Contact melt: Habits and confidence

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“I’m sad, sad… and I see you”

Yesterday it was bright, sunny and warm and the snow and ice that had covered everything completely melted. It promptly refroze around the time I was driving home in the evening. Once more I encountered the salt truck along the road, flinging salt pellets onto the glistening road surface and onto the car.

Otherwise it was a day of unexpected contact – hearing from people I don’t normally speak much with or write to. Some got in touch to comment on this blog; some got in touch to ask for a confidence boost; one even got in touch to subject himself to inspection (as though he were a race horse for purchase or I were a flight surgeon assessing his fitness for flight).

I was surprised about hearing from people regarding my blogging. Not because I think no one reads it but because I have no idea who is reading it. When you write a blog, you are mostly doing it for yourself. At least I am. If you are like me, it’s kind of an extension of your interactions with dead platforms like LiveJournal. Except that a standalone blog is not really part of a community and, being a disconnected ‘thing’ as it is, I am not hoping for or writing for an audience. Nevertheless I have had so much feedback from people about whom I had no inkling that they were “following along”.

A few weeks ago a friend recognized the slightest reference to her and wrote to me at length to explain and help me understand her better. A few days ago a friend commented, something about how much she related to what I had written. Yesterday, two friends (a longtime pen pal and an acquaintance from the LiveJournal days) wrote encouraging words about how they were helped by or even inspired by what they were reading. Well, one guy said it made him a bit jealous because I made it look easy but he knows from experience that it isn’t. I responded with something about just starting to do it – forcing yourself to do it. Ultimately it is about forming a habit. I have made this be a habit for me – arguing with myself about how I need to write something every single day, even if there is not something to write about – to keep the habit going. There are days that it won’t happen, but approaching with sincere intent is the point. I did not write a word after the mid-November death of my uncle. It was almost six weeks before I wrote again (sure, there was too much going on in the silent interim; also though, I felt tired and the loss depleted my ability to share). But even those long lulls/breaks have to be temporary – and I think we all know that this same thinking applies to anything that can be hard to stick to – writing, exercise, healthy eating, or any other promises we make to ourselves.

About forming habits, though, I come to another conversation I had yesterday. Someone I have known for more than half my life called me to get a boost of confidence before he went on a date. It’s been a long time since he dated, and he had all kinds of nerves and anxiety buzzing around in his head. His turning to me in his personal crises is a habit he formed as far back as 1990. Once we had covered his dating anxiety and how bad he is with small talk, he asked me something about my personal life and predicted that if I don’t have a relationship with someone who is obsessed with TV, it will end. Yes, scientific data. I argued that maybe there are other things to do than watch TV; he countered: “But what about when you are old? Like 60, 70, and like most older couples you will just want to sit and turn on the TV.” Perplexed, I said, “Well, maybe a couple could… take a walk? Or read?” He was incredulous, “Do you really think you will read when you are 60?!

WHAAAAAAAAAAT? Do people just stop reading, suddenly, when they hit a certain age? Why wouldn’t I read? Yet once again it’s about habits formed. Most people in my life are stubborn, lifelong readers. My grandmother was obsessed with reading until she lost her sight completely (by then she was well into her 80s) and even then others read for her. Not a single person I know (other than people who never formed reading habits) will ever sacrifice reading. I’ve always been a binge reader, inhaling a book every day for several weeks and then dropping reading for months, or in the case of recent times – even years. This year I am trying to be more methodical and balanced, folding the habit into my daily life consistently. (Especially because I did cut out my obsessive TV viewing and am only watching a couple of shows that are actually interesting to me now. I don’t miss the meaningless noise.)

As for habits, good and bad, another contact got in touch to get my opinion on whether I thought he could handle a social engagement that would be, at best, challenging. The guy is fairly freshly sober but for the first time in all his attempts at sobriety seems to take it seriously, understanding it as a life-or-death matter. A group of his old friends contacted him asking him to meet up at a pub. He has lamented for years that he has lost touch with this group of friends. He felt 100% sure he could handle this – the pub environment, the being surrounded by friends drinking excessively, the potential, “Come on, mate, one beer won’t hurt” pressures – and that he could control the situation/set boundaries, i.e. take a limited amount of money, visualize drinking Diet Coke, plan to attend an AA meeting that evening (meaning he would only stay with these friends for about an hour) and inform his contact at the meeting that he planned to attend, and then come home immediately after the meeting to call me on Skype so I could hear and see him (the aforementioned “inspection”) to prove that he had not succumbed to drinking. I expressed my doubts and reservations; he decided to go anyway. I felt particular doubt because he claimed he did not want these friends to know his business so did not want to tell them that he is an alcoholic.

