The best scrabble game I ever played was in the summer of 2010. The setting was pretty typical – my bachelor apartment in southwest Calgary. The opponent was even pretty typical – my good friend Dwayne who, at the time, I had come to regard as my best friend. We stared at each other across a scrabble board on a weekly basis – a comforting practice that had brought stability to my life at a time of great imbalance. There was typically fire in the electric fireplace. There was typically a bowl full of nuts or candy. There was always tea.

I really like scrabble; I am not the best scrabble player. I’m good, but one of the side-effects of growing up in a large family where nobody bothered to read the rule book is that I rarely know the proper rules for any games. If you find a game stupid, this never matters; if I go the rest of my life without knowing the proper rules for monopoly, I’ll be just fine. But I always really liked scrabble. Words were my thing, and the fact that most people in my family (other than my little sister) hated the game was just an added bonus. You really only need one other player anyway.

Over the years, the rules have been revealed to me as my circle of contacts has grown beyond my immediate family. The most embarrassing revelation was uncovered by my ex-boyfriend’s sixty year old mother, who played the game religiously online and, upon watching Gene and I play scrabble in the basement one night, informed me that you can’t add onto a word and continue to spell another word in the same turn. Such painful truths were unearthed slowly, like a bandaid deliberately pealed back from a day-old wound.

As my disillusionment with the game diminished, my love for the sport of it did not. An expansive vocabulary was still required, and it was still an excellent way to demonstrate grammatical superiority.

Or at least that’s what I thought. Until I met Dwayne. Who played for points, and only points. And with this meeting, “all was lost, like tears in the rain”.

Dwayne was, and still is, a man who is small in stature. But what he lacks in size, he makes up for in speech. The man loves to talk. When we first met, we became enamoured with each other. Not because we truly found the other person all that intriguing, but because we saw a great deal of ourselves in each other. We viewed the world in very similar ways, and any conversations that we had with each other simply reinforced our hyperactive and exaggerated world view. From where I was sitting, Dwayne was the first person to not piss all over my thoughts. I was suddenly permitted to over-think every situation as much as I wanted. I felt mentally safe for the first time in my life, and that feeling was an incredible release. I often referred to our conversations as brain orgasms.

It wasn’t long into our friendship (and out of my recent relationship) that I began to confuse this feeling of release with actual feelings of romantic love. A crush began to develop, and it was the worst kind of crush – the kind that you fear is not reciprocated. Had I been honest with myself, I would have known from the beginning that this crush would never have amounted to anything. The reason was simple: I was raised to believe that small is the greatest quality a woman can have. And, as my metaphorical mental twin, Dwayne was raised with much the same mentality.

I am not small in stature. I say this even now with a wincing face, because I truly wish that I was. But at 5’7 (which I lie, and say is actually 5’6) I will always be considered “tall for a girl”. Tall does not have to be a terrible quality for a woman; models seem to do quite well. But I am not a model. I am a regular-sized woman who is above-average in height. And that’s the best way that I can be described.

I’ve never cared if men were taller or bigger than me, but if I’m being honest with myself I’ve always cared if men were taller or bigger than me. It’s a part of my upbringing that I deny, and there are many other male qualities that I hold in higher regard, but my ideal man would be someone who was taller than me. It would make me feel more feminine. Fuck.

This was a topic which was, and still remains, hotly contested between Dwayne and I. He would assert that, “men prefer a woman who is shorter, and women prefer a man who is taller.” My feminism would rush into battle at full gallop, yelling, “That’s not true! I’ve had crushes on lots of men who are the same height as me or shorter.” To which he would quickly retort, “But what would you PREFER?”. And I would immediately hate him – partly because I ascribed to such an archaic way of thinking, and partly because I took it as him telling me (in his own terrible way) that he would PREFER to never be with me. And round and round we’d go.

The only thing more infuriating than Dwayne’s views on relationships was his approach to scrabble, and I began to suspect the two approaches were inextricably linked. While we were similar in so many ways and could typically talk about anything, our approach to the game could not be more different. Without fail, I would strive to make the most complicated word I could muster, and he would sweep the points by putting “rock” on a quadruple word square (this was super scrabble we were playing, so…ya…that shit was wide open). As time wore on, our two approaches became more and more problematic for my impressionable heart; I kept trying to impress him, and he really just wanted to win.

But the night of the best scrabble game ever was a bit different. I was pretty sure I had just lost a lot of weight. This is not something I typically track, because if I did I would be obsessed with it (likely because of the aforementioned men=big, women=small hang-up). But I had gone down two jean sizes and one bra size, and greeted Dwayne at the door by proudly proclaiming this information. He seemed almost embarrassed for me that I needed to share such details of my life. Have I mentioned that me with a crush is a fundamentally pathetic phenomenon?

