When I finally decided to take a leap and head up Sun Tail Mermaid, my business partner and I initially structured the operating agreements so that my identity could remain hidden. Not because we thought we were doing anything wrong, but because I didn’t want to make things awkward or uncomfortable for anyone that knew both myself and the individuals involved with the other company.
But, as I’ve mentioned, it was soon apparent that we’d need to patent my monofin. But how to do it? Could you patent a product in the name of a company? Yes, but the inventor’s name was required by law to be on the documents. Documents which would eventually be public. Couldn’t we patent it in someone else’s name? Sell them the idea, but retain the rights? Too risky, and pretty unconventional besides. My patent attorney was baffled. Never, ever, had she come across any inventor not wanting their name up in the big lights, so to speak.
Yes, well, how do you do? My name is Jessica and I want the spotlight exactly zero.
We were also discovering it would be more challenging to launch a business without even being able to utilize our own personal and professional networks. Coming out of the closet, so to speak, was becoming more and more important.
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that it all created quite the existential crisis.
This is navel gazing at it’s finest, you guys. But here goes.
I was rather loud and obnoxious and spotlight-loving in high school. I was in the drama club, for crying out loud; where the goal was, to literally be on a stage under a spotlight. It makes my throat close up to even talk about it now.
And my friends and I regularly did really stupid attention-grabby things. Amber and I would rig our backpacks to split, and then have an ocean of tampons and maxi-pads spill from the slit in the middle of the hallway, then kneel scraping them up and shoving them back in, acting embarrassed and purposefully bonking into people and generally causing havoc. Or we’d spray our crotches with water before we went on stage to make an announcement at an assembly.
I might on-purpose tuck a long stream of toilet paper into my panties and let it trail behind me in the crowded school halls like it had gotten stuck there whilst in the loo. Sheelagh gave me a fart machine from Spencer’s Gifts in the mall, and I’d let it rip during a history exam, then watch gleefully as students hastily scooted their desks away from my person, disrupting the class and annoying the teacher.
After more idiotic antics at college, I moved away and became involved with a manipulative freak-show of a human being. To put it bluntly and succinctly, it was a scary, twisted, nightmare of an abusive relationship and when I finally emerged three years later, I felt like an empty shell.
My high school years seemed horrifying from this new, broken vantage point. More so, I think, than most, because I was so over the top. I mean, who isn’t at least vaguely embarrassed by their teen years? But I’d gone from one extreme to the other and couldn’t tell where I was supposed to land. I wasn’t comfortable with the pre-nightmare persona, and had no idea who I was post-nightmare either. It seemed the only answer was to clam up and observe.
This clamming up became quite a comfortable place to be.
Twenty years later, I was sitting in my little office contemplating what, exactly, I was so afraid of. My health, after steadily improving had taken a nose dive as I tried to gird my loins for the mermaid-out-of-the-closeting. I’d burst into tears trying to put my real name on Facebook. I couldn’t do it.
I finally faced the fact that some of this old, moldy baggage was still mucking about in my heart and brain spaces.
This was alarming. I am not one who enjoys lying on a psychiatrist’s couch marinating in the past (no offense to those of you who do). I had no desire whatsoever to contemplate endlessly, my formative years and analyze them under a microscope in order to sort out what might have led to what, and why I now identified so strongly as a quivering, little brown church mouse.
So I mulled things over. The then, the now, the in between. And thankfully with only a handful of phone calls to my lovely mother and without too much introspective headache, I realized something that is probably quite clear to you already — it was something I already knew on some level, but just hadn’t connected all the dots.
The crazy personality in high school was a form of armor, because of course it was. It was safer to construct the embarrassing situations myself rather than wait for one to come along and surprise me. I’d had too many rejections and mortifications in elementary school and junior high, so this way, I was in control. I laughed at everything (and I do mean everything) as a way to show that my status as misfit didn’t bother me. And if people didn’t like me, it didn’t matter, because I wasn’t being real with them anyway.
It likely wasn’t much different than any other coming-of-age survival tactic, a variety of which I’m sure are regularly deployed in institutionalized learning environs the world over. From the goths layering on a thick coat of “I don’t care,” to the jocks with their hard, shiny veneer of toughness – we were, many of us, just shielding and protecting ourselves from the various horrors of high school (and life in general), no?
These were things I already knew. But what was a bit more of a revelation was the fact that I was still toting around some fairly heavy-duty armor in my grown-up late 30s. Only it was of a different sort. I know, right? Duh, everyone says.
Armor complete with a vast moat; thick, impenetrable walls of stone; and a drawbridge, tightly drawn. It’s a wonder how my small band of friends ever managed to survive the crocodiles and various man eating fishes to forge across and batter through.
Recognizing this made for quite a significant paradigm shift. I wasn’t really all that afraid of potential feelings or sticky relationships, I was simply afraid to put myself out there; to be authentically me.
It was an uncomfortable thought to consider that my cozy, agoraphobic, hermity ways might not be entirely the true me. I decided if I deconstructed some of the bullet proof glass and bomb shelter walls that made up my comfort zone, I’d maybe find a happier, more self confident person inside. Or at least one unafraid to stand up and say, “Hey, I made something rad. I think you might like it. And if you don’t, that’s cool.”
Stuart Smalley would be so proud.
After all, the painful years of youth are long since past, and certainly no one on Facebook (I finally braved it, thank you) gives a rat’s banana what I may have or mayn’t have been like over two decades ago.
Oy, the navel gazing has turned into outright belly button lint gathering*, so I’ll sum up. It turned out that merely discovering and acknowledging this whole armor wearing thing was more than half the battle. I am definitely, and authentically still very much an introvert, but I’m a braver and more courageous one, and I’m not ashamed to say this has been my theme song of late:
I promised no more to-be-continueds so I won’t say to be continued… I’ll just say that perhaps I’ll write more on this subject should the fancy strike, mayhap at some loosely defined appointment in the foggy future.
*Do not, I repeat, do not search Google images for belly button lint sculptures. I am going to need to vomit.