Clare Halpine

Clare Halpine is a dynamic individual with a BFA from Mount Allison University as well as a few certificates of participation from various leadership seminars and motivational speaking events. Clare holds the "Whole World" organization in her hands. In her free time, she enjoys exploring alternative pedagogy and subverting the usual glamorous or sensational depictions of self on Vimeo.

Dear City Mouse

Dear City Mouse,

I hope you are well. Things are, well, no, to be honest, things are not well here.  I opened the glove compartment in the car this morning only to find everything shredded.  Paper, money, Kleenex…  everything.  What kind of an animal would do such a thing? And last week, as I was peacefully eating my sandwich under a tree, Squirrel came by and rudely asked if I had any nuts.  I’m sure it was an innocent inquiry, but, still, I felt a little uncomfortable.  There’s something weird about him: always staring, rubbing his paws together, nervously twitching … I don’t know. Maybe I’m being unfair.

Anyway, People have these idyllic notions about the country.  But, it’s not all log cabins and skinny love out here.  Truthfully, both are somewhat rare. I hardly ever go for a stroll. Where? How? “Along the winding country road?” Pure fantasy.  You mean the little bits of gravel sprinkled on the shoulder?  If I have to leave the house, to stretch my legs or pop in on the neighbors, I make the sign of the cross and scurry as fast as I can—hoping to God the drivers will see me in my little orange hunting cap.  But it’s just hit or miss.

What really makes me scratch my head, which I am told could be a sign of parasites—just what I need right now on top of everything else—is that you never read about these sorts of things in Town & Country.  It’s all labor parties and grassroots initiatives.  And sure, many hands make light work, and yes, it’s a beautiful day to work outdoors, but no, that doesn’t mean that weeding and planting and harvesting and washing and canning and lugging and scraping and painting and chopping and stacking and caulking and sealing and insulating and patching and drainage, always drainage, and bird trapping and fly swatting and every other kind of work that you can think of to be done is a fête en Seine.

Don’t get me wrong; there are certain perks to country life.  The rope bridge in the nearby town is really something.  And the mower is quite a ride.  Wildly careening around the lawn, bending and swaying this way and that to avoid being toppled by the low hanging branches, I like to imagine it’s a game of polo.

Well, anyhow, although I complained earlier about the quaint portrayals of country life, I hope I haven’t painted too bleak a picture in contrast.  I only meant to suggest an alternative narrative to outmoded fables.  I don’t know that I would call it a “moral,” per se, but I guess I would add that a modest life with peace and quiet is better than a richly one with danger and strife [addendum: it is a moot point, as such a dichotomy is only mutually exclusive, fictively].

 

Yours,

Country Mouse

P.S. Have you ever heard of a thing called a whippier sniper? I don’t know if that’s the correct terminology, but that’s what spell-check seems to recognize…  Anyway, the trim around the house appears to have been cleaned up, but all of my decorative rocks and shrubbery have been leveled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

photo by:

Knowledge Points Are Power

The lights are dimmed.  Song “Far From Over (Stayin’ Alive)” by Frank Stallone plays.  Punching through a poster of an image of himself, a man in a white suit emerges.

Into his headset, he yells: ”I’m not here to talk you about your LOVE life; I’m here to talk to you about LOVING your life!”

The crowd goes wild. “Yay! Guru Dave!”

Beaming smile lasers at the crowd, he gestures for the audience to be seated.  He is about to share something personal and profound.  He is about to share capital “K” knowledge.

“Who here has come face to face with rejection?”

“Me!”

“Good. How about today?”

“Yep!”

“Could we maybe see some other show of hands? Great!”

“The thing about rejection is that it’s subjective. It could be anything, anything at all. Like that hypothetical time in junior-kindergarten when Sebastian “couldn’t” invite you to his birthday party because he “ran out” of invitations before reaching your spot in the circle. Would you have accepted a verbal invitation? Of course. Did you get one? No. So you see, rejection is everywhere and you will face it in almost every thing you attempt or encounter. Now, what can we do about it? Well, I’m literally going to tell you, metaphorically.”

 A large screen drops down behind him.  He reads the slide on the screen aloud:

 

Knowledge point #1:

“When God closes a door he opens a window.”

 

“Yes?”

“No!”

“No, I mean ‘yes, it sounds familiar’?”

“Yes!”

“So, he could have left the door ajar or put the keys in the room, but he opened a window.  He opened a window.”

“Why?!”

“Are you serious? I have no idea why. The point is: God has made things a hell of a lot more difficult for you. Obviously it’s easier to walk through a door like a normal person than to climb through a window. A door is, what, twice the size of a window? To leave, you’ll have to climb the wall, remove the bug screen, and leap from a story or two … and there’s no way of knowing what’s on the other side. Or, you could just stay in the room and enjoy the cross breeze. There’s a rug, which could double as a blanket if necessary. And there is a sink… that could double as a… well… hopefully it won’t come to that.”

“Maybe it’s a mistake?”

He pulls out his phone and mimes a text:

“OMG!

Come and open thatdoor 4 me!

Or give me a boost to reach tha

window?”

“This is limbo; God only knows when He’ll be back.  It could be days or months, but I’ve been in cramped situations for what feels like ages.  Regardless, I suggest you pin up a bulletin board and a motivational calendar just to make things livable.”

Pulls a calendar out from under his shirt and reads the tagline for the month.

The surest way not to fail is to determine to succeed.”  Right?  When you’re succeeding you’re not failing.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have all forged a few valleys in life, and we all know that it takes endurance to climb a mountain, but sometimes I think we forget that mountains on posters are metaphorical.”

 

Slide changes.

 

Knowledge Point #2:

Motivation is 99% Inspiration

“Now, how many of you are familiar with the phrase: “It’s the little things in life?”"

 Just a guess but… ten, maybe fifteen of us?

“And how many of you have told yourself in response to that phrase: ‘I want the BIG THINGS in life?’  Just a show of hands…Ladies and gentlemen, there are no little or big things.  There is only every thing.  And every thing is something.  What you think is a big thing, may turn out to be a something.  And a mere something may turn out to be more than you can comprehend, at least at this point in time. I go through about three boxes of Yogi tea each morning.  Maybe you’re thinking that this is because Chamomile calms my nerves – or Dashberry Dreams alleviates symptoms of despair – and, it does – to some extent – but mostly I just read the quotations on the tags for relief.”

Pulls tea bags out of pocket, opens a package, and reads text on tag: “The universe is a stage on which your mind dances with your body, guided by your heart.” 

“Nice. Who needs to make it on Broadway when you’ve got the universe, right?”

Lets do another. “When the mind is backed by will, miracles happen.”

I hope so!  How about this one: “You only give when you love.” So true!

He pauses as a pitcher containing a bottle of water is brought on stage. He reaches inside the pitcher, grabs the bottle of water and, removing the cap, drinks.  Thanking the cart–wheeler, he motions him off-stage before continuing.

Slide changes.

 

Knowledge Point #3:

Maximizing Your Time in Solitary Confinement

“We’ve all heard that avoidance behaviors are a bad thing.  And why is this?”

“Because everyone has to face reality eventually.”

“True.  EventuallyBut not today.”

“Unrealistic portrayals of life and love are an integral part of any shut-in diet.  Starved for a reason and purpose to go on, you need sustenance. There have been days when I was so hungry, I would scour Facebook looking to eat up any and all inspirational memes. “Happiness is Homemade,” I would regurgitate to myself as my sweaty hands slid on the wallpaper, foiling my first attempted escape.”

Sound familiar?

“No!”

“In another incarnation of myself, I thought that I was above “kitschy” trappings of sentimentality…  That I didn’t need words like “SUCCESS” pinned around my work cubicle to be productive, or teddy bears with hearts for paws, to know that I was loved. But I was only partly right. And if you want to know, the other part, I was wrong. In my next life, I realized that I had been a pessimist dressing in merino wool sweaters and Ugg boots. The truth of the matter is, thinking the worst about things, or facing “reality”, doesn’t make you any more prepared, or “ready” as the synonym may be. Instead of anticipating probable worst-case scenarios, you should fill your head with hopelessly delusional, feel-good scenarios.”

“For instance, everyone knows real life is not nearly as romantic as fantasy life: “Things get really crazy when Jennie confronts Jim about forgetting to take out the compost…” That’s why we have fantasy life.  So you could think critically about it, or you could pop in another DVD. And those posters of couples in ripped jeans lying together and kissing on the beach… You could say that they are not real… but why would you do that? Why would you spoil it for everyone? ”

“Hope, ladies and gentlemen, even if it comes embroidered on a tea cozy or embossed on a picture frame, is vital. Obviously your dreams may or may not come true, but should you stop believing in them? Only if they’re debilitating – like the one I had last week, where a shark was gnawing at my leg.”

Slide change.

 

Knowledge Point #4:

“You Have to Retreat to Advance”

“Of course, what is never specified is how far, or for how long? And no guidelines are given regarding the advance: “This month or next?”  “One flare or two?” “What if I miss the first signal?” “Will there be another?!” “Does the tornado alarm count?” In short, how do you win playing the waiting game?”

“You’re trying to be proactive; actively watching and jumping at all ladders which may be within or out of your reach. It’s just that with every step towards what you think is the right ladder, the ladder moves. Naturally, you lose your footing and your back’s on the linoleum floor, having missed your rung. How many more times must you fall in the attempt to reach for that elusive ladder?”

“We don’t know!” Tell us!”

“Well, I’d like to …  If this damn thing…  Slide change?  Can we get a slide change? Hello?  I’m pushing buttons, but maybe not the right ones? Nothing is working here…”

Slide finally changes. 

The Answer, ladies and gentlemen is: MANY, MANY, MORE TIMES!

“‘Rock bottom’ is a false bottom! Only by falling, again, even harder, the next time, will you know that your last experience was a mere step down on the ladder of progress.Your turning point could be one, two, or twenty downward spirals away, but, you’ll never know until after the fact. What looks like “worse” now, may very well prove to be for the bestseller later. That said, don’t think that you can rush or fake hit rock bottom in order to get to the top faster. It doesn’t work that way. In the game of life, maybe not all moves advance, but every move changes the game. Although, you can’t possibly know what move is or was a game changer until after you’ve moved and the game has changed. Sure, it may seem that some opponents are catching ladders, or, as luck would have it, they are literally rolling the die and landing on the fast track in an altogether different (better) game.  But if you weren’t born on Park Place, you are a boot or a wheelbarrow.”

Slide change

 

Knowledge Point #5:

You Can’t Spell “Knowledge” without “know” and “ledge”

“Your life path may look more like a spirograph than a linear graph.  This just means that you get to experience the hub of every cycle and, like me, look for the spin. Remember, no ledge is power.  But you’ve got to…”

“Know the ledge, to discover your edge!” 

The audience stands and erupts in laughter. Guru Dave smiles. The cart-wheeler throws teddy bears, Yogi tea bags, and embossed picture frames into the crowd.

 

Facebook Friends Without Benefits (broken heart) and Other Newsfeeds

You have a secret. You are a masochist. You were feeling down on yourself and so you checked the Facebook profiles of the last three people you have been involved with.

Kendra Robinson wrote on Nick Patterson’s wall.

Sure, no big deal, right? But, then why is Kendra’s profile picture of her and Nick? And, if you scroll down further, why did Nick post a picture of the two of them when he has never posted any of the pictures he has taken with you?

Poster of a kitten knocking over a glass of milk: FML.

Now, all of the typical things you used to enjoy bring little pleasure. You don’t want to poke anyone and you haven’t been able to “like” anything for weeks. You’ve taken Vitamin D. Nothing helps.

