Thursday, April 27, 2017

Reading List

Barack, Malia, & Sasha shopping for books at Politics & Prose

Browsing nonfiction titles has made me realize that, although I pride myself on having a wide variety of interests, there are a lot of books I have no interest in reading.

Books I don't want to read:

-Memoirs by Steve Harvey and/or Andre Agassi

-Books written by current politicians with someone else whose name is smaller on the cover

-Any nutrition book whose premise is that some normal food group actually inflames your intestines/turns you into a zombie/makes you die

-Any self-help book with a loopy cursive script on the cover

-Any business book that has the words "unlock," "secrets," or "productivity" on the cover

-Books about the Civil War with beige covers

-Any memoir where a person did _________ for one year and then wrote a memoir about it

-Any book about World War II

Books I do want to read:

-A book that uses country music as a lens to examine the values of the American South

-A book that catalogs all known types of human humor

-A book that traces the influence of groundbreaking sitcoms on other sitcoms that followed

-A book about all the ways that internet has changed language

-A book about the cultural influence of pellagra

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

For him this would have been terrible.

Written several months ago:

I just ran into a boy I used to care for. It seemed like we were about to commit to one another, but we weren't, and our relationship faded away seamlessly.

Seamless, except for the occasionally stark pain that hits the pit of my stomach when I think about, that makes the routes that I regularly walk feel like they're haunted by his ghost, the lingering feeling of rejection.

We'd seen each other the day before and hadn't said anything. I'd seen him from afar, I mean, but looked away embarrassed, not sure whether it was him or not. He must have seen me too, but I don't know how he reacted, since I was pointedly not looking at him.

The next day, we couldn't avoid each other. We walked right past each other. We stopped and greeted each other amiably. He made a comment, I rambled about it. I asked him a question, he answered it painfully. We quickly said goodbye.

This painting is called "Conversation of Clowns" 
so it seemed to embody the spirit of that conversation. Hahaha

It felt awful. I spent the next several minutes thinking about it, contrasting it with the last time we had run into each other--how he seemed so much less interested in asking about me this time, how we didn't feel like people who had ever been special to each other. He must hate me now, I thought. That's why he never talks to me anymore, even when he could. It was horrible, imagining how poorly he must think of me now.

I went back to what I was doing, but kept thinking about it. It was a day when bearing the burdens of others was on my mind, and I remembered without trying this story from Man's Search for Meaning that had saved me in a similar situation years before:

Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now, how can I help him? What should I tell him? Well, I refrained from telling him anything but instead confronted him with the question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?” 

“Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering — to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office.

Breaking up is not the same as dying, by any means. But in this case, it could be considered even more complex, because death leaves only one of the two on earth to mourn; breaking up leaves two.

Yet this little story has helped me more than anything to be compassionate.

What would have happened, Rachel, if you had decided to end it, instead of him?

Oh, I reply in my mind. For him this would have been terrible; how he would have suffered!

And then I realize that the price of sparing him that suffering is that I must bear it. Which I will gladly do, because the love in my heart is still there, and this allows it to be put to good use.

And then, when I begin to consider his suffering and not just my own, it is like discovering the world in 3 dimensions instead of just 2. And I realize that here is an entire human being with stimuli and reasons and pressures for doing things, with expectations for himself, and with hopes dashed, and with dreams and responsibilities. Who has had a life experience with me that has affected him, just as it has affected me.

Then when I think of our tiny, strained interaction, I think about how we all just do what we can. How most of his thoughts have nothing to do with me, just as most of mine have nothing to do with him. And how it was nice to be close to him for a little while.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Trends I Hate

1. Really big ruffles built into structured shirts.

Who does this look good on? Plus, you know after washing this once, the ruffles are never going to lay right again. That would make you look like an idiot, if you didn't already look like one.

2. Off-the-shoulder shirts.

How do you lift your arms up? Also, not sure how cutting yourself horizontally across the widest part of your body is a good look.

3. Ruffle bell sleeves.

Just think of yourself trying to get something on a high shelf, only to have your bell sleeves fall back over your elbows. Then, when you put your arms down, you have to shake your arms to make your ruffle bell sleeves lie flat. I shudder at the thought.

4. Shoulder cut outs.


Aaaaaaand a bonus.

"Yeah, here's the thing, I want to feel breezy around my shoulder/chest area, but I really want, like, a lot of billowing fabric around my arms, like, right in the area where it would get in the way of me trying to complete daily tasks."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ben Wyatt and the Tragedy of the Commons

There was probably a moment early on, right as the internet was getting big, when individuals all over the world logged out of a chat room and spontaneously started crying, or said a prayer of thanks to God, or petted their cat extra contemplatively. Finally, there was a way to connect with people with the same interests as them--people who understood them. 

That moment was meaningful. We all want to connect. BrenĂ© Brown says it's a human need. This is the kind of connection that makes you feel good. Like when you're reading Harry Potter and you want someone who also absolutely loves it to sit down and talk with you about where Blaise Zabini was all the years before their sixth year. 

But there's a kind of connection that doesn't make you feel good. I call it "the tragedy of the commons." That's actually already a term for something else--when ownership of something is shared between a lot of people, everyone is incentivized to not really take care of it. They act according to their personal interest, which is at odds with the common interest. They end up depleting the resource.

What I'm talking about though, is Ben Wyatt. Ben Wyatt is one of the greatest things to happen to America in this century. Ben Wyatt, human disaster. His plaid shirts and claymation and calzones and fear of cops. I love him deeply.

But this is the tragedy of the commons: Ben Wyatt is common. I'm not the only one to think he's one of the greatest things to happen to America in this century. There are thousands of girls on the internet who feel that way. And so it feels like the corner of my heart in which I love Ben Wyatt is being crowded out by other girls who are all versions of me. There are so many of us, and I just want to tell them that this is my heart, so get out.

This type of connection doesn't make me feel good. It sometimes just feels like a tragedy to be common.