Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Uncomfortable Exposure of Crying in Public

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinglin/4842852387/sizes/l/in/photostream/

There is a girl crying in this Starbucks, & I am the first person to notice.

I pass her on my way to the restroom, taking my purse but leaving behind my jacket & computer & various empty cups. I'm scanning the faces of the people sitting near me to see if anyone looks like they might rob me - whatever that means - & I've decided to risk it, that my bladder cannot wait. I hope that by making eye contact with a kind stranger, someone will feel obligated to speak up should they see my belongings being stolen in the 60 seconds it takes me to pee.

The old man sitting next to me is wearing massive headphones attached to a clunky, old-fashioned-looking machine, a recording device of some sort. He would get tangled up in those cords before he could ever walk away with my stuff. The old man next to him is gregarious & friendly & walks with a cane; it would take him, too, some effort to rob me. Next to them is a middle-aged women deep in a book & with her a young woman in her early 20s who was, just moments ago, engrossed in a GRE study manual.

She's not reading anymore. Now, she's holding her iPhone very close to her face, & she's crying.

She's trying not to cry, actually, & I know from personal experience that she's about to fail miserably. The pursed lips, the furrowed brow, the red cheeks, & the telltale watery eyes all give her away, as does the embarrassed look on her face, the fixed focus on her hands so she doesn't have to look up & face the prying eyes of strangers like me. She's trying not to cry, but she's going to, & no one else has noticed yet.

I think about what I might be able to do for her. How can I make her feel better, less alone, comforted in some small way? I think about all the times I've been that girl almost-crying in a Starbucks, or in the grocery store, or on the Metro, or somewhere else where crying doesn't belong, simultaneously wanting to go unnoticed & for someone to tell me everything will be OK. I think of all the times I've been that girl actual-crying in private, in my apartment or my car, balancing the desire to reach out to a friend for help & comfort with the need to appear perpetually self-possessed & unfazed. I think about what it feels like to be a disastrous mess in the midst of a world full of other people who never seem to be & how sometimes, you feel desperate for some sort of reassurance that you are a regular human being & that your feelings are OK to feel, even if they happen by accident in public.

Ultimately, I decide there's nothing for me to do that won't be terribly awkward or make it worse for her. When I return from the bathroom - unrobbed, by the way - her waterworks have begun, her mother has noticed, & eventually, she composes herself in the bathroom before the two of them link arms & walk out the door. End of story.

But I hope that the next time I start to cry in public, I think of her, red in the face, & how I felt, a helpless stranger watching it happen. And I hope I remember that we are never alone.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

I Was Made for Sunny Days

I'm a winter person. I love cold weather, & I live for snow, & I would make for a great Stark. I feel most comfortable in boots & tights & sweaters, & I've never minded dreary days. I generally dread warm weather & dislike the heat & spend most of the summer waiting on fall. I've never given much credence to the idea of Seasonal Affective Disorder because cold days are my jam, & winter is my happy place.

I'm a winter person, but today, it was 65 degrees & sunny & it felt like such a relief. All the snow melted, & I didn't have to wear a puffy coat, & people were out & about, looking happy & healthy & lively. At noon, I met my friend Allison for coffee & we hopped a bus to Southeast DC, where we went in search of a vintage pop-up shop located in... someone's hipster home in a weird, old, warehouse-style building. Allison bought blouses, & I bought boots, & then we walked over to Eastern Market to soak in the sunshine & obsess over inexpensive scarves. When we tired of wandering, we caught a bus back across town & ate massive, delicious, gourmet pork sandwiches at G by Mike Isabella (where we spotted the man himself back in the kitchen!) before parting ways. And as I walked home, at that strange winter time between daylight & nighttime (is that when twilight is?), I took a few deep breaths that felt like the world was settling into place. Finally.

I'm a winter person, but today was the first time in a long, long time that I've felt alive & hopeful & right. When I got home, I turned on Lydia & danced around my apartment a little bit & eventually shed a few tears because I am a person prone to crying on the occasion of experiencing extremely positive emotion. All of a sudden, I just felt overwhelmed by the happiness of it all - of being with a good friend in a city I love, of exploring & adventuring & shopping & walking & eating & talking & just being.

I'm a winter person, but if it means feeling the way I did today, I'm ready for winter to end. Right now. And if it's not quite time yet? The way I feel at this very moment will, I think, carry me through.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

I’m Not Responding to Your Text Message Right Away, and Here’s Why

[Note: At the end of 2013, an article from xoJane.com had me up in arms about text messaging response time. Because the good folks at xoJane rejected my counterpost by way of radio silence, I've decided to share it on my own blog... two months later. How's THAT for response time?]

I’m a notoriously fast text messager (messenger?!). Maybe I’ll regret saying this, but for the most part, I usually respond within five minutes. Like most twentysomethings, my cell phone is all but glued to my hand, a condition exacerbated by a job in social media. At nearly all times, I am technologically “on.”