You should have known: the rule of thumb for photo posting and tagging is, generally: (two words) pretty clear. The hurt is indescribable, but the term for someone who carefully manages the contents of his or her profile page like it’s a promotional site is a “Po-Sé”, or, Post selectivist. You should have guarded your heart like Mr. Po-Sé guards his wall.

Your Status Update: “Dreams don’t come true.”

Darren Feldman: Hey! Haven’t talked to you since grad. Just wanted to say that mine did! Got a job in Atlanta and just married the woman of my dreams!

Brett Chan-Man: Hey, is everything ok?
Saw that you recently took a “which lonely island character are you” quiz. Who’d you get?

Karin Tanner-Feldman: Would have to agree with Darren! Love you babe!

Somehow, you used to be able to get away with using Facebook as an emotional outlet; by putting your rambling tidbits of melancholia in quotation it seemed plausible that you were just quoting Sylvia Plath. But then, Facebook changed. What’s on your mind? Facebook began to prompt.

And now, every poem, song, video and bulletin you share is, however minutely, a reflection of your state of emotion and your state of consciousness; it is a reflection of you and a reflection on you. You are what you post. And, by extension, it’s easy to feel that you are, only if you post.

But, you haven’t been able to come up with an interesting or clever status update for hours. And, everyone knows that a successful status update lies not in the amount of information divulged, but in the number of “likes” it receives. That’s why nobody posts about the boring or unappealing things that happen in their life.

Tamara West: Ugh. Second urinary tract infection in the last two days! :/

Cora Kitchen: hang in there, hun!

Janice Wilson: have you tried Canesten? Lacey Wilson had an infection last month and it worked for her. They must be going around! Praying for you.

Sometimes, you wish you were ignorant, or perhaps just blissfully unaware, of the subtle and not-so-subtle indicators of status exhibited in the social network. Now that you’ve been exposed, your awareness feels like a burden: there’s the terrible feeling you get when you see someone else’s life and feel embarrassed about your inferiority, and the terrible feeling you get when you see someone else’s life and feel embarrassed for their inferiority. Which is worse? The latter, as your initial embarrassment on behalf of another is then compounded by feelings of guilt and shame over your arrogant feelings of embarrassment on behalf of another. Pity is the opposite of compassion.

Aaron Katz: Check out this article. How is it that everyone in America, except for me, and a few select others, is stupid, ignorant and unbelievably intolerant??!

Dan Markham: I just read the same article and had the exact same thought.

Lara Chisholm: Ugh. So violently angry about the rampant, fanatical hate speech in this country.

Jennifer Rothschild: I am always shocked at how ignorant people can be. I guess it just goes to show you that small minds think alike.

Dan Markham: I couldn’t agree more.

Then again, this is your network and these are your friends. Right? Aren’t they? Are they?

Take the REAL friendship quiz to find out!

1. You would feel comfortable dropping by (insert friend’s name) place if you were in the neighborhood. i.e. Writing an annual, “happy birthday” note on their wall.

Yes No

2. (Insert friend’s name) is someone who is there for you when you need them. i.e. Available on chat.

Yes No

3. (Insert friend’s name) is someone who understands that reciprocation is necessary in a relationship. They not only invite you to brunch, they Poke back.

Yes No

Your results:

1. Maybe?
I mean, you watch your home page more than you watch the news… so, you are up-to-date on what your friends are up to—even the ones you haven’t actually sighted or spoken to in years. But, you don’t necessarily comment on or like their posts, as that would be weird or creepy.

2. No.
You and Jacqueline Wilson are not actually friends. You are what the world long ago, and Facebook only recently has created an appropriate sub-category for, called, “acquaintances.”

3. No.
You don’t have 1330 friends. 10? Again, Maybe?

The truth has set you free from accepting friend requests from your friends’ moms, but it still hurts. Weary of the façade of interaction and the inexplicable pressure to maintain appearances, you begin to wonder if your life would be better if you just deactivated yourself. But it would be an inconvenience; you don’t know anyone’s phone number or mailing address. And what about your family? How would they cope? How would they know where you were without a Places update?

Joe Crossman decided not to head to the 2nd Street Bridge and is @Second Cup. He’s sitting in the third chair from the right of the doorway on the first floor. He’s wearing a blue shirt with a small, embroidered insignia on the left breast pocket and sipping coffee from a non-biodegradable off-white cup. Ouch! (He forgot to get a thermo sleeve.)

To remove your self from Facebook would be to commit the unthinkable: social suicide. You don’t want to deactivate yourself forever, you just want to go Invisible for awhile – so that you might still receive notification of—and read all—the nice posthumous things people might say about you when/if someone notices you’re gone; but, unfortunately, that feature is only available on Gchat.

In the only act of self-destruction, that you realistically feel destructive enough to carry out, you remove your profile pic. You don’t want to try or to be or to try-to-be anything. You don’t want to be perceived as something that you’re not, or anything that you are.

As you peruse your photos, contemplating the removal of all albums, you can’t help but feel a certain sense of nostalgia for the olden days. Those days when Facebook albums had caché… the days when you had a reason and a purpose: to dress up, take pictures, and post your photos by the next afternoon. Remember?

What happened? When did everything change? Why did everything change?

There are numerous reasons, but, according to your timeline, everything took a turn for the nostalgic after that song “Please Remember Me” by Tim McGraw was shared on your newsfeed. No, wait, wrong year… It’s the advent of the mobile upload that’s to blame.

Instagrammer: Insert Instagram and …voila!

Everyone likes this.

Purportedly to allow for greater sharing, in actuality, the mobile upload resulted in the breakdown of traditional sharing modalities. When everyone: instagrammers, foodies and partyers, are uploading immediately, instantaneously and spontaneously, your album of 60 photos, complete with memorable and witty captions, looks like you actually care about your Facebook account. It says: I made an effort. And that’s not cool.

Foodie: Insert picture of food on a plate and a description of ingredients.

Fan Friend: Yum!

Friendly one-upper: Is that today’s Times?

Philistine: … are those brown things mushrooms?

Foodie: No. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy.

Friendly one-upper: Sweet, man. Couldn’t tell. Quality of the pic isn’t as good as the shots I’m used to on my 7D.

Foodie: Let’s do lunch Friday and we can discuss aperture settings and Aristotelian ethics over chicken rosemary Salmon Rushdie curry salad sprinkled with mini-bake-oven roasted pine nuts.

What’s cool is mobile uploading. Oh. Hey. Just happened to have my phone out. Took a snapshot. No big deal. Here it is. Check it. It’s instantly gratifying in a casual, I’m-only-disinterestedly-interested kind of way. It’s like when you pretend that you are interested in a poster in a store window so that you can unabashedly gaze at your own reflection in passing.

The Partier: Insert picture of girl wearing a bustier and holding a red plastic cup

Friend Partier: Ridiculouuusss.

Partier: average Tuesday night: aka totalll sh** show.

Partier: apparently, I threw my cup on the floor, and laughed like a hysterical hyena. #becausethatswhatyoudowhenyourlifeisaridiculousrealitytvshow.

Partier: I don’t even remember taking this pic I was so outrageously out of crazy-trashy-fantastically-sexy-hand. Let’s keep talking about how ridiculous I am.

The reality is that Facebook is less like a network of friends and more like a neighborhood watch. Best-case scenario: everyone is watching you; worst-case scenario: everyone is watching you. But, the most-likely scenario is that no one is watching you as closely as you are watching yourself.

In your efforts to “sell yourself” to others, you have deluded and diluted yourself; you have come to believe that you are, or should be, a finished product. Why are you trying so hard? Who are you hiding your celebrity birthday quiz from, anyway?

Kendra Robinson: Be who you are meant to be, even if it means dressing up as a sexy-nymph-princess-child-witch-cop-bo-peep-school-girl-seductress-she-devil on days other than Halloween. Am I right? Truth. Love!

Post. Comment. Share. Everything. All The Time. Even incomplete sentences. Like that. Like this. Like everything.

Like the ad on the right hand side of your home page that depicts a baby the size of a dinky car wearing a furry blue hat and lying in the palm of a hand with the tagline: “be a social worker in NY”, one’s timeline here on this networking planet doesn’t make sense: it’s hectic, barely comprehensible, arguably user-unfriendly but ultimately, inevitably, change is imposed when the Programmer Almighty sees fit.
Then again, maybe it’s not meant to be understood—just enjoyed—in the moment—for what it is: (absurd).

I don’t know…. Maybe it’s not You. But it can’t be just me…

photo by:

I Hope You’re Happy, Mr. Mumford

I’m happy for you. No. Really. I mean it.

But, it’s just, well, kind of sudden, don’t you think? I suppose they say that you just know when you know. But, I can’t help but wonder if anyone really, ever, knows. You know?

 

From what I’ve heard, you had only been dating for 5 months! But, that’s just what I heard. I haven’t really kept up with any of it. I’ve been busy.

From the pictures of you two together, that other people have insisted I search for on Google images, I can see why you like her. She’s got that cute little smile and that pixie-look that guys swoon over. I’m sure she’s really nice too.

The "Happy" Couple.

No, really, she’s really nice, isn’t she? Yeah.  I don’t know her but I guess I just didn’t picture the two of you ending up together. Not that I ever took time out of my own life to picture you or something. That’s crazy. I just mean that when I think about it, now, just this very minute, I can envision you with someone else.

That sounds so terrible, as if I’m jealous or something. I’m sure I couldn’t be happier for you. I’m sure I couldn’t.

No, no, I know. It never would have worked out between us. Yes, right, there’s that; we’ve never been in a relationship. Fine.  Still, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we’ve been intimate for a number of years now.

I mean, you rode with me on the bus, stood with me on the subway and walked with me through the streets of NY. I eagerly introduced you to all of my friends and I proudly introduced you to my family. (My Mom was a bigger fan of you than my Dad, but I think that’s fairly typical.)

No man had ever shared his weaknesses with me so honestly. No man had ever shown his heart to me so courageously. No man had ever been humble enough to admit a need to fall on his knees before the Creator. I couldn’t stop gushing about how great you were. Knowing that a man such as your self existed gave me hope that Mr. Darcy did too.

I hope I’m not overstepping, but, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I felt we had a connection. And, if I remember correctly, you were the one who opened up to me first. Weren’t you the one who spoke about giving your heart as well as your body? And confessed your love, as well as your folly? Yes, you sure did lead me on.

The good news is that I finally made it to London. The bad news is that… ok, fine. The other news is that you’re engaged.

I hope you’re happy.

Yours,

Sincerely,

 

It’s a Great Time to be a Guy Part III: the Cool-Down

The final installment of a three part series. Part I, Part II.

Noticing that Sharon and the other women had moved to an area near the bar, he felt a sudden, dryness of throat.  At the bar, he ordered a whisky sour. Leaning against a stool waiting for his drink to arrive, he couldn’t help but listen in on their conversation.

Sharon: So, I was like, put down your book, The Four Hour Work Week, and listen up.

Woman: Oh, my God. Did you really say that?

Sharon: I said I was like . . .

Woman: Oh.

Woman #2: Ugh. God. Men.

Sharon: I know, right?

Photo by flickr user LeSimonpix.

It was hard to hear his sex take such a rap. But, knowledge is power. Whatever insights he could learn about women, he thought to himself, could only be beneficial. The bartender, with some difficulty, got his attention; his drink had arrived. He was beyond relieved; he was exonerated. Standing alone at a bar, watching a group of women was one thing; standing alone at a bar, with drink-in-hand watching a group of women, thankfully, was another. Swilling his drink around his glass, he returned to his listening post:

Sharon: It’s like, even that guy over there, the one with the New Balance sneakers and cargo shorts . . .

