I am not a morning person.
I mumble and grunt as soon as my alarm goes off until about half past noon. This sounds like an exaggeration but it's actually true.
This may not be related, but I have been late to my internship every day this week. For a while there I was coming in fifteen, twenty minutes early, but now my night owl-ness seems to have kicked in.
Oddly, the scientific term for a night person is an owl. (In case you care, the scientific term for a morning person is a lark.) They're actually called chronotypes, or a person's natural sleep/energy pattern. Who knew? Me. I did.
Of course, like everything, the chronotypes exist on a spectrum, and your chronotype can even shift over the course of your lifetime. Actually, there aren't just people who like to get up early and go to bed early and those who like to get up late and go to bed late. Some people even like to get up late and go to bed early or get up early and go to bed late.
The latter sounds like the perfect situation, as long as I wouldn't be exhausted all day. Like, if I could get up early, get a ton of stuff done, then have fun/watch Netflix/sit around doing nothing for much of the night, and not be a zombie the next day, I would do it.
I'm more likely the one who gets up late and goes to bed early. At sleepovers in elementary school, I was always the first person to fall asleep and the last person to wake up. Because of this, I missed a lot of the inside jokes and shenanigans from the late night, and I woke up to a bunch of ten year old girls poking, prodding, and staring at me from above.
I'm pretty much always tired and I don't know what's wrong with me. Every time I have a doctor's appointment, doesn't matter if it's the ENT, an allergist, my dermatologist, or the freaking gynecologist, I'll tell them to add "fatigue" to my symptoms just in case they notice something odd that causes extreme exhaustion.
Then again, I've always been this way so who knows if what I experience is normal or extreme?
Anyway, I've been late to work Monday through Wednesday this week. On Monday, I was 5 minutes late. Not too big of a deal, but I had to rush in the morning and run down the slope to catch the E train and it was raining so a lot was happening and it wasn't totally pleasant. So I told myself, Tuesday will be better.
Tuesday was worse. I was 10 minutes late, not because it was raining (Monday was actually a torrential downpour, just FYI), but because I hit the snooze button about a baker's dozen of times. I know that pressing snooze just makes everything worse, but it's just that when I'm in that half-asleep, half-awake state, the little devil on my shoulder whispers, "It's okay! Go back to sleep!" in my ear. And by whispers I mean persistently repeats in a normal speaking voice. But I told myself, after noon when I was settled into and accepting of being a living human in the universe with responsibilities again, I promised myself that the next day, Wednesday, would be better.
Do you see a pattern emerging? Wednesday was not better. In fact, it was the worst yet. I was 30 minutes late. Somehow, it was okay at work due to a myriad of perfectly timed, colliding reasons, but I still feel guilty.
I always feel guilty when I don't do the exact "right" thing, even when it's okay. But that's just me.
(Also, in case you're not a Bravo aficionado, the title of today's post references an original single by a cast member of the Real Housewives of Atlanta- I highly recommend any and all readers take a listen here. If nothing else, it will make you feel better about your achievements/how many times you were late to work this week.)
Believe it or not, vulnerable, in my mind, is synonymous to confident. So if that one Demi Lovato song got stuck in your head as soon as you read the title of today's post, you're not wrong.
Certain emotions get a really bad rap. If you think about them all carefully (hurt, anger, fear, etc.), they all have one thing in common: vulnerability. Throughout my wild, wacky, horrific, humiliating, life-affirming, heartbreaking, wonderful life experiences, I've found that people are scared to death of being vulnerable. I only know this, not because of what they were like when they were vulnerable, but because of their reactions when I let myself be vulnerable.
I need another word besides "vulnerable." I'm repeating it too much and it's starting to look weird.
In fact, I just discovered a major source of the problem I'm describing while I was Googling synonyms. Here are the synonyms Google lists for vulnerable: helpless. Defenseless. Weak.
Vulnerability is not a weakness, just like kindness is not a weakness. Rather, it is pure power. Think about all of the times you felt strongly about something but didn't say it out loud. Or express it through tears, or through wild gesticulations and general flailing. Think about all of the times you took a piece of you, judged it, and then stuffed it down the disposal and flipped the switch. If doing the opposite is weakness, is easier, why don't people do that more? Why is bottling up one's emotions basically a freakin' epidemic if that's the strongest, most challenging option?!
News flash: humankind likes instant gratification. Humankind likes simple. Vulnerability is neither.
It takes strength to let your emotions out. It takes strength to accept whatever feelings, emotions, or sensations hit you, and to not be afraid of revealing them to the world. Because here's the crux of the problem. Vulnerability forces you to be 100% authentic. That legitimately scares the crap out of people! To be 100% authentic, to see 100% authenticity in other people. It's weird.
Does this stem from society's expectation of every individual to fit in? Perhaps. Really, it doesn't matter where it comes from, because that's not going away. All that matters is how you react.
I find I'm happiest when I'm not judging my emotions or my (admitted penchant for) vulnerability. And when I'm not judging myself, I find it easier to not judge other people, either. It's a win-win.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is cry more, okay?! I'm sick of feeling like the only person who cries in public!
Last month, I turned 21.
I wouldn't normally think that this was that big of a deal. I mean, age is a just a number and all that. But this year feels significant. Different.
For one thing, I have just one year of college left before I graduate. And I honestly can't wait to do just that. I'm done with the psuedo-summer camp weirdness. I'm done living in the middle of nowhere. And I'm really done with people whose priorities are the exact opposite of mine.
I will miss the classes, though. I really do like class, and discussions, and theses. But I don't like getting up early for class, so. Silver lining.
Aside from being totally done with the college thing, I moved to Manhattan this summer for my first big-girl, real-life job too! After one day here I was already like, do I have to go back to school in the fall? And now that I'm settled into my internship (my documentary filmmaking internship! I can't believe it myself!), I feel like I could stay here, doing this, forever.
I guess that's a good thing, since I know what I want to do and where I want to be after graduation. But, man, I'm really dreading the months of school in between.
I've always known that I would freakin' love being an adult. And I really do. I don't have all of the responsibilities of adulthood yet, but I'm thinking about those things. And, strange as it may seem, I'm looking forward to them.