I was surprised, then, to find myself so peeved by Shani Silver’s recent post on xoJane titled “15 Things I'm Thinking When You Don't Text Back.” Subtitle? “Buy some backup cell phone power already.”

Yeah, I hate this line of thinking already, too.

In her post, Silver responds to 15 excuses for not responding to text messages, originally presented in a Thought Catalog piece by Phoenix Aksani. Aksani’s excuses for temporary text avoidance run the gamut from common (“My phone is dead”) to absurd (“I am helping my friend look for her pet rat that escaped”). Silver shares her feelings on each of these individual excuses and, 86.7% of the time, finds them wholly unacceptable.

The only two excuses she gives a pass to? Dancing and smoking pot. Because priorities.

In every other instance, though, her response can be summed up thusly: “Not good enough. Respond immediately!” Even if you are asleep or grooming yourself or masturbating or having actual sex, you should respond to text messages as soon as possible – and if you cannot (you know, because you’re having actual sex), you should apologize as soon as possible for your delayed response time.

This is neither healthy nor realistic, even if it may be socially accepted and expected. Why? Because, with the exception perhaps of doctors and the president, none of us has committed to a life of being on-call at all times for all people. The idea that we should be is totally dismissive of the vital but increasingly disrespected concepts of individual space & sanity.

Should you leave a text message lingering in the abyss forever? Probably not, unless it comes from someone who has no business texting you (like the time my friend was being sexually harassed in the form of unwanted dick pics from a guy she met at a movie theater). In almost all cases (except that one), I’m a proponent of exhibiting the basic human characteristic known as compassion, which means treating other the way you’d like to be treated. Would you want your text to be totally ignored, forever and ever? Of course not. But is it sometimes/often/always appropriate for the person you’re texting to respond at his or her leisure, rather than immediately upon receipt of your message? Unequivocally yes.

Remember the good old days, when the only way to reach someone was to call them on their landline and leave a voicemail on an answering machine? Often, those messages weren’t received for hours. Days, even! Today, of course, that’s unimaginable. Technology has made it easy to reach people, so naturally, we expect everyone to be reachable at all times. The proliferation of technology has raised our expectations: If I text you now, I expect you to respond now, or at least soon, even if you’re busy or your phone is dead or you just don’t feel like talking.

For the most part, though, many of us are available – perhaps too available. Studies show that 27% of adults admit to texting while driving and 75% text from the toilet; I’m guilty of face-planting into a few curbs because I often do it while walking. But that’s not enough for Silver, who writes,
“Why is ignoring the default behavior? Do you like being ignored? Do you? It's the Bog Of Eternal Stench Of Feelings. You can't wash them away, and they can negatively affect your self-esteem.” 
To this I say: Your self-esteem issues are not anyone else’s problem. It’s not my responsibility or a man’s responsibility or any other person’s responsibility to uplift or uphold another individual’s self-worth, particularly at the expense of time, energy, and safety. We’ve all been there, wondering, “Why doesn’t he like me enough to respond?” and “Is everyone hanging out without me?” But it’s unreasonable to expect friends and crushes to prioritize us in the exact same moment and with the exact same magnitude with which we have prioritized them.

I love a good, instantaneous text conversation as much as the next girl, but I recognize that sometimes, my text message is not the most important thing in someone else’s world – period. 

Sometimes, when you’re sitting in your bedroom eagerly awaiting a response, the person on the receiving end of your text message is doing something that prohibits them from getting back to you posthaste – like sleeping or working or walking across a street or driving a car or pooping or otherwise living life. We’re all entitled to that level of technology-free enjoyment of our lives, to taking a break from perpetual multi-tasking and focus on one important thing that – gasp! – may not leave room for immediate responsiveness.

And sometimes? Sometimes, the person on the receiving end of your text message just doesn’t feel obligated to cater to your every conversational whim at that very moment. And we’re all entitled to that feeling, too.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends (But Could Ask for More Of It)

My mother doesn't like asking people for help, & growing up, I didn't understand it at all. She'd call our neighbor if it was urgent - like the time(s) she found a bat in her bedroom or when she needed to borrow a snowblower. When it came to more important things, though - the kind of things you just can't do by yourself - she'd say, "I don't want to bother anyone."

Bother anyone? I always thought. But they're our friends! That's how friendship works! I never understood the hesitance to reach out to people who clearly care about you & who would likely be happy to do whatever they could to lend a hand. If my friends asked for my help, I thought, especially on something really easy or something that tapped into a knowledge base I had & they didn't, I wouldn't mind at all.

And I still think that way. Need me? I'm in. I would go to great lengths to help the people I love, because, well, that's what you do when you love people.

Yet when it comes to the inverse situation - the times I need help - I find myself, in adulthood, becoming my mother in the one way I'd rather not. I'm hesitant to ask anyone for help, ever, because I really, really don't want to bother people. I don't want to be an inconvenience to those who care about me, because in my mind, inconvenient > bothersome > needy > clingy > get the hell away from me. Yes, my mental slippery slope is apparently so slippery that I fear my friends will literally stop being my friends if I ask them to help me do something I can't do by myself.

