Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Five Months Into Facebook

It's been just over five months since I re-entered the Facebook universe. My main reason for doing so was that I wanted to track the progress of my then-expectant friends, who are now the proud mama and papa of 12-week-old twins. And because I have a Facebook account, I get to see pictures like this -

Seriously, I've probably accumulated an hour's worth of moments just staring at this photo, grinning. When people at work get stressed out, I say, "Hey, check out these babies," and they generally disintegrate into goopy puddles of awe and affection. This photo is, officially, the cutest shit I have ever seen.

Therefore, I am comfortable saying that this Facebook journey is a definite success and I have no regrets about getting back into this potentially dangerous time-sucker. There are other good aspects and not-so-good aspects, which I will list in my own peculiar order (beginning with an obvious "good" one) -

You get to see how long-lost people are doing My favorite example is J, whom I babysat from the time he was about 8-10 years old. He was a great kid. He and his single mom had this very cool, mutually respectful relationship. They worked out problems together. Watching him was a cinch because he was such a nice, mature youngster. I even got him to clean his room a couple times. I didn't remember this until recently, but sometimes he would spaz out and run around the apartment with a toy saxophone, shouting, "I'm gonna be a jazz man when I grow up!" The reason I remember that now is that I found him on Facebook and he's a jazz saxophonist, living in Austin, doing really cool artistic projects in one of my favorite cities. Of course, his being an adult totally messes with my mind and reminds me that I'm much older than I want to feel, but I'm thrilled to see that he has turned out so well.

Having said that Facebook society and real world society have little overlap That's true for me, anyway. And it isn't a totally bad thing. I have many FB friends that I want to see only online. And then there are the faraway friends that I would rather see in person, though I will gladly take this social format as an alternative. I guess I'm disappointed because I naively thought that "friending" cool people on Facebook would lead to me seeing them more often in real life, but that hasn't happened much. I've made so many vague plans to "get together sometime" but the truth is that it takes coordination and effort for two people to meet and hang out, with or without Facebook. The medium doesn't do much to facilitate real-life reunions. Also, I've noticed that when I'm on Facebook I don't tend to interact much with the people I see frequently in real life. But when I do banter with those commonly seen peeps on FB, we don't talk about those interactions in face-to-face reality. Isn't that weird? It's like we're all keeping the same dirty secret. But it isn't dirty, so why is it secret? I have a theory...

Most of the things we discuss are inane I notice this when I try to tell Dan about something that "happened" on Facebook. Dan continues to resist FB, but sometimes he'll get curious when he hears me guffawing as I stare at the navy blue bannered screen. And before I know it, I can hear myself trying to explain why so-and-so's comment about my comment about the link to that one Youtube video is HILARIOUS, but I'm cringing at the sound of my own voice, for the joke is no longer hilarious when I say it out loud. Those funny FB moments always seem to fall into the "you had to be there" category, except there is no there there (literally). How can one have a spoken conversation about this stuff? You can't. And that's fine. I can only hope that my everyday conversations will continue to sound nothing at all like a Facebook thread. Smiley face.

However, I do enjoy that The medium makes it really easy to offer kind words I think I have a knack for writing thoughtful and encouraging messages to other people and I'm grateful that Facebook offers a forum for that warm, fuzzy stuff. At least once a day, I find myself wishing someone a happy birthday, or telling them how cute their kid is, or congratulating them for a work or school-related feat. I strive to choose my words creatively, but mostly I try to be honest about anything extraordinarily positive that runs through my mind because that's the stuff that's worth saying, in person or on Facebook. I know how good it feels, like last week, when my godparents' daughter (whom I haven't seen since 1983) randomly told me that she loves my profile photo of my wedding. That made me feel great.