I don't care if that's weird. I'm discovering that a large part of adulthood is knowing that you're weird, accepting those parts of you, and embracing them as truly the best bits.
Although my day-to-day life is so unfamiliar now, it doesn't feel strange or uncomfortable. It feels right, and real. I didn't realize how unreal high school and parts of college felt. How inconsequential. Now that I'm doing things that I care about, with people that I care about, in this incredible place that I love from the deepest, most bizarre crevices of my odd little heart, all that crap from the past doesn't matter.
What's more important than family, passion, and loving who you are and where you are? The answer is literally nothing. Not boys, not selfish jerks, not flabs and jiggles, not cool hair and white sneakers.
With all that said, I'm still having a hard time accepting going back to school in the fall. It was my first love, once. New York City may be the place I want to grow old with, but college definitely helped me become the kind of person who thrives here. I just need to keep reminding myself of that, I think. Maybe I only think that I'm ready to move on, but there are a couple of lessons I have left to learn. Yeah, I like that. Yeah.
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.
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?
I’ve gone viral.
By that I mean I’ve contracted the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes the infection mononucleosis, referred to by playground bullies as “the kissing disease.” (Doctors also call it this but doesn't it just sound like something Billy Shea middle school bully would say?) In French – le mononucléose. About three weeks ago, I was told that I have acute mononucleosis, which just means that it was a recent onset. It also means that I’m particularly adorable when I’m sick.
That joke is really obvious, trite, and overdone, but whatever, I have mono.
So, yes, I’ve been playing the mono card like crazy recently. On one hand, I actually need to play it. The fatigue is unbelievable. The quality and frequency of the symptoms is bizarre and seemingly random. During the worst couple of days, not even my phone alarm, which is set to Ridiculous because I’m bad at waking up at my healthiest, could get me to open my eyes. I couldn’t think; it was like all language was a thousand pound bar I was incapable of deadlifting. And I can't even deadlift fifteen pounds (probably). I don't even know if I'm using the correct deadlifting terminology. All food tasted like dirt, when I had the energy to get up and feed myself. I couldn’t even eat mashed potatoes. I love mashed potatoes, and I just pushed them around on my plate till I felt nauseous enough to constitute going back to bed.
On the other hand, I hate having to play the mono card. I hate giving excuses for missing responsibilities, falling behind, going home early. It doesn’t even matter that it’s a perfectly valid excuse, or that my professors have been understanding and sympathetic, or that all of my good friends know and don’t mind that I’m not around as much as I want to be.
I’ve gotten better since then. I don’t need to rest as often. Going to class isn’t an unachievable goal. I have an overwhelming amount of work to catch up on, and it’s utterly freaking me out. I still can’t do a lot of things. I feel stuck.
It doesn’t help that my car keeps breaking down. I just want to drive to the grocery store and buy a couple of pints of ice cream and some Tollhouse cookie dough. But instead I’m here, in my bed, which is very comfortable, but a little too familiar lately.
It’s different, being sick when you’re a young adult. Your classmates don’t make a “Get Well” card. Your parents aren’t there, in the room next to yours, when you can’t sleep. The support system you’ve tried to build up is too busy with their own snags and complications to worry about why you’re sleeping so much.
I’ve watched too much Netflix these past three weeks.
I don’t feel well.
Is it called “going viral” when you/a video/some Twitter account becomes really popular really quickly because having a viral disease actually makes you infectious? It’s interesting, because both are contagions with different results. In the former, people flock to you. In the latter, everyone runs in the opposite direction.
My mono is not the worst thing happening in the world right now. It is not even in the top million worst things. That is an objective truth. But it certainly makes the top million worst things that much more overwhelming, though.
Happy hanging in there.
I am a certified psychic. More importantly, I have good Internet connection. Promise.
Aries (May 21 - April 19)
You will find yourself in a long, slow-moving line, and yet you will feel completely at peace.
Taurus (April 20 - May 20)
Not only will you get out of bed before noon, you will also go outside.
Gemini (May 21 - June 20)
Don't worry; there will be enough time.
Cancer (June 21 - July 22)
You will let your walls fall, even if for just a moment.
Leo (July 23 - August 22)
What you want may not be attainable, but you will be okay with that.
Virgo (August 23 - September 22)
Something that would have kept you up at night will instead roll right off your back.
Libra (September 23 - October 22)
Nothing will get in the way of you standing up for what you think is right.
Scorpio (October 23 - November 21)
You will reveal something you've been bottling deep inside of you, and feel all the better for it.
Sagittarius (November 22 - December 21)
You will be able to express yourself while also remembering that it is often better to be kind than to be right.
Capricorn (December 22 - January 19)
You will let your feet float off of the ground, and you'll like the sensation.
Aquarius (January 20 - February 18)
You won't cancel on that thing that you really don't want to go to, and you'll be happy you went.
Pisces (February 19 - March 20)
Criticism will feel like a gift instead of an insult.
Happy victory, even if only in small (but important) ways.
Do you ever wonder how the books of Jane Austen would change if she was writing them in the present?
"The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never swipe right on a man whom I can really love." -Swag & Sensibility
Original quote: "The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love." -Sense & Sensibility
"Silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by hot people in the right Instagram filter." -Emma
Original quote: "Silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way." -Emma
"What are men to likes and favorites?" -Pride & Pinterest
Original quote: "What are men to rocks and mountains?" -Pride & Prejudice
"A lot of followers is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of." -LinkedIn Park
Original quote: "A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of." -Mansfield Park
"I may have lost my phone, but not my self control." -Emma
Original quote: "I may have lost my heart, but not my self control." -Emma
"If I could but know his password, everything would become easy." -Swag & Sensibility
Original quote: "If I could but know his heart, everything would become easy." -Sense & Sensibility
"You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love dat ass." -Pride & Pinterest
Original quote: "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you." -Pride & Prejudice
Well, now you know.
A strange woman who I did not previously know granted me permission to live in her home and eat breakfast and dinner with her for a month. Though she will be unable to read it (foiled by the language barrier once again), this thank you note is to her.
It’s been weird, mère d’accueil. It really has. I am genuinely not sure if our differences were cultural or personal. Since I prepared for cultural differences, and I was wholly unprepared for you, I’m going to assume that your quirks were just your special, particular brand and not those of French people in general.
