Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Graduate School Update #3

If you'll notice, in my last post there was an asterisk when I mentioned hearing from Boston.  It was because I was going to footnote what Boston had told me.
So consider this the footnote.
Yeah, yeah.  I know it posted above the last post, and that seems backward from where a footnote should be. 
But then, I've always been an anomaly.  Ask anyone.
*Boston also said "no."
So here's hoping the U says yes.
But no worries, because now I have contingency plans.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Roommate Meets Brother

My roommate came with me to family dinner last night.  At the time I spoke with my mom about it, this dinner was safe.  My parents, my roommate, and me.
But then my brother and his fiancee decided to come as well.
And my brother likes to be the center of attention.  As I told my roommate as we headed back to our apartment last night--she got a bonus, of sorts--not just dinner, but dinner and a show.
It was the sort of night that made me wish I carried around a tape recorder so I could just hit play and then transcribe the conversation, word for word, later.
We were having pleasant conversations to begin with.  Probably because my mom, my roommate, and I were listening to the drama that was my future sister-in-law's love life immediately prior to meeting my brother.  And because my dad and brother were having a separate conversation in the living room.
But then we joined for dinner, and the real fun began.  Fun, that is, for my brother.  Usually at the expense of me, though most of it wasn't mean-hearted.  And I did have the fundamentally satisfying experience of catching him off guard.
Anyway, J laid out his plan for my life.  The job I should have.  How I should acquire it.  How I should use him as a reference because "he's the man."
But that did not satisfy him.  Instead, he decided to ask me why I hadn't yet finished a novel.  And proceeded to detail all of the free time in the course of my days when I could be writing.  "In fact," he declared, "you probably have down time at work when you could write in on someone else's bill.  That's probably not completely honest, but sometimes you just have to kill time.  What do you do on your down time?"
I refused to answer, so he decided that I spent all of my down time on eHarmony trying to find a man.  He even went so far as to postulate the existence of a Middle Eastern online boyfriend.  And then he started debating what my screen name would be.  At first, he thought it would be katiedid244--because I'm 24, and when katiedid24 was taken, I decided to add extra fours until a username became available.
And then, he hit comedy gold.  He made an eye reference.  "I know," he crowed.  "Your screen name could be the one-eyed wonder!" 
Yes, it was funny.
No, he didn't even stop there.
But he did peak there.
And twenty minutes later, when he was discussing what music I would list on my profile and I told him I liked Keane, he almost choked.  And then when I told him I had a fondness for Radiohead, he stopped breathing for a second.  Apparently, I have redeemable taste in music.
My roommate thought he was funny, but wished she could resist laughing because it only fueled the fire. 
And my mom called me this morning to say Boston had sent a letter* and that she liked my roommate and would love to have her back up for dinner on a night when J would not be there.
J's fiancee, however, would be invited.
Roommate liked her more than she liked J.
Unsurprising, since our family is more or less of that same mentality.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Delusions of Pretentiousness

