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Let’s Get Together and Feel All Right

So, today I had a small birthday get-together. I invited almost everyone I knew in Madison, and three people showed up, but a party with four people is better than a party of one. I made a salad, an orzo dish, a rigatoni dish, and bread pudding which was a major hit, and one of my guests brought cake, which was nice. I served the food buffet style. The wine and the conversation were flowing nicely, and everyone seemed to enjoy the food.

With how busy everyone’s schedule is these days, it’s getting harder and harder to get two people together, let alone four. I miss the days in the Land Before Facebook; where people just got together and did stuff like this. Scented candles, folding chairs, and plastic tablecloths.

I like to play host.

It’s actually the one time I enjoy cleaning up and doing dishes, knowing that my friends are full and happy.

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Punintentional: The Obtuseness That is My Life

When people tell me I’m funny, I tell them that I’m not. I tell them that I am the least funny person they will ever meet in their lives.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s moments like these that I feel like I’m a few steps behind the world.

This time last week, at Shabbat dinner, the topic of conversation was nails. Someone (Carly, maybe?) had gotten a manicure before Shabbat, and people were talking about crazy manicures and nail designs. I mentioned a friend of mine from college who painted a different design on her nails every week, according to the zodiac or something. Somebody mentioned how that was commitment, and I was like…

“Yeah, she must have had a lot of time on her hands.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

People laugh, and about two minutes pass before I understand what I just said.

I realized that I’ve done this from time to time. Back in high school, we watched the movie version of The Crucible after reading it in English class. The ending of the movie is much different than the ending of the play. After we watched it, we discussed it, and my first thought?

“I didn’t like this ending. It kinda leaves you hanging.”

I think a full five minutes passed before I got that one.

The third story is one that’s a bit more contextual, so apologies in advance if you don’t get it.

So, in my sophomore year of high school, we put on Les Miserables. Yes, that one. At our Orthodox Jewish high school. It goes without saying that it was pretty terrible, but we had a few great rehearsal moments. One time, early in the rehearsal process, we were all sitting around chatting during a break, and someone remarked on the lack of “Lovely Ladies” and the characters in that number, and people suddenly started asking questions like “where are the lovely ladies?” And some idiot said, “Do we have a Pimp?”

Without blinking, my drama teacher goes:

“No. Not anymore.”

For a split-second she looked up and around, and then laughed. Fortunately, I think she was making a joke.

I hope she was making a joke.

I have Diane to thank for this post. Thanks, Diane!

Also, hooray for being a five-continent day, all but Africa.

 

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A Rose Is Still A Rose

This past week has been pretty brutal. Some of it caused by me, some by others…well, mostly me. Won’t go into more detail but suffice it to say that due to circumstances, I got very little done.

I usually write about other things in this space. But today I want to write about me. Because I feel that that person needs some serious lovin’.

Over the last several years (well, really, most of my post-high school life), I’ve been actively working on myself in one way or another, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. I’ve gone to psychologists, psychiatrists, and art therapists. I’ve had an MRI and an EKG. I’ve attended classes; I’ve read books and articles. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. And inevitably, just when I’ve got it all figured out, something comes tumbling down.

Lately a lot of things have been tumbling down. I’ve been asking myself the big questions, and I’m lonelier than ever. I’ve been pretty good at developing and using coping mechanisms, but it seems like just about every day I face some sort of struggle. When I find there’s something wrong, I try to make it better. But it’s just really hard when solitude kicks in, because that ignites it all. The loneliness. The fear. The paranoia.

Something’s wrong with this picture, and I’m doing it all wrong.

My private college counselor back in Maryland told me that a better way to approach myself is to, instead of looking at what’s wrong about myself, look at what’s right about myself, and use those qualities to build myself up from the bottom rather than knocking myself down from the top.

Most of the time, I like myself. I’m a nice person, or at least I actively try to be, every day. I am helpful and kind. I am loyal, trustworthy, and understanding. I’m a giver, not a taker. I care about people. I am a good friend. If you are my friend, I love you to no end. I go out of my way to help others. I try to keep things light and positive, and help make others feel good about themselves. I rejoice in the fact that I’m alive and I can enjoy such wonderful things every day, some of which being other people who are with me on this planet Earth that I can interact with and can interact with me. I’m always up for a challenge. I’m also always up for lunch, dinner, dessert, coffee, or alcohol in any way, shape, or form. I used to think I was an introvert, but I think that I’m actually an extrovert in disguise: I can strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime. I love to smile and make people laugh. Overall, I’m a good thing to have in my life and if you’re lucky enough to know me personally, then in yours too.

