Saturday, March 29, 2008

Egg McMuffins And Civilization

I got the following email from WC a couple days ago (March 27th).

"The inventor of the egg mcmuffin passed away today at the age of 89. Moment of silence, please."

Very few things are happier than pulling into the drive-thru to order a #1 breakfast meal (Egg McMuffin) with a large OJ and an extra hashbrown.

The McDonald's breakfasts were not available in China until just recently, so when I first moved to Beijing, I was bereft.

Eight months after moving to Beijing, my first trip out of Asia was a quick trip to Brisbane, where I made it my mission to collect my rental car and head for the first sighted golden arches so I could get my fix.

Of course, the first thing I did was cut in line (I had acclimated a bit TOO well to China) and was yelled at by a big burly surfer dude. I pretended I didn't speak English and told him in Mandarin that he was fat and that his mother was a bad egg. I then felt vaguely guilty that I was single-handedly propagating the image of the non-personal-space-and line-respecting Asian tourist.

I told this story to my Chinese teacher, CZ, who nodded sagely, already familiar (from other of her American students) that in much of America (and most especially in NYC), line-cutting is on par with murder.

But here's something interesting: McDonald's is widely credited for beginning to teach the all important skill of queuing in China. When the golden arches first started popping up there, they hired all for the usual sorts of roles necessary for running fast food restaurants. But they also hired a cadre of additional people whose sole job was to browbeat the customers into standing in orderly lines. Even today in mainland China, there are no orderly lines at the bank, or the subway ticket counter, or the market. But walk into a Mickey D's? Beautiful lines aplenty.

And I mean really, isn't that what civilization is all about? The ready availability of toilet paper and diet coke, and respect for queuing.

And, of course, egg mcmuffins.


I must have been emoting something in a major way Thursday night.

AN had a horrible dream about me and wanted to make sure that I was OK. A colleague of hers (whom I had met once before), confessed to her that he had dreamed of me too that same night - a "naughty" dream, however.

Thursday night was unusual in one regard. I slept as poorly as I ever do, but I'm used to that. Friday morning, however, I was unusually exhausted. Now I know why. I was busy dreamwalking.

Anyone else dream of me Thursday night?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Predators And Prey

I loved this comment (on my post titled More On Dating (see next post below)) from Robespierre so much, I thought it merited highlighting:

Blogger Robespierre said...

Does this not beg the larger "Sex in the City" question: Can straight guys and girls be friends (when they are not physically repulsed by each other)? How many straight guys are you friends with? And by friends I mean friends like you are with your coterie of "BFF!" GFs? From my vantage if you put me in a magical world where I were no longer married [the last part of that sentence was written with my best Homer Simpson "beer" voice], I would be in full-blown leopard stalking baby Thompson's gazelle mode in about 15 seconds. Yes, yes, I know how hard it is to be single in the twilight of our youth where we are no longer so needy and don't want to put up with anything. But I think normal straight guys are for the most part not going to fit into your paradigm.

I do want to stress that I am by no means advocating against romance in any way. If you like a girl, then the courting process will take however long the courting process takes. But in the end you will ambush her and she find herself being dragged up into a tree away from other predators.

First off, it's Sex AND The City (all caps mine). But Robespierre, given that he is a straight man, gets huge bonus points for that very relevant and appropriate reference. Although some points are deducted for his married status since I have no doubt (actually, absolute certainty because he's already told me this) that he watched every single episode of every single season with his lovely wife sitting by his side. But those points would be added back on if he initiated that viewing marathon.

Second, leopard-stalking-baby gazelle mode? *LAUGHING* Would have loved to see that!

Third, with the prevalence of cougars and so forth, it's now harder to determine who is the predator and who is the prey. I myself am VERY uncomfortable in the role of prey. Actually, it just pisses me off. I prefer to be the one doing the stalking.