I am of the firm opinion that I'm not a pretentious person.  In fact, if I were to make a list of all the adjectives that have described me--or even of all adjectives that could describe me at any given point in time, including the past, present, and future--pretentious might make the bottom three.  Perhaps.  But only because it's possible I may have reason to become pretentious in the future.  But then, I may have reason to become any number of other things in the future as well.
People who only come to know me in limited doses make this assumption.  Take, for example, the co-worker who caught me reading a poetry collection in my first couple of weeks here.  She walked into my office to drop off paperwork during my lunch hour and found me curled up contentedly in a corner, reading Billy Collins' The Trouble with Poetry.  And automatically decided it was the sort of thing I did to show how smart I was.
Not true.  I lunch with my door closed.  And I've read any number of books behind my closed door.  Some of them are plane reading--for example, I don't expect to be anything but entertained by the books in The Dresden Files--and some of them are classics I've wanted to read for a while.  (Anna Karenina is one of the most beautiful and most depressing things I've read.)
Some people are amused.  Once they know me, they find it funny that I can--in depth--analyze the most recent episode of America Idol, the lyrics of any song of their choice, and any given work of literature that I've recently read.  And sometimes not-so-recently read.  That I can sing along to Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, and a number of other Broadway shows, but that I give equal time to a variety of contemporary country artists.  Not to mention I can still belt out all of the Sesame Street songs of my childhood, along with the entire soundtracks of all of the classic animated Disney movies.
In fact, for every appearance of bordering-on-snobbery, people who know me for long enough will find its surprising equivalent in kitsch or pop culture that had its heyday.  (Yes, there is a Jesse McCartney CD in my collection.  No, I haven't touched it in years.  Yes, I am, as a matter of fact, somewhat ashamed it's still there.  I am, however, completely unashamed about my Clay Aiken CD.)
In spite of all that, here are three things I've always wanted to do that have struck me as decidedly pretentious:
1.  Write a poem while sitting outside a coffee shop with what appears to be a cup of coffee.  (I say "appears to be," of course, because I don't drink coffee.  But nobody walking by would know it wasn't coffee.)
2.  Go on Jeopardy! and say something ridiculously intelligent in response to one of Alex Trebek's random comments.  (Do they script those, by the way?)
3.  Conduct a discussion about existentialism with a friend while wearing a neck scarf and a beret.
Make it four.  I've always wanted to acquire a famous friend that I could offhandedly bring up in casual conversation as an expert on a certain area of expertise as my trump card.  "Well, you know [insert famous name here] agrees with me, because we've discussed this often."
But I know that these delusions of pretentiousness are just that: delusions.  I'm far more likely to entertain myself by randomly remembering I promised my roommate from freshman year that I would write a critical analysis of Jewel's song "Am I Standing Still?" and then I never did.  And then inwardly debating if she would still be entertained by whatever I sent to her if I decided that, five years later, I still owe her that analysis . . .

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cell Phone Karma

When it comes to the recent phenomenon known as "cell phone," I'm a relative newcomer.  Unlike many of my friends, who are now sharing 5-year anniversaries with their electronic devices, I won't reach the 2-year mark for another two months.
Indeed, I recall watching many people during my college career and laughing inwardly at their great attachment to their phones.  Cell phones, I figured, were the worst sort of leash.  And what was worse--they were leashes people voluntarily tied themselves to and allowed themselves to be controlled by.  Sort of like getting out the leash to take the dog on a walk and finding yourself being walked by the dog instead.
It caused no small amusement for me to watch wide-eyed panic when people realized their phones were dying.  Or when their phones were temporarily malfunctioning.  And especially when they couldn't locate the exact whereabouts of their phones right away.  I had one particular friend who dramatically proclaimed her world would end if she ever lost her cell phone.  (Meanwhile--I, a recurring passenger in her car, worried about my world ending when she attempted to text message and drive simultaneously.)
But with this, as with so many other things in the course of my life, I've found myself in a situation that causes me to realize I've become the type of person I once found amusing.  And led me to think that, perhaps, people had at least a couple of good reasons for feeling tied to their cell phones.
Last night, my cell phone died.  Our apartment does not have a land line, and my roommate and her phone were not at home.  I desperately needed to ask her a question, but it was about dinner--so I made an executive decision and hoped she'd be okay eating what I fixed.  (She was.)  Then I looked for my charger.  And looked.  And looked.  (And mind you, I was looking with my good eye)  No charger to be found.
And suddenly, I despaired.  What if my parents needed to reach me?  What if I had an emergency?  What if I needed, at some point in the night, to call 911 before my roommate came home?  All of a sudden, dozens of dreary situations popped into my imagination.  And inevitably, I saw myself consigned to death in all of them.  Simply because my phone had died.
Then I tried to access the Internet on my roommate's computer.  Because if my phone was dead, e-mail should be an adequate communication substitute for any situations except the most absolutely dire.  Right?  I couldn't get an Internet connection.  And it felt like my world was crumbling in on itself. 
After the melodrama reached its peak, I realized that one of the girls in my visiting teaching group lives upstairs and around the corner.  With our ward's Relief Society president and another of my good friends.  And that they are the sort of people who, if a friend came to their door with a deeply gashed and bleeding hand/leg/foot/arm/head, would gladly take them to the hospital.
Then I could breathe again.  Because for all of the good technology does, it doesn't do as much good as a completely human connection.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Whose Expectations Do We Meet?

There has been a question on my mind lately. And this is it: are we allowed to hold ourselves to a higher standard than the standard the people who know and love us best? Or does it inevitably result in feelings of discouragement, apathy, and disillusionment?

I was raised to be independent. Goal-driven. Ambitious.

