Episode 40: A Jane Eyre Type Story (Maybe)


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            Can I ask you something? I promise this isn't an attempt to pitch my other podcast, but I'm really flattered that you made the connection. Look, I genuinely think this is something we should discuss before we get too much deeper into this show. After all, I've been making this podcast for almost a year and still feel the need to explain deviations from things that aren't rules, but yeah, maybe kind of sort, of look like rules.

            I mean, I never said they were rules. I just know you might think they are. While I always thought this podcast would be a fluid, ever changing entity, maybe you didn't, and maybe I gave you reasons to think that way. Maybe you thought you knew what you were getting into because I was showing some degree of consistency, and here I am changing the rules in a very inconsistent and inconvenient manner.

            I genuinely try as a general rule to see things from all sides. It makes me a little paranoid and insecure, but it’s nothing I can’t deal with. Because everyone has a reason for doing what they do or thinking what they think.

            That’s just how life works.

            With that in mind, I hope you think I’m being genuine when I say, let's salvage this relationship somehow. Can we reestablish what this podcast is supposed to be, and can we start with a discussion of principles? Like surprises, what do you think about those? I mean, obviously I can never surprise you that much in terms of episode topics or set up, but what about surprises about me? What do you think about that? I mean, I am a critical part of this podcast. It’s through my lens that we look at everything? So are surprises about me okay. Or more than that, should I blow you away every week with some earth shattering revelation? Because I will run out of those right quick. Mark my words.

            And maybe things that I would call surprises really aren't. For example, I loved Jane Eyre in high school.

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            Hi. It's M. Welcome to Episode 40.

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            Okay, a lot of people like Jane Eyre, so no, that would not seem like a surprise. That would seem par for the course to many people, or so I would think. I’m really not sure. It's hard to step out of your perspective or your frame of reference. And mine holds Jane Eyre in a rather unforgiving light.

            The novel was required reading in high school as it is in many high schools, but our honors English program took it up far too many notches. That could also be called advanced English if that clears anything up for you, but basically, an honors program is a high school’s program for top tier students to maximize their potential, as some would say. Our school didn’t want their top tier of students to get lazy or to think they could always breeze through life. Fair enough, but to make sure this didn’t happen, they beat you up in English class, and I’m not being too dramatic in saying that. Really.

            We had summer reading as many people do. But when we came back in the fall, we’d then have to face a test on that summer reading, under the guise that they needed to check that we had read the books. But that was kind of a front. After all, you can read a book and not know what kind of metal the doorknobs were made off, especially if that detail contributes nothing to the larger themes.

            Yeah, I’m not even kidding. These tests had dozens of questions about irrelevant minutia that was only included in the book out of a perceived need for atmosphere or to show off or for something else that didn’t translate into the modern day at all. And these exams had hundreds of questions to them.

            You were going to fail these so-called tests, that was how they were designed. They gave you far too many questions for a class period about things that did not even matter. Yes, it was very easy to pick your grades up afterwards if you were determined to do so or if you willing to work at all. But still, you started off that school year with a failing mark on your record and praying to whatever god was listening that you could pull up your grades in time. All under the guise of teaching you a life lesson.

            And I’m sure that was a good ole kick to the hornets’ nest, but let me just say, I’m not here to debate that approach. I mean, for one, I turned out fine, and in any way that I’m not fine, it’s not the fault of these exams, it’s the fault of so many other things that happened in my life.  I only include that anecdote to try to explain why I think I was expected to hate Jane Eyre.

            This novel was included in my sophomore reading exam. Along with Great Expectations and two other books that I can’t remember. And yes, I failed that exam. I never got it back, so I don’t know how many questions about Jane Eyre I got wrong, but I’m guessing it was a lot them. And full disclosure. This is why Great Expectations and Gulliver’s Travels like I do, but I don’t hate Jane Eyre. I never did.

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            Maybe you know the history behind Jane Eyre as part of knowing Jane Eyre, something that a great many of us do. No shade if you don’t. I’m just pointing out that I’m long passed the shelf life of spoiling something, but I will also say that you should consider reading the book if you haven’t yet. Nothing wrong with you if you hadn’t. In fact, I’m kind of jealous that you get to meet a great story for the first time and in a more forgiving context. We only get one first encounter with a story, after all. So there’s something amazing in store for you. And there’s no exam that going to follow it up.

