Archives for category: Positively Random

As frustrated as I can get with the “academy” (and I can get very frustrated), I have to acknowledge that all of my academic training has proven useful in encouraging one particular obsession habit: researching. Regarding researching, I can openly admit that I am, in fact, a bit of a compulsive. For example, rarely does a vegetable find its way from the produce section to my refrigerator without being first thoroughly considered and cross-referenced. An unsuspecting acquaintance casually mentions the salt content of a pot pie? To the books! Obscure symbols on bumper stickers get the full treatment, sans MLA formatted works cited page (unless deemed absolutely necessary). And after an exhaustive and comprehensive investigation, I went for a run.

This blog is, indeed, a collection of one year of mental meanderings that occasionally resulted in full-on-yet-inconsistent pursuits. Yoga, sailing, the Italian language, plant-based foods, all attempted after extensive scrutiny and enough information-gathering to fill multiple 3-inch binders. (One binder per subject, of course, with appropriate tabs and page protectors). Researching has become, quite definitely and unstoppably, second nature.

I tend to credit the institution of higher education for this addiction behavior, but really my penchant for informed inquiry started at a much younger age. As one of a dwindling generation of folks who grew up with significant shelf space devoted to the now only-available-electronically Encyclopedia Britannica, I often posed a random query about, say, yaks, only to be promptly directed by my mother to “look it up,” which I did. (The Tibetan work “yak” refers only to the male of the species as the female is called a “dri” or “nak,” btw).

The post-Britannica era being ripe with opportunities to quickly gather information on the positively obscure from almost any location, “looking it up” became an unavoidable and wildly convenient pattern, eventually and intensely aided by my accrual of a laptop and smartphone. While I remain a bit of a holdout with most technology, and particularly with social networking, I cannot deny the functionality of the online search. For individuals with my condition concern, this wi-fi wonderland eliminates excuses for knowing nothing when, in fact, the problem should be “knowing” too much after sifting through the swaths of information possible to know.

I jest about the degree to which information-finding has “become me,” but I do maintain that the present historical era increases the responsibility on each individual to find things out. While the amount of available information is not even remotely equal to the amount of viable, useful information, a little source analysis and comparison can most often lead to usable pieces of knowledge. (I have found the truth in this idea most timely as I am in the position of meeting with various doctors quite often.)

Alas, and as I remind my students, access does not guarantee use. Knowledge does not guarantee action.

After years of academia, I have become a master at compiling resources while, like all good academics, doing little with the information beyond simply knowing it. Such seems to be the sad case for many of the pursuits in this blog. As much as I now “know” about my multiple endeavors, I have “done” very little. I have found repose in the comforting embrace of research, developing a smugness from the knowledge I have accumulated while nonchalantly ignoring the demands of action. There is, I believe, a balance that I am sorely lacking.

So, in an effort to pop the bubble of intellectual ego, I recommit to “doing,” not just “learning.”

(In truth, this renewed motivation could be founded on a desire to do anything but grade the mountain of student papers on my desk, but I am willing to take that risk.)

~Arrivederci

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One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned about dealing with someone else’s anxiety, tragedy, disappointment, loss, or sadness came from a very typical and brief encounter during undergrad. I went to a small college where everyone in the same major tended to take the same classes at the same time. As we all advanced in our respective degrees, we started dealing with stresses unique to our fields. For us English majors, our perpetual modus operandi revolved around deadlines for major papers.

One particular semester, we were all taking an upper level Shakespeare course. After coming back from a long holiday the day before our major composition was due, we were bleary-eyed and intellectually confused together. We visited each other in our dorms to check progress and exhale our stress, feeding off the group “freak out” mentality.

While on my way for one of these visits, I passed a classmate in the hall who looked particularly panicked. I, of course, offered the instinctual “How’s it going?” to which she mumbled an answer stilted enough to be audible, yet capable of holding back her tears. For some reason (I believe divine intervention), instead of launching into my own story of woe, I simply said, “I’m sorry. That’s really tough.” My poor classmate almost transformed into a waterfall, then she looked at me directly and replied, “Thank you. You are the first person to just say ‘sorry.'”

