Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Another Valentine's Day Post

This is a post about why Valentine's Day sucks, but stay with me because it's not for any of the lame-ass reasons you've probably heard people bitching about today.

I didn't expect to think anything of being single on Valentine's Day, or to comment that it was Valentine's Day at all. My Facebook friends who have mentioned VD today either gush about how much they ♥ their lovers, or make a big show of grumbling about how stupidly commercial the holiday is. (Predictably, most of the latter are single.) Others insist they don't need the holiday and make sure we know what wonderful spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends/fuck buddies they are, by declaring they love equally each day, all year long (translation: "I'm cheap").

My stance on VD, ever since I got into my first long-term relationship, has been a resounding, "meh." Whether single or attached, I never felt strongly either way about the holiday. I certainly never (or, at least, not since middle school, when I thought that having a boyfriend was THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER) felt like the holiday was invented to torture single people or increase sales - although I think those have been side-effects of VD's exposure to our culture. That doesn't mean I didn't go out for a nice dinner with whomever I was dating and appreciate any flowers or gifts (especially chocolates) I received - it simply means that I don't spend each February 14th alternately ecstatic or suicidal, depending on my relationship status.

Truth be told, I forgot VD was coming up until late yesterday, and barely thought about it until later in the day. I was scheduled to do mail in the morning and cover a reception desk the second half of the day, and my biggest concern was dealing with all the flower deliveries that would be coming through (there is a strict rule at this place that says we cannot accept deliveries without getting the recipient to accept them over the phone). The morning came and went, and I relieved the receptionist after lunch. Before long, a harried delivery driver brought three lovely bouquets into the lobby, and I called all the employees to let them know they had arrived. In the stretch of time between my call and the moment the ladies came to retrieve the flowers, several employees stopped to comment on the arrangements, and then ask if any were for me. I said no, and then some asked follow-up questions: "Do you have a Valentine?" or "What did your Valentine get you?"

I was not prepared for either question; I didn't even think people asked things like that. I'm not at these places every day, so most people have no idea about my relationship status. Even for those who knew I had a boyfriend, few were aware that we are no longer together. It's been less than three weeks since the relationship ended, and I've only been going out of my way to bring it up with people I'm close to; the rest will find out if and when the topic comes up. I'm not inclined to discuss details, and that's not the point of this post. For the purpose of clarity, though, suffice it to say that he and I were together for two years, and are not anymore as of late last month. In summary, it was a significant relationship that ended very recently. I find myself in that odd stage where I am, for all intents and purposes, single, but don't quite feel it yet. I don't say the word "ex" yet. We are on good terms, so I am not wrapped up in angry, high-strung, post-breakup drama. I'm just here, quietly reshaping my life.

So when people asked me about my Valentine's situation, I had to awkwardly answer that I didn't have "anything special" going on. I wasn't ashamed, but caught completely off guard. I realized too, astonishingly, that I have not been single on VD since 2007. Part of the reason such questions never felt like a big deal is because, when people asked me if I was doing anything "special," I had a real answer. The strangeness (and, in my opinion, prying nature) of such questions did not strike me back then. Today, they felt invasive.

Still, the people who didn't know me could ask me that question and then leave it alone when I said I was single. Those who did know my circumstances before, however, asked in innocence what I was doing with my boyfriend tonight, and I had to tell them the truth. Even this wasn't that big of a deal - I just stated that we were no longer together, and offered no further details. There was one slightly complicating factor, though, an unfortunate result of that particular receptionist choosing to take today off and require my coverage: I ended up in a position where I had to tell a guy, who already asked me out a year ago, that I was now single.

I have since removed the post where I talked about this, but last year I was covering this very position, and one of the cafeteria workers asked me if I would "like to go out to dinner sometime." I acted appropriately awkward (believe me, I am not a head-turner, and this dude flirts with everyone), and told him that I had a boyfriend. Of course, that was the end of that, but if I'm being truthful, I would not go out with this guy no matter what my situation. He is either twice my age, or looks it because frequent smoking has aged him so much, and I'm simply not attracted to him. I resolved to delay letting him know I was single for as long as possible, especially once I found out recently from the housekeeper that I had a "secret admirer" (gee, I wonder who - men are just lined up at my door over here) at the site.