But those initial observations aside, I think friendship is indeed possible between straight men and women who find each other at least somewhat attractive. Of course, I am the first to say that my CLOSEST friends are women and gay men because of the simplicity and purity of those relationships ("pure" defined as unclouded by sexual attraction). That said, friendships peppered with the additional frisson of flirting and heightened aesthetic appreciation and even sexual awareness might sometimes be more precarious propositions, and might require more effort to avoid slippage, and might not be as CLOSE, but are, inherently, no less solid or real. I remember once being told by a straight male friend: "I would drive you crazy, and you would drive me to drink, so it's good that we're just friends."

But I digress.

The primary issue here is expectation and goal orientation. When people meet as colleagues, as friends of friends, or as classmates, etc., sexual attraction and romance might erupt at any time, much like cold sores. But romance is not the goal of the initial dynamic. And hence, there are more opportunities and time to collect the data points necessary for BOTH parties to be on the same page. Nakedness is not expected shortly after the third class together, or third business meeting, or third group happy hour or dinner. And given the meeting I just had this morning, all I can say is, "thank goodness for that."

As for a long courting process, that's absolutely fine, as long as there is no undue or obvious pressure. After all, it's a time honored practice to sneak in under the radar as a "friend" for positioning purposes. Many a battle has been won by steady attrition.

And especially given the boo-on-dating-and-relationships stance that I have been hearing from so many of my single female friends, a slow, low-key, non threatening siege might be the only effective strategy to breaching the castle walls.

As for being ambushed and dragged up a tree away from other predators? That's acceptable as long as it is according to our timing, with our permission, by a predator of our choosing (after consulting all close friends and comprehensive stalking on our parts), and our hair and nails don't get mussed.

But of course, this is only applicable "advice" for those predators who just HAVE to pursue the gazelle that happens to be bristling with "No Trespassing" signs and sharp pointy weapons. Otherwise, there's far easier prey out there.

Now this cougar-in-gazelle's-clothing is going to take some tylenol for her multi-metaphor induced headache.

Monday, March 24, 2008

More On Dating

There is an epidemic infecting a number of my single female friends: aversion to intimacy (physical and/or emotional).

We all have our reasons, whether those reasons are coherently articulated or not.

On one hand, I think the vast majority of "single" people out there, should they be asked the abstract question of whether they want to be in a satisfying romantic relationship, would answer: "of course."

But the next question is: what are they willing to do to achieve that?

There are other issues involved which complicate the matter: are they in a place where they can or even want to carve out the time and attention for a relationship or even look for one? Despite any stated man-fast, is it just that they haven't met the "right" person? (This second question is what has motivated my own recent dating experiments - the possibility of meeting a person who could, in a blink of an eye, cause me to rethink my own state of readiness or desire to take on the high-maintenance prospect of a man in my life). Does the usual process of achieving that goal - dating - just seem repellent and/or ineffective?

I just had a conversation with a friend of mine that was striking in its similarity to conversations I've had with numerous others, including myself: that the thought of dating, and the usual "meet someone, go out on 3 to 5 dates, have sex with them, suddenly find yourself in a relationship or in the turmoil/annoyance of unaligned levels of interest" is REPELLENT.

In recent conversations about online dating and much of dating in general, SK described it perfectly - "goal-oriented dating."

With most endeavors, having a clearly identified goal is necessary, or at the very least, helpful in achieving that goal.

But with dating, at least for those "suffering" from this particular epidemic, can being "goal-oriented" hinder rather than help?

Have I met my share of freaks? Yes. Have I also met perfectly nice guys whom I rejected after a date or two or three because in that allotted time I never had the slightest desire see them naked, but for whom I could have developed the tingles had we had the time to get to know each other as people? Possibly. Am I aware that my lack of readiness for or interest in a relationship might be preventing me from recognizing a perfectly good candidate when he's sitting across the table from me? Yes.

I have posted before about the necessity of collecting a myriad of data points about a person in order to determine attraction - data points you can't always learn after one date or two or three. And while sometimes chemistry can hit you over the head upon first laying eyes on someone, sometimes it develops slowly with lots of time and repeated exposure.