And in all fairness, I would say that I have become what I was raised to be. (Lamentably so, sometimes, according to my parents. They sometimes wish their children leaned on their shoulders a little more often. And unfortunately, I often tend to view a proffered shoulder to cry on as a crutch.)

I'm also the sort of person who enjoys a challenge. Who thrives on challenge. And who, at these moments, feels that every time she doesn't allow herself to be challenged, she's folding in a little bit on herself. Does that make any sense? It does to me, but I'm the one writing.

Sometimes I look at all of the people in my life who love me and who are impressed with me, and I can't help but wonder if they are a little bit delusional. Because right now, to be quite frank, I am less than impressed with myself. I'm beyond un-impressed with myself. And though I'm trying to change that, change comes slow.

And I'm wondering if I need to change me at all, really. Or if I simply need to change the way I view myself. As bright as I am, I can't believe it took me twenty-four years to realize that I'm harder on myself than anyone else I know. I forget that the people who know me are looking at me with two good eyes.

And that, apparently, there's obviously something there worth seeing.

Friday, April 18, 2008

So Apparently I'm Not American . . .

It seems that people who know me and see me often have reached a consensus: I was born in the wrong country.  Apparently, I'm as British as they come.
At first, I found this idea preposterous.  Just because I have a predilection for many things British (including, but not limited to: authors, actors, television, and chocolate) does not mean I'm living in the wrong country.  I mean, I like House quite a lot.  And it's an American TV show.  (So what if the lead actors is, in all reality, British?)
I'm also rather fond of Psych, Monk, Pushing Daisies, and Gilmore Girls.  And when I pointed this out to one of my friends--in exactly those words, she began to laugh.  Because apparently, it's not my tastes that make me seem more British than American.  It's the way I talk and the way I talk.  Several people have verified this.
Specifically, I'm fond of the adjectives "quite" and "rather."  Indeed, when I'm enthusing to my co-worker about something she should read, watch, or listen to, I often find myself saying, "I found it rather amazing" or "Seriously.  It made me quite happy."
It's rare that I become "ecstatic" or "enthused."  Or any number of other adjectives my vocabulary allows for.  I'm usually either "happy" or "quite happy," "sad" or "quite sad."  Although, in all fairness, sadness does have variants of "depressed" and "quite depressed."  Or, if I'm feeling variable, I'll subsitute "rather" for "quite."
And my argument against her characterization of me failed when I asked, unthinkingly, "Don't you think that assessment of me is rather over-exaggerated?"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

There Are No Shackles on Me

I feel that I've been chastised by a Broadway song. 
Let me explain.  Lately, there have been some things in my life that have made me decidedly unhappy.  Some of these things are completely beyond my control and will only be remedied by time and patience.  But others are completely under my control and I, for reasons unknown to even myself, have insisted on feeling helpless about them.
Anyway, my roommate said something the other day that reminded me of a song from the musical Aida.  And I started singing the song, only to discover she didn't recognize it all.  She's never heard the music.  So I resolved we would listen to Aida.
The two leads in Aida both feel like slaves.  Aida feels like a slave because she is one.   And Radames, the Egyptian who captures her, feels like he's a slave to his social position and the marriage expectations that come with it.
In the song "Enchantment Passing Through," Aida and Radames are talking about how they'd both like to sail away from their troubles.  How they would both be free if they could sail away.  Aida gets very angry when Radames implies to her that he, too, is enslaved.  She tells him, "If you don't like your fate, change it . . . You are your own master.  There are no shackles on you."
When I was introducing my roommate to this song, those lines felt like a slap in the face to me.  When it comes to parts of my future, I can't control them.  But when it comes to others, there are no shackles on me.  I'm free to change them.
And so I shall.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Quiet--and Not-So-Quiet--Desperation