Naturally, I was pretty stunned to be thanked for what I initially deemed a pitiful response to a situation begging for some erudite answer dripping in expert wisdom. Perhaps a quote from Milton or Keats or, as would be apropos in this case, the famous bard himself, would have better reflected by keen ability to use the language and literature I spent so many hours studying. How was my painfully brief little response remotely comforting?

Then, later, when I was in the same place of exasperation in a different class as she experienced with Shakespeare, I realized how refreshing it is to be able to voice an anxiety and get a simple response of acknowledgement that, yes, “this” is tough and here is a small dose of sympathy.

Since that moment I have tried, often unsuccessfully, to guard my tongue against the useless advice and self-promotion that is usually prompted by someone else’s trial. And since spending many years after that moment studying language and rhetoric, I’ve come to form some guidelines for myself about how to respond to others during a moment of pain based on an evaluation of my own motives. And here they are:

1) Never say “I understand”

Having the same deadline for the same paper for the same class only gave me a frame of reference for what my classmate was experiencing. I had no way to really understand her personal struggle. I could relate, perhaps, but not understand.

2) Never say “I know how you feel”

This response is the ultimate rhetorical vehicle for autobiographical monologue. I had used this response in my conversations with other  Shakespeare classmates in order to, I later surmised, talk about myself. The power of this response is to switch from listener to speaker, from one offering sympathy to one requiring it.

3) Never offer unsolicited advice

We are all compelled to give advice. I often feel as if I have offered nothing until I give some sort of course of action for whoever has the misfortune to come to me with their troubles. I have since tried to remind myself that advice should be an asked-for response only.

4) Never say “Everything’s going to be ok”

What constitutes “ok” for that person? The second I become omniscient, which will be never, is the moment I can take leave to offer this vague response.

I don’t mean to come across as judgmental of anyone who falls prey to these common modes of sympathy. Indeed, I still find myself subject to the allure of claims of understanding. My point, instead, is that very seldom, and I would argue only very rarely, are these responses ever appropriate or “true.” Most often, we reply in these forms in order to exit an onramp to stories about ourselves, what we’ve gone through or are going through. We employ these very useful rhetorical cues to position ourselves as the protagonist, the lead character, instead of embracing the role of supporting cast.

Again, I in no way mean to offend. My friends and family are much better than I am of avoiding these sympathy pitfalls. They are much kinder to me in my times of struggle than I am to them. And I also apologize for this very odd interruption in my normally inane posts. This particular subject has just been very much on my mind of late.

~Arrivederci

 

I’m going to a baby shower this afternoon for a woman who had the inspired notion to register for gift cards to Whole Foods, something I am absolutely going to copy if I have the opportunity one day. My mom, sister-in-law, and I combined funds for one of these gift cards, and I volunteered to pick it up (really, I will use any excuse to go to Whole Foods). We thought it would be nice to add something more “gifty” and baby-oriented to the present as well, and initially I was going to grab something small off her registry, until I saw this:

Batteries not necessary

Yes, my friends. I offer you the classic wooden ring skill toy. Inexpensive, simple, and ironically “modern” in its retro-minimalism.

What initially struck me about this toy was the clear memories I have of not my own model, but the plastic version my younger siblings played with. I can clearly recall these then tiny people engrossed in the activity of successfully stacking the rings. Once the rings were mastered, they moved on to the intermediate level, stacking wooden letter blocks. Eventually, they entered the expert phase: making words out of the letters on their stacking blocks.

The classic toys are just so wonderfully simple, yet still attractive and beneficial, dare I say, even “fun.” It is this very simplicity, perhaps, that is the key to their staying power. They might even become trendy. After all, the “simple” has an undeniable modern appeal.

Take, for instance, running. There could not be a simpler way to exercise. You need your own body and, ideally, space. But space isn’t even an absolute necessity as it is possible to run in place. Same story with yoga. At its core, yoga is about moving and contorting your own body. No gimmicks. No energy gels. Just controlled movement.

Of course, we do have a knack for complicating the simple, and I’m absolutely guilty of falling prey to the allure of fancy accoutrements. We’ve yuppified running with fancy footwear that, ironically, is supposed to mimic bare feet. (I know. I own a pair of these and love them). We have a whole consumer market for running apparel that wicks away our sweat and increasings aerodynamics. For yoga, we have mats made from sticky tree rubber to increase stability, four million different styles of yoga pants, and even yoga gloves and socks. And lets not forget the countless popular publications that repeat the same information every month and offer the occasionally useful smoothie recipe for burning more calories.

