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A Remote Sense of Control

9 Jun

What is wrong with getting chills when you feel a sense of control? If you like too much control, people label you a control “freak,” a word so awful, control freaks are almost made to wear a scarlet “F” embroidered on their tee shirts. I don’t identify as a full control freak. If I had to rework the vocabulary, I’d say that I only have an occasional relationship with control—I’m a recreational user. In fact, this week, I learned a lot about the way I deal with control.

Video games have always been something that were very enjoyable for me. When I was young, I was the only one of my friends who had a video game system, so I came to view video games as a ritual left mainly for a one-person immersion experience. It wasn’t really until college that I began playing video games with three friends crowded around a television having to fight over who would play as Yoshi or Peach in Mario Kart or Mario Party. In my older age, I think I like gaming as a one-person experience, because it’s completely about the person’s control. We’re asked to immerse ourselves in worlds completely different than our own, and we’re told that only we hold the power to manipulate the world, and hopefully triumph over adversity in the end. Such is the appeal of video games for a recreational control user like myself. This past week, I started playing more and more because I’ve found myself with more summer time.

Here's to hoping there's no "Game Over" in the dating world.

When it comes to reading, control is something that is completely relinquished upon opening the book jacket. Unless you’re reading a Goosebumps “Create Your Own Tale,” the only control one has over a book is how much information we absorb at once, because we can only choose whether or not to read the next page.

This past week, I went on my first date of the summer. Even when it comes to dating, I like a sense of control. That’s another reason dating is hard for me, or for anyone. Though there are few ways you can control a date or dating in general, the only way I try to control it is through scheduling. Good dinner discussion and physical attraction are great, but just as stimulating to me are the times when you have to take out your Blackberry and figure out the exact moment where your two bodies can be in each other’s presence for the first, second, or seventy-eighth time. At this moment, at the meeting of thumbs and whizzing trackballs, is the inception of expectations and anticipation. It’s beautiful.

We had scheduled our date for a Friday afternoon, the only time the both of us could get together. I was sitting in a diner on Monday night with two friends, my boss and a colleague, when I got a text message from him. His name was Bill, and he was a theatre enthusiast/ desperately-wannabe actor. We met on my favorite/least favorite free dating website, and he said that he wanted to go get some coffee, but that he didn’t want to take the walk alone. Because that was the sheerest of see-through invitations, I replied with an opaque yes. The only problem was, it was past one o’clock in the morning. Well, control me was mourning the death of a part of myself, while part of me was digging the impulsive night-stalker that had replaced him.

I'll try to pencil you in.

It’s not that I want to control other people on a date, but can’t other people attempt to control themselves? Yes, I want to get to know you, but I don’t want to get bulldozed by your words and ideas. While he talked, I would look at his rapidly moving lips. Cheetas and bunnies having intercourse would be jealous of the speed with which he could relay close to nothing. We got coffee in the Columbus Circle Starbucks, then sat in the circle and talked, while listening to the fountains turn on and off. It quickly became a dud, and after he thwarted a few of my escape attempts, I was finally able to get home and recuperate with one of the funniest phone conversations I have ever had in my life with Miss Emily Mongeau.

This week, I also finished my fourth book. In a way, the book was also about what happens when you try to take control after being denied control for so long. I read I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, which was about Nujood Ali, the first child bride to be granted a divorce in Yemen. Because of her status as a woman and a child, Nujood had no rights, even after she was married off at the tender age of nine to a man three times her age. I devoured the book in two days. Though people who like control too much are often derided and given a bad name, there are few phrases more triumphant than that of “taking control.” In its own quotidian way, it’s quietly heroic. Where I saw heroism in Nujood’s ability to take control of her own situation and get herself out of a destructive marriage, I also saw hope in the power of taking control of one’s own life, even if I have to learn to sew so I can finally put the “F” for control freak on all my favorite sweaters.

Current count: 4 books down, 16 to go
1 date down, 19 to go
4 pounds down, 16 to go.

P.S. After reading Nujood, I decided to begin the largest leg of reading in my challenge—to read all six Jane Austen novels at one time. I began Wednesday with Northanger Abbey, and hope to have them completed in a month.