Though sometimes, I admit I crave the attention too much This is the stickiest aspect of Facebooking and the one I am most wary of tackling. I feel weird revealing this part of myself, but I do it on the blog because I suspect that others feel the same. I don't think I'm the only one that gets that little rush of excitement when the globe icon to the left of the search field is lit up in red. Are people talking about the thing that I said or shared? HOORAY!! Or are they talking about that random thing that I "liked"? BO-RING. When's it going to be about me again? Or worse yet, why isn't the globe lit up in red? Doesn't anyone care about my link to that HILARIOUS Youtube video? (Though I did not produce that video, my taste in "linking" says so much about me.) Sad, but true, Facebooking has made me more narcissistic, and I don't want to foster that part of myself. So I'm engaging in a very stern internal dialog. I'm lately doing a better job of remembering that this medium is fine for trying to spread some good will (by way of kind words), but that I shouldn't expect much in return. That isn't to say that I don't receive kind words from others - I do, frequently - but the very expectation of it sets me up for disappointment. Because it never really is enough, is it? All this digital attention is like drugs. The more you consume, the more you want it.

Having said that I'm grateful to Facebook for bringing me more blog readers I started blogging on Myspace about four years ago. One of the things I didn't "get" about Facebook was that it wasn't set up for blogging. I held onto the Myspace blog until early last year when it became apparent that no one was there. So I moved to Blogger, gave the site a tad more focus and began writing to an audience of Dan and a few random friends. I didn't realize that I could link to my blog when I set up the FB account in January and had no intention of doing so even after I figured out how this stuff works. Thanks to my best friend S (father of the twins pictured above), who politely asked if he could share one of my posts, I got over my shyness and started actively promoting this on Facebook. I've received so much thoughtful and encouraging feedback as a result. That's some digital attention that really means something to me. Obviously, I put a great deal more thought into these posts than in a 1-3 sentence news feed bit, so the comments on this blog (as well as the ones on Facebook - admittedly, it's more user-friendly than this googly mess) mean so much to me. Thank you to everyone who has left me a comment, even the person who claimed that I was "dressing up" Michael Jackson's pedophilia. The enormous satisfaction I get from just writing this stuff is truly amplified by your feedback.

Oh, and thanks to anyone who says something - in person, to my face - about this blog. Or about my cute pets, or about my wedding photos. I salute you, Talkers of Kind Words. Someday, I want to be like you.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Accepting Summer's Limitations

I always get a little bummed out this time of year. Seems ungrateful, right? I daydream about my unclothed limbs and sleeping with the windows open all winter long and now that summer is here, I have the nerve to complain. Alas, I guess I'm just a spring and fall kinda lady, though I did love the sound of the storm passing over my house this evening, and the lightning and firefly display before my living room window. Maybe I am better able to appreciate these things because I resolved this morning that I must accept summer's limitations if I want to be happy.

In a previous blog post, I talked about my friend S's resolution to accept winter's limitations and that, in adopting that philosophy, I was able to find some peace during those brutally cold months. The circumstances are different, even opposite, but the overall challenge is the same - how do I deal with extreme weather and its potentially negative impact on myself and others?

Springtime, with all its new life nectar, feels like constant, drunken exhilaration and summertime feels like the inevitable hangover. Literally, many people I know seem to be perpetually hungover during the summer. And when people are in that seesaw mode of nighttime stupor and daytime headache, they tend to have volatile tempers. This is the best explanation I've found for the phenomenon I call "Summer Crazies". Every year, I notice that there is a much higher propensity for drama in June, July and August - at work, amongst friends, in my brain, on the bus, etc. For instance, very bad things happen every summer at work (not only at my current job, but at pretty much every job I've had since I started working seventeen years ago). Last summer, these bad things ranged on the scale of lost jobs to lost lives. Of course, not all of these unfortunate events are alcohol-related. Some can only be chalked up to the tough-luck drama that life randomly hands us at times. But it doesn't help when the players are overdosing on mind-altering substances and sun. Too many of my acquaintance eagerly throw themselves into the cauldron because admittedly, the Summer Crazies can be very entertaining. But mostly I find it exhausting and I would rather just read a book. Honestly, I think that's the best I can do. I can't control the way other people react to unfortunate situations. I can't keep them from acting out or making it worse for themselves. But I can control my own alcohol and drama intake, and choose to amuse myself with fiction, instead.