As I unfolded the scrabble board in the usual spot on the rug, Dwayne made an odd suggestion.

“Why don’t we make up words as we go?”.

I initially thought this was stupid – the whole point of scrabble is to exercise your brain and win favour in the eyes of the person you’re playing with (isn’t it?). But Dwayne went on to explain that the words we made up still had to obey certain rules of English linguistics, and we had to successfully use them in a sentence that was acceptable to the other person. In part due to my crushed state, not only did I go along with this idea, but I kept notes (so very pathetic).

In just a few minutes, what should have been the dumbest take on scrabble became oddly liberating. Not only was it the most we had laughed and felt no tension around each other in weeks, but, pooling our creativity, we created a language with these gems:

Cronnnan – A modern-day barbarian; very high in comedic value. “The Cronnans were gulping down their creatine at the gym.”

Jrlegmn – Spastic puking. “I watched him jrlegmn for at least two hours.”

Fohatu – Designer public hair. “She had a fohatu shaped like a care bear.”

Xeill – A drunken haze in which you see your crush in a certain way, and your opinion cannot be swayed. “It was too late – the xeill had already fallen over his eyes.”

Seriously. Hours of this shit. Most people would have found this entire exercise fruitless and frustrating. For me, it was the most fantastic idea ever. To assign new meanings to random letters that meant nothing, and would really never be used again? Pointlessness never felt so good.

I suspect (though I don’t know for sure) that Dwayne knew I needed this. As I said, me when I have a crush is a pathetic mess. I have this on good authority from multiple third-parties on multiple different occasions. When I like someone, it’s obvious – it consumes me, and it’s never a good thing. But even sadder is the fact that this isn’t just how I behave around crushes – it’s how I behave around everyone.

I want to impress my fellow humans with my knowledge of a world that I have only the vaguest clue about. I want to not only be accepted, but hailed as victorious – beyond reproach in every aspect of life. I will lay down my biggest words and brightest ideas, forcing them to fit, only to discover that a three-letter word in the opposite corner would have taken me much further. I play for other people, even the completely wrong people, and forego the joy of exploring an empty board that would quite literally allow for anything.

If I’m being honest with myself, winning or being great or beautiful or thin means nothing to me. But, if I’m being more honest with myself, losing or being mediocre or ugly still means everything.

For one night in the summer of 2010, “tall”, “short”, “dumb”, “smart”, “thin”, “fat”, “ugly” and “pretty” were unwelcome impossibilities; these words meant nothing, because there was a whole new lexicon to create. If I could strip all of this meaning out of life, I’d probably have more opportunities to experience pure joy, regardless of what it looked like. Or at least get a higher score.

When you’re walking around Toronto in July, hundreds of sights and sounds compete for your attention.  This sensory overload demands exactly zero commitment, which is about as invested in anything as any city dweller ever hopes to be.  The pungent, rotten-feet-wrapped-in-rusting-tampons smell reminds you that it’s garbage day, but then you overhear a couple arguing about who’s prettier on their way to dinner and you ignore the smells and listen in on their conversation for a while.  Endless permeations and combinations form what you’ll see and hear when walking the cityscape, and it’s this randomness that makes even the most unwelcome of circumstances (i.e., a homeless man asking you “how much?”) all the more welcome, if only because it’s a random experience.  It may be ugly, but it’s never good or bad.  It’s just the city.

Last night, I was taking in as much as I could on my usual Monday night route when I saw something moving on the sidewalk.  Immediately writing this off as a mouse or a piece of garbage, I trotted on.  But then, I thought about it critically: the thing had been moving, but it hadn’t been going anywhere, which was a pretty fascinating feat.  I doubled back, and that’s when I found it.

Morphologically, it was clearly a bird. But other than its basic outline, it lacked all trademark bird characteristics—feathers, a developed beak, and (apparently) the ability to fly.  What I was looking at was very smooth and very pink and very tangled up in a very smooth and very pink ball.  It was lying on its side, and its neck was jerked backward in a manner that appeared so painful and unnatural that breathing should have been impossible.  But breathing it was.  Heavily.  Very heavily.  Just looking at it, you could feel every single breath. Thinking back, I can hear the breathing, but this has to be a false memory. Its entire body moved up and down, and the nearly-translucent skin clearly indicated the labour of its lungs.  I’ve never seen anything or anyone try that hard in my entire life.  It was fighting so hard just to take in the muggy, Toronto air.  Its brain wanted so badly just to live; its body refused to cooperate.

I cried all the way home.

