Jan 27, 2022 7:10 PM
group therapy on Wednesdays
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Apparently New York wants people to pretend they don't know what the death rates for random indie freshman are. That's fine. He can do that. He's going to be so good at therapy.

"Things are basically the way my parents described them so far. I've got a pretty neat class on Theory of Artificing, too, I was worried all my electives would be boring."

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"Huh, good for you! What about you, Pen?"

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Oh no!! Why are they making her talk just because she showed up at therapy specifically so that people would force her to talk!!

 

 

"I'm - kind of scared?"

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"That makes sense!" Julia says supportively. "High school can be scary! It's a time when we're trying to figure out who we are and what we're capable of, and also there are monsters trying to eat us!"

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He is not jealous of the person who's actually talking about her emotions! That would be a completely ridiculous way to feel, and so he is not feeling it. Why would he be jealous of her for doing something stupid like talking about her actual feelings in front of New York.

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"...yeah," she says, and she kind of wants to say that she's mostly scared of that last thing, except that come to think of it maybe that's not actually true? Or - that's not all she's scared of?

"I'm not - very good at talking to people. I think."

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Julia waits a minute to see if anyone is going to say anything.

 

Then - "well, Pen, do you know the plot of Legally Blonde?"

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"...no?"

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"Okay! So, Legally Blonde is about a girl from LA. And she's the president of her sorority and she's a fashion major, and she's dating this guy, and she's head over heels for him, and he keeps saying things like 'we're not kids anymore, we should start thinking about our future', so she thinks he's going to propose. And then, instead, he dumps her, and tells her that he's going to Harvard Law School and she's not a serious person and he needs to marry someone who is a serious person. And she's so devastated and then she's like 'wait a second - all I need to do to prove I'm worthy of him is to go to Harvard Law School!' And she's not actually stupid, right, so she asks her guidance counselor for advice and she gets the whole sorority to help her study for her LSATs which are the test you take to go to law school, and she gets a good score, and she gets into Harvard Law, and she goes there, and - 

- it's awful? Everyone there is a complete alien to her. She tells them she's a fashion major and they laugh at her. They've all done things like build schools in third world countries or invent new high frequency trading algorithms or invent new high frequency trading algorithms while building schools in third world countries, and they all know all these legal things and also all the unwritten rules for - who to talk to, who to steer clear of, how to present yourself, how to dress - and she doesn't. She wears pink when they're all in maximally New England prep outfits. She takes notes with this pen that's all fuzzy and pink. Everyone's making fun of her all the time and she's only catching it half the time but that's still often enough to know they hate her! She gets invited to a party but someone tells her it's a costume party, and it's not, so she's the only one dressed up. 

And she ends up telling her whole sad life story to her nail stylist, who is the only person who'll listen to her, and her nail stylist's life sucks even more, and they conspire together to go steal a dog from the nail stylist's ex, and she gives the nail stylist flirting tips, and eventually the other students stop being such dicks and realize they were writing her off too fast, and then her LAW PROFESSOR TRIES TO HIT HER UP AND SHE REALIZES THAT HE WAS ONLY BEING NICE TO HER BECAUSE HE WANTED SEX and she decides she's giving up on this whole thing and going home. And by then everyone has realized that she's a good person, and good at what she does, and deserves better, and they convince her to stay.

Anyway. She wasn't very good at talking to people, not the people she was surrounded with, and they were outright mean to her, but she kept going, and she didn't compromise, and she got the asshole teacher fired, and it all worked out in the end - she does not get back together with the boyfriend, she's too good for him. 

 

 

....how about now we all go around the circle and talk about a - show we liked or story we heard - about social anxiety and not fitting in. For advice for Pen."

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"Ummmm... okay so in Fame - the stage musical not either of the movies - there's this shy girl called Serena and she's in the drama program but she has a hard time speaking up and stuff because she's so shy. And eventually she works up all her courage to tell this boy she likes him! But then it turns out he's not interested and just wants to focus on acting. And she's really pissed off and thinks he might be gay or something and eventually decides that she's not just a girl with a crush she's an actress and she's going to put all those feelings about being rejected into her art! And she sings a song about that and then at the end of the musical after she's played Juliet opposite a completely different guy who's not taking it seriously and showed that she really cared about the craft then he admits he likes her back and she gets the boy. So maybe you can concentrate on other stuff for a while and you'll be able to, like, find the right people who care about the things you do?"

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If he'd known that school was going to require this much pop culture knowledge he would have prepared differently!

"There's a book called Dear Evan Hansen that I read, about this guy with social anxiety, and he doesn't have any friends, but he pretends that this other guy at his school who killed himself had actually been friends with him, and people start paying more attention to him. Except then, people start to figure him out, and he realizes that he has to come clean, but people don't all decide to hate him, and at the end of the book he still has some friends. So, I think what the book was saying, is that if you just don't randomly lie for no reason, most people really aren't that scary.