Like a flower, I wake up every morning and put my face towards the sun. I am me. I carry that energy with me all day, and even when I come home at night, even when I’m about to go to bed, I’m still me.

Rose

“’cause a rose is still a rose/baby girl, you’re still a flower/he can’t lead you and then take you/make you and then break you/darlin’ you hold the power.” – Lauryn Hill, “A Rose Is Still A Rose”

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Failure Pie

Today was just one of those days. Things just didn’t go my way. And the worst part of it is, it’s left me tired but not sleepy.

(I just waded through reading something that was unbearably dense, so bear with me.)

It started off pretty well, the sun was shining, and that was about it. I ran to class, got there late, and spent the next almost-two-hours wishing that I were elsewhere. Class ends, and I run home to finish and print a paper, make some soup that I eventually dump down my throat as I go back out the door, and was late for my next meeting, which wasn’t horrible, but left me feeling pretty non-confident about myself. I was on time for the next class (yay) but it was my afternoon three-hour class, and I was sitting there wishing that I was elsewhere. By the end of hour two I’m usually pretty checked out. Then I had about a half-hour to shove a half-sandwich down my throat (Throat to Me: Don’t push it.) and then it was time for rehearsal, which was probably some of the worst hours of my day, then home, where I did some stuff, but mostly felt the need (and still do) to dick around and not do work (which is a bad idea) and stretch my brain to think of more stuff to type in this entry, and tell myself I’ll be in bed by 12:30 only for time to be like “surprise! you bummed around the apartment doing nothing and now it’s 3 AM, or 2:30 if you’re lucky!” And on top of that, now I feel incredibly lonely in this apartment that, while lovely, still doesn’t feel like home with the piles of mess in different places, the white hospital-room walls that nothing in the world will adhere to, and the fact that I still don’t know where half of my stuff is at any given time, yet the time I’d spend looking for a new place is spent in class, running from place to place, and – you guessed it – doing nothing constructive at all. It’s a cycle that kind of needs to end, and fast, because I’m beginning to feel like I’m going through the motions, springing back and forth on a rubber-band-slingshot between my apartment and the Vilas building with a few other stops in between sometimes that take more time than they probably should.

Oh, and my shoulders hurt from exercising yesterday. Um…good for the bones, I guess? Bleh. I don’t know.

What I do know today:

  • I’m so lonely when alone, but when in class, most of the time I just want to get out of there.
  • Saying “you’ll be fine” to me right now would be like…I think I’ll go there in a future entry.
  • The little things accumulate and escalate.
  • Budgeting more travel time is never a bad idea.
  • My computer’s fan is embarrassingly loud.
  • I’m always doing stuff, but I would never call myself “busy.” I don’t know about that. Again, more in a future entry.
  • I should probably go back and read through my posts and follow through on some of those future-entry topics.

All those charts were right, about grad school being a six-slice pie (school, social, sleep, exercise, diet, and extracurriculars, or something like that) when they say “pick four and fail at them all.”

In that case, I have about seven pies worth of failure.

And I’m not even really doing any of those things right now.

…so I guess I just proved the chart right.

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Strategies for Talking with the Socially Awkward (Written By A Socially Awkward Person)

Awkwardness is alive and well in all levels of conversation, especially in 2013, when we can rely on text messages and emails to do our talking for us. The face-to-face is becoming rarer, and as we move towards an age of total social isolation, talking with people can be rough. I’d say about 75% of people out there would describe themselves as “socially awkward.” I am in that 75%. There’s no denying it; I am so socially awkward, most of it stemming from a childhood of limited social interactions with people (especially those my own age). Where I feel socially capable, however, is talking to the similarly socially awkward person, with hopes of decreasing or completely negating the mutually felt so-called social awkwardness. I had a conversation today with someone who is undoubtedly as socially awkward as I, or even more, and it went off beautifully, in part by employing these strategies:

1. Open with a fun greeting. Regardless of your mood, smile and say “Hey there!” or “How goes it?” or “Howdy!” Something to briefly catch the person off guard, showing you put some forethought into your greeting and are, dare I say, excited to meet/see the person.