This morning, I was taking in as much as I could on my usual Tuesday morning route to work when a woman on my bus fell.  Hard.  I didn’t see the origin of the fall – it was possibly related to the slamming of the breaks at the bus stop which most drivers seem partial to.  Regardless of the origin, it was a hard fall, and it made the entire bus stop and turn.  Earbuds were removed from ears. Coffee cups were withdrawn from lips.  Everyone looked at this poor woman as she lied on the floor of the bus, her Tim Hortons latte sprayed around her like a wave crashing behind a rock.  She was curled on her side with her neck cocked back in a way that was clearly painful, and she just laid there.  We had all heard her hit her head.  The bus was full of people and nobody did or said anything.  I half-heartedly reached out my hand to help her up, but she still didn’t move and I still didn’t leave my seat.  After several minutes, she slowly struggled to get up, and the intentions behind the faces around the bus were transparent. The bus driver came back to half-heartedly check on the woman; other passengers whole-heartedly checked their watches.  I’ve never seen a group of people try or care less in my entire life.

I couldn’t have made myself cry, even if I’d wanted to.

I’ve heard the term “bitch face” batted about quite a bit lately.  This typically refers to the fact that the speaker, by default, has an angry, unwelcoming face.  Often, it’s a title that’s announced with pride: “Resting bitch face, that’s what I have”.  I’ve heard women in particular refer to themselves this way. I have no idea where this began, but it’s definitely out there. Collective unconscious, I suppose.  Many of those who claim this attribute do not, in fact, have bitch face, but the polite thing to do when they announce this is to smile and nod along.  It’s important to them that they be seen as tough.  It’s best not to tell them how average their resting face really is. This statement would probably yield active bitch face.

I have resting bunny face, myself. I say this because it’s impossible to tell if a bunny is angry or sad or happy or horny.  Their face just is what it is.  Some people find a bunny’s face cute.  Others shoot it on site. The important thing to glean from my claim is that you can’t tell what I’m feeling by my face.  For this, I blame my eyebrows.

I’ve always had light eyebrows.  In fact, I’ve always had light hair everywhere.  Blame it on my norweigan heritage – the hair is plentiful and lacking in pigment.  But there’s still enough german in my genes to ensure that I don’t have the flaxen-white hair that typically graces the heads and bodies of the nordic.  Catch my hair in the right light and blammo – you suspect you’ve just caught site of a sasquatch in its natural habitat. I live to inject magic and mystery in the lives of others.

My mom – who, by the way, IS graced with flaxen-white hair on her head and body – approaches hair maintenance and upkeep the same way she approached politics: it’s best not to deal with it until someone complains. Thus it happened that, as an awkward, 13 year-old girl who rocked shorts over un-shaven legs in gym class, I was approached by one Thor Jensen on the bus. Thor first questioned whether or not I was in a cult and, when I refused to speak to him because I was still terrified of boys, he promptly hit me on the knee with a spoon and called me a lesbian.  Upon returning home, I asked my mother what a lesbian was, and she responded with a razor and a lesson on how to shave my legs. To this day I have no confirmation that my mom knows what a lesbian is, but my legs have been smooth ever since.

The purpose of this story is to highlight that hair maintenance is something that’s rarely talked about, and yet is noticed by fucking everybody. It’s one of the first things about a person that makes an immediate first impression. That’s why I wish there was a course in high school on the “how-to”s of hair removal. I think it would just make everyone’s life that much easier, and we could all stop pretending this isn’t a struggle that a civilized society demands of us.  I remember a girl coming into English class with half of her right eyebrow wiped clear off, leaving her in a permanent state of anticipated expression.  We had all known for a long time that she penciled on her eyebrows, and yet no one ever bothered to tell her how ridiculous she looked.  Therefore, it seemed even more ridiculous to point out that half of her eyebrow was missing.  And that’s how she will forever live in my memory – the girl with half an eyebrow.  This is not my fault.  We should all be able to talk about these things.

We judge, and hair is a thing that is just so fucking easy to judge.  It’s the first thing we notice on anybody.  If I want to make a male coworker feel insecure for a day, I’ll say “Hey, hair cut!”.  Why? Because I’ve found that men are especially insecure after they get haircuts, and I think it’s important for them to feel physically-judged in the office every now and again.  If you want to insult a woman, you stare at her upper lip, as if to insinuate that you can see the hint of a moustache.  Middle aged men and women (and twenty-something girls who write blogs) have weird nose hair.  Bad days aren’t just bad days – they’re bad hair days.  It’s all very insulting.

