Insta-this

The very cynical will say that Instagram is just another way for the narcissists to boast about how much better their life is.  Wow, what a great outlook.  Good luck with that.  Instead, why don’t we say that it’s a way for people to share their happiness and adventures.  An outlet to add more beauty to the world.

Whether you use social media or not, we are active participants in the practice of signaling.  It’s in the clothes we wear, the haircut we get, the purse we hold.  Signals get crossed, people argue and sometimes you even win.  Yay.  Even with your subversive T-shirts and thrift store “I really don’t care” attitude there is no escape.  The sooner you realize the game, the better you will be at playing it, trust.  I figure, I might as well look good and have fun while doing it.

But then one must also ask yourself, are you really present and enjoying what’s right in front of you when you’re pulling out your cellphone?  What about all of the times when we were younger and there was no “proof” of the good times.  But then I remember that there was, it was just in a roll of film that you couldn’t expose to light and took a few days to process.  We just bored people with albums back then, or those projectors that clicked after each picture.  Perhaps we have come a long way after all.  Now you have the option to scroll right on by.

It’s not that I disagree with the cynics completely.  Photographs capture an instant in time, nothing of what came before and what will prevail after.  I’m not saying that people are liars, just that they’re not displaying the back room action that’s also happening.  For every happy image of a baby or toddler, tears and refusal to leave whatever fun event could have followed very soon thereafter.  Those landscapes in Europe could come at the cost of being ripped off in the taxi on the way there.  But the beauty of Instagram is that for that moment, it was all good.  Nothing wrong with freeze-framing those little moments that add up to a good and textured life.  We always want to pin down what is fleeting anyways.  I say let them and feel free not to look.

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Flippant

It’s a fact universally acknowledged that the very moment that you say “like I care” is when you care the most.  God, I wish it was not true.  You gain a lot of baggage when you give too much credit to people’s opinions.  You risk very little when you don’t want to be made a fool.  But here’s the concession, there are strategies to not give a damn and rewards associated with it.

It’s Andrew’s coping mechanisms to brush things aside.  He reasons that it’s a way to not waste energy on things that don’t really matter.  Sure his feelings rarely get hurt but sometimes I wish he would pay more attention to the finer details.  The downside is that it can make you sloppy when it comes to your personal life.  Sometimes you have to do nice things for people even when they’re not particularly considerate or attentive to your needs.  It’s work to be a bigger person.  But here’s the good stuff, not caring allows you to not fear instabilities that are just a necessary part of life.  People always wonder why successful people don’t have regrets that haunt them.  It’s because they know they would not be where they are without all of those setbacks.

Another liberating fact is that more likely than not people are too busy to think about you anyways.  Schedules are hectic and even when you screw up, most people will devote a nano-second to ponder your situation and then are distracted by something they have to get done.  They are probably already checking their phone.  Who says that self-interest is always a bad thing, heck I’m pretty sure that it can be an integral part of self-preservation.

But I believe there is a point when you would not let things faze you as much, when you’re not looking for gratification from everywhere but within.  I believe the path to this zen, this security, is finding something that you’re passionate about and taking steps to master it.  Work hard to excel.  I’m currently reading “The Goldfinch” and upon seeing the cover Andrew said, “Donna Tartt, that’s the worst fake name ever.”  To which I replied, “she doesn’t care, she’s won a Pulitzer.”

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Drive

This past summer I was on one of those giant floating swans and actually grazed someone else’s bird.  At that exact moment my husband, mother-in-law, mother, father-in-law, quite literally, everyone and their mother, chuckled.  It was also the point when I rolled my eyes, waved my hands in the air and communicated “whatever.”  Spatial challenges have never been my forte.

Lets just say it took a few tries to get my learner’s permit but I do like to boast that I got my permanent driver’s license (highway test and all) with one try.  You know why?  Because I was finally old enough to ignore that nagging feeling and the naggy people.  Plus, if you actually look at the bigger picture, if I had not grown up in a large urban centre where you can take the subway or cabs everywhere, maybe I would have built up my skills over time.  Because it’s just like how they frame studying for tests in school, it’s a muscle and you need to practice everyday, especially when there’s memorization involved.  Makes sense, non?

But you know what happens when you move to a new country with no extended family to rely on in the area?  Your husband leaves town for a conference and you drive your son back and forth to preschool in torrential downpours.  I believe they call them Nor-easters.  You drive in these conditions after a 3 year hiatus from operating any form of motorized vehicle and one week of practice.  I am an excellent driver.  Who knew!  You know what else you do?  You meet your husband’s colleague’s wife for coffee and then a few days later ask her to put her name and contact information on your records at daycare.  Basically, she became the person they would call under excruciating circumstances if they could not reach either of us.  But she gets it.  As someone who’s American but just moved here from Edinburgh, she knows that you don’t need to be tight before you’re someone’s emergency person because well, there’s no one else.  Plus we want to be friends with them, they’re cool.