In doing so, I just have to remind myself to read those words... very... slowly. Just as my brain starts to shut down when the temperature is below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, it has a similar reaction to temperatures around 90 or above. I get frustrated when my mind isn't as sharp or quick as I want it to be, but again, I must surrender to the elements and just accept that I may need to reread that paragraph a second time or that it might take longer to find the right words to say. I take some comfort in knowing that everyone has this problem. Oh, and conversation? Waste of time. No one seems to have the attention span for it. Several times in the last week, I've been talking to a friend and mid-sentence they'll randomly say something like, "Hey, look at that squirrel!" I was getting annoyed about it until I recalled the number of times I totally zoned out when someone was talking to me. Just like a meal on a blazing hot day, it's best to keep the chit chat light.

In my quest to keep the season from getting me down, my most surprising discovery is my new appreciation for afternoon naps. I'm like a little kid. I never want to go to sleep because I worry I'm going to miss some fun. But for a whitey like me, that period between 1:00 and 5:00 pm on a hot summer day is no fun at all. Unless I arm myself with a tank of water and a thorough layer of SPF 50, stepping outside equals instant sun stroke and blistering. On recent days off from work, I've found myself snoozing on the couch in the afternoon and it's absolutely glorious! I get to skip the harshest part of day and feel completely refreshed in the evening and nighttime, which is the best part of a summer day, anyway. I guess this is what the "siesta" is all about. It's freakin' brilliant. Obviously I can't do it all the time, but I'm going to take advantage of it as much as I can.

I'm curious to see how people behave in a place like Chattanooga, where the summers are much hotter, but the people are more used to it. Are we like the southerners we mock in the wintertime? You know, the ones who shut down their towns when they have an inch of snow because they don't know how to deal with it? Are we missing some basic summer coping skills that southerners know instinctively? Perhaps that's why I'm more inclined to embrace this season despite all the mischief it brings. Now that I've learned to live through and even like a Michigan winter, I'm ready to take on a Tennessee summer.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Detroit Deserves Better Than "1-8-7"

ABC will premier a new documentary-style drama this fall called "Detroit 1-8-7", which is supposed to follow a group of homicide detectives in the D. Ever since I watched "The Wire" I had hoped for a similar sort of series that would take a nuanced view of this troubled and beloved city. I have no such hopes for this series being half as good as "The Wire" or even "Homicide: Life on the Streets". That's why I'm not surprised by this underwhelming trailer.

Okay, to be fair, I will first focus on the positive, or at least the neutral aspects of this production -

1) Although the pilot was shot in Atlanta, the series itself will be filmed entirely in Detroit. In addition to this being a nod to authenticity, this decision will lead to more jobs and money in the region (assuming the show lasts). Also, I hope that the writers and producers of the show will be less inclined to paint a thoroughly awful picture of the city if they wind up spending time here.

2) Michael Imperioli. "Christopher!"

3) The voice over narration on the trailer is unfairly cheesy. It gives this the feel of a very low budget film from 25 years ago, when it is actually a TV show.

Okay, I think that's all I've got. Here are my misgivings -

1) I cannot ascertain that there is a single native Detroiter connected to this production. As far as I can tell, the creator, Jason Richman, was raised in southern California. I don't know who else is slated to write or direct episodes going forward (I'm not that familiar with television production - perhaps it is too early to say), but beyond including a few shots of the Ren Cen, "The Spirit of Detroit" and some burned out buildings, I don't expect this show to say anything unique or insightful about the city. And that's a shame, because Detroit is awfully interesting.