In the end, he did meet the friends, and telling them about his struggles turned out to be a moot point. He had forgotten that he had run into one of the group over a year ago and had told that friend about his troubles with alcohol, and that friend had told the rest of the group, so there were no surprises, and they were all supportive. He stuck to the game plan and “presented himself for inspection” that evening after his meeting. Sober. Not that I think he should be “tempting fate” in this way, but he was rather elated that he did not feel any temptation and could interact with friends without feeling he had to drink.

In letting go of old, bad habits and adopting new, positive ones, we also build confidence – which in turn strengthens our resolve to deepen and stick with the new habits.

Up in smoke: Lessons from Tinder

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I am not in the market for a relationship or a hookup or anything else. I’ve been burned, twisted, chilled and disturbed by the grind and the hell of relationships – or rather by the ruptured “trust” experienced with the people in my life, particularly in the last few years, and feel more than ever that the only important relationship is the one I have with myself. I realized as this year winds to its close that I have actually neglected the real relationship with myself and have focused on all the wrong things, distracting things, because I did not want to face various things. And it’s time for that to stop.

That said, comfortably ensconced in this insular, individual cocoon, I had become curious about different dating platforms after reading a lot of articles about the on-demand nature of dating apps like Tinder and sites like OkCupid, so I decided to do a limited-run test of some of my suppositions.

Nothing scientific or controlled about my trial. I have no controls for geography or generation (I’m old, and assume most people who match with me are also older or have ulterior motives – but that’s my hangup, which is also something I cannot account for in this uncontrolled trial) … really for anything. I only wanted to test whether Tinder especially was an instant hookup tool. As in, someone messages you and immediately tries to hook up and/or gives you very little information about him/herself. From everything I had read, and this may only apply to the target youth/millennial demographic, it is like an online smorgasbord of impersonal and reactive potential hookups that shift quickly into meeting and hooking up and then… who knows? (I have read other articles that indicate that it is not being used only or primarily for semi-anonymous hookups… but I guess it does not matter where reality is.) My curiosity drove me to check it out for myself.

A few weeks ago, then, I set up a profile, had a few very brief exchanges with people in the UK, Sweden, Norway and a few others in Europe. Most led nowhere, but also did not lead to any kind of lurid discussion or casual suggestions. I got a lot of info about people’s ugly divorces, concert-going plans, music tastes, career aspirations and business, people’s children and just normal person stuff. I have gotten to know one person outside of the app, which has been really surprising and cool, but unexpected and probably anomalous. I met no one in reality/in-person and had no desire to do so, other than the one, anomalous case (and deleted the profile recently when I went to the US and started getting all these “super like” notifications out of nowhere once my geography had changed).

The funny thing is, though, that I was hanging around with my brother, and he explained “how men use Tinder” and promptly swiped “right” on every single girl that popped up and explained the odds game and how he can always disconnect with someone if he does not like them after they’ve matched with him. So yeah in that sense, which I naively had not even considered, it can be a cynical numbers game. I found that I was the opposite. I swiped “left” on almost every single person I saw (again, this might be motivated by the fact that I had no desire to meet anyone). To me, the “accept everyone and go from there” approach seems ludicrous (especially since I am a wee bit of an antisocial hermit and workaholic who doesn’t have the time for this kind of time-wasting nonsense), but I can see how it could work in at least someone’s favor.

My curiosity is satisfied, even if I did not learn anything valuable. “Love is a bourgeois construct.”

Random thoughts and cookie dough

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Grooving on loud music at 5 a.m. Hot Chocolate – Every 1s a Winner (not a whiner!)

I am going to make a bunch of cookie dough today and stick it in the freezer to bake next weekend. Time before the holidays is short. Must bake!

I am thinking about ways to give my 2014 the best possible chance for success, and more importantly, happiness and fulfillment. PLAY WITH BABY TIGERS! Build a treadmill desk! Knock down the superfluous upstairs walls! Fall in love with some lovely Parisian (even though s/he won’t have a Scottish accent!) and host next Thanksgiving in Paris! Go to more live shows – have more music in my life in general! Build my business up (either the web-based one or the bakery tank idea)! Find the perfect shade(s) of pink lipstick! (And I’m a sucker for the reds!) Learn more about wine! Finally take a real vacation somewhere far away that I often dream of! Get a Roomba! Take more walks in the forest, as gave me such joy two years ago! Enjoy every minute of being at home! When I worked at home, no matter how much I worked then, it always felt like I was on vacation – or at least that vacation did not matter. I was relaxed and organized. I miss that. I don’t know that all these things are possible, probable or even that they would contribute to elusive happiness. But they are fun ideas – it’s giving me some joy to think about it right now.