Involuntarily, he found himself scanning the room attempting to spot the specific characters Sharon was highlighting for the benefit of the others.

Woman: Ha, ha. Yesss.

Sharon: He could probably date that really smart looking woman in the corner if he just went up to her and introduced himself. He doesn’t even know that he has a 50% chance.

Woman: And, I mean, if any guy has at least a 50-50 shot with most women, then actual good guys . . . their chances are like, sky-high.

Sharon: By “good guys,” you don’t mean “nice guys,” right?

He felt they were speaking directly to him. Obviously, they had noticed him and, in their own subtle, feminine way, they were inviting him to approach. He didn’t have a plan. He was just going to wing it. After all, the women had been talking for the last thirty minutes about how men should just “do it.

 

Approaching the group of couches where Sharon and the other women were seated he asked if he could join them. But, before they could respond, his friends entered the bar from the outdoor patio and spotted him from across the room. “Grant! Get over here man! We’re doing shots!” What could he say? Oh, what the hell . . . “No!” he hollered, “I’m about to ask one of these fine young women out on a date!” He smiled at the group of women as he pulled up his chair.

But, by making such a strong move, he become suspect. Was he mocking them? Was he a player? Or, was he just a creep?

A number of awkward moments passed. He sipped his whisky and racked his brain for something to say, until . . .  Yes! Perfect! The sunset. But Sharon beat him to it. She leaned forward out of her chair and, looking at everyone, awkwardly asked: “Sooo . . . did everyone enjoy the sunset this evening?”

Maintaining his cool (and desperately trying to regain whatever invisible ground he had lost), he casually removed his hand from the pocket of his jacket and gestured towards the skyline saying, “In all seriousness, I think New Yorkers have some of the most staggering vistas.” Sharon laughed and coyly responded: “Yes, platinum. Or is yours black?”

Sportively, she was asking him to fight. She wanted him to prove that he was “good” rather than just “nice.” But he didn’t understand. He didn’t see the difference.

He asked the women what they were drinking and offered to buy them a round. They accepted. As he left to find the bartender, he heard Sharon make a disparaging remark about the pattern of his jacket.

He paid for their three lemon drop shooters and left. He was tired. He was tired of trying. He was tired of trying and getting nothing in return; but mostly, he was tired of trying to pretend that he wasn’t trying. He was. He was playing the game; it was just that but nobody was winning.

It’s a Great Time to Be a Guy, Part II: the Warm-Up

Part II of a series exploring the delightful world of today’s young man. Part I appeared in The Curator September 23, 2011.

 

He wasn’t sure when it had happened. When had he lost his ability to socialize — namely, with those who attend idea seminars in Mumbai and Dakar?

He considered himself a caring individual. He, too, had once wanted to make a difference in the world. He was aware of human rights violations. He knew his world leaders. He had a minor in political science, for God’s sake.

In high school, he had been the president of the debate team. His eloquent speech and impressive vocabulary had earned him a scholarship to attend a weekend conference at the local legislature. Once there, he had been elected as the opposition representative. Vigorously pounding his fists on the desk, his showmanship had attracted not only the attention of members of the opposite sex but members of his sex. Even the Speaker of the House congratulated him on his charisma and professionalism.

Photo by flickr user LeSimonpix.

All of this to say, the man was a political animal. Was. But he had lost his bravado. He could think of nothing to contribute to the conversation at hand.

“The role of the president is not simply a mouthpiece for the public . . . ”

“No, I completely disagree . . . You exhibit a great lack of profundity on this issue . . . ”

“The president is largely, if not entirely, a mouthpiece for the electorate . . . A motivational speaker for the ignorant and those capable of understanding little more than simplified jargon . . .

He thought about contributing a scornful remark about the ignorant, but he couldn’t think of any. He considered entering the conversation by dropping the name of his sister’s boyfriend’s father’s friend who knew a certain political pundit who had said something profound on this very subject. But, for the first time in his life (and possibly for the very first time in the history of New York), the name-dropping game itself was snubbed.

Thanks to a recent book he had read on the subject, by a well-known American intellectual, he was newly aware that his name-dropping habit only nurtured a false sense of glory-by-association. The reality was that none of “his” connections were really his. And he was pretty sure the other guys knew it, too.

As the conversation moved on to the sorry state of global aid programs, he considered contributing an anecdotal remark about grain prices, but, it felt so contrived. I mean, what did he really, actually know about these issues?  Sure, the pronouncements made by his companions weren’t a result of any first-handout experiences either, but, he thought to himself, at least they had probably read this week’s Economist.

Standing outside on the roof of the club he tuned out of the conversation and took in the vast and sparkling skyline. What a skyline. It looked like one of those Lite Brite toys his sister had as a kid. He remembered the first time he had flown into New York City at night. It had been magical. The lights of the boroughs sparkling below looked like a field of jewels. He wondered why they couldn’t talk about the skyline.

Stalling for time, he attempted to convey that his lack of involvement in the discussion was a matter of cautionary discernment rather than an absence of anything. He thoughtfully rested his thumb under his chin and pressed his index finger to his cheek. Like any balanced adjudicator weighing the strength of the statements of others, he pursed his lips and nodded his head left or right every 3.5 seconds. But, focused as he was on being perceived as studious, he was easily distracted by the discussion of a group of women nearby:

“I mean, I’m a cheerleader! Am I not a cheerleader?”

“Sharon, you’re totally a cheerleader.”

“I mean, I am inclusive. I invite everyone I know. I always encourage people. I am nice to everyone. Am I not nice?”

“You’re totally nice.”

“BUT, I’m sorry . . . ”

He had a feeling Sharon wasn’t sorry at all. He had a feeling she was about to say something brutal about someone.

“She is a b****. She is.”

“Ashley?! No. Ashley’s great.”

“Great? No. She is a liar. She is manipulative. She is selfish, backstabbing and a . . . ”

Someone was looking at him. He could feel it. Distracted by the conversation of the women he had forgotten to nod. Now, Ted and the others had mistaken his lack of assent in the conversation as sign of a divergent political opinion. Better than admitting his distracted state of mind or divulging his true apathy on the matter, he casually responded, “The situation under discussion bears few distinguishing characteristics from that of the historical reality of pre-war Poland.” (Duh.)

There was a pause, and then the others quickly, loudly, eagerly, one over top of the other, responded with similarly divergent examples from conferences and seminars and workshops and meetings with interesting people of all different tribes and customs . . . in Aspen. No one provided his or her citations, which only confirmed his suspicion that it was a load of H.G. Frankfurt. Contributing his last perfunctory nod, he excused himself from the game to go meet the cheerleaders.

 

Part III to follow!

It’s a Great Time to Be a Guy

It’s a great time to be a guy. Arguably, it’s always been a great time to be a guy. But this is an especially great time to be a guy.

In case you haven’t noticed, dear sir, you are a contemporary cultural phenomenon. You are a best seller. Blockbuster titles like Manning Up and Why There are No Good Men Left fly off the shelves. What flattery! And, as if works of literary nonfiction dedicated to unearthing you, the male primate of the 21st century, weren’t enough, previously ignored or shunned “adolescent” male behaviors are now the gold standard in American entertainment. Unlike women of a similar width and depth, your on-screen bros are “real,” “relatable,” and “endearing.” Never change. It pays to remain the same hot-dog-wielding-perv at the lunch table you were in grade three.

Sure, there’s been a little bit of bad press lately about the fact that for the first time in history, women surpass men in finishing college and earning advanced degrees[1]. But, what is not being said is what this really means for you guys.

 

Nationally, the male to female ratio on a college campus is 43 to 57[2]. Assuming that roughly 10% of men are interested in developing relationships with other guys, and that another 20% are intimidated by women and avoid them, then according to my calculation, the ratio of actively heterosexual men to women is closer to 30 to 57. Roughly translated, on your average North American campus, for every actively heterosexual man, there are 2 women.

But perhaps you’re thinking that it’s not financially feasible for you to return to college to take advantage of these odds. Fair. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And in New York City alone, there are 200,000 more women then men. So put down your book, The Four Hour Work Week, and listen up. There’s a little something here for everyone. Yes, even, you — the one with the wallet hanging by a chain attached to your jean shorts.

The world is your oyster [bar]. According to the Guttmacher Institute, seven out of ten women are sexually active[3], which is like, pretty much 70%. Now, lets assume that two out of the seven sexually active women might be in a committed relationship: cohabiting with their significant other, married, etc, and are therefore out of the game. This still means that, at a minimum, you have five sexually active women to choose from. And, should you want to increase your odds further, you could always try your hand at courting the remaining three ladies-in- waiting. (However, those stakes are high, as ladies-in-waiting tend to play for keeps.)

Now, if you’re like most men, you’re probably freaking out about how you will deal with these myriad sexual options. Love yourself. Breathe. And of course, stay focused on the positive: all of this, for you, is virtually consequence-free.

I know, I know, it sounds too good to be true. It’s like the world has thrown you a stag party as your punishment for failing to measure up. What’s the catch? The catch is, that the sexual revolution was for women. Yes, it’s true. But, enough about us; let’s get back to you.

You don’t have to take the pill, wear a patch, insert messy rings or go through the hassle of making an appointment with your doctor to change and refill your prescription for said pills, patches, rings and paraphernalia. As for the potential short and long-term health consequences such as nausea, decreased libido, blood clotting, cancer, and infertility? On us. Cervix with a smile. If I didn’t know better, I would say that it’s like men invented birth control. But, of course, that’s just the woman in me talking crazy.

So, before you sneak off to powder up your nose, play video games, or do whatever it is that pre-adulthood males do these days to seek personal fulfillment, the least you could do is bow your head and thank the gods Ortho Novum and Depo Provera for the blessings they have bestowed upon your life as a man. Now, if there are any overachievers out there, let me say this: should you be interested in members of the opposite sex, and should you have the strength to pull yourself away from the bowl of mixed nuts, and your impromptu frat meeting, to introduce yourself to one of the million cute girls at the bar, you will probably find that despite the fact that she is mentally competent and may be more accomplished than you, she is still, most likely, willing to give you a shot. Sure, it may be a lemon drop shooter, rather than a Jameson neat, but hey, them’s the breaks. Nobody said the best things in life are free.

 

photo by:

You Can’t Make it Here

It was the same old thing. This heaviness. She could feel it in her chest. Sometimes it seemed to travel all the way up into her throat. The symptoms varied, but it sometimes felt so oppressive as to hinder her breathing. It didn’t, of course, as apparently it was all psychosomatic. Psychosomatic. She hated that word. Mostly the first half of the word: psycho.

Sometimes she would wake up to it. Not the word psychosomatic, but this heavy feeling. Take this morning, for example: the sun was peeking through the white wooden blinds, the air was fresh and crisp, and she could hear the sounds of breakfast being made in the kitchen. By all accounts, life was good. Yet, she couldn’t shake the feeling inside of her. There it was. It added an extra 1.2 pounds of weight to her being and a thickness to her day.

For years she had conducted tests, always vegan and cruelty-free, to pinpoint the cause of this feeling. Imagining that these symptoms were indicative of her low glycogen levels as a result of low-carb fad dieting, her sister had suggested she eat pasta when she felt this way. Eating pasta tended to be her sister’s solution to a great number of the world’s ills. In all fairness, it did sometimes help.

However, these days no amount of pasta could remedy the ache she felt inside. She had tried everything. Yes, even rice flour cake and potato vodka, but to no avail. One thing was certain: she longed for something more than alternative, carbo-loading.

