What Being Poor Is Like

It’s worth revisiting this piece now and then.

Being Poor, by John Scalzi

Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn’t mind when you ask for help.

Being poor is off-brand toys.

Being poor is a heater (or air conditioner) in only one room of the house.

Being poor is knowing you can’t leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.

Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway.

Being poor is Goodwill underwear.

Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.

Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.

Being poor is your kid’s school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.

Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.

Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.

Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.

Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.

Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.

Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger’s trash. 

 

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.

 

Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.

Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.

Being poor is not taking the job because you can’t find someone you trust to watch your kids.

Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.

Being poor is not talking to that girl because she’ll probably just laugh at your clothes.

Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner.

Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.

Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.

Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.

Being poor is your kid’s teacher assuming you don’t have any books in your home.

Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid.

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy.

Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.

Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn’t bought first.

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.

Being poor is having to live with choices you didn’t know you made when you were 14 years old.

Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.

Being poor is knowing you’re being judged.

Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.

Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.

Being poor is deciding that it’s all right to base a relationship on shelter.

Being poor is knowing you really shouldn’t spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.

Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won’t listen to you beg them against doing so.

Being poor is a cough that doesn’t go away.

Being poor is making sure you don’t spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.

Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.

Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.

Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.

Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.

 

 * * *

A powerful book I recommend is “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich. If you’ve never worked dead-end jobs and struggled to get by, it is eye-opening. If you have, and have managed to break out of that life, it will provoke a kind of melancholy nostalgia. If you’re still dealing with being nickel-and-dimed, you will get angry…but, wait, you probably can’t afford to buy the book so you could read it. Never mind. Maybe the public library has it.

I know how that goes.

Here’s some “being poor” observations:

Being poor is knowing all the staff folks at the public library by name, because you can’t afford to buy books.

Being poor is buying most of your kitchen utensils, furniture and clothing from a thrift store.

Being poor is hoping you don’t get sick or have a car accident.

Being poor is hoping your pet(s) won’t need to go see the vet.

Being poor is hoping nothing important breaks.

Being poor means riding on bald tires.

Being poor means that delivery pizzas, ibuprofin, eyeliner, desserts, batteries, pantyhose, tampons, toilet paper, basic cable, chocolate, soap, razors, pet food and hair care products are luxuries.

Being poor means living without cable TV, or not having a TV at all.

Being poor means darning holes in your socks and underwear.

Being poor means re-using teabags.

Being poor is not having a savings account…or a checking account.

Being poor means having four or five crappy part-time jobs with no benefits, some of which are paid “under the table.”

Being poor means turning bottles and jars upside down to get the last drop, or adding water to the shampoo or face soap to eke out a few more uses.

Being poor means “re-gifting” and making homemade presents and cards.

Being poor means you can’t afford the supplies to make homemade presents or cards.

Being poor means not being able to be with your family on Christmas Day.

Being poor means that when you feel sick, you panic, because you have no medical insurance.

Being poor means you never buy “Dry Clean Only” items.

Being poor means knowing a hundred different recipes for rice, pasta and potatoes.

Being poor means knowing which food items in the grocery store are the cheap brands.

Being poor is having nightmares about unwanted pregnancies when you haven’t even had sex in months.

Being poor means being scared to go outside when it is wet or icy, because if you fall and hurt yourself, you can’t afford to do anything about it.

Being poor is cutting your own hair with nail clippers.

Being poor means you examine pennies and hope one is a rare coin.

Being poor means paying the minimum on your bills.

Being poor means not paying your bills and having utilities cut off.

Being poor means getting non-stop calls from creditors until the phone is cut off.

Being poor means “the ugly frames” at the optometrist.

Being poor means ignoring that three of your teeth are sore and sensitive, and trying to scrape plaque off your teeth with a paperclip because you can’t afford to go to the dentist.

Being poor means not wearing make-up unless you have to, because you can’t afford to buy more when it runs out.

Being poor means not going out, not dating, not even considering meeting new people, because you can’t afford to go anywhere or do anything and you’re too depressed to even try to be sociable.

Being poor is wanting to volunteer to help others, but being unable to afford the cost of gasoline or the time away from job hunting. 

Being poor means you can’t afford to adopt that abandoned cat in your neighborhood.

Being poor means waiting for three hours at a government office just to be treated like crap by someone who doesn’t care that you can’t afford to buy food.

Being poor means that a hole in a t-shirt means your available wardrobe has just been decimated.

Being poor means that you consider swiping toilet paper rolls from businesses, but instead buy something for a dollar at McDonald’s so you can grab more napkins than you are entitled to. 

Being poor means that you don’t recover from the last ten economic disasters before new ones happen.

Being poor means just sitting and staring into space for long periods of time because you’re so hungry or sick that you keep spacing out, and don’t have the energy to do anything.

Being poor means eating food that is bad for you, and then overhearing people complaining that fat people can’t really be poor because they aren’t visibly starving to death.

Being poor means not having a working phone.

Being poor means duct-taping your shoes together.

Being poor means considering selling plasma.

Being poor means that you don’t have any pens in the house that haven’t run out of ink, and can’t afford to buy a $1 notebook in the drugstore.

Being poor means that you are expected to give up every nice thing you were ever given or bought before you were poor, just so people don’t treat you badly for not looking as poor as you are. Yet.

Being poor is to be considered lazy or addicted to something or stupid or unmotivated, because surely you wouldn’t be poor if you weren’t those things.

Being poor is skipping meals.

Being poor is dreading “having a talk about finances” because that means more bills won’t get paid.

Being poor is avoiding the neighbors so they won’t catch on that you are as poor as you are.

Being poor is wishing you could just cease to exist, because everything costs money you don’t have and can’t earn, and you’re very tired and depressed and worn out, but you’re also too poor to pay for a funeral.

Being poor is considering watching the news on the TV to be a high point of entertainment.

Being poor is being thankful you’re not much of a drinker, because you couldn’t afford a beer even if you wanted one.

Being poor is being sick of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, Michelina’s, Buddig wafer-thin cold cuts, grocery store processed cheese, and ramen.

Being poor is considering any brand other than store brand soda to be a luxury.

Being poor is wishing for pet supermarket, grocery store and drugstore gift cards.

Being poor is parking your car so people don’t see the dented side when you go to a job interview.

Being poor is having to borrow pantyhose for a job interview and praying you don’t snag them.

Being poor is giving into the temptation to eat cheap comfort food until you gain weight.

Being poor means going without prescription medicine and not telling anyone when you have a fainting spell or are nauseated for five days straight or when your headache or ache or pain doesn’t go away promptly.

Being poor is being thrilled to get a new toothbrush and toothpaste in your Christmas stocking.

Being poor is not having the energy to do chores on a regular basis because you feel so bad and are so tired and it will only get dirty or disorganized all over again.

Being poor is what happens to other people…until it happens to you.

The Truth Is I’m Not Fine

Warning: I’m in a bit of a mood tonight. You may want to read a happier blog.