2) More nitpicking about authenticity - the names of the characters simply don't ring true. According to the cast list on imdb.com, there is an Ariana Sanchez (Latina - check), Aman Mahajan (South Asian - check) and there are obviously a lot of black characters in the trailer. In other words, I can tell there's some basic understanding of the region's ethnic mix. But the white people's names - Louis Fitch, John Stone, James Burke - are awfully WASPy. I don't know, maybe all of their homicide detectives commute from Oakland County, but I'm wondering where Ricci, Szymanski, and Serdenkovski fit in. When I was growing up in east Dearborn, all the white people I knew came from (or descended from those who came from) Poland, Italy, Ireland, Hungary, Romania, Albania, etc. I didn't know many WASPs. And everyone else I knew was Arab American. Oh yeah, where does Hammoud fit into this picture, while we're at it?

3) If it isn't authentic, then no one will care. "The Wire" was special for many reasons, but particularly because it made Baltimore fascinating to people like me who have never been there. And as gritty and upsetting as the show could be, I fell in love with it and the screwed up city it represented. "The Wire" dignified the people of Baltimore by showing us how interesting their lives are. This is why I have longed for a similar program about Detroit, because our politics, neighborhoods and people are just as complex and deserving of that lens. But if "1-8-7" is going to be just another action-oriented cop show with a "mystery of the week" storyline, no one is going to care. Well, Detroiters will care for a little while, until they get bored with the "Hey, look! That's us on TV!" thrill of it all, and then the show will be canceled. So much for those jobs and fresh dollars.

I hope I am wrong about this - I often am in my predictions about pop culture successes (like when I saw the trailer for "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and thought "The white dude from In Living Color? No one cares about him. What a waste of time!"). I hate to say it, but even if the show is as down and dreary and shallow as the trailer portends, I have to say (as I barf in my mouth), I suppose it will be good for the city. Like when a CVS opens, or the girl from Wayne State wins "America's Next Top Model", or Kid Rock has a hit song, or some other thing that would be embarrassing to most other towns...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Maybe Beyonce is better off without the ring

At the end of April, when Dan and I were still waiting to hear about his job prospects, I was telling my coworkers that waiting for those phone calls reminded me of the nightmares of dating. Fellow saleslady J (soon to be wed to a very nice gentleman) groaned, as if to say, "I know exactly what you mean." But my boss P said, "I have no idea what that's like." He married his high school sweetheart. Lucky him. He never knew that spirit-sapping uncertainty.

I can still remember all those times I waited and wondered if some dude would call me back. Even worse were the times when I was dating someone for weeks or even months, and just wasn't sure if he liked me as much as I liked him. If I could go back to my younger self, I would say, "Just give up on that guy." Now I know that's the best advice anyone could have given me. Instead, I got the usual terrible dating advice, like, "Just wait and see what happens," or "You know when you'll find the right person? When you stop looking." Yeah, I get the idea that you shouldn't try too hard, but who actually stops looking?

I think this is better advice - you'll know it's right when it isn't weird. That's how I knew Dan was the man for me.


On our third "date" (kind of silly to call it that, as we had spent the better part of four days together, but whatever), Dan and I were rolling down I-94, on our way to see Mavis Staples at the Detroit Tastefest. He was flipping through his CD book, looking for some new tunes, and then popped in Bob Dylan's New Morning.

"You're a Dylan fan, Dan? I never really 'got' Dylan. I know that's bound to change. I used to not care about Neil Young, but I love him now." I was pleasantly surprised when I figured out the opening track was "If Not For You". "I love this song. George Harrison sang it on All Things Must Pass. It's my favorite song from that album."

"Oh, yeah?"

"Yeah, that was my song from last winter. I didn't know it was a Dylan song, but I guess it makes sense. And they were buddies, right? I mean, they were both Wilburys."

Dan responded in his best Butthead voice, "Uhh... you mean The Traveling Dingleberries?"

I cracked up laughing. "Oh, god I completely forgot about that. 'Dingleberries.' Ha ha!" I kept giggling and Dan steered with his left hand as he held my fingers in his right hand.

