July 25, 2014
Another good and full day here in Querétaro. It’s midnight and I’m going to wind down by writing in my journal. The house is still and it’s a perfect time to collect my thoughts. It’s often difficult to find time to put the swirls in the air to shapes on paper when jumping from world to world. I spend a moment in silence to think of where to begin and as soon as I put the pen to the paper the front door opens.
Juanquis and five of his friends walk into the previously still world joking around with a couple of six packs in hand. From my seat on the couch I meet each person who comes over to shake my hand. Everybody sits down at the dining table and begins chatting. I’m in such a different mindset than them at this moment and just remain on my side of the room with my journal. I know it probably seems rude to be a guest here and keep to myself in the corner of the room but I don’t budge.
Juanquis comes over after a few minutes to start talking about some things that are on his mind. I get along really well with him and am happy to be interrupted. It doesn’t seem like he is just trying to be nice by including me in conversation but feels the need to express some thoughts he’s having about life. I love that he is so open and honest about things but I find it curious that he comes to me, who he just met one week ago, instead of to his friends right there on the other side of the room.
He speaks english well and expresses himself well in a poetic way. He doesn’t waste any time with filler conversation and gets right to the real things that need to be said. All of a sudden I see in his face the realization that he is the host to those other guests this evening and he gets up without excusing himself to attend to his unwritten duty. Having got to know him over this last week, I understand him and don’t find his exit rude.
I get back to writing while the group converses about something I don’t understand a few feet away. After a few minutes, the guy sitting at the head of the table calls over to me to join them. I agree to the proposal and go sit at the other head of the table, the only seat available. He asks me why I didn’t join them earlier and I explain in my gringo accented spanish that it’s just hard for me to understand spanish in a group setting especially when everyone is talking about people I don’t know.
. . .
Last night I went to dinner with Juanquis’ family and was slightly traumatized. A business partner of his father joined and I listened to him for four hours straight command the dinner table. He talked a mile a minute about any subject under the sun while the family listened attentively. Usually I can keep up pretty well but after the first hour my brain started to hurt. For every one word somebody contributed he would have a thousand to overpower it with.
Being the guest, I had to be polite and act like I was listening which I learned takes more energy than actually listening. Every once in a while he would turn toward me and ask me why I’m not drinking anything, awaking me out of whatever day-dream I was indulging in. I would just say I’m fine since I didn’t feel like drinking and he would look skeptically at me with his intense eyes. It seemed to bother him that I was the only one at the table without a drink in front of me and each time he asked me, he seemed a bit more uneased.
I started to think it might be rude to be the only one at the table not consuming something but hated the feeling of that social pressure. I’ve always hated the idea that it is polite to consume something, especially something bad for your body, just because everybody else is. I got the feeling that this businessman is used to persuading people and my subtle rebellion was slightly disturbing him. He eventually stopped asking me and I returned to my dreams.
. . .
The overload of spanish words to my brain put me in somewhat of a language hangover state today which accounts for my lack of desire to participate in this group discussion going on now.
Everybody at the table seems to understand my explanation and a couple assure me that the spanish I used to explain myself was good. They offer me a beer and I’m thankful of how easily they accept my refusal. They ask me a few questions about myself that I can handle; where I’m from, how I like Mexico, etc. but in a few minutes it’s back to the chaos of group conversation laden with slang and references to people I’ll never meet.
I’m glad I’ve already explained myself and don’t feel the pressure of trying to be a part of the discussion. I like sitting back, detached from the group banter, and observing. I love to see how different personalities in any given group form a unique dynamic.
Sitting across from me, at the head of the table seems to be the leader. His posture and manner of speaking are confident and he seems to lead the direction of the conversation from his strategic centralized position at the table. To his left is a quiet guy who seems to be new to this group, his only connection being the leader to his right. Based on his body language, he seems to depend on his friend to feel comfortable being among this new crowd. To the right of the leader is a guy who I met a few times in the last few days. He seems to be Juanquis’ best friend and is most likely the bridge between Juanquis and alpha-dude. To his right, and my left, is a clean-cut good-looking couple. The girl seems very timid, at least in this setting, and has not said a word to anyone but her date on her left-hand side. I don’t blame her as the conversation has been about sports and video games and not once has anybody spoken to her. Her sharply dressed date on her left is overly friendly and polite which makes me think he hasn’t been dating this girl too long and his doing his best to make a good impression. To my right is Juanquis who seems to be in his head a bit, not having offered too much to the conversation.
This girl seems to be trying her best to look polite by following the conversation and I can empathize with her. I feel the urge to start talking to her but her date’s possessive body language is creating an invisible barrier. I debate in my head whether I should cross it and risk the masculine tension bound to ensue but Juanquis beats me to it.