I get all kinds of shit from my family for answering honestly when they ask me things. Like, “How are you?”

Well, okay, then. Don’t ask me anything if a less-than-bubbly response is going to chafe your serenity. Because you are going to get the truth, and nothing but.

Usually my answer is “busy, tired, but alive,” or some variation thereof. They don’t like that. They want to hear “GREAT!” with lots of smiles and pompoms and confetti…this, despite the fact that “bubbly joy” hasn’t happened, ever, not once, since I was born. You’d think they’d clue in eventually that it isn’t part of my programming. I can be joyful, but bubbly isn’t ever going to happen.

*sigh* Even rats eventually change their methods when the established method is FAIL; humans seem to get stuck beating their heads against one kind of wall or another because the method worked once in the past or they have hopes it will work in the future, or because they have rationalized that it SHOULD work. I strive to be smarter than a rat.

I love my family, but the constant shit I get for being honest, even though I am polite and tactful and soft-spoken in my honesty, just leads me to believe they prefer pretty lies that sound nice, and my actual state of wellness or infirmity is not important. I wish they’d stop asking if they don’t want to know the answer, but they never do. Attempts to fake a bubbly response to forestall the inevitable shit are also full of FAIL, as I am apparently not so great at lying.

Yep, I’d say I rate pretty high on the “T” end of the Myers-Briggs “T/F” scale. Funny how I have no trouble making and keeping friends (some of which I’ve had for decades)…it’s just my family who resent not being lied to in order to make them feel warm and fuzzy all the time. They all rank high on the “F” scale, and I have to remember that and be more kind.

Truth is, I am miserable, folks. I haven’t been feeling well for a long time. I don’t sleep well at night. My innards are troubled, and most days I feel like I’ve been kicked in the ovaries or kidneys or both.  I have a bad back, and it has been acting up. My hips have been bothering me. Nothing tastes good. I’m eating hardly anything, since my appetite is nearly nil, but somehow still gaining weight. How that works, I have no idea.

Some of this crap is due to non-stop, grinding stress. I feel like I’m being pressed between two giant millstones, and some days I don’t even have the energy to try to push them off. I just lie there and let them grind. I don’t even have the energy to be defiant (“Is that all you’ve got?”) or whiny about it. I just feel like a rag doll being slowly squashed flat.

I’ve been out of work, and send out job applications regularly, and thus I get told “no” on a daily basis. That’s if the job advertisement isn’t a scam (all too often it is, and I’m too tired to even feel angry about that any more), or if I don’t get a robo-response and then hear nothing for weeks or months about the job I applied to. I’ve revised my résumé multiple times; if they don’t like it like this, maybe they’ll like it like that. I’ve tried for jobs that pay minimum wage, and I’ve tried for jobs I’m not entirely qualified to do (but willing to learn) and I’ve tried for so-called “good” jobs in both fields I might like and fields I know I won’t ever like even a little bit. I love working, but at the same time, I am getting this hopeless feeling that I won’t ever be hired again. Or, if I am, it will be to a minimum wage job I loathe, which will keep me from ever saving enough money to get ahead and break the cycle of abject poverty.

I have no income, and my SNAP (food assistance) benefits ran out on New Year’s Eve, and I’ll need a job to get them renewed. Yeah, I’m working on that one. The reason I asked for help with food in the first place is because I can’t get a job. No one wants to hire me. In the meantime, it would be nice if I could eat something. So, whatever. I don’t qualify for any other assistance.

Unemployment ran out months ago. My medical insurance is gone, and I can’t afford prescriptions I need (not even a bottle of ibuprofin). My eyeglasses need upgrading, my teeth probably badly need cleaning, I’m overdue for a follow-up mammogram after a breast cancer scare (I didn’t have any, but it cost me thousands I didn’t have to make sure of that and my medical insurance doubled in cost overnight). My pet needs shots and a check-up. My bank account is gone; the medical insurance company ignored my request to stop auto-debiting my account and boom, overdraft. Every little bit of cash I got, I threw it into my bank account but it wasn’t enough fast enough. I have no savings left, no retirement fund left, no 401k or other  investments left, nothing I own is worth selling. I don’t use credit cards, and wouldn’t use them if I had them, since I have no income to pay for any credit I’d borrow. My car is 20 years old and falling apart.

I’m looking into selling plasma for a buck.

I was not able to spend Christmas with friends or family, and didn’t get a call from my family until 8PM that night. It was rather lonely. I was unable to buy anyone any Christmas presents. (I then felt like crap on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but I’m starting to get used to feeling awful.)

I borrow library books or watch cable news on TV for entertainment, and when I can’t afford to pay the cable bill for the cheapest cable package anymore, they’ll cut that off. I had to forego borrowing books for a while, because when my car was in the shop for a while, my mom promised to drop some library books off, dawdled about it, and I racked up a six dollar fine I couldn’t afford to pay, meaning I couldn’t borrow any books. I have no phones. My land line is cut off. My cell phone is about to be cut off, and I can’t dial or text out. I do have the Internet, until I can’t pay for that. My laptop is on its last legs, but a very kind person donated me an old computer, so as long as I have Internet, I won’t be totally cut off from the rest of the world if my laptop dies.

I don’t own any game systems, not that I’d feel good wasting time playing games instead of looking for a job or doing homework.

I have to beg for help buying toilet paper, tampons, pet food, and soap.

I don’t drink much, so I don’t miss not having any alcoholic beverages in the house.

I’ve been eating cheap food for months and I suspect that has a lot to do with why I’m feeling bad, but it is better than not eating at all, which I suspect would make me feel worse.

My mother and I are clashing–we get along much better at a distance, and have been forced into close proximity for almost a decade and it is difficult to deal with the casual emotional abuse and verbal beat-downs, and to hear myself being unpleasant in return; let’s just say that I am not allowed to have any personal boundaries established whatsoever at any time and there is nowhere I can go to be guaranteed to be left alone for any length of time (mother doesn’t ever call before dropping in, and will get me out of the bath, interrupt any work I am doing, or wake me up from an all-too-rare sound sleep if necessary, and will also rearrange everything in the house to her liking and leave it that way for me to put back).

I’d give anything to move back to Atlanta since other family members and friends all live there, but I can’t afford it. In fact, I’ve been stuck here for eight years. EIGHT. YEARS.

I will need to get a job that earns enough to pay the bills and my school loan debt and so on. I will need to earn enough to save money so I can move: first and last month’s rent, a deposit, a pet deposit, the cost of moving all my stuff. Buying necessary things to set up a new household. Since I can’t even get a minimum wage job, I assume it will take me a long time to do that. If you have NO income, then it will NEVER happen. That feels…awful. I don’t want to die down here.

