All the cool kids are doing it

“It” being responding in kind to this gorgeous piece by Elizabeth Eslami which asked this question: “If you could talk to your 16-year-old self, what would you say?  What advice, warnings, or encouragement would you give your younger self?”

Dale Favier responded in kind.  And then Jessamyn Smyth chimed in.  These are especially poignant to me now because I just signed up for my 25th reunion and I’m remembering that girl.  So here’s mine:

Oh.  Hello, you.  Mom must have just told you that letting your hair fall in your eyes makes you look like your IQ is plummeting.  I can tell because you dipped your head to encourage that shaggy blonde veil further downward.

You think you want to be more bohemian, but your native timidity and small budget means you’re wearing that sparkly, fringed Indian scarf with an inherited bespoke white men’s dress shirt of considerable antiquity, jeans, and boots I would covet even today.  You don’t really understand yet that these half measures of prep and boho actually add up to an individual style.  Or they will.  Eventually.

You probably wouldn’t recognize your dreams in my life.  Your head is full of theatre and art and music.  You’re looking forward to a life on the stage and you can’t imagine any other way to be.  It’s okay: the skills you take for granted today will be seen as unusual assets in the life you forge later.  But go ahead and continue violently rejecting the idea of a life that you would probably see as not for you.  That change will come with surprising swiftness and a sudden load of self-knowledge I am still sorting through to this day.

You’re not as angry as you think you should be.  Stop pretending.  Happiness isn’t weakness and cynicism isn’t intelligence.

I’m sorry you’re feeling that piercing pain of first love lost.  It will take a while to heal.  Let it.  Because decades later that healing will allow you to feel so much joy when he contacts you and asks for forgiveness.  You may find it hard to believe that the forgiveness will flow so easily and make you so happy, but it will.

Listen more.  Speak less.  You will start to like yourself a lot more when you can exist on the periphery of a group as easily as you claim its center.  As an added bonus, other people will like you better too.

Those people who terrify you with their confidence?  They will later tell you that they think you’re the one who has it all figured out.  But here’s the big secret: nobody has it figured out.  Anyone who tells you they do is either kidding or lying.  Avoid those people.

Stop looking around for the love of your life.  You haven’t met him yet, and you’re in for a lot of learning about love and relationships.  That’s okay too.  All that learning means he’s easier to spot when he does show up.

You know what?

Keep doing exactly what you’re doing.  It turns out pretty great in the end.

Take this narrative and…

Making the rounds of news and blogs is this shocking new study: The Generation X Report.

What makes it so shocking?  Well, apparently those of us who were born between 1961 and 1981 are not the “insecure, angst ridden” underachievers everyone expects us to be.  We’re not “detached and melancholic.”  And we are not, as a group, “slackers.”

Here’s the thing – in my experience, we never were.

Insert the standard caveats about how the plural of anecdote is not data and how this is just my experience, but let me lay the early 90’s out from my own perspective.  I, along with almost everyone my own age that I knew, was having a really hard time finding any sort of “meaningful” work – for the values of meaningful that include: interesting, somewhat secure, decently paying, and carrying any sort of benefits.*  So what did we do?  We worked whatever way we could.  We took jobs as temps, waiters, and bartenders.  We often worked two jobs or more.  We added whatever seasonal jobs we could on top of that.  We made every effort to prove ourselves, to wedge our way into something resembling a decent opportunity.*  Some of us, including me, went back to school to try to improve our chances of getting decent work and hopefully to wait out the bad economic times.*

For this, the media labeled us “slackers.”*  I really don’t know if it was because the generation(s) before us didn’t like the fact that we were overwhelmingly employed in the service industry (most of us didn’t have a choice) or the fact that a lot of us resigned ourselves as best we could to the lifestyle we had at the time (we did have a choice about that, but the alternative was to be miserable).  Most of us didn’t seem to react much to the “slacker” label either.  Maybe that irritated the prior generation(s) as well.  But why should we care what names we were called by the very people who pulled the treehouse ladder up behind them?  Or maybe we were just working too damn hard at our 2+ jobs and worrying too much about getting sick and having to declare bankruptcy from our medical bills* to be worried about whether or not the editors of Time magazine thought us lazy.

So, I’m glad that a longitudinal study says that the majority of us are “active, balanced, and happy” these days.  But it doesn’t surprise me overmuch, considering most of us were at least active and balanced and working on happy during the very era we were painted as a bunch of disaffected, mopey losers.


*Does any of this sound familiar?  Current, even?

Overheard at our house, modern technology edition

John: “The news says lines for the new iPhone are wrapping around the block.”

Jill: “Wait – were you thinking of finally getting a smartphone on launch day?!

John: “I had thought about it.”

