Hmmm… I really liked Cache, but I think I’ll give this one  a miss. But I am glad I read all the way to the end for that priceless summation by AO Scott.

Right under the category “Rules for Let’s Shall,” there’s a rule that goes, this blog shall not become a dream journal. If you follow this break, I am breaking that rule.

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I heard a snippet of this story on NPR this morning as I was getting out my car (wow, I just typo’d that very tellingly: “as I was getting out of my career”), and I just had to follow up. Don’t get your hopes up, but some police departments in some cities are starting a program where they loan out the radar gun for people to catch their neighbors speeding, with the threshold for a written warning being 13 miles over. YES please! I would be so good at that job. First of all, I’d target all of the Land Rovers first, then all the Lexcedescalurano’s. Then I’d move on to luxury sedans. Last on my list would be open bed trucks w/ lawn maintenance guys in them, b/c hey, what can a speeding ticket really do to them that they aren’t already doing to themselves? Where can I please sign up to get me one of those radar guns and start nailing some Boca peeps? This sounds like my kind of self-medication.

The only downside to this, I think, is that you are supposed to do it in your own neighborhood. The people in the story all seem to be sitting on their own lawns. Which cuts out my glorious visions of nabbing Corvette, Maserati, and Ford POS alike as I drive down to Miami once a week. Oh well, like the title of this post applies, there may be ways around such strictures…

You know, I totally could have blogged about something serious here, like the full segment that came just before this that they devoted to reading response letters to one of NPR’s correspondents apparently being present at an interrogation of tortured people, but I didn’t. And it felt like just that choice–as I walk into work, would I like to a) think about getting passive agressive revenge on all of the overly affluent people in my neighborhood would can’t drive or b) think about something challenging, like my country’s involvement in torture? It’s kind of sad how easily that choice got made.

Donc je suis un malheureux

September 27, 2007

Yesterday was a strange mood day. It should have been my all out favorite kind of day: dark and rainy, a nice mix of library work, writing center work, school work, and actual class which I was actually prepared for, the prospect of an easy run on a fancy treadmill, dinner w/ D and Gossip Girl. Nothing too demanding, yet enough schedule activity to keep me from feeling lazy and unproductive either (a pathology in itself, I know, but I’m kind of at the why fight it phase on my need for full schedules). Instead, I kept feeling overwhelmed by sadness, as if there was a sinkhole inside of my chest that was constantly threatening to open up–like there was some feeling, some clarity, some sense of purpose that I just couldn’t reach, and I didn’t know what it was, and it was worse not to be able to identify it because, by all of my measures, I should have been fulfilling it exactly. Is this what they call ennui or something else? Everything’s better than fine and I’m still… inwardly mopish. This leads to frustration, and beneath that frustration, fear. Frustration b/c I’ve spent a good amount of time trying to combat the things that were bugging me in the short term, and it seemed to be working. Fear b/c, well, if even fixing all my problems doesn’t make me feel buoyant and adequate and purposeful, maybe those things are just not in the cards for me (or anyone, and thus Buddhism becomes an appealing option). I don’t want to dwell on this too much, because I don’t want overanalysis to cause this odd blend of feelings to carry over longer than it needs to, but of late I haven’t been particularly emotionally engaged w/ this blog, so this seemed like a chance to get back on the soul-baring track a bit. Maybe I’m just having writing hangover after churning out my first essay for creative nonfiction over the weekend.

After a coffee break, I am, however, feeling much better, because I picked up Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives from the stacks, and on the very first page is just the epigraph I need:

Thus I am unhappy and this is neither my fault nor that of life.