I’m begging my school for a work study job. Again. So far, I haven’t had a nibble. Having even a part-time job, just twenty hours a week, will help me reapply for food assistance, and help with paying some of the most important basic utility bills. I’m continuing to apply for jobs, and am getting all As in all subjects in school (I’m trying to get an AS Paralegal; my current three degrees, including a Master’s, have failed to get me a job so far). I’m not allergic to working hard.

If I get the AS Paralegal, then maybe I can get a job as a paralegal, which I’ve been assured I can easily do, once I have that precious piece of paper. I hope my friends are right. Will still need to somehow save up the money to relocate.

I have two friends down here, both very good to me, very good people. They are busy, I am busy, we don’t hang out much. I’m naturally an introvert, and being poor means I can’t do anything that costs money (not even a dollar), and am feeling more and more like a hermit anyway.

Some days I really have a difficult time seeing the bright side and feeling hopeful. It’s been years and years of one step forward, two steps back. I no longer can really visualize the ultimate goal. I don’t dare dream, even small dreams.

Once upon a time, my big dream was to have a little house of my own, in Atlanta. Not a large one. Just big enough for an art studio, my books and a place to get online and write, a guest room for friends and family to use if necessary. Maybe a porch or balcony or both, for when the weather was nice enough to just sit a while outside, maybe on a porch swing with some tea and a book. Stairs, because I like stairs in a house. A small yard, as I’m not big on gardening. Friends would come over, we’d do art projects, or watch a movie, or just talk or eat a meal together. I’d have a cat, maybe two.

I have no idea how to make that dream work out, even though it seems so pathetic and small. I can’t even get a job at McDonald’s. I’m sad and depressed all the time, and creditors are calling me. My mom was going to help, but she finds more and more things she doesn’t want to help with each month, and more bills go unpaid, and more creditors call. I have NO income. What can I do?

I’m relieved I have no children. I couldn’t afford them. I can barely afford my pet.

I’m tired. I feel hopeless. Some days I am so exhausted from lack of sleep, and my back is so sore, and my digestion is sometimes so out of whack, I just want to cry. I don’t cry, because I feel bad feeling sorry for myself when other people have it far worse in life than I do (though fewer and fewer do, I suppose). I ache. I’m so tired.

My self-image is in the toilet. I feel old and fat and useless and worthless. Other people don’t see it like that, but I suppose I have a lot of free time to insult myself every day and find things to feel bad about. Some days I do, and feel helpless and unlovable and useless. Some days I don’t, but I remember how I felt on the days when I did. It lingers.

I think my laundry detergent is eating holes in my shirts. For the past couple of months, every shirt with a design on it has come out of the wash with the ink feeling crumbly and cracked. At least ten shirts have suddenly developed holes; most were so destroyed they weren’t even good enough for rags and had to be thrown out. It’s the damndest thing. Why didn’t any of my clothes ever get holes in them when I could actually afford to go buy a new t-shirt? It’s like even my laundry soap knows I am too poor to fight back. I can’t even afford to buy a different brand until the rest of the jug is gone, and even then, without help, I’ll be hand-washing everything in the sink. Maybe with a bar of Ivory soap. It’s just…here’s another thing. You know? Normally a hole in an old shirt is a non-event. Maybe you are sad because you liked the shirt, but you can get a new one. You shrug it off. Except when you can’t, because you’re running out of shirts to wear at all.

The worst part of feeling bad is that I do occasionally earn a dollar now and then editing and writing articles for a website, or doing some web work, but when I feel crappy, I can’t even concentrate long enough to edit or write or be creative. I can’t live on what I earn doing that, but it is at least something I enjoy doing, and it helps a little. I don’t have to beg for a few bucks to go buy some shampoo if I write enough to earn a few dollars.

I suspect that I need to have a good cry and a good night’s sleep. Maybe a good meal. I bet I’d feel better.

In the meantime, if my family asks me “how are you?” then they should not expect me to smile and lie and say I feel fine. I have been in some low, depressed, down places in life, but nothing like this, nothing that has lasted this long. So I’m not fine, and I won’t lie about it.

I’m stubborn, though, and I guess I still have a shred of hope left. I’m not going anywhere. The grindstones are really doing a number on me, but until I hit absolute rock bottom and can’t afford to eat or keep clean, I am just stubborn enough to keep breathing. Other people might be sad if I didn’t persevere. I’m too tired to have an opinion on the subject right now.

Maybe one day I’ll write a book about it.

Bad day. Sad day. Exhausting day. I had a dream where I fell into a coma and a magic fairy godmother made a few things go right while I was unconscious, while I wasn’t struggling about something in every single area of my life. Maybe I won the lottery or something. I don’t know how she did it. I was comatose in the dream. Then I woke up and was so relieved not to be in a coma. Then I was frustrated, because life doesn’t work like that, and clearly my subconscious wants a break. Just a small one. It’s not like my imaginary fairy godmother took all my problems away. I think she just did stuff like fix my glasses or get the car valve cover repaired, or fast forward through all the paralegal classes I have yet to take so I already had my AS degree. It was little stuff, not a mansion or Prince Charming Enough or whatever. Even in my dreams, all I want is some rest and fewer troubles.

I’ll be OK, eventually, I hope…but right now, I’m not. All I can do is not be boring about it. I won’t whine about it every day. I promise. But, no, I’m not fine.

The autobiography I didn’t want to write

I was born with a stainless steel spoon in my mouth, no hair whatsoever on my head, and twin genetic bullets of depression and addictive tendencies aimed point blank at my head. The downmarket spoon came with hand-me-down silver rattles with ancient toothmarks and thorny inscriptions. Our ancestors did a lot of great things, managed to arrive in America soon enough to get mixed up in the Revolution to a very minor degree, and then proceeded to make descendants. The hair problem was self-correcting; seemingly even more so as I get older and have to pay for my own beauty salon visits. If you’re worried about the genetic jackpot I mentioned, well, I managed to duck one problem but get grazed by the other.

The family I’m from succeeds in spite of itself. We’re related to Governors and Presidents (by marriage and distantly), and then, on the other hand, some fool is such a mess he gets tanked on lighter fluid during a blizzard and thinks it might be a good idea to chain-saw a picture window in the side of his vacation cabin (and he actually does a good job of it). We have spry oldsters complaining about politics and Kids Today and raising Cain in their nineties and beyond, and then we have youngsters and grandpas alike who can’t seem to get the hell out of the way of a train in time (one case in particular was due to an ear trumpet malfunction), and it’s a sad heritage to have more than one relative meet his Maker via locomotive, as it implies a certain lack of common sense. We have religious ancestors like Great Uncle Josiah, who used to recite the entire Bible before each family meal, doing so in a deep, booming voice that sounded like something dredged up from the bottom of a well. His children were surprised when they married and discovered that food could sometimes be warm when you ate it. There were the ninnies who had so much money they didn’t know what to waste it on first, as they bought airplanes and houses and fur coats and small countries and then lost it all, rather inevitably so, during the Great Depression. Then there were the working poor, like my grandmother, who thought getting two walnuts and an apple from Santa was a coup, and who excelled in high school and earned a full scholarship to several colleges, but had to give it all up to go to work as a secretary so her brother, who was less gifted intellectually, could learn how to become a doctor. Which he did, and which he was, until he drank it all away. The bellydancers, the polka players wearing live crabs on their heads, the lawyers, the deejays, the inventors, the British stepmothers, the hippies, the warhawk Republicans, the yellow-dog Democrats, the dirt-eaters and the oenophiles, they are all my family members, the whole human potpourri.