Still, when stripped down to their basic selves, running and yoga are inherently uncomplicated. They are simple, like the classic wooden skill toy. Even though I have a tendency to pile on layers of unnecessaries, maybe it’s that simplicity that I find attractive. Unlike the complex, the simple always seems possible.

~Arrivederci

 

Be forewarned. What I’m about to say may shock you. It might go against some of your core beliefs, and definitely opposes a cherished social maxim. Prepare yourself.

Here goes…

It’s ok to just “like” stuff.

Try not to hyperventilate. I’m fully aware that the above statement directly contradicts the marrow of great thinkers, philosophizers, inspirers, and motivators from antiquity to Oprah. But I’m convinced that I’m right. More importantly, I’m confident that my perspective is more than right. It’s humane.

Allow me to explain.

I was born on the cusp of the Millennial generation. I’m neither one of those “darn kids these days,” nor Gen X. I’m generationally neutral, so to speak. What is obvious, though, about the pure-generationists spawned both before and after my limbo year, is that they are plagued by a consuming need for one thing in everything:

Passion.

Passion for their jobs, hobbies, relationships, projects, prospects, ambitions, attire, footwear, eyewear, location, libation, vacation, vocation, claymation…Passion for it all. And let me tell you something. The pressure for passion is stressful.

(OK. Maybe I’m not so generationally-challenged. I do feel the need to be passionate. Sacre bleu. I’m switching to the collective pronoun.)

We get pumped with bumper-sticker-ready cliches demanding not just that we pursue “dreams,” but how we should pursue them. We are commanded to “fall in love” with everything we do, to stay “hungry and foolish” a la Steve Jobs, to be both inspired and inspiring, to shun practicality, to ooze desire for our tasks. Byron, Einstein, Emerson, Pascal, Camus, Franklin, all are leveled at us as ammunition against the epidemic marked by domesticating and taming the passionate beast that is our soul, softly lulled to sleep by the banality of modern life.

We, the few, the proud, the passionate, do not merely exist, we live.

(It’s convincing, no?)

The power of this polemic is impressive. We don’t just get jobs anymore. No, no. We pursue only the most fulfilling work that feeds the soul and both completes us and serves the common good. Humdrum employment is only allowable if we acknowledge that it is temporary while we save for our true calling (or if we insist that our job is ironic since, of course, we are hyper aware of the futility of the 9-5.)

We lionize the starving artist, the roamer, the Holden Caulfield’s, the Ginsberg-ians who do not sit quietly while life is lived by others, who Howl.

And this, my friends, is where passion as a prerequisite for living gets cumbersome.

The problem with requiring passion is that we can, in turn, create stress, frustration, slowly becoming annoyed with ourselves and others if we perceive a lack of this nectar. Not knowing fully, perhaps, what being passionate “is,” we are still pretty sure we know what it isn’t. Even if we are figuring out whether or not we ourselves are the personification of passion, we feel fairly confident we can spot the dispassionate. Passion surely isn’t the CEO, the banker, the broker, the cashier, the housewife, the content, or the obedient. The truly passionate will not rely on routine, a planner, Microsoft Excel, or motivation. The passionate will simply “do” because passion is the catalyst for action.

As lovely as it sounds to float around in a utopia all fluffy with passion, it simply isn’t realistic, and it isn’t fair. We must free our psyches from the dictatorship of passion. We need to allow ourselves to be practical. We must recognize that sometimes, it’s perfectly acceptable to just like stuff.

Case in point: I am very thankful to have a job, particularly in the reality that is our current economic situation. But, do I love my job? Do I wake up before my alarm giddy with anticipation to jump in my car and get to my job? Do I fall asleep at night freshly bathed in the comfort of believing that what I did in my job that day was astounding? No. But I like my job, at least most of the time. I like the fact that I have health insurance and dental. I like getting a paycheck. I like being productive.

Now, is it possible that there is a job out there I could be passionate about? Possibly. But I have no idea what that could be at the moment, and I don’t feel compelled to continue encouraging the spirit of discontent I’ve been fostering the past few months because I’m not passionate about my work. I’ve done that already. It’s exhausting.