In Walden, Thoreau wrote that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."  When I worked for the state, there were a couple of women in my office whose very existence proved a refutation to that statement: they led lives of decidedly noisy desperation.  Everyone knew when things went wrong with these ladies' lives.  And things were always going wrong with their lives.
I remember thinking, the first time I read that particular quote, how profoundly sad it made me.  I read Walden for the first time after finishing my freshman year of college.  And it had been a hard year to date.  A year where I had felt as though I were leading a life of quiet desperation, despite having a few confidants who knew about my struggles from January to April 2003.  Indeed, my blog post of a few days ago was quite the anomaly for me.  I'm the sort of person who tends to internalize and then reach a point where some form of expression becomes inevitable.
As a matter of fact, I tend to internalize to such a point that when the expression becomes necessary, the Katie runneth over.  So to speak.  You know what I mean.
And let me be frank: I prefer quiet desperation to noisy desperation.  Or quiet desperation infrequently expressed to select people.  Noisy desperation never seems as serious to me.  It seems more like a plea for attention than anything else; it's one thing to wear emotions, it's quite another to broadcast them to anyone within hearing range.
If Thoreau's statement is correct, I think it's because people become passive.  They let themselves be acted upon and they choose not act; they accept their circumstances in spite of discontent.  Their winter of discontent turns into a spring of discontent.  And then into a summer and fall of their discontent.
It's so easy to recognize this.  Why is it so hard to not fall into that trap?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Matchmaker, Matchmaker . . .

At my future sister-in-law's wedding shower on Saturday, one of the ladies from the neighborhood I grew up in commented that it would be an eventful spring and summer indeed: between the wedding, my younger sister's graduation, my older sister having her third kid, and my brother returning home from his mission, my family has their hands full. And by "my family," I mean "my parents."

But they are not too busy, it seems, not to make observations about my love life.

As many of you may know, I have standing appointments with the chiropractor and with three piano students on Thursdays that require my presence in Centerville. So I stay at my parents' house every Thursday night. It's good entertainment and good company. And my mom is usually good for an insanely competitive game of Scrabble unless she has something else she needs to do.

Due to the scheduling of said appointments, I inevitably end up trying to swallow entire dinners whole in the ten minutes between arriving home from the chiropractor's and starting the first piano lesson of the night. But this past Thursday, I didn't even have time for that.

An hour and a half and a severely growling stomach later, I settled down to eat a bowl of delicious soup when the doorbell rang. It was a security salesman. Despite noticing he was attractive and that he looked about my age, I gladly turned him over to my parents. I wanted my soup, and I didn't care about getting the house a security system; I had always felt safe there. Except when my older brother got angry when we were younger. And I'm pretty sure they don't make security systems that handle those eventualities.

Anyway, I finished my soup and went downstairs to relax. Ten minutes later, the phone rings. My mom requests I answer it, but then gives up on me running up the stairs when I know it doesn't take two of them to talk shop with a security salesman. In fact, it only takes one: my dad. He's the one who can ask about technicalities. So she answered it, took a message, and went back to talking with the salesman.

A few minutes later, I found myself deep in conversation with my parents. About how I'd foiled their plans to get me to come upstairs and flirt with the security salesman who, they had realized just prior to the phone call, was a returned missionary and oh-so-available. Tall, dark, handsome RM? Of course they thought he needed to meet their daughter.

And he did, briefly. I answered the door.

If I would have realized how fond my parents could become of a salesman in twenty minutes (he earned huge brownie points from my mother by taking off his shoes when he came into the house), I wouldn't have let my mom know he was there. Except my mom taught me to be polite to everyone, and I didn't want to be the person to shoot down the nice salesman. I just wanted my soup. And some bread. And some relaxation.

And I got to have them and keep my dignity too.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

What A Difference A Couple of Days and A Couple of Friends Makes

 If you noticed (and if you read my blog at all, noticed), I wasn't having the best of times a couple of days ago.  Indeed, a couple of days ago I found myself wildly ranting to my co-worker about how I did not have a back-up plan for not being accepted to schools and how it was absolutely not acceptable that I had not planned for all eventualities that could occur in this phase of my life.  It was a rant, when boiled down to its heart, about the lack of control that I had over my life and how I needed to know what to do.  (In fact, it involved me practically bellowing, at least three discrete times, "I don't know what to do, but I need to know what to do."

Most people who know me, in any context, know I'm not the sort of person who feels lost.  I'm the sort of person who usually has a plan--any kind of plan--that she feels secure about.  And a couple of contingency plans in case the original one goes wrong.  (And as secure as I may be about some of my plans, they do periodically have a tendency to go wrong.)  I'm a fan of a certain amount of self-structure.  

But there are some things even the greatest architects build and there are some lives that refuse to be structured because people are building them the wrong way.  And what I've been freaking out about is the equivalent of builders worrying about a complete house before the foundation has even finished drying.  I recognized that when I read Katya's comment.  Lately, I've been allowing myself to fall prey to one of my most prominent flaws: a distinct lack of impatience and a stubborn adherence to the plan I want to happen.  Thank you for putting that into perspective.

