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Archive for January, 2009

On the Wednesday after the inauguration, my sister said to me that morning, “Happy Obama Day!” I asked her what she meant, since the inauguration had been the day before. “Every day is Happy Obama Day now,” she said. “Every day for the next eight years.”

Driving to work this morning, I heard a story on NPR about how President Obama pushing for higher fuel-efficiency standards. He’s directing the EPA to reconsider a request from the state of California to have more stringent fuel-efficiency standards than the current federal standards.

As I was listening, my gut reaction was surprise. Because I’m sorry, what? The president is actually taking an action with which I agree? He’s trying to protect the environment, of all things, the silly smelly environment?

That isn’t what the president does. The president does the exact opposite of what I think is right, almost always. The president will happily screw the environment and all the people living in it in the name of protecting business. That’s what presidents do.

For all those who laughed in the face of Obama supporters like myself, who said that those of us creating a cult of personality for him were bound to be deeply disappointed when he falls off the pedestal, I am here to tell them how wrong they are. I may have expected great things from Barack Obama, but I cannot get out of the mindset that I should never expect great things from the President of the United States.

Despite the fact that gave money and volunteered for his campaign, despite the fact that I wore my Obama shirt with pride, despite the fact that I so desperately wanted him to win the presidency, I still have not wrapped my mind around what it means for him to actually be the president.

I’m sure there are conservatives who look at the president’s actions to overturn the Mexico City rule, to tighten emissions restrictions, to close Gitmo, and sigh with disgust as they think to themselves, “So this is what it’s going to be like. What next, gay marriage?”

I look at all that with disbelief, I sigh with happiness and think to myself, “Are you kidding me, this is what it’s going to be like?! What next, gay marriage? This is amazing!”

I didn’t fully realize how different it was going to feel to have a person in charge of the country that actually agrees with me on most things. It’s bizarre in the most wonderful way.

Happy Obama Day, indeed.

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Day One

Eight years ago, my high school choir was invited to sing at the inauguration of George W. Bush. On the day of the inauguration, I was exactly one week shy of turning 18, so I hadn’t been able to vote. I had been invested in the election, however, and I was not happy with the way that it turned out. I knew then, as I know now, that my political beliefs lean decidedly to the left. If I had been able to vote, I would have voted for Al Gore and put all my fervent little heart into it.

I was angry in 2000 with the outcome of the election, but I wasn’t angry enough to be unhappy about the opportunity that I had been given to sing at the inauguration. In spite of the fact that it was George W. Bush that was becoming president, it truly was an honor, and it really was a fantastic experience. I got a fantastic tour of DC. I was interviewed on the news. I got to sing with the U.S. Marine Corps Band.

I didn’t know what I know now, about the terrific perversions of justice that would occur under George W. Bush’s leadership, or that decisions of his presidency would result in the deaths of thousands. I didn’t know that my anger would grow one hundred-fold by the time George W. Bush’s presidency was over.

On our last night in DC eight years ago, my choir visited the Lincoln Memorial. It had started snowing, just a little, and we carefully walked up the slick steps to the softly glowing memorial. Standing inside, looking at Lincoln, we began to sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The sounds echoed off the stone walls and columns, the harmonies surrounded us and filled my heart. It was as holy an experience as I have ever had. On this past Sunday, the Lincoln Memorial saw a different sort of performance, slightly bigger and more far-reaching in scope. In only eight years, so much has changed, but there Lincoln still sits, and there people still sing.

Over the past eight years, I have felt some bitterness that I helped in my very, very small way to usher in era of George W. Bush, that I helped to welcome these dreadful past eight years. Today, I felt so much of my anger dissipate. I welcome in a new eight (yes, eight) years now, not from a seat on the Capitol building, but from the couch in my home; not with the song of my choir, but with the joy and excitement in my heart. Today is the first day of the next eight years. I believe, I hope that they may be better.

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A flock of geese? Seriously?!

My first reaction when I heard about the crazy splash landing of the airplane in New York today was horror, given that it’s not often that you hear about survivors of plane crashes. Plane crashes also usually fall into that category of tragedies that are particularly arresting, due to the fact that so many lives are often ended so violently and so suddenly.

My second reaction was one of disbelief. It seems miraculous that everyone walked away from that accident relatively unscathed, if very, very cold. The images of crowds of people precariously standing on the wings of the plane are just insane. It really is extraordinary and remarkable and something to be grateful for that it seems there were not even any serious injuries as a result of this.

My third reaction was also disbelief, but for a different reason. Because birds? Really? This plane fell out of the sky and into a river because birds flew into its engine? It’s 2009 and we still haven’t figured out a better way to keep planes in the air when they run into some birds, which, given that birds and planes share the sky quite frequently, seems like it could happen plenty often? I fly all the time! This could have happened to me! But you know who flies even more often than I do? BIRDS. BIRDS FLY ALL THE TIME. I feel like it may just be time we figure out some sort of airplane bird guard.