I wish these circumstances would happen more often.  When someone would figuratively pick me up and throw me off the dock.  I would imagine myself in a lake in Muskoka, having a ball, and learning to swim.  But see, it would be under my terms to stay in the water.  After you get a taste of this freedom, trust, you never get out.

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Blank slate

I want to buy my first house and paint it fifty shades of grey.  Most people get rid of their IKEA furniture when they move in with someone or buy their condo.  We are finally at that stage and I am so excited.  I’m using the same precision I practice to rid myself of things I do not want, to thoughtfully invest in pieces I actually want to own now.

Furniture shopping with my husband is a constant negotiation.  Ha.  Much like our marriage.  But still I’m pretty forthright when there is no room for discussion.  I think my exact words are usually “that ugly-ass lamp is not coming with us.”  His solution is to always put it in the basement.  If you ever come over to our house you’ll understand why you are not allowed down there.

I am inspired by two schools of interior design because of their warmth: arts and crafts and french country.  These styles look like actual people live in the space and it is not a transient hospital room or airport lounge.  But the reality of making a house functional for a family is that you need clean, minimalist designs with materials that can be easily washed like leather, glass and metal.  Plus, I think Andrew once cited an academic article about the connotations of low cultural capital associated with hoarding.  He’s made his point.

If we’re going with contemporary, which is a melding our tastes, then I am going to work hard to add some humanity to it.  Like with fashion I think rooms look awful when they’re too “done”.  There is always one piece that puts it just over the top and makes it camp.  The most stylish ladies look a bit undone.  Even for the boardroom there is a way to balance your business casual to look like you didn’t come straight from Ann Taylor.

But these design objectives are reliant on us committing to living in a certain place.  One time Andrew mused on how we are not “cottage people.”  Funny thing coming from someone who never had a cottage to run to every weekend in the summer.  But still, we both agreed that we’d rather go to Paris or any other place with museums and restaurants.  I sometimes think that being rooted to one city scares him because we would have to get someone to water our plants or something.

I believe that it was John Green who said, “It is so hard to leave—until you leave.  And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.”  Moving to the States was exhausting not just physically but mentally.  Trying to make sense of all the different bureaucratic circles was harder than taking the MCATS.  But I think in some ways Andrew reveled in it.  During the snow storm last December when half of Toronto had no power, he looked to me and said, “I kind of like this because it means I have to problem-solve.”

We figure we’ll reevaluate things in five years and decide if we just commit and move to Europe.  Some people call it a plan B, we call it an exit strategy.  Furnished apartment, three suitcases, and you’re there.

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Public

Can a private person be active on various forms of social media?  There must be some disconnect in keeping your personal life under wraps and putting it on display right?  I think the line is fine and depends on where you want to set it.

As someone who writes on a blog three days a week about her everyday life and aspects of her past you must wonder how I even define myself as being private.  Well, I very much am.  I can count on one hand the number of people who I am truly myself around.  Let me list them now: my husband, my mother, my son and my best friend K.  Four.  Four people whom I trust enough to reveal it all.

I write about all this stuff because it’s my way of learning.  I document this not necessarily as a reference to mediate on later, I just think better with words.  And the fact of the matter is that I think ALL the time so it’s nice to let some of it go, you know?  I figure for all of the use that particularities can encourage, like respect and empathy, some of the universalities are sometimes good.  We’ve all probably had the guy issues, blown off commitments, been a flake or broken people’s hearts.  So it’s nice to know that it’s part of the narrative of life.  That we’re all fumbling around a little and that frailty is allowed.

Plus, what you see here is a fraction of what’s actually going on and a sliver of what I want you to see.  And whatever you read from it, be it neurosis, confidence, frustration, acceptance, all of those interpretations are perfectly acceptable.  It’s meant to be read anyways, it’s public.

And that’s where there’s trouble.  As someone who’s very much part of my history and obviously my present Andrew appears now and again in my writing.  It doesn’t always make him comfortable because he’s so private.  He’s hard to decipher but it’s intentional and I agree that it’s effective.  If you show people all of your cards, you make yourself vulnerable to their critiques and ridicule.  The difference between us is that I just assume that the feedback from the peanut gallery is just a part of developing as an individual.  If you didn’t have that reflection, how could you possibly define who exactly you are?  To know who you don’t want to be?  Plus some critiques are meant to be dismissed.  They make it too easy.