I think I was staring out the window at the giant Uniroyal tire in Allen Park when he skipped ahead of several tracks to get to "The Man in Me".

"And of course, you know this one from The Big Lebowski."

"Oh, yeah! I forget this is his song. Love this one, too."

And that was the unforgettable moment. I was still giggling from the dingleberry joke, and loving those backup lady vocalists, when I realized that I felt perfectly content. I looked at the dashboard and then the hazy July sky and thought, "This is who I'm going to marry." In those initial days of love's rush - from the nervous, appetite-crushing hours before our initial date to the moment we first kissed at the park by my apartment and even after we had enjoyed several hearty meals, a Ray Davies concert and a 3D screening of "House of Wax" together - the thought simply hadn't occurred to me. I had been having too much fun to analyze the situation. I hadn't even thought much of the fact that I felt happier than I ever had before, because I was too busy being happy.

I squeezed his hand and then the thought went away. We met up with some friends and had even more fun that day and well into the night. At about three in the morning, we stepped out to the fire escape behind his Corktown apartment and smoked a cigarette. We were staring at the stark, towering elevator shifts of the still-under-construction Motor City Casino. Without any obvious prompting, Dan said, "I think I just want to get married."

"Me, too!"

"How do you feel about kids?"

"I want 'em. How do you feel about kids?"

He paused before responding, "One, or two. Not more than two."

"That sounds perfect."

I don't blame our friends for wondering if we had both gone a little insane. I moved in with Dan about two months later, but we didn't get married right away. We waited a couple years, like normal people do. But I sometimes wonder if the "normal" path of courtship makes any sense at all. The mystery of it, the "Is he going to propose?" or "When am I going to get that ring?" doesn't strike me as romantic. It sounds more like torture. Or when people ask themselves, "Is s/he 'the one'?" I can't help but feel that if you don't know, then the answer is "no".

Knowing when you are in love with someone who loves you isn't complicated. In my experience, "complicated" only indicates that it just isn't going to work. When you can honestly and fearlessly express your feelings to that other person (about them, or marriage, or kids, or Bob Dylan), then you're probably on the right track.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My First Date with Chattanooga

I finally met my new home. Dan and I drove down to Chattanooga, TN on Thursday evening and stayed until yesterday morning. Part of me is relieved to finally know for certain that I really do like this place. Another part of me is, of course, unnerved at the prospect of packing, moving, leaving my friends and starting a new job in a city quite far away. I have many feelings to sort, so forgive me if this post is a bit disjointed.

I think that the most exciting thing about my new home is the terrain. It suits me perfectly. Chattanooga straddles the steep banks of the Tennessee River just east of Lookout Mountain, which is this adorable, tree-covered peak that seems to pop out of nowhere. Boing! Some of the city is quite flat but the surrounding area is hilly and verdant. Being able to see so much green at so many elevations is my definition of paradise. You just can't escape the natural beauty of that region.

We spent a lot of time driving through various neighborhoods, just trying to get a feel for each one. Our sources told us that the North Shore is the hippest part of town, and it definitely reminded me of Ann Arbor. During our brief drive by on the way to our first rental viewing, I spotted several boutiques, a handful of restaurants with outdoor seating and the obligatory yuppie pet store. This is also the side of town where you find the groovy organic groceries and the hipster coffee shop, as well as houses that sell for twice as much as anywhere else in town. It's expensive and pretty and I'll probably shop for food there. The apartment we viewed was solid and had its own washer/dryer, but my favorite thing about it was that it rested on the side of a wooded hill, and that too reminded me of Ann Arbor. In both places, I'm not crazy for the overpriced downtown, but I do love those woodsy neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the landlord was looking for immediate occupancy and we just aren't ready to start paying rent.