Hair removal is a serious and expensive business.  I honestly believe that it’s an entire industry just banking on the fact that kids are going to test it out get it wrong for years and years until they finally give up (and by kids, I mean everybody, well into their twenties).  Okay, not everybody gets it wrong.  I’m sure lots of guys and gals know exactly what they’re doing (or have parents or siblings who know exactly what they’re doing) and get that shit under control at an early age.  But most of us didn’t have that.  Most of us had shit like this:

  1. Bunny-face origin-story.  My older sister, having long-navigated the world of razors and wax and tweezers, noticed one morning just how unruly my eyebrows were. So thick. So lush. So ripe for the pluckening. It was then that she announced that she would bestow the great favour of tweezing my eyebrows.  Above the brow line.  Throughout this procedure, any bleeding was halted through the liberal application of hydrogen peroxide. Never mind the fact that peroxide bleaches.  Never mind the fact that the natural shape of the eyebrow is not meant to emulate scattered hay. My sister was an artist and my face was her canvas.  Having never heard of Picasso and all the implications her actions might have for my long-term face, I sat there in complete trust, ignoring the weird burning feeling every time she dabbed my face with a cotton ball full of peroxide.  Later, when the tears and pretty well all of the hair had subsided, I proudly walked downstairs, only to be met by my younger sister’s exclamation, “What happened to your eyebrows!?”, followed by a fit of uproarious laughter.  My parents joined in.  IT’S NOT LIKE ANYONE ELSE HAD VOLUNTEERED TO ASSIST MY EXPRESSIONLESS FACE.  The eyebrows grew back sometime after my ninth grade commencement dance but before the writing of this blog, and they were never quite the same. To this day, I am abnormally fascinated with the eyebrows of others.  I’ve been known to date men with interesting eyebrows.  So expressive.  So lush. So…there.
  2. Let the sun (read: acid) in. My mom would always say “a woman’s hair is her crowning glory”, quoting either the bible or Marilyn Monroe (two sources my mom finds interchangeable).  At the time, I had no idea how offensive this remark was, but I knew that I hated it and refused on a daily basis to brush my hair.  My family used to call me Einstein, not to infer intelligence but to point out that I would scratch my head and leave my hair sticking out every which way.  Again, I must re-iterate that I do not have the white nordic hair that my mom has, and neither do either of my sisters. My dad has black hair and I’m told his genetics get a say in the final outcome of the children.  I would have been cool with black hair, but instead I got this weird-ass dirty-blonde colour.  This simply would not do for my mother, who took a bottle of hydrogen peroxide to my head to rectify the matter (DID WE LEARN NOTHING FROM MY EYEBROWS, PEOPLE).  When I asked my mother what I should tell people at school about my hair being suddenly, magically lighter, she said “just tell them you were out in the sun” (an excuse, by the way, that no one would buy unless I had mistaken the sun for the microwave).  I think that human beings should be free to do whatever they want to their bodies.  There’s nothing wrong with women revising and revamping their look as they see fit.  But there’s something strange about having your hair colour sprayed away with acid.  Even if it’s a slight change (which, over time, this wasn’t) – you lose a bit of identity.  Suddenly, all of your barely-there emotions become even further buried in a haze of beige. In a quest to figure out what I was feeling, I went on a hair dying spree for a period of a little less than a decade. Browns faded to blondes, blondes became reds – to know me was to know someone who would try to frequently re-invent herself with a box of hair dye, but never commit to any one colour.  I never ended up looking like Alexis Bledel, or Catherine Zeta Jones, or Jenny Lewis and, worst of all, I didn’t look like me either. I now abstain from hair dye and, of course, staying out in the sun too long. I feel that either action will adversely-affect my grasp on reality.
  3. The Vagina Effigy. THIS is where the woman’s-crowning-glory-hair-thing should come into effect.  Seriously, I don’t understand why women spend hundreds of dollars getting their hair done, but won’t spring for a bikini wax. Prioritize, people.  Same goes for men, but I don’t have a penis so I won’t pass judgement on yours.  I’m not talking about aesthetics – I’m talking about how uncomfortable it is if you don’t sort yourself out down there. In my house, this area was never discussed (read: religious household).  Three girls and a mom and no one was remotely addressing this issue – we were all just uncomfortable and not talking about it.  When I moved out, it took multiple visits and a brief foray into the painful world of strip-waxing before I figured out my situation down there.  At first, it was a weird and humiliating experience to have someone manicuring my lady bits. Now it feels normal.  Last time I was at the waxer, we nonchalantly discussed how great suspenseful action movies were in the 90s (this is a FACT – watch Along Came a Spider or Double Jeopardy and try to disagree with me…suspense just isn’t what it used to be) whilst she ripped strips of rubber wax from my nethers with the lightening-quicks hands of god.  During one visit, the technician got pretty fucking confident and just put all of the wax all over the damn thing.  Seriously – it was like The Cask of Amontillado down there. Nothing was getting in or out. I had come to terms with a future filled with celibacy (whilst chatting about what has happened to the cast of Friends, mind you) when she ripped the whole thing off in one quick movement.  As I reasoned that it would have been better if she’s just left it on, I heard a giggle, and then she held up what looked to be an exact replica of my vagina.  Seeing the horrified expression on my face, she quickly threw my vagina effigy in the garbage. If only life were always this simple.