I think it’s common for anger to be defined as an undesirable trait.  In some ways I do agree.  People with higher emotional intelligence see the manipulative aspects of tantrums and how useless they are.  Most of the time they just produce tears and people thinking that you’re kind of a loser.  But I think that human emotions are far too complex to create such stark contrasts, like how the words neurotic and aware have different connotations but similar motivations.  Don’t these people just want to see and question?  Some just manage it better and they get placed behind the “fun” line on the spectrum.  So management.  Management and mystery.

I’ve always preferred to try to problem solve independently.  It’s a force of habit.  For all that you have to say about only children you have to admit that our hands don’t always need to be held.  If that makes us distant, well so be it.  At least we don’t advertise every paper cut.  Most of us just put our heads down and get shit done.

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#fail

The best advice I’ve ever received came from my friend K, who in his loud, witty way told me to buy a ticket.  At the time it was in reference to some game we were playing but it stuck with me.  Now I basically use it every time I consider a job opportunity or try to change my current reality.

The advantage of having a low threshold for humiliation is that you’re more careful.  The disadvantage is that you’re more fearful.  I used to be so afraid of failure that I missed out on some great opportunities.  But if you don’t put in that application or volunteer that time or buy the fricken ticket the answer will always be “no.”  The answer might still be “no” in the end but at least you were in the running.

This is all within reason of course.  I’m pretty sure that one of the definers of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, looking for a different result.  That or you’re a masochist.  Of course don’t give up and try, try again.  Just make sure that you change the parameters or the strategies.

There are so many ways that we get in our own way.  We tell ourselves that we’re not good enough, that we suck at math, or that we’re not intelligent.  It’s human nature to want to fuck it up for yourself because at least that way the rejection came from you and not from someone else.

When I was young I celebrated the Christmas holidays with my extended family.  One year my mom and aunt got stress balls for the three of us.  My cousin K got one that said “whatever” and a stick figure who didn’t care.  T’s said something that doesn’t come to mind but probably had something with her “knowing what she’s doing.”  Mine was pink, had a shaking person and said “me, nervous?”  It’s not like they were saying anything that wasn’t common knowledge.  I brooded over getting my ears pierced for two days till finally my aunt put a spray meant for freezing throats on my ears right before the procedure.  I was a nervous wreck for a long time.  I built things up so much in my mind and set the ground for overthinking it.  Since then I’ve learnt to look objectively at the stakes, know that they’re not life or death, and to do my best.  I’m also older so I can do something fun afterwards like go shopping or have some champagne.  Yay!  I screwed up!  And just like that the sun rises and you move on.

For me, standardized tests used to be the enemy.  Now I just know that the best thing to do is study.  Duh.  But don’t psych yourself out when the time comes to put that learning into practice.  You deserve better.  You are better.

Update: T’s stress ball said “I’m not listening.”  Ha.  Fits her to a T.

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Dotted line

There is no better motivator, the thing that gets you down to business, than looking to buy a home.  Yes, please let me go into debt so that I can live out the American dream of owning property.  Where do I sign?  But seriously though, when the price is right and the interior is nice I sometimes say, what, is this house haunted?  All jokes aside though it’s so motivating to see your starter home within reach especially after years of being a graduate student.

I also am living in a town in Massachusetts where housing prices are reasonable and you can obtain some beautiful properties and still not be a slave to your work.  The white picket fences naturally fit in a community where people hold open doors, ask “how you doing?” and smile.  They actually strive to be good neighbors.  God, I come from a city where everyone minds their own business and if someone smiled at me on the street I’d wonder if they were about to rob me.  This place is wearing down some of the cynicism.  Slightly.  It’s nice not to be a big grump anymore.

What I feel more reflexive about is how I used to feel sorry for those who didn’t live in large urban centers.  For awhile Toronto was the centre of the universe and those who were not within her orbit were just dreadfully unlucky.  But the fact is, I would roll my eyes at the old me.  There are different ways of living and being.

There are self-important people who feel that their bleeding hearts do the world a service.  Even if you sent them an email with images of your new house and tell them that your dreams of escrow finally came true, they would find a way to feel sorry for you.  Because you know, you might feel at home but you live in the country.  To these individuals I just want to draw a distinction between empathy and taking away someone’s agency.  Not everyone wants to be just like you.  If someone is struggling, of course be supportive, open and there but they can probably do without your worry.  Because these types of interactions quickly become stale and can even verge on toxic.  They just might take the next flight out of town to not be stifled by the weight of your expectations.  Chill.

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