Old questions that she thought she had resolved, or resolved that she could never resolve, suddenly re-emerged. The most persistent, nagging question being: What are you doing with your life?

Soul: Did that question: “To whom/what will I give my life?” just tug at you again?

Girl: No.

Soul: I thought I heard something about discerning what to make out of this beautiful gift of life we are each given.

Girl: I think you have selective hearing.  Do all souls have selective hearing?

Soul: Maybe that question is pushing you to re-evaluate your current life path.

Girl: For your information, what that question was really getting at is actually a very superficial quandary about wealth and fame.

Soul: Nooo . . .

Girl: Yes. That question was goading me on, insinuating: “when will you MAKE it?”  You know, as in: “When will you make it BIG?”

[Biographer’s note: Although she has masked these questions as coming from another source, her preoccupation with fame had dogged her since childhood.]

It would not be a stretch to state that she had, on more than one occasion, contemplated how her life would be appraised in the future. Though it would be foolish of her to ever admit it, she often caught herself saying certain things or carrying out certain actions in the awareness of “legacy building.” (That time she gave her muffin away to the homeless man on the subway? Image branding.)

Of course, this is not to say that she didn’t have a conscience. She did. It was just managed by her internal PR firm.

 

Now, where was she? Oh yes: moping. It’s the same old thing . . . this heaviness . . . in her chest. It had taken her some time, but she was getting somewhere. She now knew that this sinking feeling flooded her when she moved to a new place and was forced to revisit daunting questions and thoughts about what she had thus far accomplished in life.

What had she accomplished?! She had not accomplished anything at her age that people destined for greatness typically accomplish. There was no internet start-up, she had not traveled to Africa, and she had not founded an NGO. She could not say that she was well traveled; it might even be a stretch to say that she was well read. Then again, is there really a standard definition of “well read” in this fragmented, postmodern world?

 

[Biographer’s note: There is a standard definition of “well read.” She did not meet the requirements.]

She could not even answer the very simple question: “What do you do?” in any sort of satisfactory way. Open-ended titles such as “entrepreneur,” “artist,” or “revolutionary” all sounded too pompous, and more generic lobs like: “I work in fashion,” “I work in marketing,” or “I am a web developer,” were largely untrue.

She could not really even say what she had been doing for the last few years. Unlike during her school years, at the end of a year she no longer had a stack of essays as tangible testament to her productivity, nor would she necessarily have an accolade to add to her resume under the section “Awards and Honors.” Now, months and years passed with little to no marked accomplishments.

Yes, life was very unlike school. Life was indifferent towards her. Life required the accomplishment of daily tasks, without the recognition of a gold star or an “A.”

 

The lines from that famous song “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere . . . ” popped into her head. The lyrics, unaccompanied by their jovial tune, circled menacingly around in her head causing her to confront a startling revelation: Is the inverse of this infamous song equally true? If you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere?! She shuddered at the thought. It wasn’t the first time this thought had occurred to her, but today it felt personal. Somewhat startled by her newest realization, she called home.

“Hello?”

It was her father. His voice always sounded surprised when answering the phone, possibly incredulous that he had reached it before his wife. Initial greetings and inquiries were exchanged before he finally provided her the necessary segue she was waiting for when he asked:

“How are you doing?”

 

In a loud, straining sigh, she exhaled all of the air in her lungs, so as to indicate that she was really not doing well. And then, she brought her deep, dark, secret into the light:

“Dad, I am just not ‘good’ at life.”

 

[Biographer’s note: She was not simply ill equipped for the real world in a: “I need to take a couple of courses in In-Design to hone my skill-set” kind of way. No. The problem was far more serious than that. She had first discovered signs of her incompetency at life when working a summer job requiring her to work a cash register. In order to save face, she had pretended that she preferred stocking the shelves in the back. But now, in the real world, there was nowhere to hide.]

“You know,” she continued to her father,

“ . . . There are those kinds of people who understand how electricity powers our homes, who know how to do their own taxes, who are comfortable driving in a city, buying an apartment. Certain kinds of people have an innate sense of what life is and how it works and therefore are capable of living well.”

She eloquently, if deterministically, explained.

“I am not one of these people.  I am just not good at . . . ” her voice cracked before she could finish her sentence.

Her father jumped in to comfort her by clarifying that there are a number of people living in the world who don’t necessarily understand how life works. He even joked that there were a number of people on the earth less than beneficial to the world as a whole. “But,” uncorking his finest reserves of wisdom he posited, “you can get your taxes done by H+R Block. Lots of people do it.”

“Really?!” She squeaked into the phone, her register rising as a result of this hopeful morsel. He could hear her sniffling, vacuuming the tears scattered across her face back up into their appropriate ducts. He took this to be a good sign.

“And who cares if you know how to drive,” he continued, “You have the bus!” In his exuberance, he had gotten cocky. This last suggestion caused her to think about her future: “Yeah, for now, it’s OK, but I won’t live here forever, and . . . then . . . whattt?!”

Her voice shifted from a quiver to a full-blown tremor. Tears poured from her eyes like two rivers, irrigating the skin on either side of her face. Grasping for straws, her father proposed: “If you want, I can explain to you how electricity works?” There was a pause. Her father anxiously grimaced on the other end of the phone. But, surprisingly, she nodded in agreement. Moments later, when the line was still silent, she realized that he hadn’t seen her head bob. Uttering a delayed “Mmhmm” into the phone, she indicated for him to go ahead.

They discussed the matter for quite some time, but at the end of her impromptu science lesson, she wasn’t sure that she had mastered the chapter. Still, for her father’s sake, she pretended that she understood more than she did and assured him that it had all been very helpful and that she felt much better. He was audibly relieved as he hung up.

Gazing at her surroundings, she noticed the houses, the cars and the quaint, Martha Stewart-esque, Valentines Day themed flags flapping on the poles outside front doors. It all looked so ideal, and, for the first time in her life, so desirable. The widely held belief that “money can’t buy you happiness” seemed a mere hyperbole.

Fully cemented in the awareness of her utter inadequacy at life, she became monumentally despondent. Dramatically, she flopped on the sidewalk curb. She wanted to scream to the heavens, in the off chance that something would happen. However, she decided against it. [Biographer’s note: Although she would later relay to others that this decision stemmed from a moral unwillingness to be complicit in perpetuating a clichéd Hollywood convention, it more probably was sheer cowardice.]

Sure, the last few years had not entirely been in vain. She was discovering a lot about herself; she just wasn’t sure she liked the self she was discovering. Her mind, being the fontofwisdomquotes.com site that it was, recalled that saying by Jack Kerouac, or someone else, about needing to “lose your self in order to find yourself.”

It all seemed so risky. She didn’t feel like she had enough time. It was getting dark; she wouldn’t want to worry her roommates.

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The Hostess and the Tree Branch

There was nothing terrible about her job.  She was not being asked to toil in the hot sun nor was she whipped and taunted by the higher ups.  Sure, she sometimes had to sweep the area by the door, and unfolding the ladder each time she needed to access a coat from the top rack was tedious, if not entirely annoying, but, by a great number of the world’s standards, it could be considered a good job… maybe even a great job.  And yet, the thought of heading to work each day was enough to make her stomach turn.  The more she thought about the impending hour her shift would begin, the more upset she became.

Milling around her apartment she noisily sighed, letting out loud bursts of frustrated air in the form of a “gahhhh” and a “uughhhhh” here and there so as to indicate to her sister Frances, who sat quietly at her desk by the window steadfastly working, that she was not ecstatic about her job.  She walked over to the bathroom to fix her hair.  Looking at herself in the mirror she smiled and mouthed “Hi! Welcome! Good evening! May I take your coat?”  She practiced her large, plastic smile and noticed how her eyes crinkled when she did so.  She was not yet 25 and she could see the crow’s feet forming.

Leaving the bathroom she walked into the hallway and put on her black coat over her black dress and black sweater.  She pulled up her black tights and slipped on her black flats. No wonder she felt depressed.

She looked at her watch: 4:15.  She didn’t have to be at work for another fifteen minutes.  As it was only a three-minute walk to work, she plopped into the chair by the door.

She considered picking up a book or writing a letter, but there wasn’t time enough to read or write.  She had already “used” Rihanna’s powerful musical meth the last two days in order to synthesize enough adrenaline-like chemicals to work up the courage to traipse around the corner to her place of employment.  Today, she decided, she would mix it up with a pre-work cry.

Worried that her tears might interrupt her sister working a mere yard away, she thoughtfully decided that she would resist the temptation of an all-out sob.   Instead, she would settle for the quieter kind of crying isolated in the eye region, rather than the noisier kind that swells up from the heart.  She had neither the time for nor the luxury of such a noisy catharsis.

As tears gathered in her eyes, her nose began to run a little.  She knew there was a physiological correlation, but, like many things in life, she barely understood it. She attempted to quietly wipe her nose as she sat in her chair.  Unfortunately, it is entirely impossible to do anything quietly when wearing a water-resistant nylon jacket.  Hearing the noise her movement was making, she paused, mid-nose-wipe in order to ascertain whether Frances had noticed.

Frances had impeccable hearing; or, perhaps it was the fact that the apartment was no larger than a medium-sized shoebox.  Regardless, her typing ceased and she turned to caringly inquire as to what was wrong.  Slouching in her cushy chair, the perpetrator of noise hid behind the basket full of scarves obstructing the view between herself and Frances.  She made no reply.

She didn’t want to burden Frances with her emotions, and she knew that if she tried to verbalize her feelings she would end up talking about some totally irrelevant cause for her tears.  It wasn’t the fact that she hadn’t heard from a boy, who was supposedly interested in her, for over two weeks.  Of course, she always felt better when her relationships were clearly defined and the lines of communication were operating freely, but it wasn’t like a simple text or email couldn’t have solved this… It wasn’t the fact that all of her other friends were attending grad school and adventurously exploring the world while she was…well… it didn’t matter, it wasn’t about that.  And it was not simply a matter of her progesterone levels.

She was tired of “soul-searching”, of “mysteries” and confessions.  Nothing was wrong.  She was shedding tears inexplicably, like one unknowingly sheds skin cells.

Seeking to bring hope to despair and light to blackness, Frances took the silence to be her cue.  Opening the windows and inviting the neighborhood pigeons to gather round and listen on the window ledge, she began her motivational sermon about how all of this was “normal”, and, most importantly, “temporary”.  Providing a number of examples from her own life, Frances recalled the menial tasks and jobs she had performed on her own long and hard-fought road to success.  This long road caused her to remember Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, and so she discussed this too, citing his overarching thesis that, at a minimum, success takes 10,000 hours of practice at any given task, job, etc.

The perpetrator of noise and purveyor of blackness remained inconsolable.  Rudely looking at her watch, she nodded her head and wiping away her tears, got up from her chair.  She zipped up her black nylon jacket (scaring away the pigeons), grabbed her purse, said goodbye and headed out the door.  She knew that everything Frances had said was right, but this didn’t stop an additional tear or two from escaping her eyes as she descended the stairs.   This time, as there was nothing but brown carpet underfoot to disturb, she brushed them away as noisily as her jacket allowed.

Exiting the building, she walked down the street, passed the school and the drug store, and turned the corner to enter the door of Lingram’s Restaurant.  There was something deadening about the environment.  She couldn’t tell if it was her, or the lingering seafood smell in the air.  Seeing who her co-hostess was for the evening, her feelings of foreboding deepened; she said hello to “Tree Branch” and hung up her coat.  After completing her task, she took her place at the door and began her own, long and hard-fought road: to engage Tree Branch in conversation for the duration of her shift.