–Jules Laforgue

Is anyone else disturbed by this NYT article about parents buying condos in their kids’ college towns instead of sending them into dorm life? I find it disturbing, nay, angering… nay, enraging. First off, it’s bad enough that I walk around a campus all day where I overhear complaints from people whose parents bought them an Audi rather than a Benz. I don’t know if I’ll be able to take it anymore when I start hearing people compare their condos. Secondly, I think a lot of these parents are nuts. I met a couple of students at Michigan Tech whose parents bought houses and then rented out the rooms to other students to help finance their own child’s education, but we’re talking about entire houses that went for 30-40k. Plus, the child in question had to pony up for her share of the mortgage too. But being newly immersed into the upper middle class world where parents micromanage every single detail of their child’s entry into college, I only see potential for further smothering, control, and unwillingness to give the child responsibility in this article. This might suit the kids in question just fine–hey, would I really have complained about someone buying me a swanky 2/2 condo instead of having to live in Norton?–but it’s not really setting them up for anything other than continued pampering and refusal to take responsibility for their own livelihood. Do you think a parent who has bought a condo is going to sit back and let the quality of their investment depreciate while their child is living the carefree college life? Oh no. You can bet there’s gonna be a maid in there, and you can bet that all the paper work is coming to mom & dad’s address. There’s probably a hint of jealousy lurking under this rant (my parents made it clear to me from a young age that I was largely going to be on my own when it came to paying for college, even though they fully expected me to attend), but honestly I think I would have hated being micromanaged even more. If that’s the price of access to a deep pocket, it’s not worth paying. The whole scenario gives me the creeps.

But still, I think, these are just people of questionable motivations and even more questionable judgment having a little fun with their money, so why the heart palpitations, self? That brings me to Cary Tennis’s advice column for the day, which looks like it was written just for me. At least, the letter part was. It’s from a woman (pseudonym: Judgy McJudgerson) who wants to stop being so judgmental, and lately, I’ve been wondering if I should want the same thing too.
I hope any who knows me and reads that is going “whoah, Liz, you? judgmental?” I hope. I don’t mean in any way to sound immodest, but for most of my life I’ve been one of the least judgmental people I know. I’ve read it on job evaluations, I’ve heard it from friends. I am a Libra. A diplomat. When I’m around, people come out of the closet, tell me what’s bugging them, vent about evil co-workers and family members, and share their religious views even if they know them to be in conflict with mine. I listen, I ask gently probing questions in the manner of a hippy dippy therapist, and I never really care much one way or another what other people are doing with their lives if it doesn’t involve bodily harm to herself or someone else (I mean, I want to know all about it, but I don’t usually have an opinion about whether or not it’s a good idea. I want to support you in whatever you want.) All about balance. Judgmental is not something I have typically thought of myself as.

Now that I am old and crotchety and a little more cynical, however, I feel this changing. In some ways, this is a positive change. I’ve started to see that sometimes keeping my mouth shut when I knew that something was going on that hurt one of my friends may not have been the best idea–even if I couldn’t (and none of us do, I know) get them to consider changing, at least they would have heard it from someone. I’ve started to feel responsible for my very own self, and that means making lots of judgments about what’s a good idea or not in terms of where to work and live and how to spend my money. Opinions: I have them now.

In other ways, I’m a little scared of the person I’m becoming and how much I am starting to relish being able to say, ah-hah, that was your mistake and that’s your problem, not mine so hasta la vista, dumbass. If you’ve spoken to me lately, you know that is pretty much my new motto for life. I’ll take care of me and you take care of you… but if you don’t, the best thing I can do for you is to let you fall on your own behind so you have some motivation not to let it happen again. I know, I’m a cold hearted one, aren’t I?

Case in point, the subprime mortgage crisis. Am I crying for people who are getting foreclosed on after putting zero down for a negative amortization or adjustable rate loan on a much more expensive house than they could realistically afford? Not a tear. D and I were offered those same loans to buy those same expensive pieces of real estate, and did we do it? No. Why? Because it was a bad idea! We didn’t care that someone would give us the money. We did a little reality check and realized that there was no way we could take on a mortgage for 200k+ and reasonably expect to handle it with no bail-outs from family. In the end, if someone tells a pig it can fly and then the pig jumps off the roof, the pig is the one with broken legs. We could have gotten someone to fork over some cash so we wouldn’t have to live the renter life, but as soon as we put our name on the dotted line the fact that we weren’t 100% sure we’d be able to make the payments in years to come become our problem, not their fault. So, we said no thanks. A lot of people did not. They are defaulting in record numbers, and we are all going to pay the price for them via either a government bailout (not likely) or a tanked economy and job market. Some of the blame lies with greedy financiers who approved this nonsense and started the housing bubble going in the first place, but in my mind the ultimate blame lies firmly on the people who used their best “I deserve this no matter how much money I make” mentality to decide to sign up for a commitment they couldn’t fulfill. I’m not talking about people who lost jobs, I’m talking about people who had jobs that never would have qualified them for the mortgage they took out and used whatever flaky mortgage product they could find to get it anyway. Possibly more angering than these people, however, are the journalists writing about how no one saw it coming. Ahhh! The bullshit! Anyone with half a brain has seen this coming for at least two years now. On what planet do people making my kind of money (20-30k a year) live in houses that cost over 200 grand with monthly interest-only payments of 1500 a month (not counting taxes and insurance and homeowner’s). Not a planet with a sound economic future. You didn’t need a Harvard economist to tell you that, surely. Thus, I am judgmental when it comes to wacky mortgages and foreclosures. Shouldn’t a-had done that, people.