Jill: “Are you high?!

John: “Quite possibly.”

Augmentation, not alternative

My mother sent me a link to a piece by Jonathan Franzen in the NYT today, with this quote specifically included (italics hers):

This is not to say that love is only about fighting. Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.

It’s a well-written piece, and the quote my mother cites is lovely, but (unsurprisingly) I completely reject its central thesis which seems to say we can either surf superficially and easily through life with tech or embrace the difficult struggle that is a profound relationship with another person but not do both:

To speak more generally, the ultimate goal of technology, the telos of techne, is to replace a natural world that’s indifferent to our wishes — a world of hurricanes and hardships and breakable hearts, a world of resistance — with a world so responsive to our wishes as to be, effectively, a mere extension of the self.

Wow.  It’s like Stephen Fry’s evil twin has come to town.

No. This is not an either-or world. I relate and laugh and disagree on a daily basis with people who are sharing the same air I do. I also am able to connect joyously and articulately with someone who lives in Singapore – a relationship that would not be possible without technology, as Arvind and I “met” one another on Facebook through our discussions on a mutual friend’s Fb wall (and she is someone I initially “met” online in the pre-Fb era and then was able to see in person years later. Rana and I are good enough friends – not “friends” – that she invited John and me to her wedding).

Additionally, I see arguments and hard discussions all over my friends’ walls. I don’t usually engage in them because Fb is something I reserve for fun, but that says more about me than it does about Fb – lots of people go to church to be soothed, only some go to be challenged. But that doesn’t necessarily say much about church in general: it says something about the people who attend it and the reason they attend it.

I see people all over being perfectly likable – striving to be so, in fact – in their everyday lives with colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers. That doesn’t mean they’re false or hollow or emotionally crippled – it means they’re being polite. And the majority of one’s friends on Fb are actually acquaintances. But what was Fb supposed to call them, anyway? They could have gone with the prolix: “People I know,” the sterile: “Contacts,” or the twee: “Buddies.” “Friends” is both largely accurate and brief. And I’ve found personally that people still recognize the differing levels of friendship and layers of knowledge that exist in human relationships both online and off (I know X more than I know Y, but I know Y’s sense of humor and mine intersect precisely in just such a way…) The technology of Fb doesn’t have to characterize those differences – the people involved do that automatically.  The organic human recognition of the subtleties of specific relationships doesn’t have to be perfectly mirrored or duplicated by the technology.

Sites like Fb and “sexy” new Blackberries and titanium laptops are not intended to replace – they are intended to augment.  And I reject the idea that I have somehow sold my connection to humanity by extending my reach to other human beings.

A disturbing realization

I’m plowing my way through the first in the series of George R.R. Martin’s epic potboilers, A Game of Thrones.  Finally.  Well, I’m finally successfully doing so.  And good grief, but it as actually brought me to a personal epiphany.

I have tried before to read this book and failed miserably.  But John really likes it, and I value his opinion, so I kept trying.  Also, HBO is putting together a series based on the books and it looks really, really good.  Getting it on the Kindle helped (700-page epic doorstop novels are high on my list of things that give equal on the plus and minus sides in entertainment value and repetitive stress injuries).  But for someone like me, this book was sort of like signing up for voluntary sandpapering of second-degree burns or giving Joss Whedon the license to direct the activities of your nearest and dearest for the next few months.  I felt like a petty god was sitting somewhere and saying, “Oh – wait: you like this character?  DEAD,” over and over and over again.

Why so sensitive, Jill?  I don’t know – but I know that I was the person who couldn’t fathom being a divorce attorney because I knew I couldn’t tread the fine line between the empathy required to advocate passionately for my clients and the necessary detachment from their plights to enable strategic thinking.  My emotional balance is wonky that way, even when I read a book.  I read a news report a while ago that talked about people who actually feel pain when they see someone else receive injury – the pain areas in the brain of the person doing the viewing actually light up.  I am pretty sure I am one of those people, and the more I empathize with the person in question, the worse it gets.

This even happens when I read.  Yeah, yeah, yeah – I was one of those kids whose parents said the house would burn around my ears while I read.  About ten years ago I finished The Golden Compass on a Southwest flight in a seat that faced a fellow passenger (a stranger).  When I finished the book and slowly returned to reality this person commented, “I didn’t think you were coming out of that.”  The more I do that deep dive, the more I empathize with death, injury, or loss suffered by the characters I like.  Considering the shelf footage this series takes up, I knew I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to go through that much bloodshed with my nerves exposed.

So, at long last, I realized that I couldn’t read the book with my usual 100% investment.  I had to view it somewhat dispassionately.  Don’t get attached – everyone’s going to die and probably horribly.  When I made that decision, the pages started ripping by.  And I like the book – I really do.  But I can’t love it the way I have loved other books that were also intricately constructed, intelligent, and well-written.

