I Like To Moob It, Moob It

I awoke to find this article in my Facebook feed this morning:

http://www.queerty.com/what-real-men-look-like-in-underwear-ads-20130919/

When I see articles like this, articles calling bullshit on the media and how it treats men’s bodies, I pretty much always think two things, in this order:

1. “Mwahaha, it’s about time men were made to feel self-conscious, the way that we women have been made to feel self-conscious since FOREVER.”

2. “Dude, dick move. The answer is that no one should be made to crappy. Not for everyone to feel crappy.”

As I looked through the article above, I started to understand how (almost) every guy on Earth feels when he looks at women and compares them to women he sees on TV. I thought “yeah, models are lovely, but those other guys? They look like nice guys. And I really, sincerely don’t care that they’re not all cut and musclely.”

Guys, we’re not just saying that we don’t care if you have a little moob happening. We really, sincerely don’t care. We just want you to act right, be nice to us, call when you say you’re going to call, not play with your phone at the dinner table, and talk to us. At the end of the day, we would rather you watch a movie with us than be like “sorry, babe, have to go put in 4 hours at the gym.”

Yep, 6-packs are hot, but so are dudes who will share a 6-pack with you while the two of you play video games.

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Term Papers for Algernon

I have just finished writing my first paper for an online psychology class I’m taking, and I’ve had a couple of rather unsettling realizations. The assignment was to pick a topic from current events and then relate it back to some concept from psychology. I ended up writing my paper about the kerfuffle that happened after the Microsoft presentation at the E3 conference, relating it to concepts of mimicry and conformity. In the interest of staying on-topic, I’ll spare you the contents of my paper and get to why I found this assignment a little more daunting than a page-long paper for an online, non-credited, if-you-fail-this-it-totally-doesn’t-matter class really ought to be.

Current Events?
I am a bad American. I don’t watch the news regularly or read the paper. Granted, I have subscriptions to both The Atlantic and Psychology Today, but The Atlantic is largely geared toward shit-stirring issues like gender equality or neo-conservativism and Psychology Today consists mainly of puffy pop-psychology about how to spot a sociopath or toxic friend. Legitimate science : Vogue :: Psychology Today : Cosmo.

I used to listen to NPR’s hourly newscasts, but those quickly because incredibly depressing. It seems like everybody (NPR not included) is either sexing up the news to make it more entertaining or participating in not-so-subtle axe grinding. Thus, I walk away, figuring that the really big stories will show up in conversation or Facebook feeds. Hell, at least I found out about the tornadoes in Oklahoma. It’s not that I don’t read; it’s just that I prefer to spend my reading time reading books about psychology. That is, whenever I’m not being expected to read a textbook about C# or Oracle. Look, at least I’m not on the treadmill reading about Kardashians or looking through magazines for things I can want to buy. Right?

Combining Ideas?
I think working online is breaking my brain, and being a web developer isn’t helping too much, either. When this assignment asked me to take one idea (the current event) and apply other ideas to it (the psychology concepts), my brain locked up for a while. It felt like I was asking it to do something that I hadn’t done since 2000, and that may be true. Sure, I’ve been in school almost non-stop since I graduated with that business degree in 2000, but it’s been a different KIND of school. Art school rarely requires paper writing and, when it does, the bar is set pretty low. You’re not asked to come up with scholarly English, you’re asked to come up with something remotely coherent. The bar in web development school is even lower: the two papers I’ve been asked to write in the entire Associate Degree program have both been a page or less (double spaced!) and the expectation has been to simply say anything that makes any sort of sense and is at least spelled like English 90% of the time.

Fancy talky words?
In daily life, I write a lot. I type A LOT. But almost every bit of that writing consists of email, IMs or instructional training blogs. That is to say, almost everything that I ever write is presented in the plainest, basest form possible. Fancy words and metaphors wouldn’t suit me in most cases. In most cases, I’m sending someone a numbered list of steps on how to do something. Click here, right-click here. It puts forth an idea, but everything is stated as simply as possible. Complex ideas are presented WITH PICTURES. Have I resorted to the 21st century equivalent of cave painting?