            But if you don’t know, Jane Eyre was written by Charlotte Bronte under a pen name because this was at a time when women’s options were extremely limited. To be more specific, we’re talking about the mid-1800s. And this reality is a critical part of the book as Jane struggles with retaining some sense of autonomy in a world that refuses to give it to her.

            That’s a pretty important theme. Both for the novel and for literally everyone who has ever been into a world that limits them through boundaries they had no say in that are tied to traits they did not select at birth. It’s going to be more true for some people than others because this facet of the human experience isn’t being applied universally.

            I phrase it that way to point out that the major flaw in my school’s approach to the whole summer reading thing. The takeaway we all should have had from Jane Eyre was the theme and not Mr. Rochester’s upholstery preferences. It’s the best example of losing the forest through the trees that anyone could come up with.

            So how did I manage to keep track of the forest despite the pressure? I could say something profound here, but really, it was because I had developed a very contradictory identity. Not even personality.

            I wanted to be the contrarian, to be the one that held that different opinion, to hate everything that was declared good, and to love everything that was decreed as bad, particuarly if that opinion was unanimous because it made me feel not like I was better than everyone else but that there was a reason to think I was better than everyone else. It’s a minute difference whose main value is to emphasize how badly I felt about myself. That all I could hope for was too look better not even to be equal. But that’s not entirely relevant here.

            Of course, it likely helped that this was at a point in my life where these issues of love and autonomy were incredibly relevant. So relevant that I was genuinely desperate for any sort of tether, and in this case, I didn’t even have to imagine one. There was already in this novel, practically waiting for me.

            Not really, but you know what I mean.

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            Today, I don’t necessarily want to talk about Jane Eyre in terms of plot or value, and this is my normal approach, but it’s especially true so here. Partially in light of Valentine’s Day. Which yay for me that it landed on a Thursday and I was free to not acknowledge it per say. Because I don’t have any good personal love stories. My love life is a perpetual explosion of failure. Simple as that.

            But there was a time that I was more of a Jane Eyre than a bumbling fool. At a time when this book was constantly on my mind because I was looking for an edition of the book that had a cover that felt right or that properly matched my love for the book. Which is vague and unclear, so that took a couple years. And admittedly is still an obsession I carry to this day.

            Here’s the thing. If your experience was anything like mine, I can’t blame you for whatever feelings you have about it, but I don’t want you to lose sight of the themes because of it. Luckily, while my tale is different, it’s vaguely reminiscent.

            And also, read Jane Eyre if you haven’t already. Or watch a movie adaptation. A well-done one. Also there’s a musical, and I happen to like the music. Maybe you will too. Maybe you can find more joy out there in a nice, little relationship with a new story  at little to no cost to you. I mean, the novel’s in the public domain by now.

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            To lay out the important details of the story, Jane Eyre is the story of a young orphan sent to live with an uncaring relative, beginning the long process of being passed around until she gets enough of an education to become a governess to the ward of an absurdly wealthy man. Only to lead to love that should not be love, a complication that horrifies audiences with more modern sensibilities and may still have left its contemporaries unsettled, albeit for different reasons, and for that young governess to make a choice that maybe should have been easy and looks easier as time goes on.

            After all, I think most audiences would want Jane to pick love every single time, but for Jane, love came with a price. It always does, even for us today, but in the time period that was especially true. And in Jane’s circumstances, the stakes were pretty high. Regardless, Jane made this decision with an emphasis focus on what would be considered “taking care of herself” by herself and not on what was expected of her as the ultimate rebuttal to the universe that never cared about her in the first place.

            And I don’t think that hasn’t been said thousands of times before. We haven’t been great at learning that lesson in our personal lives, but that’s neither here nor there. And I don’t think my story is really going to add to anything significant, but being that it’s my tale, it’s going to draw some novelty off of that character alone. And hopefully that’s enough for you. But I understand if it’s not.

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            I didn’t really date in high school. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. I even had a relationship or two. But ultimately, I fell in love way more than I did anything about it.

            There was this one guy towards the end of my junior year who I swear will always be a part of my heart, even if we weren’t together in any capacity.

            I don’t know what to call him here. Normally, I come up with some simple term or even a letter to use as a stand-in for that person’s name, but I can’t even begin to do the thinking involved in something that should be so simple. Because ultimately, there’s usually a reason why I pick the letter that I do, but I don’t want to think about him that hard. And I certainly don’t want to give it away.