Not that our differences ever resulted in actual tension, beyond me complaining on occasion to my mom on the phone at fifty cents per minute.
The month started off on a high note, or rather a very polite note. I remember the first thing I said to you in French: “Je suis désolée, mais je suis timide.” (I’m sorry, but I’m shy.) Why that seemed like the right introduction to make, I don’t know. It should’ve been, I’m sorry, I don’t know enough adjectives to be able to aptly describe myself in French.
Nevertheless, you replied epically: “Pas avec moi!” (Not with me!) We truly bonded amidst the ensuing laughter. It was raining that afternoon, I remember. It rained every single day after as well.
However, as what tends to happen with anyone you live with, the emotional significance and intimacy of our moment of bonding soon faded into nothing.
First of all, I was required to constantly wear a pair of slippers, which you so graciously provided. Any time I was barefoot, or wore socks, around the apartment, you said, “tes chaussures, merci beaucoup,” and unnecessarily sternly, considering I had no idea why any other footwear was forbidden around the apartment, and I wasn’t barefoot or socked to sabotage the intentions of these mysterious rules.
I ate everything that was put on my plate. I force-fed myself smoked salmon, merely because that was what you offered me. I’m not afraid to tell you now, mère d’accueil. I freaking hate smoked salmon.
Oh, and the shower—I have never met anyone more particular about what goes on in their shower while others are using it. It was a daily struggle to determine the shower schedule. You’re too loud to take a shower after nine, if after dinner go quickly!; you take too long, cut the water when shampooing!; they turned off the water in the whole building, but I’m not going to tell you until you’re already in there and both the water and the power go off, making the windowless salle de bain in which you were mid-shower pitch black!
But the greatest challenge was the house key. Yes, it took me a little over a week to be able to let myself in and out of the apartment. I don’t know whose fault that one is. Even you must admit that it is a complicated procedure: insert the key, lift up the handle, turn once to the right, three times to the left, hear a “click,” turn it again to the right, put down the handle, all the way, remove the key, and voilà. Oh, and you have to do the opposite to lock the door, as well (I definitely left the apartment open by accident once for a full day).
The first few nights you were gentle and tolerant about the key. You could hear me clanking and clicking and moving the handle around from the inside of the apartment. I am grateful not only that you happened to be at the apartment at those dire times of need, but also that you opened the door for me. I would’ve been stuck in the hallway for eternity, I’m fairly certain.
But there was one night that we have not discussed since it happened. As I am leaving tomorrow, it is time we clear the air on a specific Key Crisis.
I was returning home a little bit late that night. I was out with friends, we were enjoying each other’s company and the night; besides, I didn’t have a curfew. I’m an adult. An adult who just cannot figure out an ancient key and lock system at one in the morning, who accidentally wakes up an older, irritable French lady, a French lady who keeps several auxiliary pairs of slippers for any guests who visit her.
I was, of course, extremely apologetic (in French, and in English; I tend to revert back to English when I’m nervous). I would’ve slept in the hallway that night. I didn’t want to wake you. But wake you I did. You were only a little agitated, but your agitation is not what bothered me about this particular instance. Rather, it was the fact that you were not wearing pants.
Okay, I get it, you were sleeping. It was late. But you weren’t just not wearing pants. You weren’t wearing anything below the waist.
You were modest at first, but don’t think I didn’t notice that you were stretching and holding your white t-shirt over your literal crotch. I noticed. I would’ve left it at that if we had just immediately parted ways for the night with a polite though tense “bonne nuit.” But you insisted on showing me, possibly for the sixth time, how to work the key. This required you to turn around.
This required you to turn around.
I saw your pale elderly French woman butt.
And I had to keep it there, in my personal bubble, in my line of sight, right before me, until you finished explaining the key.
And then I went back to my room, sat on my bed, and wondered why I just can’t have one normal day. Just one normal day that a normal twenty-year old on her normal study abroad would experience. But, no. I had to see your butt.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. And only in the first week, too. Mère d’accueil, that’s just uncool. The last week, maybe; the last night, even more acceptable. Then, I would’ve been going home with a fresh, funny experience and a good story to tell my parents when they picked me up at the airport, without the horror of seeing you, the near-stranger whose butt I had seen up close, every day and night for the next three weeks.
Well, it’s out there now. I’ve said it. I’ve officially said everything that I’ve been thinking when that memory pops into my brain like a terrifying, French Jack-in-the-Box.
But this is a thank you note, and I do have a lot to thank you for. Thank you for cooking for me, even if I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Thank you for tidying up my room that one day, when you lined up all of my shoes so sweetly. Thank you for not waking me up that one morning, even though I was missing class (we both knew I needed it). Thank you for dealing with me, because I’m not exactly the best roommate either. And mostly, thank you for being patient when I said the word wrong, or didn’t know the vocabulary. I was never afraid to go out on a French limb with you, and that lack of inhibition whenever I came back to your apartment truly helped me improve.
Today, a dream that I didn’t know I had was realized.
I went to zumba. In France.
Now, I know we don’t know each other too well (yet). So you may not know the extent of my passion for zumba. I will try to explain.
I don’t enjoy meditation. Perhaps I haven’t done it enough, or done it well enough, to hit that “sweet spot” where meditation feels great and then I tell all my girlfriends about how much it’s changed my life at brunch the following Sunday. I tried guided meditation, with a Real Live Buddhist™, for several weeks. I chanted the chants, I sat in the Lotus position, and I drank a lot of herbal teas afterward. But I never got it.
What I was trying to get with meditation, I got with zumba. Of course, I was self-conscious at first. The hybrid of cardio and club dancing could be embarrassing at times, and even difficult. My first zumba class, my butt just wouldn’t shake the way the instructor’s was. But as the class went on, my reservations melted away, along with the rest of my skin (this is a weird way to express that I was sweating, a lot).
After fifteen minutes of nonstop, energetic dancing, there comes a moment where you forget that there’s a mirror, reflecting your every incorrect move, that there’s people around you, probably dancing better. It was in the midst of zumba that I truly felt present, an enigmatic sensation that I had been trying to achieve since I read The Tao of Pooh in high school.