I think this may be why I haven’t been writing as much lately, and this is probably exactly why I need to be writing more. I’m losing the ability to explain complex thoughts through English. The idea I’m trying to convey is right there in front of me, yet I can’t find the words to express it. It makes me feel like Charlie from Flowers for Algernon, witnessing a slow decline before attempting to return to my job as a janitor. There are parts of me that are scared of going to grad school because I have forgotten how to combine complex ideas into term papers. I fear that I would be there, surrounded by scholarly types, and all I would be able to muster would be bulleted lists and paragraphs that fell short of making any kind of sense or point. An oral exam would degenerate into arm waving and multiple uses of the phrase “ya know?” (Not that I’m going to grad school any time soon, but it’s still on the table somewhere underneath the more urgent tasks of bill paying, lawn mowing and showing up to work each day.)

So, here I am, telling you that I’m going to try and write more, if only for my own sake. I can’t go back to being a janitor.

Loud and Compressed

There’s something about modern pop music. Something that makes me feel little stifled, a little claustrophobic, a little tense, and a little pissed off. I’m not speaking in a figurative sense, as though some rap lyric finally got the better of me and I angrily switched the radio over to NPR in a fit of “I am SO TOO OLD for this” rage. It’s a feeling that came to me at a stop light at Dickerson and Trinity, making me wonder where all this came from and whether it’s ever going to go away. The feeling is the same one that I had while watching The Hobbit at the Hollywood 27: it felt like everything was right there in my face, making me anxious, like a first person shooter game or a cooperative play game with vertical split screen. Your peripheral vision is gone because everything is so close. Everything is bigger, faster, louder. More and more, quickly and impatiently demanding your attention.

If I hadn’t seen so many people on the internet complaining about The Hobbit’s shallow depth of field, I’d have thought I imagined the whole thing. I’d have thought it was just me, the shallow field being a side effect of shooting a movie with the intent to make cool 3D rather than a cool movie.

I can’t explain the music. In class and lessons, we were always taught that the notes you don’t play are just as important as the ones you play. I’m not so naive as to think that the work of Pitbull and Pink should subscribe to the same rules of subtlety as Mozart, but to say something like “well, that’s pop music, so whatever” is a complete cop out. It’s still music, right? There is a certain level of artistry involved in crafting a pop song, right? It’s still pretentious as fuck to imply that Mozart is somehow automatically better than Pink, right? I am a flag-waving student of the art school idea of “it’s not better, it’s just different.”

So why then does nearly every song on the radio wish to fill every possible void with SOUND, compressed SOUND, until there’s no room around the SOUND? It frustrates me, and it turns all of pop music into one note as each artist tries to yell louder, rock harder and party Bacardier than the one that came before. I have sat in traffic nervously picking at my fingers because whatever is coming through my speakers is making me anxious for no damn reason.

All of this makes me wonder if this is some kind of symptom of life in 2013. Life where we are all so inundated with everything all the time that there’s no dynamic contrast. We’re all so busy and everything’s so loud. I just wonder where it stops.

The Motivation to Puree

I spent New Years 2013 on Jen’s couch, drinking wine with her and her husband. As midnight came and went, it slipped our minds to change the channel and watch the ball drop in New York because we were too busy watching World’s Dumbest Boozers. This seems fitting, given how I spent 2012: doing everything and then peeking out my head long enough to realize that the whole thing flew right by me. Where did it go?

I spent 2012 trying to find a rhythm after having a few years that seemed like a little too much chaos for me. Crappy job! New job! Poor! Not poor! New cat! Elderly cat! Life changes! Dudes! 2012 was the year when everything finally calmed down: I turned my schedule into a well-oiled machine, got a little more comfortable in my job (I don’t think anyone is ever completely comfortable in SharePoint), and attempted to narrow down the spread-too-thin social calendar. So I sit at the beginning of 2013, feeling like all the chaos has been smoothed out to the usual low ripple of non-predictability that is par for the course in life. That’s all well and good, but you know how human nature is: the second things calm down, we immediately start getting bored and asking what’s next. So…what’s next?

I have no idea. I feel like I’m standing in front of a big flow chart, a huge set of if/else statements, waiting for one thing to be decided so that another one can, and so on. It’s not that I’m taking a passive role in my own life; it’s that I’m taking the time to figure out what the right decision is.