See?  Natural brow formations, frequency of waxing, how to chat with an waxing aesthetician without dying of humiliation – these are all things that could be covered in the aforementioned course.  The absolute worst is the fact that my obsession with and quest for basic hair maintenance routines has monopolized quite a bit of brain power throughout my adult life. Had it been something I’d learned earlier, I don’t think the road would have been as laden with ingrown hairs, cuts, and rubber replicas of my vagina.  But that’s all in the past now – I’m a grown-ass woman with a smooth-ass ass.  I do not derive grief from these situations.  They are funny.  Laugh with me, good people. Why, just the other month I was texting with a friend whilst traveling to a bridal shower.

Me: I’ll be there in five minutes. Also I may or may not have missed a section on my leg when I shaved.

Friend: You should probably kill yourself.

Me: I would, but I need the razors.

A woman’s crowning glory is actually located in the brain underneath the layers of patchy, mis-coloured, un-brushed hair.  So advice in this area would be more than welcomed, that way we can occupy our brain-glory-crowns with more important things. Computer Science 201 I could have done without – none of that shit is even relevant anymore, and technology is pretty self explanatory.  Stop treating us like we’re stupid, and just teach us how to pluck and peel. It’s a matter of the utmost efficiency.

Also, it’s worth pointing out that nobody finds bunnies sexy.

Well, Hugh Hefner.  But those aren’t real.

Neither are the bunnies.  *rimshot*.

And now all I can think about is Hugh Hefner fucking a bunny. Thanks a lot.

 

Ever since I survived the intellectually and emotionally overwhelming roller coaster that is The Wire last year, I take a substantial amount of solace in re-watching episodes from time to time.  This can’t be helped – the show is perfectly written, and my tendency to revisit this viewing experience is strongly linked to the fact that even just watching it makes me feel like a better, more well-rounded human being. I swear this inclination has nothing to do with Stringer Bell’s panty-crushing presence, or Omar Little’s swagger. I swear.

Recently, I turned to Season 2 whilst ironing, as the plight of others makes me want to smooth out all of the wrinkles in the world.  Season 2 was vastly overlooked by a lot of people, probably because there are a lot of new characters introduced who we are told to care about, and why would we care about these new humans when we already have the aforementioned Stringer Bell’s panty-crushing presence and Omar Little’s swagger? But the season is actually very compelling and, since it explores the challenges of unions in post-manufacturing America, very important.

During this particular viewing, there was one line in particular which caught my attention.  It’s at the end of the season, when Frank Sobotka has accepted the inevitable fate of the grain pier and tells the shifty-ass lobbyist, Bruce, “You know what the trouble is Brucey? We used to make shit in this country. Build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy’s pocket.”

The line struck a chord with me because of an article I read recently talking about young engineers coming out of school today.  These kids are the brightest in North America; they have enough information in their mind-brain to build whatever they want. To cure whatever they want. To accomplish anything they want.  But it seems that the going trend isn’t for these talented young people to apply themselves at a career where they can take on the world, make the world a better place, or even just learn from the wisdomous humans who came before them. They don’t want to create something that lasts; they want to create something cool. They don’t want to help a team of researchers cure breast cancer; they want to singularly crack the code for developing the next hot-selling sexting app.

Just a few weeks before this, I was watching Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee” interview with Howard Stern, and Jerry made a similar comment.  “America used to be a place that had steel and cars and giant department stores. Now we basically produce amateur talent and people that judge amateur talent.”  True the previous version of America that Seinfeld is talking about was unsustainable on several levels, but so is the one we’re living in now.

These observations seem obvious, but I think Sobotka’s statement really highlighted the sensitivity of the issue for me.  It’s sensitive because I’m a liberal arts major – a fact which leaves me sorely lacking on the supply side of the economic scale. I can create, write, design and build things on the computer, but they are usually things that help people sell other things.  I produce the means, not the end. I’m not sensitive about this in a way where I wish I’d done something more; I know who I am and this is definitely the right area of work for me.  I could have pushed myself into other areas, but I would never have been as good an engineer as someone whose brain is bent that way.  Something about square pegs and round holes. I have every respect for people who have the technical expertise that I do not – so much so that I have dedicated my career to supporting them.

