A warning before I begin: I’m probably freaking out too much.
I’ve always been a little too concerned with my future. A little too anxious to be a grown-up, with a grown-up job and a grown-up apartment. I’ve always wanted to have my own little routine, to make dinner in my own little kitchen, to vacuum my own little hardwood floors. As I got older, I realized that I would actually need to pay for all of these things, in some way or another. Still, even as that reality sinks in a little more with every year, I look forward to complete independence, to adult responsibility, to organizing bills and accounts and ducks into a row.
Is that weird?
Anyway, as I already mentioned, the reality of life outside of my parent’s house, outside of my college dormitory, is starting to really sink in. I’m realizing how little I know and understand about the things that I am going to have to do all by myself one day. Like, what is a mortgage? How about escrow? What the heck is that? It’s definitely not a variation of escarole. I already figured that one out on my own.
There’s already a lot of uncertainty, and I’m only twenty years old. In a year and a half, I’ll have graduated college, with a liberal arts degree in writing. I know what I want to do with that, but it’s no secret that becoming a successful television writer/novelist is exceptionally challenging.
And I feel like “I’m only twenty years old” isn’t even an excuse anymore. There are so many incredible youths out there nowadays, making waves. It’s really putting on the pressure.
Whenever I read about someone who I go to school with getting published, I have a moment of pride for my super cool peers, and then a (longer) moment of petty envy. I’ll probably do some online stalking to determine if they’re older or younger than me. If they’re older, all pettiness will disintegrate for hope: I have time! If they’re younger, well, let’s just say I’ll probably go on a crazed LinkedIn connection-making spree (which of course isn’t as productive as actually sending my work out to publishers).
Of course, there’s also the age-old question, often spoken or thought with a great tremor—is this my peak? What if I just become less talented, less marketable, less everything after this point?
Imagine me with a ruler and a piece of graph paper. Slowly, but steadily, a perfectly straight line edges up, up, up, but as soon as the pencil hits my twentieth year on the x-axis, the ruler flips 180 degrees to form a lopsided triangle. There it is. My peak. But even with the visual, it’s not about a peak, or having hit my peak, or not having hit my peak yet. It’s not about that at all.
It’s about being good enough. Every point on that line, I would have questioned if I were good enough. I would hold the graph paper out in front of my eyes so I could see the whole picture at once, and my eyes would find the highest point, the peak, and I would still think, “Was I good enough, there? At my peak?”
How do I overcome this? I know that I must. But that’s as far as I’ve gotten.
I know that, once I overcome this, I will send my work out to publishers, for the task will no longer seem quite as daunting. I will write cover letters and do internship after internship. I will introduce myself to the most powerful person in the room as though I deserve to shake her hand. I will never question if I belong somewhere. I will enter through a threshold, unsure of what lies beyond it, and yet still think that I belong there. I will see myself through the eyes of the people who love me the most, instead of the people who appreciate me the least.
When I used to envision myself as an adult, puttering about my charmingly eclectic and historic antebellum apartment, these weren’t the concerns I thought I’d have. Actually, the fantasy never involved any worries or problems. That’s what makes it a fantasy, I guess.
So, yeah, I’m freaking out. In my worst moments, I’m Girl Unpublished. Girl Unsuccessful. Girl Undeserving. But I’m working on it. I’m working on stopping the ruler from turning 180 degrees. I’m working on not getting in the way of that straight line as it goes higher and higher.
Because, really, it’s not anyone else making me feel not good enough. As unbelievable as it sounds to even me, especially me, I choose to feel that way (to an extent—I don’t want to feel not good enough, but I’m the only person who can control feeling that way or not). It’s just like how the most arrogant person in the world chooses to feel like he’s the best, and it’s definitely not because the rest of the world thinks he’s the best (I’m alluding to a certain public figure here).
Well, it’s true sometimes that other people help to make you feel really crappy, like those people who get published at the ripe old age of thirteen, or even the people you love when they do something disappointing. It totally sucks. But it doesn’t have to mean anything about you personally. It’s only as significant as the value you give it. Do with that what you will. I’ll just keep repeating it over and over in my head till I really believe it.
I have a bit of an unpopular opinion: I hate chess.
It's boring. It's limiting. I don't want to think a thousand moves ahead when I can barely keep track of what all the little guys even do. I would much rather play checkers. Actually, I would much rather play Clue. That game, and all the strategy and intrigue involved, is way more interesting than chess.
