Thursday, February 6, 2014

ambition

yesterday, i searched flights from new york to damascus.

there are none.

i had just read a summary of the UN report on the atrocities syrian children have been subjected to in the ongoing syrian civil war and felt so tormented how easily it is to sit idly by that i had a brief flashing moment of being some intrepid bleeding-heart throwing herself at the mercy of a war-ravaged land in hopes of doing some good.

i wrote a lengthy blog post--that is sitting in my drafts folder--titled "the age of impotent advocacy" where i wrote out many sentences in ALL CAPS and composed a lot of damning rhetorical questions. it was not exactly scathing, but it was sort of hopeless. it was cathartic.

today, i've been thinking a lot about ambition.

i don't know if i have any in particular. i used to. i wanted to be a politician. i wanted to be a journalist. for a brief moment, i wanted to be a video game programmer.

my dad told me once that he imagined me in some high level executive job.

these days i am a little aimless, because i cannot put a title to my ambition.

i think i just want to do things that are worth doing. things that mean something. caring about syrian children means something, but writing a poem can mean something too. and hey, i can do both.

i had a lengthy talk with a fellow who studied cello performance at nyu. however, before his senior recital, he got a career ending case of tendonitis. he told me that when he learned he would not be able to make cello performance his career, he felt a flood of relief.

our conversation segued into a discussion about how our professions do not make us who we are. we are defined by much more than the tasks we complete to earn money.

i don't love my job. if somehow, the funding for my position was cancelled, i would be relieved.

i would miss my coworkers and the inside jokes that cause us to laugh so hard we cry, but i would feel a huge weight of obligation lifted off my shoulders.

the work end of my job isn't pure drudgery. it has shining moments, but my daily stress, anxiety and bouts of existentialism brought on by the seeming futility of my efforts does not get anywhere close to being paid off in fulfillment. (here's where i start thinking, 'oh, maybe i just don't work hard enough. i could be better.' which is true, i could always be better. i feel like better is an exponential curve that will infinitely be approaching, but never reaching, best. sometimes, i think it is okay to accept that your work is hard and can sometimes feel like you are pushing a boulder up a hill to frequently see it simply roll back down again.)

i think there is something powerful about dissatisfaction, because when we recognize we are not happy in our current pursuits, we have the opportunity to change. i'll grant that "happiness is a journey not a destination" malarkey, but--to continue the metaphor--sometimes you are detoured from a more enjoyable, meaningful journey and you shouldn't be afraid to change your route.

does my current state of employment meet my ambition's criterion of doing something worth doing?

eh, difficult question.

we'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

hey, sean. i'm living in new york.

in september of 2012, a boy i knew named sean died.

we'd worked together for about three years, starting as bussers--the lowly training ground for future servers--at one of the finest mexican food dives in the suburban sprawl of utah county, joe bandido's.

i earned mantle of server before sean, mostly because i was a year and a half older, and could therefore legally pour those margaritas eighteen months before he could.

i have a lot of memories working with him in different capacities. i remember the days we were peons doing the servers' bidding. most fondly, i remember slow sundays where he and i were serving and my little sister was hostessing. since it was the least popular shift, we could get away with minor slacking in the form of nonstop chatting.

i used to tell him that he was hybrid of the personalities of my brother and sister. as he mirrored traits of the people i love most in the world, it was impossible not to like him.

not that i ever was in love with him. although, once he told me i had pretty eyes, and it felt like the most sincere, guileless compliment i had ever been offered.

he was simply a golden boy. it was impossible not to be drawn to his charisma and genuine kindness.

we never hung out outside of work, despite laboring alongside each other week after week for years; however, he did once invite me to a party where psychedelic mushrooms were on the menu, and as a well-known wet-blanket and goody-two-shoes, i was so flattered i had been invited to an "edgy" party. i feel like he just didn't divide people into dichotomies, and there was no judgement or teasing when i declined the invitation.

after a five year tenure, through college and a little beyond, i quit joe bandido's to spend a summer in london. i never donned the black shirt and apron again, and i hadn't seen sean for over a year when i learned he died in an accident riding his vespa on a wet tuesday night.

my sister and i attended the funeral. we were almost late and slipped into the last row of a crowded church. after the eulogies given by his closest family, they opened the podium to invite those gathered to speak. randi and i remained in our seats, but later we talked about how we wanted to go up to the microphone to lend our voices to the memory of sean, even though compared to many of those gathered, we did not know him well; however, what we did know of him was worth speaking out about.

i think of him sometimes when i get a little lonely in new york. once, during one of our less demanding shifts, i told sean of how i had been perusing new york's craigslist fantasizing about moving to the city. i told him how i had seen an ad for a room in an apartment with a cohabitant that was a german jazz pianist with a penchant for ice cream. soon we began devising a joint move to new york city. a few weeks later, when i found out i'd been selected to go to london, he said, seemingly very, very sincerely, "i though we were moving to new york?!"  i've always wondered would we have had more sunday evening planning sessions and worked up the gumption moved to new york that summer if i hadn't taken a different route? probably not, we weren't the closest of friends and had our own individual circles of people and commitments. but maybe.

and, sometimes, when i am homesick, i think, "hey, sean. i'm living in new york."