My parents reassured me about things yesterday, but I have to admit that when it comes to matters like these, they sometimes don't count as much as they should.  Because they're my parents and they have to reassure me, right?  But there are a number of other people who have reassured me I'll be fine that had no stake in the matter.

And the best helps have been those friends who have chatted with me, letting me know they think I'm brilliant.  And not allowing me to make any of my usual cracks about my intelligence levels, because they know such self-deprecation won't help me right now.  My future is still uncertain, but I realize now I don't have to face that uncertainty completely alone.  I have a support system.  A darn good one.

Because sometimes I feel such a need to be a solitary creature, I forget that Heavenly Father sent us to this earth to associate with other people.  So they could lift us and we could lift them, each in our own turn.  I've discovered this weekend that I'd much rather be doing than lifting than be the lifted, but I also think I've been learning an eternal lesson here: we can't always be on the giving end.

We also need to learn to be graciously grateful in the receiving.  

Friday, April 11, 2008

Removing My [Metaphorical] Glasses (Because If I Removed the Real Ones, I'd Have Some Sight Problems)

I do not have particular patience with people who are overly eager to please.  When people seem to be trying that hard, I tend to get a little suspicious.  If they want to please me that badly, they obviously have something to hide, right?
Consider this entry your blog to the cynical Katie.  The one who occasionally wins out over the more dominant facet of the personality that wants to believe that all people are good, that the world is full of warm fuzzies waiting to happen, that you don't need to view life through rose-colored glasses because the world is naturally rose-colored.
The Cynic is poking her head out more often these days as I become more disillusioned with a number of things.  The current disillusionment with workforce brown-nosers stems from my job. 
When I graduated, I figured I wanted to find an equivalent of the last job I'd held during college.  A job that was equal parts people and project.  Human Resources seemed so ideal.  Until it became less people and more project.  And until the people became project.  (Interpretation: "At her current position, Katie feels the human part of human resources is slowly falling by the wayside while she tries to pretend that statistics about human are an adequate stand-in for the real thing.  But she truly knows they aren't.")
I need to find ways of re-establishing a human connection, but I'm fresh out of ideas and my prevailing mood of disillusionment and cynicism is not being helped by people I help, only to find them sniping behind my back later.  Or worse yet, exerting a valiant effort so that they later don't have to exert that effort.  All of the corporate brown-nosers have inevitably assumed positions as backbiters.  And gossips.
It all seemed so temporary before, but now that half of my graduate schools have rejected me, a life spent in the corporate environment is becoming more and more real.  Dreadfully real. 
I didn't think I would need a contingency plan.  But now I'm beginning to wish I'd planned for contingencies.  But I still have two as-yet-unreceived letters.  Two papery potentials.
And I'm afraid they'll explode in my face, and I will then have no ideas what to do with myself.  Indeed, I'm expecting them to explode in my face.  And then I'm expecting to feel lost.  Because that's how life works lately.
Ideas, anyone?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Edge to the Impatience is Slowly Rubbing Down

Are you tired of hearing intermittent updates about my graduate school status? If so, you have two choices: 1) stop reading or 2) keep reading. Be forewarned, though, that option 2 will make you roll your eyes and feel even more tired of these updates.

Portland State finally wrote back. They said, "Thanks, but no thanks." But they were much more validating than that, something I appreciated. My mom called me a few minutes ago to tell me the letter had arrived, and I asked her to open and read it because I didn't have any particular desire to wait another two days to see what it said.

I applied to a writing program there, and the letter basically said that after careful review, the faculty felt my style and work weren't compatible with their work, but that they encouraged me in all of my future endeavors and wanted me to know that some of the writing classes were open to not-enrolled students--that is, if the professors liked their writing. (And I'm guessing at least a couple of professors approved, since I got a much more personal rejection from them than I received from Chicago) But I don't think I'm going to relocate to Portland just to take sporadic classes.

But as I said, the up side of that letter is that I received a good deal of validation--something everyone dearly needs, but really hates to admit to needing.

So two down. And two to go.