Do you know that when I wrote that post about not being able to assemble my new bed frame, I received four emails from nearby friends offering to help the next time I found myself in need of a toolbox? Four friends, all at varying degree of closeness. They just, like, offered, unsolicited, for next time. I was blown away.

Tonight, my friend Aaron - who was one of those to offer up his tools for the future - drove me to pick up a couch for my apartment. I didn't ask him to help me, even though he'd offered his help a few times in the past. When he offered to help me today, I begrudgingly took him up on it, feeling terrible the whole time. The couch didn't fit in his SUV, so we had to walk to CVS to buy rope & bungee cords to secure it in place, & in all, the whole process took an hour an a half - 90 whole minutes that he could've spent hanging out with his wife or playing with his dog or watching TV or cooking dinner or doing just about anything other than schlepping a loveseat up & down the stairs & across town & fastening Boy Scout knots out of clothesline in freezing temperatures.

I'm coming to recognize that my reluctance to ask for help when I need it shows a fundamental lack of trust in my relationships - that somewhere deep within, I don't believe people love me enough to stick with me when I am an inconvenience to them. This is silly, really, because I know that helping people I love with the occasionally inconvenient task or chore isn't going to affect my overall feelings for them. I just expect them to pay it forward, to eventually help someone else, because that's how friendship works & how humanity works.

But I don't trust people to feel the same way about me.

There are other factors, too. On my own, here, I feel terribly vulnerable, more susceptible than ever to the possibility of "inconvenient > bothersome > needy > clingy > get the hell away from me" because so many of my friends are married or engaged or in serious relationships, & suddenly, I'm all by myself. There's no default person to turn to when I need something, & friends or not, I feel as though I shouldn't intrude on someone else's person to ask for any sort of serious help. It's the ultimate third wheel syndrome - but ultimately, it's also bullshit. You don't have to be someone's significant other to give a damn about their well-being.

I value my independence, & there are a whole hell of a lot of things I can do alone - but I want to be a person who trusts others to step in, too, who trusts the people who love me to keep on loving me even though I sometimes need a little backup - even when it's inconvenient or bothersome. I love my mother dearly, but this is a characteristic of hers that I never meant to inherit.

Yeah, I'm gonna try with a little help from my friends. (And I'll try not to sing out of key.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

When Finally Set Free

https://www.etsy.com/listing/128968246/valentine-and-anniversary-decor-red?ref=shop_home_active

Note: I wrote this piece in late February of 2013, typing into my phone while sitting in my mom's car at the cemetery in my hometown. Next Monday will mark the nine-year anniversary of Dave's death; yesterday, I finally clicked "buy" on a small, engraved stone off Etsy to leave at his grave. Don't worry, its actual engraving is not as self-centered as the last line of this post is.

I've been here so many times, it feels like a million. Have I really only been doing this for eight years? And have I been doing this for eight years already? I remember when I counted the time since your death in Thursdays - one week, two weeks, three. For quite awhile now, though, we've counted the days not in weeks or even in months, but in years. And, soon, in decades.

When Sean & I got into the car that day to drive here from the funeral home, after the wake, the rain had already begin to come down in sheets. "It's an emo band, isn't it?" he asked. "Funeral for a Friend?" It was catchy alliteration we'd never thought twice about before, but the phrase hung morbidly in the air between us, then & all throughout the day. Funeral for our friend. Funeral for my dead boyfriend.

It's been eight years now, & there's still no headstone with your name on it. Your father's name is there, the same as yours, & if I don't look at the dates engraved below or the difference in your middle initials, I can almost bring myself to pretend it's for you. It's not the same, but it's the only option.

Yes, I've been here so many times, it feels like a million, but something feels different today. Someone has been here recently, around the anniversary of your death, & cheap Valentine's Day decorations are littered across the grave that doesn't have your name on it. Glitter hearts made of cardboard, a shiny white wreath, a banner of little felt hearts all strung together in a row, & two dozen little stars, made of glass & painted red. Everything is brightly colored but still dirty, weathered by a recent snow, & I'm finding the result unpalatable, more uncomfortable than my usual trips here. Below the bench is what remains of a tile I painted, years ago already, that used to read, "Wherever you are, angel for me" - lyrics to a Jimmy Eat World song - with your initials & the dates of your birth & death. By now, it, too, is faded by the elements, most of the paint chipped away from the porcelain. All that remains is "DJK, '84-'05," but that's all that matters, anyway.

I pick up one of the little red stars & pocket it. I pick up another, pocket it, too. But it's not all take. I also leave something behind: I set a fresh spray of yellow roses atop the bench, a pop of foreign, unsullied color amidst all the dirty red. The stars clinking in my pocket, I whisper aloud a promise to you that I won't be back without something more permanent bearing your name, something that tells whomever comes here next that you lived & that you died & that you're buried here, too.

"Here lies the other Dave Kozak, the one who was only 20," the one who loved me.
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