Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Hard Drive.

Twice last week, my e-mail account at work reached its capacity limit and froze, forcing me to go through hundreds of messages, picking what to archive or delete.

At the same time, my phone began bleating, "SIM Card Full!" The unanticipated chore of clearing items from my address book actually turned out to be a mini-catharsis (in the modern age, you can delete not just words, but also people!). But today, while clearing out text messages from said phone to keep it from seizing up again, I thought: Damn, if I have to spend this much time cleaning up all the b.s. I spew into the textosphere, maybe it's time to consider reducing my output?

(Yes, I recognize the paradox in airing this question on my blog.)

My verbal pollution extends beyond the Interwebs. I have a huge box containing every letter ever received, birthday cards, diaries, notebooks with "ideas." I preserve old computers and floppy disks (I just said floppy disks) full of fossilized musings, accessible in theory but extinct in reality. All of this resides at my parents' house, because, you know, I don't like clutter. It's all there, one big life archive that, like so many online .zips, offers more peace of mind than real utility. Random access, memory.

Not long after I moved into my current place, which I furnished with an ivory rug, a cream couch, impossibly white new bedsheets and no paint on the landlord-blanc walls, I read this by Stephen King: "We call it white because we need a word, but its true name is nothing. Black is the absence of light, but white is the absence of memory, the color of can't remember."

What if you could choose not only what to delete from your brain -- or your life -- but also what you could retain? What would you delete, if anything?

I would be glad if I could erase my knowledge of the tune "We Built This City" and restore some random lost childhood memory. I would hit "Del" on everything I've ever watched on Bravo and retrieve the dreams last saved to my unconscious. I would move a few past dating experiences to the recycle bin and then download some classic novels.

I would change the screensaver in my brain from this to this.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Great Expectations.

It's one thing to be young, bright and failing when you're in a big city; it's something else when you're in the suburbs.

Perched behind the window of a coffee shop in Bethesda on a visit awhile back, looking out at an intersection that had remained comfortingly static over the years, I mentally greeted the self who had been in that same seat more than a decade before. I used to sit there writing in my journal and feeling so paralyzed, having not yet acquired a relationship, job or home that felt mine and true. Adding insult to injury, I was feeling that way in Bethesda, where I had grown up, which gave my depression an extra edge of despair and bittersweetness.

My frustrations now muted and my situation improved since then, I feel thankful -- but also a little wistful for the depressed me who used to sit there, plotting and dreaming and lamenting.

I used to be, and still am, attracted to stories about the gifted and tormented: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Salinger's characters. It is horrible to be in your 20s and feel as if it's your moment to make a mark, but you just can't rise to the occasion. You are too immature, too lazy, too scared, too directionless, too mediocre, too perfectionist, too attached to brooding and self-harm. You achingly identify with those tortured souls, the Sylvia Plaths and Robert Lowells, but the difference is that they were executing, while you are merely aspiring. Their suffering is Large, remembered, bold; yours is small, unchronicled, meek.

Now my fresh-and-new years are gone and I have become a reluctant student in the arts of gratitude and realistic expectation. It is now enough to sit in a cafe and simply experience feeling transient and existential. I don't have to make art out of it, or think about making art out of it -- or worse, feel unique about it.

At this point in my life (practicing said gratitude), it feels like a luxury simply to sit alone and brood instead of doing many of the other things responsible adults do, such as raising children or working overtime or having brunch. I often wonder (maybe too much) why alone-time is so important to me, and how to work out the calculus of balancing that need with those of a relationship.

When I lived with someone, I looked forward to being alone so that I could:

- talk to myself
- cook uninterrupted, because I need to concentrate when I'm doing it
- dance around
- sing really loudly
- peep out windows
- inspect things in the mirror
- browse music
- write to myself (i.e., talk to myself more, only silently)
- watch whatever I wanted and pause it as much as I wanted
- [censored]

Everyone needs to exercise his or her right to wander, either at home or at large. I didn't really appreciate that until I was sitting alone at a counter in suburbia, realizing that it doesn't matter where you are, temporally or physically -- it's still necessary to untether yourself and get lost once in awhile. And it's sweeter getting lost when there's no pressure to find anything other than joy in it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Toughest Job in the World.

