Sunday, July 22, 2012

Let's Be Cool, Guys, Let's Be Cool

[A fetching young woman, MARY, pulls out a soap box and climbs on]

Hey, everyone, let's be cool about relationships.

Let's be cool about dating. It's just a date. It's a 1-3 hour commitment. It's dinner, which you have to eat anyway, or it's a show, which you'd like to do anyway. It's a walk downtown and a $2 ice cream. It's not that much of a commitment. You could date every week, every day, and I'm not convinced it would be that much of an impact on your time or resources.

Let's be cool about going out. Sometimes people go on more than one date with a person. Sometimes they step out together. She's not wearing his letterman jacket, he's not putting her in his phone as his emergency contact. Their parents aren't mentioning the datee by name in prayers. It's okay.

Let's be cool about being in a relationship. It's not marriage. It's not eternity. It's just trying things out, taking things as they go, having a good time and anticipating more good times.

So this means that, ladies, we need  to let things be what they are instead of blowing them out of proportion. We need to enjoy the moment we're in, whether that's flirting at stake conference or engaged-with-a-ring. Gents, that means it's okay for you, too, to just enjoy where you are on the relationship. You can ask a girl out even if you don't know her that well. Arguably, that's how you get to know her. You can ask a girl out for fewer than 6 hours, you can spend less than $50, and you don't have to invent the most Creative, Crazy, Spiritual date ever. It's okay.

Mums and Dads, well, you already know what I'm going to say--don't push, either direction, let things be what they are. And that goes also for church leaders.

Friends, be friends. Be with the couple in whatever stage they're in, and let them interact with you in natural ways. Be honest with them as a couple and with your friend. Don't put too much pressure on the couple. On the other hand, examine your motivations if you want to encourage your friend to break it off. Sometimes people need an outside opinion when they're caught up in the moment, but be cool about this relationship: would you let your friend have a roommate like this? or a lab partner? or a friend? This is, in some ways, another relationship, and don't get blinded by the romance in not telling your friend if they're being jerked around. It's okay. On the other hand, don't get all possessive if someone asked out someone else besides you.  If they asked your friend out, that doesn't mean they're engaged. It doesn't even mean that you can't still be interested. Remember, what I said about it just being a date? It's cool.

Over all, my friends, this should be fun.

[She climbs down, leaves the mic on the soap box, and goes home.]

Friday, July 20, 2012

Arithmatic of humanity

Between this (we knew him, but didn't like him, even before) and this (made what should have been happy, tragic), a bunch of my friends keep thinking, "man, humanity is sad, sad, sad." I want to restore faith in humanity for them, but how?

Does it require big acts of kindness to counter-act big acts of violence and hate? Or is the quiet, well-lived life that keeps plodding along trying to to its best, enough? Today on the radio, the old-timey radio station was commercial- and pledge-free because of "a friend in North Austin" and a bunch of my friends are pitching in to buy diapers for low-income mothers.I want to do grand acts of kindness, but I don't know if I can, right now. Does that count in the balance?

Is faith in humanity a series of bank transactions, deposits and withdrawals, so that acts of cruelty and callousness must be counter-acted by well-meaning patsies who have to try to buoy up humanity well enough to keep Q (or almost any alien) from justifiably destroying us? I'm kind of thinking one Kiva loan isn't going to be enough to hold it off.

Maybe. In The Brothers Karamotzov, there's a story told about a mean lady whose only act of kindness is giving a beggar an onion and it's that onion that keeps her from being dragged off to hell. So how small of a good act can we do to restore humanity's faith in humanity? What good is good enough? What can be done? What will be done?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Let's Get Personal, Statements

In the summer, in the writing center, we see a lot of personal statements. Lots.

In this world on fill-in-the-blank and bubble sheets and searchable resumes, the personal statement becomes this one little nugget of, well, personality. You get to write for them, even if just a couple of pages, and you get to write about what's important to you. There are a lot of cynical views about the personal statement: it's just a way of keeping out the riff-raff who can't pay to have their writing vetted by a professional; it's just a way to increase the diversity of the school without out-right asking about race; it's just another hoop to make people jump through. All of those things are probably true, but, still, think about the core of it: Personal. Statement.

Chills, I tell you, chills. And the very same things that make me hate writing a personal statement are the same things that make me love reading them, and helping other people write them. Why are you the way you are? What experiences led to you wanting to pursuing the job, or the school, or the field that you're in? Who have been the more important influences in your life? These are heady questions. And, by the way, you need to write about them in a way that is charming, but professional, heartfelt, but not sloppy, confident, but not arrogant. It's a difficult, difficult thing to do, but what do you have, in the ideal? A statement about who you are, at core, and what matters to you. At their best, personal statements dig deep, getting at honest emotions and conflicted experiences. Once I helped a guy who, it was evident immediately, was only going to dental school because his mother wanted him to be  doctor and he didn't have the stomach for medicine. It was a fascinating read, but he was so resistant to explaining his motives, digging deep enough to see the truth. How different from a friend of mine whose personal statement I read where she openly confessed that she wanted to be a plastic surgeon, and didn't think that there was anything less noble about making people look beautiful than doing reconstructive face surgery. She didn't want to pretend that she was going into plastic surgery for burn victims--she wanted to recreate Kate Moss. It was so fresh and lively and true.

