Sunday, August 19, 2007

Just Another Family Gathering

Another family gathering has passed, with all of the standards of any summer social activity that involves my clan. Those standards would be: 1) Someone who fell asleep while we're visiting (today, my grandpa--who insisted he was awake but just breathing heavily with his eyes closed to block out the effects of the sun. (Just a note--it's overcast today.) 2) We ate baked beans. A standard for any gathering that occurs between the months of April and October, because as all of us know: baked beans go with anything. And 3) Someone got sick. (In this case, my two-and-a-half year old nephew, who is now clinging to the stuffed pig I gave to his almost-one-year-old sister, whose birthday is the reason we gathered. That, and because my aunt and uncle had flown up from Arizona for a visit.

At least it didn't involve standard 4) a fight between my older brother and me (sometimes played out subtly and sometimes involving yelling, screaming, name-calling, and physical contact if either of us gets mad enough--maybe this is a sign we're both maturing). Of course, he couldn't resist throwing in a jibe when I commented that mom has offered to pay my current roommate $50 if she can convince me to attend graduate school in Utah. He told me he'd pay me $200 to leave.

Ah, what are families for . . .

Friday, August 10, 2007

Story Time

Once upon a time, there lived a fantastic young woman with a prosthetic right eye. This brilliant girl was a student of English literature and had a Women's Literature class. In said class, the professor enjoyed having everyone sit in a circle to acknowledge they all respected each other as peers. Also, she had diabolically discovered this was a way of keeping students' attention, as they were robbed of their ability to surreptitiously text message their friends while pretending to pay attention to her lectures.

Before I proceed beyond this point, I must tell you that this astounding girl of extraordinary intellect didn't have a complete glass eye. Rather, it's more like a tiddlywink-hard-contact with an eye painted on. (And it's so genuine that 98% of people don't even realize it's a fake) Anyway, it feels much the same as a hard contact lens.

In this Women's Lit class, tardiness was a peril--because tardiness meant the late party had to assume the last available seat in the circle, which was--you guessed it--the seat to the immediate left of the professor.

Now this prosthetic reacts much as contacts do to material (e.g. eyelashes, dust) that gets caught underneath it. To be short, it makes the wearer feel as though a cat with viciously long claws is scratching the surface of their eyeball. The natural reaction, of course, is to remove the offending material.

On this particular crisp day in November, the heroine of our story got distracted crunching leaves and found herself arriving late to Women's Lit. On this day, the class had been assigned a particularly confundling story by Toni Morrison to discuss. All eyes were already trained anxiously on the professor when our protagonist traipsed into class. She plopped down in the chair, pulled out her anthology, and promptly began to feel a horrendous irritation in her eye.

Naturally, she did what she deemed best: she began to subtly scoop her fingernail under her prosthetic to remove the offending particle. But oh no! disaster occurred when she unwittingly pulled her bottom eyelid down just a fraction too far. The prosthetic began to slip. Trying to stay as calm as possible and not look out of place, she frantically tried to poke her eye back into its proper place in her socket, but to no avail! Finally, she remained composed and casually let it slip into her hand.

At this point, it may be noted, the entire class had shifted its attention from the professor to the drama occurring to the immediate left of said professor. Every member of that class witnessed the descent of the fake eye into the student's hand. (And many jealous girls envied her composure in such a potentially embarrassing situation) This remarkable girl stood up, quietly excused herself, and strolled to the bathroom--where she rinsed out both eye socket and fake eye.

After class, the girls all remarked to her how composed she had been and how utterly disgusting it had been to watch her eye fall out.

All of the boys asked if they could see it again.


The Dangers of Having the NY Times Book Reviews Delivered Straight to Your E-mail

I'm a nerd. I admit it, I've always known it, and I've learned to cater to those tendencies that make me happy. And if those tendencies involve spending whole Saturdays at the Salt Lake City Public library--writing poetry, reading, and occasionally opening books just to smell them--then so be it. I'm a book geek and I'll gladly admit it.