I believe I would very much like to get a master’s degree in psychology, most likely cognitive psychology or cognitive neuroscience. It feels insane and flaky to even type it out loud, but there it is, gnawing on the back of my mind. The second I scold myself with “you PICKED a career, can’t you just stick with it?” the idea pops right back up again. There’s all this curiosity in me, so the idea of having time to research a bunch of things sounds pretty nice. A life in development gives one a chance to say “let’s see if we can pull this off,” and that’s fun too, but the idea of thinking of questions and looking for answers sounds awesome. I like my current career just fine, but there are days when I don’t know if I can do it for 30 more years. When I ask myself “what’s next?” my brain doesn’t get all excited about getting super awesome at SQL Server. My brain goes “yes, we can do that and make a bunch of money…but what was the thing about the brains?”

That’s the pie in the sky idea, though. Here in reality, I am a single lady with a mortgage and an elderly, expensive cat. I just got done being poor and I’m currently kind of enjoying the idea of being able to afford luxury items like a couch. At first glance, there’s no way I could just peace out on my entire life to go wank around in a lab somewhere, effectively taking my entire life, putting it in a blender and hitting the “puree” button. Besides, it’s not like I hate my life. I’m just not motivated enough to puree. Then again, maybe “puree” isn’t the only answer. Maybe I could combine the development and the psychology? The collision of cognition and programming gave us the field of artificial intelligence; maybe the real answer is finding a way to combine life experiences to make something new and far more interesting that some simple, boolean, “give up your old life for a new one.”

To seriously entertain this idea, I’d have to be willing to move, be poor again, and accept that I would be completely screwing myself in my current career. You can’t just go off and not think about web development for 3 years and expect to ever come back. In 3 years, everything changes and you have to be there to keep up. Web development is like a treadmill where the slow, old or unmotivated just go flying off the machine, only to be heard from again when they appear on Tosh.0.

Just typing this still feels like a naive and slightly insane thing to do. Majoring in anything that would ever involve the term “neuroscience” is a thing that other people do. Super crazy-smart people who don’t already owe Sallie Mae 30 grand. I’m a smart girl with good hustle, but saying “yes, I’m going to go into neuroscience” is a bit much.

Which, as a godsmack, is a small part of why I want to do it. If there’s no risk of big-time failure, you’re not growing enough.

For right now, this is just a hobby that will be put in the “would like to do one day” pile, right next to “go to England” or “eat real bananas foster.” But one day it might get pulled out of the pile and, when it does, I’ll have a few years of reading behind me. Til then, I’m the girl on the treadmill reading the book about conscious decision making.

The irony is delicious.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

This morning, I listened to a TED talk in which movie critic Roger Ebert talked about losing his ability to speak (and part of his jaw) to thyroid cancer, and the journey that he’d gone through to find a computer voice that felt natural. He started his talk speaking with “Alex,” his favorite computer voice, but then had his wife and friends read the rest of his speech, fearing that the computer voice would be too monotonous for the audience.

Ebert’s journey to find a natural computer voice continues, but he says that he enjoys writing because it allows him to not feel different from how he felt before. In person, people sometimes misread his disfigured jaw and assume he has “lost his marbles.” In print, people treat him exactly as they always did.

For years, I have wanted to try a couple of social experiments (or maybe they’re performance art pieces – the line gets blurry sometimes) in which I don’t speak for a week. Do you do what voice patients do and wear a little pin explaining your silence, or do you just not speak and see if people notice or act weird? What if you allowed yourself to talk, but only allowed yourself to ask questions? How would that affect the quality of the conversation? Would people notice, or would they just think you were super curious? Super caring? Super nosy? Or would you just end up in some kind of Who’s On First style comedy routine?

“Why do you keep answering questions with questions?”
“What do you mean? Am I doing that?”
“Rarrrrr!”

This also reminded me of a recent conversation in which I implored someone to speak to me via email or IM rather than by phone. This was due in part to his being a couple thousand miles away and seemingly unable to find a decent phone connection, but it was more about my willingness to type. I hate the phone. Verbal conversation is awkward enough, but the phone means having to do that dance without the 70% of conversation that is non-verbal, to say nothing of crappy phone connections, sound delay across states, and the fact that cell phones now do everything except sound good. It’s 2012: by now, my mom should sound like she’s speaking into a Shure SM57 instead of a soup can.