2. Ask about the person, avoiding questions that leave room for a one-word answer. I personally love “How ya doin’?,” and saying it in a peppy manner is all the better, but opening the conversation with a prompting question rather than a…regular question…helps you glide right into actual person conversation. If you haven’t talked to the person in a really long time or are meeting them for the first time, sometimes you gotta reach a little bit. Saying “How’ve things been going?” or “Tell me about yourself!” works – something that’s inviting and lets them know that you want to continue the conversation, and are focused on them. “If you have talked to the person recently, you can ask them a question relating to something that happened in the interim since the last time you talked. For example, “How was your weekend?” or “What’s new in your life?” or “How’d your visit to the abortion clinic go?” Not the last one, but you get the point.

3. Focus on them, but not too much. I was seated at my conversation today, and I found that leaning forward and nodding my head was way more effective then sitting back and shrinking from the conversation. Also, because the chair was comfortable, and I didn’t sleep well last night, the sitting-back position was more likely to put me to sleep, so I adjusted myself periodically. Don’t always worry about sitting up straight, and if you need to adjust, don’t question yourself, just do it. Eye contact is important, but looking too intensely may scare him/her, so it’s okay to look down or to the side for a second. I was teaching a class once, and a guy in the front row was half-smiling and nodding and making eye contact with me, so as I was looking around the room doing the teaching thing, I kept coming back to him, and it made me feel a little bit special inside knowing that as awkward as I am, someone cared enough to listen to me. Either that, or he was a really convincing actor.

4. Listen until the end of the tape. If you remember cassette tapes, at the very end of the song, there’d be a tiny bit of empty hissing before the tape snapped and you had to rewind it. (God I feel so old.) Let his/her speech run its course, and then a few seconds longer, as if you’re waiting for the hiss or you’re on a three-second broadcast delay. (Better metaphor.) Don’t chomp at the bit with the next thing you’re going to say, even if you already know what it is – dial it back, son. Don’t make them feel like you’re controlling things; let him/her know that you’ve processed them for a second before opening your yap. Buuut…don’t wait too long, and create the Awkward Silence of Death (see number 6).

5. Be animated while you talk, but again, not too much. Nothing is scarier than a monotone, because most socially awkward people like myself get scared easily. Using your hands to gesture is fine. I’d suggest giving yourself some room lest you hit him/her in the nose. Act excited to be there, like “I’ve been so looking forward to this, and you, conversation partner, are just the bee’s knees, and I’d rather be nowhere else right now.” If you’re not, fake it, damn it. Don’t obscure your feelings; try putting your heart on your sleeve for a moment. Be vulnerable for a moment or two. Allow him/her to see your inner monologue and how what he/she is saying is directly influencing your processing of thought. Give them that power – for now – and then you’ll be like “ha ha, I am the puppet master of social interactions!” But don’t say that out loud.

6. Awkward Silence of Death. So many people have told me that silence is good in a conversation, but unless it’s with someone you’re really close to, it’s not. Keep silence at 3-4 seconds, max. Keep the conversation going, or you may let your guard down or allow them to retreat back into doubting their own social skills. I’ve been interviewed a lot of times, and the ones with awkward silences are the worst. Keep it light, and say something to bring your minds back into the conversation.

7. Know when to switch topics, and when to cut bait. Don’t EVER say “let’s change the topic…” that implies that you are either uninterested or insulted by what he/she is currently telling you. Try “In other news…” or “just apropos…” or if you’re feeling irreverent, “And now, for something completely different…” And when you switch the topic, don’t come out of left field, it might leave your awkward person tongue-tied. Ending conversations is tough…if you have somewhere to be, or something to do, or you run out of things to talk about and fall into the trap of “so…yeah… [trails off into nothingnowherenadaland]” make a move and a cheery exit, maybe even with a flourish, making your conversation partner look forward to the time when the two of you can be socially awkward together again.

