Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Make the Best of It, I'm An Extraordinary Machine

My brain is a mystifying object. It's like it has the microscopic/telescopic quality of a van Eyck. I just typed that am already deeply ashamed that I've become that art history person. I wish I could make it up to you. But instead I'm going to continue with the simile, because it's a fairly apt analogy. Judge away. In van Eyck's paintings every piece of the painting, whether far away or right at the front of the scene, is executed in excruciatingly minute detail, without any haziness or blurred lines to indicate distance.

I can remember with equal clarity the piece I read in the news yesterday about the Mossad pulling crazy Bond/Bourne stunts to assassinate Iranian nuclear physicists and my lines from our fourth grade production "Of Mice and Mozart." The minutiae of daily life don't really get sifted out of my brain. Ever. I can typically recall first conversations with new acquaintances, kids from my second grade class, and what outfits other people wore six months ago with such a stunning level of recall that the inevitable consequence is that I frequently come off as the creepiest mass stalker on the planet. This grieves me at times. More people just need to believe that in my brain it isn't a signal of obsession that I remember the clogging performance my friend's little sibling's friend is having if I'm in the room to hear about it. I'm not saying that you shouldn't typically find such behavior to be red flags: there are real creepers out there, and they act just like me. I'm just the exception that proves the rule.

But my creeperesque mannerisms are actually a demonstration of how singularly inept my brain is at releasing it's deathgrip on pretty much any shred of "knowledge" that floats within its vicinity. It gets so bad that sometimes I play dumb, pretend I don't remember huge tracts of information just to avoid the wary gleam in the other person's eye, like an alert gazelle that is beginning to suspect that that waterhole might not be so refreshing after all.

Fret not; this is not an aimless ode to my brain, or even an extremely circular route to complimenting myself. I was merely providing the background information that is necessary to understand my complaint about my brain's fatal flaw. So, to summarize so far: Mary's brain is tenacious to detail, but not creepy. This does not mean one shouldn't be vigilant against mouth-breathing uncomfortable-level-of-eye-contact skulking types as a rule; in fact please do, just cross Mary off your list as an anomaly. And now for the fatal flaw:

I can't prove anything, mostly because I don't care enough for science to try, but I'm pretty sure there's something sinister about the barometric pressure in winter which inhibits certain synapses to fire at all, leading me to lose all memory of what it is to step outside and be warm. It happens quickly, this mental block, usually within moments of the first truly cold walk to the bus stop. But even now in my almost temperate basement office, I couldn't tell you what it feels like to step outside and not ready myself for breath-stealing braced-back cold.

I don't mind the cold in of itself, I'm even considering getting my masters in Milwaukee, a city to which no one I have shared my plan with has anything of interest to say except "Milwaukee--it's a cold place." Thanks, guys, for the razor-sharp insight with its limits-pushing subtext.

No, I really don't mind cold. But I do object to brain damage. And this complete loss of a basic sensation I have a solid six months of every year feels like deliberate and malicious damage on my brain. I guess I could try and re-read my blog post about when the AC broke, but I resent that necessity to read my own pale, amateurish attempts to describe something as basic as being meltingly hot. I live in the desert, for the love of DDP.

I think Utah Valley girls watched way too much Anne of Green Gables growing up. Only individuals with that particular kind of handicap would think the sloppy ponytail/bun-ish thing on the very top of the head was remotely attractive/aesthetically appealing. You, my dears, have been exposed to one too many pompadours in your day. Next thing you know you'll all be sporting puffed sleeves so large you can't walk through the door. I have luckily escaped these fads. In exchange, though, I have huge hangups because my inner psyche is waiting for a Canadian farmboy with brains, ambitions, and infinite patience for crazy girls. Yes, Mom and Dad, this is the most recent theory for why you're going to have a cat lady for a daughter.

This blog is happening because I would rather insert tiny razor-sharp pieces of glass into my fingernails than re-read, edit, and finalize my art history paper that I spit out in rough form Sunday. I'm truly terrified to read what it says--I dosed myself with chocolate at around 11:30 Sunday night so that my hypoglycemic self would crash into a sugar coma and I could actually sleep. The flaw in this sly, ever so crafty plan? I still had a page and a half to write. Which I did write. But I have no memory of it.

You see my conundrum. Ah, well, might as well face my psychosis head on.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Ode

I've only been on the right road to being a Person for approximately three years and five months.

I've been a lot of things in my still-short existence. Many of them have been contradictory; the punk ballroom dancer, the overachieving malcontent, the socially incapable aspiring actress, the khaki-wearing rebel, the physically violent shy girl that ducked behind her feminist maxims. But something that was constant in all these interpretations and perspectives was my fundamental discomfort with the all-encompassing truth that is me.

As I flipped around like a beached whale from one definition of self to another, the running commentary in the back of my head was always heavily laced with panic, anxiety that someone would point out a piece of me that didn't fit my newest reinvention and this whole Jenga game of let's-pretend would come crashing down. I speak flippantly about it now, but it truly was a crippling kind of mindset, a fundamental discomfort with myself and my own thoughts, tastes, interests, background.