More famously on this blog, I have found out that I am also judgmental when it comes to pregnancy for teenage high school drop-outs who had both the economic and educational advantages to be able to avoid it and chose not to. Thus, I’m not jumping on the happy baby name boat of denial. I’m just not going to do it, and anyone who has a problem with that can just have a problem with it.

I can feel this tendency creeping outward, into other areas and situations. I can feel myself thinking differently about things related to welfare, healthcare, and drug addiction. I don’t think I’ve reached the point where I believe that everyone needs to be perfect (and I would never say I am), but I definitely feel more and more resentment about being asked to help shoulder the burden for people who consistently make bad choices. It’s such a grey area that I don’t think any of us will ever be able to say well, this person deserves our help and this person doesn’t, but how about some differentiation between plain bad luck (getting laid off, getting cancer) and piss-poor decision making (credit card debt for luxury consumer products or a fancy vacation, drug abuse without any attempt at rehab). For everyone but a saint, it seems like there must be some kind of healthy line to draw between being shortsighted and selfish and being a doormat. Also, who is really helping a person who makes the same mistakes again and again? The person who fixes it for them or the person who steps back and lets them learn how to fix it herself? I’m not saying it feels good at the time–it feels pretty awful re: my car right now–but sooner or later we are all better off if we’ve had to do that a couple of times.

So Cary’s advice doesn’t really ring true to me–I do care about people in bad situations, even ones of their own making, but I don’t see it as my job to pull them out. I’ll offer my advice/opinion if asked, and even help if asked nicely. But I don’t see crusading as the answer. Still, one of the starred letter writers brings up an even more important question for me: why does all of this bother me so if it does not directly affect me? There’s a couple of obvious answers–it might affect me one day, I might be scared that I am actually a fuck-up too, it’s plain upsetting to think about how unfair life really is–but none of those are quite what I’m looking for. Something about my own life isn’t good enough for me, and it’s easier to find fault with others than to fix the problems with my own. I don’t want to be a doormat again, but that’s definitely got to change.

But if you try sometimes

August 15, 2007

When I was a kid, my mom would occasionally say things that would terrify me. Most of these things were actually lines from pop songs.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

“Give me, give me, give me a man after midnight.”

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”

Aside from the second, which is just upsetting to hear your mother say for obvious reasons, these sayings scared me because even when I couldn’t articulate it, I could understand what they implied. Sometimes, you just have no choice about what happens to you.

This was hard for an ambitious whatever year old I was, and I was pretty much always ambitious. My goal, again unarticulated at the time, was not to end up like my mother. My life was going to be healthier, easier, richer, in a cleaner house… all around, better. I didn’t really want to think about things like the importance of timing, unplanned disasters as well as unplanned successes, or simply the amount of time it takes to learn how to stand up on your own two feet. Actually, I didn’t even know about these things. I thought somehow, if you were careful and did everything right, you just wouldn’t end up like my mother, with her credit card debt, her idiosyncratic car, her dead end government job in a factory town in the Midwest. If any of those things happened to you, it would be because you had not tried hard enough, simple as that.

I’m starting to see that’s not exactly true, although when things are going well it’s a pretty seductive illusion. Yes, I’m pretty sure you can already tell it’s going to be one of those blog posts, in which I talk about the most basic life events like they were earth shattering news–but if you haven’t seen it before, it’s new to you, right?

I’m not even sure how to introduce the two events I am going to discuss. I could say “it’s been a doozy of a week”–but really, what week hasn’t? More often than not this year, they are doozies. I guess I’ll just say, we’ve had two basic events on the more traumatic, less uplifting side of the scale this week.

