’t one who wrote any of the letters and I’m sure the girls who did feel badly now. Why do we do those things when we’re young? We were all so sensitive but could be so insensitive to others. Can you imagine how you’d feel if your daughter received that package? My one word? I think people would say, “warm.” I hope!

    • annewoodman says:

      You do seem very warm, Amy!

      If my daughter got a package like that, I would seriously think about switching her school… and I’m not one to tell my kids to run from their problems. But I can’t imagine her being surrounded with kids who would write stuff like that… for several more years. I wonder how much that girl/woman thinks about those times now. Some of that stuff can scar long after the incident… and I’m sure the girls who did it had no idea at the time. So sad.

  13. My one (OK, two) word to describe myself would be “cantankerous loner.” My wife, however, says this is just the way I like to perceive myself.

    “You’re also impatient,” she says.

    Please tell me, Anne, that, in addition to your novel, you are writing a memoir. The stories of your childhood are incredible!

    • annewoodman says:

      Thanks, Mike! No memoir begun yet. Just blogging about it is pretty therapeutic.

      You may be cantankerous and impatient, but you don’t seem too loner-ish to me! ; ) (I’m sure my husband would have a few choice words for me, too. I didn’t ask him to weigh in. ; )

  14. Sheila says:

    I was too afraid to play that game. 🙂 It is amazing that we survived those years – especially with songs like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” to listen to!

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