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Archive for February, 2009

Baby Steps

It didn’t take long for my mom figure out that I was shy. The way I would cling to her as a baby and cower if strangers came near me was a big clue.

Some of my clearest memories from my early childhood are of my horror at being expected to interact normally. One day, my preschool held a faux market in the gym where kids could go to “stores” and “buy” things. I remember sitting in the corner of the gym, watching all the other kids run around from table to table, and deciding that the very best place to be would be right there in the corner, where I would not have to interact with anybody.

My childhood shyness went beyond simple unwillingness to talk to people I didn’t know well. I wouldn’t talk to any of my male relatives until I was four years old. I remember sitting on the couch at my grandmother’s house. My uncle wanted to take me to see my favorite movie (Fievel: An American Tail) and to my favorite restaurant (McDonalds). I remember feeling a panicky ambivalence. I wanted to see Fievel again and I wanted the special treat of going to McDonalds, but I couldn’t go with him, because I wouldn’t be able to speak to him to tell him what I wanted to eat at McDonalds.

In much the same way that my mom had me take dance classes in hopes that they would help me overcome my natural clumsiness, my mom had me join lots of groups and activities in hopes that they would help me overcome my natural shyness: dance, Girl Scouts, recreational soccer, church choir, and youth group, to name a few. Unfortunately, while all of those activities were mostly good experiences for me, as a pseudo-adult, I am still uncoordinated and I am still shy. I am a lot better than I was as a child–people I am familiar with are often surprised when I tell them that I am shy–but it’s still there.

Now that my mom can no longer force me to participate in group activities, I have to rely on my own inner strength to push beyond the boundaries my shyness and extreme introverted nature would naturally set for me. My innards are not particularly strong.

But I am pushing myself this year to become more competent at communicating with strangers, because I at least now recognize that there can be some benefits to social interaction. I have set the goal for myself of attending at least eight social networking-type events in 2009.

For the first event I had planned, my friend and I decided at the last minute not to go. It was a Monday and I was tired, and most of all, I was scared.

But last night, there was another event, and I promised myself that I would at least walk in the door. As I approached the door of the restaurant, despite the fact that my fight or flight instinct was yelling, “FLIGHT. FLY AWAY. ABORT MISSION IMMEDIATELY,” my friend and I went inside the door. And we stayed. We only talked to one person other than each other, but that in itself feels like an incredible accomplishment.

Showing up and talking to one person doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s unmistakable progress. It feels like a lot. Last night, I literally patted myself on the back, and more than once. I survived, which was triumph, a victory, an accomplishment! I feel like I deserve to be honored in some way–perhaps given a certificate of achievement reading something like, “AWARDED TO MELODY ON THIS 25th OF FEBRUARY 2009 IN HONOR OF NOT BEING LAME FOR ONCE IN HER LIFE.”

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I won’t grow up

My earliest memory of what I wanted to be when I grew up was that I wanted to be a lady-person. A lady-person is someone who is an adult and who wears wide-brimmed hats and long dresses and pearls.

From that, I moved on to career aspirations with slightly more responsibility. I decided I would make a fantastic US president, because I would make laws such as: “No hitting. No kicking. No being mean.” And no one would be able to tell me no, because I would be the president. All the world’s problems = solved!

In elementary school, I wanted to be an “author,” a teacher, and a marine biologist (thank you, Lisa Frank).

In middle school, I decided that I wanted to be on Broadway. I auditioned for the Youth Performing Arts School, and went on to go there for high school. There, my natural shyness combined with typical painful high school insecurity and general personal grossness to form a perfect storm of awkward social isolation. I decided that perhaps life in the performing arts was not for me.

Lacking the confidence to audition for basically anything, I decided with the incredibly enthusiastic encouragement of my mom that I would pursue engineering in college. I applied, was accepted, and got a scholarship to the Speed School. The summer before I was supposed to start, I decided that what I really wanted to do was study history.

So, I changed colleges and studied history. I decided that I wanted to get a Ph.D. in history and join the world of academia. But I didn’t like the instability of academia, and the increasing reliance on incredibly low-paid adjunct professors. I thought maybe being a high school history teacher would be the next best thing.

I spent a year, and a hell of a lot of money that I’ll be paying off until I’m 50, getting Masters in Teaching, specializing in secondary social studies. After graduating, I half-heartedly looked for a teaching job until I finally realized that my experience student teaching was the most miserable I’d ever been, and that was not how I wanted to spend my life.