Above all, keep it positive, light, upbeat, and breezy…the more you pretend that you’re a socialite, the better it works! But you’re obviously in possession of more intelligence than your average socialite (whoops, almost typed socialist) so you got it made in the shade.

If you’re talking to a person who thinks they’re not socially awkward, then either a) these strategies will not work for you, or b) it is likely that he/she is, in fact, more socially awkward than you.

This was a weird post, but if you’ve learned nothing, know this:

Social interactions are only as terrifying as you make them. Most people don’t have two heads, one speaking to you and one judging you. If you are in a conversation with a person with two heads, run and get your camera because you’re obviously going to want a selfie. If you are in a conversation with a zombie, just skip to number 7, cut bait with a cheery exit and a flourish, and then just run away because otherwise they will eat your brains.

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I Like You, and That’s OK

If you’re reading this, then I like you.

Even if we haven’t met yet in real life, I like you.

Why?

I don’t have a reason not to, and even if I did have a reason, I wouldn’t treat you that much differently than I’d treat anyone else.

In the early 2000s, comedienne Ellen DeGeneres had a sitcom named Ellen where she played the title character, a bookstore owner named Ellen who was described as possessing a persistent, universal need to be liked. Even today, when she meets new people on her talk show, celebrity or not, she makes it her duty to make the person happy and bring him or her over to her side – the sunny side, the fun side. She has many different strategies on how to make it happen, but she usually gets by with a guilty smile and a chuckle.

I am not so lucky.

Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of friends. Actually, I didn’t really have any. Making friends has always been kind of weird for me. Whenever I meet someone, though, I greet them with a smile, and something like “hi, how ya’ doin?” or “hey, what’s up?” When people give me thoughtful answers, I feel happy, and when people give me a terse answer, it hurts my feelings. Maybe it’s just our American conditioning, but I’m your friend, not your Starbucks barista – when I ask you how you’re doing, I mean it. It doesn’t really matter if we don’t know each other well, or if we’ve known each other for years, but when I ask you how you are, that means I actually like you and want to know what’s new in your world. And if you return the question, that just makes my day. I wouldn’t say that I have quite that quality of a “persistent need to be liked” that Ellen has, but being liked just feels so much better than being disliked or hated. And it doesn’t take that much energy to like someone. In fact, it might make you like yourself more.

Even though I’m in my mid-twenties, friendship is still a tricky minefield for me to navigate. Just when I think I know what I’m doing, something will happen that I can’t control. Someone will do a complete 180, and get cold to me for no reason. Then when I ask, I either get no response, a terse one, like “nothing,” or a lie, like “you’re fine.” If it really was nothing, and I really am fine, then why not behave like a normal person and friend and be a little bit…I don’t know…friendly? You don’t have to pounce on me with a bear hug or anything, but a smile and a reasonably polite response, is that so much to ask? Or if I even have to ask…are you really my friend? There are so many times when I ask myself that question about people. For example, blocking me on Facebook and then saying that we’re not friends on Facebook because your profile is “being weird” is flat-out rude. When someone blocks me on Facebook, I feel a little hurt inside. I know it’s your Facebook and you can do what you want, and it’s just a social media platform, but don’t lie to me, because that hurts. Another example: If I ask you if you’re free and if you want to get together or make plans to, and you don’t respond, and then I find out that you decided to  go out and just ignore me completely and think that I wouldn’t find out about it or even care, that makes me really sad. Even if you didn’t ask me to join you, which is perfectly okay, don’t just flat-out ignore me or pretend you didn’t see my message. When someone texts me, even if it’s just a little thing, I always respond. Nine times out of ten, I text someone and never hear back from them. It’s not like I text people constantly, but maybe if you took a minute to return the text, even to say, “talk to you later, I’m busy,” that would be a nice thing to do. I always have good intentions in mind, and I care, so don’t ever think that I want to bother or annoy you, I’m just genuinely interested. And I don’t call/text people constantly; I only do it if I haven’t heard from you in awhile, and want to hear how you’re doing.

