Friday, February 12, 2010

When Too Much Information Happens to Good People

Today's word: overshare. We all know what this means -- someone tells us more than we ever wanted to know, and it's usually embarrassing for both us and them. Typically during an overshare, though you may be uncomfortable, you should probably keep nodding and smiling to avoid being impolite. But this requires ignoring the voice in your head that is just screaming, screaming, screaming, "Please, God, make it stop!"

I had the distinct displeasure of working with an oversharer when I lived in Japan. One of my fellow teachers, who was about my age (early 20s at the time) used to give me detailed updates about her "lady days." I don't know why.  I never asked or ventured to discuss my own. Maybe she was showing off her English skills.  Maybe she thought it would bring us closer. Maybe she'd been watching too much Sex and the City and assumed that's how all liberated American women talked to each other. 

Whatever her reasons, she decided early on that we would be gyno-buddies, and I never figured out how to dissuade her. And I couldn't really afford to offend her and lose someone who could converse in my language, even if those exchanges invariably included more information than I wanted about her womanly cycles.

But an overshare doesn't have to be verbal. Sometimes it's just visual. There are few things more entertaining or uncomfortable than people who read self-help books in public. A lady on my bus the other morning was earnestly devouring something like "When Things Fall Apart," and I simultaneously wanted to look hurriedly away and hug her. Because isn't reading that stuff openly just a big cry for help? Isn't it putting all your secret insecurities on display?

I guess what worries me is the regular riders on my route. There are several people I see every day (and have seen every day for the past three years) whose names I don't know. I might have an idea where they work and can guess at where they live judging by their stop, but otherwise, if I'm going to refer to them, I have to make something up. Usually my names are attached to something they always wear, or some celebrity they resemble, or a defining characteristic. Here are a few of my favorites:

Blue Hat Guy (self-explanatory), Land's End Guy (because he looks like a silver fox catalog model), Drunk Girl (not because she actually is drunk, but because that's how she sounds), Bad Mom (because she's consistently mean to her kids), Ewan McGregor (again, self-explanatory), Mini McDreamy (because he looks like Patrick Dempsey but about 3/4 his size).

So, if I'm in the habit of boiling people down to highly superficial caricatures, I can only imagine that others do this to me. Perhaps Yellow Coat Girl, or Sleepy McSleeperton. If I'm sitting there reading "I'm Okay, You're Okay," how long will it be before I'm Crazy Chick or Desperate Housewife or Fragile McGee?

Incidentally, here's a great game to play on the bus when you're bored.  It's called "If I Had To." Here's how it works. You wait until the bus is packed, and then you make note of all the men on board, and you decide who you would sleep with if you had to. If the person you picked exits, you have to have a backup. (Of course, you can never tell him he's your second choice, but a girl's gotta be prepared). Let me tell you, the pickins are slim some days. Land's End Guy starts to look pretty good after Mini McDreamy pulls that stop cord.

In any case, the visual overshare was painfully obvious to me last week, when I happened to look forward and there, over the shoulder of the girl in front of me, was an open spiral notebook with what appeared to be a heartfelt but anguished letter. To whom? I have no idea. Why you would write something like that on public transportation, I don't know either. But my eyes traveled over the phrase, "I don't claim to be a saint or even a good person. I don't feel like I've ever belonged anywhere or with anyone . . ."

Normally I'm not above surreptitious sneak-reading, but that little snippet was just too personal to invade. The devil on my shoulder whispered, "Go ahead, this is going to be juicy!" but the angel on my other shoulder stole his pitchfork and stabbed me in the neck with it till I turned my head in the opposite direction. Which is what effective angels need to do, sometimes, in the interest of avoiding the overshare.


Anonymous said...

Just a quick word on over sharing.

I walk my dog around the condo complex and I am scrupulous about avoiding looking in anyone's windows, but sometimes at night, the light just draws the eye unconsciously.
A word for those with bathroom windows facing the street. DRAPES, BLINDS, CURTAINS

Courtney said...

Hilarious! It must be like a car wreck ... you just can't look away, no matter how horrifying.

Kelly said...

LOVE it! Great post. and, um...I wanna meet mini McDreamy. Maybe keep him in my pocket. :)