Event 1: In which my sister loses $2700 dollars to a crooked landlord

Most of you already have the lowdown. Sis & bf went to a showing of a 2/2 cottage that a husband and wife were renting. The cottage was on their property, like the servants quarters that Mc Mansions in my in-laws’ neighborhood can no longer get away with. The place was dirty and had a hole in the roof, but the price and location were right. Sis & bf wanted it, landlords said give us a check for two months rent and we’ll fix the stuff before you sign a lease. Check was given, and a follow-up half month’s rent when the check (drawn on an out of state bank) took time to clear. Roof never fixed, carpets never cleaned. Everyday landlord says the lease will be ready, and then cancels. Sis & bf, two weeks later, ask for money back and the landlord refuses. Has probably already spent all of it. Yes, someone can just keep your money like that. It’s called theft. They are going to small claims court, but there’s no guarantee they’ll ever see a penny of that again. Bienvenidos a Miami!

Event 2: In which timing is everything… timing belts, that is

Thursday: D is driving down the turnpike, on his way to a teacher training day, when the Honda dies. Just dies, totally stops running. Fortunately he is able to coast safely on to the right shoulder and begins the long process of figuring out what his Triple A number actually is and getting towed to the mechanic.

Monday: We pick up Honda from the mechanic. Turns out the timing belt broke. That’s a 500$ fix, but the valves that the pistons damaged while unrestrained by the timing belt would cost another 1300$. And we are talking about a 1993 Honda Accord here–that would definitely go over its current street value. Is that technically what totaled means? Anyway, the good news is even with bad valves it runs… kind of. And it’s the “kind of” that is really bumming me out. What did I do to deserve driving another car that stalls at stop signs and jerks likes its having an epileptic fit while in idle? For now, it’ll still get me from home to work with a few “oh crap”moments along the way. In the near to midterm, it will have something else go wrong, and the question will again come up about whether or not to sink money into making it last a little longer or not. Or maybe we should try to get what we can in trade in before that happens. Or maybe I should invest in a bike and a helmet and a taser and start braving the traffic at least as far as a bus stop. While we’re at it, we could even try to figure out which of these two is the actual worst case scenario. A) We have only one working car for the next two years or B) at the end of two years, when we dream of moving someplace with public transportation, we have two newish cars with outstanding loans and not enough street value to pay off what we owe (the major downside to buying Hyundai’s right now is the resale, ’cause you can’t beat the price or the warranty). Of course, this all could have been prevented if we’d had the timing belt replaced before it broke, which would require either knowing to replace it (we didn’t) or having a mechanic who believed in maintaining cars over 100k miles who would think to recommend that we did. American mechanics pretty much assume that after 100k all you want are band-aids, not the kind of upkeep that keeps you riding in the long term.

Chalk it up to live and learn, but I am really not enjoying all this living and expensive learning. Especially when, in the back of my mind, this must all be my fault. Somewhere out there is a girl who got a marketable degree, didn’t move to south Florida, knew to be a hard ass about real estate and protected her sister from losing almost 3 grand for nothing, and remembered to change the timing belt. Every incident like these ones simply reminds me that I did not turn out to be her.

The one small consolation seems to be that after about three solid rounds of nasty life surprises, I’m learning to say oh well when I realize that. Oh well, I’m not that girl. Chances are that girl isn’t even that girl… but even if she is, and some of them are, I’d still rather take my chances on me, and my life, which currently includes a cat standing on her hind legs in my lap to reach up and put her front paws around my neck. I may not know jack about cars or earning a living, but I have a hugging cat.

Also, now that I’m beginning to expect rather than hope to avoid getting battered like a punching bag every other month, I’m also getting better at reminding myself that bad things do not happen just to me, and that for everything that seems bad so far there probably could have been something worse. The car could have been totaled in a wreck, which would have hurt the driver and caused our insurance to go up. Sis & bf could have moved into the place only to find out that a badly patched roof blew off during the upcoming hurricane season, destroying all of their stuff. Things could definitely have gone better, but they also could have been much worse, and we wouldn’t have probably “deserved” any of it either which way. It does just kind of happen to you while you are making those other plans about how you are going to make more money, run more miles, and really clean your apartment.