Take a look at your significant other, right now. Take a look in your mind's eye, if you have to. No really. Take a good, long look.

And now, say thank you. Say thank you to this person, because no matter what nonsense you have been through, no matter how much of a total goof he/she is, and no matter how much of a total douche you are, this person has agreed to lend your pathetic life some meaning. In the big game, they made you first-pick. You!

You're not sure what you would do without this person to take the edge off your existential dread. Without this person, there is no one to put up with your b.s. This person is your excuse, your structure, your frame of reference, your anchor. They have their own crap to deal with, but they have assented to taking on yours, too. It's a big job.

If only you could escape yourself the way you can escape your mate. It feels really fucking good to get out and be your own person for a night, or a day -- a week, even. I mean Jesus, it's really tiring being around someone who is intimately familiar with all of the ways in which you are kind of a fraud! We all need to escape, at least for a little while, from the person who actually decided to stick around. By definition, that person is sort of your life boss.

Just like we all need jobs to feel like we're not just completely screwing around, we all need a Point Person to keep us from wandering around our own navels all the time, wondering what the hell we're doing. What the hell are you doing? You're answering to your Point Person, that's what. Aren't you kind of glad they hired you?

I guess this is as close as I'll ever get to endorsing monogamy.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Too Close for Discomfort.

The thing is, when you make the choice to start a blog about uncomfortable moments, you are more or less screwed right out of the gate. Right now I only feel free to write about maybe five percent of the ish that's going down in my life right now, for a variety of reasons, such as:

- Privacy: My own.
- Confidentiality: My friends'.
- Respect: For my family.
- Fear: Of getting fired.
- Banality: A hallmark of most things that pass through my brain.
- Sensitivity: Toward others' feelings.
- Speechlessness: .
- Pride: Goddamned, foolish pride.
- Cease and desist request: One, so far.
- Eyes: Yours, which do not like to bleed.*

And so the Moments close in, and there I am, feeling like our heroes in Star Wars during the trash compactor scene.

So for right now, I am just going to make a list of general topics that are relevant to current events, either mine or my friends' or my family's, but that are too problematic to tackle just now:

- Religious differences
- Age-inappropriate relationships
- Communicable diseases
- Financial desperation
- Drinking problems
- Death
- Hair removal
- Depression
- Arrested development in adults over 40
- Penis size
- Lil' Wayne
- Pointless online behavior
- Lost loves

I will leave these alone and instead share a little vignette from my experience as a volunteer "reception manager" at CUESA's Sunday Supper fundraiser last weekend. The title is a glorification of what I really did, which was to fetch things for chefs and sample free food. At one point, I get introduced to another volunteer. We are both wearing nametags that say "Culinary Volunteer" under our names.

Me: So you are another one of the volunteers here?
Him: [nods] What are you doing [for the event]?
Me: Oh, I'm a reception manager. [self-conscious laugh] Just roaming around, making sure everything goes smoothly.
Him: [beat] So you're not actually a culinary volunteer. [He nods toward my nametag.]
Me: [momentarily puzzled] What? Oh. No, I guess not! What are you doing tonight?
Him: I'm plating desserts.
Me: [looking for some sign of irony, and seeing none] Well. I defer to your culinary expertise then.
[More awkward chit-chat about his vastly superior volunteer role, then I make an excuse to not talk to this person anymore]

Let's recap.

Here's what I said: [momentarily puzzled] What? Oh. No, I guess not! What are you doing tonight?

Here's what I should have said: No. I'm not a dick, either! Did they run out of nametags for that one?

Or: Well no, apparently I am assigned to the "conversing with douchebags" station.

I'm not a dick, either. I mean, anybody with me here? I must have repeated that lame comeback to myself at least four times over the rest of the evening. What is the best comeback you never uttered in the moment?

* I know that what follows the colons should not be capitalized or punctuated by periods. I actually struggled with this.