            So I don’t think I’m going to do that this time around. Luckily for me, this story is simple and has few characters, so maybe I won’t need to kick myself so hard about this. Maybe.

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            The aforementioned honors program in our high school was relatively small. If you were in it, you knew or knew of most of the other people there. And you probably had at least one class with them every year. Maybe more.

            That’s how we met. I don’t remember where exactly, and it’s possible that I never really knew. Because he was just always there. It was like he occupied every corner and crevice of our high school; that’s how big of a personality he was. While I was a wallflower, he decided wasn’t. He just had a larger than life personality; he wasn’t even the class clown or the typical campus jock. He was some combination of the two, a genuinely warm and friendly human being with a good sense of humor and an athletic prowess. He was smart too, handsome, and with parents that were just as warm and generous as he was. I swear, pick a standard or trait or priority, and he had it covered in space.


            Maybe you can see from that alone why I fell for him. Why I and several girls at the school fell in love with him. But it was more than that for me. He and I ended up spending a lot of time together. Especially one summer when we ended up being sent to the same obscure camp. And honestly, he could make me laugh and smile like no one else could.

            Also, I was in a more vulnerable position. Not his fault. Entirely the fault of life. I can fully admit that I was inclined to be in (quote) love, especially after my father’s death. As in, I had an unrelated issue in my life that I was using this facet as little more than a band-aide to cover, avoiding the real problem because being in love made me feel good and chasing love was a good distraction.

            And believe me, he was a very good distraction.

            We were kind of, sort of friends. Actually, I don’t know if we were friends. We kept crossing paths because we were young people bond by many physical restraints. We were in close proximity. We were together-ish, and I wanted so much more.

            Not that I made a move towards him. In fact, I still don’t quite know how to do the thing that is flirting. I just thought the more time we spent together and the more he learned about me… Well, that it was just going to happen, that he was going to fall in love with me and ask me out. Actually, I took more of the (quote) “Jesus Take the Wheel Approach.” As in the song that I liked a lot at the time. But I did it in a religious and non-religious sense. It was actually just an extension of some of my other issues. I was as a general rule very passive in my own life.

            Or I was passive in this context, I guess. Because I was working towards something else. I was working towards college, towards my one way ticket out of a place where I was deeply unhappy. That meant focusing on homework, the extra-curricular activities that padded out my resume and all the test prep books I could get my hands on.

            So really, there was a logistical issue to consider. Suppose he and I got together somehow, what were we ever going to do it? His schedule was just as loaded down as mine, and we didn’t have any extracurricular activities in common. We lived in two different worlds. But I didn’t want to think about that. I was too busy dreaming of spending a life together.

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            When you’re younger, taking things one day at a time isn’t something to be condemned. It’s part of being young. And in time, when you have a better understanding of how big the world is, you’ll realize just how many dimensions your life has and how to best juggle them. I wasn’t there yet.

            I was a teenager who wanted to be with him, and I thought it was just going to happen. And the madness of our lives as industry leaders in training wasn’t going to get in the way.

            I couldn’t be persuaded. My love for him never wavered. Sure, I had other things come and go in my life, but no matter what, part of my heart rested with him. And that’s something I’ve never been able to understand or explain. Because remaining in love with someone and moving on from someone should be mutually exclusive acts. You do one or you do the other. Nut human beings have never been good at clean cuts, even if we like to pretend that we are.

            And this is where I wish I had more to tell you. Where I wish I could say I made a grand stand to appeal to him because that would make me look better. But no. I mean, I did try to wear makeup, sure, but I was and still am really inconsistent with it. Also, I didn’t know what I was doing when I did put it on. And that’s only slightly less t true when it comes to the present day. But I will spare you the details for the sake of time and my pride. Largely my pride.

            That doesn’t mean anything though. The point is that I never tried to win him over. I wanted his love, sure, but I didn’t act like it. Not once. Not whenever I had the opportunity over the course of the year. And I did have the opportunity once or twice. I always just let it go.

            And then prom season came around. But my birthday came first. That order of events is perhaps important. Because I did want to ask him to prom and thought about how to do it. I always wanted to ask him to my birthday party. And I focused on the timing, undermining the importance of prom relative to a dinner and board game night that I wanted to celebrate my birthday with. It’s what I wanted to do for my eighteenth birthday, but that wasn’t the expectation of the peers that made up the larger schoolyard. My friends were thrilled. His opinion is a mystery.