Time, very helpfully, already has an article out about how to survive a plane crash. Thanks, Time. Because it is inevitable that when I hear about an incident like that, I imagine myself as someone experiencing it. I imagine what my reactions would be, and unfortunately, I’m afraid I would be a goner. I honestly like to think that were I to find myself in a life and death situation, my survival instinct will kick in, and I would be able to act with deliberate courage and a calm mind. Unfortunately, I really don’t see that being the case.

I have a feeling that I would be the one having a panic attack, the one rendered immobile by the argument in my head about the most rational course of action would be, the one who trips over her own feet and splits her head open on an armrest. Time Magazine tells me that if I keep my shoes on, if I pay attention to the directions, if I sit within five rows of an exit row, and remain alert while the plane is taking off and landing, I have a swell chance at surviving a plane crash. But tell me Time, what good are laced up shoes and exit rows, when there are birds coming to fuck with us as soon as our backs are turned?!

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Upon “growing up,” I experienced the inevitable realization that time is passing more quickly with every day (except for when it’s 1:30 in the afternoon, and I am at work), that soon I will be considered even more of a “grown up” than I am now, and that after all that (and hopefully not before), I will die.

This unsettling revelation that my life is getting shorter with every day has led to pursue more aggressively some lifestyle changes in hopes that I can tack a year or two onto the end. Given the multitude of health problems that run in my family (really, just about every single health problem you can imagine), it seemed especially important to me that I get things under control. I have now gotten to the point where I eat rather well, and I exercise not only regularly, but harder and more seriously. Congratulations, self! You can now be self-congratulatory!

There is one very small problem, however. I am the healthiest that I have ever been in my life. It’s been almost a year since I’ve been sick. At first glance, this may not seem like a problem. Likely because, at first glance, this is in fact not a problem, or if it is, it is a very privileged problem that people all over the world would really love to have.

As a child and teenager, I spent a great deal of time sick. I had lots of strep throat and sinus infections and stomach bugs, which kept me well-supplied with sick days spent sitting at home watching stupid television, sleeping late, and pointlessly surfing the internet. Those are all things I do when well, but only when I am sick, can I do these things for an extended period of time without feeling guilty. When I’m watching TV, I tell myself I should be reading. When I’m reading, I tell myself I should be writing. Or volunteering. Or out engaging in some sort of social activity which would allow me to make friends, and potentially meet some charming and delightful man who could help fund my whole Asian baby adoption venture.

For me, sickness equals freedom from that guilt and obligation, and lately, I have been in desperate need of a sick day. All too often, I’m at work and thinking to myself, “Having some sort of virus certainly would allow me to re-charge my batteries right about now.”

I find myself constantly smacking my head on the irony of this situation. I’m working hard to give myself a healthier life, but I feel the need to be sick in order to enjoy it. I’m getting tripped up with figuring out what to do with this time I earn–whether to enjoy it no matter how mindlessly or to make sure none of it is wasted. I’m not sure I can even figure out where wasted time ends and enjoyment of life begins, or how much time I should spend trying to differentiate between the two.

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On Wednesday, my sister and I had our first dance class as returning members of the “senior class.” I was a part of this class, along with my sister, five years ago, before I went away for college. I was very proud of myself at the time, and proud of the way I pushed myself to become a better dancer. I was not great, but I pulled it off.

I’d been nervous about re-joining this class, though, almost ever since my teacher asked my sister and me if we were interested in doing so. I was thrilled and excited for approximately one minute, after which I began to panic about how unready I was to return to the senior class. My dance teacher told us that we would both need to have a full split and to master fouette turns.

I spent the past month stretching and exercising. And practicing fouette turns, despite the slight problem that I’d never been taught how to do them. Youtube was surprisingly unhelpful, which left me to use guesswork and the occasional coaching from my sister. Still, I worked at it, and I at least got the basics down, though I was shaky and inconsistent. I couldn’t get my nerves to go away, though, and I had at least one dream in which my dance teacher told me that I danced so badly that it would have looked better if I had just walked across the floor.

By Wednesday, my sister was wildly excited for dance, and I was anxious. The nerves probably didn’t help things.

My dance class went almost exactly as badly as I had imagined. During the class, and in the hours I spent obsessing about it afterward, I learned several key items:

1. My brain has utterly forgotten anything it had ever learned about how to make my body do two things at once. I am an incredibly clumsy and uncoordinated person, which is why my mom put me in dance classes at the age of five to begin with. And while I may have overcome this somewhat in my thirteen years of dancing, it did not stick. On Wednesday, even simple warm-ups were too complicated for me to grasp. Despite the fact that intellectually, I knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing, physically, DIRECTIONS DID NOT COMPUTE.

2. To complicate matters further, the preparation for fouette turns that I had gotten myself in the habit of doing was totally incorrect. Like, really, totally, completely. Ha. Ha ha. Oops.

3. No matter how clumsy I am, no matter how incorrect my preparation was, my legs simply are not strong enough to successfully do the expected fouette turn combination. The muscle isn’t there yet, and until I strengthen my legs, there is no success to be had.