For starters, she asked all of the questions standard to a journalistic interrogation, commonly referred to as “making small talk.”   She asked Tree Branch about her place of birth, hometown, family, education, interests and present whereabouts.  Usually, even the most self-interested conversationalist, noting an imbalance in the exchange, will dutifully throw the other person a bone and inquire as to where she went to school.  But, Tree Branch had no use for reciprocating polite inquiries.

Usually in the course of a conversation, certain distractions typically arise that result in a tangential detour. Usually.  But Tree Branch had dutifully answered all questions in the most exacting manner so as to trim the fat of unnecessary verbiage and preemptively quash potential conversational leads.

As her limited supply of conversational resources had been exhausted, she had little left to do but stare out the window with Tree Branch.  Luckily, she noticed a pen and a tiny note pad sitting on the hostess stand.  She grabbed for both items and began to jot down a few observations:

1. Questions regarding educational background can usually spur five to ten follow up questions.  But, this depends entirely on area of study.  Case in point:

Theatre major: you can discuss auditions and who their celebrity “exceptions” are, were they to find themselves in a monogamous relationship.  But mostly, engage them, or even just look at them and smile, and they will happily carry the conversation about themselves.

VS

Marketing major: you can discuss….  Maybe a starter question would be to ask if they like Marketing?  They will most likely respond “yes.”  See if they bite on a discussion of InDesign?

2. Questions about hometown and current area of residence can only buy you one or two follow-up questions at most before you enter stalker territory.

3.  If one is really grasping at conversational straws, complimenting the other person’s shoes is OK, but ultimately, a dead-end: “thank you”.

Reading over the conversational pointers she had just created, it dawned on her that she had failed to ask Tree Branch one of the most obvious, small talk generating questions known to the city’s inhabitants.  Carefully phrasing her question, so as to ensure it forced a more lengthy response from Tree Branch, she made eye contact before opening her mouth to spontaneously ask:

Have you lived in New York long?

[Tree Branch, turning towards her, took the bait.  She even provided an open-ended response.]

“Well… it’s interesting that you ask…”

Oh, really?

“Yes, because someone just asked me that question this afternoon.”

No!

“Yes, and…”

What did you tell them?

“Well, I told them that I had lived here for a little over a year.”

Oh, so you’re a recent “import”?

“Well, yes and no.”

Hmm….

“You see, the thing is, that’s not entirely true.”

Aha. Wow. Tell me more!

“Yes. I realized that I have been living here for two years now.“

Oh.  So it was entirely untrue rather than not entirely true …

“Yes.  I guess I liked the sound of saying “just over a year” and so I had continued to say that… even though it really wasn’t the case anymore.”

Mmhhm… Yeah, I could see how that would have a non-committal “ring” to it. Ha!

“Yeah.  I mean, two years sounds so much more official, you know?  And, I am not one for ostentation.”

She wasn’t sure she did know, but she was cognizant of the fact that Tree Branch had incorrectly used a noun.  But, semantics aside, she tried to focus on her recent success: her interest in unearthing and specifying every minute detail of this coma-inducing conversation had successfully killed almost fifteen minutes.

Reveling in her victory, she accepted the present lull and decided to take a breather. Tree Branch kindly agreed to watch over the door so that she could go get a drink. She couldn’t help but feel a sudden pang of guilt as a result of this small act of kindness; her own self-important behavior this evening and her cold good bye to Frances earlier in the afternoon.

Selecting “room temperature still” from the array of water options listed on the machine, she considered Frances’s earlier pep talk.  Given how hard she had worked at passing the last few minutes, 10,000 hours was a daunting figure.  Did her time at Lingram’s technically even count towards her individual tally? Assuming it did not, how and when, if ever, would she amass the hours necessary?

Standing alone in the dimly lit back room, she thirsted for understanding.  Sipping from her plastic container of water, the following meditation came to mind:

Where there is darkness, dining room candles need to be replenished; even when there is fullness, give them specialty-bagged cookies before they leave.

For it is in giving smiles, matches and toothpicks that you receive tips.

She hoped it was as Frances had said.  She hoped her time here would only be temporary.  But really, there was nothing terrible about the job; everyone had to do their time.

Border Crossing

“You will take the fruit, the sandwiches and the yogurt,” my sister instructs me.

“What? Why?” I ask. “Because they will already be asking me more questions. You will go behind me.  We can’t be together, ok?” “What? You’re leaving me?” She is making me nervous.

“I’m going to say I’m travelling alone. It will be better for us both that way.” “So you’re breaking up with me?  It’s not me, it’s you…it will be better for us both…  What are you talking about?  Why are you telling me this?” “Get ready,” she warns.

We are at the border.  It always feels like this.  There is something guilt inducing about crossing borders. We are hustled off the bus and ushered inside.  My stomach twists.

It is incredibly cold inside but I resist putting on my sweater.  Something, something… “the right to bare arms”… After all, I don’t want them to think that I am trying to hide something.  I have nothing to hide.  No way. Not me.  Fruit? Sandwiches? Yogurt?  Is that street slang? I don’t even know what those illicit substances are.

Two lines form.  My line advances ahead of the line my sister is in.  I try not to look at her.  I also try not to notice that she is a mere three feet away from me.  There she is.  Right there.  Howdy Partner! I could literally reach my arm out and give her a jab in the shoulder, with my finger gun, and say something like: “This is a stiiickkk up!”

Do NOT do that, my brain instructs me, embarking on his own ego trip.  The border guards have obviously inspired him.  Next thing I know, there will be checkpoints between my cerebral lobes.  I know, I know: “We Are Not Together.” I drone in appeasement.

My line moves slowly.  I keep my gaze solidly fixed on… nothing.  I try not to look at anyone, while being cautious not to look away from anyone–that could be perceived as dodgy.  I follow protocol and join ranks, putting my backpack up on the scanner.  I double-check with the security guard that it’s ok that my laptop is inside.  He responds: “It only erases part of your laptop’s memory, not all of it.”  My face clearly shows signs of distress, as the guard informs me that he was making a joke.  I release the tension in my lower back.  Ahhh.  A joke, that’s fun.

My sister is called forward.  I don’t look up.  I don’t want to draw attention to myself, should they detect any resemblance in our facial features.  She is being seriously questioned.  For the record, others have, once or twice, noted the general shape of our noses.

In line, they do a quick search of my lunch bag.  I have arranged it as my sister instructed me.  Then, they tear my suitcase from my hands.  Ok, maybe that’s not entirely true.  Ok, it’s not at all true.  Regardless, what is true is that my suitcase is sailing down the conveyor belt and I am sweating a little.  But then, my whole body freezes as I suddenly remember.  Oh GodFruit, Yogurt and sandwiches…who cares! I have bags of loose tea, from my mother, sitting on top of the clothing in my suitcase! Goldenseal, and marigold, lying there, fully exposed!

I am nervously shifting my weight, alternating between a plié and contropposto stance, desperately trying to think of various winning rebuttals.  I rehearse the first one that comes to mind: But officer, they are “natural” herbs! No, no, no.  That definitely would not cut it…

 

Luckily, I am spared the strain of coming up with more winsome refutations as moments later my luggage trots out of the baggage scanner looking triumphal, but war-torn.  I can tell that she has been through a lot on my behalf.  I still lie awake at night wondering: How did that machine know the difference between marigold and marijuana?  I’ll never know.  I am in awe of you, powerful technology.  I grab her and pull her to my side.

Back in line, I look over to find that the officer is still grilling my sister.  He is married, I notice.  Or, at least wears a ring on the forefinger of his left hand.  1 out of the 4 officers behind the counter wear some such similar ring. There is only 1 woman amongst the 4 guards.  Less than 25% of all border guards self-identify as women. My sister is smiling.  Prematurely, I take this to be a good sign.  Then, I notice that the border guard is not smiling.  Bad sign.  Of those who participated in our border control survey: 5% answered affirmatively to the contentious statement “I have smiled while on the job.”

 

As I am contemplating this, a man in front of me rolls over my foot with his enormous suitcase.  He then turns around to say: “careful, watch your toes!”  I thank him for his thoughtfulness.  In another place, at another time, I might have said something different in response, but presently, I bear this ill silently for fear that someone should see that we are talking, i.e. conspiring.  The sign in the middle of the wall suddenly commands my attention: “You are not allowed to argue with or threaten the guards.” I imagine this means no feeding or poking sticks through their cages too.

Now I am summoned.  I take a deep breath and walk forward.

Guard: What is the purpose of your travels?

Me: To see friends and family.

Guard: To see friends and family?

Me: Yes.

Guard: No, repeat what you just said.

Me: Umm… “To see friends and family”

Guard: No, from the beginning… “The purpose of my travels is to…”

Me: Oh. “The purpose of my travels is to see friends and family”?

Guard: Final answer?

Me: Yes…

Guard: No, say it.

Me: Oh, umm….

Guard: Say: “Final Answer.”

Me: Oh. “Final Answer.”

Guard: Have a good trip!

Me: Thanks.  You too!

Dang.  As soon as the words leave my mouth, I know it’s the wrong response.  He’s not going on a trip.  Whatever.  It’s just that he had me all caught up in that “repeat after me” stuff.

I exit the building and look for my sister.  There she is.  I march over to her. “Hey, what was THAT all about?!”  “We’ll talk about it once we’re back on the bus”, she hurriedly responds, moving away from me as if dodging the burdensome queries of some weirdo smelling of Doritos.  I get it.  I practice my whistling and take another stab at self-hypnosis: I am just a regular-ol’-passenger-person who happens to have met a look-alike on my bus tour.  Just a coincidence, ho-hum, whistles, whistle, whistle. The line moves onto the bus and I rush to the middle to grab two seats.

Finally, back on the bus and seated, I am hoping that we can be sisters again.  As we get ourselves situated I quietly whisper “OK! So What Happened?” (“Quietly whisper?” An outright lie: more like exclaimed loudly.)  She tells me that they needed proof of her residency to ensure that she would leave the country again come fall.  But the “100% real” “juice” of the matter, the “pulp” of the situation, the “seedy” detail was that her file had been flagged.

Me: Flagged?? Why?!

Sister: Apparently I brought a clementine into the U.S. a number of years ago.

Me: Apparently?! (Gasping for air, my heart palpitating, I move as many inches away from this unconscionable smuggler as I can.) So that’s why you weren’t willing to put the fruit in your own bag. Wow.  What a set up! It’s all so biblical!

Sister: You are nuts.

Me: No. I am Benjamin.  You are Joseph: the malicious one, placing a silver cup in my bag!

Sister:  One would be so lucky as to have nothing more than a silver cup discovered amongst their belongings at the border.  Sure, there might be duty fees, but they wouldn’t flag your profile.

Me: I think you’re making light of this.  I am suffering from pangs of guilt and possibly even PTBD.

Sister: PTBD…?

Me: Post-Traumatic Border Disorder.  If any of this fruit had been discovered in my bag, my plight could have surpassed that of biblical proportions.

How could she be so cool about it all? This had been a really stressful experience.  I knew I needed to calm down.  I reached into my bag and pulled out a small container and proceeded to lick the white stuff off the lid.  My sister looked alarmed, or maybe just surprised. “You got that through?!”

“Want a hit?” I say, softening my earlier tone and cracking a smile.  I reach back into my bag and grab a container for her.  “But seriously, how did you…” my sister is still still waiting to hear my explanation.  I try to leave her hanging there, for just a minute more 1,2,3… until I can contain myself no longer.