June, 2007: one of my brother's best friends from high school calls me up. This isn't that peculiar, he had been in the habit of doing that from time to time since he got back from his mission. Back when we were both in high school--he the wise and benevolent senior and I the freshman in the throes of yet another identity crisis--this guy was the epitome of Cool. In the time since, very little had changed in my perception of him. The guy was so Cool he even occasionally kept in touch with his friend's little sis who, I'll admit, hero worshipped him more than a skosh. But we had once in the good ol' days bonded over a pomegranate, and this guy wasn't one to disrespect the memory of ritualistic dining on mythical fruit. That would be Un Cool.

So he remembered to keep in touch, this time with an invite to run up to Salt Lake City for dinner and a movie. I needed a friend even more than usual, and a hangout with the essence of Cool was just what the doctor ordered. We had the normal warm but mildly stilted greeting, got in his car and headed off. He tossed me a huge binder of CDs and informed me I was in charge of music for the trip.

This was terrifying. Someone as insecure as I was knew all too well how quickly you could step wrong with a poor music choice. I thumbed through the selection with almost reverent care, occasionally using a finger to mark a possibility, refusing to commit until I knew I had picked something completely acceptable and perhaps even inspired. In short time all of my spare fingers were occupied with marking places. I was beginning to have another panic attack--his music was so varied and so so Cool, I didn't know how I was going to pass this imaginary test.

Thankfully I was near the back of the binder now, wiggling my thumb in a painful sideways movement in order to turn the plastic pages without losing any of my precious potential selections. I turned to the last page and stared at what I saw. He owned *NSync's original album and "No Strings Attached." I was so at a loss for an appropriate reaction, I promptly fumbled the binder and lost all the places I'd been saving.

Some background: all through sixth and even bleeding into early seventh grade I had loved *NSync. JC Chasez had been my one true love. My mother not letting me go to their concert in sixth grade had broken my heart and lead to weeks of door slamming and a point-blank refusal to eat her lasagna. But then I had discovered Kurt Cobain: without a moment's pause or guilt I trapped any tender, positive feeling I had for that adorable boy band in an airless compartment, threw away the key, and never looked back. I denied them many more times than thrice in the subsequent years, completely willing to risk my soul as long as no one knew I ever had such a Shameful Secret. And here I was, with the Coolest guy I knew, being confronted with the worst kind of transgression he could commit--publicly displaying something so very, very not cool. Didn't he realize people could now "out" him? How could he be so careless?

I was inwardly appalled for him, but to the naked eye, my reaction wasn't of that nature. As only the truly insecure can, I pulled a 180 and turned on him my most venomous voice of judgment. I used all my most derisive vocabulary as I mercilessly monologued about his taste in music. How quickly the rabidly self-loathing turn on their heroes.

But then the most surprising thing happened, marking the turning point in my odyssey toward Personhood. As I drew breath for another spouting wordfest of malice, the victim's inherent Coolness showed his real stripes once again. Without bothering to take his eyes off the road he just casually shrugged. "It was early high school. It was fun. Why wouldn't I want to keep that around, for those times when I'm reminiscing? Those were good times; I don't have a problem with it."

I was stopped in my tracks. And I was so, so mortified by how I had reacted. Once again, I was far from Cool. I wanted to sink right through the upholstery, I wanted to hide in that space under the seat where tic-tacs and sunglasses go and never return. Since that wasn't an immediate possibility, at least not until we hit another stop light, I instead focused on what was in my hands. I studied the album art of those two nefarious CDs, and thought about how often Ashley Beutler and I used to watch their music videos, learning all the dance moves and fighting over who was cuter, JC or Justin. I couldn't believe how completely I had buried those memories. I tentatively inched the original album halfway out of its sleeve with my fingernail and looked beseechingly at the driver.

Mr. Cool, who of course was completely oblivious to the existential crisis that was occurring two short feet away, smiled and agreeably nodded in consent. Lickety-split in went the CD before I could change my mind for the both of us. "Tearin' Up My Heart" blasted enthusiastically from the speakers. It was too infectious for words. I started my incredibly suave seat-dancing, coming in spot on for every vocal cue, breaking off for the harmonies. Quicker than I could have imagined I realized that the album was over and we were in Salt Lake. My enabler had endured the entire cathartic exercise with remarkably good grace, and after the movie and restaurant even gave in to my pleas that we continue on to "No Strings Attached."

Luke N Lewis brings up that trip from time to time with a good-natured moan at my instance to car-dance to two full albums of *NSync, having no clue of how huge of a day that was for me. Through his own example, he gave me the room and permission I needed to settle into my own skin with a greater degree of comfort than I had felt since elementary school. And it only could have been Luke. There wasn't anybody that could have played surrogate in that experience, no amount of persuasive speak could have talked me around to beginning to like all past and present versions of me. Luke was the one who had to be there, because he was the only person I admired, respected, and blatantly aspired to be like on such a monumental level.

And that sentiment shouldn't be placed in the past tense--I don't know if many of you have had the opportunity to become best friends with your hero, but from that night onward it's been the best aspect of my life. I don't think scientific instruments exist that could measure the magnitude that Luke's willingness to be my Person for these last three and a half years has shaped, influenced, and liberated me. I wish I could think that I had the capability to give as much back to Luke, but I'm afraid this friendship has been a tad uneven--I've been reaping the greatest rewards because I was the one who needed the most help, and Luke in his benevolence was always more than ready to be the rock, the reassurance, the fun mind-expanding influence.

And now this freakin gem is getting ready to marry a girl that is totally worth every bit of him, and I wanted to get a jump-start on the teary tributes to all that is Luke. Love you. Let's eat pomegranates again soon.