Instead, I’m embracing the opportunity to be in “like” with stuff. I’m allowing myself to desire passion without requiring it. I’m legitimating the option to be simply content with my employment. I’m letting myself finish my dissertation without demanding that I salivate over opportunities to revise my chapters. I’m reading Austen, not Salinger or Kerouac.

Why?

Because my approach is not only practical and functional, it’s humane. I’m not denying the significance of passion, and I’m certainly not halting my pursuit of it. But I’m not demanding it in everything in every moment.

So, to all of you who are also in “like” with your life, either in its entirety or in part, I validate you. Salute!

~Arrivederci

My mom can often be particularly insightful and, dare I admit, even right. I discovered this hideous truth at a young age and spent a good part of my development rebelling against it.

Being a daydreamy child inclined to ponder the wonders of the universe or the interesting pattern of speckles on the ceiling (such wonderful swirls!…), my mom was forced to frequently remind me to complete tasks. Consequently, we would find ourselves engaged in verbal sparring.

Mom: “Are you done?”

Me: “Almost. I’m going to do it.”

Mom: “Going to isn’t doing.”

Throughout my college years and adulthood, I’ve often recalled the wisdom in my mom’s retort. While it has been many, many years since my mom and I have found ourselves in opposing corners of this verbal boxing match, the impact of that powerful rhetorical right hook has always smarted around my ears.

See, although the passing of time resulted in my being older and taller, I am very much still that daydreamy child from long ago. I am expert at starting tasks without accomplishing the resolution of completion. I am “going to” do an astounding number of things, but my “going to” has manifested in very little “doing.” 

What is striking in my mom’s attack is the sheer practicality of it all. As well-intentioned as I might have been to wash the dishes or clear the table or tie my shoes (which took positively ages), intention alone resulted only in encouraging a haughtiness that was, quite frankly, ridiculous. I took offense at having to be reminded to actually, physically act. (Granted, while the task remained incomplete, I had very little to substantiate my affronted approach, but I found that claiming an indignity was wildly enjoyable, if ineffective.)

Was my intention not in itself worth noting?, I would protest. Do we not lionize  that Little Engine merely for thinking she could? I was merciless and, unfortunately for my mom, well read in Little Golden Books.

What I have discovered, though, is that we thrive on thinking, like the Little Engine, that we can. We ascribe incredible value and acquire solace through believing in the possibility of action. That all we need do is flip the magic switch that turns on action out of intention. We crave inspiration. We see Rock Balboa in our ceiling speckles and play epic musical scores to incite surges of passionate intent founded on perceived ability.

And more often than not we are right. Maybe, like that Little Engine, we can. We certainly very often intend to.

What I have also discovered, though, is that all too often my inspired intent seldom leads to a completed objective, and I am fairly confident that I am not alone in this. We often make grandiose speeches about what we can achieve, or write lengthy manifestos about our goals, but regardless of whether we intend to tie our shoes, complete a degree, travel, lose weight, or volunteer, the inspirational accouterments serve only to fashionably adorn our goals, distracting us from the reality of incompletion (I relish opportunities to make up words).

Eventually, we have to move from “going to” to “doing.” At some point, the speech is over and Rocky gets back to his restaurant; the violins and snare drums stop.

Offering myself on the altar of full disclosure, to finish my dissertation, I have to actually sit in front of my computer, document opened, and write. To learn Italian, I have to actually study conjugations, vocabulary, and pronunciation. To become a yoga teacher, I have to actually build a home practice and seek out opportunities to teach. The Little Engine actually had to pull the train up the hill, did she not?

In short. I have to turn my “going to” into “doing.

So, I say to my mom, touché and well played. In this the year of my pursuits, I again recognize the wisdom you so very often had to repeat.

~Arrividerci  

 

A few weeks ago, I voluntarily subjected myself to a fitness screening at the university where I recently found employment. I received a campus wide e-mail advertising the screenings, signed up quickly enough to avoid giving myself time to justify avoiding the offer (an attempt to follow through on the whole take-opportunities-for-self-betterment-as-they-come routine) and the next week was in a room with an Exercise Science grad student getting my pulse read.