“You see, dear sestren…” I proudly begin, “While the border guards were busy sniffing out the infamous citrus contraband, and the X-ray machine was scanning for traces of Marigold tea, they failed to notice the 6oz of yogurt slipping into their country undetected.  But, then again, I guess it’s medicinal, right?”  I enjoy a spoonful until, like an annoying parrot, my brain squawks: Final Answer? I attempt my best impersonation, which in actuality is a “Regina Phil-in” nasally counterfeit at best, and respond to my internal border patrol: “Final Answer.”

Normal and Wanted

Typically, she was described as an extrovert; a social butterfly.  Typically, she was not opposed to our communal-centric society.  But tonight, it seemed impossibly problematic. She was alone at a concert.  This was her first concert alone.  As she stood in line outside, in the middle of November, it was not the cold that bothered her– no, the air was quite refreshing; it was just that, well, she was alone.

Behind the couples and clusters of friends, there she stood: her loneliness.  There are certain things that are acceptably done alone… she thought to herself.  Of these few things, “concert going” didn’t immediately come to mind.

Photo by Barrie Humphries.

When she, and the others standing in line, were finally ushered into the lobby, the young people milled about getting drinks, chatting, or drinking and chatting on the couches in the lounge.  Attempting to be like her fellow youngsters, she too got in line to get a drink.  Unfortunately, she had never established a “favorite” drink and so as not to keep anyone waiting, she ended up ordering what the person next to her had just ordered. “PBR” she echoed to the bartender taking her order.  As she would later learn, “PBR” (Pabst Blue Ribbon) did not sit particularly well with her.  She enjoyed the design of the label and had no qualms with the company’s marketing strategy or environmental record; it was the taste of PBR that made her queasy.

She decided to walk around the lounge under the pretext of looking for someone, in the hopes that someone would talk to her, if only to ask her if she was looking for someone.  In the past, she had been told that her confident air could be perceived as threatening to men, and therefore, tonight, she consciously attempted to look unconfident i.e. “open” and “accessible”, as others had put it.  In her attempt to look the part, you would be putting it kindly to say that she “overshot” her target.  In attempting to achieve the doe-eyed look she thought would convey “open,”  she rolled her pupils back in her head rather than widening her eyes and gazing distantly to the left, and then to the right, as every other young woman in the room knew to do.  And her open mouth looked less like the simpering pout of a model, than a gasp for air or the unfortunate result of an involuntary muscle response.

After touring the room in hopes of connecting with the people around the lounge, she noticed that a line was forming.  Without knowing what the line was for, she jumped in.  Feeling especially “ballsy” (she hated that word, but due to its common usage among young people she repeatedly found it surface in her vocabulary), she asked the girls in line ahead of her what the line was for?  As it turned out, the line was for those wanting to first get into the concert hall.  Not a bad place to be, she thought to herself, as she relaxed her eyes and closed her mouth, allowing her face to return to its natural, if intimidating, self.

Since her attempt at looking “open” and “accessible” had run amuck, she deduced that she really had only one option left.  She would pretend to be a social critic who attends concerts not for personal enjoyment, but to document the mundanity of music in the post-hipster revival of Williamsburg.

Really?  That’s your only option? She found her mind second-guessing her recent epiphany.

“Yes.” She tried to sound confident in her response.

Why don’t you just try and be over-the-top friendly and introduce yourself to people around you?

Because, that would be inherently risky.  I could be perceived as: a) needy b) friendless c) weird or d) needy, friendless and, weird.”

Right, sure, I see, because pretending to be a social critic to avoid the reality that you are alone at a concert doesn’t make you needy, friendless, or weird.

She could think of no quick response to this insulting insinuation.

Besides, if you were a social critic attending a concert you would need a BlackBerry or an Iphone to pretend that you are networking with, nay, running, the entire world. Given the lowly status of your phone I would say are you capable of accomplishing little more than receiving a phone call.

You’re right. I can text.” She haughtily pretended to feign indifference to the demeaning comments made about her and her phone.  At least she had a response this time.

After this exchange, she felt quite deflated.  In a last brave effort, she grabbed for her cell phone.  Despite the lack of a posse surrounding me, she thought, at least I’ll look like I’m loved. She began texting friends so that they would respond, in order to create the illusion for the people around her that she was someone of importance; someone who was spontaneously and constantly remembered by friends, loved ones and suitors.

But she couldn’t shake the nasty comments her mind had earlier posited and so she texted her guru for advice….

how do I pretend to look

cool while standing alone in

a lounge waiting to be let in

to a concert?

…And received this response:

Just keep moving.

Look normal and

wanted.

Normal AND Wanted? Ever more frustrated by what seemed to be impossible advice, she nonetheless mulled over the guru’s advice in her mind.

She asked the girls ahead of her whom noticed had Iphones if they would look up the Merriam Webster Dictionary definition of “normal”.  They seemed more than a little surprised by this request, but kindly obliged.  The one with the dark glasses and bangs touched some buttons on her phone and pinched her fingers all over the screen before reading: “Conforming to a standard, usual, typical, or expected…umm…. A person free from physical or mental disorders.” She thanked the girls for their assistance and let them know that they could turn around again if they wanted.  They did.

Interesting, she thought to herself. Attempting to crack her guru’s Mensa text she began to slowly contemplate each word and its situational meaning.  Conforming… to the standard… of… Williamsburg (for instance)… could not be described as universally “expected” or “usual”…. She wasn’t getting very warm.

Normal: A person free from physical or mental disorders: again, totally subjective, she mouthed to herself.  Her mind drifted to the larger cultural constructions of “normal”.   Then, she remembered a t-shirt a friend had given her when she was in middle school.  The “baby T”, as they were called, had “Not Normal” written across the chest.  “Baby T’s”, though short and un-flattering with scarring slogans written on them had been all the rage.  She had vigorously fought with her mother to allow her to wear the shirt, employing coercive language like: “it’s cool,” “there’s nothing wrong with it” and “everyone else wears these shirts.”

It was not until she had won the right to wear the shirt that she began to consider the ramifications of her victory.  Questions arose in her mind, such as: “Was my friend insinuating something when she gave me this t-shirt?” and “Does this shirt say something to others about me?”  But it was too late.  She had won, and pride dictated that she had to wear, and enjoy wearing, the shirt.  Looking back now, she couldn’t help but feel resentful and embarrassed about the cruel game that had been played on her by children’s marketing moguls.

Is it karma, she wondered, that I, who fought to wear a shirt branding me “Not Normal”, now stand here alone? She felt pangs of guilt.  The idea was too weighty a burden.  She decided not to blame herself.  It was the culture at large that was to blame.

In substantiating her critique of the culture at large she questioned: are women more than men subject to solitary stigmatization in society than men? Good question.  But, she was too busy congratulating herself for coining the term “solitary stigmatization” to answer her own question.  She then wondered if even something as individual and spontaneous as dancing relies partly on the gaze of others? She concluded that it did. Dancing alone typically results in solitary stigmatization… And what about laughter? To laugh alone is to label yourself a psychopath! She giggled to herself at the thought of this ridiculous taboo.  She was on a roll. She had tested her theory on the three big matters: gender, dance and laughter. Ok, she thought, this is all coming together.

As she was thinking about her potential-thesis-dissertation-topic, theory of solitary stigmatization, she remembered that she had forgotten to examine the second word in the text from her guru.  Look (1) Normal and (2) Wanted.  In shaking up her mental gymnastics routine she decided to examine this word by asking the inverse question it evoked: what does un-wanted look like? While a number of names and labels sprang to mind she dismissed them, pushing onward.

How does one look “wanted”? Is it a matter of wearing the right garb or accessories?  She looked around the room in an attempt to see if the people in the music hall could provide any clues.  She was overwhelmed by a wave of confusing imagery.  Young people were dressed in all manner of clothing from torn and scuffed to ruffled and feathered.  She even thought she recognized her grandmother’s glasses on a number of girls.  Only one thing was clear; she had gained no insight from the world around her.

As she stood there, alone and more confused then ever, she felt a great heaviness in her heart.  And then the light bulb flashed.  The puzzle had finally come together.  She laughed out loud.  She couldn’t help herself. Loud reams of laughter poured out of her mouth.  The girl ahead of her with the Iphone and the bangs turned around.  The bartender pouring someone a PBR looked at her.  The couples sitting on the couch pulled their faces away from each other and craned their necks to see what was going on.

The joke is on me,” she said out loud.  No one disagreed, although, no one said anything either.  “If you want to get very Meta about it you could say the joke is not simply on me but that the joke is me.”  Everyone waited for the punch line.  She delivered. “Look NORMAL, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and WANTED while alone at a concert. Ha!”

Silence.

She thought these people in particular should have appreciated the irony. But they didn’t seem to get it.  A number of people exited to use the restroom; many more got back in line for another PBR and still more grabbed for their phones.  The puzzle had finally come together.  Meta. She shrugged her shoulders and mumbled to herself.  She knew this one.  Denoting a change of position or condition.

Death by Taradiddle

Your thumbs are aching.  Your wrists are burning.  But, you persevere.  You hit send. You smile as you picture the delight on the face of the receiver who will open your clever little text.

It was once believed that it is “better to give than to receive.” However, in this advanced day and age of texting, we now know that the value of “giving” is equal to or less than the intoxicating notification that you have received.

Your phone vibrates and the light flashes. Your adrenaline surges as you click “Read Now.” The message: a witty quip providing an intimate snapshot into the life of another. It is akin to reading a status update on Facebook but better, as this is privately, intimately, just for you. You smile and even giggle aloud while staring at your tiny screen.

Brief insight into my life: my family
eats pre-packaged dinners and watches
Wheel of Fortune re-runs while I enjoy
Pushkin and Proust.

Wow, a very successful text: succinct and clever with a dash of intellectual intrigue. Now it’s your turn. You’ve got to make a play. And if you’re a real competitor, it has to be equal to or greater than what you’ve received.  But here’s where it can all get very complicated very fast. Do you respond immediately? Do you respond openly and honestly?

What’s a Pushkin? Neva mind.
Will Wiki.

Or,

I hate pre-fab food n
think Wheel of F
is total kitsch.

The answer is NO. You don’t. You play the game. After a little background research into the subjects mentioned in the text received, you respond with something equally impressive (the first quote listed on Wikipedia by Alexander Pushkin), though completely uninformative about yourself:

“The illusion which exalts
us is dearer to us than
ten-thousand truths.”

Home Run.
______________________________________
Mind: What?! What is that?!

 

Ego: A quote by Pushkin.

 

Mind: Yeah, but you didn’t even know who he was until you Googled him?!

 

Ego: Wikipedia-ed. I had heard the name once before.

Mind: So now you’re pretending that you share a common love of Russian literature?

Acting as if this quote is memorized, ready, and waiting at the front of your brain? . . . Filed away just before the Yahoo dating tips you’ve actually memorized? I know you. You fraud.

 

Ego: Well, I think you’ll agree that it’s a pretty impressive li(n)e to send.
______________________________________

They say that 55% of communication is non-verbal, 38% is vocal, and a mere 7% is written[1]. But these statistics need not apply. Times have changed. Person-to-person communication has been downgraded. It is not uncommon to find people zoning out of your conversation, dropping their heads from your eyes to the gaze of a 2½-inch screen, to satisfy their textual cravings with others. To add insult to injury, they will then most likely ask you to repeat entire missed chapters of the conversation: as if you were nothing more than an open Kindle offering conversation on demand[2].

