Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Life in the Third Degree.
“We want you to think outside the box!” one of the supervisors at my day job insists to a crowd of bored bureaucrats.
All I can do is smirk. I’ve been thinking outside the box for over 2000 years, but when I tell him that, he looks at me as if I’m crazy. I’m most definitely outside his box.
I’m pretty sure that he insisted all his children not have an original thought in their brains until they were out of college and then somehow would just know what they were supposed to do with their lives and go to work for him and suddenly become innovative, outside-the-box thinkers. Ha! Based on what? Certainly not past experience, experimentation, or encouragement.
“Thinking outside the box” has become such an overused buzzword that it’s no longer meaningful. At best, it’s a joke. And it probably never was anything more than a joke to people like me.
It’s easy for bosses to tell their troops to think outside the box on a particular project, yet they don’t really want outside-the-box thinkers.
Why? Because people who really do think outside the box do so in more ways than just the work project in front of them. It’s in the way they think about everything. The way they dress. The way they feel but don’t dare talk about outside small circles of friends.
For example, my suggestion that we employ a deeply-buried statutory technique called Acquisition for Experimental or Testing Purposes to acquire ordnance for Operation Desert Storm was highly applauded by my colleagues. So was my heretical idea that we use Club Fed prisoners as file clerks in my office when we were down 40% of our manpower. So were most of my ideas because they were different and efficient and just nuts enough to work.
But just let me sit on the floor in a social situation and I can’t stop people from wanting to put me in a nice, comfy chair. I like sitting on the floor. Really. In a room full of sofas and one TV, the sofa becomes a back rest and I sprawl out on the carpet.
Or let me wear something unsuitable to work, and the biggest boss of all quietly tells me how she, too, can’t wait to get home and into more casual clothes, but at work, she just has to wear suits or no one will take her seriously. Oh, please. She’s the top-ranking woman in the entire organization and everyone’s terrified of her. She could wear a burlap bag to work and no one would not take her seriously. In fact, a half-dozen ambitious clones would don burlap bags themselves if they thought looking like the boss would get them promoted.
Now that I’m divorced and no longer worried that my antics will harm my ex-husband’s conservative image, I’ve become even more outside-the-box in my thinking and actions. I’ve started looking at the most minor of societal expectations and seeking ways to flout them.
A 41-year-old man I had dinner with told me that he didn’t date many women over 40 because he liked long hair and long fingernails. All women under 40 should have them both. And women over 40 should never have either.
To that, I let my hand go to the tips of my hair, dangling at my shoulders. I doubt I’ll ever let it get longer than that again, but that’s my preference and not his. When I was 19 and supposed to have butt-length hair, I was being mistaken for Pat Benatar with my ultra-short hair, petite frame, and Spandex. I’m not going to have really long hair now, regardless. But the fingernails? Had this man even looked at my hands before he spouted such stupidity? (In hindsight, no, he hadn’t. But then, he hadn’t looked at my eyes either.)
To my mother’s chagrin—as well as my girly-girl teenager’s despair—I’ve never had long, beautiful nails. I’ve rarely had them past the tips of my fingers. I can tell you truthfully that long nails interfered with my playing the piano, my typing my novels, and my gardening. But none of those are why I bite my nails on a regular basis. I don’t do it when I’m particularly nervous or upset or anxious. It’s not even a habit, and I can go for a week without touching them. It’s typical of adult ADHD, though, so I finally understand it and I’m coming to terms with it. Even when I’ve worn lovely fake French manicures, I’ve had to rip the darned things off after a week.
So many little things are expected. Well, no more. I’m actively rebelling—and encouraging others to do so, too.
Who says I have to wear pantyhose with every dress I put on? Good grief! This is the South, where there’s a heat index of 115 in July and yeast infections are lurking around every corner, just waiting for the steamy milieu that only pantyhose can provide.
And shaving! Why do grown women have to shave down to a pre-pubescent gleam? There’s something pedophilic about it all, I swear.
And why is it okay now to wear six earrings but not just one? I was awfully daring in 1982 when I went from pierced ears to triple-pierced ears. Then everyone else got multiple piercings in the 90’s, and I stopped wearing three pairs of earrings for fear of being like everyone else. But if I wear only one earring, I’ll hear “You’re missing an earring!” a dozen times an hour. I want to say, “Actually, I’m missing five….”
The ultimate sin, however, is mixing gold and silver jewelry. Born and bred in the South, I of course knew better as a young girl. Right along with not wearing white shoes after Labor Day. If you wear a piece of gold jewelry, you cannot wear silver with it. You never mix the two, I’m told. Well, I do. I’ll wear gold and silver today, and just as often a little bit of copper and probably too much pewter. And forget the pearls and expensive precious gems. I prefer rocks with certain vibrational frequencies and metaphysical uses. On a day when I’m not well grounded, hematite can be more valuable to my state of mind than emeralds and rubies.
I’ll think of more ways to defy society. Later. Meanwhile, I think I’ll go paint my short fingernails. My toenails may or may not match.