But with "goal-oriented dating," comes a slew of expectations and in most cases, a ludicrously short time line. Very rarely do men or women want to be "friends" with a dating prospect when the paradigm has already been set up as "goal-oriented." And that works both ways within this paradigm - many of us don't want to be resigned into the friend category, and many of us don't want to try to be friends with someone who is clearly interested in more.

This brings me to the heart of what I have been thinking for myself and hearing from numerous women: we want to be friends first, with no expectations, no "goal" in mind. And in this expectation and goal free environment, to be able to simply enjoy someone's company, get to know them, and naturally, almost subconsciously, collect all those necessary data points about who they are, and play the rest by ear.

Maybe what I've been hearing recently is backlash against a dynamic inherent in online dating or any kind of dating that involves a stranger or near stranger to you. Or maybe it is due to the epidemic of emotional distance and exaggerated caution and aversion to intimacy that seems to be sweeping through many of my single friends.

One thing is clear though. The question that used to clearly signal the kiss of death when it comes to the possibility of romance, might now signal something else entirely: "Can we be friends?"

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Pearls of Wisdom

MG needed emergency childcare this afternoon for the lovely and precocious AG, so I came to the rescue.

I called KK beforehand for advice. What does one do with a four year old? I mean, I was pretty sure smoking and drinking wouldn't be on the agenda.

KK interrupted me, astonished: "She asked YOU to take care of her child? Does she KNOW you?"

So AG and I watched Jurassic Park together and AG covered my eyes during the scary parts with a hand that smelled suspiciously of ham.

And then we played Cinderella. I was pleasantly surprised that AG wanted me to be Cinderella so she could be a wicked step sister. But as I then proceeded to spend the next 15 minutes being bossed around mercilessly, I saw the cleverness of her choice.

She deviated from the story somewhat by producing two princes: a large comfy looking bear and a small, gnarly-looking frog. The princes chose their respective mates. AG got chosen by the bear; I got chosen by the frog. And then we were to sit on the sofa with our blankets and princes to watch TV.

As we were getting settled on the sofa, AG told me: "You can sit next to your prince if it is uncomfortable to sit on him. But no kissing until you are married."

From the mouths of babes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nothing But The Music

I remember thinking recently that I got through my tumultuous teen and pre-teen years by playing the piano.

No need for a therapist, no need to act out in potentially destructive ways, not when you can empty yourself of everything difficult through your fingertips.

Some composers are better than others for that. Chopin, Schubert, and some Beethoven, are marvelous for their cathartic effect - you can overplay them when alone, without fear of criticism from one's piano teacher, and be self indulgently self-pitying or angry, playing yourself into every note, and feel better afterwards.

But Bach is what I played when things seemed so bad that the thought of catharsis was dreadful and unbearably naked, when the last thing I wanted to do was play myself into the music. Because Bach was always... wholly Bach.

I placed an order last Friday and received it today. I am on page 67 of my newly acquired copy of Madeleine L'Engle's The Small Rain and just read this:

Katherine looked down at the keyboard. "Mother said when you were unhappy or confused, Bach was the person to play. With almost everybody else you can think, but with Bach there's nothing but the music. It's true, you know."

"Yes, I know," Tom said. He stood leaning on the piano. Twice he seemed about to speak; then he waved his arms a little, helplessly, and wandered out.

The best writers can do that - magically pull out something important, and mostly forgotten, from your own experience, phrase it far better than you could have possibly done so yourself, and remind you of it.

Protecting The Innocent

At yesterday's guitar lesson, I asked my teacher for more details about the upcoming recital. I knew it was going to take place in a bar, but I wanted to get a better sense for the venue. Inviting friends to a recital such as this raises some concerns. Especially given my friends, I wanted to make sure that they would be able to... how should I phrase it?... drink copiously. It's one thing to go to a bar and listen to great live music, another thing entirely to listen to a bunch of students earnestly working their way through Freebird or Stairway to Heaven.

So to stack the odds in favor of this not using up all my "friend credits," I have worked it so that I will perform last, or near last, and my friends can show up late. Not the best recital etiquette, but I think very advisable in this case.