Desperately in need of a real job, I landed in my current position through a personal connection. I’m grateful to be employed, but I’ve been in this job for two and a half years now, and I grow ever more aware that this is not my dream job come true.

Maybe I want to be a writer? Or pursue a career in communications? Both? A journalist? Also, for years, I’ve had a weird desire to become a mailman. Except that I’m not sure I would actually like it if I were doing it.

Various people who know me have suggested that I become a chef, an accountant, a doctor, a lawyer, and a stand-up comedian (a suggestion I find more hilarious than I would ever be). And then there’s always that suggestion that I could go back and try teaching again.

I envy those who have their dream jobs, or at least have a picture of what their dream job might look like. For me that picture has changed so often it’s hard to imagine I could ever find a career that I could stick with long enough to love.

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Morning Routine

6:30 a.m.: My first alarm clock goes off, playing NPR at an unreasonably loud volume. I hit snooze. I fall back asleep.

6:39 a.m.: The alarm goes off again. I lie in bed half asleep and listen to it for three to five minutes, depending on how interesting my mostly-asleep mind finds the story, before defiantly hitting snooze again. I fall back asleep.

6:50 a.m.: My second alarm clock goes off, emitting an ear-piercing siren-like noise. I weep internally, hit snooze, and collapse back under my covers, trying to understand what cruel world would consider it acceptable to force me to get out of a bed as warm and as comfortable as mine. I fall back asleep.

6:59 a.m.: Alarm. Snooze. Sleep.

7:08 a.m.: Alarm. Snooze. Half-sleep.

7:17 a.m.: The alarm sounds. I carefully re-set my alarm to go off at 7:22 a.m. My brain finds no contradiction in the fact that I am apparently awake enough to re-set an alarm clock, but I am not awake enough to actually get out of bed. Because not getting those extra five minutes of kind-of-sleep would break me.

7:22 a.m.: The alarm sounds. I consider whether or not it would be physically possible for me to get out the door at 7:40 if I slept for 5 more minutes. Decide it is not possible and frantically stagger out of bed. Glare enviously at my mostly-deaf, still-sleeping dog. Wish I were a mostly-deaf, still-sleeping dog. Rush into the shower.

7:30 a.m.: Emerge from the shower. Sit down in front of my laptop in my robe and check my email. And livejournal. And twitter. And hey, I wonder what’s on my google reader?

7:35 a.m.: Realize that I am technically supposed to leave my house in 5 minutes. Frantically search for work-appropriate clothes to wear, and get dressed.

7:38 a.m.: Herd my dog downstairs so I can feed him and let him out. Still believe in the foolish notion that I might get out the door by 7:40.

7:39 a.m.: Search for plastic containers to pack my breakfast and lunch in. Pack breakfast. Pack lunch.

7:44 a.m.: Bring dog back inside. Feed dog. Give dog his medicine.

7:47 a.m.: Run out the door with wet, unbrushed hair. Throw the unread newspaper inside the house. Realize that my car’s windshield is covered in ice.

7:48 a.m.: Start car. Wonder if the windshield will thaw quickly enough that I don’t have to scrape it.

7:49 a.m.: Give up and scrape windshield and windows.

7:50 a.m.: Begin driving to work. Relax with the warm, comforting companionship of Steve Inskeep, Renee Montagne, and Todd Mundt.

8:00 a.m.: Realize that because I am hearing the start of Morning Edition, I am technically late to work. Pull hairbrush out of my work bag and brush my hair. Wait until I get to a stop light to use the rearview mirror to correctly part my hair.

8:05 a.m.: Pull into the parking lot. Half-run to my office, several minutes away.

8:08 a.m.: Unlock the door of my office. Swear up and down to myself that today will be the last day that I have a morning like this. If I could just make myself get out of bed at 7:15! What a difference that would make. Tell myself that tomorrow, tomorrow, I really will do better.

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Happy Ferris Wheel Day

Though you may be more familiar with today’s more pedestrian association (“Valentine’s Day”), the true tale of February 14 is a sadly neglected story of hope, perseverance, and ultimately tragedy.

One hundred and fifty years ago today, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. was born. Named after one of the country’s most mythical and beloved forefathers, this handsome gentleman was perhaps destined for greatness. While his fantastic destiny did indeed come to pass, the rightful recognition for his accomplishments has been woefully ignored.