He asks her, what sounds to me like, what she is studying in school and she answers, what sounds to me like “tennis”.
“Estás estudiando tennis?” I ask her. She looks confused for a second then tells me that her name is “Denise”. Both her and Juanquis laugh and the tension built up by sitting next to each other in silence for so long is released. Before any awkward silence has a chance to creep its way in, I fill the empty space with a question.
“Pues, que estudias entonces?” I ask her what she studies and she tells me interior design. I tell her that’s a good skill to have and that I’d never be any good at it. She instantly lights up, finally being able to talk about a topic that interests her. I ask her opinion of the room we’re in now and she happily puts in her two pesos. I tell her of this idea I have that if I’m ever rich I’d have a tropical jungle room and a basement filled with warm clear water to up to waist level to wade around in. It’s obvious she thinks I’m a weirdo for wanting such a house but we laugh about it.
Her date asks her something and diverts her attention away from me. That’s the end of that conversation so I turn to Juanquis who is listening to the music coming from the speakers behind him while the other’s talk on. I express interest and he starts the song over to translate the lyrics to me line by line.
This evening he seems to be in need of more profound thoughts than the group is offering to him. Poetry about love, pain and life while the table is discussing the prospects of their favorite soccer team. We begin talking about some thoughts he needs to express and are interrupted a moment later by the leader. He unites the conversation and common language by asking Juanquis some general question.
Back to detached observation for me…
While talking, Juanquis refers to his friend in the corner as “Muelle” (pier or dock), a nickname only Juanquis calls him by and everybody begins to laugh about it. They ask him why he would call his friend “Muelle” and Juanquis does his best to explain the metaphorical meaning of his best friend having been a “dock” for him in life. Jokes begin to ensue first by the leader, setting the example, then by the friendly date and even the quiet guy in the other corner.
“Muelle” himself understands the reason Juanquis calls him by this name having been there for Juanquis while he floated around in life but still finds the joking funny. After a few laughs, the leader asks Juanquis again what the heck a name like that is supposed to mean and Juanquis’ explanation is drowned out by misunderstood jokes once more.
I can tell the girl on my left is sensitive and feels for Juanquis who looks at life in a more poetic way. Muelle, even though being different from Juanquis in that way also understands him and I can tell he feels for his friend being criticized for being the sensitive person he is. I can empathize with Juanquis as well having been in so many situations in life where I felt misunderstood and was drowned by one-sided group mentality led by undeserved confidence.
“No tiene sentido “Muelle” a ti?” I directly ask the leader why this nickname “dock” doesn’t make sense to him. I have a special unique role at this table in that I’m the ignorant foreigner who can get away with questioning the status quo that everybody else accepts. His shy friend on his left wants to be included in the conversation, the girl’s date wants to show her that he can be humorous, and Muelle wants to maintain his relationship with the leader, not wanting to put him on the spot.
I notice the leader’s physical composure faltering. He nervously shifts and does his best to put on an intellectual looking face. I think he is realizing that the pillars which supported his confidence weren’t as strong as the laughs and approvals led him to believe.
He seems to be intimidated being put on the spot. I am also aware that he probably has an impression of me being some highly intellectual dude because I wear glasses, am a few years older, I have traveled and I spent the evening having serious-looking conversation with Juanquis.
. . .
I’ve spent so many insecure moments in my life wondering why others understood things that I didn’t or how some people got to be the cool ones in a group, even if I got to be the cool one sometimes. So often, confident people have made me feel horrible for expressing something different or unusual. Something foreign to their little worlds. It took me so many years to begin to realize that so many of these overly confident people are just hiding behind their own insecurities too. Some hide in the shadows and some hide on stage.
. . .
He looks at me with his best smart person face and tells me that he actually it does make sense to him. I can see clearly with his tone and expression that it doesn’t make sense to him but that he is just using muscle to stop the tables from turning on him. I know that in his own way, he is just as sensitive as a person as Juanquis and has his own challenges in expressing himself. I don’t make any attempt to call him out or put him any more on the spot and accept his claim.
If I were in a different world with people older, smarter and more confident than me, then maybe I would feel enough pressure to give in to this group mentality of placating the “leader” to maintain a position in the social group. I would hope not, but I know that pressure can work in magical ways, fear shaking up my world to the point of desperation. Desperate to find something to add to a conversation to keep my seat at the table. Desperate to prove myself to the clan.
It’s just survival, without the blessings of the leader and the tribe, our chance of survival is reduced. Is it worth the risk to express sensitive thoughts and feelings to a group that might misunderstand? To be alone with true feelings or accepted with conformity? Do I have to drink the poison to be loved? Do I have to draw within the lines to be understood?