A friend once complained of what she called her movie quandary: with as many movies there were in the world and as many movies there were continually coming out, she didn't see how she could possibly see all of the movies she wanted to see in the span of her lifetime. To be quite honest, I didn't understand the particulars of the movie-ness of her quandary, but I began to understand the quandary itself when I began to think of books.

I have the same quandary myself, you see, only my quandary is with books. In my defense, I really do think it's quite impossible for me to read all of the books I want to read before I die for a couple of reasons. Reason 1: The publishing of books has gone on for far longer than the making of movies. I mean, if she's talking motion pictures with sound, she is only dealing with less than a century's worth of reel.

On the other hand, when did Gutenberg invent the printing press? Ah yes, I believe it was in the fifteenth century. And what century are we in now? Ah yes, the twenty-first. I have six centuries filled with literature. And more books are coming out all of the time. Reason 2: My reading sparks new reading interests--exponentially. It works something like this: I read one book that leads me to think about three different things: sometimes historical events, sometimes people, sometimes genres. And I have to explore each of those three things, which lead me to nine more things (and really, let's be honest--three is a low number when it comes to connections for me).

This exponential issue alone is a difficult problem. But it isn't the one controllable source of my ever-growing book list. No, indeed, that problem would be that I get the New York Times book reviews delivered straight to my inbox. It's a handy little feature for those nerds who, like me, are registered for the online version of the Times. All you have to do is provide your e-mail address and presto! weekly e-mails arrive in your inbox. And you find yourself scanning the book reviews for interesting titles. And finding many. And then seeing links in those reviews to similar books. And then following those links. And then before you know it, you're spending all of your free computer time online in various local library catalogs, desperately seeking those books that you just have to read!!!!

I was born a book lover . . . but this is how book junkies are made.

People Pleasers Anonymous

Hi, I'm Confuzzled. And though I don't like to admit it, I'm a people pleaser. An anxious, worried, I-swear-I-just-have-everyone's-best-interests-at-heart people pleaser.

Here's the deal: I love to think I have a very independent mindset, a "to heck with the world, I'm me and deal with it" kind of attitude. And to be honest, sometimes I do have that mindset. When I'm speaking to my older brother, for example, who wants the rest of the world to exist on his terms--and his terms as I understand them are that people should be like him. It's very easy to have that mindset when I have something--or someone--antagonizing me. In such situations, I find it extremely easy to be antagonistic right back.

But, on the whole, I try to quietly be myself while also being a people pleaser. I've been in denial about this for a while, but here's the truth: I hate conflict. I don't like feeling like I'm screaming my individualism at the top of my lungs for everyone to hear. And I really, really, really want to make as many people happy as I can.

This occurred to me today at work, when I lamented (for the million and twenty-second time--no really, I've been counting) that I had to go into a service occupation because I had to have a job that involved working with people and I had to have a job where I felt as though I had a certain amount of influence on how happy people around me were. Most days, I enjoy it.

But today it occurred to me that I could sum up my job in two sentences: I bend over backward to make people happy and to be as accommodating as I possibly can. And I get distraught when people do not want to be happy or when I cannot be entirely accommodating.

It's a matter of guilt, I suppose. If I cannot make a person happy, I feel guilty. This leads to tremendous amounts of guilt when I can't make myself feel happy, but it leads to far worse and even more tremendous amounts of guilt when I can't make others feel happy. And the rational part of my brain (which, if you know me, is actually relatively small--but nevertheless quite vocal at times) emphatically tells me over and over that I have no influence on making others happy. Only they can determine that in the end.

Problem is, I'm entirely used to drowning out that voice . . . It's my age-old quandary that friends from all of my jobs--and especially the Writing Center--will remember: I just can't say no to anything that could help make someone happy. But I've decided--to heck with it!--if I'm going to make just one someone happy, that someone is going to be me! Any person who becomes happy as a side effect is just a positive extratonality.