I asked about the audience thing too - not that I would blink should the norm be to bring just one or two friends and I bring an entire posse - but I wanted to know nonetheless.

While we were discussing this, I made some joke about how my friends have been instructed to applaud wildly no matter what I do on stage - even if it involves ping pong balls.

My teacher looked at me with a charmingly confused look on his face. "Ping pong balls? You mean like beer pong?"

I looked at his earnest face and just said, "Oh, dear."

And I changed the subject.

What was I to do? How could I say to him: "There's a whole genre of stripper acts showcasing women shooting ping pong balls out of their hoo hoos and aiming them at the audience."

I can't be the one who opens that particular world for him. Sometimes virginity is better left alone.

Hope for HuMANity

Gorgeous Hunk O' Man (JF) has graciously given me his permission to post a recent picture (including his head) on my blog.

I find it strange that admiring this photo cheers me up. It really should plummet me into the depths of despair - the entire "doo, doo doo doo, doo doo, doo doo, can't touch this."

But instead, it makes me giggle and feel more hopeful and upbeat about humanity in general. I'm hoping if I get him drunk enough beforehand, in addition to wildly applauding my performance of Carcassi's Etude No. 9, he will rip off his shirt and throw it on stage.

Now I'm wondering how many of my loyal blog readers will suddenly want to come to my guitar recital?

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Fairytale

I read Neil Gaiman's Stardust last summer, and when I turned the last page, I felt that I had finished reading a book that had entertained generations of children and grown-ups, not one that had been written and published just recently.

I watched the movie version just the other day. And I enjoyed it immensely, but as with all movies based on books, it was tremendously simplified.

I won't give anything away. But to say that the book, compared to the movie, was far more nuanced and its ending sadder should come as no surprise.

Yvaine realised that she felt nothing but pity for the creature who had wanted her dead, so she said, "Could it be that the heart that you seek is no longer my own?"

The old woman coughed. Her whole frame shook and spasmed with the retching effort of it.

Star waited for her to be done, and then she said, "I have given my heart to another."

"The boy? The one in the inn? With the unicorn?"


"You should have let me take it back then, for my sisters and me. We could have been young again, well in the next age of the world. Your boy will break it, or waste it, or lose it. They all do."

"Nonetheless," said the star, "he has my heart..."

Not So Much

VBD (Very Bad Date): "You are Korean? I thought you said you are Chinese."
Me: "No, I said that I lived in China briefly."
VBD: "I'm pretty sure you said you are Chinese."
Me: "No, I didn't."
VBD: "I'm pretty sure you did."
Me: *chugging champagne*
VBD: "Well, I loved Tokyo - went to Japan on a business trip 10 years ago. I even learned some Japanese. But I have an ear for languages. I learned French in Paris. Paris was Tray Beeyan"
Me: "Nihongo ga dekimasuka?"
VBD: *looking confused* "Oh. Is that Chinese?"
Me: "Er, no. Japanese. You just mentioned that you learned some Japanese."
VBD: "Oh. But you are... Korean?"
Me: "Yes."
VBD: "So, is Japanese a lot like Korean?"
Me: "No, it's not."
VBD: "Do you speak Chinese?"
Me: *being an ass* "Yidianr. Sukoshi."
VBD: *looking confused*
Me: "Un peu."
VBD: *looking confused*
Me: "A little."
VBD: "So you must have an ear for languages too."
Me: "Not so much."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Sound of Trying

In Sunbeams: Sages, Saints and Lovers Celebrate the Human Heart, edited by Sy Safranksky, Thomas Powers writes an anecdote about Stravinsky, and a new piece the composer had written with a particularly difficult violin passage:

"After it had been in rehearsal for several weeks, the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said he was sorry, he had tried his best, the passage was too difficult, no violinist could play it. Stravinsky said, 'I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it.'"