So it’s naturally frustrating when I see the people who have this technical expertise drift away from setting higher expectations for themselves and their business, and rest on setting higher expectations for selling that business to consumers.  They find the selling end “fun”, which is understandable since the very nature of selling is to make old ideas appear bright and shiny (and new, scary ideas seem harmless and timeless).  But they have/paid for the critical knowledge that is in their head.  I can build bridges and connections between abstract concepts in my mind; they can build ACTUAL, physical bridges. They’re free to come into my realm and strain away from their own passions, but at what cost?

While you’re asking yourself why students are choosing to spend their time developing sexting apps, I think you have to look past the obvious connection that they are just doing the “cool” thing.  After all, these are educated women and men; they should be given a bit more credit than that.  What they’re actually doing is the wanted thing; you might even say the demanded thing.  Nielsen recently released a new cross platform report, which details that 89% of time on a smartphone is spent using apps. Never mind talking or texting actual friends in our lives; the data is clear – we can’t get enough apps. You can’t so clearly and loudly ask for apps, and expect that you’ll receive better health care in return.

Similarly, and just as depressingly, social media is now the top internet activity, used more frequently than even email. According to the IACP Center for Social Media, social media accounts for one in every six minutes spent online. If time is money, North America is telling the world that we are fucking cheap.  This isn’t just a growth area; it’s THE growth area. So why wouldn’t young people dive headfirst into the land of the unnecessary and “get theres” (#Zuckerberging)?  The needs of the many are a pretty small matter when there’s a huge potential pay day on the line.

Yes, the social and intellectual landscape of the world is quickly changing, and yes in many ways this can be a good thing (i.e., insert obvious statement here about the implied accountability of more information and connectivity).  But this shouldn’t be confused with assuming that it will definitely be a good thing. We still have choices to make, and seemingly-powerless liberal arts majors and others on the “demand” side don’t have to just blindly accept what’s thrown at us. We are afforded so many rights and privileges in Canada and the United States, and we ignore pretty well all of them. Author and activist Anna Lappe said it best with her simple assertion, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want to live in”.  In this increasingly measurable and measured world, it’s best to take that statement one step further and assume that every time you click on something you are casting a vote – and perhaps allowing yourself to be diverted away from some of the central issues that your family and community will be facing in the very near future.

What humans want will always seem more important than what we need.  But if we don’t at least try to shift our focus, what we need might go away. And it won’t be the fault of the people who put their hand in the next guy’s pocket; it will be the fault of the people who kept their hands in their own pockets, shrugged, and demanded nothing.

 

Reading in a coffee shop on Saturday was, all in all, a pretty boring and typical exercise.  I was waiting for a friend, and everyone seemed to be going about their day – reading, computing, and conversing. Nothing that spectacular.  That is, until a gentleman behind me started yelling at “the fucking bitch” on his phone.  This conversation involved a series of hang-ups and call backs, including one after my friend arrived (which understandably startled her, as well as several people sitting around us).

Which led me to wonder – what if we could tell what people were really thinking?

This is not the first time I’ve pondered this concept.  As a kid, I moved a lot, and I often found myself wishing I could skip through the same-old “get to know you” routine with people, and just know right up front what they thought of me.  It would just be less exhausting – and I wouldn’t waste my time on people that thought my fringe leather belt wasn’t cool.

In actuality, I’m quite certain having this information – getting an instantaneous sense of what other people think of you – would paralyze a person.  Because here’s a truth 14-year-old-me hadn’t quite grasped yet – people are mean.  And contrary to what Oprah says, thinking mean thoughts is way more fun than thinking nice thoughts (at least initially).  It’s about power…it’s about acceptance…it’s about not wearing those jeans with that jacket (idiot).  It’s almost like there’s a defensive, cognitive shell that we build up around our psyche, which protects our emotional intelligence by scrutinizing others.  When this isn’t articulated, it seemingly protects ourselves as well as others –an ever-changing landscape of opinion that, left silent, grants us both human vulnerability super-human stability.  If you were to compare this emotional human trait to a physical body part, it would be the heel.

The romans understood this scrutiny, and reflected these ugly human qualities in the goddess Fama (based on the greek goddess, Pheme).  This bitchy goddess has many eyes and mouths, and will just chill-out in her homestead, peeping in on the world through her many windows.  Day in and out, she is constantly plugged in to what’s going on – one might say addicted to what she sees.  She “gets” society better than anyone else – understands all too well what perpetuates human anger, happiness and incredulousness.  In fact, she has four key cohorts to do her bidding – Susurri (gossip), Credulitas (error), Laetitia (happiness) and Timores (terror).