His invention was initially an attempt to create an architectural masterpiece as remarkable as the Eiffel Tower, and in the end, he actually created something all the more marvelous. In 1893, Mr. Ferris designed what we would later come to know as the Ferris Wheel. His idea was belittled and dismissed as unrealistic by the planners of the World’s Columbian Exposition. Like his namesake, however, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. did not give up. He secured endorsements of reputable engineers, and most significantly, he secured the $400,000 necessary to build the Great Wheel. It is because of his dedication, and nothing else, that we have this most beloved amusement park feature, this most treasured piece of Americana today.

The man whose efforts would come to give us orange-colored childhood memories of the state fair, a romantic setting for lovers of every age, and the chance for all people to look down on the world below as something both tiny and vast, died only three years after unveiling his masterpiece. His idea was stolen by other engineers. He and his family were swindled by fair owners and denied their rightful profits. Mr. Ferris took the world to new heights, and yet, Mr. Ferris was relegated to betrayal of the lowest class.

It is only fitting that a man who was denied so thoroughly his fortune, his glory, and ultimately his life, and who gave so much to American culture, be honored on this, the day of his birth. Celebrate this day for what it is, and for what it should be. Let February 14 be the day when a wrong is made right and when perseverance receives the tribute it has earned.

This uniquely American story is rightly deserving of a day in its honor. It is a crime that, once again, the privilege of recognition has been cruelly stolen from Mr. Ferris, just so hoards of people can pat themselves on the back for stimulating the economy by buying low-quality chocolates and unfunny cards for people they’re probably going to break up with in a couple of months anyway. I choose to celebrate Ferris Wheel Day. I choose to celebrate the invention that has become a source of true joy and true happiness, even if its heroic inventor has been forgotten.

I wish you, my friends, the very happiest of Ferris Wheel Days.

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Things That Are Good

In light of my whiny negativity about how 2009 is failing all of us, let’s take a look at some of the things that are brightening my life in this lousy year:

Dance Class
I haven’t really written anything about dance class since my last very dramatic anxiety attack post. Surprise, surprise, things were a whole lot worse in my head than they were in reality. In reality, I am still one of the of the worst dancers in the class, but in an odd twist, it’s not bothering me too much. My sister is eager to prove herself to be one of the very best in the class, but I am delighted to have proven myself to be mostly competent. I’m still slow at picking up choreography, my turns are still really weak, I’m still less flexible and have weaker extensions than most everyone else, but I am doing okay. It is a great opportunity for me to practice not being a perfectionist. The greatest thing is that now that I’ve been able to stop worrying, dance class is one of the highlights of my week, as it should be.

Cheesy Pitas
Here is how this works. You find yourself some pita bread. You take one pita piece and fill it up with cheese, and sometimes things like spinach or asparagus or broccoli. Then you slap that baby down on your rocking George Forman grill and let it cook until the cheese is melty. It’s hot, it’s insanely satisfying, and it’s easy. (Yes, that is what she said.)

Caroline in the City
When I was in the eighth grade, I was obsessed with this show. In that Tivo-less era, I taped every episode, every week, so that I could then re-watch it all week until the next episode would air. My sister gave me the first season for my birthday last month, and I have spent the past few weeks re-watching this show. This show is truly terrible, and truly fantastic at the same time. The nostalgia factor plays a big role, but something I realize now, which I didn’t realize as a 13 year old is that Richard Karinsky is totally dreamy:

Sure, you may not be able to see his dreaminess, but that’s only because you don’t know him like I do. He’s so sarcastic and negative! AND YET all that negativity was only a cover for his vulnerability! Because his real problem is that he CARES TOO MUCH. Sigh. The truly excellent news is that season 2 comes out on DVD in less than a month!

Twitter
I was a little skeptical of the Twitter thing when I first signed up, maybe because I associated it with text messaging and I don’t really do the whole text messaging thing. I’ve been completely sucked in, though, and find it highly entertaining and extremely addictive. I have spent way too much time on Twitter being entertained by delightful people that I have never met. I really can’t ask more from a social networking website than that.

Pomegranate Green Tea
Target sells these gallon jugs of pomegranate green tea for $2.35. I doubt the amount of actual “tea” that is contained in this beverage, but there are only 35 calories per 8-ounce serving, and no artificial sweeteners, so I figure it’s not all high-fructose corn syrup and cancer-causing poison. It’s delicious, and something about it feels festive, especially when paired with a cheesy pita and Caroline in the City.

Sleep
The only downside is that I can’t get enough of it.