I haven't read the book; just from the title alone, it sounds like something that would probably piss me off, but I'd like to think that that anecdote about Stravinsky is true. And now I'm going to be mildly irritated until I figure out which piece it is so I can listen to that passage.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Playing Mozart

My guitar lessons are going well, I am progressing by leaps and bounds.

After 2 months of lessons, I am now working an a Carcassi Etude which I will perform in a student recital in the beginning of April.

But, as I predicted for myself, I am now at the stage where I am acutely aware that my "musicality," which has been very expensively developed by years of classical musical training, is vastly NOT matched by my technical ability on the guitar.

I know how the piece SHOULD be played. But I have to accept that in the next couple weeks, the most I can achieve is producing a clean performance - all the correct notes, no incorrect ones, and, more or less, in the appropriate tempo. But a clean performance is hardly a GOOD performance.

This has made me think of when I studied piano. My piano teacher introduced certain pieces to me when she judged that I had sufficient technical ability, and had me revisit them at regular intervals. She had me first play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata when I was 11. I worked on the piece and was eventually able to produce a clean version of it. But it was only as practice, never for performance.

She had me revisit it at 13 and I performed it then.

At 16, I worked on it again. And although it was indisputable that I was a far more capable pianist at that point, with greater technical proficiency and deeper emotional expressiveness, my teacher's reply when I asked if I would perform it was: "Let me think about that. No." I think if she had been less measured in her response, she would have phrased it differently, "Hell no."

The bottom line was that I was a near prodigy when I was younger, but I peaked at 12, and while I kept progressing, the rate of that progress had slowed measurably, and by 16, I was merely average when compared to the pool of young pianists who were my peers.

In my last few years studying piano, I focused almost exclusively on practicing and performing Bach and Chopin - two vastly different composers. I was most proficient at Bach. His almost mathematical precision lent itself well to my strengths and my performances of Bach were not only clean, but also GOOD. But I enjoyed playing Chopin (and Schubert) much more - and I performed those pieces with a certain romantic, over-the-top quality which played well with audiences. I NEVER played or performed Mozart. Mozart requires all the technical precision of Bach, but also an ability to emote with restraint and delicacy. And restraint and delicacy have never been my strong suits.

Every year, my piano teacher would have all of her students perform in her student recital, and the final performance of the recital was always reserved for her best student. I was not her best student. There was another girl who had far better pedal work than I. SHE was able to play Mozart beautifully. But I held that coveted final position for years. Why? My teacher phrased it this way: "She's better than you are. But you ham it up. I can't let anyone follow you. It's not good, I don't like it, but what can I do?"

With my current guitar playing sparking this self-indulgent walk down memory lane, it has occurred to me that perhaps I need to do the life equivalent of learning to play Mozart.

But first, I will play Carcassi at this student recital, hamming it up for JF, DP, JD, et al, in the audience - JF in particular has promised to shriek wildly and pull out his hair and maybe even pee a little, no matter what I end up doing on stage, even (or especially) if it involves ping pong balls.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Post Date Initial Wrap Up

I am home, greatly relieved to be so, and looking at pictures of JF to get rid of the "ick".

Why, you ask?

Well... I do not want to be unkind.

So I will limit my comments to the following:

1. If you want to talk about how much you work out, you should LOOK like you work out.

2. It's generally better to use your indoor voice when indoors.

3. I should have gotten WASTED before going out.

I'm going to stop there.

And oh - per my experiment, I was decidedly non charming. But ovulation trumped my completely bored demeanor.

I did, however, stay long enough to finish the bottle of champagne he ordered. Hey, a girl's gotta drink.

Pre-Date Advice

IC: "You shouldn't drink before your date. Remember that one incident."


IC: "You know I'm being serious, right?"


I'm Ovulating

A few weeks ago, I posted a link to the Time Magazine article Why We Love which summarized a number of studies which use biology and chemistry to shed light on love and sex and relationships.

One particularly interesting study focused on men's reactions to women who are ovulating. The study monitored strippers' menstrual cycles and the tips they earned during specific stages of said cycle.

