Friday, April 30, 2010

A Bad Case Of The What-Ifs

As a rule, I generally try to live my live without regrets. The way I see it, if you can't change it, why waste your time regretting it, or wishing things had happened differently?

That's all well and good on a logical, intellectual level. But we're not strictly logical, intellectual creatures, we have these messy things called emotions that can be really great, but can also keep us from thinking about things 100% clearly.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who I've known for a few years now, and we briefly discussed a night and conversation we'd had years ago, and what we'd been thinking, but hadn't said. I didn't even realize at the time that the nasty little bug had crept into my system. It wasn't until I'd hung up the phone and was getting ready for bed that the symptoms started to set in.

I was washing my face when the sneaky little voice whispered in my ear.

"What if?"

I tried to ignore it, grabbing my towel and patting my face dry.

"What if you'd gone alone?"

I shook my head, willing the wondering away, and settled into bed, my eyes firmly, and determinedly shut.

"What if you'd gotten what you wanted three years ago?"

"It doesn't matter, I got what I wanted now, didn't I?" I snapped back, finally unable to contain myself.

"But what if you'd gotten it three years ago?"

"Well I still got it, didn't I? Better late than never!"

"But what if..."

I rolled over angrily, pulling the covers higher, up to my ears. I wanted nothing more to do with this stupid voice. But I was arguing with myself now, and my mind was going to see the argument through, whether I wanted to or not.

The evil little words caressed my cheek sweetly as they whispered in my ear.

"What if it had been him instead?"

I pulled my pillow over my head at the thought. I didn't want to think about it. Because in the end, what could I do? I couldn't go back and change it, and I couldn't change any of the other things that had happened since. And even if I could have, I'm not so sure I'd want to. What would that mean for the rest of my personality? For the rest of my life? Everything is connected, and if one thing goes differently, who knows what would happen?

"What if it had been him, and not That Man? Would you have been hurt so much? Would you be happy now? Would That Man ever have even happened?"

The scariest "What If" of all.

"What if That Man never happened?"

But finally, one where I know where I stand. I wouldn't change it. I wouldn't risk the person I've grown into. I wouldn't risk things turning out any other way.

The question comes up a lot when we think about cloning: How much of us is shaped by our experiences? How much of it really is nature, and how much is nurture? Would the clone they created really be the person they were cloned from? Of course not. It would grow up differently, with different experiences, different stimuli. It would never be the same person.

If any of my "What Ifs" had happened, I wouldn't be the same person. I'd still be me, of course, but a different me. Maybe a better me, but maybe a worse me. Maybe giving up the pain would mean losing the progress. After all, don't they always say "No pain, no gain"? While I may not be happy with everything going on in my life right now, I am happy with the progress I've made as a person in the last few years of my life, and that's not something I would trade away for a shot at a "What If". Especially since I can't ever have it, anyway.

Do you have a "What If" you think about a lot? Do you wish you could go back and change so that things turned out differently? What do you do to shake a bad case of the "What Ifs"?


Monday, April 19, 2010

Rejecting Social Norms

I got involved in a bit of a debate through comments on another blog last night, and for some reason, it really threw me.

I'm not going to sit here and rehash the argument word for word, but the reason I even got into in the first place is because someone had written a comment that basically held women responsible for the degradation of society, because they are no longer controlling men's sexuality. I find it ridiculous that women are expected to hold men's sex drives at bay, but that's for another blog. Unable to keep my mouth shut, I asked why on earth women should be held responsible, and was told that women are the keepers of the home, and men are the breadwinners, and that's just the way it is. Time and again, the argument circled round to the argument of "that's just the way it is". But that wasn't even what struck me. What struck me was when the other person said "I don't like it". And when I asked why she didn't just do things differently if she didn't like it, we got right back to "that's just the way it is."

The stereotypical gender roles she was describing are not universal laws, or irreversible positions, or hard and fast facts. They're social norms. They're the behaviors and lifestyles which our society and culture has determined to be typical, preferential, or appropriate. Basically, it's whatever our society has decided is normal. The great thing (or not so great thing, depending on your point of view) about social norms, is that they can change. But only if there is someone or something willing to change them.

What frustrated me, therefore, is that this person was totally devoted to and accepting of a set of social norms that she herself 
did not like simply because it was supposedly the way things were. What if we all just accepted the social norms even if we did not like them? Worse, what if we all just sat here twiddling our thumbs while things we knew to be wrong were accepted and perpetuated by our society?

Well, for starters, black people would probably still be 2/3rds of a person, and be enslaved. Enslavement of blacks based on race - which, by the way, is a 
socially constructed concept and NOT a biological fact - was a commonly accepted practice that American society decided was totally normal and appropriate.

