Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Judging others for what's in their mouths and hands

It happened again last week. I wrapped my lips in a tight "o" around the slender shaft, sliding it back along my tongue as I gently began to suck.

Then a colleague walked through the door.

"You really shouldn't drink so much soda," he said, pointing a finger my McDonald's cup. "You've got a giant Coke in your hand every time I come here. That stuff'll kill you."

I took one last slurp from my straw and set down the cup. "How nice of you to be concerned with what goes in my mouth."

He blanched and stammered while I sat there deciding whether to explain what I'm about to explain to you.

Take a look at the cup. Notice anything special about it?

Check out the ad for the Olympics. No, the 2014 games aren't still going on in Sochi, and no, my local McDonald's isn't cycling through beverageware that's four months old. I've been using that cup for ice water since February because I like the size and shape of it. The base fits nicely in my hand, the straw is handy for sipping as I work, and it holds a lot of water so I don't need to interrupt my workday for refills (only for frequent pee breaks, which probably defeats the purpose).

So yes, I visit McDonald's infrequently enough that I'm still packing around a four-month-old cup. Also for the record, the cup originally held unsweetened iced tea, not soda. I don't actually drink soda.

But why did I feel an urge to explain any of that to anyone? Do I really care if someone judges me based on my beverage choices?

Part of me wants to roll my eyes and raise my plastic cup, sniffing with disdain as I inform you that it's none of your business if I drink Coke or vodka or motor oil during my workday, nor is it anyone's business what vessel I swill from as I do it.

But then I have to admit what I do every two months when a board meeting rolls around and it's time for the marketing team to give presentations to our board of directors. I leave the McDonald's cup in my office. I grab a plain glass from the cupboard in the break room and I sit there in my ironed blouse and grownup pencil skirt using professional words like "return on investment" and "user engagement" instead of "sweater potatoes" and "meat popsicle," and I sip from my perfectly neutral glass of ice water.

Why do I do that? Why do any of us do that, whether we're hiding a fast food cup or the cover of a smutty novel?

I think about this a lot as an author of risqué romantic comedies. Countless times I've been hired to to teach workshops on social media for authors or brought in as part of a panel of authors reading excerpts at reader events. After the speaking part is done and authors have been herded back to our book-selling stations, someone will approach my table with a sheepish look.

"I don't think I could be seen carrying around a book with a shirtless man on the cover," the reader will whisper, nodding at my books as though I've stashed packets of crack inside each. "I really liked your talk, though, and your books sound hilarious."

These are often the same people laughing their asses off as I read excerpts from the Newlywed Game scene in Making Waves or the diaper drama scene in Marine for Hire. But the thought of actually purchasing my book or being spotted with it in public? Well, that's going a little too far.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not bitter about the lost sales. I know plenty of these folks go home and buy a book online for their eReaders, hiding it like a Penthouse magazine tucked inside Better Homes and Gardens. I also recognize that my books aren't for everyone, and I don't expect every member of the public to line up at my front door to buy one (though that would be really freakin' cool, wouldn't it?)

I guess when it comes down to it, I wish more of us cared less what other people think about our choices in beverages, books, cars, homes, hairstyles, and sex toys. I wish I cared less, honestly. Maybe that's something I ought to work on.

What are your thoughts on the way we judge each other for lifestyle choices or reading materials? Please share!

And please excuse me for a moment while I refill my McDonald's cup. The board meeting's over, right?