Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pros, Cons, and I still hate roller coasters.

Growing up, people tell us to make a list of the qualities we want in a relationship. When you’re a kid, it’s for a best friend. I wrote things like “thinks beanie babies are awesome” and “is hilarious.” It’s a lesson in positive reinforcement, think only of things you want, and then look for those things in other people. I am very good at this; it shows in the quality of my close friends. Individually, they exemplify the very epitome of a “pros only” list, littering my social circle with positive, affable characteristics. When you are eight, the only thing that matters is finding the good things about others around you. There is plenty of time to figure out what is bad about them.

But as we got older, the balance of our list was fulfilled as experience and mistakes taught difficult lessons about the uniqueness of the human race. Friends fight over unforgettable wrongs; girls and boys fall in and out of love, irreparably. Suddenly, my list of positive attributes was stunted parallel to the qualities I had learned I did not appreciate in my close relationships. Suddenly, “thinks beanie babies are awesome” runs correspondingly to “but has a job;” and “is hilarious” is countered quickly with “but is not cruel.”

Some people write these lists down, locked away for decades only to be unearthed when a new, vicious trait rears its unforgivable head. Others, like myself, only keep a mental running tally of the qualities that seem only to offend my own neurotic personality. I don’t tend to mesh well with competitive boys, because I am overly competitive. Girls that lose themselves in romantic relationships have no staying power in my life, as I put as much importance and weight on each of my relationships, no matter the slant. It is only through trial-and-error that these facts become screamingly obvious; it is only after many, many errors do I realize the trial needs to change. Still, the lists remain abstract, describing no one in particular, only the ideology of a perfect human being.

So my problem as of late seems to be stomaching the notion of a physical list with my name in bright lights. Without going in to the over-intrusive details, it seems I have been confronted with a list of pros and cons. Scrawling down the entire page, scratches on both sides of the wall, the pros sang of my greatness, and the cons gnawed at a much less gracious side of me.

This begs the question: when someone in you life has written down a list of things that are good , and a list of things that are not so good about you, what response, if any, is suitable? 

First and foremost, being a girl has its pitfalls. Night after night, I keep myself awake bouncing back and forth between acceptance and anger. There are moments when I think, how could anyone ever think such unfair thoughts about me and still claim to love me? Then there are moments when I remember that every criticism can be constructive if you make it so. 

To be entirely honest, there were bullet points in the list that were echoes of previous claims. My hyper-organized state of mind often leads me down a road of bossiness and overbearing standards of control. The high standard of logic and rationality instilled in me from an early age often distorts in to sharp cynicism and critical judgment. I have been informed by numerous people, some still very much present in my life, that my teasing nature turns soon sour when I get so swept up in the joke, I forget the human being behind it. These are qualities I should work to amend; these are choices I make based on learned behaviors. They are not engrained irrevocably in my DNA.

Still, there were items on the list I felt were better suited for a different column. A column labeled “things that I wish you were.” These are the things that cause the flashes of momentary resentment. A point on my fear of roller coasters, which is directly linked to my irrational fear of heights and uncontrollable speed.  Often when I was younger, my father would try to rationalize with me, explaining that a rollercoaster would not go any faster than 50-60 MPH, and that when I was in the car, he and my mother drove much faster than that. He said, “you aren’t afraid then, right? So you don’t need to be afraid now.” I tried Space Mountain. It was dark, so I could get through it, no tears. I did not have fun.  I tried the Big Thunder Mountain ride. It was daylight and I began sobbing after the first “minor” drop. I absolutely did not have fun.

So I accept what it is that frightens me. I faced the fears when I did not understand them, but at some point, being an adult means you don’t HAVE to do everything that isn’t fun for you. Just because I don’t want to ride the roller coasters doesn’t mean I don’t want to go to theme parks. It means I get to hold your stuff while you ride the roller coasters. It means I get to have the kind of fun that is fun for me, and you get to have the kind of fun that is fun for you. It means you accept that I am the girl who doesn’t like roller coasters, but will always be willing to try a new sandwich shop. Or will never make you feel guilty for taking a nap in the middle of the day if you’re tired. Or will always proof-read anything you email to her as soon as she gets the email. It means that I don’t like to go camping, but I will talk you through your computer problems.