Soundtrack to giving in to the joy of now. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

 “And one day we will die and our ashes will fly
From the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see
Love to be in the arms of all, I’m keepin’ here with me”

-Neutral Milk Hotel

More randomness

A friend posted an article on her Facebook wall that encouraged a return to some old-fashioned dating practices. When I reposted the article on my own Facebook wall, I stated that I might not need all the old-fashioned stuff (“I want all that stupid old shit, like letters and sodas…” Liz Phair, “Fuck and Run”), but one of the points touched a nerve – that we should call what we’re doing by what it is. Calling dating/courting/a relationship “hanging out” is an act of clinging to a juvenile and awkward period of not knowing who you are or what you want. I am almost 40. I might not want, as the letter says, to define a relationship as “exclusive” or a “Greg Brady-going steady” thing, but I am not “hanging out”. I don’t know when the shift happened between steps progressing into a relationship to this casual, non-committal, “we’re hanging out” vibe (and yes, it does seem like a “vibe” more than something grounded in reality).

As I lament the winding down of my vacation, I watched a handful of movies – mostly not memorable. But it was entertaining to rewatch a few – I am not normally someone who watches the same movies over and over, but I decided to watch Wall Street again after… 20+ years. Charlie Sheen had a sliver of talent then, beautiful, hopeful, full of vitality – all flushed away long ago to give way to the troll/demon he seems to have become. I loved all the “high-tech gadgets” that look so laughable now – the briefcase-sized cell phones and the two-inch-screen portable tv. Let’s not overlook Daryl Hannah’s ridiculous wardrobe or the unthinkable way she decorated the Sheen character’s apartment. Oh, the 80s.

A few weeks ago, a few women in my office and I took our young Spanish intern to lunch for his birthday. The women and I are all in the late-30s age bracket; the intern was turning 24. On our walk to the restaurant, the intern was questioning me about how I manage to walk around outside without covering my legs or wearing a real coat – +5C is cold for him. I don’t “winterize” until -20C. I did explain that I don’t keep my house like an icebox, saying, “In my house, the heat is on.” My three similarly aged female colleagues and I, in unison, burst into song, as if on cue, “The heat is on… it’s on the street…” Way to date ourselves, relics of a bygone era! The intern had never heard the song, apparently, but when we got back to the office, he wanted a full education in 80s music and all things American because I am, in his words, “his American bible”. Hmm.

As if it were not abundantly clear already, I am one of those nerds who holds on to details. While my colleagues could not remember who performed “The Heat is On”, I could immediately “(dis)credit” Glenn Frey and rattle off his career history with The Eagles (who blighted – yes, I exaggerate – 70s music about as much as Frey and his Eagle partner-in-crime Don Henley inflicted their solo careers on 80s music). I suppose “The Heat is On” was only as popular as it was because it was also associated with the Beverly Hills Cop film franchise, which is also a quintessential part of 80s pop culture. While schooling this intern in 80s horrors for the ears, I also managed to share the dubious 80s songs/hits of Starship while also sharing the history of how they came about – rising from the ashes of the drug-addled remnants of other related 60s and 70s has-been bands, much like a lot of the stuff that filled the 80s music charts. All supposedly reformed (in both senses of the word) and “Just Say No” – HA. (Starship managed also to supply one of the worst songs, as well as churning out mediocrity for much of the decade – for one of the era’s worst movies – “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from Mannequin – highlight of Andrew McCarthy or Kim Cattrall’s careers? Almost no 80s movie could have been complete without Andrew or James Spader, who was in both Mannequin and the aforementioned Wall Street. Both also figured prominently in the 80s classic, Less than Zero, which was also a very true-to-life vehicle for the then very messed up Robert Downey, Jr. And both McCarthy and Spader were in 80s teen favorite, Pretty in Pink – along with Jon Cryer – who has not done much other than that and, of course, the role of the aforementioned Charlie Sheen’s brother on the dismal and crass TV show, Two and a Half Men.)

Nothing can make someone feel old like imparting all this “popular culture” knowledge – when the “popular” culture her reference points are attached to were popular 20 or 30 years ago.

The same young intern came and said to me, “Did you know they had a war in Croatia not that long ago?” when we were talking about football (my beloved Iceland was playing Croatia for a chance to get into the World Cup at the time. They lost, but at least my Icelandic underdogs gave it a go). Yes, Croatia did have a war, young man, when you were in diapers and learning to walk. I was there (well, in Bosnia anyway) monitoring post-war elections.

I can forgive a young boy for not knowing “The Heat is On” – but a major war that took place in recent history within Europe…? God save the Spanish education system?!