My dumb ass, however, did not realize the significance of the fact that I would be going to this site on Valentine's Day, heretofore known as "It's Totally Okay to Inquire About Someone's Relationship Status For Any Reason" Day. So when Joey* approached the desk and asked me the question I'd already been asked about five times, I told him the truth, knowing that I couldn't get away with saying otherwise in that gossip-infested building. He offered his condolences, and returned to the cafeteria. Not five minutes later, Joey returned to the desk with one of the cafe's decorated, heart-shaped cookies and a page from a sticky pad with his phone number on it.

"Text me," Joey said. "I'd really like to take you out to dinner sometime."

I thanked him, but did not show signs of taking him up on his offer, and he left again. The next time he passed me, he mentioned that he knows a lot of good Greek places, Mexican places, etc. and informed me that he would be spending his VD weekend in Atlantic City with guy friends. He apparently told the mail girl this morning, however, that he was going with a woman (after also asking her if she had a Valentine and, when she said no, declaring that would have to be changed - though he didn't specify by whom). I didn't exactly need another reason not to want to go out with the guy (I'm pretty sure that just having gotten out of a 2-year relationship and not being into him are reasons enough), but such conflicting stories would have troubled me under any circumstances.

What happened next made it worse. When the mail girl came out, I waved her over to show her the cookie and phone number, since we'd been previously been discussing the VD situation. But instead of just holding up the items, I slapped them onto the counter to display. She kind of laughed and walked away with them toward the mail room, which I thought was totally normal until I remembered I had only come to do reception for the second half of the day, and would not be going back to the mail room. (This is what sucks about having a terrible short-term memory and switching positions constantly - it takes me a second to even remember where I am, why I'm there, or what job I'm doing half the time.) So, now I don't know if she thinks the number and the cookie were meant for her instead, or if she thought I was just giving them to her because I didn't want them, or why in the hell she walked away with them. Thankfully, I'm going to a different site tomorrow, but nonetheless have a really awkward situation on my hands if some big misunderstanding blows up because of this.

Moral of the story: Valentine's Day sucks because, unless you're in a relationship (or just not me), you have to make a total douche of yourself at your job. And you don't even get to eat the cookie.

*Named changed, of course - I will continue to withhold names on this blog, just not my own

Saturday, February 11, 2012

It's time for my blog to come out of the closet.

I have been posting on this blog for almost two years, and have spent most of that time hiding - hiding my identity, my life, my face, everything. Really, I have spent most of my life as a writer in hiding, ever since I took my first stab at a short story at six or seven years old and decided after writing that it was too embarrassing to share with anyone. For all the millions of words I must have written by now, so few have seen the light of day. My thesis for this post: I am going to tell you why this is, and explain how it's going to change.

I recently read an article in Poets and Writers magazine, in which the author talks about the need for writers to always identify themselves as such, no matter what their day job. She writes about the negative connotations that are sometimes evoked by declaring oneself a "writer," especially if one has a dearth of accolades and  published works to back up such an assertion. I considered all the times people ask me what I "do." I reply with a sardonic chuckle that I'm a corporate peon. I almost never tell anyone I'm a writer. Why not? Why not own my dream? Why not name something I am proud of?

Here's why: because I'm scared shitless. I'm scared of admitting that I want to be a writer, but having nothing to show for it. I'm scared of coming off as an artist flake who doesn't have a grasp on reality. I'm scared that people I know will read my posts and think me frivolous and self-absorbed (what writer isn't the latter, at least a little bit?). I'm scared that I'll say I want to be a published writer and fail at it. I contemplated all of this as I finished reading the P&W article and thought, Okay, I'm scared. So what?