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Pregnant Pauses

28 May

What makes a pregnant pause? For those of you who don’t know what a pregnant pause is, it’s a technique where entertainers pause to build suspense, to leave you hanging on whatever next passes from your lips. Comedians best know the pregnant pause as the dead air before the punch line, while dramatists know the pregnant pause because it usually precedes a confession, or some plot-altering development. Pregnant pauses, either way, are moments infused with possibility. The people in the audience, breath subdued, wait for the conclusion of the phrase, because we want an emotional release just as much as the entertainer. Like expectant fathers, the audience waits to see what will come of the pregnant pause—a bouncy baby comedic thrill, or a quiet, contained dramatic confession.

Bloggers don't worry about stretch marks.

I find that keeping a blog is a lot like living a life full of pregnant pauses. Every moment ideas swarm around me like houseflies, and I try to catch them and keep them long enough for me to write them down. Every day is full of new possibilities for me. Every blog, every book presents new ways for me to express my thoughts. After posting this entry, I don’t know if my next entry will be about weight loss, my first summer date, or about the next book I’ve read. Each entry has the possibility to be a triumphant declaration, and the possibility for solemn reflection. The people and the events in my life hold within them the power for inspiration and analysis, a potent energy that is unique and refreshing.

Take for instance the dinner I tried to make two days ago. I tried to make brown rice and beans, and for flavor, I added avocado and turkey bacon. The rice and beans kicked my ass, the stove was spotted with black bean juice, and the rice ended up thick, and best resembled brick-squished mortar. I ate my experiment quickly, and dumped the rest out. I had to sit there waiting for the beans and rice to cook for about 45 minutes, and there were two distinct possibilities:  this meal can succeed, or this meal can fail. After it failed, I had two distinct ways I could present this:  a fun foray into the world of cooking, or a failed experiment that persuaded to put down the wooden spoon.

Every event I attend, every book I read, and every day that passes has something to offer me. You could say that I’m constantly pregnant, if that didn’t have a creepy connotation to it. And every time I give birth to a personal essay to share with the world, ideas are ready to impregnate me again. This constant state of pregnancy is, like normal pregnancy, a basic human want to share a part of me with the world, and to ask that my ideas, thoughts, and values live on in a way that is more permanent than myself (which seems odd since this blog is nothing but one’s and zero’s.)

"If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This" by Robin Black

I’ve nearly finished my second book, entitled If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black. I picked this book next because it was completely different in tone from my first. It is a collection of short stories, it was written in this past decade, and published in the past year. The characters, like Charity Royall , are due for awakenings, but theirs come at varied stages of life—grade school childhood, old age singledom, and mid-life malaise. I originally picked up this book, because I wanted to read a record of what is being published in the short story market at the time, because I write short stories myself. The book also had a gorgeous cover. The maxim “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” is immutably true in every area of life except when choosing a book. Walking into Barnes and Noble these days is like walking into an art museum, except I can afford the merchandise covering the walls. Though it was beautifully covered, and the writing itself is admirable, precise, and evocative, I felt that the book left me a little flat. I believe that short stories, in a way, work off the notion of the pregnant pause. There is a moment in the story when the suspense builds, and we wait for a moment of grotesque action that leads us to an epiphany. For the record, both comedy and drama work off of the notion of epiphany. Comedies make us realize how silly we could be, while dramas make us realize how silly we really are. Unfortunately, I felt Robin Black took to much time reveling in her own writing abilities to care about her characters. I feel as if her characters learned nothing, and we were meant to learn everything, which to me is writing for show. Though it seems counterintuitive for a blogger, I feel that writing must always be first personal and second for others to read. To write a short story and not have your characters learn something in the process is a shitty way to treat your characters—it makes their lives a mere vehicle for our lessons, and gives their lives no purpose of their own.

Reading this book has made me realize that the way I write may not exactly fit in with the current short story market, and that’s okay by me. There is a gimmicky way of writing now, people write like imitations of post-modernists now, and trying to write like someone who breaks form seems kind of counterintuitive. Replicating Lorrie Moore with extra lilts and sing-songy lyrics doesn’t make you an author. A true desire to tell one’s story, and find little grains of truth as you sift through grains of beans of rice spread out on your countertop, that’s where one finds stories. Those are the places where one has to pause, let an idea cultivate in your spine, and ultimately make itself ready to be shown to the world.