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

house mouse and other tales of the order rodentia

my roommate recently returned to our bronx apartment, and her first inquiry pertaining to the status of our abode was "how's the mouse situation?"

i responded, "well, i haven't seen it."

which is true. but had she asked, "have you intuited the presence of the mouse using any of your other senses?" it would have been a lie not to say yes.

she is petrified of the mouse. when it first made its presence known, she didn't use the kitchen for a week. i didn't want to hinder her eating habits, but i am pretty sure house mouse is still living in the space between our oven and wall.

several days ago, i surrendered my bed to my visiting sister and got cozy on the couch. while lying under my fleece blanket contemplating the complications of human existence before sleep overtook me, i heard a bizarre skittering noise. i couldn't place the sound. was someone gently scratching the front door with metallic nails? was someone lightly throwing coins in rapid succession against our windows? then it became obvious.

the mouse was still among us.

i mustered the courage to rise from the couch to try to catch the mouse in the act of emerging from its home behind the oven, but it was no where to be seen. so i settled back into the comfort of couch cushions. after the passage of several moments, the patter of tiny clawed feet happened again. i rose again. saw nothing, but i tried to make as much noise as i felt i could responsibly make at 2 am to intimidate the mouse. but minutes after laying down once more, house mouse defiantly rose from the chasm to the counters a third time. so i ran over and made even more noise, forsaking all obligations of being a respectful roommate.

this time as i lay under the blanket, i began to feel the creeping wave of mouse fear. i'd thought my roommate's terror was unjustified, but in the early hours of the morning, i was also afflicted. i tried to reason myself out of being scared: mice are tiny! they are even kind of cute! stuart little! ratatouille! mickey! i once caught one with my friends while playing near an abandoned railroad track and named him rufus humperdink, iii! i could snap its back with one finger--maybe not my pinky, but definitely my pointer! why i am i terrified?

none of my attempts to minimize the mouse's potential to incite fear were working, so to conquer this mouse anxiety, i counter-intuitively began to think of all the ways mice are horrifying: they have no bones! the can squeeze through holes the size of a dime! they leave a trail of urine everywhere they go so they can find their way back!

then i began to consider the worst possible thing house mouse could do to me.

i figured the very most horrific thing the mouse could do was jump into my mouth and furiously begin biting my tongue, cheeks, tonsils, uvula, etc. and then jump down my throat while carrying hantavirus.

somehow, considering the worst made me feel better. because i really didn't think the mouse had quite the audacity to enter my mouth, and if i got hantavirus i wouldn't have to go to work for a while, at least.

and that was that. morning came. i had no puncture wounds on my mouth and i went on to live my life.

but last night, i heard the familiar skittering again. i turned on the kitchen light and ran to the oven. i didn't clearly see the mouse, but i think i got a fleeting glimpse. there was definite essence of mouse existence.

and then, this morning, i was stoked to eat a scrambled egg sandwich for breakfast, but as a laid the pieces of chia seed bread on my plate, i realized both slices appeared to have bite marks. i looked at the bag, and saw that all of the remaining loaf seemed to have a chunk missing and--the clincher--there was a small hole in the plastic bag. did you know the order name rodentia comes from the latin verb rodere which means "to gnaw"?

house mouse!

i refused to let house mouse ruin the breakfast that had given me the inspiration to get out of bed. so i just cut off the bit around the bite mark. (really, food prices have skyrocketed over the past few years, and i wanted the sandwich real bad.)

i want to catch house mouse and preserve the sanctity of any future bread loaves that i may leave on the counter. but i don't want house mouse to die. i may invest in a humane trap, and capture my nemesis and let him free somewhere far beyond alexander avenue.

in my teen years, i was a notorious mouse killer. not that i killed a lot of mice. i only killed one, but i did so with really purposeful intensity. i was at a church girls' camp. one of our leaders had been afraid of mice roaming the floors and rafters of the cabin and had placed traps throughout the place. one of these traps snapped late in the night. but after the snapping there was a gentle thrashing. the mouse had not died. it would suffer through night, unless someone stepped up. it was a mercy killing, really. of the roughly dozen girls in the cabin, i got out of bed and located a shovel propped against the wall and began beating the spade against the bouncing mouse trap and its fighting captive. soon the captive was fighting no more.