A lot of people will probably disagree with me here. I wish I loved chess, I really do. It's just one of those things that I can't get into no matter how many times someone tries to explain it to me. All I ever grasp is that the Queen can do whatever she wants and then I get stuck on thinking how great of an idea that is and the rest just goes in one ear and out the other.
It's strange because, for a year and a half of my college career, I wanted to be an Economics major. In fact, I completed all of the requirements. But once there were no Game Theory classes left for me to take, the whole field didn't seem as interesting to me anymore, and I decided not to declare that major anymore, despite having spent a lot of time going through the motions in that department. (Also, imagine me as an Economics major. Like, okay. I wasn't fooling anybody.)
Anyway, that whole tangent was just to say that I really like Game Theory. I think it's cool and interesting as heck. So then why don't I love chess?
Whatever. I am who I am.
There is one thing I like about chess, however, and that is the crazy German words they used to describe certain moves. But of course, I don't use them to describe my chess strategies, but instead the actual decisions I make on the daily. I like them for the same reason that I like Game Theory: you can apply them to any and all choices you make, not just where you're going to move your horse knight and your bobblehead front guy.
So this Wednesday, I'm giving you, the reader, two totally fabulous words of German origin that will come in handy 1) if you're a chessmaster and 2) if you're a normal person who, like, makes decisions throughout the day like everyone else (even small decisions, like whether to hit snooze again or finally get out of bed).
So for the first one, we have ZUGZWANG. I don't know how to pronounce it so don't bother asking me. Just say it with confidence and no one will question you, even if it's totally wrong.
Anyway, zugzwang is the name for a situation in which any move available to you (any choice, any decision) is unfavorable. It's sort of like a lose-lose situation. Perhaps an example would help illuminate the meaning of this word. Imagine this: it's eight in the morning. You have class at ten in the morning. You can either get up, get ready, and then go to class, but then you will be tired and, well, end up in probably a boring class. Your other option would be to sleep in, which is very nice indeed, but you would either not have time to get ready for your class or miss the class altogether. Either way, you're not as satisfied as if at ten past eight in the morning your professor emailed you that class was cancelled that morning and you could sleep in guilt-free.
So, yeah. That's basically zugzwang.
And then, there's ZWISCHENZUG! A word as unpredictable as the situations it describes. Basically, a zwischenzug is when you do pretty much the opposite of what was expected of you.
So, in a classic zwischenzug move, instead of continuing to talk, I'm just going to end the post here!
The Weekly Playlist is going to be a little different this week. For one thing, I didn't pick any of the songs. For another thing, I outsourced that job to random strange boys on Tinder.
I recently decided that Tinder isn;t really for me. But at the same time, it's sort of an amazing study of human behavior, and, more than that, it's an easy way for a shy person to get perspectives from people you would've never met otherwise.
With these benefits of Tinder in mind, I decided a couple of days ago that I'd try to use Tinder for another purpose than finding "the one." (I find it hilarious that I thought maybe it could happen. I guess maybe it could. I'm too young to be thinking like this. What is wrong with me.)
In my bio (a feature that anyone Tinder-ing can get to from my pictures), I wrote "Tell me your favorite song-- I'll listen to it and tell you what I think!" I expected maybe a couple responses over the next few months. Instead, I immediately got a message containing a song title and the name of an artist that I didn't recognize.
You guys. It worked.
I got a freaking ton of responses. To be honest, I haven't listened to them all, and I certainly haven't provided my feedback on them all. I'm only human, okay?
I'm a little overwhelmed by how many straight boys in my area jumped on the opportunity to tell me their favorite song. (I also get a lot of Tinder boys telling me that they read and liked some of my blog, so if you're reading this and we also matched on Tinder-- hi. This is a little awkward, huh?)
Without further ado, here's some of the songs that were recommended to me by Tinder boys (and yet it's still twice the size of my usual playlists). I recommend listening to this playlist while you swipe left, right, or chat up some strangers.
The entire playlist can be found in its hour-long glory here.