In waiting for my rice to boil, or anticipating the soreness in my muscles to seep out, or even just waiting for a date to appear, my life has been full of pregnant pauses lately. But, that means it has also been filled with possibility. And possibility is something I can handle. In small doses, I may not be able to handle not eating my favorite foods, shelling out money for IcyHot, or reading ten short stories back to back in a week, but as a whole, I can take a challenge. Because the thing you have to remember about a challenge:  you can fail, or you can succeed, but you can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen, you have to act like a pregnant woman and deliver.

The Sweetness of Dependence

21 May

I keep my summer challenge books in a blue shopping bag on the floor by my bookshelf. I originally wanted to use the “go-fish” system of selecting the sequence of the reading of the books. I would close my eyes, hover above the bag, and dive my hand into the pile, pulling out the next book I was to digest. But I decided instead to choose my next book by alternating the type of book, genre, time period, or subject matter. The first book I decided to read was Summer by Edith Wharton, because I wanted something to get me in the mood for the coming season. Summer is a novel about a young librarian, Charity Royall, who spends the summer in a love affair with a newcomer to town, Lucius Harney, and while she enjoys her liaison, discovers the dangers of that love as she gets pregnant and ultimately forced into marriage by the man who raised her, the lawyer Mr. Royall.

"Summer" by Edith Wharton

The lush New England seasonal scenery described by Wharton was a joy to read, and definitely excited me for the oncoming summer, as have the past few days of heat and sunshine. But, more than that, the book really got me thinking about my summer challenge. When she first starts flirting with Lucius, and she feels wanted for the first time, she starts to feel what Wharton calls “the sweetness of dependence.” That got me thinking about why I started my challenge, and why I write this blog. I’ve always had a weight problem, but when I get down to the bottom of it, is my driving factor really my health? It should be, but isn’t my real aim in losing weight a chance at feeling the sweetness of dependence? I know any doctor would list the health reasons for losing weight, but any good group of friends would say weight loss is the best boost for self-esteem, or the perfect doorway into the house of love.
What about dating and blogging? I don’t believe dating has anything to do with the sweetness of dependence. In fact, dates are one of the least dependable things I can think of—mostly because we imbue them with expectations. I should be able to depend on someone to be somewhere by a certain time, but once they fail, I already deem them undependable. What about the expectations we have of the dinner conversation and the subtle nods we expect—the hand that grazes yours as he passes a fork, or the extra laugh after an unfunny joke—to bolster the mood or our ego. We come to expect these, to depend on them, to help our self-esteem, and because we want to sample what we think will be the sweetness of dependence. Even though we may just be masking the taste of the bitterness of delusion.

I check my blog every few minutes. WordPress (my parent blog website) offers on its home site a line graph that tracks the progress of how many hits your blog gets per day. I watch this like Hollywood executives track box office scores. It’s nice to know that one hundred and forty-one people have looked at my blog in one day. To know that people out there wish to read what I so carefully take the time to write is an ego-booster, but it also reassures my heart that the life I lead is worth living, and it reassures my head that what I have to say is worth reading.

Is Edith Wharton’s book an advertisement for the fruits of summer and the beauty that comes with awakening one’s senses to the sweetness of dependence? Or, is it a warning for those wide-eyed individuals who, like me, go into the summer looking for a change of pace? Charity Royall found an everlasting love, though ended up pregnant by one man, abandoned by him, and married to another. Though I don’t have to worry about birth control, am I setting myself up in my quest for life’s riches and sweetnesses for a sense of bitter regret? A loved one asked me if I would be upset if I didn’t get to the twenty dates I set out for at the beginning of my mission, and after reading Summer, my answer is that, it might not be the worst thing in the world. Sometimes, when you get everything you want, and your soul is transported to nirvana on a summer’s breeze, there’s nowhere to go but down—a fall into autumn. Maybe my lesson from Wharton is much like a lesson that I should take for dating itself—setting up expectations distracts one from the most important parts of life. Sometimes, you have focus on the experience. And that’s what my blog is about:  experiences. I may have a goal in mind, but once I reach my goal, the blog has to end. So, I wouldn’t mind not reaching my goal, because it would only give me more opportunity to express myself, and I sweetly depend on you to stay with me along the way.