One side of the family is stark raving mad, in varying degrees. Everything from a slight touch of seasonal affect disorder to full-blown paranoid schizophrenia. It’s like a rainbow of psychiatric maladies. That was my father’s side, and when I was almost 12, he up and shot himself one day, out of the blue. In his case, there was no warning at all. Then again, if you look at the family tree, it seems inevitable. Me? I have your garden variety depression, and it resists medication, which, if I may be blunt, sucks. Medication acquaints you with what “base normal” feels like, so you learn what situational depression is (things actually are pretty bad at the moment, and being unhappy is a reasonable and highly logical response) and what clinical depression is (life is going fairly well, all things considered, but you still have to think of a list of reasons to get up in the morning and interact with other humans every day, and being unhappy makes no damn sense whatsoever). The good news is that I’m not planning on doing anything drastic about it. There is nothing quite like a dramatically bad example to get you to reject permanent solutions to a problem. I don’t even blur the edges by playing with sharp things and listening to emo music. Maybe it is my destiny is to be the first person on this side of the family tree to get mushed by a train, but it won’t be on purpose. If getting out of bed is a battle, then I am a victor every day, and that’s something to feel…well, not good about, but it’s a step in the right direction. I pull myself up by my own bootstraps, and if I don’t like it, that’s too damn bad. I don’t come from a family of quitters. Well, I come from a family of everything, but for every quitter, there’s a bunch of ancestors who didn’t know when to stop. You should hear some of them talk, sometime.

Some of my acquaintances have no idea I’m a professional party pooper in disguise. I can be sociable and fun and witty and personable. I just get mysteriously busy every now and then, and avoid having to confess I’m hermiting at home, staying guiltily in bed feeling like something a rational person would scrape off the bottom of a shoe. When you’re a depressive, and let’s pretend this isn’t a thinly-disguised first person account for a moment, you might be likely to spend a lot of time alone, so you’re not a huge drag to be around.. The upside to all of this nonsense is that you get addicted to media in most of its forms. It beats being addicted to something else. So you read a lot, and have time to do art projects and write, and that’s not all bad. Also, everything seems important, even the little things. Depression magnifies the act of brushing your teeth into a nearly unbearable feat of will, and, if you’re lucky, this focus on detail may inspire your art and writing. Everything’s so darn important, it’s hard to edit it out. You learn to hide layers of meaning in a sentence, and symbols and images within a larger painting or sketch. You may mangle proper nouns because you read too much and get names and places mixed up, but all of that input comes out making sense every once in a while. Your friends, for you do manage to be bearable enough to collect a few here and there, think you are out of control with your vinyl records, your nine bookcases crammed into three rooms, your stacks of art supplies, your various half-hearted collections of Things,  and they absolutely hate to help you move. The downside is being the only person in your generation to have depression issues of any kind, and a family full of smart folks who read all the literature about it they can but fail to really understand it on a personal level. They do, however, eventually stop trying to argue or threaten or cajole or jolly you out of a sad mood, at least some of the time.

I tend to set small goals. I can’t say what my life’s dream is, because I don’t have one. My small goals are attainable goals. I will write a good paper. I will finish this proposal for my boss. I will not eat an entire carton of Haagen-Daaz. I will go to the concert, meet the musicians, dance for a few hours, have some fun. I will learn how to illustrate with a mouse instead of a Prismapencil. I will take better photographs. I will run a literary magazine. I will think nothing of dropping everything and driving out west for a few months at one point, but be paralyzed at the idea of having to move across town at another. I’ll gladly fly to a foreign country alone and have a wonderful time exploring the places that are off the beaten track, then feel panic when I have to go to the grocery store because I’m running low on paper towels. I will annoy the public library workers by checking out as many books as I can physically carry by myself every month, and then read them all. I will become good at Tetris. I will learn a new painting technique. I will feed and care for the ferret I got guilted into adopting, and will do it every day. I will not use my crappy brain chemistry as an excuse to be lazy or impolite. I will accept too many responsibilities, and then fret about how the day only has 24 hours in it, and worry about how to juggle everything. I will accept an offer to have all my graduate student tuition paid if I leave my circle of friends, my home, my job and my comfortable way of life far behind, then deal with it when I am nominated to care for my suddenly terminally ill grandmother, until she dies and breaks everyone’s hearts for leaving us behind, and to shoulder tens of thousands of dollars in debt I was originally not going to have to pay for myself. I will learn how to make a web page with cascading style sheets…and I will learn how to shift gears when things are too painful to talk about at length.

My art tends to be layered and deceptively simple. I start off with an idea, and it nags at me until I put it down on paper somehow, with words or images. Everything has to mean something, but viewers or readers have to look at it for a little while to see what, precisely, it does mean. It’s fine with me if someone doesn’t do that. It can be our secret, mine and theirs, if they hang around a little longer and suddenly notice something hidden. That’s the reward for seeing some value in my work, for caring enough to pay attention. I’m the kind of person who reads footnotes and looks up translations and squints at the brushstrokes when looking at what other people do, but if people looking at my art are not, that’s okay, too.

I have never made any real money from my art. Then again, I have never made any money from either of my Bachelor’s of Arts degrees, or from managing to walk upright and feed myself, or from having a good work ethic and being a conscientious employee. These are all things I have had to do to learn how to be me. 

Weird Childhood Delusions And Beliefs

It seems like we all, as kids, harbor some bizarre beliefs and fixations. I, being typical, was no different. I’m not talking about The Monster Who Lives In The Closet or Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy delusions, but far less explainable ones.

I also recall being puzzled by the crazy shit some of my peers believed, such as their belief that golf balls contained some radioactive substance deep inside that would kill you if you handled it, but if you were a normal kid, this was hardly a deterrent. You’d labor to crack open any stray golf ball you found, unwind two miles of stringy crap, and then find out that the real truth about the center of a golf ball was very, very boring and not lethal at all (unless you cracked open your dad’s brand new golf balls and destroyed them, in which case you might get beaten into the middle of next week).

The List Of Some Of The Stupid Things I Believed Or Was Fixated Upon As A Child 

I was sure:

1. That if I put my left shoe on first each day, my right shoe would feel neglected and sad, so I had to alternate which shoe got to go first. Just to be fair. The same thing applied to favored stuffed animals. No matter what my real feelings were, I had to maintain this fiction that I loved and liked them all the same…much like my mother did with me and my sibling. We weren’t fooled.