Oh, and women? Forget just getting back in the kitchen, you'd still be property. Sorry, but by simple virtue of having a uterus, you are incapable of ever being equal to men. Society spent a good, long time perpetuating the myth that you're biologically unable to hold any sort of meaningful job, own property, manage your own money, get a well-rounded education. And hell, without any of that, why the hell should they let you vote? I think I speak for a lot of women when I say that it's a damn good thing none of that is typical behavior anymore.

Any race that has ever been persecuted or massacred probably wouldn't exist anymore because no one would have stood up against the forces of logic that made it socially acceptable to teach children that ALL Native Americans are savages, ALL Polish people are stupid, ALL Jews are responsible for all the problems of Germany, and ALL Japanese are a threat to the American way of life.

Just because something is a SOCIAL NORM, just because the majority of the community says it's NORMAL or TYPICAL or APPROPRIATE does not mean that it is 

I'm not asking everybody to get up and change the world. I'm asking you to change yourself. If society believes something that you don't think is right, don't accept it. If you think gays should be able to marry, don't accept the laws that say they can't, join a protest, or write a letter to your legal representative. If you think women should have the right to safe and legal abortions, don't accept the guilt society tries to place on you for thinking so, stand firm in your belief. If you think being a stay-at-home Dad is the life for you, don't let the opinions of those around you stop you from living your life the way you want to.

And sure, we're going to have people fighting in both directions - we always will. But if you don't stand up for what you believe, you'll be forced to accept something you don't.

Can you think of a social norm that needs to be changed in society today? Can you think of a group of people who are working to change that social norm? How are they doing it? How would you go about changing a social norm you do not like?


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Better Before You Know Me

"I want to get to know you," he said.

I smiled to myself. Guys don't usually bother with such things. But I'm guarded. Because I know how this goes. You don't want to get to know me. Not all of me, anyway.

You want to know the girl who is really interested in reading and literature, who is always looking for a recommendation for a good book. You want to know the girl who has spent all of her college electives studying anthropology, archaeology, and religion because those are the things that really interest her, even if she can't make a career out of them. You want to know the girl who plays the piano, and dabbled in ballet, to satisfy her creative side. You want to know the girl who will be right there on the couch next to you every Sunday for football, and gets out and plays softball in the spring, because she's sort of a sporty kind of girl. You want to know the girl who is plowing through a nineteen credit semester and working part time, she's that motivated and driven.

You don't want to know the girl who has had significant struggles with eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. You don't want to know the girl who had other men who have been a part of her life - the ones who took advantage of her, and the ones who hurt her. You don't want to know the difficulties she's had in my life that have shaped her personality, and made her the way she is. You don't want to know the obstacles, or how she overcame them. You don't want to know about the baggage, because you don't want to think about it. So you don't want to hear about it. In fact, you probably don't even want to hear all of the positive traits, because at a point, that girl you wanted to get to know just got a little too intimidating, she's that passionate, and has that much of a thirst for life.

You don't want to know me as anything different than what you perceive me to be.

"Well," he said.

I waited in silence.

"You've certainly thrown a few speed bumps into our situation."

So that's what it is. There are aspects of my personality that are "speed bumps". You get over them, but you're shaken up. Because I'm not that pretty little picture that you had in your head. And while the parts of me you do want to get to know are really great, the parts you don't want anything to do with have probably had a more significant impact on the way I behave, and the person I am.

If I hesitate when you lean in to kiss me, it's because the part you didn't want to know is terrified.

But you don't want to hear that.

Do you think you're an easier person to get along with before someone gets to know you? Do you have a lot of people in your life who really know you? Do you think that when we try to get to know others, we are only superficial about it, and only want to know the good things? Do you think we shouldn't share the bad things that we've experienced with others, or do you think it's important to be honest?


Thursday, April 8, 2010

By Morning, You'll Be Gone

"Please let me keep this memory, just this one."

Clearly, I've been watching Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind too much lately, but it's impossible to watch the film without asking yourself the same question going through the character's minds:

If you could erase someone from your memory, and therefore your life, would you?

For me, the answer is a resounding no. Perhaps it's because I've never experienced anything awful enough. Or maybe it's just that I cherish the happy memories too much to banish the darkest pains. It could be that it's simply because I'd need a full on lobotomy to truly forget certain people, because anything and everything makes me think of them. But maybe, it's because deep down, I know it wouldn't really work.