1st book: Summer by Edith Wharto, 19 books to go.

Action is Character

17 May

I think it was F. Scott Fitzgerald who said, “Action is character” regarding, I expect, not only writing fiction, but also life. His words are a guiding light for most writers. They are unwritten writing rule, and a go-to mantra for undergraduate and high school writing teachers across the country. Recently, I was revising a short story I wrote, and I was listing traits of the main character to attempt to come to a deeper understanding of him—and to help finally move the plot along. To be blunt, I was the main character, just like every facet of me is a LEGO I use to snap together all my characters. But, for this character, the only adjectives I could list were unsure and emotional. As you can imagine, these are not two adjectives useful to a writer. How do you give a character a purpose, how do you propel forward the plot when your main character is anchored to the seafloor, tethered at the ankles and gargling to survive? Of course, I knew these adjectives were a sheer guise behind which I was hiding truths about myself.

Starting the Summer Book Pile...

I was this character completely, from the waves in the nappy hair to the mismatched socks on his feet, and the uncertain steps he took. None of my fiction had such a complete portrait of me, and it was boxing me in. My other stories’ main characters, or supporting characters, were facets of myself, of my need to be vindicated, or my inability to curb my desire for cupcakes. It was easy to write a story about things that I did—about things that made up my character. But how does one write a story about inaction, about a character who is striving to become something, yet is too unsure to act? Quite simply, few writers do, and those who do are those who have Classics editions at Barnes and Noble, or authors who we feel comfortable quoting on blog posts. They have already proven themselves.

I began to think of ways to cure my inaction. I wasn’t exactly unhappy with my life. I had great friends, a great family, but I found myself in a rut. I needed to do something to revivify myself. I looked around the room at my bookshelf that holds my small personal library. It’s three decently high shelves kept together by curved metal rods on either side. On the top, I keep textbooks, fiction on the middle shelf, with a collage of non-fiction, anthologies, and writing books on the bottom. But for the kind of instruction I wanted, I looked to my middle shelf and dusted off twenty books that I knew deserved my attention and had been undeservingly denied it for so long. I was so good at buying books, I could burn a hole through my debit card at Strand faster than you could imagine, but reading them was always a slower process. You could buy five in one hour, but it would take you upwards of weeks to plow through them, by the time life gets in the way. Turning my attention to the books on my shelf the longest, I picked out twenty that should have been read by now. These twenty books, ranging from prim and proper European classics to New York Times bestsellers that are chirped about on Twitter, form a thorough summer education course of my own design that inadvertently sparked the rest of my summer mission.

Why stop at twenty books? Why should only my mind expand and my bookshelves lighten when there are so many other areas of myself that deserve a close look?  I turned my attention right away to my weight problems. I have always been heavy, and I have always been uncomfortable with it. The feeling of discontent comes tethered to the extra pounds. They pal around together, one carried with you on your bones, the other walking a few steps behind, though still part of your entourage. So, I decided to finally take action on weight loss, and to lose at least twenty pounds by the end of the summer.

Lastly, I wanted to get out of the building in which I live. I live in McMahon Hall, a little box of an apartment building on the thin edge between Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper West Side, and the only residence hall for Fordham University at Lincoln Center. I also work here as a Resident Assistant. As such, getting away from the building becomes a chore. So, I decided to get out and date, and not just any dates, but twenty little adventures. I want to go on interesting dates in parks, museums, or outdoor concerts. I want twenty unique experiences that can’t be interchanged or confused with one another.

There’s the mission, folks (who are soon to be addressed as faithful readers.) Twenty books, twenty pounds, and twenty dates in one summer. What you will read following this entry will be reviews and reflections on literature, recaps and analyses of gay male dating habits, and the woes and wants of a foodie who will be relearning how to eat healthily. I hope this first entry intrigued you enough to continue reading, and I hope that you all enjoy the next months reading my blog as I will enjoy writing, reading, eating, exercising, dating, craving, enjoying, and loving it.

And, as for my story, the character finally took action, and the reader was able to see his true character. Let’s see what you can see of mine as I reveal the story of my summer to you.