2. That even license plates and advertisements on billboards can be entertaining. I learned to read at an early age, so when reading things forwards got boring, I’d spell them backwards in my head. Then I tried rearranging them into new and better words. Many a billboard was rendered far more interesting this way. Nowadays I KILL at Jumble, Boggle and other useless word puzzles.

3. That inflammable meant that whatever was in there would never, ever catch on fire, because flammable was clearly the word that meant that. It made no sense to have two words mean the same thing. When corrected, I revised this belief. Inflammable meant much more flammable. Like, you could set it on fire just by looking at it cross-eyed. This made me very nervous on interstates. Also, imagine my confusion upon encountering the word cleave, and realizing that it could mean two completely contradictory things. English? Illogical.

4. That I could communicate with all animals, given enough time and patience. There may be some validity to this delusion, as I approached growling, slavering, strange hounds, picked up and fondled unknown varieties of triangle-headed snakes, caught bees by their wings when they fed on the flowers in our yard, poked grouchy skinks, carelessly thrust my bare hands in unknown dark bolt holes, and otherwise tempted death or injury on a regular basis and never even so much as got a scratch. This includes the time I went wading in a creek behind our house and was suddenly alarmed to realize I was surrounded by a squadron of cottonmouths / water moccasins. I pretended to be a branch, moved very slowly, and escaped being bitten. This also includes the many times I went blackberrying barefoot, temping fate not only to cause me to step on a briar-y, thorny vine, but also risking pissing off rattlesnakes. Oh, I also believed that rattlesnakes ate blackberries, when rattlesnakes actually eat the small animals who eat blackberries.

5. That food tastes crappier if mixed together. The procedure to avoid this horror is simple: eat each food item separately. Start with the good stuff, then chip away at the crap stuff until you can be excused from the dinner table. Realize that at least you’re not as much of an asshole about food as your brother, who has learned to yark on cue when fed string beans. As compensation for having to sit through dozens of vomit-enhanced dinnertime follies, no one’s behavior at the dinner table will ever be able to put you off your trough ever again. You will cheerfully eat rare steak while watching The X-Files or surgery shows or Forensic Files. You ordered Chinese? The resemblance between the fried rice you’re happily chomping on and the seething maggots on the dead body that the cops on the telly just found won’t bother you a bit. Gross your boyfriend out by offering him chunks of Chinese pork.

6. That if you stare at the back of someone’s neck long enough, not only will they sense it and turn around, but you can also Influence Them to do stuff. This…may be true. *stares at the back of your neck* See? You now feel…compelled…to leave a Comment.

7. That gold-colored Volkswagen Beetles had rare magical properties and could grant wishes. There was a whole system, if I remember right. You had to cross your fingers when you saw a gold Bug, and then wait until you saw a dog to make a wish. We expanded this to silver Bugs, and you had to loop all your fingers over the top of your hand (it is easier to show than to tell what I mean by this) and wait to see a cat. I don’t recall either method working worth a darn. Green-colored M&Ms had magical properties as well, but damned if I could figure out what they were, because the big kids weren’t telling.

8. That using pottery paint from the pottery craft kit you got at a yard sale to decorate your neighbor’s sidewalk with flowers and hearts will be interpreted as a gesture of friendship, affection, and general goodwill. Also, pottery paint will wash off easily with a garden hose. I was very wrong on both counts. What I am trying to say here is that pottery paint is permanent. Also, if you buy a used pottery craft kit at a yard sale, the clay will have hardened into the form of a pile of small rocks.

9. That all dogs are boys and all cats are girls. This belief persisted for a while, even after getting The Birds And The Bees Talk.

10. That mixing generous portions of Mom’s lotions, powders, shampoos and conditioners together in a cereal bowl will create a new and improved beauty product that will earn you a bajillion dollars and make you famous. What it does is get your butt beaten.

11. That aspirin and Coca-Cola mixed together do something very important, but, again, the big kids aren’t telling. It probably makes your stomach blow up. Not a good plan. But that Pop*Rocks and Coke rumor is definitely a big lie. You’d have to be a real idiot to believe that.

12. That even though your dad kills slugs by putting pie-pans full of beer under a thin layer of pine straw all over the backyard, the likelihood that you will step in one or more of them every single week while running like a crazy person through the camellia or azalea garden is nearly nil. This will in no way affect your enthusiasm for trying beer when you are older. Except, alas, it will, and the smell of beer will forever remind you of the nausea you felt while digging mashed, stinky, beery slug corpses out from between your bare toes.

13. That people could float or fly or turn invisible if only they knew the magic word. So if you read the dictionary from cover to cover, you’ll eventually find it. Also: the word “gullible” isn’t actually in the dictionary.

14. That the best way to play Circus and to have your Barbie tightrope artists walk across thread tightropes is to hang them by thread nooses around their necks from the curtain rods. This will not freak your mom out in the least, and you will not be dragged off to see a child psychologist, who will idly test you, determine that you are fairly normal (whatever that means) but also very, very smart and frequently very, very bored, and he will proceed to conspire with you to feed you forbidden sweets, ignore you so he can do crossword puzzles and nap, and then bill your hysterical, over-reacting mom for it.

15. That I could literally scratch myself to death if a tag was left on my collars or underwear. Clothing tags were my mortal enemy. If my parents failed in their duties and forgot to remove them, I’d rip them out with my teeth. In part this was due to “Princess And The Pea”-like skin sensitivities, but it was also due to me being weird. That labels also had washing instructions on them was emphatically not my problem.

16. That when I am trotted out to perform and look cute for a gaggle of adults, no one will think to look for me if I get overwhelmed and feel shy and then crawl under the table, and I will definitely be left alone. This will, of course, not embarrass my mother at all. And I will not be pinched black and blue for this transgression.

17. That baby dolls are evil and want to eat your brains in your sleep. Barbie dolls, on the other hand, are perfectly fine, and not the reason I tied the waistband of my hateful, giant-sized, poofy underwear into a knot to give my pudgy six-year-old self an hourglass figure. (It worked.)

18. That making thread loops and tying them around big round plastic bracelets and then putting the thread loops over the tops of your ears will fool everyone into thinking your ears are pierced.

19. That this daring fashion statement is best set off by a red, yellow, blue and green straw sombrero from Nassau.

20. That if I flush the hideous Buster Brown shoes that give me blisters down the toilet right before church, I will either not have to wear the hideous Buster Brown shoes that give me blisters or I will not have to go to church. Either way, win-win. In reality, I will have to go to church with one wet shoe, and one bare foot, and it will be Communion Sunday, and I will be marched up the aisle like Diddle Diddle Dumpling My Son John, and all the old ladies in the church will hiss and tch and tut and cluck at each other about what a neglectful slattern of a mother I have.