1. It’s a Wonderful Life – Bandits of the Acoustic Revolution
Once again I wake up alone on the wrong side of my bed
And once again you begin your dancing nakedly on the right side of my head
It's for a lack of better words that I can hardly speak my soul
And I'm feeling what I'm feeling when I'm feeling when it's time to lose control, my love
2. The Waiting – Angel Olsen
Here you come along
I take a breath and remind myself that I too can be strong
Thought I was cool, turns out I'm a fool
Clearly you've proved me wrong
3. Life Itself – Glass Animal
Daddy was dumb, said that I'd be something special
Brought me up tough but I was a gentle human
Said that he loved each of my two million freckles
When I grew up, I was gonna be a superstar
4. The Pod – Hum
Morning scatters in and I am steady like a drug feeling out this one
She wakes up smashed as hell and steadies her ass against the rail
And bends before the pounding rain
She had the widest bright ideas all along about my love
5. Left And Leaving – The Weakerthans
My city's still breathing (but barely it's true)
Through buildings gone missing like teeth
The sidewalks are watching me think about you
Sparkled with broken glass
I'm back with scars to show
Back with the streets I know
6. Kinetic – Osker
Through the strength of your arms, I realized I was off the mark
All I really wanted was a pair of interested ears
I learned that for every pause, I was almost guaranteed more time to speak
It's always the selfish who say that life is way too short
7. Day By Day – Dirty Heads
All hyped up, ready to begin
Styrofoam emcees keep crumbling
Dirty Heads stay tight couldn't loosen with a wrench
These rivers run deep, Mariano trench
8. Scar Tissue – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Push me up against the wall
Young Kentucky girl in a push-up bra
Fallin' all over myself
To lick your heart and taste your health 'cause
With the bird I'll share this lonely view
9. I’m Serious, I’m Sorry – Jeff Rosenstock
I wanted to tell you I know how it feels when
The people you love just start disappearing
Ashamed that you took their presence for granted
But I didn't want to seem condescending
10. Weightless – Marconi Union
This is an instrumental song, don't worry about it though
I'm still writing out my own little lyrics
So that the post looks more complete and thorough
11. Simplicity Demand – Mercernary
You have to believe me
I want you to be near
I'm all alone here
Feeling fragile and confused
But your absence will make me choose
And the tailors of time have
Washed away my friend
12. Learning to Fly – Pink Floyd
Ice is forming on the lips of my wings
Unheeded warnings I thought I thought of everything
No navigator to guide my way home
Unladened, empty and turned to stone
13. Within Destruction – As I Lay Dying
If music is a mirror revealing
The depths of my heart
Then I will write the darkest song
For without forgiveness
My soul is lost
Once again, all of the tracks (in order) can be found and listened to here.
Honestly, this Wednesday Word is just… cute. It doesn't have a terribly interesting history or etymology. It comes from the Latin ericius, which literally means "hedgehog." Period. End of sentence.
Just kidding, of course there's more to it than that!
If you didn't take Latin for six years like your friendly neighborhood Girl Unaffiliated, you might not know that the ancient Romans were simultaneously lovers of war as well as lovers of the figurative use of animals in war strategy.
So how do hedgehogs, the lovable cuddlers that they are, relate to war? Well, quite evidently, hedgehogs are covered in spikes. Sure, they’re more like the soft bristles of a toothbrush, but they’re still echinated (another fun word meaning prickly with stiff spines). If you’re a bit trigger happy as several leaders of the Roman Empire were, you might have enough of an imagination to turn the spikes of a hedgehog into a built-in armor of spears, which sounds like a pretty effective way to synthesize defense and offense.
I’m not much of a war person. By that I mean I am one hundred percent against it, morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, animally, minerally. For some reason, however, the battles and conquests of Rome feel more like fantasy fiction than something that really happened to real people in real life. Is that wrong? Oh well, it’s something.
The fable-like animal metaphors probably influence that a little.
Anyway, back to the hedgehogs. Using the hedgehog’s physical characteristics as a reference, the Romans developed a device equipped with spines. This weapon was used to both repel and slow down attackers. I mean, come on. Would you want to approach someone bearing what is basically a spiked javelin?
In a fairly uncreative move, the Romans called this device an ericius as well. I wonder if there were any situations on the battlefield in which a soldier was referring to a hedgehog and not the weapon and a hilariously classic mix-up ensued.
Of course, there aren’t any clear images of the ericius, and only vague descriptions of it. But this is not the only example of the hedgehog in allegorical history. And because I’m self-serving and this is my blog, damn it, I’m going to tell you about my favorite: the hedgehog’s dilemma.
I actually learned about this at my very first class at college. It was a class that all freshmen who go to my school have to take, and typically complain about. But I got an incredible professor (who—and this is 100% true—was stolen from us by Harvard University literally after my class with her ended).