            To that end, I decided not to ask him about my birthdy and focus instead of asking him to prom. But that also never happened.

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            There was this other girl in my homeroom, a year younger than me. We were both taking an elective class and just so happened to be grouped in the same class. I actually knew her from marching band. She’s was nice enough. Or she was nice. I just didn’t mesh with her. She was figuratively loud, and I had sensitive hearing, you could say. You could more accurately say that I suspected she was the kind of person I could have been had my father not died, leaving me with a lot of emotions to deal with silently and a desire to not be around her whenever possible.

            She wasn’t a bad person. In fact, her personality meshed with his a lot better than mine did.

            And so when he came in with a bunch of roses for her and not for me, it stung all the more.

            That’s just how it happened by the way. Class hadn’t started yet. We were all gradually wandering into the room with some of our classmates lingering in the hallway when he came in with flowers to ask her to prom. He asked. She agreed. People congratulated her. And then she had to carry the bouquet of flowers around the whole day.

            In high school, things like that bother you. To the point that you undercut someone’s happiness whenever talking about it. And maybe I don’t dismiss my feelings by emphasizing context because I’ve admitted to crushing on him for over a year and that it wasn’t just about him and me. But also about my underlying issues. But regardless of the validity, my heart broke. And I carried that hurt as I did all others: silently. I don’t even think I told my friends what happened and certainly not my mother as she drove me home.

            It was when we got home that my luck changed, if you could call it that. My acceptance letter to the university I ended up attending was waiting for me on the kitchen table. He wasn’t the only reason that I went. In fact, he wasn’t even in the top ten, but honestly, at least we wasn’t able to get in my way.

            Because, look, I was young and naïve. Actually, I was in desperately in need of something I thought was love because I thought love could fix things or help me or take care of my problems without any effort on my part. And if that were true, then it would have made sense for me to stay with him figuratively or literally. Or even to follow him where he ended up going.

            Like I said, not logical, but I was broken. Life had broken me. And it wouldn’t be until I got to college that I would have the help necessary to piece myself back together.

            Maybe I could have been rational and realized that I needed to go my own way. That I needed to be at the far-flung university that I ended up choosing, but there’s still that good ole what-if game to play. Not that anyone ever wins. We just can’t resist the allure.

            What if we had been together and stayed together across the distance or not? And what if we had managed to hold on against overwhelming challenges and tie our loves together in some permanent way, details notwithstanding?

            It’s hard to say, but genuinely, I don’t think I would have been happy.

            Yes, at a time, I was happy being the passenger in my own life, but I doubt that would have lasted forever. Because like I say when I talk about the pressure to become a lawyer, at some point, I snapped to my senses. That this was not what I wanted, and I had to live with the consequences of my choices. Regardless of what they were.

            Maybe it would have been a similar thought process, but I don’t like my odds.

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            Also, I don’t remember which episode the lawyer thing came up. In fact, I think it came up in several. If you really want to know, you can probably go the transcript portion of the website and just control-find lawyer in every transcript. I won’t repeat myself here, but for now I will say that at some point, when faced with a future I was dreading and would have brought me a great deal of misery, I found the strength to turn away from it. Or I borrowed the strength from those who were in the process of teaching me to be stronger.

            Because, yes, if I had gone into law, I would have had an amazing life. There was one already carved out for me. Through nepotism. Add to that, it was the sort of life that was expected of me: one defined by achievements, photography-worthy moments, and a great deal of wealth. Maybe I should have actually wanted those things, but I didn’t. I didn’t want poverty, mind you. I wanted peace and happiness. And that included genuine, real love for me and what I could create not for what was on my resume.

            There shouldn’t be a push and pull in that. But the world has a lot of problems it shouldn’t have, and it chose my life to show this specific dysfunction. Or it could have, had I agreed to take it. But I didn’t. I chose my own autonomy. Much like Jane did, I walked away, however unwise it was, from something that would have taken away my ability to live on my own terms and according to my own desires, forgoing everything it offered me.

            It took on a lot of forms, with love being the most critical, I would say. Because it touches at a deep need for connections in the human soul. But some connections are really drains, pouring out all out all your energy and life, draining out what you need to survive from you. But it doesn’t make it any easier to walk away, so maybe I need to be grateful for the choice I didn’t make. For his choice, in so far as I was relevant.

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