for years, people would bring up how i killed a mouse in the middle of the night with a shovel. and i always interject, "it was a compassionate killing!"

so, i don't want house mouse to die. it has been a formidable foe. it deserves to live.

just not behind my oven.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

an abundance of lists (okay, just two)

I love birthdays and the dawning of the new year. They serve as these symbolic points of self-reflection and analysis. I am fortunate enough to have great spacing between the two. I assess my accomplishments and future goals every January and July. (Although, let's be honest, I am basically constantly evaluating my life and its direction and purpose. However, on New Year's Eve and my birthday it feels intentional and everything feels a little more possible as I put up a new calendar or have a new age to call myself.)

Anyway, in an attempt to review the year and prepare for the next I have created some lists.

List #1: A summary of the highlights of 2013, in no particular order
1. Moved to New York
2. Held three jobs (Fat Jack's, Neighborhood House, and generationOn)
3. Went on trips to New York City, Las Vegas, Moab, Atlanta and Washington D.C.
4. Hiked a couple mountains (although, not Timpanogos)
5. Saw Bob Dylan in the flesh (from quite a healthy distance)
6. In many ways,both general and specific, I learned about about love, forgiveness, life, sacrifice and that I am clearly not a sociopath because I care about things a lot.

List #2: Objectives for the New Year
1. Visit the Grand Canyon
2. Turn 26 with grace and glory
3. Have more fun
4. Learn more things
5. Love everything more recklessly
6. Hike Mt. Timp

As I marvel that I have made it from 1988 to 2014, I can't help but think of a Bob Dylan line (and he's already made one appearance in this post): "I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now." That feels so true. When I was younger, I naively thought I had answers to any question that could be posed and that I would blaze through life with as though it were a game of Candyland. I'm glad life isn't like Candyland, though, because that game is actually sort of boring. I feel younger now, in the fact that I realize how daunting--and frankly, scary--life can be. But I just want to keep turning corners and pressing forward enjoying each step.








Saturday, December 14, 2013

Perfect Memory

I've been waxing nostalgic lately, and my go-to memory for a sort of satori, or to just remember complete intoxication with the joys and possibilities of life is seven and a half years old.

It was a July night. I could tell you the exact date because it was my friend Amanda's 18th birthday. I missed her party because I had just started a new job and was terrified about asking time off (I worked my own 18th birthday ten days later). By the time I made it to her house, the party that had been held was over, and only the Joshes remained (coincidentally, two of our best friends were christened with the same name. Josh must have been top of the baby name list in 1988.)

The moment I recall is the four of us laying on Amanda's front lawn in the heart of Utah Valley suburbia. We were not under the influence of any substance other than the exhilaration that comes from being the the precipice of adulthood. We were laying on the grass trying to feel the earth move. A science teacher we had had in ninth grade, who was that special combination of crazy, knowledgeable and inspiring, had said that he laid on the ground sometimes in an attempt to feel the earth rotating on its axis. And really, since the earth spins at a rate of 1,038 miles per hour, it really isn't too crazy to think that maybe if we were truly focusing on on our position in space that we could possibly feel the movement of our planet.

So there we were, all four of us, lying on the freshly cut green grass dimly lit by the pale light of the moon and stars and the glow of nearby streetlights envisioning ourselves as specks on the curved face of our spherical home as it spun madly around an invisible axis. We were so intent on our experiment, despite varying levels of skepticism existed among us regarding the plausibility of feeling anything. Nonetheless, in looking back, I feel so connected to the world and to my significant insignificance and now, in reflecting in the moment, realize the absolute necessity of good friends for the most whole, rich and fulfilling life.

Josh G. swears he felt the earth move.

After an indeterminate time, we drove to a nearby town to a Taco Bell where I forced Josh S. to donate $2 to whatever charity the business was supporting at the time in addition to buying his chalupas or whatever. Then we saw some midnight movie featuring Denzel Washington.

Now three of the four of us are married. At least one baby is on its way.

The earth has definitely kept moving.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Don't Be Beautiful, Just Be Awesome

Okay.

[inhales deeply, sighs]

There is this ad campaign that is widespread throughout New York City. Posters are affixed to the sides of buses, yellow checkered taxi cabs, and line the walls of subway cars. I guess Mayor Bloomberg allotted about $330,000 for this campaign designed to encourage "resilience" in young girls whose self-image is assaulted every day by images of super-thin, classically stunning models and celebrities.