While men generally are not able to explicitly identify the women who are menstruating versus those who are ovulating versus those who are at neither stage, SOMEHOW, they are able to "tell" and that affected how much they tipped the various strippers in this study.

Menstruating strippers were tipped the least. Ovulating strippers were tipped the most. Those strippers neither menstruating nor ovulating received tips in the middle of the two extremes. So the study hypothesized that somehow, men are able to sense ovulation and are "nicer" to those women who are fertile at that moment.

I had an "Ah Ha!" moment reading this. Perhaps every time I have attracted a stalker, I was ovulating at the time? I consulted a calendar and determined that when I met Creepy Skincare Product Guy who called and emailed me mercilessly for weeks afterwards, I was ovulating. When I met Yellow Fever Guy who told me that I inspired him to write a song, I was ovulating.

Well, I am ovulating RIGHT NOW. And I have a "date" tonight.

So tonight will be a truncated experiment of sorts. If all goes according these studies, I will acquire a new stalker by about 10PM.

But there is one possible causal relationship which the ovulation study did NOT discuss: Is it possible that women (unintentionally) behave differently during that point of their cycle? Were the ovulating strippers more... strippery?

Could it be that I (unconsciously driven by a biological imperative to breed) am more charming when ovulating? That I do a better job of feigning interest in the incredibly boring things that men usually say when I am ovulating?

To remove that potentially confusing element from tonight's experiment, I will be surly and disinterested while on my date. Just surly old me, in all my ovulating glory.

Will report the initial results tomorrow morning.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Overheard in Public Places

"It's the hair I was meant to have. Just cost me $700 to get it."

"That's the kind of idea that makes stupid ideas feel good about themselves."

"I was pissed at him, so I took the trackball out of his mouse."

OK, fine. The last one wasn't overheard. Unless you count me thinking to myself as "overhearing." Just thought it would be better to attribute all of the above to faceless, nameless strangers. But I'm fairly certain the mouse and trackball guy has no idea I even have a blog, so why the hell not 'fess up.


EA and MG and I have been swapping emails over the last couple weeks, discussing our usual topic - men.

The exchange started with a description - "he looks good on paper." That led to a multitude of emails detailing the traits we consider "non-negotiable."

I'm still happily on my man fast, but this is an intellectual exercise which never grows old.

My list:

A guy who:

1. has the dark, brooding good looks of Clive Owen
2. the talent and quirkiness of Johnny Depp
3. can correctly spell and punctuate his sentences
4. can hum or play Bach

EA's list of non-negotiables was much more reasonable. But nonetheless, we decided that the only men who actually possess all the desired traits are gay - which violates the only TRULY non-negotiable trait: heterosexuality.

So it's really a matter of prioritizing and compromising - because at some point, you have to accept that one's expectations might be unrealistically high.

That said, I had a conversation the other day with a guy that I have no interest in romantically or sexually, but it was a good conversation - he was smart, thoughtful, capable of engaging in a lively conversation on a wide variety of topics and showed insight into how others think, and demonstrated interest in my opinions. This isn't such a remarkable thing, well, at least it SHOULDN'T be so remarkable, but given that such conversations with straight men have proven to be quite rare, I found it a shockingly new experience and thought him more attractive for it. Is this an example of expectations being too low?

A friend of mine wanted to uncover the specific reasons behind my man fast:

Friend: "Is it that you are just too picky?"
Me: "Well, think of some of the guys I have been with. Clearly, I'm not picky at all."
Friend: "You've got a point there."

The man fast is in place because I can't really spare the energy right now to take a man seriously.

However, despite the fast, I still keep my hand in the dating scene because there is something that would trump the reasoning behind the fast, something that would even trump any and all of the "non-negotiables": the tingles.

And the tingles happen inexplicably, unpredictably - and might not be necessarily inspired by washboard abs or broad shoulders, although, of course, those attributes don't hurt.

I have great respect for the tingles. And I have rarely ignored that siren call. Even with my self-imposed man fast, I would break that fast in a blink of an eye, if I heard the call strongly enough.