The assessment was thorough. He took note of my height, weight, measurements (triceps, waist, hips, thighs), fat percentage via 3-caliper method, and resting heart rate. He then instructed me to get on a stationary bike and pedal while he slowly increased the resistance until I reached my pre-calculated optimal beats per minute, then charted how long it took me to recover. The whole assessment took about an hour. One week later, I went back for the results and to receive a personalized workout program based on my stated goals. I have to admit, I wasn’t really surprised by the assessment.

Survey says….

I’m pretty much average.

That’s right. Neither over nor underweight. Normal fat percentage for someone not considered active in the fitness spectrum (humph). Average BMI. Average vo2 max. Average stamina. Average ability. Workout plan intended for someone with average goals. If I were to get a grade, I suppose I would earn a C (sans grade inflation, of course).

Again, no surprise here. I do yoga fairly regularly, as all of you know, recently took up running now and then, kinda monitor my food intake (though the last week has been atrocious). Nothing I do would catapult me in one direction or the other. According to my current lifestyle, I’m looking at a lifetime of average.

And I’m not complaining.

I would say that I don’t mind averageness (yes, I am using a fake word). I have no ambitions for fitness glory or athletic prowess. While I do want to want to run, I have no longing to break the ribbon at a marathon. In fact, the first actual “race” I’m considering running is affectionally dubbed “5K-ish” because, really, it is a fun-mud-run. (I’m particularly looking forward to the prospect of jumping into a pool of mud at the end…) I don’t even know if they time the thing. I also don’t really care about my weight. I only ever vaguely know what a scale might read, and I’m only mildly cognizant of body fat levels and their impact.

I don’t say all this to come across as a braggart or give the impression of having achieved that ever sought self-contentment. I also don’t offer this window-into-me in a search for praise, false or otherwise. I offer all of this because, frankly, I don’t believe myself.

For some reason, I was a little bothered by my assessment results. Even though I had no reason to expect otherwise, I was a little deflated by being told what I already figured I knew. And I can say to your face without blinking that my disappointment didn’t stem from being told this information from someone else. I never have had issues with other people’s opinions, probably to a fault. (Just ask my college roommate turned sister-in-law. She lived through the worst manifestation of this trait. Yet, she still talks to me…Remarkable.) And it’s not that I would call myself a liar. I honestly expected to get the results I got, and honestly expected to be unfazed by said results.

Yet, here I sit, slightly bummed out. But I think this experience revealed something important, something necessary.

I started this year with a desire to find success with several, random goals. And so far I have. I have my official Skipper’s License (Licensed to Sail), am a certified yoga instructor working on my 200 hour RYT, and have recently fished out my Italian instruction stuffs.

But even all of these “successes” reveal a propensity for averageness.

I haven’t sailed since April, haven’t taught yoga since June, and am still wading in the sea of introductions in Italian. Even my pursuits into the whole foods, plant-based lifestyle are lukewarm at best. I watch the documentaries, do the research, get the cookbooks, remain convinced of the effectiveness of this lifestyle, preach plants, but am lucky if I maintain a plant-based program 50% of the time.

I shouldn’t be surprised, really, at all of these results. I still can only “kind of” play the piano despite “committing” to improving my skills since high school, am still limited to “Free Fallin'” on guitar, and have written all of one letter by hand since deciding to increase such correspondence several years ago. I haven’t even finished my degree. I’m still basking in the dimly lit glow of ABD-ness.

This is my pattern.

I don’t find much help in cliches like “find yourself,” but I do believe it is important to be reflective and seek out ways to improve oneself. It’s important to recognize patterns, weaknesses, habits that could be changed. I clearly have a tendency to commit, invest, pursue, then quit after achieving moderate success at best. I have an established pattern of comfortable averageness.

The problem with averageness is that there’s still enough accomplished to claim success, enough done to get by and, sometimes, get praised. Enough to require the energy exertion of a moderately paced walk. Just not enough to sweat. Averageness is like a comfortable, cable-knit sweater. Goes with most anything, can be dressed up or down. Classic enough to survive all seasons, but not conspicuously drab enough to require a makeover.