There was nothing but me and the sounds around me, nothing but my body, my arms stretching as far as they could, my legs stomping with the beat, as fast or as slow as was necessary, my face hot and red but solid, real, beyond prettiness or ugliness, a body doing everything that it is able, music that is good because it is music and not because of who sings it or what they’re saying or whether or not you even like it.
That’s how much I love zumba.
So imagine my excitement when the opportunity to do zumba in France was presented to me. Of course, I immediately acquiesced to a Friday six-o-clock class; really, it didn’t matter where or when. Like all people who go to a new place for a long time, I had been experiencing the mild sting of homesickness, and I thought that some zumba mindfulness might be the remedy I needed.
This afternoon, I met a friend and two bubbly fifteen-year-old French girls to walk to the local gym. The girls assured us that the gym was pas loin--not far—several times during the twenty-minute walk. They giggled and rambled on in rapid fire French. I didn’t know exactly what they were saying, but for the most part, I understood (most fifteen-year-old girls talk the same way, and often about the same things).
Every time we passed a reflective surface, a shop window or some shiny metal framing, the girls would peek at their own image and adjust their hair or their clothes. Another thing that is universal amongst fifteen-year-old girls.
A twenty-minute walk in France is not exactly pas loin, especially in the heat, but we made it to the gym at six exactly. We entered right into the studio from the front door. A short, muscular man with tattoos on his arms was standing at the front of the big room. “Le professeur,” whispered one of the girls.
The class consisted of five high school girls, including our guides, and a gaggle of ladies I would describe as somewhere between middle-aged and elderly. I observed them for a moment, listening to them speak French so naturally, wondering if I would ever be able to talk like that.
Class began when le professeur turned on a small radio. I wouldn’t say the music blasted from the speakers, but I could hear it. It was an American song I recognized, with English lyrics that I somehow knew. As usual, it took some time to warm up. But soon, I was there, not in a different country, not in the dark places that my head sometimes wants to go, not in the worries and the fantasies that plague me.
At the end of class, the instructor turned and spoke to me, fast and in French. I have no idea what he said to me, but it was maybe something like “do you understand what I’m saying?” At least, I hope that’s what it was, because I replied “un peu,” “a bit,” and all of the middle-aged ladies in the studio tittered.
Un peu. That might be how much I ever understand. But when I’m able to strip life down to its barest, simplest form, even if I can only do that once in a while and with a lot of prior kvetching and effort, un peu is enough.
Basically, I really recommend zumba.
It was in elementary school that I first realized there were two kinds of kids. There were the prodigies, who learned to read in pre-school, played either the piano or the violin, and were able to kick a soccer ball around with incredible skill for someone who wasn’t five feet tall yet. And then there were the kids like me.
While the prodigies were living their seemingly easier lives, coasting through the trials and tribulations of puberty, receiving remarkable report cards each semester, and generally getting away with anything due to their dynamic charisma, the non-prodigies were basically just freaking out all of the time.
These are the confessions of a non child prodigy.
I don’t tell people this fact about me until we know each other relatively well, because they will definitely judge me for it. I have been writing Girl Unaffiliated for a few weeks now, so I feel safe to reveal it: I hate peanut butter.
I know. I’ve heard it all before. It’s delicious! It’s a staple! Are you telling me you don’t eat PB&Js?! Yes. That is exactly what I am telling you. But this is not a mere taste or texture related hatred, though I’ve honestly never liked peanut butter’s particular brand of either. My loathing of peanut butter has psychological roots.
My sister is eight years older than me. Having such a large age difference, we do not have the typical sibling relationship you see in movies and on television. In fact, our relationship is downright unusual. As I like to say, frequently, “I’m an only child, except for my sister.” Basically, we are only children. She spent the first eight years of her life without me, and, when I turned ten, she went to college. We were used to day-to-day routines that didn’t involve a sister. So when we were living under the same roof, it could get rough.
Don’t get me wrong—I love my sister. I love her deeply, and unconditionally. But holy cow did she test that. Of course, I tested her unconditional love on many occasions, too. It was tense for many years between us, but now that we’re older, it’s a lot easier to find common ground.
But this Confession has nothing to do with common ground, or warm and fuzzy family feelings. This Confession is about peanut butter.
Both of our parents are workaholics. We spent a lot of time after school alone in our childhoods, waiting for them to come back from whatever job they were doing. Who was in charge during these little after school specials was naturally my sister, being the eldest by a large margin.
Looking back on these afternoons and evenings, I am shocked I didn’t cry or call our parents at work more. My sister often had older, cooler, not the nicest friends over, and I was a little devil of an instigator. But most of my memories are fuzzy. There was a lot of clashing, fighting, and tears, but the details are unclear so many years later.
However, the minutiae of one episode have never faded.
Like all children who have just come home from a long, exhausting day of elementary school, I was starving. Being too young to use our admittedly complicated, antique, gas stove, it was my sister’s duty to provide me with sustenance. At this point in my life, I didn’t have the passionate negative relationship with peanut butter that I do now, but it was still a spread that I didn’t enjoy eating, or even smelling, for that matter.
My sister was well aware of my aversion to peanut butter. And despite there being a plethora of perfectly suitable food products in the kitchen of our family home, it was peanut butter that she insisted I eat.
There were several problems with this. Firstly, she was already eating peanut butter (this is probably why she made this my only option—it was a convenient choice). That doesn’t sound like a major transgression to the normal human being, except most normal human beings do not know my sister.
Here’s the thing: my sister eschews utensils. Probably also because of the convenience factor, she just uses her hands. This is the girl who will take leftovers out of the fridge and eat them out of their Styrofoam containers without heating them up first, tearing pieces of meat with her bare hands. This is the girl who, before Thanksgiving dinner has officially started, will tear the turkey’s deliciously browned and crispy skin off with her nails to eat. This is the girl who will stick a probably unwashed finger into a jar of peanut butter, scoop out a sizable dollop, and put it in my face.
I may have forgotten to mention that, in addition to being a non child prodigy, I was also an avid germaphobe.