I think the real issue at hand is that upon seeing a pros and cons list all about Eleanor, my eyes merely skimmed the list of pros. The first few were superficial, nothing that had ever mattered to me in this life or the one before. Compliments on hygiene and fashion sense register at a 0 on a scale of what qualifies a person to be worth her salt. They were countered with cons about my interests, almost to say that I had the wrong interests. Almost to say, you’re pretty, but you don’t like anything good.  So maybe the real problem is that I didn’t give the list the balance it worked so hard to maintain. Like a weighted scale, I hit the ground when my eyes saw the column of negatives. No amount of compliments could undo what was done; it was as if I was looking at a graded paper, skipping over all the questions I got right, my eyes only set for the red ink of what I got wrong. Everyday I wake up and tell myself to be better than the day before. If someone could come up with that many cons about me, was I even succeeding at all?

Maybe it’s just me, but if I had to do it again, I don’t think I’d look at the list. Curiosity killed the cat, and if the cat died of getting his heart broken just a little, then by all accounts I should be dead. I know there are things about me that are bad; selfish tendencies and I am a little bit spoiled. But for better or worse, it is all part of who I am at this very moment in time. It has taken me decades to accept that person, for all the pretty, and all the ugly, but I have. Maybe I owe anyone else the same amount of time to accept me for me. But the argument still stands, would decades of time hoping someone will love you for you be considered a foolish waste of time?

At the end of the day, a girl can only accept a list of pros and cons for exactly what it is: a piece of paper cluttered with someone else’s opinion. The columns remain balanced: the bad opinions weigh just as much as the good ones. If you take one seriously, you must take the other just as seriously.

It is possible that this was the universe’s way of getting me to realize that lists can be used for evil - that my compulsive organized vigilance comes at a price. It could even be that if I decided not to hate birds, I would be a better person. At this moment in time, I don’t think it makes any difference. For now I will try every day to be better, fix what I can, accept what I can’t, and always go to bed knowing that every choice I made was because I wanted to make it.

And I think tomorrow, I’m going to paint my nails orange. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

transcribing snapshots

 It is winter where I am and the wind can knock you off those too expensive stiletto heels that you saw Jennifer Aniston wearing and just had to have. It was crazy to buy them, standing flat footed you are already almost five feet eight inches tall, but everyone keeps whispering about how beautiful tall women are, so you pretend you don’t notice the way you tower over everyone like a professional basketball player in Chinatown. The heels make your legs look longer, anyhow.

It’s frightfully cold out, and while everyone is decorating Christmas trees and making plans to be with family, you are stuck inside a poorly insulated studio apartment staring at a wall of post-it notes. The ability to remain so organized is enviable, but after re-reading the same chapter five times in a row, it becomes more difficult to believe that any of what you have written so far could be considered “good.” Yet, you remind yourself that if Stephanie Meyer could churn out the crap that was the Twilight Saga and people praised her, it stands to reason you could do something decent. Then again, Stephanie Meyer has a degree in English, and you work at a bookstore for a wink above minimum wage.

It cannot be easy, one would venture to guess, to watch your close friends fall in love and get married without thinking you could do it better. So it stands to reason that no matter how much you like those friends, somewhere inside, you like yourself more. Maybe that’s why it feels like you are always drawing the short straw. Maybe your straw isn’t really the short one at all; it’s just not as pretty or smart as the straws you really wanted. Maybe you drew a bendy straw and you have to straighten it out and stretch the crinkled part out a bit to feel like a winner. Maybe this game of drawing straws takes effort. Then again, you are the one that decided to be an artist. It could be you cut your own straw before the game even started.

Its winter where I am and you have no idea what you’re doing. There is no plan; you cannot even decipher which angle to play. You are wide-eyed, confused with not a single definite thought in that pretty little head. You drink coffee in the morning, you carry a laptop with you everywhere. You eat dinner at night, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. You drink too much wine sometimes and say things that are very true. You talk about how none of you know what to do next. Yet somehow, when it’s a “we”, and it’s not “you” and it’s not “them,” it feels okay to not have a clue. Being unmarried doesn’t mean being alone. Being single doesn’t have to be lonely.

It’s frightfully cold out, and the temperature is dropping. Your worries and concerns will never keep you warm. The next move is to simply keep moving. And maybe spend your money on scarves, not stilettos.