But in the meantime, I flirt with boys, usually those far younger than I am, whom I do not have to take seriously. It's just play, with all the control in my hands, no demands for more than I want to give, no compromise necessary on my part.

I find it rather amusing that I started this post by discussing standards and expectations vis-a-vis men, and I have ended it by realizing that I have not only somehow become a man, I've become the asshole version of one.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Schoolyard Wisdom

As we get older and more experienced, we become more complicated and "sophisticated", and the ways in which we interact with and interpret the world become more complicated.

There are dangers of over simplification. But there are also dangers of over complication.

When the book, He's Just Not That Into You, hit the scene and was read by pretty much every women who could read, I had my own first hand experience with the revelations it shared. I was living in Beijing at the time, but had come back to DC for a visit. During boozy brunch with the girls, JO had brought several copies of the book and distributed them as Christmas presents. We immediately cracked open the spines over our mimosas and egg-white only omelets and started reading choice bits aloud:

"If he's sleeping with other women, he's just not that into you."

"If he doesn't want to marry you, he's just not that into you."

"If he breaks up with you, he's just not that into you."

It was REVELATORY. We dug into our purses for pens so we could underline key passages and jot notes in the margins. CG even found a highlighter in the bottom of her Balenciaga.

Instead of endlessly analyzing and speculating about possible fear of commitment, or wondering if at some point the man in question had been deeply hurt and had resulting trust issues, or even that he just cared TOO much, or any of the other ridiculous multi-variate causal analyses which lend themselves to detailed discussion over brunch, it was simplified to a single statement which made further analysis irrelevant: he's just not that into you.

I had a similar epiphany very recently. There is a person who has been in and out of my life for a few years. And I have spent countless hours trying to understand the root causes of his inexplicable behavior. Poor impulse control? Rampant insecurity? Emotional immaturity? Untempered self-centeredness? Can any of these things be fixed? Can any of these behaviors be changed? Can he change?

But my epiphany is this: he is mean.

It's schoolyard wisdom. I've never read Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten, but this epiphany strikes me as the kind of thing that would be appropriately discussed in a book bearing such a title.

And mean people are bad. Lots of people manage to deal with stress or annoyance or anger or difficulty without being MEAN. Some can't. And while it's possible to waste time analyzing why a person is mean in those circumstances, why bother? On my recent post titled, Can People Change?, JR left a comment saying that a person's fundamental self does NOT change - we are who we are - but that we can learn or unlearn how that fundamental self interacts with the world. So part of me is tempted to consider whether "meanness" is demonstrative of the nature of one's fundamental self, or if it falls into the category of behavior that can be learned or unlearned. But another part of me doesn't want to engage in that analysis. Because whether a person whose first reaction to frustration is meanness is capable of changing is irrelevant because why would you want to stick around long enough to determine that? JR also drew a comparison to genetics and environmental triggers which I think is an insightful one. And my takeaway from that comparison is that it is certainly possible for people never to present a particular aspect of their fundamental selves if the environmental triggers for that aspect are absent. But frustration and anger and difficulty are not avoidable triggers.

When you were playing in the sandbox and the kid in your class got upset that you had the cool red plastic trowel when he wanted it and he decided to kick sand in your face and call you a name, you didn't give a shit about WHY, you didn't consider whether he had an unhappy home life or was simply a spoiled brat. You just stayed away. And in the interests of maintaining the peace, even GIVING him the cool red plastic trowel whenever he wanted it isn't a viable solution. Because the next day, it will be the blocks, the last seat on the swing set, the apple green crayon.

I think I've just found a title for a book I should write one day: Mean People Are Bad. Perhaps Oprah will endorse it.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Pet Names

I'm not a big fan of them.

Yes, I call almost everyone I know "darling." My close friends, I call "sweetie." And some of them return the favor. IC, in her texts to me, usually writes: "Hey QT." KD calls me "chica." MM in Tokyo often calls me "Sexy Bitch."

I rather like that.