Moderately Successful Cable-knit Sweater

I’m not sure what to do with this realization or what it really means, but I do know that I have the option of following the fitness plan that grad student gave me two weeks ago (it’s current role is coffee table decoration with the occasional stint as drink coaster) and going back in three months for a follow-up assessment. I’m not sure what my goals are (I couldn’t really think of any in our first meeting), but I do know that I need to increase my self-discipline and force a better approach to, well, betterment. Though fitness may not be the most noble of goals, it is presently the most convenient since I didn’t even have to work out the plan for myself (see what I mean?).

I hesitate to state a firm commitment to meeting the second assessment goals. I know myself too well for that. But I’m throwing the possibility out there. I’d like to retire the sweater, or at least trade it in for something a little nicer, something that maybe only goes with heels.

~Arrivederci

I am momentarily breaking my own rule for this blog by offering a list of what I would rather be doing than revising my dissertation. While “anything else” is a fair assessment of my present desire whence opening and closing the various chapter documents of the dissertation-that-will-not-write-itself that I need to spruce up, I thought it might be helpful to be more specific.

I would rather be __________ than revising my dissertation.

  1. Ironing pleated pants
  2. Leading a guided tour of an oil refinery
  3. Picking up litter along the interstate
  4. Sanding and varnishing a shrimp boat
  5. Scrubbing the baseboards of the university president’s house
  6. Tutoring football players in basic sentence construction
  7. Creating a spreadsheet for my student loans
  8. Vacuuming my stairs
  9. Dusting my outside storage space with a flower petal
  10. Having a conversation on foreign policy with Jessica Simpson
  11. Challenging William Hung to a karaoke-off
  12. Holding a mirror for Tyra Banks while she primps
  13. Playing World of Warcraft with self-proclaimed “gamers”
  14. Eating a bowl of chia seeds one at a time
  15. Memorizing the periodic table
  16. Reading Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy
  17. Changing all the guitar strings at Austin City Limits Music Festival
  18. Weaving by hand a canopy for a party tent
  19. Grating 100 pounds of Swiss cheese
  20. Doing cardio

Unfortunately, none of the above diversions would get me any closer to a defense of a dissertation I now loathe.

Ah well.

~Arrivederci

This post has nothing to do with my pursuits, nor is it a manifesto against problems I see in society. Instead, I wanted to share a little “beauty secret” that has literally changed my face.

I had acne in full force throughout my teenage years and especially in high school. It was so bad that I went through two rounds of Acutane, a super strong prescription that came with monthly blood tests as a mandate to make sure I wasn’t pregnant. The Acutane got rid of acne for the most part, but I still struggle with breakouts.

Then I heard about using a face brush via my sister’s wonderful friend.

I got this one from Dermalogica simply because it was the first one I found in a store: 

If you’ve ever heard of the electronic versions of face brushes (Clarisonic, etc), then you know the basic idea. Using a brush better exfoliates the skin and opens the skin to better absorb products.

I use the brush to wash my face in the morning at night, applying cleanser then moving it in little circles all over for one minute. And I actually do count for a full 60 seconds.

Usually I have awful breakouts a few times every semester as I ebb and flow with stress. Not nearly as bad as I was in high school (thanks to the enduring efforts of Acutane, no doubt), but still enough to require makeup every day.

But not anymore.

I’ve used this method since about mid-January. While I do sometimes get a spot here and there, I have not broken out like I usually do with stress. Also, I know that my face skin is softer due to my skin being able to lap up serum and moisturizer better.

Not to come across as all infomercial or anything, but I wanted to share in case any of you struggle with the same issue. It’s weird to be almost 30 and concerned about breakouts, but that’s my lot. I’m just so thankful to have been told about this very inexpensive and practical solution.

~Arrivederci

Scene: Nighttime in a local coffee shop. Lights an appropriate shade of dim. The conversations at the various tables blending together into a soft murmur; everyone anticipating final exams, creating a tense but productive energy.

Hero: Our hero sits at a two-top; one chair for her, one for her backpack, both sagging from the weight of deadlines. Earbuds in place, she works on her dissertation, finding herself periodically interrupted by accounting students needing last minute help before submitting their writing projects in the morning. She’s admittedly a little stressed, but happy with making some kind of progress. Better than yesterday so far.

