Monday, February 16, 2009

ok, ok, perhaps i was too hasty

I just had one of those awkward moments that makes me think the African wasn't mentally ill after all (see previous post). I was walking the dog through the neighborhood and experienced anxiety because there was someone else walking down the sidewalk towards me.

You know how it is when you see someone coming from very far off -- you're too far off to acknowledge each other but you're too close to pretend you can't see each other. What do you do during those many awkward moments as you walk toward each other trying to figure out what to do?

What I did today was 1.) I hoped the dog would do something I could focus on to help me avoid any contact with the stranger coming down the sidewalk -- she didn't. 2.) I glanced at the woman walking towards me then looked away and pretended to be interested in the sound of children playing behind a fence across the street. Then 3.) When we were close enough to interact, I made a grimacy sort of smile and nodded stiffly. All the while I felt anxious.

Why??? Why so much anxiety?

I'd prefer to be more comfortable, to feel easier about just looking at strangers, smiling at them, saying hello. I don't know why there's so much anxiety in these little anonymous interactions. I don't feel quite as smug anymore as I did at the laundromat earlier. I feel bad for the African -- somebody should have warned you buddy. We Americans are *weird*

porcupine? well... yes

First I'd like to say that a quick audit of my last several posts reveals at least one reference to "dragging" myself to work every day via the bus in almost EVERY FUCKING POST! Sorry, why didn't somebody say something?

In other news, I had the kind of encounter at the laundromat today that probably should have given me pause... but didn't. I had loaded up three washers (one double loader and two quardruple loaders... I know) and had settled myself onto a cold bench next to the breezey double doors to read my Russian sci-fi novel and wait for the washers to finish.

After a few minutes I noticed this guy edging his way subtly into my giant arc of personal space. He was pacing in front of me, each pass bringing him closer. I gave him a once over: middle-aged, black, flannel top, knit hat, mediocre. I looked back at my book.

After a few more passes, I could tell he wanted to say something but I couldn't imagine what. I studiously ignored him. Maybe that's what he wanted.

He finally started talking to me without really addressing me. I looked up and saw him looking at me and talking about how, here in America, people are like porcupines, they send out prickly, poisonous energy, they imagine that everyone is their enemy. He went on and on about this. He said he was from Africa, he kept talking about porcupine-people and didn't stop talking, about how it's confusing when someone behaves like a porcupine because you know you haven't done anything wrong. I just watched him and made faces that were meant to indicate that I was listening and at least mildly sympathetic. He said you should be aware of this procupine energy because it can hurt people. Then he said "food for thought" and turned back to his laundry.


I looked back at my book with the growing feeling inside myself that I wanted to chuck a shoe at him. Listen buddy, you think you're the first person to say I'm like a porcupine? HA! I've heard that since I was 5!

Should I feel bad that some mentally ill African isn't getting his social needs met at an American laundromat? Come on, guy! You come from a collectivist culture into the most individualistic culture on the planet (at least that I, in my tiny-American mind, can imagine) and you expect to lecture people at the laundromat into being more friendly? Forget it.

I know I probably should've gotten softer-hearted after he dropped his wisdom on me, but I didn't. I felt some kind of pride-surge. Yes, I am a cold, porcupine American who doesn't smile and laugh with all the strangers at the laundromat. Sure, I talk to people there. When I need to. I politely ask if I can take the cart that stands near the guy folding clothes, I ask the lady on the bench if she minds if I sit next to her. I am a quiet, white woman living in a quiet, white city. I obey and enjoy (at least parts of) the social code I grew up with. What's so bad about that?

Lonely African man? I'm sorry I didn't brighten your day at the laundromat. You're in America now. You're gonna have to learn to meet your social needs in new and exciting ways. You just can't expect so much from strangers.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

the devolution of internet expression

In a word: Facebook.

Here's what life used to look like: I used to wake up around 8:30 or 9, make myself some coffee, and plop myself down at my desk with my feet up and the computer in my lap. First I'd check my sitemeter stats, then surf around some random, fluffy news sites, then I'd catch up with a few of my favorite blogs. And then, usually, I'd throw up a blog post of my own. Something would spark my interest in the fluffy news, or I'd wake up with some weird conundrum stewing in my mind. And I wrote about it. I didn't have to worry about dragging myself to work until the 3:00pm area. I truly lead a life of leisure.

Now here's what life looks like. I wake up around 7:30, drag myself to work by 9 most days (via the bus, which takes about 40 minutes one-way), I work until 5:30 or 6:30 depending on the day, I drag myself back home (via that same effin' bus) and get home around 7ish in the PM. At home I find my wife and my dog and any number of little chores that need attention. And it's winter right now, so it's dark. Maybe I do the dishes, throw some dinner together, drink a beer, drink another beer, drink maybe one or two more. Watch t.v. with the wife. Pass the iPhone back and forth with a game of scrabble on it's tiny little screen. Her mind is numb from work and school, my mind is numb from work and from missing the best part of my day, my morning.

Here's the internet part: I pick up her computer (b/c mine bascially doesn't work anymore) and check my email. Then I navigate directly to... Facebook. Because I can enjoy Facebook even in my mind-numbed state. Why? Because there are pictures! And very brief notes on my "wall." And cute little invitations to be a vampire or join the mafia or whatever. There are memes, just like in the blogosphere. But it's all so much easier. My status report is the most creative thing I write most days. Used to be ten page blog posts that possibly noone bothered to read entirely. Now it's generally one brief sentence, always with the same structure: "Dawn is..."

"Dawn is having a beer and playing scrabble with the wife."

"Dawn is wishing Barack would take off his shirt..."

"Dawn is thinking she caught that cold that's going around! OMG!"

I mean, jesus. This is what it's come to.

But I love my wife and I love my dog and I even love my job, most of the time. My only problem is the timing of everything. If I didn't have to work 40 hours a week, if I could go in to work at noon every day and still get off no later than 6? That would change everything.

But you guys are all probably tired of me whining about the same things over and over. If you were on Facebook you'd be able to get a much more palatable bite of me.