Have you ever noticed, upon meeting someone, that you're inherently drawn to them for no logical reason? A total stranger with whom you have an instant connection. You can't explain it, or rationalize it, you just feel it. And maybe later, you try to get them out of your life. You try to forget them completely. But it's not quite so simple.

In fact, it's downright strange. Chance meetings turn into unexpectedly meaningful affairs, and there are events and people you think are going to have a huge impact on your life that all of a sudden, you can't remember. In conversation with my mother recently, I came to the startling realization that I couldn't remember all of my teachers in high school, and had done things I don't remember doing. And yet, someone I meet purely by chance manages to lodge themselves immovably in my memory.

In the opening scenes of the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we watch the two main characters coincidentally wind up mindlessly wandering the same beach. Later, they wind up on the same train, and, as if by pure magnetics, shift closer and closer to each other as the ride progresses, engaging in the casual conversation of two people who seem to be strangers. It's not until later that we realize this is actually a repeat experience for them both.

They go to all the trouble of erasing each other from their lives only to run into each other again and fall into the same bond they had before. Even when placed together as strangers, there's something in their natures that draws them to each other. I think it would be the same for any of us. We're drawn to people, often for no reason that we can understand. And for better or worse, they break into our lives and rearrange our furniture and change our perspectives and sometimes turn things entirely on their head. But would we even know who we were if that was suddenly taken away? Every experience we have in our lives shapes us. Could the person I am today even function if all of those middle bits were suddenly ripped out? Is forgetting the pain worth the risk of destroying progress?

Do I think that we would be destined to meet these people we long to forget? No. Do I think we're doomed to relive our mistakes if we don't make them, and learn from them? Yes.

Every horrible thing that has happened to me has taught me something. Every person who has hurt me has made me stronger. I don't assume that things would happen the same way twice. Perhaps, if I erased someone, I'd never run into them again in my life. But if I did run into them, perhaps there's something that's simply inherent in both of us that would draw us together again. And perhaps, without realizing that we'd made the same mistakes already, we'd make them again, and things would continue on in an endless loop. Maybe, with so many things I've lived and learned taken out, my personality would revert back to the way it was, and repeating would be inevitable. And as I watched the end of the film, I knew even if I erased you, I'd fall in love with you all over again.

So I turn the question now to you: If you could erase someone from your memory, and therefore your life, would you?


Friday, April 2, 2010

No Apologies

"I'm not a concept, Joel. I'm just a fucked-up girl who's looking for my own peace of mind." -Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I could say that this blog was inspired by something that was said to me a few nights ago, but that wouldn't be entirely true. But I don't really have a better starting point, so I'm jumping off from there, and we'll see how far I get.

The conversation was about the idea of being "corrupted", and how I thought that I was, but how I didn't think that was a bad thing. The person I was talking to implied that I could always go back to the way things were, and get back what I had lost, and cover up my past and go on to live a perfectly happy life.

But I would never want that.

Sure, I'm "corrupted". I've experienced life. I've been educated - by books, by people, by experiences. I'm realistic. But I'm not damaged goods. I don't regret any of the experiences I've had in my life, even if other people would frown on them. I have loved. I have had my heart broken. I have had my heart swell with happiness beyond reckoning. I have laughed until I thought my stomach would burst. I have cried until it hurt. I have lost everything that I thought mattered to me, and gained everything I thought I wanted. I have thought that I would live forever, and I have honestly believed I would die. These experiences make me who I am, and I'm not trying to cover any of that up. I'm not proud of everything I've ever done, but it's all a part of me. I'm a package deal, and I'm not apologizing for it.

I told a story about someone I knew who couldn't handle me the way I was. He said he loved me, but he was always angry at me for some reason or another, or complaining about some trait that he didn't like. Often, these traits were a result of something I'd experienced earlier in my life. I told him that if he loved me, and wanted me, it was an all or nothing deal. I am not going to lobotomize myself so that people can take the bits and pieces of my personality that they like, and leave me with the rest. You don't get to pick and choose. If you can't handle all of me, you don't deserve all of me.

I am passionate.
I am neurotic.
I am motivated.
I am kind.
I am sensual.
I am nonsensical.
I am creative.
I am driven.
I am caring.
I am intimidating.
I am intelligent.
I am thoughtful.
I am insecure.
I am beautiful.
I have a hunger for all the brilliance of life, and above all, I put all of my heart into the things and people I love.

This is who I am, and I'm not apologizing. You take me as I am, or you leave me. I'm not here to fit your mold, or change myself into what you want me to be. I'm not a concept, or an idea, or a theory. I am a living, breathing, loving person, and I'm not leaving bits out to make anyone feel better.