As the bulk of our communication increasingly falls into what should be the smallest category of all, the results are disenchanting. Recently at a party, a momentary lull in conversation saw everyone grabbing at pockets or digging in purses for their cell phones. These addicts were desperate for a hit: to send a text, check the time, anything. Which brings us to our first lesson in contemporary communication. Let’s call it Taradiddle[3] 101:

Whatever you do, you are not to make the effort to start a conversation with a new person in person. If you want to get to know the cute girl sitting on the couch next to you, you overhear her name. (Worst-case scenario you resort to conversation with her to ask for her name.)  You may then proceed to use your “Facebook for iPhone” app to add the cute girl sitting next to you as a “friend.” Once “friend-ing” has occurred, you may proceed to poke her (via Facebook, of course). From there, if you are lucky, things may even progress to reciprocal wall postings.

Overhauling age-old communication practices is not without consequence. The stakes are high; I don’t mean to scare you but, with texting, the margin for communicative error increases by tenfold[4] while the likelihood of taradiddle increases by ten thousand-fold. (On the homeland security advisory system this would be level orange. No, red.)

The most obvious reason for an increase in communication error is that texts are short, thereby restricting the amount of communication possible. The very size of the keypad limits, or I should say, lessens the possibility of texting novellas to friends. Realistically, to even touch the correct letter on the miniature keypad with our clumsy mammoth hands is meritorious. As a result, words are used sparingly and editing of texts is infrequently, if ever, done.

Of course, for strong, silent types, this all sounds positive. A “pro,” if we’re keeping tally. But, before you smile shyly on the inside, let’s move on to the real con[5]. One ill-placed exclamation mark, a mis-typed word, a poorly phrased sentence — possibly resulting from one apple juice too many — is all it takes to send the wrong message. . . .

f u! wake up with tonsillitis
you’ll no who 2 blame :)

. . . and the wrong message is all it takes to kill a budding romance or a flirtatious fling.

But I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking I am way ahead of you. You’re thinking: I have never had trouble communicating effectively via text because I routinely employ the greatest technologically-facilitated-emotional-communications-advancement-ever-to-have-hit-the-free-world. Emoticons.[6] But before we all employ the emoticon-wearing-a-party-hat to celebrate the emotional communications gap that has been filled, let’s not forget that all smiles are not created equal.

While it is possible to convey certain universal experiences such as: “Hey, look at me, I’m wearing sunglasses” and “I love you so much, hearts are literally exploding out of my face,” it is far more difficult to convey the nuance of human expression through emoticons. Why? Consider the variables that affect the meaning of a single spoken word: the volume, intonation, and the sound of the voice, as well as the movements of the face and body. Body language is subtle and varied. Discerning the emotion being conveyed via an emoticon? Blatant.  No emoticon can do our real emotional experiences justice[7].  Emoticons are too over-the-top to convey real emotion or to rouse empathy from the person receiving the message. The moment you add the “crying” emoticon, to show your long-distance lover that you really are tearing up at your keyboard, you instantly have made a mockery of your own emotional state. Emoticons are less an indicator of emotion than a representational satire on the states of emotion.

Therefore, emoticons =  :( .

While emoticons may not be the answer to all of our texting woes, all is not woeful when it comes to texting. In fact, many taradiddlers[8] would argue that there are numerous advantages of texting. For example, we can now get to know someone by text rather than having to be with them, which requires a decision and thus, an effort. It is also far easier to tolerate someone via text rather than in person. Neuroticism can come across as an endearing character trait and elusive behavior adds an aura of mystery.

But, just as the letters “xoxo” typed at the end of a message are eventually an unsatisfying replacement for the gestures they symbolize, likewise, clever text messages are no substitute for the real, in-your-face deal.  Granted, it can be enjoyable to play the taradiddle game. But, be ready to call foul. And to have your foul called.


[1]Contrary to contemporary behavior, the bulk of human communication was apparently not intended to exist vis-à-vis miniature keypad.

[2] High Definition conversation available for a nominal fee.

[3] Real word. Get out Miriam Webster. OK, fine . . . defined as “pretentious nonsense.” Aka: B.S.

[4] Shocking, but statistically fictitious.

[5] Dear strong, silent types, thank you for quietly waiting while I delivered my pre-ramble. Is it presumptive of me to say that I expected nothing less?

[6] You weren’t ahead of me; I was busy picking the perfect emoticon with a smug look on his round yellow face to show you that I knew where you were heading all along. :)

[7] Perhaps in the future we will have a new line of emoticons with real, high-def emotional performance capabilities and this statement will be proved false. However, at press time, I stand by this strong, if technologically insensitive and personally subjective, statement.

[8] Those who dabble in the art of taradiddle.

I Can’t Get Married

Stichting Beurs van Berlage - vrij gebruik
Image via Wikipedia

Years of feminist theory, my inner struggles over critical gender issues (such as who should open the door for whom), individualistic goals to achieve power and prestige in order to bolster the cause of womankind – poof! Vanished, in an instant. In this moment, described by couples as a “love conversion” or by single persons as a “dark night of the soul,” the surging hormones in my mind proceeded to contemplate such dangerous questions as these: Why am I so caught up in this “feminist” thing? Male or female, what does it matter?

What does it matter?!! The ideological side of my brain had awoken and was looking to pick a fight with my heart over the problematic construct of gender reinforced in marriage.

My heart cross-examined: Why do you hold such anger and bitterness over something as beautiful as love?

My brain was in no mood to listen to such a weak, easily swayed, pheromone-altered organ, but my mind felt powerless to stop it all from happening: years of gender discourse on nature-versus-nurture were being washed away by an attractive, masculine tsunami hitting my feebly-constructed feminist shanty1.  My preconceived notions and ideological viewpoints were beginning to dissolve at an alarming rate.

The frightening reality is that we’ve all thought about it. We’ve all found ourselves staring wide-eyed at the ceiling in the wee hours of the morning trying to stop ourselves from thinking about it. We feel so guilty about having thought about it that perhaps we deny how much we think about it to others. Those who pretend they have never thought about it are probably the ones who think about it the most.

And you can even picture every gory detail, from the gold embossed lettering on each vellum-coated card stock name card to the freshly cut flora adorning the tables. Twenty tables because we’d need to seat ten to a table, and we would be looking at a small wedding – about two hundred guests. You picture the dress: white. You picture the guy: dashing. You can even picture the wedding night: Disney magical2.

It doesn’t take much. All of this, and I wasn’t even in love.  I wasn’t even on a date.  I just caught a glimpse of the3 guy.  I was lucky this time.  This was only a minor encounter, yet I could still see my feminist views flash before my eyes.

I only divulge this information as a warning: years of carefully-constructed theories can be washed away in an instant if you’re not careful.  So, like any good Girl Scout knows, you can never be too prepared. With this in mind, I felt it was necessary to create a list to remind myself of the reasons why I can’t get married.

I can’t get married because:
1. I need to accomplish everything I have ever wanted to accomplish in my life before I can get married.
You may be thinking this sounds a little backwards – marriage is only the beginning! The beginning of a better life shared with another! However, the reality is: well, see #2 for what the reality is.

2. After marriage I will most likely get pregnant and then do nothing but obsess over which organic baby food to purchase.
That, and which stroller fits his/her individual baby style, what bedroom color suits his/her personality, which university he/she will attend and how prematurely he/she will sexually debut.

3. I need to exhaust myself with work in the field of study I have pursued or I need to exhaust myself by doing work that I hate, in any field.
This of course is so that when I do have children, I will think there is nothing more relaxing than building forts. Out of couch cushions. On an hourly basis. Every. Single. Day.

4. I’m not thin enough.
Now, I don’t mean this in a “no guys will want me,” “tell me I’m pretty,” blah, blah, blah, kind of way. I’m talking about the very real statistic: women gain an average of fifteen pounds after marrying due to lifestyle changes and sit-down meals. Therefore, to break even post-marriage, I would need to preemptively lose weight to counterbalance the impending weight gain.

5. It could be a year and a half, at least, before I achieve my ideal body which would allow me to put on a few extra “marriage pounds”* without looking like a bleached whale (due to skin tone, typo intended).
(*Explained in #4, if you’d read more carefully.)
Since I am not currently dating anyone, this time frame is only calculating when I will be physically ready to begin dating.  Conservatively, at least another year should be added in order to accurately prepare for the oncoming weight gain as a result of stress during the wedding planning stage and finally, the first year of marriage.

6. I have a job right now, so I don’t have the time to put in the necessary effort to attain sculpted honeymoon-ready bodily perfection.

7. I look unattractive when I have the flu.
Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror whilst in the throes of the worst flu of your life?  Do you really think another person (besides your mom) will want to look at you? No. No one does.

8. I need to go to grad school to study feminist theory in order to squelch my natural desire for marriage and children.
I know I want to get married. Or, at least, I used to think I knew this. Things have gotten more complicated since middle school.

9. I have studied, and taken a liking to, feminism.
You’re thinking: pulllleaase, how clichéd. So she read The Feminine Mystique and now she hates men. But, it’s not true.  I haven’t read that book.  I read The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer.

10. I now feel like a member of the very best kind of club: an exclusive club! (The feminist club.)
Like all good, exclusive clubs, there are rules about who can be a member and what members are allowed to do.

11. Having become one of the elect, an enlightened member of the faithful feminists, I can’t help but feel compelled to honor the club by making my life an example of female individuality.

12. I feel compelled to sacrifice my romantic life in order to honor early Church of Feminism doctrines.
(Come to think of it, the nunnery has never made more sense.  I wonder how Germaine Greer would feel, knowing that she was the impetus for women joining the convent.)

13. I want to be unconventional.
So as to avoid following conventions, or worse, appear to be an un-liberated woman, I would like to follow the non-conformist anti-marriage trend.

14. I’ve never related to Cinderella.
Cinderella’s glee at having a prince effortlessly slide a tiny glass slipper on her feet is all too un-relatable.  Don’t your feet sweat, Cinderella?

15. I am more like one of the ugly stepsisters.
I couldn’t wear those cute plastic heeled shoes they sell in packages for little girls.  I had wide, pudgy feet, a la Drissela.

16. I don’t believe in Prince Charming.
I had no early illusions about my prospects with Prince Charming.  If anything, I feared his impending ride into town to test his “if the shoe fits” hypothesis. I was all-too-keenly aware that no prince would have any luck sliding a glass slipper on my foot – unless, by “glass slippers,” Disney meant Birkenstocks.

17. I do believe in happily ever after.
That’s the problem. And to a greater or lesser extent, we all do. We all believe there is happiness in the after (marriage) life. Now, this is not to say that I am banking on daily pony rides into rainbow-land and evenings lit with fireworks.

But, then again, if that’s what marriage is about, consider me a convert.


1. I know, I know.  Strongman sweeps pseudo-feminist girl off her feet (after all, her protestations are only a mask for her own frustration at not having met Prince Charming) and they get married.  Keep reading, you know-it-all critic.

2. Castles not included.

3. The, possibly as in: “I saw him and I knew he was the one”.

photo by:

A Spritz of Patchouli

The North American concept of life relies on a few values: go to school, so you can get a good job, so you can afford a nice car and a big house and other modern luxuries. But what happens to someone who goes to school to study a beloved subject that is neither “useful” nor financially lucrative?

That someone ends up acting like a pretentious snob, to cover up the bitterness.

For example, I was swayed into thinking that making money was boorish (or worse, bourgeois), only for people with degrees in business or marketing – people who become financially successful and marry financially successful persons who share their love of V-neck sweaters and polyester dress pants. These people want a nice life. They want it all, including homes decorated with the latest trends from HomeGoods. (You may ask: “Who doesn’t love to shop at HomeGoods stores?!”, slowly perusing each cluttered shelf for those new, modern accessories we want need to have?)