The truth is, if you COULD tell what people are really thinking, the public freak-out that that gentleman experienced in the coffee shop is more the rule than the exception.  Everyone else – sipping their lattes and acting civilized – was actually living the lie.  They weren’t relaxed at all.  Some of them were actually overjoyed (OMG HE’S SO CUTE AND THIS DATE IS GOING SO WELL AND I JUST KNOW THAT HE THINKS MY JOB IS AS INTERESTING AS I DO), while others were exhausted (OMG I’VE BEEN CHASING MY KID AROUND ALL DAY AND REMEMBER WHEN I SPENT MY SATURDAY AFTERNOONS ON COFFEE DATES?), and others were just annoyed (OMG WHY IS THAT BLONDE GIRL LOOKING AT EVERYONE ELSE AND I HATE POSERS WHO GO TO COFFEE SHOPS WITH A BOOK AND DON’T ACTUALLY READ).

But hey – you no longer need to buy-in to these calm demeanors.  The truth to what everyone is feeling may not be on their face at all, but it’s definitely online.

The popularity, daily necessity and mobility of social media has created a world that teenage-me would have loved (in theory).  People really don’t hold back anymore.  They will tell you their every thought, their every move, their every feeling about people and celebrities they don’t even know.  They will get into all-out, theoretical, un-winnable wars about topics they are passionate about, shitting all over the world (metaphorically), and then calmly take their dog outside for a walk to do the same (literally).  They will spend hours flipping through photos of distant friends – who they wouldn’t even say hello to if they ran into in a diner – painting this hypothetical life that the friends themselves wouldn’t even measure up to, and then carry on their day feeling like their life is less fulfilling.

And by “they” I mean “we”, because you know…solidarity.

This kind of accessibility definitely has its positive outlets (hullo, blogs….so META), but it’s also pretty crippling.  Why? Because it’s opened up whole new avenues which simultaneously satisfy and destroy two historically insatiable human qualities – curiosity and narcissism.  We want to know (but my gad…we did NOT want to know that)!  We want to look good (but fuck…that means we have to look at other people who might look better)!  You are left constantly wanting more – but also dreading the more you’ll inevitably find.

Ironically for 14-year-old-me, there’s not much I can think of that would be worse than going to high school when this kind of online environment exists.  I don’t know how students go to class every day, knowing that at any time their peers will post their real feelings about them for the entire world to read (and comment on).  Come to think of it, I don’t know how you grow up and get past your own personal history of opinion when such extreme emotions of happiness, anger and sadness were worked out on such public forums.

Worst of all, when so many windows on the world exist, it becomes difficult to justify leaving the house.

Fama would be proud of the world we’ve created, I’m just not sure that I am.  At the end of the day I guess I’m pretty old fashioned – I’d rather the hurtful voice be behind me in a coffee shop, than in front of me on a screen.

I think that fighting is healthy.  Or at least disagreements are healthy.  I’m pretty sure that, on some level, everyone in the world just wants to feel misunderstood (RADICAL DECLARATIONS).  After all, if your view isn’t unique, then why are you just standing there, sucking up the precious little clean air left in the world (see: China right now)?

It’s not an enjoyable process, and yelling isn’t recommended (due to both its lack of effectiveness, as well as the fact that it’s fucking obnoxious), but experiencing arguments so that you know how the other person comes out on the other end of the argument is pretty important.  If you still like one another after you’ve hated one another, then you’ve really got something.  This goes for relationships, friendships, co-workers…whatever.  The ability to maintain a certain level of perspective and control yourself in a way which enables both parties to adequately recover and move on is a course they should really teach in high school (SUCH BISHES).

When it comes to relationships, I say you don’t really know your partner until you’ve directed all of your life anger at them due to one trivial thing, and they’ve shrugged it off.  That’s how you know you’ve found someone you truly don’t deserve, and will therefore be happy with. How do I know? Because this kind of emotional intelligence is pretty rare, and the quest to find something rare (FOR KEEPS) is almost as strong as the compulsion to be misunderstood (ALL OF THE DECLARATIONS).

Why? Because these sorts of quibbles are always going to come up in relationships – and even more so as you let go of your firm grasp on freedom.  They’re there…that’s the only reason. Well, also because the better you get to know someone, the better they understand you (REMEMBER THAT TIME I TOLD YOU HUMANS LIKE TO BE MISUNDERSTOOD?).

The good news is, you can always compile a list of all the stupid things you’ve argued about, share it with your friends for their enjoyment, and realize that only someone this truly perfect for you would be willing to go to the mattresses for such random reasons.