I am always a bit blown away by other people’s ability to converse in person. Someone asks them a question and they just ANSWER, making it seem like they had the words already on deck. People compliment them and they say “thank you” and then return the compliment. People return from vacation, and they know what questions to ask. Did you see the fireworks at Disney? How was the weather when you were there? I could ask questions all day, but I’m too busy screening all of them, trying not to be too nosy (“Did you check the hotel bed for bed bugs?”) or to accidentally say something rude. Somebody compliments me and I say “thank you,” but I always forget to return the compliment. Or I feel like the compliment would immediately seem totally insincere, like I’m only giving it because one was just given to me. Or (most often), I’m so surprised to be jolted out of my own head while I’m standing in the elevator or walking through the grocery store that I just say “thank you” and get the hell out of there. I’m just standing there, probably on some other planet where I’m working out a work problem or figuring out what I can make with the random assortment of foods in my fridge and BOOM, someone’s talking to me and I’m expected to not go “augh!” as though the person has just leaped out from behind a pillar wearing a werewolf mask.

And god help anybody who asks me a question. My answer always spirals off into left field and, once I realize I’ve gone off-course, I pause and just ask whether I answered the question. This goes over particularly well in job interviews. I end up sounding like a crazy person who speaks English as a third language, right behind Esperanto and dolphin. (This is the part where you should be picturing Daryl Hannah shattering 100 TV screens as she shrieks her mermaid name at Tom Hanks. “Eeeee! Eeeee!”)

This is especially frustrating when I think of how well I could have handled any given situation if it had occurred via email. In email, no one interrupts you, so you don’t feel rushed to hurry and answer before you get interrupted. In email, you get your whole point across and no one jumps to the conclusion to which they thought you were getting.

I don’t know why it happens. It’s just like verbal conversation moves too fast for me. I’ll make a face to try to think of the right word, and the other person sees me and assumes I’m upset. If I typed it, it would read something like “I’m not sure I agree with your point there because I question whether that study was really done in a fair and scientific way.” In person: “I think you’re wrong cause that study was dumb.” I have considered whether this is a sign that I have a very small but specific kind of autism or whether my brain just goes into overload easier than most.

If I had all the time and money in the world, I’d get EEGs done of my brain while talking and my brain while writing. I would do this with lots of people and come up with some conclusion to explain what’s going on in there. Surely, someone has already done this, but my Googling turned up nothing but results about people driving while talking on cell phones.

No word on whether those distracted drivers felt like their mom was talking into a soup can.

Flow and The Eye

It is a Friday night and I’m on a treadmill at the local YMCA reading one of Martin Seligman’s books about positive psychology. As I crank the incline down to 13%, I hit the chapter about “flow.”

You know when you get really into some hobby that you’re doing and lose all track of time? That’s flow. It’s not physical pleasure (having sex or eating chocolate) and it’s not the kind of gratification that you get from doing charity work. It’s what happens when you’re doing something you’re good at, which makes you think, but which also makes you feel fulfilled. You’re not even thinking about being happy about what you’re doing…you’re just doing it. You’re so into what you’re doing that you forget to be happy about it.

This happens to me when I’m building a web page, playing the piano or doing a crossword puzzle. But when I read that chapter on Friday, it reminded me of a hobby recently rediscovered.

“It just makes you rethink the way you look at everything. The whole world is no longer just STUFF that is THERE. The world is a playground for light and shadow. You keep wanting to climb under or on top of things, just to see them from a different angle. It makes the whole world newer and more fascinating.”

Those are my words from last weekend, and I am trying to explain to Male Suitor why I was excited about a camera someone had sent me. I hadn’t used an SLR camera in about 5 years, so I am rusty. I need to relearn all of the camera techniques, but most of all I need to relearn how to see a shot when it’s right in front of me. My brain is so used to getting up, going to work and going to the gym that I forget to stop and LOOK at things. With an SLR camera back in my hands, all of the ability to see a picture in front of me is starting to come back. The mindfulness is slowly returning.

I probably suck pretty hard right now, and I don’t care. Photography was in me once. It wasn’t put there by years of schooling; it was just there. Once it was let out, my teacher starting badgering me to change my major. It must still be in there somewhere and all I have to do is dig it out from under all of the obligations and corporate key cards and bills and loads of laundry.

“The light is the whole point, and it’s like a liquid. It flows around the bones of your face, like right now when the shadow is pooling into your crows’ feet.”

I wished that I could take a picture of him standing there with the light hitting his crows’ feet. All I had were parentheses around my mouth from sleeping on my face. But he is camera shy.

