Category Archives: This is what we dreamed of as children

Dreams, science and life realigned

bookshelfAt 16, you always thought you would die after high school. It’s not that you wanted to die, but you couldn’t fathom how you would keep going. What it would look like to follow those big, big dreams. You secretly felt stupid about having dreams. Your brain couldn’t picture it happening; therefore, it couldn’t exist.

Your thought pattern was half-right—not about fearing the unknown, but about the vision. You don’t have to know how you will get there, but you have to know you want it. To squeeze your eyes shut tight and see yourself at the end goal, no matter how insurmountable or ridiculous it seems. And the rest is just hard work. Head down. Light on.

You open your eyes. It’s Monday. It’s unseasonably warm. The cat is asleep on the couch. It’s 4 in the afternoon and you are home. It’s not a holiday. You don’t like this feeling, the heart palpitations that start when you remember you don’t know when you will get paid next. You send out invoices like sweepstakes entries. There’s $40 in the bank, but you’re owed $3,000. This is how you make your living now. You are lucky.

The table is littered with textbooks, a TI-83 calculator inherited from an old love and mechanical pencils. It’s unfamiliar, the evidence that someone in this house is doing math or writing not in pen. Yet somehow, the subject you always hated is growing more appealing. You like that it’s finite, that there are rules to be followed, that there is a right and a wrong answer.

It’s a shift from all the pretty lines and the yearning and the whimsy that you crave. And in that moment, I swear we were infinite, reads your favorite line from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” which your friend bought you for your birthday one year. He inscribed the inside cover, “…for hours of high school sadness.”  Sometimes you miss feeling infinite. You miss feeling breathy. You think about the clichés of getting older. Aging doesn’t scare you so much as losing yourself, as the fading intensity.

You are about to turn 30 and you are back in school with 19-year olds. They speak freely, they listen when you talk, they cannot believe you are that old. You all want to be nurses, you collectively lament over organic chemistry.

electrons

Your professor is a baby boomer, a retired chiropractor and an avid storyteller. She infuses lessons on elements with anecdotes about the ’70s. While the space between electrons is too small to fathom on the human-sized scale, it’s highly significant at the atomic level. And if all the electrons were aligned in a specific pattern, there would be enough space to put your finger straight through a solid piece of matter. She swears she proved this once in her early twenties, when she and her friend both watched a potato chip fall directly through a table. They looked everywhere and couldn’t find the chip—and concluded that it was caught inside the table between the electrons. This had nothing to do with being stoned, and everything to do with proving scientific theories, she said.

School is different the second time around. Or the third time, if you count your previous degrees. Or the fourth time, if you count all the times you started and stopped the process when it got to be too much. When it was scary, when you chose friends over homework, when you thought you were too old to be making drastic changes, when it wasn’t comfortable to be broke, when you didn’t believe you were smart enough to tackle science. When you couldn’t fathom not being a writer, even though making a living off of it was making you unhappy. When you lost sight of the end goal.

School is different this time around. It’s no one else’s fault that you chose the path of most resistance; you own it as a means to an end. You are learning the art of patience with your eye on the prize. You are learning how to settle into discomfort, to welcome the unknown, to put one foot in front of the other and recognize that it’s all you can do. Sometimes you can’t see more than three steps ahead, and that’s just the reality of now.

You are sure this is right. You are sure that if you keep your head down and not allow yourself to be consumed by the forces working against you, you will make it through. You are sure that there is space—no matter how small or inconceivable—where everything lines up.

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Law and Disorder

Dear citizens of New York City, you can all rest assured tonight knowing that your tax dollars are being put to good use. In order to keep potential evil-doers away from children, the city is now giving court summons to anyone seen in a playground without a child. And instead of letting said offenders pay a fine, they are required to go to court and use the city’s resources for hours on end, only to pay a $25 fine and leave.