And if neither of them accept me, I really need to figure out my contingency plan.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Pan Ecstasy, or Sharing What Little I Have

When I first moved into my current apartment in February, I brought a boatload of books with me. (Actually, probably more than a boatload, but that's not the point of this blog entry.) I brought a bed, a desk, two bookshelves to house the books (and I still need the shelf space the desk affords, even with my two shelves), and a dresser. In addition, I had some towels. A few odds and ends. And I had one contribution for the kitchen: a Paul Revere 12" (at least, I'm pretty sure that's what size it is, but I've never actually measured it) skillet.

I felt bad that I didn't have more kitchenware to contribute, but everything in my last apartment had belonged to my roommate. Everything except that skillet. As I unpacked, I cringed every time I unpacked another box that didn't have anything I could share.

And then I unpacked the skillet and brought it out to the kitchen. I apologized to my roommate that it was the only thing I had to share, and I waited for a request to "go buy some dishes or something." It didn't come.
(I had the nerve to think it was just a pan. I should have known better, especially considering my accord with the writers of Finding Neverland that "just" is "a horrible, candle-snuffing word.")

Instead, I witnessed no small amount of glee. In fact, I have never--and I mean NEVER--seen someone grow so excited over any type of kitchen implement. She glowed as she talked about all of the things she could make with that pan, because they just didn't fit in the small pans they already owned.

This, my friends, was pan ecstasy.

And all of a sudden, I felt very good. Because I had caused it. Merely by bringing one kitchen pan.

I've been thinking about this recently whenever I find myself in a setting where I feel I have little to contribute. Where my offering, such as it is, seems relatively small when compared with the offering of others.

At times like these, I think of that pan. And I remember the delight my other roommate felt when she came home from visiting her family and saw it for the first time.

Sometimes, all we have to offer is a 12" skillet. And more often than we realize, our skillet is enough.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Genuine Individuals

Humble, it is not, but I have to say: I'm rather proud of myself for only missing one talk of all four of Saturday and Sunday's General Conference sessions.  It was no mean feat for a girl who has been suffering from a nasty cold.  (Although I won't complain too much as I'm pretty sure my cold is just a cold, whereas my roommate has recently been diagnosed with walking pneumonia.  Don't worry.  She's not contagious anymore.  And it's not like you can catch anything from either of us just by reading my blog.)

Anyway, I enjoyed General Conference, and something that stuck out to me was a particular emphasis on the individual.  Heavenly Father values individuals.  The Church values individuals.  It is important to pay attention to the one; many gospel stories are about the actions of individuals contrary to crowds.  

In a student ward, it is easy to fill lost and unknown.  But I received a reminder these last two days that Heavenly Father is always aware of individuals and, by extension, most of his servants are too.

Today, one of my roommate's former roommates came over and watched Conference with us.  We ate lunch together between sessions, and I said something my roommate perceived as being stereotypically me.  "Katie," she said, "You're a genuine individual."  I smiled, because I knew that was her way of telling me nobody else thought or talked quite like I do.  But then I got to thinking.  (Yes, yes, dangerous pastime, I know)

Aren't we all genuine individuals?

No two people on this whole planet are exactly alike.  Not even identical twins.  All of us have different personalities, different tastes, different passions.  All of us have unique ways of expressing ourselves.  All of us are, in short, genuine individuals.

And ironically enough, though the world encourages individuality with its voices, it tends to pay much more heed to the crowd.  In the process, I'm afraid genuine individuals try to shed their genuine individuality in favor of something that will act as crowd camouflage.  And if Heavenly Father had intended us to all be the same, He would have created a bunch of clones--don't you think?

That's why I liked the emphasis on the one during this General Conference.  The scriptures advise us to be "in the world, but not of the world."  Part of what I glean from this admonishment is that we are to stay true to our values and ourselves, despite what the crowd thinks.  Even sometimes when we thought the crowd had the same standards we did.  Was is "that Polonius dude" who said "To thine own self be true?"

If we've been receiving the counsel and advice from this many sources for this long, how long will it actually take us to be ourselves and ignore all of the other voices?

Again I say: we are all genuine individuals.

And that fact makes someone we know smile every day.

(Trust me.  Just ask my roommates.)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Fun with Books

Th. told me to, so here goes.

I intended to do this while at work, but realized none of the HR books lurking around my office are more than 120 pages long.  (Which is probably a good thing, or I'd spend all of my time at work reading, maintaining that it was "research" and I was improving my value to the company.)

Anyway, the nearest book turned out be Jasper Fforde's Something Rotten, and the magic sentence is:

"Can't wait.  Hubba-hubba!  Who's the moppet in the tight blouse?"