Villain: At the adjoining table, our Villain sits fidgeting and sighing and emanating a toxic aura of self-pity and indulgent woe. The pixie-cut, Boho-styled, Flaming Lips-loving, Indie-flavored undergrad “multitasks” her way through Facebook and several clipped phone calls.

“I just don’t have time for this crap!” the Villain exclaims rather loudly. “It’s 9:00pm at night and I do not have time to go home and look through a 5 page paper just to get some information.”

The other coffee shop citizens quickly glance in the Villain’s direction, not wanting to catch her eye, but wanting to identify the source of the whiny outburst. Eyes understandably roll.

“This is so frustrating,” she continues to the poor ear on the receiving end of the tantrum, “I just don’t have time for all of this. I am so angry!”

At least two other innocents encounter the same call from the Villain, the same speech, the same inane drivel. All the while the Villain clicks her way through Facebook and what appears to be a vintage clothing vender on Etsy.

The Hero doesn’t speak, although she is tempted to sidle up to the Villain and laugh. Instead, she finds herself too distracted to work.

“Score one for the Villain,” the Hero mentally exhales.

Our Hero slowly closes her laptop, loads her backpack, and with a smirk that’s eerily both affected and sad, leaves the shop. She treks uphill and across campus to the library, looking for somewhere quiet and, hopefully, beyond the intellectual chokehold of the Villain’s thorny tentacles.

End Scene.

The constant refrain of “I don’t have time for this” is inherently problematic. We have all at least had the thought, if not openly vocalized the idea, of simply not having time. I know I often fall into the trap of this idea. I am slowly, though, disciplining myself to ask one question when the potential to wallow creeps through my psyche:

If not “this,” what, praytell, would I be doing otherwise?

Obviously, the Villain from the above true life drama (happened last night, in fact) has time. She just chooses to spend her time on social networking sites, on the phone, and pestering those around her with loud exclamations of frustration. If she can be on Facebook and the phone and online shop, she can certainly go home and get the information she needs to complete a paper due the next day.

Right?

But there is a part of me that understands the Villain (are not all villains foes partly because they illuminate and take advantage of weaknesses in the hero?). For her in that moment, the task of writing that paper was looming, intimidating, then the fact that she has to write the paper to begin with becomes an evil trick of her teacher and the institution as a whole to make her life utterly miserable for as long as possible.

Dang the man! A curse on the Panopticon!

Big tasks that require a lot of time and effort become frustrations, chores, and we can very easily slip into a perspective that convinces us and whoever happens to come into our path and ask the seemingly innocuous “How are you?,” that we simply do not have time enough for this task and all other requirements of daily living. We become victims seeking pity.

What struck me as I listened to this I-knew-Death Cab for Cutie-before-they-became-popular-and-sold out-to-the-mainstream dupe of an oppressive educational system, is that, if we are students and have a big paper, how could we possibly not have time to write the paper? Are we not students? Is writing papers not part of how we are earning our degree? Do we expect to be merely handed a degree with a pat-pat on our heads and a “congratulations” for simply deciding that a degree is something we wanted?

What about other big tasks? What about health? I can safely state that I am addicted to coffee (or the caffeine in coffee, to be more specific). I drink FAR too much coffee. I know that I need to cut back, even quit entirely for my present and future health. However, because I am “dissertating,” I convince myself that this simply is not the time to fight this battle. Suddenly my vice becomes something deserved, even necessary. I absolutely do not have time or energy enough to curb this addiction while writing a dissertation. Then, the fact that I am in the midst of a massive project engenders a sense of victimhood.

I become a valiant knight, aching, sweating, while working to slay the dragon that is my dissertation.

But I have to ask myself, if I were not working on my dissertation right now (and I clearly am not since I am writing this post), what else would I be doing? Would I really be spending my time and energy on tasks that are more worthwhile? Possibly. But I’m not exactly spending my leisure time deworming puppies and roofing houses of the less fortunate on the weekends as it is. I have, though, managed to watch the first two seasons of the Cosby Show this semester.

That is, when will life become easy and free enough for me to drink less coffee?

Every day we have to choose how to spend our time. We budget our hours between work, school, cleaning, pets, and countless other responsibilities and distractions. Sometimes we simply don’t have time for certain things, but if we start asking ourselves what else we might be doing if not such-and-such, I bet we would be humbled to realize that, often, we simply don’t want to do anything at all.