Quite understandably, I freaked out. The peanut butter was not even in my mouth. To be precise, it was somewhere to the left of my mouth. I could already imagine the stickiness that would ensue once I finally got this sister-germ-infected peanut goo off of my person.
To make matters worse, she then wiggled her finger around, effectively spreading a glob of peanut butter all over my face. This time, it got in my mouth, and I scolded myself for foolishly thinking that peanut butter in my mouth might be a more bearable experience. It was so dense that I looked like a giraffe chewing when I was just trying to breathe. It was to the left and right of my mouth now, and above and below it, too. I rushed to the sink, most likely flailing, determined to do only one thing: get this heinous, pungent-smelling sludge off of my body.
My sister laughed hysterically the entire time, a shrill, cackling, witchy laugh that still haunts me to this day.
I did get the peanut butter off eventually. But, like Lady Macbeth’s bloody hands, it is ever present on my skin.
I have never forgiven peanut butter. It’s never really been a void in my life; I’ve never felt deprived of anything. I have no desire to try the ubiquitous peanut butter and jelly sandwich, no matter how many times I’ve been offered one (please stop offering them to me). But I did forgive my sister, because if I had let this truly traumatic experience come between our friendship and love, there would be a void. For sure.
I would argue that it is a tenet of the human condition that no one wants to feel like they actually suck.
That’s why apologizing is such a chore for us. By truly saying that you’re sorry, for your actions and their effects, you are basically admitting, even for just a moment, that you suck. When everyone judges themselves by their intentions, and judges everyone else for their actions, it’s easy to call someone else a bad person but balk at being a bad person yourself.
It makes sense, really. It’s pride, and ego, and all of that other stuff that really falls under the umbrella of self-preservation. It’s respectable to have principles and morals and ethics and to be a stand-up Good Samaritan. We don’t see ourselves in Forever 21 dressing room mirrors. We see ourselves in the best light possible.
It’s how we get through the day. It’s how we deal with all of the crap that happens to us. I’m a good person, so all of this tragedy and bullshit is unfair. I’m a good person, so eventually there will be karmic retribution and the rollercoaster will go up, up, up, and good things will happen again.
I am just as guilty of this as everyone I know. Even with the armor of self-deprecation protecting me from labels like “conceited, “narcissistic,” and “egotistical,” I still think I’m awesome. I still think I’m deserving of Spontaneous Goodness, from the world and from my friends and from my actions.
Whether this is true or not, and I freely confess that it probably isn’t, most of the time this mind frame keeps me sane. When I think of myself with positivity, I tend to rise to the occasion. I think of myself as an altruistic, generous person, and I don’t want there to be proof of the opposite, so I’m spurred on to actually be altruistic and generous or whatever other good qualities the world is praising that day. Does that make the altruism and generosity fake? I don’t know, and I don’t really care, because I am convinced of my own good intentions and care for my fellow human beans.
Besides, every media source suggests Confidence™ as the end-all, be-all, yadda yadda. I guess some falsity is the trade-off from acquiring that confidence. Fake it till ya make it, am I right?
So apologizing totally topples all of that good confidence work we do. We spend precious time trying to persuade ourselves that we are special, that we are deserving and good, just for an instant of non-specialness and sometimes even cruelty to reverse it all. Apologizing is like that dreaded “GAME OVER” screen that brings us right back to the beginning.
But that’s why it’s so pivotal. It’s like nature’s version of checks and balances. When we get so beyond ourselves that we hurt someone else, we need to check our ego and balance our thoughts. It’s hard, but it’s necessary.
Being sorry is a lot more than two measly words. Regardless of the severity of the original transgression, apologizing is demonstrating proof of the importance of the relationship. This only makes it harder, unfortunately.
I am personally a lousy apologizer. I have a hard time separating my intentions from what actually happened. Even worse, as an over-thinker, I am able to immediately file through everything good that I’ve done for the individual I’ve hurt, effectively diminishing- at least to me- the crime of what I said or did. I’ve been hurt before. I know what it feels like. But I struggle to compare the people who have hurt me to myself.
That’s only when I’ve actually done something wrong, of course. When I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m great at apologizing. I’ll apologize to pieces of furniture that I accidentally bumped into. Sometimes I’ll even apologize for my existence, a sad trend that is gaining prevalence among my peers. A study by Harvard Business School concluded that, when a researcher began a request to use a stranger’s cell phone with a quick, unsolicited, and unrelated “I’m sorry,” the researcher was offered the phone 47 percent of the time as opposed to the 9 percent of the time the researcher didn’t use the magic words and wasn’t given the phone.
There’s a metaphor about the difficulties of human intimacy that I really love. It’s called the hedgehog’s dilemma, or sometimes the porcupine dilemma. In cold weather, hedgehogs seek others in order to share body heat. But because of their sharp spines, they must keep a safe distance. They want close relationships, but they can’t have the proximity that they desire for fear of hurting each other.
The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer and the psychologist Sigmund Freud have both used this situation to describe the role of the individual in society. Despite goodwill, we can’t get too close to each other because it will create mutual harm and weaker relationships. Our quills just can’t help but poke each other.
A cute fun fact: When Freud came to the United States in 1919, he was adorably excited to see a porcupine, a native species there, and even said about his trip: “I am going to the USA to catch sight of a wild porcupine and to give some lectures.”
I guess the moral of the story is moderation. If we moderate our self-interest while simultaneously moderating our consideration for others, we might just end up floating in the happy medium. But we can only learn this after a few foibles, after a few wrongdoings and a few carefully constructed apologies—so don’t be too hard on yourself, okay?
I hope no one is tired of learning inexplicable French idioms, because I have yet another eight to puzzle over!
1.Avoir les deux pieds dans la meme sabot At least where I live, in hipster too-close-to-Brooklyn-to-really-be-upstate upstate New York, clogs are very fashionable right now, but this idiom might bring new meaning to the trend. Meaning “to have two feet in the same clog,” this phrase suggests that you’re bumbling, confused, or clumsy in some way, but I trip a lot in clogs even when I’m wearing them correctly.
2.Être fauché comme les blés If you are a college student such as myself or just a normal human being in these trying times this one might relate to you. To say that they’re broke, French-speakers will say that they are “scythed like wheat fields,” the literal translation of the French phrase. Same, French-speakers. Same.