She never really told us why she started our class off with the hedgehog’s dilemma. The course itself was essentially an introduction to a number of significant texts and minds (Kant, Wollstonecraft, Nietzsche, other college party name-drop worthy philosophers, writers, thinkers) and to this day I can’t connect the hedgehog’s dilemma with the curriculum. But let’s see what we think after talking about it for a bit.
The hedgehog’s dilemma (often called the porcupine dilemma) is a metaphor attempting to describe the universal challenges of human intimacy. During times of cold weather, hedgehogs must burrow together (somewhat like penguins) to share heat. However, the sharp edges of their spines can’t help but puncture and hurt each other, making them remain apart. How do the sweet hedgehogs reconcile this? How do they stay warm without hurting each other?
For reasons they cannot change, hedgehogs can’t be as close and intimate as they want to be. So they have to keep just as much distance as they can between themselves.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, in Parerga und Paralipomena, first used this dilemma to describe the state of the individual in relation to other individuals within a society. Here’s an excerpt from the text: “…the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance.”
A note about Schopenhauer that might influence how you feel about the hedgehog/porcupine dilemma: not only was he a massive pessimist, there is no evidence from his life that he had any virtues except for kindness toward animals and had a generally sour countenance.
It’s almost like an unspoken arrangement between members of the humankind. To keep ourselves from being pricked, and to keep from pricking those we care about, we try to maintain as much independence as we possibly can. And if you’re someone who is already a little too hot, you stay away to avoid further issues.
Sigmund Freud adopted the allegory from Schopenhauer, giving it international attention and inserting it into the field of psychology. In fact, when Freud visited the United States in 1919, he gave his reasoning for the trip as follows: “I am going to the USA to catch sight of a wild porcupine and to give some lectures.” (I find this anecdote to be adorable.)
I think I understand now why my dear professor told us this, in our very first class, in our very first year of school. For many of us, it was the first time that we would be interacting with people from a different place, a different perspective. It was inevitable that each student would bristle nerves, and get his or her nerves bristled in the next four years we spent together, in this tiny liberal arts school in the middle of nowhere.
I know that I, personally, have had my nerves bristled. I sure as hell have bristled a lot of nerves in the past two and a half years (and probably every year of my existence before then).
Maybe the hedgehog dilemma isn’t just an interesting way to think about personal relationships. Maybe it’s actually a fable with a moral, a lesson to be learned. I’m still figuring out how to catch sight of my own wild porcupine. I think I’m getting warmer.
As everyone already knows by now and doesn’t need me to tell them, it’s finally, finally 2017. Not only is it 2017, it’s the New Year. We are officially on the cusp of the past and the future, in that short window in which everyone remembers what happened the past year and wants, desperately, to move past it—the moment before nostalgia sets in. It’s the time of new beginnings, renewed hope, and uncharacteristic motivation.
Okay, I get it, time is a construct and starting over can really happen at any time, not just the time that was premeditated by ancient calendar-makers whose whims somehow determined the rise and fall of ourselves. But, in spite of that little technicality, the New Year can still be symbolic. It can still be a proper noun, capitals and all, to those of us who want it to be.
And you know what? I want it to be. I don’t care that it’s a cliché, that it’s something stand-up comedians make fun of in their earlier routines (and I do mean earlier routines as in not as good, more obvious routines; I don’t care who I offend).
However, I don’t buy into the whole “new year, new me” sentiment. The phrase has its uses, and I do think it can be hilarious as a non sequitur. It’s just not useful as a mantra. I like the underlying idea, that there is some change within us that coincides with a more universal beginning, felt by everyone in some way to some extent.
But I don’t think it has to be as drastic as a whole “new me.” There is nothing wrong with the old me. The only thing that the old me needed to work on was how she saw herself.
So this year, instead of believing that I need to change completely for this trip around the sun to be a good one (or at least a better one than the last year-not-to-be-named), the only thing I’m changing about myself? I’m getting a new set of teeth.
I am no longer surviving by the skin of my teeth. I will fight tooth (and nail) for the respect I deserve. And I’m finally putting some teeth into my own value. And if you don’t like it, I’ll bare my new, strong, shiny chompers at you till you step off. New year? New teeth.
If that sets your teeth on edge, you better get a mouth guard, because I’m biting off just as much as I can chew in 2017, and, if you want to eat with me, you’re gonna have to catch up.
To all of the haters, I have but one thing to say: New year, who dis?
Student. Writer. Everything-o-phile.