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On Notice

I really thought that 2008 had been lousy, and that 2009 was going to be better. Possibly even with epic proportions of awesomeness. After all, 2009 was going to start out with the inauguration of Barack Obama, and what is not to love there.

So far, 2009 has had one truly excellent day. One. And it was January 20.

So far, 2009 has featured a considerable worsening of the country’s economic problems, natural disasters, multiple mass power outages, birds going power-mad and bringing down airplanes, other airplanes crashing just because, a sick dog, and a sick relative. Plus, just to add insult to injury, Pushing Daisies was canceled and The Office isn’t very good anymore. Also, the earth is getting warmer and WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE. And it’s only mid-February.

There is something that seems vaguely apocalyptic about it. Things just seem to be getting worse, with no end in sight. And this is with Barack Obama in the White House, so I can’t imagine how depressing things would feel if George W. Bush were still the president right now.

It’s true that things aren’t as bad as they could be. I personally am still employed, with a roof over my head, and in good health, and I am grateful for all that. However, way too many people can’t say those same things. And technically, things are never as bad as they could be, so I’m not sure it’s wise to use that standard for deciding what blows and what doesn’t, because then, really, you would only have a right to complain when the sun has exploded and incinerated the entire planet into dust, or at the very least, when there is nuclear war taking place. And who wants to wait until that long to satisfy their need to whine?

I’m putting 2009 on notice. It’s time for this year to shape up and to significantly increase its not-sucking quantities. Or else… I will… um… continue to feel put out.

My mom commented that there’s something about this that feels like the Great Depression–that first we have the economic disaster, and then we have the natural disasters that come along just to bitchslap us around. Our unemployment rate isn’t quite that high (YET), but damn, at least during the Great Depression, they had good movies.

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My sister and I are both dogged, haunted by a faded memory from our childhood. The source of this memory is such a long-standing mystery that I can’t even remember how many years ago we first discussed the fact that this image from our childhood had stuck in both our heads, without either of us having any idea of where it came from.

What We Remember: It is almost definitely animated. There is some sort of king or elected official–a male with a position of power and prestige–who may or may not be standing on a hilltop or platform. I believe there is some sort of band playing, maybe in his honor? Maybe it is a celebration? The most vivid, critical part of the memory is this: he has one of his arms raised and he is sharply jerking it back and forth, from right to left, in time to the music.

Even now, all one of us has to do is raise one arm, and sharply jerk it back and forth from left to right, and the other will immediately know what the one is referencing. THE GREAT ARM-JERKING MYSTERY.

I have felt that there is virtually no hope of ever finding the source of this thing. I assume it must have been something that we watched a lot for it to have stuck so permanently in both our heads, but we watched a lot of television as kids. (Well, and as adults, too.) Even if it was something we watched repeatedly, it seems incredibly odd that this one image adhered itself so permanently to both of our minds.

It’s been bugging me lately, how this one random image that I can’t place has stayed with both of us. How is it that we both remember this so strongly, but have no concept of its larger context? I’ve been trying to puzzle through what the source of this memory could be. After much careful thought, I realized that the likely source was a VHS tape of Dr. Seuss cartoons that our uncle had put together for us from various tape rentals. We both loved those cartoons as kids, and watched them repeatedly. I became further convinced that it was in Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You?, our favorite of the cartoons. I told my sister, and she agreed completely.

Tonight, we dug through our old VHS tapes and found the one of the Dr. Seuss cartoons. We re-attached the VCR to our television. And we sat for two hours and took a nostalgic journey of watching The Lorax and The Sneetches and the incredibly trippy Cat in the Hat and the fantastic Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You?

I was so certain that this tape would be the key to solving this mystery. Every time music started playing, I started thinking, “This is it!” Whenever someone on the screen was moving their arm in some manner to music that I would ask my sister, “Is that it?!” And I will tell you, there are a surprising number of marching bands in Dr. Seuss cartoons.

It was never it. We watched through to the end of the tape, through the end of the The Butter Battle Book, but it wasn’t on there.

I have no other ideas about what this could be. I’ve started to wonder if it ever really existed in the first place. Maybe I said something to my sister and she said something back, and it lodged a mis-remembered memory in both our minds, and we jointly confabulated a false memory of this king on a hill, jerking his arm in time with some tuneless music. I don’t know why whatever this is is sticking my brain in this way, or why it continues to bother me that I can’t place it. All I know is that I do really hate unsolved mysteries.

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