Something clicked in my head, and I added the two following paragraphs to my personal statements for graduate school:
My stories, and the characters in them, often hid in the shadows while I pirouetted through dance recitals and blazed away on my violin at concerts. I acted in plays and painted; I joined the cheerleading squad; I went to arts camp. I found every possible way to make noise and perform and tell stories – except through my writing. By the time I finished high school, I had filled dozens of notebooks with prose. I loved writing and said I wanted to be a writer, but any time anyone tried to read one of my stories, I snatched the notebooks away. 
Performing felt safe because I did not have to give too much away; I could hide behind a cheesy smile and controlled movements. Writing, conversely, exposed my interior. Years later, in fiction workshop, Lee K. Abbott would tell us that writers write “about their obsessions.” As an adolescent, and even as a college student, I hesitated before sharing my obsessions – body image, sexuality, womanhood, and family, among others – with the world.
It was probably the most honest thing I put on any of those loathsome personal statements.

In May 2010, I started Prose Therapy at the suggestion of my sister, and thought it would be an effective way to ensure that I was writing on a regular basis.

Before long, I was writing about work. I was miserable at my job and needed a place to vent, so I vented here. I worked for a corporate cafe chain at the time, however, and thus could not risk revealing either my employer's or my identity. I tried to turn this into one of those scathing, snarky, hilarious service-industry blogs à la Bitchy Waiter. Instead, I further entrenched myself in my own bitterness and resentment, and stopped doing and writing about things I cared about. How quickly I abandoned my true self and interests in order to further immerse myself in a job I so despised!

I don't want to write things I can't put my name on anymore; the hiding and hesitating need to stop. I took the first step toward calling myself a "real" writer in September, when I began applying for MFA programs. The next step is to just write - write publicly and privately, write early and often, write until my fingers go numb. I already have a blog and a modest following; it's time to make it into something I actually want to put my name and face on. No longer will I lower my own standards because I think, oh well, pretty much no one reads the thing and my name's not on it anyway.

That's not to say there won't be silly, meaningless posts from time to time. I must not strive to be high-minded all the time, otherwise I will get bored and forget the point of all this. For this reason I intend to keep posts like this and this, as well as my Shit That's Really Starting to Get on My Nerves series. Nobody likes a a writer who takes herself too seriously. However, those of you who have been reading all along might notice a difference; I removed almost all the posts in which I bitched about jobs, past and present, and saved copies on a Word file. The result, I hope, is a leaner, more balanced, and more positive overall feel. It's not that I wish to erase that period of my life from memory or to deny anything I said. I just don't need those posts anymore; there is much more to me and my writing than my 8-5, M-F life.

In order to usher in the new era, allow me to truly introduce myself, as I really am, and not as an alias:

My name is Kelly. I am a writer. I prefer fiction, but I also write creative nonfiction and the occasional poem. I have played the violin for fifteen years, too.

I also like to travel.

I was a strange child. Sometimes my family members still call me "Kelly the Exhibitionist."

I went to Ohio State, and graduated with a double major in Music and English in 2009.

I am known to act a fool on occasion.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Dude, Looks Like A Lady

Enjoy the re-post while I work on my blog's makeover.

It has been with increasing frequency that I have encountered men at work who refrain from using certain language or recounting certain stories for the sole reason that a female is present.

It usually goes like this: I am training at a new site and find myself among a group of men from a male-dominated department, such as maintenance. They begin to joke around about something, and sooner or later the conversation takes an inappropriate (read: sexual) turn. Then, upon remembering I am in the room, one will comment,

"I'd tell you the rest, but there's a lady present."

I never know whether or not to feel offended by this. I like the idea that they want to respect women. I don't like the idea that, in order to do so, they feel the need to censor themselves. I have the impulse to cry out that I'm an adult just like them, not a delicate flower whose virgin ears need protection. That it's not right to assume that, just because I'm a woman, I need to be shielded from dangerous assaults on my innocence.