3.Pisser dans un violon When was the last time you peed into a violin to solve a problem? Never? Then this idiom will make sense. “Pisser dans un violon” means “to piss in a violin,” and is used to express that an action is useless or done in vain. This should really go unsaid, but never excrete into musical instruments. Please.
4.En faire tout un fromage As a typically dramatic, moody person, I simultaneously love this one and feel a little defensive about it. Translating to “to make a whole cheese about it,” this one describes someone making a fuss or throwing a fit. If only every time I overreacted I had a whole cheese by the time I calmed down.
5.Engueuler quelqu’un comme du poisson pourri This is used to describe giving someone a severe tongue-lashing (which is another strange phrase that I first heard of today and felt like I needed to use) and literally translates to “to yell at someone like they’re rotten fish.” Rotten fish sucks. Sometimes people suck. It’s logical.
6.Tremper son biscuit For this idiom, I like to imagine a bunch of adorable French ladies sitting around a baguette, some brie, and just like, a crapton of butter, gossiping about the neighbors. “Tremper son biscuit,” or “to dip his cookie,” is a remarkably cute and delicious way to say that a man is sleeping around. Dunking Oreos in milk will never be the same.
7.Péter plus haut que son cul I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this one for a while, but I have given up. Like a lot of poetry, I’m just going to focus on how it makes me feel rather than what it actually means. Translating to “to fart higher than their ass is located,” this one is a criticism of the big-headed, arrogant folks. I guess maybe they have hot air up high? Is that it? Or is everything they say so vile it’s like a fart? Gosh, I don’t know.
8.Clouer le bec de quelqu’un This edition of “French Idioms That Everyone Should Adopt Immediately” is fairly violent. This last one goes with the theme. “Clouer le bec de quelqu’un,” or “to nail someone’s beak,” refers to shutting someone up. I guess after someone pissed in your violin and you made a whole cheese about it by yelling at them like they’re rotten fish, since they always fart higher than their ass is located, you’ve had a long night and you just want to nail their beak and call it a day.
Happy making a whole cheese.
Tomorrow, Sunday, is my twentieth birthday. I am not excited.
I have a weird relationship to my birthday, which is strange because I am usually an excitable person (particularly about others’ birthdays, and, well, holidays in general). But when it comes to my birthday, I stress out. I become “mushy birthday girl.”
It’s just too much pressure. It’s a similar deal to the expectations of having fun during the summer or going out on a Friday night. I always end up disappointed when the real thing isn’t as good as the fantasy, or when I just end up staying in the whole time and doing nothing. And, on the day of your birthday, it’s like everyone who hasn’t spoken to you in months feels the need to remind you of their existence. I simultaneously like the attention and despise how it makes me feel so narcissistic.
I’m not special. So why spend a whole day celebrating the random act of my birth? (My mother would vehemently disagree, so much so that I’m expecting a call from her after she reads this with a lot of angrily relayed yet ego-boosting mom-compliments.)
But this year, I decided to say, “Screw that!” to all of that negative birthday self-talk and come up with a few creative ways to really celebrate me. Themes are overdone; who really needs a luau, disco, or carnival party to ring in being one year older? If your birthday gets you down every year, try one of these disappointment-proof ideas and celebrate the wacky and wonderful individual that you are.
There is something about the nature of thank you notes that makes procrastination inevitable. I think that possibly a curse was put on the act of writing thank you notes hundreds of years ago and that’s why we never get them done on time.
I always dread hopelessly searching my memory for the names of gifts and their givers, squeezing out all of my creative juices trying to say something about the tenth empty journal I got for one birthday. So maybe it really takes forever because we all hope that, at a certain point beyond the appropriate time frame in which to send thank you notes, the objects of our gratitude will forget that they ever did something worth thanking.
With that said, it feels wrong yet still mildly appropriate that my Mother’s Day Edition of Thank You Notes is a couple of days late (sorry, mom).
For moms, I just can’t let myself pull the “Irish Goodbye” of thank you notes, a tactic that I shamelessly employ in every other facet of my life. Moms are just so integral to daily functioning. And by "mom," I don’t just mean a female who shoved you out of her birth canal. A mom doesn’t need to be a woman, or related to you, or older than you, or anything else that fifties TV shows made moms out to be.
A mom is that little girl on the first day of kindergarten who could see that you were nervous as all get out and invited you to play with her. A mom is the person who stops, even for just a moment, to listen to every busker she encounters on the subway. A mom remembers your birthday.
Now that I think about it, moms don’t just remember birthdays. They remember everything, from your favorite color to your most embarrassing fart-related story (speaking of, a mom is the kind of person you can fart in front of without embarrassment-- well, much embarrassment). Moms remember to write thank you notes.
I’m lucky enough that, at almost twenty years old, I can say that I have a lot of moms. I’m even luckier that my most reliable and loving mom is the wacky and wonderful woman who carried me in her womb for nine months (and, believe it or not, I was an exceptionally tall baby) and who continues to support me every day of my life, sacrificing more than I will ever be able to list.
My mother is a florist. For as long as I can remember, I have watched her bring enormous power to delicate things. Sweet peas, lilies of the valley, forget-me-nots, and lamb’s ears have all slid through her lithe fingers to become meaningful and important. In the same way, she has ushered my growth with grace and elegance. My strength originates in her, and I only hope that I will be as resilient as she is one day.
I would be a shell of a person without my mother, without all of the people in my life who have dared to glimpse beneath the surface and unconditionally understand me as I am. So this year—even though I’m already a little late—let’s not postpone telling our moms (all our moms) thank you in the best way we can-- by being a mom to them, too.
I’m sure you’ve seen these before: alphabet samplers of letters timidly sewn into plain linen, hanging on the walls of house museums and antique stores; intricate designs featured on the skirts of gorgeous, couture gowns and flowing down runways at Fashion Week; dirty phrases and references from cult classics and fandoms framed in hoops on apartment walls in hip neighborhoods.
Embroidery as a textile craft can manifest in so many different ways—and, like, it’s actually really cool.