While the North Shore is the current cool neighborhood, the Southside (adjacent to downtown Chattanooga) is the up-and-coming neighborhood that is currently experiencing it's great gentrification, and it's a little creepy. Gentrification is so different in a place like Detroit where available, affordable spaces far outnumber the people who want them. Anyone who is willing to face the hazards of Detroit living are generally appreciated for any sort of positive financial impact they can bring. But in so many other cities, neighborhoods like this one seem to "advance" from ghetto to upscale mall so rapidly that there isn't time for the old and new communities to really merge. And then you just end up with the upscale mall and a lot of displaced poor people. I don't know enough about the Southside to assume that this is exactly what is happening, but it just didn't feel quite right. It also lacks the natural prettiness that makes the North Shore special.

About halfway through our visit, I started getting nervous, not just because we hadn't found a place, but because I couldn't tell if I would really fit in this town. Dan and I were sitting in our room at the B&B, looking up Craigslist ads, when I turned to him and said, "So, Dan, I've never moved far away from everyone I know. What's it like?" but I started crying before he could answer. He reassured me that it would be okay and that I would make friends. He said that when he first started his grad program at UM, he spent a lot of lonely nights walking the dog on Vaughn Street in Ann Arbor before he befriended his downstairs neighbors (who remain such kind and generous friends that they took Dulce in while we were in Chatt). "Eventually you'll meet people who show signs of being into the same stuff that you like, and then you'll give them signals that you want to be friends."

I don't mind spending some time alone when we move. I'm pretty good at being a loner, or as my shrink says, "Being good company for myself." I take pride in that ability. I guess my bigger fear is that I would have to compromise a lot to fit in, because honestly, I also take pride in being a bit of a freak. And Chattanooga seems to have a shortage of the weirdo kind. During my breaks from apartment-hunting, I found myself googling things like, "Chattanooga freaks" and "Chattanooga freakshow". When that didn't turn up anything significant, I started looking up info about the gay community and atheists. There is a small gay community (which is fine, and a harbinger of good things, though I'm not gay), as well as a Free Thought Association chapter, but the Facebook participants in that latter group seemed almost religiously vehement about their non-faith, which made me feel weird, too. The truth is, I like having unusual people around me, but I don't gravitate toward such specific communities.

I guess I felt afraid that I would have to conform to something just to get along and make friends. And yet, as I interacted more with locals, I noticed that people seemed more mellow than conformist. And I think it has so much to do with the weather. How can we northerners not be so cranky and sarcastic when every November, all the leaves disappear and we have to brace ourselves for months of cold and depression? Or I think about Dan growing up in that always-sizzling-hot fantasy resort known as south Florida; is it any wonder that part of the world is home to so many disaffected young people? In a place like Chattanooga, where the weather is always "not that bad", I swear that the lack of extreme weather keeps people calm. And I can dig that. I could stand to be a little calmer.

Beside that, I doubt that I'm as unusual as I may think. Obviously many Chattanoogans have similar values, like wanting to live in a walkable neighborhood and buy organic groceries and look at pretty trees. I think the only thing that sets me apart is my almost complete lack of interest in what I like to call "stuff and things" (material possessions such as cell phones and other techno-gadgets, new clothes, new furniture, shit you have to dust and move around, etc.), but that makes me a freak pretty much anywhere I go in the USA.

We did find a neighborhood that we both loved. It's called St. Elmo (so now I get to have that terrible song stuck in my head instead of "The Chattanooga Choo Choo"). It's way on the southwest side of town, at the foot of Lookout Mountain. It's a haul from downtown, but having once been its own little town, it has a sleepy little business district with a coffee shop and an expensive restaurant, as well as a couple cheap ones. And since Chatt is such a great biking town, with great weather year-round, the distance to the city center is still doable without a car. And it's gorgeous. So that's where we're going to look for a place the next time we go back, in about a month.

Mostly, I feel really excited. As I said, the terrain in that region is exactly my style, and I'm looking forward to being around it all the time. It isn't the worst place to take the dog for a lonely walk.