But before I fly off on some feminist diatribe I need to remember that the reason this happens is not just because of men, but also because of women. Women are still taught to be squeamish about *certain* topics and words, and many will state explicitly that they are uncomfortable with some conversations just because they're women. This bugs me, because the only other group of people I can think of around whom adults modify their language for their protection is children.

When I was young and curious about things, I couldn't stand it when adults would stop short of revealing something juicy, only to glance at each other and agree to hold off until I was no longer in the room. Why, I wondered, did everyone assume that I could not, or would not, endure and understand the truth? I couldn't wait to grow old enough to know things. But now I often find that I am still not privy to certain anecdotes and language for the sole reason that I have a vagina. And it's not the fault of the employees who won't "go there" in front of me--it's the fault of sheltered, uptight bitches who cry to HR every time someone says the word "fuck" in their presence.

I'm tired of this shit. Yes, we're all going to modify ourselves a bit in front of people we don't know as well and loosen up more around those we work with, but let's try to keep the standard the same for everyone--either keep it super professional around both men and women, or be adults and deal with the language and anecdotes of the real world.

I would much rather have my insight and perspective valued than have the door held for me but be kept in the dark. Antiquated manners and notions of deference be damned--I want to be truly respected, not placated. To be listened to, not patted on the head.

So if you have a dirty story to tell, by all means, tell the whole thing without holding back. If I'm offended, it's because it's offensive. Not because I am a woman.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The End and the Beginning, All at Once

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm done. I'm done writing essays about how great I am, bugging recommendation writers, printing/copying/fretting about my sample, paying application fees, ordering transcripts and test scores, running to the post office, and stealing every possible extra moment of downtime at work to fill out forms and send e-mails. On Friday, I submitted the last of my application fees, and colored the last boxes on my spreadsheet to indicate 'completed' (yes, I have a spreadsheet that I maniacally color-coded for every possible thing).

Just for fun, I'll include some stats:

Number of schools applied: 15
Months spent researching and applying: 5
Number of schools that received official GRE scores: 11
Number of schools that received official transcripts: 11
Total cost: $1,385.14 (includes application fees, postage, printing, GRE fees, and transcript orders)
Average cost per school to apply: $75.71
How long I have to wait to hear back: Forrrreevvvvaaaahhhhhhh

So, I'm done. I think. After fifteen applications, all of which had completely different requirements for submission, I probably forgot something. Some schools wanted everything online (application, portfolio, letters of recommendation, transcripts, test scores, etc.), while others wanted all hard copies (and in certain cases, multiple hard copies) via snail mail. Others still asked for a combination of the two. Sometimes the different web sites for the school's Graduate School, English Department, and Creative Writing Program would contradict each other, and I would have to make my best guess or send an e-mail to the graduate office. With all that madness, there will almost certainly be items that come up "missing." I've heard the horror stories about admissions offices losing documents multiple times, or claiming that the applicant didn't send something at all. Hopefully, if they need extra copies of anything, it won't be anything that will cost money or require me to bother my recommendation writers again.

There is still plenty of work to be done. I have to follow up on anything that's missing, submit my FAFSA, and apply for scholarships. I have to get a list together of everything I haven't read and should before I go to school. I have to write, write, write every day in order to make myself worthy of this. And then I have to wait for about two months.

Ay, caramba. Two months.

My friend, who applied to law schools last year, says this is the worst part. I didn't realize how right she was until I finally finished everything. When you're caught up in the fever of the application process, you feel harried, but at least have some sense of control. If you're not happy with a submission, you have time to fix it. If you are worried about how you come off in a personal statement, you have time to change it. But once you drop everything in the mail and hit the 'submit' button on all the applications, you just have to trust that everything will pass through the right hands and be read by the right people (and hopefully with minimal laughter).

UPDATE: Less than two hours after posting this, I received my first rejection e-mail. Oddly enough, I feel more glad that I'm hearing something than I am sad that they rejected me. I wasn't surprised anyway - Washington University only accepts twelve (twelve!) students.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog Day

Can anyone tell my what the fucking fuckity fuck is wrong with our society/country/civilization?

