Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Introvert at Sea

They say their names, and I smile. I shake hands. I forget to use all of those mnemonic devices that you're supposed to use when you meet new people, and I find instead that my brain is completely blank and terrified. It's been five seconds since I heard your name, and I not only can't repeat it, I can't even remember my own name.

Lots of pats on the back for getting the job at my new school. Lots of "heard great things about you". Lots of offers to help. Help with what? I haven't had time alone in my room to think about what I need. The few things I have asked about (money for math team, scope and sequence of my courses, attendance policy) seem to be decisions I get to make all by myself. I'm lost. I'm used to standing rigid against a wall in a building too dependent upon structure to see the students, and now I find myself with no wall and no structure, and I'm not even sure I know how to stand without it.

Excuse me. I can't remember your name, but I kind of sort of want you to give me some structure so I can rebel against it, especially since I suspect the structure will become apparent only when I violate it. Why don't you just save us some time and tell me what it is, so I can decide how to violate it?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dating that Feels Like Homework

At new teacher training this week, I found myself surrounded by that usual crew of early-married teachers. They look like people I'll be asking for hall passes in a couple of weeks, shiny-faced, bright-eyed, unwrinkled kids, but they're all sporting diamonds on their left hands. More power to them, I say, but when one of them told me that she didn't even know you could administer the Heimlich to yourself on the back of a chair, I suffered through a brief flash of envy. I've eaten a great many meals all by myself in my little apartment. Granted, I've never choked or needed to save myself, but I know exactly what to do if I ever do.

I've also had a birthday recently.

My birthday was the deadline for the end of the dating hiatus, and I was feeling like it would be nice to forget the Heimlich-on-the-back-of-the-chair trick. Furthermore, I ran into my first true love at the coffee shop on Tuesday. Now there's a scab I can still pick when I feel like watching myself bleed.

It's all driven me back to the dating world.

This time, I've landed on a website that promises me dates with potential. It's not that one with the right-wing Christian gay-bashing dates, but it's a little bit like that one, in that you don't get to search for dates until the website's algorithm determines that your personalities and dating wants and needs match in some way.

So the website sends you some matches, and then you can move a little slider bar right or left to indicate your interest in each person. Only I can't possibly tell how interested I am from a picture and a paragraph - unless they have some sort of obscenely hideous facial hair growing out of their upper lip, or they make horrendous grammatical errors in their essays. I feel like I should be able to tell, but I can't. Or, actually, to be brutally honest, I feel like moving all of the little slider bars all of the way left (to the "no spark" end), but I keep telling myself that I have to be more open in order to actually ever meet anyone, and so I procrastinate on moving any of my slider bars, because it's too hard to make a decision.

Meanwhile, every man who sees my profile and moves the slider bar even the slightest bit to the right generates an email of "interest". Seriously, I've gotten about one auto-generated email an hour from this thing. The emails bring up more profiles with more pictures and more cursed slider bars. I've stopped even opening them. I can't face it.

And what do you get if you both move the slider bar to the right? You get to move on to the free-response portion of the test. You choose some questions. He chooses some questions. And you both write essays.

I keep thinking that there must be a more fun way to do this. It'd be great, for example, if instead of slider bars and multiple-choice tests and short-answer questions, I could get flirtatious banter and dinner and flowers. Why can't dating be more like that?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One Thing She Noticed

I was sitting in the back of the van one day in Kyrgyzstan, next to Daniya, the local volunteer coordinator. Daniya is kind and green and new to her job, and I sensed that she was having a rough time, but she's also very girly, so while I felt like it was important to talk to her, I also struggled to come up with things to talk about.

I had noticed that there were a lot of Korean restaurants in the neighborhood where we were working on the house.

Ask me how I could tell.

Go ahead, ask.

OK, I'll just tell you. It was because I could read the signs in front of the restaurants. The Russian signs.

So anyway, I decided to ask her if there a lot of Korean people in Kyrgyzstan or if they were just concentrated in that one neighborhood. It turns out, in fact, that Daniya's own family is Korean. Originally her family (and a lot of Korean people) settled in the part of the Soviet Union that was near, well, Korea. So, they were living just across some water from their home country, when World War II started, and because Korean people look Japanese (but don't say so to the Koreans or the Japanese), the Russians decided to forcibly relocate them to an interior part of the country so they wouldn't collude with the enemy. Both sides of Daniya's family were left in what must have felt like the middle of nowhere, and they had to figure out how to make a living in the high desert deep in the center of Asia.