I was surprised to find out that embroidery is a super old practice. In fact, it’s as old as humankind, since it was primitive man who first developed needlecrafts. Cro-Magnon peoples discovered that animal sinew and plant fibers could be reworked into durable threads, and that bone and ivory made workable needles. Prehistoric people were then able to make clothing by stitching together animal skins, which were used not as fashion statements but as protection from the elements.
But once the earliest humans had this figured out, along with a bunch of other necessities like food and shelter, they were like, “Crap. I’m bored” and so creativity started to make its mark as a pastime. Therefore, the sheer, painful boredom of early humans resulted in the advent of embroidery as an art form. (Am I the only person who thinks this is extremely cool?!)
Soon, the people of the Iron Age were incorporating beads, stones, and bones into their designs. An archaeological dig in Russia in 1964, which unearthed the fossilized remains of a Cro-Magnon, uncovered evidence of this practice. The man’s fur clothes, boots, and hat had all been decorated with horizontal rows of ivory beads. I like to imagine that there was a high fashion, prehistoric equivalent to Chanel in those days. I recommend thinking about this. Cro-Magnon fashion show is a very cute visual.
Embroidery was a fixture in many different cultures throughout history. Chinese thread embroidery, which dates back to at least 3500 B.C., provides particularly exquisite and masterful examples of embroidery as a fine art. Modern-day embroidery most takes after the samples from the Zhou Dynasty era, which lasted from 1045 B.C. to 246 B.C.
Embroidery was also found to be a prevalent custom in Mesopotamian cultures. In 1544, an excavation in Ur, a highly advanced Sumerian city that is located in present-day Iraq, salvaged a shroud dating to 400 A.D. that was decorated thoroughly with pure gold thread embroidery. Unfortunately, the excavators melted down the gold used to create the shroud, resulting in thirty-six pounds of molten gold, but also destroying this precious artifact. Where the gold actually ended up is unknown.
It is because the methods and techniques involved in embroidery have been passed down from generation to generation that this practice has endured so many centuries. In medieval England, embroidery classes called Opus Anglicanum (“English Work” in Latin) were very popular. Many individuals also used embroidery to record historical events.
Innovation in embroidery came with the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, when Berlin wool work gained international renown through greater ability to spread and communicate techniques, ideas, and designs. Berlin wool work is canvas thread embroidery worked into wool using pinpoint stitches. By creating careful shading, Berlin wool work pieces have an incredible three-dimensional effect.
Nowadays, machines do most of the modern embroidery we see. Though machine embroidery creates absolutely perfect stitches, I personally think that the human touch is lost in such work. But as DIY culture has been growing exponentially with the ease and fun of things like Pinterest, Tiny House Nation, and YouTube tutorials, freehand embroidery is making a comeback.
It is a beautiful practice that forces the embroiderer (or embroideress, as I like to call myself) to really slow down and focus. When you are embroidering small details, it’s impossible to dwell on the myriad of things that are bothering you. In that way, embroidery is a lot like meditation. It keeps you in the present, in the moment of a single stitch. Embroidery can be meaningful, funny, or just something nice to look at. And the best part—you can easily take threads out, redo work, or reuse materials.
Whatever the design, what one embroiders or hangs in their room is an extension of themselves, their personalities, and their passions. Having embroideries of things that you love is basically just another way to geek out over them. Maybe, if you try embroidery, you’ll have something new to geek over.
Happy looking for little beasts.
It’s that time of the year again: the birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and everything you once held dear is slipping from your grasp. When all you’ve got left is an empty stomach, fill it with these recipes!
*From the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastonomique: "Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavor."
Before this week, my only experience with skateboarding was its superficial but memorable mention in Avril Lavigne’s cult classic masterpiece “Sk8er Boy.” Even though skateboards have been a present fixture in my life, underneath friend’s feet and in shop windows, I never let myself think that skating was a possibility for me, for whatever made-up reason that plagued my subconscious. I was always too girly; too afraid; too nerdy. As I grew up and my insecurities faded away (this casual clause makes that process seem a lot more nonchalant and simple than it actually was), these ridiculous societally-fueled excuses finally seemed as silly as they truly are.
I am generally an un-athletic individual, with a range of hobbies that all involve some form of sitting, lying down, or being indoors. I am not competitive, and I find the environment of camaraderie to be exhausting, so school sports teams and gym classes were never my thing (though, I must admit, I freaking love Zumba, but that’s another post altogether). So, from my Unaffiliated perspective, skateboarding seemed like the perfect activity for me: it’s independent, involves a cute accessory and adorable stickers, and it has the opportunity for obsessive, borderline unhealthy perfectionism and mastery. I couldn’t wait!
But there was still one thing holding me back. I am deeply, stupidly afraid of my teeth falling out. It is the subject of most of my nightmares. I can’t watch shows or movies where characters get banged in the teeth. The sight of chips in teeth or a loose tooth horrifies me to my core. I am fully aware of how ridiculous this is. I have been so afraid of this my whole life that, when I was young and didn’t understand that dentist’s were there to keep your teeth in and not pull them out, I was kicked out of my family’s dental practice due to violent behavior and had to go to the special pediatric dentist for troubled youth (I’m not ashamed to say that I still go to him for every check-up).
With this profoundly ingrained fear forced into the farthest recesses of my mind, I borrowed a skateboard from a friend to test the waters first. (He had recently experienced a massive wipeout- very discouraging- and didn’t want to see his skateboard for a little while.) He grasped my shoulders as I stepped onto the board (my idea, not his). I hopped off immediately. It was a surprisingly wiggly experience, like standing on Jell-O. My mind was racing, envisioning every possible scenario in which I could ruin my incisors. But I got on it again. And again.
It didn’t take very long to be comfortable on the board. I found my balance, and soon my really dumb but embarrassingly real phobia was just a whisper. I’ve fallen. I’ve pulled muscles. I’ve gotten nervous texts from my mother to please, please wear a helmet and wrist guards.
Yesterday, I bought my very own skateboard. Picking out all of the little pieces for it was a dream-come-true scenario (what can I say, I’m detail-oriented!). Granted, I didn’t know what most of the things I was picking out were for (trucks? bearing? king pin? what?), but I fully plan on learning what every last thing does and how and why. I totally have an obsessive personality. But I’d rather be obsessed over how to do an ollie than obsessed over how much it would cost to get dentures.