No, seriously. Something, somewhere, at some time, went wrong, when none of us was paying attention.

I was reminded today when I flipped to my city's Top 40 Clear Channel station during my drive home, waiting impatiently for the DJ to shut the hell up and play the song. I just wanted to see if, for once, the station decided to play something BESIDES Katy Perry or Ke$ha, so I could enjoy the drive home in spite of having finished my audio book and broken my mp3 player. The DJ, of course, remarked on the weather, and because it is February 2nd, cracked the 18th joke I'd heard by then about how this mild weather will be ruined because of that stupid groundhog, HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAAHAHAHA, laughing loudly at himself.

"HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAAHAHAHA," I shouted (yes, shouted) at the radio, following up with, "Jesus CHRIST!" as I flipped to another preset and reflected with irritation on the barrage of banality in the media. I flipped to the classical station, even though I wasn't in the mood for classical at that moment. 

The host of Performance Today was talking about a contemporary piece, Azul, which was recently broadcast on the show. The cello concerto, composed in 2006 by Osvaldo Golijov, had mixed reactions. Some thought it was brilliant, and others, not so much. Callers from Nowheresville, Minnesota and BFE, New Mexico called to complain about the supposedly "cacophonous mess" that was this piece, and how they couldn't believe the great Yo-Yo Ma would deign to play it. 

All throughout the segment, Azul played in the background, and it sounded interesting and lovely. Maybe it isn't the piece for everyone (and people are certainly entitled to their opinions), but it was, in my estimation, both listenable and original. Golijov is, after all, a Jew who grew up in Argentina, and as such represents a neat mix of cultures. He visited my school a few years ago, and he was interesting and unpretentious. What struck me about the callers on the show, other than their startlingly hateful reactions against the music, was their inability to articulate what it was about the piece that was so bad. The only specific word anyone came up with was "percussive."

Really? Percussive? Is that the best we, the supposedly enlightened listeners of classical music (sorry to be a little elitist there), can do? Plenty of good music is percussive. But Azul's percussiveness is not the issue - the real problem is the utter lack of imagination in our society. If these people had their way, Performance Today would rotate the same recordings of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's best loved symphonies, and Canon in Fucking D over and over until our cultured ears bled. 

After moving on to a little François Couperin, who evidently found all the squabbling in his day about whether the delicate French or ornate Italians made better music (even this type of shit still goes on), I flicked through the other stations again. I only became more depressed. The radio hasn't changed: it's the same obnoxious DJs, same dumb commercials, same clichèd lyrics, same boring chord progressions. We keep pretending we're getting something NEW! every time some trite Top 40 hit thuds or croons in our ears; it's all the same. 

You know what I saw today on the TV in the lunch room, for the first time in at least a year? A soap opera. You don't see a lot of those anymore, because more women work now and only old ladies seem to really like them these days. I used to think of this as a hopeful sign; finally, I thought, women have stopped letting such excrement insult their intelligence. But then I realized that that just wasn't true. We've exchanged daytime vicarious bed-hopping in between laundry loads for DVRed Grey's Anatomy and The Bachelor(ette) (read: nighttime vicarious bed-hopping) after work, acting like we are a new and improved generation. We're listening to the same music, vegging out in front of the same trashy show, spending our money on the same lame movie because we heard that an actor whose name we know is in it. 

Why do we do this? Why do we sit through the same mindless plots and talk about the same shit and laugh at the same stupid, unfunny jokes? Why are we so blind and dead inside? 

I'm still trying to figure all this out, but the answer is becoming a little clearer. George Carlin called it the "illusion of choice," wherein we are given a choice of twenty flavors of bagels in order to distract ourselves from the reality that we are continually getting fucked over by the same people, again and again, who live for nothing other than getting more for themselves. Stay with me - I'm not going on a nut job rant about some shadowy conspiracy of world domination. To paraphrase Carlin again, he said that you don't need a dark room and a clear, elaborate plan to have a situation where a small group of people work to protect their own interests. It just happens - and we're too busy popping meds and laughing at fart jokes to wake the fuck up.