I lived in Baltimore for three years, and let me tell you – for a place that inspired “The Wire,” (which, yes, is an accurate depiction*) its Department of Parking is nestled on the efficiency scale between the near-infinite-yet-brisk-line at any NYC Whole Foods and a German-engineered automobile. In other words, a city whose law enforcement can’t control its homicide rate invests a suspicious amount of resources in ensuring your car will be egregiously ticketed and/or towed if you are nine seconds late to feed your meter/move your vehicle.

Such backwards practices manifest themselves differently in New York, where I was issued a court summons at 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon for sitting in a playground without a minor present. In New York, there is a difference between a park and a playground, the latter being a location that only welcomes those over 18 when accompanied by those under 18. In other words, if you are looking for a green space to eat your lunch after being trapped in a windowless office, you’re safer loitering outside a business next to a pan-handler. Then again, I’m not a lawyer, so don’t quote me.

I’m all about protecting the children. But the fact that I was accosted in the middle of the afternoon by two police officers who pulled me and a five-foot tall college student who was waiting in the park to meet her client, a nine-year old boy with autism, is not helping anyone. There was a regulation we were not aware of, and while it seems ridiculous, I understand. We were not given a warning, despite being confused as to why we were in trouble – we were simply written up a court summons and told that we had to appear.

Perhaps the two officers had nothing better to do, like catch an actual criminal? I mean, didn’t they realize that I had to use a whole personal day to go to court? GOSH.

The night before my court date, I spent a long time picking out my most Mature and Responsible-Looking Outfit. I pondered such questions as: Can I bring a gym bag to court? Is there a coat check? If I was already going to be downtown, I’d want to get a workout in.

When I got in line, I was appalled to see that out of the thirtysome people waiting outside – including those who failed to put their dogs on leashes, jaywalkers and those in parks after sunset – I was overdressed. Well, me and the Young Republican standing behind me, both of us schvitzing in our suit jackets.

I spent three hours waiting in awful florescent lighting, only to approach the judge’s bench and be told that I could plead guilty and pay a $25 fine.

“What does pleading guilty mean? Will I have a record?” I asked the judge, a dead-ringer for Colonel Sanders.

“Oh of course not,” he replied, laughing (laughing? In court?). “It’s not a criminal offense. You could plead guilty and still run for Senate.”

So, the city needs money and the police officers have to fill their ticket quota. Fine. But why not just give out a ticket, let “offenders’ plead guilty by mail and send in a check? I don’t think the streets are any safer, and I can’t imagine how many resources were wasted on this.

On the plus side, I made a friend – we’ll call him Jim – who asked what I was doing in court. I told him I was in a park without a child. “But you’re a woman,” he said. “I know, right?” I replied, totally getting where he was coming from. (Of all times to be given an equal opportunity, couldn’t the fact that having a vagina makes me less likely to steal a child work for me JUST THIS ONCE?) Jim wore a stained, oversized t-shirt and a pair of pants big enough for a family of four. He was contesting a ticket for possessing an open container – but like me, he was “targeted and set up.” Before we parted ways, I wanted to tell him that maybe it would be in his best interest to remove his backwards baseball hat. Then again, I’m not a lawyer, so I kept it to myself.

*I have never seen “The Wire,” but this lie is much more of a crowd-pleaser.

Love in the time of “holla@ya”

“Life used to be so easy,” my friend recently lamented about the lack of communication options in the olden [read: pre-internet] days. “Our parents had one choice; call someone on the phone or talk face-to-face. Now we have so many mediums, each with their own codes of etiquette.”

I wanted to respond with a helpful piece of advice, but all I could say was, “#doubletrue.”

Even if you are out meeting people in the actual world, eventually you are going to have to run into them online. This opens worlds of ambiguous possibilities for the passive-aggressive, awkward, and shy, and leaves the direct loudmouths SOL. Let me break it down for you.