All right, so that's three.  But they're all short and on the same line.

And all of a sudden, this book seems a lot more risque than it actually is . . .

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Thoughts on Happiness

I have been thinking quite a lot about happiness recently. This is, I suppose, an inevitable result of feeling unhappy with a couple of life situations that are, at the moment, completely out of my control. Neither of these things are things I can change, but I have allowed the two to shove me down a spiral of sadness and misery. I am working at letting myself be happy regardless, but it’s more difficult than it seems.

In addition to this situational thinking, The Dancing Newt and Schmetterling and Eric Weiner and, unwittingly, my roommate have all written, said, or done something recently that set me thinking even more about happiness. (This post of Schmetterling’s actually came when I thought I had ended said thinking riff. And set me thinking all over again. But more on what he said later.)

Anyway, the thinking started last Friday, when my roommate came home from a swing dance date as giddy as I’ve ever seen her. And she’s a happy person. Anyway, she wanted to keep dancing around and before I knew it, our other roommate had started playing the song “Happiness” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

And that started it all: the premise of the song “Happiness” is that happiness comes as a result of small things. Charlie Brown starts off the song, because he’s ecstatic to learn that the redheaded girl chews her pencil, and that means she’s human! (Personally, I think chewing pencils is a bad, nervous habit. One I have. And am reminded of when I see anyone else chewing a pencil.) The song goes on to list several small things as happiness: pizza with sausage, learning to whistle, five different crayons, tying your shoes, even in being alone now and then. (My favorite line, by far, that: I find myself craving solitude sometimes, and need a certain amount of “me” time to be sane and content) It culminates in the idea that happiness is anything an individual loves—whether it’s people, food, or a place. While I found this a good idea, I found the opposite eqeually true: even things people love are known to cause disappointment.

Speaking of place, Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World continued to spur on my preponderance of ponderings about happiness as I read it last week. Weiner set out to explore the reverse of the maxim that happiness isn’t a state; it’s a state of mind. There is a whole branch of psychology devoted to studying happiness, and they have a way of ranking places based on how they rank on a happiness scale. (The United States, incidentally, does not rank as high on the happy scale as I expected)

He explored places like Bhutan, where they try to measure Gross National Happiness—because the government thinks it a better indicator than GDP. (Incidentally, happiness as policy connected to this post by my Newt-y friend.) He visited Iceland, a remarkably happy place, due in part to its creativity and its attitude that its citizens are allowed to fail and change. Indeed, failure and change are expected. And he visited Moldova, where it was miserable—but the fruits and vegetables were fresh. In the end, he didn’t try to make any broad sweeping conclusions about happiness: people who were happy were happy for variable reasons. (Which means, I suppose, that Tolstoy got it wrong. All happy families are not alike.)

But it led me to re-think part of the premise I’ve been thinking of recently—namely, that I would be happier if I were someplace other than where I am. (Although I must admit that after reading about Moldova, I think I’d feel happier coming home. Just by virtue of comparison.)

I thought I’d exhausted my thoughts about happiness, especially since I had yet to reach a conclusion about how to force myself to be happier (NEWS FLASH: This just in. I discovered that happiness isn’t something I can force on myself, although I can pursue people and things that have been known to help me be happy before.).

And then Schmetterling’s post came. I already linked it, so use that link. Or maybe you already have. Anyhow, his posted started me thinking. Primarily about Billy Joel’s “Vienna.” He quoted the latter half of this line: “You know that when the truth is told, you can get what you want or you can just get old” and I thought about that and this line: “Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true.”

At first I thought the dreaming line stood as stark contradiction to the whole song. Then I realized: it doesn’t. The song is advocating slowing down, but not giving up. If you only imagine all of your dreams will come true, they won’t. But some dreams come more easily than others, and rushing around does not always help us to fulfill our dreams.

“Vienna” is replete with admonitions to slow down, and (thanks to Schmetterling for the post that triggered the epiphany) I realize far too often I equate happiness with being so occupied and stressed, I am practically frenetic. And while exact and perfect happiness doesn’t come from slowing down, it does help to bring a little mellowness to my demeanor.

Besides, I’ve made a discovery: I don’t think we’re intended to be happy all the time. Otherwise, it would be void of any meaning as an emotion. Just as smiles would lose their power if they were the law.