4. In fact, forget the stupid fouette turns that I’ve been harping on, forget the fact that I never learned how to do them, because it turns out I can’t remember how to do nearly anything.

5. However, my brain has not forgotten a single thing about what it is like to be a perfectionist who is not good at something that she wants to be good at. A brief summary: SHIT SHIT SHIT, I FAIL, GOD, I HAVE TO BE BETTER, HOW CAN I BE BETTER, I DON’T WANT TO FAIL, AHHHHH, RUIN, I HAVE BROUGHT SHAME UPON ME AND MY ENTIRE FAMILY, NO DON’T LOOK, MY TURNS, THEY ARE HIDEOUS, FAIL FAIL FAIL.

My sister left the class feeling exhilarated and excited. I left the class unhappy with myself and worried that my dance teacher was sincerely regretting allowing me to join the class. It is impossible to know whether the disappointment I saw on her face was actually there or whether it was my own disappointment in myself, projected onto her.

My brain has spent the past two days warring with itself–the rational side of my brain says, “Melody, you just have to practice and get stronger, and you will get better. Your dance teacher will give you a chance to show her that you are working hard and getting better. Now calm down and go to sleep, because it’s one o’clock in the morning.”

The emotional side of my brain says, “WHAT AM I DOING LYING HERE IN BED WHEN I COULD BE UP PRACTICING TURNS AND STRETCHING AND WORKING ON MY HEAD SPOT. MY DANCE TEACHER REGRETS LETTING ME IN THE CLASS, SHE REGRETS THE DAY SHE MET ME, AHHHHHHHHHHHH.”

Since finishing with school, there has been a dearth of experiences which allow me to feel like I’m actually good at something. In school, I was good at reading and writing and doing research and behaving in a way that made most teachers like me. My achievements were structured and deliciously measurable. Now, I have a job that’s too uninteresting to me to provide me with any sense of challenge and resulting success, and few other things in my life that require me to try very hard. I want something to feel good at. I want something interesting to accomplish. I thought this dance class might provide that, but it won’t if I do so badly that my dance teacher asks me to drop it.

My sister says my dance teacher will not kick me out of the class. (She also says I didn’t do as badly as I think I did, so you can’t necessarily trust her judgment.) I don’t want to be asked to leave the class. The class’s jazz dance is going to be (of all things) to “Supermassive Black Hole,” as can be heard on the freaking Twilight soundtrack. How perfect is that?! I want dancing to be something I’m good at again. But I’m also afraid that I’ve lost it, that there isn’t enough time for me to catch up, that even worse than having nothing to try for, I will have tried and failed. Yuck.

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Dazzled

When I purchased the first book in the Twilight series this past summer, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew about the books was that they involved vampires and that they were immensely popular. I was trying to be virtuous and to read more, so that I could follow my self-improving activity by saying to myself, “Great job! You are such a good reader!”

I did not know that the books were badly written, or that they were basically romance novels for teenage girls, or that they would read like fanfiction and feature the ultimate Mary Sue as the main character, or that the publisher somehow embedded cocaine into the pages of the book to be absorbed by my fingertips, thus creating one of the most shamefully addictive reading experiences I’ve ever had.

All I knew: Popular books. Vampires.

All I had: a desire for literary pride.

And now, it would be impossible to describe the last half of my 2008 without mentioning stupid freaking Twilight. I may have only read the latter three books in the series once, but it’s because I’ve been too busy reading Twilight and Midnight Sun repeatedly. I not only saw the movie on opening night, but have seen it three times since then, and can’t wait until the damn thing arrives at the dollar theater so I can go watch it ten million more times. And as much as I crack up during the movie at the sweaty-glitter-skin “AS IF YOU COULD OUTRUN ME” scene, nothing can make right my to-be-determined ultimate number of theater viewings. I constantly have a song from the movie soundtrack in my head. And I sort of want Robert Pattinson to (bathe first and then) do me.

I am egotistical enough to consider myself a reasonably smart person. I went to a respected women’s college, and am all about the girl power feminist whatnot. I deeply appreciate good writing, cleverly developed characters, and a well-told story. And god, I hate myself for it, but I fucking love Twilight.

I have a very difficult time reconciling these two sides of myself and letting myself love Twilight. I tell myself that because I recognize all of its many, many flaws and weaknesses, and because I am genuinely amused by so many of the over-the-top aspects of the story, my enjoyment of it is at least somewhat excused. And I do feel compelled to excuse and belittle my enjoyment of it.

When I graduated from college, much of how I identified myself evaporated. I could no longer define myself in the terms that college provided for me: senior, history major, choir member, resident of Shafer Hall. I was left with an amorphous sense of self that I have spent the years since frantically trying to hammer out into definitions that make sense and that make me happy and proud of myself. Of all the noble new self-definitions that could have come out of an attempt to read more, “Twilight fangirl” was not quite that for which I was striving.

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