T’was Emily Dickinson who once mused:

Time does go on —
I tell it gay to those who suffer now —
They shall survive —
There is a sun —
They don’t believe it now —

~Arrivederci

P.S. I write this post while hopped up on caffeine. I’m hoping to get some accountability from posting these musings. My blood runs a creepy shade of Fair Trade Organic French Roast brown.

Pardon me while I situate my soapbox.

Sat down to work this afternoon at the library and caught this interesting little headline in the university newspaper:

“Calling All Coeds: Playboys ‘Girls of the SEC’ comes to the Plains”

(Ironically, this headline is the above-the-fold lead in the Intrigues section, right above a story titled, “Drunk texting may have harmful effects.” There is not time enough to examine the connection between these pieces and the use of “may” in the latter headline.)

I will refrain from employing this post as a personal manifesto against the industry and social impetus that allows for such publications to openly exist (although I am tempted), and instead will take this opportunity to consider a consuming issue for us ladies: physical appearance.

The article that ruined my afternoon was kind enough to interview Grandpa Hefner’s on site dancing monkey, who so deferentially explained the difference between choosing “models” for the standard and collegiate versions of this “publication.” The article states:

“When picking a girl or girls to represent each school, Hagen said they don’t look for the stereotypical model. ‘In college, we really look for someone that is going to be enthusiastic because it really needs to travel in the photography,’ Hagen said. ‘So it’s not just about being a perfect 10 and being super long and leggy or blonde or big, huge boobs.'” [emphasis added]

Ooohhh…I’m glad he cleared that up. They aren’t looking for someone who is just a “perfect 10” with all the accompanying assets. I can see how these college editions class it up by searching also for willing little nudists to bare all with a little extra pep. And what do these centerfold wannabes receive for auditioning without guarantee of their entire epidermis draping over newsstands? A sticker with that creepy little bunny’s profile that reads, “I Posed.” At least anyone these not-just-Perfect-10’s pass on campus will be conscious of their extracurricular endeavor.

Let me pause for a second to iterate that my “beef” is not with the girls who pimped themselves out for pictures (although I cannot understand or respect their decision, and I have a right to this perspective, thank you very much). What I find so revolting in this article is the “not just” phrase that closes Mr. Hagen’s little statement. He describes what we all know to be the aesthetic “ideal” for physical appearance in our society, regardless of how much we may think we have moved past a one-size-pleases-all idea. Anything not fitting description is considered a fetish.

So, what are the consequences for the constant search for the “not just perfect 10”? A search that is sometimes overt, such as the little on-campus tryouts we recently hosted, but always a latent element of our society?

We obsess over our imperfections, and we confuse pursuits for health with pursuits for “that” image. Even if we would never voluntarily face a camera lens au naturale, we still would like to know that we would be sought after so that we can reject the offer.

We read Vogue and Shape and Cosmo and Self, scanning the pages for body-changing, perfection-inducing secrets (as if the real secrets would be published at all). Says here that Gisele Bunchen’s body sprung back to modeliciousness a mere six weeks after having her baby. Seems she attributes the rapid return to incomparable hotness to muscle memory and diet…Oh, and also genetics. Ok then. Flip, flip the pages. Ah, Heidi Klum, good for her then…”Fabulous at 40″ might sound empowering, until we see that those middle-agers include Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, and Nicole Kidman. 

And the result of all of this obsession, depression, and marathon fad dieting? Jealousy. Perhaps even a genuine dislike for our fellow females. We encounter a “girl” we perceive to be closer to “perfect” than we perceive ourselves to be, and we automatically make assumptions about how her personality is undoubtedly atrocious, how she must be intellectually bereft since she obviously puts all her energy into her looks, and how she is most definitely “loose,” and therefore a threat to all humankind. (Of course, those donning “I Posed” stickers are at least inadvertently flaunting these perceptions).

To be honest, I’m not totally sure of my point in all this. I’m tired of obsessing about appearance. I’m exhausted with fighting the tendency to equate health consciousness with vanity. But I’ve also had it with “attractive” individuals being automatically branded as having an easier life. I suppose I just needed to open this discussion.

(Frankly, I lay blame on the invention of mirrors as bathroom fixtures and home decor.)

~Arrivederci