My friend Andrea often speaks of "gremlins" -- the voices inside your head that tear you down, that keep you from doing what you know you're capable of doing. They play on your fears and your insecurities, and are generally nasty little buggers.
This week, my gremlin was working overtime. On Monday, I was sitting in a coffeehouse, when two men in suits entered. I realized they were both former executives from Very Large Corporation, where I worked from 1998 to 2005. At one point, one of them, "Bob" I'll call him, caught my eye. I smiled at him. He smiled back politely, and returned to his business.
He doesn't recognize me, I thought. That's funny. Probably because my hair is so much longer than the last time he saw me.
Yeah, that's it. My gremlin continued the thought for me: He doesn't recognize me because my hair is longer. Well, that, and the fact that I'm not wearing a stitch of makeup. And gained weight. Seriously, I look like hell.
I went back to my work, relieved that they had no idea who I was. About 30 minutes later, however, the other man, let's say "Tim," finally walked over. "Karen?" he said. "I kept looking over here, and I couldn't figure out where I knew you from! How are you?"
"Hi, Tim," I smiled. Bob approached to join him. "How are you both?" I asked.
Think I could smile any bigger? I'm so transparent. I'm so inadequate.
"We're good," said Tim. "How are you? Are you practicing law anywhere?"
"Nope!" I said continuing to grin like a madwoman. "I'm a writer."
They're judging me, my gremlin persisted. They think I'm sad that I don't practice law anymore. They think "writer" is a euphemism for "living off of my husband."
"Ah," said Tim. He glanced at my journal, lying on the table. It was filled with my writing, and colours and doodles from my coloured pens that were lying next to it.
"Well, perhaps you should practice law again," he said smiling slightly. "You look bored. Is that ... are you ... colouring?"
"So," I said, ignoring Tim and training my attention to Bob. "How's business? I hear great things."
"Business is good," said Bob, smiling. He is the owner of the company where he and Tim now work. He smile faltered. "I'm working too hard, though. Traveling a lot."
"Mmm," I murmured sympathetically. "That's how it goes, eh?"
"You know, we're looking for a General Counsel," said Tim suddenly, looking at Bob. "Maybe ..."
Not on your life!
I suddenly realized what I had involuntarily thought, and I was stunned (and a little worried I'd actually said it out loud). Before I'd even had time to process what Tim was saying, my knee-jerk reaction was one of complete rejection. It was shocking how violently I reacted to Tim's unspoken question. I composed myself.
I put on my most radiant grin.
"Yeah, well, if I hear that anyone's looking, I'll let you know."
Tim laughed. Bob laughed. I laughed.
And when the men went away, I realized they'd taken my gremlin with them.
Image: Photographed with Nikon D300, 50mm manual lens.