Here’s the disturbing epiphany.  I have been doing the same thing in life with a lot of 2010.  Not in my personal life, but in my reaction to the constant barrage of bad news.  At some point I flipped from the empathetic to the dispassionate to save my nerves.  And somehow I need to try again to sort out a way to walk that fine line.  Because being dispassionate is not the way I want to face the world.  At least, not entirely.

Edit: here’s my real incentive (to read the books, not to step back from the brink of being a completely dispassionate person-analog) – an HBO series with actors like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage? Yes, please.

Broken – for now

This blogger?  No, this blogger’s not broken – all evidence to the contrary.  But my theme is.  Temporarily.  That’s why, if you’re visiting the site you’re probably saying, “What is up?  This looks ugly!”

Yes, yes it does.  Sorry.  I was dumb and upgraded to WordPress 3.0 without checking to see if my theme was compatible.  Guess what – it’s not!  Whee!  Good times.  My WP wizard Daisy is working her magic as we speak.

And if you’re reading this on an RSS feed, apologies for the confusion…  I am sure it makes no sense at all.

“Oh, you’ll hate that.”

I have this funny, perverse mental habit.  When someone tells me, “You HAVE to watch X.  You will LOVE X,” I immediately find myself averse to ever looking at such a thing.

My mother is a very smart woman.

She now precedes all recommendations with, “So – you will HATE this.  You don’t want to watch/read/listen to it.”  For some reason, this actually works.

Funny little thing, brains.

In case there was any doubt…

…yes, I may be officially crazy.

Because, in addition to my commitments at school, work, and home, I seem to have helped craft a new writing project idea for November.  You may have heard of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.  The idea behind this is kind of crazy, kind of compelling: write a novel-length piece of prose in the 30 days of November.  Conceptually, I can see how this might get me past my, “I want to write a novel-length piece of prose, but what if it’s crap?” problem.  Because the idea isn’t to write a good novel, just something that is that long.  Once convinced of your idea that yes, you can string that many words together about one story, perhaps then you can get out of your own way and proceed crafting something of a decent quality.

It may work, it may not – but I do have one friend who turned the concept into a book contract.  There are probably others.

But procrastinating about writing is more than a common occurrence – it’s a cliche.  So many of us who like to write, like stories, like to read, and want to tell our own stories end up putting it off indefinitely.  Thus it is so that I have about a zillion pieces of ideas around a novel-length piece of prose and have only committed a few of them to pixels.  The rest of those ideas keep rolling around in my head like laundry on an endless tumble-dry, going nowhere.  Perhaps shrinking.  Perhaps I’m letting this metaphor get out of hand.

Enter an idea that sort of bounced around among Rana of Frogs and Ravens, Amanda of Household Opera, and me: NoNaShoStoWriMo, or Not-National Short Story Writing Month.  Instead of committing to a 50,000 words in the next month, we’re shooting for the more modest, achievable goal of about 7,500 words.  I’ve decided to use the ideas/concepts that have been doing the tumbling and spinning and see where I get with it – perhaps that will get me enough of a start so I can use it as a springboard to an actual long-format work.

Anyone with us?


And yes, the name does sound like something in Judoon, for all you Doctor Who fans…

I don’t miss it, but there were some funny stories

One of the interesting thing about going back to school in your 40’s is you get stirred out of your usual age strata.  As a result, I’m hanging around with a few more people in the active dating phase of life than has been usual for me, and my eyes are seeing the world slightly differently as a result.  I see a cute young man on the Metro – tall, lanky, warm brown eyes and facial hair, and I think, “Oh – he looks like X’s type.”  Having my impression confirmed later, I was reminded of an instance years ago when I had my own offer to have a married lady wingman.

I lived for a time with Marie and her husband The Italian out in California after I took the bar exam, but before I knew if I had passed.  Marie and I were out grocery shopping, and she mentioned that she had heard grocery stores were good pick-up places.  We joked about this for a bit, since I hadn’t had a date in months, and Marie said, “Well, you point out one you like and I’ll hit him with the grocery cart for you.”

And a cute young man at the end of the aisle looked up at us and grinned.

And Marie and I did that girly thing where we laughed and collapsed into one another as we fled the scene, embarrassed.

But now I know I would absolutely knock “accidentally” into a potential suitor for X if she wanted me to.  I wouldn’t want to go back to dating for anything, but acting in a supporting role for someone else’s drama?  Potentially fun stuff.

Is it just me?

Or is there an entire Ph.D. thesis to be wrested from the use of possessives in Season 2 of True Blood?