Reasons such as:

  • Kanye West (even though we both love him, we disagree on his motivations)
  • J eating all the gummy bears
  • J specifically walking through the house with muddy shoes on, in an effort to consume said gummy bears
  • My denial of the existence of Swiffer in the house
  • J’s confirmation of the existence of Swiffer in the house
  • “Why do you keep trying to have sex as soon as you come over? Do you think I’m some kind of whore?”
  • “Why do you wait so long to have sex with me when you come over? Don’t you think I’m attractive?”
  • Why I won’t turn the heat on in the house (even though I don’t pay for heat)
  • Why J won’t dress warmer in the house
  • Whether or not George W. Bush had any real power in office
  • The REAL theme song for “My Little Pony”
  • The necessity of peas in a daily diet
  • The necessity of an end table
  • The proper way to pull up a duvet cover which doesn’t properly fit a duvet
  • Why the fuck I bought a duvet cover which doesn’t properly fit a duvet
  • Why J won’t watch the Sopranos
  • Whether or not a dishwasher can be trusted
  • Why J drinks the water that I specifically leave sitting in a glass on the counter to remind me to drink water and, what, does he want me to die of dehydration or something?
  • Why I would want to sign up for Mars One and no it has nothing to do with my commitment issues and it would just be really fun and leave me alone

So argue, good humans, and remember – the only My Little Ponies that matter are Generation One, and the other ones are stupid with their long legs and LONG LIVE LICKITY SPLIT AND HER QUEST TO GO IT ALONE.

I think the nicest thing that anyone has ever said to me is that I think too much.

At the time, it was stated as problematic – an initial assessment by a partner which would ultimately result in the demise of the relationship. He said it…and then I thought about it…and created a detailed spreadsheet which mathematically proved that he and I were not compatible. This spreadsheet was unveiled through a Friday night presentation, during which there were to be no cell phones and no interruptions.

At the conclusion of said presentation, he said I’d proved his point, and we broke up.

With the exception of this one instance, I am decision-averse. I really really hate making decisions. It’s not that I don’t care. I do care – very much. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve refused to make a decision, let someone else make said decision for me, and then been ab-fur (that’s short for “absolutely furious”…I think it works) with the end results. I still haven’t forgiven J for that time he chose the movie “Horrible Bosses” at the end of a particularly shitty work week. So stupid.

This aversion stems not from the fact that I don’t like having control of my life – the only thing I hate more than my own decisions are those that other people make for me. It’s living with the consequences of those decisions which truly marinates my anxiety.

And I don’t care about the bad consequences – those I can live with. In fact I prefer them. I would rather know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that something could have been bad for me, than live with the good thing…all the while wondering just how bad the bad thing could have been.

This also happens to be a good, solid argument for why I should stay the fuck away from hard drugs.

Don’t get me wrong – I count myself lucky to live in a place and time where so many options are available. I never understand why more women my age don’t self-identify as feminists; the right to more options is something previous generations of women have definitely fought for, and should therefore be appreciated. But this ability to choose and shape our own future is so new that we spend more time meticulously examining the decisions of those around us than we do informing our own. It’s like looking for a mirror when the reflection in the subway window is right beside you – just wipe the cherry danish off your face and move on.

But at what point does it stop being a question of “did I make the right decision?”, and more a question of “am I committed to this?”? It seems to me that the most dangerous part of a decision isn’t when you’re stopped, determining whether to proceed to the right or to the left – it’s the moment of follow-through. If you hesitate, you’ll undoubtedly be hit by oncoming traffic. If you’re careless, you’ll wind up barreling into an unsuspecting driver. And you would never expect either decision to yield immediate results – it will always take a bit more driving before your destination finally appears. If you double back, constantly questioning whether or not you’ve committed to the right direction, you’ll be stuck in an endless loop of never-really-getting-anywhere-and-eventually-running-out-of-gas.

This is probably where I should mention that I don’t drive – this was just the most accessible analogy in my mind-brain.

Of course, confidence takes time, and there’s definitely no harm in testing the waters. But there does come a time where the rubber must hit the road (the driving analogies seem to be a compulsion today). Where the time for deciding has passed, and all you can do is experience your own decision for everything that it is, and not everything that it isn’t. YES, I WOULD LIKE THE BLACK COFFEE, AND NO I WON’T FANTASIZE ABOUT THE VANILLA LATTE THAT COULD HAVE BEEN. After all, a pile of life regrets isn’t built in a day – it’s pondered over time.

Wrong turns happen, and it’s entirely possible you won’t end up where you thought you’d end up. But hey! Maybe you’ll end up somewhere even better.

Or maybe you’ll end up in some guy’s basement, begging for mercy. It’s not a science, people.