21. That the cat really enjoys being worn as a fur stole. Or a hat.

22. That I will be able to care for a baby mole I find in the gutter after a spring thunderstorm, and that “Holy Moley” is a fantastic name for him, too. His inevitable demise will naturally give me guilt spasms for years afterwards.

23. That since I swung on the power lines all the time when up in the magnolia trees, I must be impervious to death. This revelation, oddly, makes me feel even more depressed, since I was an unhappy kid and remembering that I was so unconcerned about whether I died or not is an unpleasant memory.

24. That candy tastes better if you separate it into same-coloured piles first. Additionally, odd numbers are superior to even numbers. (Instructions: Drive self crazy when the piles are not identical by trying to determine how to tackle this life-altering, very important decision process.)

25. That when I grow up, I will be a rich and famous artist and people will all like me. Also, the universe is inherently fair, and being a good person is sufficient to keep bad things from happening to you.

26. That God gives a crap about your maths test today.

27. That he who smelt it, dealt it. It is also always okay to blame flatulence on Daddy or the dog.

28. That my mom is the most beautiful lady in the entire universe, and should be a supermodel. The only reason she isn’t is because she clearly did not have any interest in it.

29. That it’s okay to swim in the neighborhood’s public baby pool. Decades later, you will put two and two together and realize you willingly marinated in diluted baby pee. Repeatedly.

30. That playing in sewers is fun. Well, actually, it is fun, but pretending it was a creek and not a tidal run-off and sewer overflow thing is, at best, delusional. But, yeah, big fun. With turtles and skinks and snakes and tadpoles all up in it.

31. That success selling greeting cards and Girl Scout cookies door-to-door as a child definitely indicates that I am destined to have success in business as an adult. That winning a statewide cake bake-off means that I will actually become a competent cook as an adult. Not so much. (I can bake, though!)

32. That Ice Cream Soup is a real recipe, and that it tastes better than unmolested ice cream.

33. That if I concentrate hard enough, my little brother can be returned to sender, just like the itchy grey sweater Crazy Aunt Judy gave me for Christmas. That because I do not want a pony, thus not putting undue pressure on Santa, then I will get the Barbie crap I asked for, and not the weird educational crap I did not want but which I ended up with instead, including The Visible Man kit, which traumatized me with all his little plastic innards and clear skin. My parents found out I had a high IQ, and that Christmas was pretty dire, since almost every single gift under the tree was designed to appeal to teen and adult hobbyists who could afford to buy the parts the kits did not come with, but they were definitely not designed with an 8-year-old in mind who really just wanted a fucking Barbie doll for fuck’s sake.

34. That puns are freaking HILARIOUS! No one should ever get tired of puns. Even the same one, told multiple times in a single hour. Funny, man. And have you heard the orange and banana knock-knock jokes? I know a million of ’em! Thank you! You’ve been a great audience! I’ll be here all week! Try the buffet!

35. That brown sugar + white sugar = cinnamon sugar. Not an expensive mess of wasted baking ingredients. That bologna + Velveeta + white bread + toaster = edible meal. Don’t worry about that red plastic strip around the bologna, you can just peel it off later if you forget to do it before putting it in the toaster. Just ignore the smoke and toxic fumes.

36. That the brown bottle with the pictures of fruit on it is a special and tasty fruit juice that the grown-ups have been hiding from you. It is not, conversely, a strong amaretto. Therefore, drinking the whole bottle should be okay. This will, in no way, ruin amaretto for you for the rest of your life.

37. That Kotex pads are the perfect Barbie doll mattresses. Also, cutting up the seed pearl necklace your grandmother gave you and giving it to your Barbie dolls to wear is the best way to show appreciation for such a generous gift. I still feel absolutely terrible about that one, but no one told me it was real.

38. That trichotillomania is fun, not a sign of depression or stress. It took twenty years for my widow’s peak to grow back in.

39. That if you swallow gum, it will take seven years to digest.

40. That I have super abilities that are not being properly appreciated by my peers or family. Like, obviously I rode my bike for, like, fifty miles today. A new world record!

41. That it’s okay to wander around your neighbor’s yards and to touch whatever you want to. Free flowers! Ooh, department store catalogues! It’s time to play “What’s In That Shed?” They won’t miss this garden gnome.

42. Hark, a noise…!  Can’t sleep, aliens will eat me.

43. That picking scabs is the best kind of entertainment a kid could ever imagine. Blood? Bonus!

44. That sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Yeah, right. One of the biggest lines of bullshit ever.

45. That the Ouija Board will give you a viral, severe, jumping Jehoshaphat case of angry ghosts and you will die of haunted-ness.

46. That Jesus loves me. In fact, he knows me by name and has a personal interest in my well-being and happiness. I kind of outgrew this one by the time I was in first grade.

47. That if you go swimming less than an hour after eating, even if it is just 59 minutes and 59 seconds, you will get a cramp and drown and die. When you do go into the water, Jaws will eat you. Perhaps beaches are death traps altogether, and are best avoided.

48. That toads give you warts. Whether or not warts are a desired outcome (kids are strange), you believe that it is possible to pick up a toad without it tinkling all over your hands. The fact that you have never accomplished this feat will in no way discourage you from catching toads as often as you can.

49. That pulling up all the loose wooden parquet floor tiles and using them as building blocks is a useful way to spend an afternoon. You were so close to inventing Jenga.

50. That, while riding a bicycle, it’s possible to take a sharp corner on sand-covered asphalt without losing control of said bike, falling down on to said asphalt, and gouging a huge bloody hole in your chin. This will be a blessing in disguise, as it will discourage you from taking any risks ever again, and you will reach adulthood without a single sprain, stitch, cavity, serious burn, or broken bone.

The 30-Second Love Filter: Myth Or Truth?

A while back I read something along the lines of “women know within half a minute whether or not they will ever have a relationship with someone”. For “relationship with” read “have sex with,” as the rest of the article was, if memory serves, far less coy.

I’m starting to wonder if it is true.

First of all, I have to say up front that when I don’t feel attractive, it takes a lot for my libido switch even to be in the “idle” position, never mind “on.” I haven’t felt terribly attractive on a number of levels lately. I’m living in my dead grandmother’s house, which is depressing enough, but it’s also a dump. It was neglected while she was alive because she was legally blind due to macular degeneration and constitutionally ill-disposed towards even minor changes. Now that she’s no longer with us, it’s still neglected because my mother has conflicting attitudes about it. On the one hand, she wants to sell it (for more than twice what it is worth), but isn’t clear on when the selling may happen. On the other, it’s her mom’s old house and she doesn’t want to change anything at all, so it can remain a museum of sorts. I moved a table and sofa around in the den a year after my grandmother died and she took months to accept even this minor change. Then, after all that ruckus about that minor change, she gives away most of the better furniture (including items I’d begged for). Lastly, she is starting to redo her OWN house, so every so often I get crap dumped in the mostly-bare dining room that I don’t have time to deal with. Much of it is my old high school art and yearbooks and crap that I’m not particularly attached to, but I know that she didn’t toss them because she does have a little attachment to them and assumes I do as well. She also has gone on toss-and-purge sprees in the past and thrown out things I actually DO care about, so I’m not willing to just assume that everything in the bags and boxes is expendable or worthless. It probably is, but who knows?