I was still trying to wrap my mind around the massive relocation of Daniya's entire family just two generations ago, and also trying to figure out how to get me an invitation to her grandma's house for some dolsot bibimbap, when I realized that the conversation was lagging. OK, next question. I knew she'd been in the US in college, so I asked her what she noticed most about living in my home country.

After a lifetime of living in Kyrgyzstan, I thought she might have noticed that you could walk across the street in a well-marked crosswalk without fearing for your life. I thought maybe she would have remarked upon the good-tasting potable water that comes from the tap. I figured she'd be impressed with how safe the drivers on the highway are, mostly sticking to their own lanes, and only rarely creating new ones in order to pass other cars. I thought she might notice the green, since she lived in St Louis, and K-stan was feeling pretty dry and brown to me in late July.

So, imagine my surprise when she pondered for less than 30 seconds before answering, in that quiet, halting English, "I think I noticed the segregation first," she said. She lived in a dorm in St Louis. The first two floors were filled with white people, she said. The floor she lived on with her Russian roommate was nearly all African American. She noticed the neighborhoods in St Louis. The places where white people didn't live. The places where black people did.

She got quiet. I felt like apologizing for the arrogance of the question (or at least of what I expected in her answer) and for the inequity revealed by her honest answer. She wasn't at all accusatory, didn't blame me for having white skin, or suspect me of creating an unfair system. She just reported on the facts as she noticed them as an outsider suddenly living inside our country.

And I say unto you, friends and countrymen-and-women, do we really want to live in a country where people from the outside notice first our racism and our segregation? Aren't we all equally hurt by that perception? Isn't it finally time to be done with it?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Pity, Party of One

I've spent the day painting my back steps, and it's the third day I have been so occupied, and all I have to show for it is back steps fully covered in primer. Primer is to paint what knitting the fist sock is to knitting a pair of socks. You get yourself all worked up, you work for days, and when you finally finish, and you look at the thing, all you can think is, "Great. Now I have to do it all over again." Stupid primer.

The other reason to feel sorry for me is that I had to take the car to the shop today. No, it was nothing serious, but as a former owner of a Swedish car, all of my trips to the shop are accompanied by post traumatic stress disorder.

Also, no matter how fast I watch my Netflix, I can't seem to get more than one a week.

And finally, the real reason to feel sorry for me is that my summer vacation ends today. And see above about how I spent that last day of freedom. Priming. Ugh. Too bad I have to wait for tomorrow for Battlestar Galactica to arrive in the mail.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Some Other Things I Like Better Than You'd Expect

So, in addition to Battlestar Galactica, here are a couple of other things I secretly adore, but don't usually advertise, because of my fear of mockery. Now that I'm almost 35, I've decided it's time to let go of the fear and embrace whoever I am. If I don't love myself, who will?
  1. Whole milk and whole milk yogurt. Especially organic milk. I know, I know, I'm supposed to say, "Yuck, it tastes so thick and creamy," but I can't make my lips form those words, because my heart is so filled with love for high-fat dairy products.
  2. Other people's kids. You know the Christmas letter with pictures of your friends' kids, and how you're supposed to be a little bit annoyed, since you don't have kids and so you don't torture your friends with stories of their accomplishments? Yeah, except my wall is still plastered (in August) with those kids' pictures. I like being the fun adult friend. It's amusing to chase little kids until they scream and invent stupid little games that are just repetitive enough that the kids can play along. It's a blast to introduce kids to Choose-Your-Own Adventure stories, and study how they handle the risk of making plot choices as they grow up. Some of these kids I've known since they were little monkey-babies, and so I especially enjoy them now that they seem so human.
  3. The Little Giant. Before I got the Little Giant, I dropped whatever I was doing in order to watch the Little Giant commercials. The Little Giant remains one of the most thoughtful Christmas presents I've ever received. I mean what other ladder can safely rest with two legs on the stairs? I used this feature just today. And I'm not 250 pounds, yet, despite all of the whole milk, but it would be totally safe for me to be on the Little Giant if I were.
  4. Veronica Mars. Joss Wedon told me to watch Veronica Mars, and so I did, because he's an artistic genius. I found myself with a series of DVDs not a single person in my peer group had ever seen - or was willing to ever see. OK, fine, it is a high school drama but it's still good TV. Same goes for Buffy, but I always had friends who recognized Buffy's quality.
  5. Driving stick. Driving at all is passe for environmentalists, but I only just learned how to shift, and it's such a pleasure, please, don't make me hate it. It even turns out that parallel parking with a manual transmission is one of my Special Talents. If I can ever afford a hybrid, I'll have to go back to just steering the thing, which would rob the Earth of my talent. Sigh.
And you? What's your secret delight?