What’s in a poke?
As if interweb communication could be any more lame…there’s the Facebook poke. Instead of hiding behind a screen and typing a message, you can hide behind a screen, not type a message, and let someone know you had nothing to say, but you wish you did.

Instant pleasure

Remember when stalking entailed driving past your crush’s house repeatedly? Now there’s no need to do that, because chances are, your crush is checking in on 4square that s/he just unlocked the “My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard” badge at the Silver Diner.  Why on earth anyone would want the (t)world to know their whereabouts at all times is beyond me, but then again, I was born in ’82; much like current fashion’s homage to what is the most aesthetically haggard decade, these things aren’t supposed to make sense to me.

When I think about you, I search myself

Googling yourself is the new masturbation. It’s also necessary when applying for a job, finding a date, or reminding yourself of your glory days upon winning the $25 grand prize in your high school’s poetry slam. (I’m still brushing my shoulders off for that last one.) It used to take love letters to find out that someone didn’t understand the difference between “your” and “you’re.” By that time, you were already so IN LIKE that you could let details like grammar slide.* However, now all it takes is a quick search to pull up a crappy blog.

Tweetups

Think you can’t find love on Twitter? Think again. Witty people flock to other witty people like moths to a flame. It’s scientifically proven, like the Law of Thermodynamics or the fact that burritos are awesome. How do I know this? The other day I started a sentence with, “when we first started talking after you tweeted me your phone number.” Annnnnnnd scene.

Post-breakup Facebook deletion

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve never deleted a friend. But I will say, that shit stings. I have an ex who will not talk to me, yet said ex will friend-request my cat. Who has a Facebook profile. Or rather, had a Facebook profile, before I was told this made me undateable. No really, I can explain.

Just Gimme Some Kinda Sign, Girl

Forgo the texting, pick up the phone, and call already. Be direct. Say what you want. We must rise up against the passive-aggression that the internet promotes. And for the love of all things holy – ask, “what’s your number?” not  “do you have Bump?

*Unless you [cough, cough] worked for the number 3 college newspaper in the country as a budding journalist.

Cures for post-modern boredom

I often wonder what cubicle/windowless-office-bound employees did to pass the time before Al Gore invented the interweb. You know, when the New York Times was only as current as last night’s roll time and Facebook was just a hypothetical idea in Mark Zuckerberg’s developing fetus brain. Upon wondering this aloud (ahem, via Twitter, home to the most important thoughts), someone referred me to Mad Men, i.e., drink, sleep, apply a thick layer of sexual harassment.

Let it be noted that work boredom is not about not having things to do. It’s about not wanting to do the things you’re supposed to be doing.

Below I share are some of my favorite, non-social media office pastimes once my water-cooler visitation tally has surpassed the double digits:

  • Snack Attack art. Every day at 3:00 p.m., without fail, I am jonesing for protein. Instead of eating the cashews I have stashed away, I dangle one from each corner of my mouth, snap an iPhone photo, and send to my friends with the subject: “I am the walrus.”
  • Plan imaginary vacations.
  • Make top-five lists, in the spirit of High Fidelity.
  • Ponder why I wasn’t clever enough to invent a motif like top-five lists.
  • Learn a new Fleetwood Mac fact. Did you know that Stevie Nicks wrote “Silver Springs” whilst driving through Silver Spring, Maryland? (My homeskillet.) Sure, it’s on Wikipedia, which means some groupie was probably making up stories it’s true.
  • Make a mental list of my favorite foods and Google their ingredients to see if they contain high-fructose corn syrup (which should be hyphenated, FYI).
  • Compile list of surprisingly HFCS-full foods and send to my brother.
  • Bet gazillions of dollars based on the receptacle of useless knowledge that lives in my head. This includes such gems as: there is no “s” at the end of “Nordstrom;” Stephen Stills wrote Suite: Judy Blue Eyes for Judy Collins; despite what the Coke commercials indicate, penguins and polar bears live on opposite poles.