I gained weight caring for my grandmother, and while I’m at the national average for my height, I’m used to being about 20 pounds under average, and since I have a very small frame (I can wear size 4 and 3/4 rings on my left hand ring finger, for example), this didn’t mean I was anorexic. Grandmother was a medical anorexic, meaning that there was no psychological hinkiness going on, she just was less and less interested in food and had to be plied with the most fattening food possible. Key Lime pie comes to mind as a big fave. A slice of Key Lime pie probably has 2,500 calories in it, thanks to the massive amounts of sugar needed to make limes sweet and the condensed milk, and that’s if you don’t eat the crust.

Another unpleasant change is the new worry marks I have engraved in my forehead. I haven’t had much to smile about for the past few years, and have had a LOT to worry about (and a lot of constant stress), and my face shows it. I am starting to think that Botox might not be such a horrible idea if it keeps me from looking tired, pained and anxious all the time. Even if I am tired, pained and anxious 90% of the time, I don’t have to have my face shout it out.

So I’m living in a crappy place I’d be ashamed to bring friends over to see, and I feel fat and wrinkly, though recent photographs show that a lot of that is me obsessing over stupid stuff and making unfair comparisons to my former self. It’s not great, but I certainly am not a haggard old piece of shoe leather. (Fat shoes’ leather.)

I daydream sometimes about setting up my next place. This is what I used to enjoy about playing The Sims. Not the game-related play of keeping them from peeing on the floor or incinerating themselves while attempting to boil water…but the cheap architectural CAD the game allowed me to play with. Admittedly, everything was limited to two stories and 45- or 90-degree angle walls at the time, but a number of folks worked overtime on various cheats and dodges and clever innovations that got around the limitations. So I’d make living environments with Oriental furniture, Mod furniture, classic Queen Anne-style furniture, “Victoriana” / Goth furniture (because there was actually a “Goth Family” in the game) and lavish gardens and water features. I’m too busy to play with the game anymore, so all my interior decorating these days goes on in my brain.

As for the clutter I’m dealing with (too much crap, too little space), I went on a minor purge this week and set aside a lot of crap I’ve been holding on to for years…mostly clothes. It’s not coming back in style, no matter how cute it is. I suspect that wearing clothes from the eighties when I was in my twenties was okay because it was assumed to be a fashion choice. Wearing clothes from the eighties and nineties now is going to be interpreted as “out-of-touch older person doesn’t give a crap about looking nice.” Thank goodness over-sized, baggy and tight, extremely-low-rise pants are going out of style, because I couldn’t bring myself to show off my underwear and visually inflate my lower half even for the sake of being stylish. It’s an ugly look. Not that the super-high-rise pants on the runways are much better. Hello, happy medium, anyone? I refuse to buy Mom Jeans just so I don’t have a belt buckle scratching my boobs or half my ass crack on display.

But I digress.

The point is, I am not looking to meet new people. I’m even leery of expanding on the relationships with classmates, because in the back of my mind, I’m already OUTTA HERE. The worst double-edged sword would be to meet the love of my life down here and find out he doesn’t want to leave. So I’m not looking. I don’t buy into “The One” myth, and whereas I have bleak days where I wonder if I am too persnickety to meet Mr Right-For-Me any time soon (meaning, shortly after I leave this town), that frisson of panic doesn’t make me want to start “hunting.”

Fact is, my libido switch is, for the first time in my life, set firmly to “off” and partially that’s because I’m patient to a fault and am apparently putting things on hold until I can escape Savannah. Patient to a fault because I’m taking things in stride and making token efforts to fix stuff that’s bothering me because nothing is more important than getting my degree and getting on with my life. Need shelves? Buy one, not the four I need. Want a pet cat? Must wait. Relocating with an animal is tougher, I already HAVE an animal to focus on, and I prefer my pets to deal with the same vet from day one if possible. Night life? No time. Every week there’s a paper, a project, a website, writing and editing assignments, some household-related headache…I’m already tired and I have no steady income. I can’t afford to splash out on entertainment. I consider it frivolous to buy a book, rather than borrowing a big pile of them from the library.

Last time I discused this, I was in grad school and a lot of this rambling was inspired in part by this man working on his thesis project (supposedly, though I only ever see him surfing the web). He took an inexplicable shine to me (inexplicable because I had never spoken to him before and was always focused on my work and classes). My routine was such that if I was up for a mental break, then I was outside chit-chatting there. If I was inside, I was working, so should be left alone to work.

This man NEVER approached me outside. He came up behind me and scared the hell out of me each time, because I was usually engrossed in my work. He stopped and tried to draw me out for a chat DURING MY CLASSES. He asked personal questions and lobbed undeserved flattering remarks my way that praised personal qualities that I may have, but which he couldn’t have known from merely being on the same floor of a four-story building on a semi-regular basis.

He was also clearly interested in me, and not in a buddy way. I was perplexed, frankly. I looked like hell, I was not sending out any vibes at all, I was all-business and focused on my work more often than not (I tended to chat socially with my professors more than my peers, though there were a half dozen or so people I had classes with several times and I got the impression they liked me and respected my work; I’m still in touch with some of them.)

If he had ever approached me outside when I was talking with friends or having a smoke or whatever, I wouldn’t be so chapped. He never did. He consistently just appeared from behind me, lavished overly friendly attention my way, and took a long time to get a hint. I decided not to stop what I was doing though I was polite…I just kept on working. Even when I did pause to chat, I had never held a personal or deep conversation with him, or one lasting more than five minutes.

I know, however, if I had found him even remotely attractive, I MIGHT have been tempted to be a lot more friendly. That’s where the 30-second relationship filter comes in. I can’t manufacture pheromones and attraction where none exist, and I’ll never be lonely enough to derail my attempts to get out of town as fast as I can. I’m over it all. I want to be done. I have a lot more to learn, but I want to just KNOW it and be looking for a JOB already.

I knew within 30 seconds (or less) that he not only wasn’t anywhere near what I typically like in the opposite sex (which I could tell at first glance), but I also didn’t click with his personality. He seemed to mean well and to be nice enough, but I think that when he inadvertently disrespected my professor by wandering in during a studio hour, when the whole class was busily working on projects, and tried to strike up a conversation…it was uncool and I was pissed off. It may not have been that inadvertent, either. He worked on the same floor constantly and it was fairly obvious when there was a class in session ten feet away from your work station. His need to flirt with me was greater than my need to actually learn something and get the assistance from my professor that I paid $150 an hour per class session for…and $150 is more than I spend on groceries and toiletries a month. It’s more than I MAKE per month. It’s all student loans.