So I suppose it's more accurate to say that I dislike it when MEN call me by pet names. And I make a distinction between pet names and nicknames. I don't blink an eye when I am called or referred to as "hellspawn" or "hoagie" or "C-belle." Again, I rather enjoy those. Makes me feel sort of warm and fuzzy.

But appellations such as "baby" or "schmoopy" or "bunny" and so forth make me see red.

A friend of mine was once seeing a guy who decided one day that he wanted her to use a pet name for him. She called me so we could discuss his request. She is not a pet name kind of girl so this request caused some consternation for her. As far as she is concerned, people already have names, so why not use them. I never really liked the guy in question, and I was going through my Owen Wilson phase, so I suggested the pet name "Owen."

She tried that and surprisingly, the boyfriend didn't take to that very well. I believe his response was: "A PET name, not some other guy's name."

But now that I'm thinking about this, I don't take exception to "Hey Beautiful" or "Princess" or even "Sweet Thang", but I think that's mostly because I really like the guy who uses the first and the guy who uses the latter two names generally makes me blush and giggle with everything he says - even when it's as uninspiring as "hello."

Perhaps I just dislike the overly cute pet names - perhaps warm and fuzzy pet names incite a reaction in me that is the opposite of warm and fuzzy.

OK, I've thought it through, and I've identified my rules regarding pet names:

1. My girlfriends can use pretty much any pet name for me that they think is appropriate
2. Only certain men whom I consider close friends can call me pet names as long as the names are not overly cute and do not reek of small infant animal
3. Only JF is allowed to call me "baby"
4. If a guy has abs like JF - so impressively cut that I can wash my lingerie on them - I might suspend all the above rules.

Bottom line, to the plastic surgeon I met at that happy hour last week who tracked down my number and phoned me yesterday and called me "baby" no fewer than three times during our very short conversation, know that right before I hung up on you, I threw up a little in my mouth and had to look at naked pictures of JF to rid myself of the bad taste and the "ick."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Can People Change?

In considering this question, I've taken inventory of the people I know. There are two people who come to mind who used to have lightning quick tempers.

They have both successfully learned to control the destructive expressions of their anger. But does that mean that they have CHANGED? Isn't a new skill (even a major one like that) just that - a new skill? Does it actually signify change?

Yes, life-changing experiences can have impact - traumatic events, becoming a parent, growing old - and sometimes that impact can be deep. But does even that signify actual change?

I was having trouble with this line of thought. I was getting lost in considering existential definitions of "change" and getting sidetracked by all sort of digressions which I think I will save for future posts. But then I had a conversation with JN who read to me the following:

Humanity is fundamentally conservative, as indeed is all of nature. No organism ever expends more energy than necessary, risks anything if it doesn't have to, or takes any action unless it must. Why should it? If a task can be done in an easy way without risk of loss or pain, or the expenditure of energy, why would any creature do the more difficult, dangerous, or enervating thing? It won't. Nature doesn't allow it... and human nature is just an aspect of universal nature.

Robert McKee, Story

That simplified the question for me. Change is absolutely possible. But it will be in step with what is NECESSARY. Sometimes people don't change in relation to their changing circumstances and therefore fail to adapt and suffer the repercussions. Others do adapt. But then it will be according to what is necessary, and no more.

I'm not even sure that this is a pessimistic view of humanity. Because I think there can be leaps of faith and imagination and courage when it comes to defining what is necessary. And that depends on the quality of the person doing the defining.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

User Error

I have great faith in human incompetence. So user error as an explanation for why something doesn't work as it should makes sense to me.

But user error in applying face cream?

I was in a department store the other day on a directed mission but was distracted by something shiny, and as I stood transfixed, a salesperson pounced on me and asked if I wanted to try a $300 face cream.

In response to my polite "no thank you," she persisted and finally I had to tell her that I had used the product before and while it was lovely, it didn't really do anything for me.

"Oh, you must not have been using it correctly," she told me.

I disengaged myself as politely as I could, but really wanted to say, "OMG, it goes on my FACE? That's what I was doing wrong!" So I just thought it really loudly instead.