Unfortunately, my desire to pursue this kind of “good life” has been squelched. I can no longer contemplate this kind of life without a) questioning the motive of manufacturers who create objects that attempt to sell the task of everyday household maintenance to women; b) feeling that it is necessary to find fault with and comment aloud regarding the traditional notions of femininity transmitted; c) decrying the fact that women are North America’s largest consumers, and are therefore the primary target to whom everything is peddled, including pink frying pans, colorfully decorated brooms, and the materialist middle-class ideal of the perfect home.

What sullied my once guiltless consumerism and guileless desire for wealth? Where did these ideas come from? The liberal media? Close. Well, maybe. I don’t know for sure (as knowing would insinuate that there is an objective truth to be comprehended, and I know that this is simply a cultural construct.) I can distinctly trace much of this thinking to what I studied in university.

I’ll give you a hint: no polyester. Think: tights, moccasins, scarves and a spritz, err, drenching, of patchouli.

For most, studying Fine Arts seems to be either a completely useless or (for those kinder souls) utterly trivial pursuit. “Faith’s mother does tole paintings. You’ve seen them, the ones with flowers and birdhouses?  Why don’t you just spend a few afternoons with her?” The choice indicates that you are privileged, or maybe incapable of studying anything “real.” To go into debt to take classes in drawing, or to learn how to design your own paint-by-number pictures, is not valued or comprehended by most.

“Fine Arts? Neat. I can’t draw anything but stick figures.”

(Neither can I. That’s not why I…)

“What was your area of specialty?”

(Photography.)

“Oh, neat. I love taking pictures. I just finished my son’s memory book in fact. I took all my pictures and sent them to Snapfish (it’s so cheap!) and with just one click of the button and I changed them to Sephia. They look amazing!”

(Firstly, it’s Sepia (se-pi-a). Secondly, what I studied was different; it was art, for starters. )

But how do you relay the seriousness of your struggles?  The hours, evenings, and weekends spent in the dark room absorbing carcinogenic chemicals for the sake of art, the offering you have made of your body – cracked and chemical-burnt hands offered to the gods of beauty and the goddesses of originality – in the hopes of receiving affirmation in the form of an A+. Every B.F.A. student wants to believe they can make it as an artist, and consequently, any sign of encouragement, however minor, is immediately etched deep in the brain. A kind word fortifies for months. An off-hand remark such as “I think your work is interesting…” provides the same personal satisfaction as sponsoring a child.

You see, what is truly learned in a B.F.A. degree is not easily conveyed. It has little to do with drawing stick figures. A Fine Arts degree is so much more than the explorations with mosaic pieces in middle school art class might have led you to believe. The B.F.A. has really come a long way. It is largely a degree composed of social, political, and cultural critique with art as the prop, facilitating and driving such exchange. Think of sociology, or literature, but with pictures on the projector screen to hold your attention in class.

The main focus of the B.F.A. is to “encourage” (read: require) the “deconstruction” of everything. This starts with baby steps, learning to question the choice of polymer glue over wood glue for the cardboard box project. At first this seems silly and you worry that discussing these inconsequential matters will never turn you into the cynical, humorless artist so popular in the art world. Your fears are in vain. Little by little, year by year, the constant badgering from your professors requiring you to question every minute detail of your work translates into heavy-duty, real world, cynicism1.

Presuppositions about society, men and women, social and economic factors, personal, political, and religious views are shaken. (This fosters a deep sense of empathy with, and admiration for, all three-year-olds. You relate to them as fellow intellectuals and seekers, so rare today in questioning all forms of hierarchy, and demanding “why?” about everything from their [gender-rigid] blue truck to the reason they have to obey the power structure imposed on them by their genetic donors2. )

This compulsion to question everything, combined with an inability to believe in anything, does put you at high risk3 for leaving art school with your moral compass shattered and in pieces – the pieces you painstakingly glued together in middle school to make a mosaic. However, I have heard that on graduation day some universities add a really nice personal touch: they gift-wrap the remaining pieces of your moral compass and hand you the baggie, along with your diploma, as you walk across the stage, much like a loot-bag at the end of the party. The more shattered pieces you have in your baggie, the more art scholarships you receive.

Years later, many still try to glue the pieces of their shattered compass back together, attempting to merge theory and ideology with lived experience. Still others remain bitter – that they have completed a degree that seems largely useless or irrelevant to most but has left them with more baggage than they can carry, that they will never feel comfortable shopping at HomeGoods again. For some, the discussions are easily forgotten as they move on to grad school or enter the “real world” in the workforce.

But my initial question has been left unanswered: how does one best deconstruct stereotypical manifestations of egoist-driven propaganda regarding financial stability and explain the importance of studying Fine Arts to a philistine using Snapfish or Picnik without sounding pretentious?  The long answer requires a lot of “neo-structural theory” and “dialectic discourse of sub-deconstructive art” and the short answer is that it can’t be done.

Too many times I have made the mistake of taking up my Christian duty to instruct the ignorant. Explaining the difference is a perilous task, a lose-lose battle. However, to fail to question the world with a critical eye, a large heaping of skepticism and an impressive vocabulary, would be a university experience skipped, and to the cultural and feminist historians looking down at us from from a non-androcentric heaven, as problematic as a country music video.


Footnotes:

1 See the author’s above example re: shopping at HomeGoods.

2 “Genetic donor” is the preferred nomenclature, as it inclusively embraces all forms of family.  The word “parent” stems from the Latin parere, which sounds a lot like the French word père, a problematic term perpetuating patriarchal ideologies.

3 There are surprisingly few statistics on such a prevalent social phenomenon.

I Am Free Any Time

I have learned over the last few months that the line between “seeking employment” and “being a card-carrying stalker” is very fine – so fine as to not even be worth distinguishing.  So fine as to run the risk of invisibility.

For instance, one should probably never end an interview with “I will be stalking you for the next few weeks to see who else you’re recruiting for this position and follow through with my next plan of attack to secure this job for myself.” However honestly that statement might relay the reality of the job hunt, employers like to hear about “persistence,” rather than “stalking.”  And any good hunter knows that the game must be played with duplicitous cunning.

There is the initial stage of application, during which you submit hundreds of CVs to everything that pops up in the Google results for any job you have ever thought about and any company you have ever dreamed of working for. You are fresh, willing to do anything and try everywhere.

With your freshness comes a great deal of naïve hope. Or maybe delusion.

Even though you know it’s crazy, you still hold out hope that submitting this one CV or writing that one email will get you that job offer. The job might not have been posted yet, or maybe the perfect slot hadn’t even been created, but they will be convinced they need you after seeing your resume and the titles of your thoughtful and insightful presentations listed on your CV.

Recognizing the stalker can be difficult. Many initially appear charming, though others seem awkward and socially inept.

You’re trying so hard. You check your email at least six times a day, and Facebook three times as much. Not that job inquiry responses will be on your Facebook wall or in your inbox. But you can’t help but hope that an old acquaintance will have known you were looking for the perfect job, and will tell you that their sister works in that field and they would definitely vouch for you.

Besides, you need to feel valued during such an unstable time, and seeing your pile of red notifications alerting you that someone has noticed your new status is entirely intoxicating.  It’ll only be a matter of time now before they see your new glam pics and the right people come knocking.

In high school they told me that I should print my resume on the whitest paper possible so that it would stand out in the middle of a mountain-high stack of resumes like a beam of white light. But that doesn’t work so well when you’re emailing your resume or submitting it online. So I’ve been trying a few digital-age alternatives:

TIP 1: You can adjust the brightness of your computer screen. Yes? Find the button and turn it up, as bright as possible. Like so bright that your retinas are seared. Now when you save your resume, and send your resume, it will be as bright as possible.  It will shine like a beacon of light in their inbox.

TIP 2: Make your subject line count.  You know those spam emails that trick you into reading them since they pretend that they’re responding to your email?  Like the one I just received from Jennifer Johnson today with the subject line: “Does this make you mad too?”  I, of course, had to open it to see what she was talking about, even though I could think of no Jennifer Johnson I knew. Why not utilize this same technique in your hunt for a job? Try this one:  Re: congratulations. It’s simple, elusive, but creates enough interest that they’ll have to open the email to see what it’s about.  Or how about this one: Re: your raise.  Again, just try and peak their interest.  Think Facebook notifications. Everyone loves personal messages.

Stalking is relatively straightforward, and may include the following: loitering, approaching the target repeatedly, and repeated telephone calls, faxing, or emailing.

Send off your final resume to the last place you can think of. You can now preemptively move on to the worry stage.  Oh sure, we all know that any number of people would probably sufficiently fill the position, or would perhaps be a better, more qualified fit than you.  After all, not only are you completely unqualified for the position, but you have chronic lower back aches which prevent you from sitting in your chair at work.  You have been prone to bladder infections in the past, resulting in a weak bladder that must be emptied every thirty minutes, resulting in your inability to log normal working hours.  Your last employers at Cheapo Depot didn’t notice, but you may not be so lucky in the future.

Anyway, relax.  This is where your cover letter comes in.  Here is your chance to elaborate about yourself, to provide the employer with more information than they have gathered from your resume. Like the fact that you are more desperate for work than your resume may have led them to believe.

Take your time.  Phrasing like: “It is my hope that you will look towards my attached resume…” or “I have worked in seemingly divergent fields…” takes a long time to craft.  Don’t be surprised when five minutes have gone by and you are still struggling with your salutation. I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure this is normal.

So now weeks have passed and you’ve been sitting alone in your apartment, talking on the phone with your mom.  Although a doctor has never diagnosed you, your independent research on trusted sites such as diagnoseyourself.com has confirmed that you suffer from mild to severe chronic depression. In fact, you have checked yes to most symptoms: anxiety, indecision, sleeping more than usual, sleeping less than usual, feeling down, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt, weight gain, weight loss, headaches, an increase in alcohol intake, and even stomach pain.  You’ve rationalized: these symptoms are just a result of your time of uncertainty, the fact that you can no longer sustain your gym membership fees, or that you have been attending a lot of wine tasting events in the hopes of making some good contacts.

You try to stay positive and remind yourself that you are simply “between contracts” or “exploring alternative pedagogies.” It’s not like you’re without options. There is always the possibility of going back to school. You could study anything. Anything except math and science (you’ve never really excelled at those) and the social sciences (they just don’t take into account the holistic vision of the person that you have acculturated).

On the bright side, you have a very supportive network.  Friends have been very kind, even though they have not been told the full story. You’re not actually taking time off to “meditate.”  It’s called unemployment.

After another session on the phone with your mother, you receive a burst of enough enthusiasm and confidence to follow up on the resumes you have been submitting.  This is where the “fine line” between stalking and job hunting is obliterated.  Here is an example:

Attn: M—— F—
536 B——- 10th Floor
New York, NY 10012

Hi,

I applied for the web video position a number of weeks ago and I just wanted to check that you had received my application.

I love your publication and I am currently looking for work.

If the position I applied for has already been filled, I am wondering if there would be any possibility of working for free for you, or volunteering with your publication.

If so, I would be interested.

I am looking to gain some hands-on experience if I could.

If you would be willing to let me work for you as a free intern, I am in the city now and would like to stop in to meet you in person.  I am free anytime.

Please get back to me if you’ve either received my application or if a meeting in person could be arranged.

Let me know. I am free anytime as I mentioned. If I don’t hear back from you within the week I’ll be in touch via email, phone, or in person.

Thank you,

Me