Sunday, September 27, 2015

Really a real person.

I met this girl once, a while ago. She made me feel like I was in middle school again. She was the loud, confident girl and I was the small, quiet girl. She created a one-way conversation in which she reigned supreme. She asked me questions that put me on the spot, and when I squirmed or hesitated, she spoke loudly, drawing others into her web to listen to her speak for herself and for me.

It was an interesting experience, because I was aware in the moment of what was happening. I told myself, "You're not twelve anymore. You can wrestle your turn back." So I made my own bold assertions, pulled out my own wit, met her on her level, and planted my feet respectably in the conversation.

It was just one evening that I really met her, but I felt a lingering bitterness toward her, for what she'd done to me, for how she made me feel. She had a stoner's face. She was full of hot air. Wherever there was a realness to her, it was buried so deep  that I wasn't sure she remembered how to find it.

For a year, I shriveled when I saw her at social events. We joked about her mercilessly. I had a scale: at one end was this girl, at the far end was your typical decent human being.

But then I found a corner of the internet that belonged to her. It surprised me in every way. It was thoughtful, original, and real. There was pain, there was exultation, there was quiet resolve. I consumed it tirelessly.

The triumph of the discovery was that of finding a real person, not a caricature or a character. I could see her heart--I could almost touch it. If I could, I would have hugged it.

To this girl: I am sorry. It's so amazing that everyone is really a real person when you actually look.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Consuming each other.

This weekend, for whatever reason, I downloaded Tinder again. Because, as I've said before, it's just fun--to look at the people out there and how they portray themselves, to imagine whether you would like them if you met.

But then, I started to feel myself turning to Tinder to distract myself from pain and disappointment--an escape into others' lives.

Within a few hours, I had a lunch date set for the next day. A Tinder date. A thing that I never thought would happen to me. I couldn't sleep that night. When we met up, my hands were shaking.  

But it was fine. I got a little worried that we wouldn't last an hour when he said he mostly talked about tv. But he was interested in things and he made some funny jokes. I expressed my array of strong and sometimes strange opinions that come up during date talk: I think action movies are boring. I like movies where people talk to each other. Not big on tv either. I don't like meeting new people. But he was fine with it all. It was fine. Truly.

After a sparse afternoon and evening's worth of witty text banter, I couldn't anymore. He was a stranger, and I didn't want to spend my emotional energy coming up with quips and wondering whether his jokes were meant sincerely or not. There was no raison d'ĂȘtre there with us. And so I said, Sorry, this isn't for me. You're nice. Bye.

Okay, now listen. I know this isn't a big deal. I know I didn't break anyone's heart. But I've been uneasy about it for two days now.

I'm just disturbed by how we consume one another. We see so many people in a day that we'll never talk to, and so they never have the chance to become fully human to us. They don't impact us. We just look at them. We just consume them.

Endless swiping on Tinder is endless consumption--reducing a person to 5 pictures and 2 sentences and ingesting them. And then, if you make the horrible error of going on a date with one of those people, it's just a slightly more sophisticated level of consumption. We traded facts about ourselves; we traded our date talk soundbites. 

But without an infrastructure underneath, a framework for a relationship, an unspoken promise that we will continue to care about one another after this conversation, all we did was allow ourselves to be consumed. It's even worse in a dating context than when you normally meet strangers, because it rests on each person's individual admission, I'm physically or otherwise attracted to you. Maybe I would date you someday. Maybe I would kiss you someday. And to admit that but then only consume that person is an uneasy hypocrisy.

I can't help but think about this guy. It's easy to never think about him again, but this isn't a tv show, where side characters get hired just for an episode or two and then disappear. He's living his own life somewhere, and the soundbites he gave me are woven into an unbelievably complex and rich person that I will never comprehend. Because when you meet someone new, you have to create a space to care about them; otherwise, you're just consuming them.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Not Forgetting.

I was ten years old on September 11, 2001. After a confusing morning of students being pulled out of school one by one by their parents, we went home early. The bus driver told us that a plane had crashed into a building, and I felt my little child heart relieved. See it's just a misunderstanding, I remember thinking. That's nothing to be worried about.

Sometime later in the day, of course, I realized I was wrong. I remember my mom encouraging me to go on a walk around the neighborhood with my friend Sarah. It was safe, after all, since all flights had been stopped. I remember looking up at the sky, thinking that if I saw a plane up there, that would be bad, bad news.

I remember the long wait for my dad to come home from work, and my incredulity that he hadn't left early. We ate a tense dinner. In my memory, we're all sitting up straighter than normal.

What a day. The events of a morning wrapped millions of people in a shared sense of fear. The pit of every stomach was filled with that awful knowledge that something horrible had happened that we were powerless to fix. A living hell.

I hate September 11 every year now. I hate the empty rhetoric of "Never Forget." I was ten then, but I'm twenty-four now. No one old enough to remember that hell will forget it. It's just a fact.

So what is it that we aren't forgetting? No one says exactly. I think they mean that we're not supposed to forget that people lost their lives. We're not supposed to forget the heroes. We're not supposed to forget how we banded together.

But what I hear is We won't forget what you did. We'll never forgive you. We won't forget that you spat on America--that America endured something it doesn't deserve. I hear vengeful message.

There are so many countries where people endure things they don't deserve every day. Right now there's a Syrian refugee crisis. And lots of countries are opening their arms to them and right now we're not one of them.

After September 11, several European countries held National Days of Mourning. Tens of thousands of people brought cards and funeral wreaths to the US Embassy in China. The president of South Africa halted all broadcasts for the rest of the day. A village in Kenya gave 14 cows to help out America.

I didn't know any of that until I read it on Wikipedia just now. All I know is how hurt we are, how we continue to insist that we're hurt year after year. I'm not saying we weren't hurt. That hell was real for all of us. I can't imagine how bad some people had it. All I know is that if the tables are turned, and it was another country that got what we got, we wouldn't have stopped the TV for it.

Isn't the point of "never forget" to keep history from repeating itself? I just don't think "never forgetting" is going to keep people from terrorizing us in the future unless we look around at all the people with open arms to support us and start acting like we know they're there.