I think it is all a very worthy cause. You can read one bloggers praise of the campaign here.


But I hate the ads.


Here is why:


As you can see from the example, each poster features a spunky looking girl in her tween years (which according to Wikipedia is 10-12, though J.R.R. Tolkien first coined the term in reference to the years of irresponsibility between your teenage years and full-fledged adulthood. Sorry for the tangent). The most prominent phrase is "I'm a girl" followed by "I'm beautiful the way I am." The best most important descriptors--in this poster "adventurous, friendly, healthy, curious, creative, and brave"-- are barely bigger than the requisite names of all the NYC public offices that made the campaign possible.

"Girl" and "Beautiful" are still the most important parts of this ad that is suppose to wean girls of their dependency on the mainstream praise of there external appearance!

I'm not as well versed in feminist critique of beauty ideals as I ought to be. I've never even read The Beauty Myth, a seminal work for those about to launch into a tirade about women being viewed as lovely objects, but I begin my rant in earnest nonetheless.



Let's presume I do not know English well, so I google a definition of beautiful. Here's what I get:

1. pleasing to the senses: very pleasing to look at, listen to, touch, smell, or taste.

I understand that they are trying to widen the definition of beautiful to mean something like wonderful, special, awesome. However, it still has its roots in being pleasing to someone else, someone outside yourself.

Using the word beautiful leads back to aesthetics, semantically. Then we get into the whole game of saying, "Well, sure you may not have the flawless skin of a porcelain doll (one of my own personal insecurities laid prostrate before you, dear reader), but you are beautiful in this nontraditional way." This is what is wrong.

It needs to be okay to not be beautiful. It is a dogged and devastating pursuit to match up to an unofficial guide of standards for being particularly pleasing to the eye. And guess what? Even if you are not "beautiful," you can still get an education, have friends, be employed, and even fall in love.

We still feel like it is cruel and unkind to not tell every human woman that she is beautiful. Because, I think, that despite all of our advancement we still have this issue that is largely linguistic--that saying someone isn't beautiful makes them less of a valuable contribution to womankind. We've expanded the definition of beautiful to make it a train everyone can ride, but it still remains focused on women's externality rather than the more meaningful aspects of their personhood.

You see?! Am I making sense?

I feel like we ought to remove beautiful from the list of descriptors that can be applied to humans.

And I don't think beautiful is the world that ought to be used to describe the plucky tween subjects in the campaign. I think the consistent tagline on all of them ought to be "I'm a girl, and I am an effing amazing human being!!!!!!!!!!!!!" (exclamation marks times one thousand)

I very intentionally left off "the way I am" because it is a concession--like an unnecessary defense against people that are considered more beautiful (or in my ad more amazing). Really, I think if they were going to misguidedly keep the emphasis on "beautiful" they should have at least left out "the way I am." But to elaborate on that thought would require several more paragraphs of angry typing, so let's be done.

Until another attempt to bolster girls' self-esteem in a completely heinous way deserves my unsolicited and disapproving opinion, I'm stepping off the soapbox. (Because I'm not hip enough to drop a mic, but I am still a girl and an effing amazing human being!!!!!!)





Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Parallel Lives

Rush hour on public transportation is sort of a democratization of human closeness. A stranger does not have to know me to sit so near that our thighs have practically melded together. This isn't a story about the posters that read: "A Crowded Subway is No Excuse for an Inappropriate Touch." Rather, this post is a simple observation of two gentlemen who stood back to back for 50 blocks.

They were so close that they we touching, but they never made eye contact. I was close enough that I was basically breathing down both of their necks, and could closely observe them both.

They seemed to be from different walks of life. One was wearing a well-cut suit and tie and reading The Economist; the other was in a yellow hooded sweatshirt and a trucker hat reading a religious magazine in Spanish. By my estimates, they were approximately the same age--late forties, early fifties. They seemed so different, and I naturally made assumptions that could be totally wrong (because you know that saying "when we assume we make an ass of u and me.") But it got me thinking about an assertion Joan Didion makes in an essay about New York. She says that it is a town for the "very rich and the very poor." I may pose the addendum and the young (who are sometimes also poor-ish). These two men and I may have been that trio.

The men were standing so close that they probably would have been able to feel each other's back sweat if they hadn't been wearing a sports jacket and a hoodie, but they actually never talked or saw the other's face. As I let my contemplation of them consume my mind for the better part of my commute, I found myself wishing I could follow them both home and see how they lived.

Or better yet, I wanted a Freaky Friday scenario and to have these two men switch lives.

But the thing is, besides being crammed tightly together in the subway, their lives will never touch.