A cat in a dog-eat-dog world

Facebook memories can be pernicious.

I seem to have hit a run of posts about various activities from years back at my former job. It’s United Way month there, and for many, many years I was heavily involved in the campaign–until one year where the committee seemed to shrink down to a small core of people that completely changed over every year, and my contributions were no longer, apparently needed. There were other things I did over the years, things where I played a key role, but when it came time to pick the next person to lead the effort, my name was never mentioned. I once applied for a position on the Corporate Social Responsibility team, after literally years of work on various committees–again, someone else was chosen. The message I received from that? Unlike in other groups I was involved in, where I was frequently looked to as a leader and a mentor, at work I didn’t fit the right mold.

I wonder when it was that it was decided I wasn’t going anywhere in my previous job. I’m sure that made it easier to let me go when the time came. And it’s clear that I’ve been quickly forgotten. Part of me still wants to know what happened after, but no one has reached out, and I am certainly not going to initiate contact. It is clear my worth to my former colleagues did not go beyond my position.

This has been nagging at me a little bit over the past few days. It’s not quite imposter syndrome–it’s something else. “Fake it ’til you make it” is a popular catch phrase–but it’s a lie. I’m not talking about basic skills–those can be learned. I’m talking about what is now often termed “masking”–that is, learning enough of the expected behaviours in a particular situation–even if they’re fundamentally alien to you–to be functional. Masking is hard. I did a lot of it over the past twenty-some years. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t constantly wonder if people were talking about me behind my back. I seemed to fundamentally miss something in the dynamics of work relationships, even though I did my best. I didn’t seem to be able to socialize correctly. I always felt like I was being judged and found lacking. The way I know that the masking was primarily around work situations? I rarely felt it outside of work.

Great, I’m in a new job that plays to my passions and strengths, things are going really well, they have a culture that focuses on “being your authentic self”, so I can forget about all of that, right?

No. In so many ways, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. And that state of hypervigilance is hard. I’ve spent a lot of my life “faking it.” I don’t think I am now in this new path, and while that’s refreshing, the old neural pathways are still there.

There is another side of my love of the image of the puffed-up scaredy cat. Yes, they’re adorable as kittens, and I’ve joked that if you make yourself look big, you can take on anything. Sure. But the cat herissony is a nervous creature, bristling and defensive, ready to respond to a threat. And I see threats everywhere–especially when it comes to some social situations. I understand being around other cats, but too often I feel like a cat tiptoeing amongst a pack of dogs, just trying to survive where everyone seems to speak an alien language. Sure, I can learn to woof and wag my tail, but my instincts are so fundamentally different. And when it comes down to hard facts, I’m not fooling anyone. They know I’m not one of them.

I don’t know if it’s some variety of neurodiversity, or just being a nerd or an introvert, but I’ve felt like this my whole life.

Cats, though. I’m comfortable around them.

(And then today I learn that they’ve appointed a new CEO at the old place, with the other guy “retiring” after 6 years. The scare quotes are because I really have to wonder–I believe the guy was around my age. Company continues to do very well, but I just never go the sense that he’d completely “clicked” there. New guy is an insider from the parent company. Hmmm. Oh well, I’m no longer a monkey in that circus.)

Anyways–on to more fun things. I have a cold! So exciting! <snort.> Dave had it first; I tried my best to avoid him by sleeping downstairs and thought I’d made it; managed to win a Toastmasters evaluation contest on Thursday. a I first started to feel a bit off around Friday, but not enough to keep me away from a wonderful Royal Conservatory Orchestra concert featuring my seventh live performance of Shostakovich Symphony no. 5 (where I kept my mask on the entire time just in case something was brewing). I got to debut my shiny, red, exceedingly comfy red shoes from Empress. I also went to the Eaton Centre and ordered new glasses from Bailey Nelson; I had checked at a more local location but they did not have the red frames the Eaton Centre store had.

Back to the concert. Since the last one was that superlative NY Phil performance I saw in June, those were some pretty big shoes to fill. And you know what? They mostly did. There were a couple of horn bobbles, and I found that the first movement was not high on the expressiveness, but then conductor Tania Miller (whose suit I coveted) took them into the most blisteringly fast rendition of the scherzo I’ve ever heard–it even reminded me a bit of the 10th symphony scherzo. Third movement–ahhh, the Largo. They did it beautifully. I’d worried that the fast pace of the first two movements would persist, but I should have gotten my clue from the short talk Miller gave before the performance–she was fully aware of the emotional load of the third movement, as well as the ambiguities of the fourth. I now go into every performance of the 5th waiting for the ratcheting up of tension leading into the release in coda with the 252 repeated As–will they Bernstein the ending (which to me makes a mockery of that gorgeous buildup) or will they “force the rejoicing,” so to speak? Miller did the latter, to my delight. The low brass were amazing in this performance, as was the first flautist. I loved the seat I got–it was in the left loge, and looked right down over the orchestra. I couldn’t really see the back of the violins or the horns, but everyone else was fascinating to watch, especially in that third movement when the string lines divide into eight parts and the harmonies are so lush. And in discussing the work today with someone on a Discord server, I noticed something else about that third movement: It’s in F# minor (three sharps). The very last note pulls into F# major (six sharps) simply by moving to A# in the final chord. Two things about that: Shostakovich moves out of D minor into D major at the very end of the fourth movement in a similar process. Plus: I’ve always been struck by the ethereal, shimmering qualities of the Largo, and thinking about it, it makes sense with that key signature–and I’m reminded that the 15th symphony–and specifically, the final movement–shares that key signature and that same feel. It is absolutely true that every live performance of this work reveals new secrets.

Assuming the cold clears up (and it’s moving quickly, although not so fast that I’m going to go into the office tomorrow as planned), I’ll be in Detroit this weekend hearing Shostakovich’s violin concerto no. 2 live. This particular work is a bit of a unicorn–probably because the violin concerto no. 1 is just so amazing. Friday I have a half day off and we’ll go out to K-W for the Christkindl market, but I also need to stop at Punch Bowl Bakery and pick up a promised pie. I’ll likely be picking up more than that, because I found out on Sunday that they are closing as of December 23. There will also be Wassail in the earlier part of the day on Saturday. I also picked up a Black Friday discount ticket for La Bottine Souriante on the 10th of December, and took advantage of another sale to grab a couple more Toronto Symphony tickets, including a massive work by Messaien which sounds like it could rival Mahler 2 for blow-me-away status.