When was the last time you wrote a personal statement? Usually you're so stressed out about the whole application process and worrying about what your audience wants to hear (quite rightfully--these people have a clear set of expectations for the kind of people they see at their school/internship/job), so you don't really get a chance to sit down and think about this seriously.

Can a personal statement be a mission statement, writ large? Which experiences have been truly transformative? I would like to write a personal statement, see it as so useful, but I know it will hurt and requite a lot of revisioning and essentializing, so I'm scared to make the attempt again. I wrote a teaching statement this last spring for a contest (I didn't win, but I was a finalist), and it was that process again. Mulling. Doubting. Talking myself up and then tearing myself down again. It was lovely and terrible. I'd much rather have a good view on yours. I'll sit down next to you (I don't like to work by email), and it's possible that I will make you cry, but we'll go down that weird personal statement road together. It's a good road to walk down.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why I like Kayaking So Much

This summer I bought the "10 punches for the price of 8" punchcard at my local kayak dock. Why? Because I love being out on the water, especially along the shore, watching the cranes and herons startle up, the turtles sunning on the logs, the dragonflies skimming over the water. But also because I like the company. Each punch I've been getting out with someone that I've been meaning to talk to, someone who I see in passing at church and always intend to invite to chat about something, but rarely see, or someone that I only ever see in large groups. Kayaking, though, offers the perfect one-on-one time. Consider:

* It's an event. You can invite someone kayaking, but if you invite someone, say, on a walk, it seems like snoresville.

* It's semi-active. You're paddling around and can feel good about yourself for getting out and getting some fresh air and exercise.

* It's Austin-y. Some of the people I've been going out with have never been kayaking out here despite having lived in Austin for some time and they all say that they've always wanted to go. It's nice to be there with someone for their bucket list.

*It's quiet. It's not like chatting over a movie or even in the back corner of a party. For the 1 hour that the punch gets you there are no claims on your attention other than the person you're talking to and the splashes of swan wings and unbalanced paddleboarders.

*You're together...kind of. In two single kayaks, you can chat to each other without screaming, but you can also separate. If you like hugging the shore (as I often do) and they like riding the current, that's okay. You can talk, but you can also just... be. There's not pressure to gab constantly because you can be straining at the paddles or just admiring the light on the bridge.

* You're in a swimsuit, in the sun. Which is just plain pleasant.

I've gotten to know some acquaintances, and even some friends, quite well through just an hour on Town Lake. The summer's half over and my punch card is half full, but I'm looking forward to more kayak adventures. If you're interested, please feel free to call me up and I'll grab my swimsuit, my shades and my towel and we'll go. I'd be thrilled to.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

This is My Brain

Last week I saw an advertisment on the UT listserv asking for right-handed, native English speaking research subjects willing to get an MRI. Heck, yeah!

So I go down to this itty bitty shack at the East Pickle Research campus and wait (I'm there early) for the nice young grad students to let me in, administer a short survey and release form, and hand me a pair of scrubs to change into.

I keep trying not to fall asleep. Far from my days of high school claustrophobia, here I have a big cozy blanket on, a dark room, earplugs (the MRI is noisy) and essentially pjs on. One of the grad students is cute. I try to think about the cards that they flash above me and make my responses on a multiple-choice answer box taped to my thigh. I really want to impress the team looking at my brain in their cubicle outside the room so I try my very best, and I think I'm quite good at the memory games.

After 2 hours, they let me change back into my clothes and remind me to come again on Monday. Monday, I go through the process again, much faster, because it's a shorter test.

Then they pay me! I didn't know they would pay me. I think I saw somewhere something like $25 dollars, but they meant $25 an hour! So I made, so to speak, $150 lying on my back. I would have done it for free. Didn't I get a free MRI? (A $2000 savings!) Didn't I get to be part of Science? Didn't I get to flirt like a fiend with the intense-eyed researcher? What a sweet gig this was.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

10 Things I Have Always Liked and Anticipate Continuing to Always Like So Don't Even Try to Stop Me

1. ghost stories
2. red clothes
3. Paul Simon
4. Russian language & culture
5. ice cream
6. late-night, small-group talks on How to Save the World
7. service activities
8. writing my own creative work
9. mad schemes and plans that I probably won't implement, but like to think about
10. making lists

10 Things I Was Too Darn Stubborn to Appreciate Until I Got Talked into Trying Them and Consequently Enjoy (Or: Things I've Changed My Mind About)

1. small talk
2. Jane Austen books
3. the color pink
4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
5. Capt. Kirk
6. distance running
7. universal health care
8. shooting guns
9. "sweet" people
10....appropriately enough: flip-flops