Still, when all the ways it could have been worse have been imagined and the war stories have been compared, deep down inside you’d still rather be the person this had just never happened to. You’d rather be the person who had never even imagined it could happen. That’s why the Stones were right, and so was my mom, and just like both of them I’m getting older and wiser.

One scientific reality that I am currently lamenting is the fact that nobody really knows what hormones are or how they work or what they are truly capable of doing. At least thats my impression and my experience, and in the year 2007 isn’t that all that really counts? I feel strongly in my gut that I may, more often than I would like to think about, be more controlled by chemicals in my body than thoughts in my head.

Exhibit A: Senior year

In brief, starting the pill and being anemia do not a happy year make. The effect of the pill is still pretty much unquantifiable, as it varies widely from person to person and I was never particularly conscientious about taking it at the exact same time every single day. So that narrows it down… not at all! Maybe the pill made me crazy, maybe Iraq made me crazy, maybe being just about to graduate made me crazy, maybe a lack of iron in my blood (which creates many of the same symptoms as depression all by itself) did it. The point is, I was crazy. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to not be crazy, with moderate success. Still, it’s hard to know if that is because I just wasn’t good at getting uncrazy or whether there was something physically wrong with me. Who knows? Either way, it was a craptasm of a year in many regards.

Exhibit B: Yesterday

For the former RA’s among us, no, I did not have a plan, but yes, I felt cosmically crappy about almost every single choice I had ever made (notable exceptions being learning to play the oboe, marrying D, making friends with people who have exquisite musical taste). I know everyone has these days. They are normal. But it was just fucking relentless. Everything I looked at wham, there was it’s bad side. The fantasies I generally use to get myself through the library workday, such as moving out of Florida into an apartment with hardwood floors and a location north of Mason-Dixon line, all seemed out of reach and likely to cause doom anyway. I was pretty sure that I had sold myself out in every way possible. I was pretty sure I could feel a mole on my face turning into skin cancer. I do not recommend a day like yesterday to anyone. Neither does Anne Lamott, but she does give one reassurance that they can be lived through, so I’m glad I’ve been in a heavy Lamott phase of late.

So, I help my day out with a few gmail chats and a couple beers and the Lost second season, all seven discs of it, in my hands, and I come to that time of going to Bedfordshire. I have the foggy notion that (TMI alert) it was about time for me to remove my current form of birth control, the ring. I do so, and then I get to thinking, did I wait too long? It turns out I did, but a full week. So instead of using it for three weeks I’ve been using it for a month.

Now, there is no scientific evidence for what I am about to suggest, but it did occur to me that perhaps my relentlessly, atypically miserable day could have had something to do with that little extra week. Come to think of it, the past week had been on a bit of a downward spiral in the absence of any additional external stressors. I mean, nothing really changed. I got home from NYC to a dually employed husband and an acceptable grade on the most recent paper for psycho prof, and the joyous birth of LL (to whom I am rapidly becoming addicted) so why did I spend so much time trying not to cry? Again, there’s no scientific evidence for this and I normally don’t even bother to try and figure out a reason why I feel like crying, but it did seem a little weird, like something that was happening to me from the outside not from the inside.

Exhibit C: My lunch

I took a bite into my sandwich today, the first sandwich fully of the Whole Foods Era, with natural turkey and natural colby jack cheese and organic black pepper on WF baguette. I guess I figured I would taste something different going, since my fare of late has been the cheapest Publix food I can find, but I was genuinely taken aback. It tasted like actual turkey. Like actual food. Like actual something. Could this be related to the fact that natural turkey has no extra hormones of antibiotics attached to it? Of course, it was also better quality in other regards, but my point is, I tasted something more like the real thing and it was a lot better.

So, are there any conclusions here, other than the fact that I really need to stop being a cheapskate on my food supply?

Who knows, certainly not me as usual. But I had a much better day today. I just turned my second of three total library papers for this summer (so just one big headache left, and a few little ones). I have a thought about how to make the shitty first draft of a story I just completed (yay) a little better, and while I’m not sure that it will actually pan out I have the will to at least try it, which is a nice change from 24 hours ago. I’m listening to The Tragically Hip, but that doesn’t feel tragic at all.