There's also a musical but it's not as good."

Jeremy is pretty sure that literally all of this is better advice for mundies than for wizards who might literally die from being too honest or too dishonest, but hopefully that's still okay? The book is about social anxiety and not fitting in which is both of the things Julia asked for.

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Pen kind of feels like all of these examples make more sense in a place where you are not going to literally die of not having friends before you get to be really good at other stuff? But - maybe they're right and having friends is less important at the beginning, as long as you don't go places alone?

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Marian lifts her hand. 

"So - uh, to be clear this story is pretty depressing overall, but - personally I think depressing stories can actually be really good for processing awful things that happened in your own life, and this school is kind of full of awful things, so. There's this fantasy series called the Last Herald-Mage, and it starts with a kid who's the heir to his dad's medieval fantasy castle and stuff, but he's - really different from his dad, he doesn't like fighting and he likes books and playing music. ....Also he's gay, he doesn't even know what 'gay' is but his dad suspects and just goes even tougher on him to try to 'make him a real man', and all his siblings bully him, and his older sister is the only one who protects him but she ends up leaving to go train to be a soldier and he has no one. And eventually his dad gives up on toughening him up and sends him to the capital city to live with his aunt, who's - someone important in the government, and also has magic, it's kind of complicated how their government works - and he's really scared that it'll be the same as before or even worse and he'll never fit in. So he - deals with that by sort of putting on this mask and acting like he doesn't care what they think, and then all the magic kids training with his aunt think he's arrogant and being all superior to them. Except, actually it turns out that once he gets past the really scary step of - admitting that he has feelings and that it hurts when people are mean to him - he ends up actually making friends, and his aunt turns out to be pretty stern but not just a horrible person like his dad, and - okay, actually everything is still kind of a mess and lots of bad things happen, but he...learns how to talk to people and open up to them a bit, and that not everyone thinks that being the way he is means he's useless? ....Sorry, I guess that's not selling it very well, but I think it's a really good series even if it makes you cry a lot." 

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"There's a play called The Glass Menagerie. One of the characters, Laura, quit school and doesn't have a job because she can't handle the outside world. All she does is takes care of her collection of glass animals. The play is about her brother, Tom, who invites someone over for dinner- a guy who dances with Laura and makes her feel special. But then he tells her he's engaged, and leaves. Tom's mom yells at Tom for not warning them his friend was engaged, and Tom ends up moving out. We don't see what happens to Laura.

It's a good play."

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Ennis doesn't really read a lot of fiction and can't think of an example that's any good. Not that Riley's was any good, but still.

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...well she's not going to be able to read The Last Herald Mage, even if it is helpful? Also it sounds like the person in it has different problems than her. But apparently the advice from the only adult around is that you need to... admit that you have feelings and that it hurts when people are mean to you? Nobody is actually being mean to her and she's pretty sure she's not pretending not to have feelings, though, so she's not entirely sure that this is an adequate description of the part where you learn to talk to people and make friends.

She... is not sure what she's supposed to get out of The Glass Menagerie as an example at all, really.

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"You know what else is a totally reasonable thing to do, if you're having trouble making friends, is to bribe people to be your friends," says Julia cheerfully. "On the outside people will say things about, like, authenticity, and you can't buy friendship, and if someone doesn't really like you for yourself then it doesn't count, but in here everyone's got their shoulder parents telling them DO NOTHING FOR FREE so it's, like, fine to have them be your friend for money? You'll bond anyway, from spending years enduring this place together, and there isn't a rule that your feelings have to be This Authentic to support each other!"

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Julia that is a thing you can do if you're from New York and cannot do if you are a random indie.

"...the only example I can think of is Martin Blackwood from the Magnus Archives, which, fair warning, is a cosmic horror tragedy podcast. But.

So he takes a job he's wildly unqualified for, because his mother's sick and he needs to pay for a nursing home. He lied on his resume to get it, he's a high school dropout and he claimed to have a master's degree, and the first thing we hear about him on the show is that his boss thinks he's--" here Leander switches from his natural Scottish accent to an imitation of Oxford-educated RP-- "'unlikely to contribute anything but delays.' And the job is horrible, he's an archival assistant at an institute that researches the supernatural, his boss hates him, his coworkers make fun of him behind his back, at one point he gets trapped in his apartment for two weeks by a horde of parasitic worms and nobody notices, and he can't leave because he's not going to get a better-paying job anywhere else so he's just-- stuck there.

And-- a lot of things happen in the meantime but the important thing for Martin is that it turns out they can't quit, like magically they cannot quit, everyone who works in the Archives is stuck there with each other until they die, and they all start to kind of hate each other because they're trapped there together-- and for other reasons, the constant horrible things happening to all of them definitely don't help-- and Martin is just stuck there, making people tea and trying to do his job even though he's incredibly unqualified for it and everyone knows, and trying to be helpful, because you have to do something and making people tea might not be the most useful job in the world but it's better than just raging at everyone about how unfair things are, even if you're right.