(So much for my mom’s promise to pay for my education if I came down to help with grandmother, incidentally. She went from agreeing to pay for the standard three classes a quarter, which would have had me out of here last April and which she never did, to bitching about paying for one, to not contributing a penny towards my education at all. Which is typical.)

Anyway, it’s illogical to the extreme, perhaps, but I was really put off by a man being pleasant towards me, and annoyed with myself for being annoyed. It wasn’t the interest in me that was the problem, though I certainly am in no mood to be the recipient of someone’s unrequited crush at the moment. I’ve been there before, and I’ve dealt with a good friend’s annoyance when a so-called Nice Guy (secretly a self-absorbed, secretly egomaniacal, socially maladjusted guy with book smarts and a veneer of etiquette) refused to get a hint that she was Not Ever Going To be Interested In Him, Damn It, Get A Fucking Clue. (Later the same guy decided that the perfect time to hit on ME was when I was upset over breaking up with the guy who was, at that point, the love of my life. Hadn’t ever shown interest before, mind, but I was clearly emotionally distraught and in a vulnerable state, and he figured it was worth a try to hit on the crying girl (me), who happened to be VERY CLOSE to the girl he’d annoyed and chased for, what, ten or so years? Smoooooooooth. And, if it isn’t clear, he is NOT so “nice”. And, annoyingly, I then had to deal with not hurting HIS feelings at the same time MY feelings were already shredded by my ex, all because he got rejected for making the world’s worst-timed pass in history and had a huge sulk about it. Because it was all about him.)

So. Sorry. Where was I?

Was my reaction due to the 30-second Love Filter? A knee-jerk response to his rudeness directed towards my professor, me and my classmates for trying to conduct personal chitchat during class time? (More than once! Once or twice, I forgave, but didn’t like. Third time it happened, it was clearly rudeness or obliviousness, neither of which I like.) Was it a reaction based on witnessing and being a victim of clueless (Not-Really-Very-)Nice Guy dumb-assery in the past?

Is it just that I’m unhappy with how I am and not currently motivated enough to fix everything I hate about myself all at once? (I have no free time, gah!)

I don’t know.

I do know that the half-minute filter does seem to work. At least for me. I may warm up to someone as a friend after some time, but if there’s no initial “hey, you’re kinda cute!” [™, Schoolhouse Rock “Interjections” voice actress) reaction, I don’t date them. Even if there’s no pause for reflection and an awareness that I find someone cute, such as when I’m dating someone else and there’s my man and every other male on the planet is just some guy who happens not to be a girl, it’s still true that I won’t ever date someone if I don’t find them attractive. The acid test, even when there’s only one man on the planet, as far as I’m concerned, is if I am asked and realize that yeah, I’d describe so-and-so as cute. There can be Cute Guys I perhaps won’t date due to age differences or other incompatibilities, but there are no Not Cute (To Me) guys that I WILL eventually date.

I won’t even get into the occasional guilt that stems from having very choosy aesthetic tastes when it comes to guys. It’s not that I aim too high; I just sometimes wonder if I’m being too picky and not giving guys a fair shot. (Has that EVER worked for ANYone? REALLY?)

I suppose I’m mostly sad that I see male attention, even if it is unwanted and ill-timed, as being a kvetch-worthy topic. Then again, my life has never revolved around seeking male attention at all costs. *insert shrug here*

How soon do you know when someone’s a potential date-worthy acquaintance? Right away? Weeks? Do you accept dates from people you KNOW you aren’t attracted to? I find that I rarely date even when I am “on the market” because I tend to prefer to get to know people beforehand and they tend to have insurmountable issues (usually not-so picky things, such as “doesn’t like karaoke” or “is bald” (I have a slight Good Male Hair fetish thing going)…BIG issues like “smokes crack on a regular basis” or “has girlfriend” or “sleeps with anything with a pulse regardless of gender, usually while wasted, ergo probably has a scary social disease or three” or “is alcoholic” or “hates cats, kicks dogs, is nasty to little old ladies” or “has nasty passive-aggressive sense of humor”, et cetera) and it’s not worth the job-interview aspect of an Official DATE-Date to put up with it all. Friends? Sure, why not. Potential partners? Don’t think so. ESPECIALLY if they are cute. Hormones are stupid, I don’t need them convincing me that “hey, he only smokes crack every other week, but he’s otherwise a nice young man,” know what I mean? That crack thing, it is a deal breaker.

Apparently disrespecting my professor and scaring the pee out of me while I’m working are also deal breakers, but the 30-second Filter had already vetoed any chance of future Boyfriendness.

Is it just me? Do other people do this?

The World Is Too Much With Me, Late And Soon

This may be a complaint of sorts, but what’s different about it, or so I hope, is that I’m not saying I’m right and I don’t want a solution (if one existed) or advice, and I don’t expect anyone to ‘feel my pain’ or even agree with me.

I find myself flummoxed by the world at large on a nearly daily basis, and, if IQ has any bearing on it (which I don’t think it does), my smarts don’t help me deal with it at all. If anything, they make things worse. I get wodged in this cranky headspace, all bitter that the world doesn’t conform to my preferences. At the same time, I would be horrified if the world did, for whatever reason, start to kowtow solely to me. Because I haven’t got everything all figured out. Because I do like a little mystery and suspense from time to time. Because being able to spot a problem with the way things are have led others far greater than I to come up with brilliant (and, admittedly, also some far-from-brilliant) solutions.

I’m just not sure how much mystery and suspense one human needs in their life. I think we all need a touchstone comprised of a set of things and events that generally go as planned…just so we don’t start suspecting that the universe as a whole is aligned in such a way that daily life is a constant, instead of occasional, challenge to be sussed and then sorted out.

Personally, I’m well aware that the universe is completely uninterested in my existence and that my relative importance in the grand scheme of things is nearly nil. If I were actually motivated by the possibility of fame or notoriety, this might depress me more than I naturally already am depressed. I’m mostly at peace with the likelihood that, once I shuffle off this mortal coil, there will be a lumpy patch of grass and a big rock inscribed with the dates of my grand entry and exit from life. I’m also fairly certain I won’t have any say in what’s written on the rock, and that, in a couple of centuries or so, barring some great leaps forward in gravestone construction, Nature will make sure that whatever is chiseled into my personal rock is going to be unreadable and uninteresting. I’m also fairly certain that, wherever I might be at the time, I won’t give a toot one way or the other.

In fact, I told my family that if I predecease them, I’d be perfectly happy with cremation. Sprinkle me somewhere nice that makes you happy. I just know my family isn’t keen on listening to my preferences, and will spend thousands of dollars on a fancy marble rock with my name and dates on it. Oh well, I tried. It’s their money.