I try to be nice to everyone, even if I don’t like them, but it seems to me that this isn’t a universal concept. When people who are supposedly your “friends” make you feel sad, unwanted, or disliked, are they really your friends? If I ever did anything to you, you should know that I don’t do things to purposely hurt people. If it’s important, talk to me about it, and if it’s not, move on. I have friends who do or say things that sometimes make me feel uncomfortable around them, but I swallow those things if they’re not that important to our friendship and keep my negative feelings to myself, focusing on things that I like about you and focusing on being polite, kind, and considerate. Once, I considered giving up having friends altogether. Or even trying to make new ones. Maybe I should do that. But then when I say that to myself, I realize how empty life is without friendship. Maybe I should delete my Facebook, but I have a lot of pictures and memories on there that make me happy, and it’s an easy way for me to keep in touch with friends and family members who are far away from me. Maybe I should lay low for awhile, and leave everyone else alone, but then they might forget about me, and I’ll never have any friends again. Maybe I should start treating people like shit, but that won’t solve anything. Maybe I should just get so drunk here in my apartment until I don’t have any feelings anymore, but that feeling will inevitably subside, and if it doesn’t, then…surprise, I’m an alcoholic. Maybe I should just lay down and accept the fact that people are just going to be rude to me and make me feel sad and unwanted, and that I can’t do anything about it.

Or maybe I should just dye my hair blonde and become a lesbian. I already have the blue eyes.

This post is dedicated to my late grandmother (1911-2005) who would have been 102 today. Everyone who knew her liked her, and she loved me so much, she called me her “best grandson,” which made me feel so special. But then when I was about 7, I realized that I was also her only grandson, so I see what you did there. I love you, Grandma, and I miss you every day.

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Goodbye Hugs

This will probably be one of my very last posts from Houston. On Friday, I got the call from the movers that they’ll be here to pick up my furniture and boxes of books, so there’s no point in staying here much past Tuesday.

I’ve moved quite a few times in the past few years, but this one is especially difficult for some reason. I feel like I’ve really grown into my own here, and learned a lot about myself and about the way the world works. I was plunked here two years ago knowing absolutely no one and with no knowledge of how the city or even how the state worked. In two years, I’ve found a bit more solid the ground on which I stand, and have been following more of my own rules than the rules of others – but grounding my rules in firm reason. For once, I’ve developed a semblance of a circle of friends, cobbled together from different places and common interests, but each special to me in a different way. This task would have been impossible for me to do five years ago. I could do without the heat, the bugs, and the traffic, as mentioned in a previous post, but I’ll miss the beautiful Texas scenery all around me, and my beautiful apartment – which is, at the moment, in shambles, with boxes of books and piles of clean folded laundry everywhere.

My dad just called from the airport, so I’ll have to finish this up rather quickly.

Basically, I wanted to share my thoughts on goodbye hugs. I used to love to hug. I still secretly do, but I’ve become more cautious and careful about it, because you never know who might or might not want it. I thought about stopping, but when a friend told me “I don’t hug,” I tried to imagine life without hugging and found the thought unbearably sad.

The goodbye hug, however, should be a breed of its own. An average hug lasts about three seconds. Not knowing when you’ll see the person again makes those three seconds seem to either disappear too quickly without the sensation of the hug being transmitted, or expand to a five-to-seven second hug (or even longer) that can be misconstrued as awkward in the wrong place/time/context.

In these past few days, I’ve experienced several different types of goodbye hugs, and each of them tells me a little bit about the person. Rather than mentioning names, I’ll go with letters.

A is a person I’ve known for about a year. She and I have more of a hands-off relationship. Though a hug is not out of the question when we see each other, I don’t always feel that it’s appropriate. This hug was a brief squeeze, with a hint of lavender and off you go.

B is a person I’ve known for six months. She’s been there for me so, so many times and I am actually frightened by the thought of never seeing her again. She is rather slim, so when hugging her I had to gauge my own pressure. Her back is straight like a peacock or ostrich. Though it was a strange sensation to feel the bones of her back under my hands, the way her hands enveloped my body was like a bird cradling its young with its wings.

C is a person I’ve known for a year. He and I have had a steadfast friendship. A sanguine person, his hug filled me with warmth, and his clap on my back told me to keep it together, but in an affectionate way.

D is a person I’ve known for two years. He is a bit older than me. His hug was like holding a punching bag – enter, contact, go.