And eventually Martin starts isolating himself from all of the others, because he thinks he can do more good that way, and it turns out they miss him. The boss who used to hate him is constantly asking about him and where he is and if he's okay, and the coworkers who made fun of him worry about him, because-- even if you're stuck and just doing the best you can in a horrible situation you can't leave, sometimes that's still enough to be the kind of contribution where people rely on you? Martin had been going 'well even if all I can do is make tea and write research notes in margins that's better than nothing, right' and now he's going 'all I ever did was make tea and write research notes in margins, they don't actually need me' and it turns out that, no, he was right the first time.

And-- he's offered the choice to vanish into a dimension of ultimate aloneness, which I swear sounds less stupid if you have a hundred and fifty episodes of exposition building up to it, to try to save the world, and he takes it. And Jon, his boss, the boss who used to hate him and yell at him constantly and think he was incompetent and useless and deadweight, goes in after him, because in fact they need each other, they work better as a team, and they both know it, or they would if Martin hadn't been isolating himself for months and convincing himself nobody needed him anyway.

.....and then the next episode the apocalypse happens anyway, and going into the aloneness dimension not only didn't help anything it made things worse, because this is a cosmic horror tragedy where the world is set up against you and making decisions that are smart and sensible with the information you had at the time is not enough to save you, and he and Jon have spent the last fifteen episodes wandering around a post-apocalyptic world trying to figure out how to fix it or at least do something to help and most likely when it has an ending, which currently it doesn't, the ending will be that they both die. I-- care about this story for a lot of reasons but it's really not escapism at all."

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Is the advice that..... if she dies people will miss her? That's not really advice?

 

Pen nods solemnly.

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Marian is mostly feeling like she lacks any experience at the social skills required to steer group therapy being run by Julia specifically with a bunch of teenagers in a death school, and so she's mostly feeling super unable to say things. But - she is definitely starting to feel like Pen is in the sort of situation that the school nurse is supposed to try to help with? And so she should....figure out a helpful thing and do it? 

 

Maybe she can try to discreetly grab Pen afterward and promise Medical Confidentiality and try to get the full story of what's going on with her, because - it seems like it's probably weird and relevant? 

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-Riley isn't actually sure how to explain what he meant without making the whole thing about him. He settles for addressing what other people have said, that seems like a better way to help Pen.

"Julia's right, about finding people you can work with." At least, it sounds like that's what Legally Blonde is about? He's never seen it. "Even if you're not like anyone else here, you can still find people who'll help you, as long as you help them. And Leander's right about- how good it is to have people who'll stop you from disappearing into the aloneness dimension. It's not like the mundane world, where people have to like each other. We're all in the same boat here. It's about forming a team you can work with."

This feels a little bit like proselytizing the power of friendship, which he hopes isn't how it comes across, but it's too late to take it back now. When he graduates, he can work on giving better advice.

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"If the problem is just talking to people you could - write a note that says 'hello, my name is Pen, I have X Y and Z skills and resources, I don't like to talk but would you like to accompany me to such and such a place', so you have people to walk with to classes and the bathroom, and that's most of the survival advantage of having friends early on, and you'll have a few years to try to relax around someone enough, or outgrow the anxiety enough, for an alliance."

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...well, that is an idea she hasn't thought of, which is at least better than the other ideas, which mostly didn't sound like they were going to address the problem?

It sounds like something that people would think was extremely weird, though, and maybe kind of awkward, and she's pretty sure that people generally don't like hanging out with weird and awkward people? But maybe this has been exaggerated and in real life it usually works fine eventually? 

She's not sure whether this would actually be any easier than talking to people, but maybe she should think about it more.

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"Okay if we have switched to offering advice directly and not in the form of recounting story plots, I've been doing group language tutoring, if there's any of Latin, Mandarin, Japanese, Classical Chinese or pretty much any Romance language that you need to learn we can probably get a group together for that and then you have at least found a group of people that meets regularly which is admittedly not quite the same as friends but it's a place to start. —that also goes for everyone else in the room, prices negotiated individually." 

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Oh no she took too long to produce words and now she's behind. Oh well. Probably better 

"I think the thing Ennis said was actually a helpful way of framing things in general?" Marian offers. "Like, okay, so - there's a thing, right, where a lot of times you have a problem and the permanent solution to that problem is to - just learn a bunch of skills that let you do a totally different strategy and have that work? But you can't just jump right away from here to there, you have to - have intermediate steps - and so it can be really really helpful to come up with an intermediate step that you can do at all? Even if it's bad relative to where you want to get someday, and even if it kind of feels like cheating." 

This is definitely not about her entire experience of nursing school. Definitely not. 

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