I'm re-reading Brave New World, which I read for the first time in 2003, as a sophomore in high school. At that time I kind of vaguely observed how our society seemed to be going in the direction of the society in the book, but at that time I was only just beginning to think for myself and form ideas about the world. In the nine years since I first read, however, it appears that we've only come closer to the reality of the book.

Brave New World is about a society in which "mother" and "father" are dirty words, because babies are made in test tubes and raised in a society where "everybody belongs to everybody." The highest possible virtue is to be an obedient worker within your caste (for which you have been genetically engineered and conditioned): alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and epsilon. Knowledge for its own sake is forbidden, literature is gone, original thought is discouraged - and in order to keep you from contemplating this and how fucked up it is, you are kept in line through group ceremonies, promiscuous sex, and drugs. It is the most extreme example of the social contract explained by Enlightenment-era philosophers; that is, you give up every personal liberty in exchange for being comfortable and disease-free. 

Sure, we still have families and (supposedly) value individuality; we don't have different castes, and we (sort of, half-assedly) try to provide the same quality education for everyone. But don't you think some of the above-mentioned is starting to sound a little familiar? Does anyone really believe that the educated elite want the rest of us to get the same quality education they and their children receive? Has anyone found convincing evidence of class mobility? Do any of you (especially those of you in low-paying, corporate/customer service jobs) feel like your individuality is valued and respected by your betters? 

How about some more leading questions: In this supposed meritocracy of ours, why do our chances of being the next president or big movie director or corporate CEO increase by about a zillion times when we just happen to be related to someone who has also been one of those? Why do the same loaded, well-connected, (mostly) white, (mostly) Christian, (mostly) men get elected into public office every two/four/six years? (And for those in the "mostly" category, why can they only get elected as long as they act white, Christian, and male?) And why are we so stupid that we continue to quibble about which one will do the most for people like us, as if one is any different from the next?

Because we're kept in line. We're kept in line at our always-changing-but-always-the-same, low-paying, shitty jobs, by bosses who promise that if we just work a little harder and a little longer and wait just a while more for raises, we'll "grow" and "develop." And if we work hard enough and go high enough, we might be able to shatter the glass ceiling and climb up on the pedestal they will then display for the lemmings underneath, so that the lemmings will work harder and believe that they might also be the exception to the rule. We're kept in line by the constant barrage of cool, shiny shit on commercials and billboards, seduced by the promise of happiness if we work just a little harder to afford the cool, shiny shit. (And we are happy once we buy that new TV, but only until a better model comes out.) We're kept in line by caffeine, junk food, tobacco, drugs, alcohol, porn, reality TV: empty, addictive pleasures meant to distract us from reality and make more money for others. And no matter where we are in life, we are always being told we must be contemptuous of everyone who is better off, or worse off, than we are, so that we willfully remain in the exact same place.

I'm not the first one to think of these things. Countless observers have made the same observations in their own time and place, and most of them more coherently than I. So why haven't we been able to do anything about it yet? Are the owners just too powerful, the public too ignorant? How can we stop Aldous Huxley's Brave New World from becoming our reality?

I don't have the answer, and likely never will. But I have one small seedling of a possible solution: turn off the TV for a while. Listen to Azul or an obscure artist instead of LMFAO. Ask your doctor for an alternative to the prescription that will inevitably be pushed on you when you have your next problem. Tell the "you must vote because it's your civic duty" automatons to fuck off and come back when they can produce a candidate that has NOT lived a life of privilege and greed (save me your "you should vote for my guy because he's done this and this and this" bullshit - I ain't buying it). Quit listening to your managers when they treat you like the best thing you can be in life is a "Senior [Bullshit Title]" in their company. Trust your tastes, your instincts, and what few choices you still have. Choose something else, anything else. Just choose.