“I like those crows’ feet on you. It makes you look like you’ve spent your life smiling.”
“Nice save,” he said, kissing me on the forehead.

I stood and memorized the picture in my head, loving the light and still secretly loving those crows’ feet.

Quiet

In the past, I always felt like a sort of introvert/extrovert halfbreed, where my general disposition depended on the day. However, it seems like age (and the general “don’t give a shit” attitude that comes with it) has forced me to embrace my introversion. I started to notice this in the last couple of years; there I’d be, surrounded by extroverted friends and just feeling so drained. It was as though they kept wanting me to be more like them, and when I failed at it, I would just feel tired. I am not the life of the party; I would rather just one-on-one with you. I don’t enjoy mingling at a bar. I get a little annoyed when I arrive somewhere expecting 2 people and there are 6.

Unfortunately, the world likes extroverts. If I say to someone, “hey, a little heads up about there being 6 people rather than 2 would have been nice,” suddenly, I’m The Girl Who Doesn’t Like Meeting New People. I’m this horrible, unwelcoming person who hates the new friends you wanted me to meet when I really just would have preferred to meet them one at a time. In some subconscious bid to leech off someone else’s outgoing nature, I’ve dated several extroverted guys. The end result would usually be me feeling tired, gray, drained and like I just wasn’t enough of whatever they were looking for. And they would spend their lives being frustrated when I would roll my eyes at the idea of going to yet another club night.

“Everybody’s going to be there!” they would say, not realizing that one man’s selling point is another man’s deal breaker.

The world likes extroverts. Even the internet, once the home away from home for people who don’t like to mingle, has become a place where it seems like everyone is just trying to prove how much funnier/smarter/more outrageous they are than everyone else. It becomes a cacophony of nothing. It becomes a place where “tl;dr” is expression that actually exists and a hipstamatic photo is considered a perfectly valid replacement for actual communication. It doesn’t matter if you have nothing to say, so long as you say it loudly, repeatedly and possibly with a witty jpeg. I used to think that it made me feel weird and sad because I was getting older and couldn’t relate; now, I just think it’s a matter of general personality difference. Everything moves so quickly now that I find myself preferring to type rather than talk. When you type, there’s no rush to find words before you get interrupted.

Saturday saw me hanging out with a friend and another friend of hers. She dances, he’s in a band, and I felt like I was tagging along as the old/boring/quiet/lame friend. Nobody really did or said anything to make me feel that way; I just felt it. It gave me flashbacks of when I once dated someone who felt perfectly free to accuse me of having no hobbies. It was as though my hobbies didn’t exist in his mind because they didn’t result in being on a stage or presenting some object. What was the point in doing something with your spare time if you could not, at the end of the day, present it to the world and expect praise? Your band is wonderful! Your object is wonderful! Look at this THING! This thing I MADE! When we finally broke up, I found that I liked my hobbies so much more without him there to imply that they were lame.

I have lots of hobbies. If I had more time, I’d have even more of them. In the battle between things I’d like to try and time, time is definitely the department in which I am lacking. However, none of them are “cool.” None of them are things you’d use to introduce me at a party. It’s not, “this is Amy, she’s a semi-pro kick boxer.” It’s “this is Amy, she has a couple of cats, a way with a metaphor, and she likes reading books about psychology.” Try yelling that over the music in a bar. It just doesn’t have much “zang.”

Sunday, while waiting for Male Suitor to finish his post-work shower, I picked through his bookshelf. There, between “How to Become the CEO” and “Why do Men Have Nipples?” I found a book on the power of introverts in business. When he got out of the shower, I was a couple of pages into the nipple book, finding out why asparagus makes pee smell funny. (I figured that I could always just borrow the introvert book later.) During brunch, I asked whether he’d ever been made to feel like his hobbies were somehow not good enough, not exciting enough, not whatever enough for other people. This was a sort of follow-up to an earlier discussion about us both choosing careers that were hinged more on ability to do the job well than ability to mingle, and about how he’d had to make a decision to accept and appreciate his introversion, rather than wishing he could be someone else.

I am still working on that last bit. When I go days without talking to anyone, something in my head still starts going, “is something wrong? are we depressed? is this A SIGN?” Then I just answer back, “I don’t think so. I don’t feel sad. I just feel…quiet.