Then again, that is what life is for – you do learn something new every day. Sometimes totally useless stuff. I, for example, learned that Liverpool named its airport after John Lennon. I sort of doubt Lennon would have liked that (not that I know what he would have liked). I wonder what Yoko thinks. (Yoko’s Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland somehow strikes me as something both of them would have approved of more than an international airport that seems to primarily take British tourists to get drunk and sunburned in Spain.)

Anyway, I started that tangent to say that I was watching movies. I rewatched Brokeback Mountain again – this is probably the third time I saw it, and I am still moved by Heath Ledger’s performance. Actually all the performances were outstanding, especially when contrasting it with Wall Street, which I watched immediately before. Even the secondary characters in Brokeback seem to have some depth and reality – you can feel for the wives of the two main characters. They are more than just one-dimensional props. The girlfriend and wife – all secondary characters – in Wall Street are hollow.

I went in an entirely different direction after that – watching Rêves de poussière, a film from Burkina Faso – the cinematography was beautiful, the story simple and arresting.

As the remaining minutes of vacation tick by, I do laundry, get middle-of-night, belligerent phone calls and wonder how a drunken person I have not seen in a decade or more (but have known now for 20 years) thinks he misses me. How do you miss someone you have not seen in more than ten years? Especially when that feeling has always been a one-way street. You don’t. You’re smoking nostalgia, you’re drinking a memory of something that never was. It’s imaginary.

“What a beautiful face I have found in this place
That is circling all ’round the sun and when we meet on a cloud
I’ll be laughing out loud, I’ll be laughing with everyone I see
Can’t believe how strange it is to be anything at all”

-Neutral Milk Hotel

The Polarizing Effect of “Infinite Opportunity” – On which side of the door are you?

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“…Yet true life is led between dark and light:
“I locked the door,” you said,
An important sentence, full of destiny.
I still remember the words,
But I forgot on which side of the door they were said,
Inside or outside.
And from the only letter I wrote to you
I remember only the bitter taste of
The stamp’s glue on
My tongue.”

Yehuda Amichai

“Who wants something real/when you could have nothing?” – Girls – “Substance

I have never felt plagued by what I like to call “infinite possibilities syndrome”. I have always keenly felt that all things are limited.

“The greatest delight, I sense,
is hidden sublimely in the act of betrayal
which can be equal only to fidelity.
To betray a woman, friends, an idea,
to see new light in the eyes
of distant shadows. But choices are limited: other women, other
ideas, the enemies of our long-standing friends. If only
we could encounter some quite different
otherness, settle in a country which has
no name, touch a woman before she is born, lose our memories, meet
a God other than our own.”

Adam Zagajewski, “Betrayal”

Our lives, our choices, our partners … we might take on many different guises and go to different places, but most things are ephemeral. We only have the right now – whatever choice we last made might be the last choice. I do not consciously think about that every time I make a choice, but generally I have never been under any illusion that there were infinite possibilities and opportunities open to me. I have always been laboring along under realistic ideas about the world, I tend to think… or at least about the little parts of the world I was making my way through.

It is possible that this sense of options closing themselves off hits men later than women, I have begun to think, given my own life’s circumstances. The idea of “settling down” or whatever seems anathema or distasteful to many men makes “infinite options” (or the idea of this, even if there are in reality no options) sound preferable to any other alternative, so keeping doors open (even those that would be better closed) to preserve the illusion of abundant or endless choice makes sense. In a way I could argue that at least in part, I think women like myself – who are often judged on their youth and physical appearance – understand only too well that time is of the essence. The choices one can make will never be better – generally- than when one is young – as a female anyway. This is a sweeping generalization, but I think it is stuff like this that fuels many women’s realizations that they do not have infinite options – certainly not forever. And of course women have the oft-cited biological clock to think about…).

A good example of this is the dubious world of online dating. In some ways, it presents a veritable catalog of infinite choices of nationalities, genders, ages, proclivities, interests. All these people who are presumably putting their best foot forward. We can choose one who will be fine, but because of the “window shopping” nature of the medium, we harbour the illusion that if we keep looking through the catalog we will find someone even better, brighter, more beautiful. Unlimited the ways we manage to limit ourselves and keep ourselves completely non-committal. It is the ultimate place for non-committal people – semi-interested in meeting someone, but not enough to make the ballsy move of meeting someone in reality. Not interested or courageous enough to cut off all the other “possibilities”. In the online realm, it seems, most people are equally as squeamish – all excitement and premature pronouncements in the beginning and then all the disappointment of reality. This can still happen in situations born in the real world but it is quite a different thing. Easy to get lost in this alternate reality, but eventually there is a polarizing decision: continue on, skimming the surface, feeling falsely popular and never making any choices or discriminating determinations OR choose the best option among those you have – trying to eliminate the paralysis that comes with the illusions of unlimited choice.