Happy arriving like a hair in someone's soup.
They erupt in groups of twos and threes, like a reimagining of the teenaged girl’s bathroom buddy system for substances that irritate air passages. One could count the seconds between their occurrences as though between a flash of lightning and a crack of thunder. While this method proves to be more of a distraction than a measurement of distance, both distraction and distance are necessary.
The listener knows that a cough can be either purposeful or involuntary, and yet each of my roommate’s oral excretions emit the mocking complacence of a bully who targets weakness with uncanny precision. It is a challenge to differentiate the cough from the cougher, and the impulse to give in to irrational hatred for the cougher is pressing indeed, but one must have patience.
The night is a symphony of several singular and variegated cough movements, though they lack musicality. Each cough contains layers of sounds that have never before been documented together. A foot stomping into a glass casserole dish full of hot, squishy lasagna; a baby bird choking on its pre-masticated food; a car colliding with a gigantic Jell-O mold of another car. If nothing else, my roommate must get credit for the incredible variety and scope she expresses.
The sense of randomness is perhaps the coughing’s most striking feature, as it creates tangible, nerve-wracking, psychological anticipation. The coughing will seem to have ceased, though the listener clenches and tenses in anticipation of the next blow, until finally, when the listener has at last begun to feel relief and gratitude for the ending cacophony, there is a sudden explosion of loud and wet eruptions. One might call to mind a study in which one group of mice were given a morsel of food whenever a bell was rung, a second group every other time a bell was rung, and the third group randomly. When the experimenters stopped offering morsels at the ring of the bell, the first and second groups realized this quickly; the third group never stopped expecting food. When my roommate coughs all throughout the night, the listener is the third group of mice. It’s teeth-gratingly suspenseful, and provides further proof that soundtracks are vital to making or breaking the mood of gripping dread in cinema and day-to-day life alike.
Though a gross disgrace to the coughing of the pneumonic plague, my roommate’s coughing sounds virulent enough that the transmission of whatever disease she’s carrying from her respiratory system to mine wouldn’t require fleas to act as vectors. In fact, the cough itself seems just as likely to coagulate, sprout wings, and land on an open wound on my bare arm as I am to ingest an abnormally folded protein from the infected spinal cord fluid of a cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. With each speck of infected saliva that releases joyously into the shared air, as a horde of sperm swim eagerly to their egg or as Charlotte’s aeronaut spider babies float away into the warm wind, a new urgency is applied to the common phrase “I’m sick to death of her.”
You know what I worry about in public bathrooms? Unattended children crawling under the stall door and watching me pee. There have been times where I was stricken immobile with anxiety, perched on disposable toilet seat covers, in anticipation of grubby fingers grasping the underside of the stall door as though in a horror movie. And yet, I have never tried to pass legislation to ease the effects of this misconduct. (Crazy, right? It’s like I don’t even care about my own country and the people that inhabit it.)
But not everyone is as passive as I am. This March, the General Assembly of North Carolina and Governor Pat McCrory took action to alleviate their bathroom insecurities, calling lawmakers to Raleigh for a special session. (Cue Church Lady: “Isn’t that special.”) House Bill 2 (HB2) actually reverses a previous Charlotte ordinance that banned discrimination against individuals who identify as LGBT. So not only does this bill get rid of what seems like an exceptionally reasonable ordinance, it also prevents any local governments from filing their own non-discrimination regulations, dictates that students in public schools use only the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and, in a completely unrelated, random act, prevents cities from enacting minimum wages higher than the state’s.
I think that they just threw that last one in there to make this piece of legislation seem like an actual piece of political, economic policy because otherwise, this bill is like the “Kool Kids Klub” memo that the bullies in my 5th grade class made to keep kids who didn’t wear Abercrombie from wanting to talk to them. (This is a very real and problematic thing that happened in my youth.)
I clearly already have opinions on this matter, but, wanting to be truly Unaffiliated, I resolved to check my biases (are they still considered biases when they support basic human rights?) at the door and fully investigate the situation.
My first step in this investigation was reading the bill itself. It turns out HB2 is just a catchy working title, so check out the bill’s even catchier true name: “An Act to Provide for Single-Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom Changing Facilities in Schools and Public Agencies and to Create Statewide Consistency in Regulation of Employment and Public Accommodations.” You have to give the North Carolina General Assembly credit for bill titles that just roll off the tongue.
The “Act to Provide for Single-Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom Changing Facilities in Schools and Public Agencies and to Create Statewide Consistency in Regulation of Employment and Public Accommodations” (I just can’t stop saying it!) then defines a few key phrases, the most relevant of which is, perhaps, biological sex: “the physical condition of being male or female, which is stated on a person’s birth certificate.” Okay, so biological sex is basically one’s sexual anatomy. I think I’ve heard of that before. But what about the definition of gender, North Carolina General Assembly? Or gender identity? How can we talk about these things without including the whole story?
And furthermore, the changing of one’s birth certificate is not a simple task. There are endless scenarios in which someone might not have the correct biological sex indicated on their birth certificate. Besides, who carries their birth certificates around?
This is not the last transgression in HB2. With this incomplete foundation, the bill continues to stumble along in complete ignorance. Here’s the proverbial meat and potatoes: “in no event shall that accommodation result in the local boards of education allowing a student to use a multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility designated under subsection (b) of this section for a sex other than the student's biological sex.”
I have a bill to file, too, North Carolina General Assembly. It’s titled “An Act to Provide for Acts That Actually Make Sense and Don't Persecute People Based on Petty Prejudice and Discrimination and to Create Child Barriers at the Bottom of Stall Doors to Prevent Them from Peeking.” It may not sound as catchy as yours, but it’s a hell of a lot less ridiculous.
There’s something about confetti that makes having ruined your life seem okay. It’s a release of that pesky “call of the void” feeling without needing to take any radical measures. Knocking all of the cereal boxes off of the shelf at your local grocery store, throwing large pieces of furniture off of high balconies, and screaming at the top of your lungs into stranger’s faces may not be socially acceptable, but throwing hundreds of colorful squares into the air is!