Thursday, February 27, 2014

Be Dauntless: Facing My Fears

I am completely absorbed in the fantasy world of Divergent right now. And as I do with all things in which I'm absorbed, I started drawing parallels to my own life.

I imagine that most real life people would have a hard time choosing one of the imaginary factions in the fictional world of Divergent. I personally would be torn between the Dauntless and the Erudite. Erudite appeals to my enjoyment of having good, intellectual conversations, but that seems like it would be draining to have to do it nonstop. Dauntless just seems like fun, if not a little crazy.

SPOILER ALERT: Beatrice's faction choice and initiation In the book, the main character, Tris, goes through initiation and has to face her fears in a simulation. In my day to day activities, I'm not usually suffocated by crows or kidnapped by faceless men, but I do have to do things like talk on the phone for work.

I'm not embarrassed. I have anxiety about talking on the phone. I hate answering phone numbers I don't recognize. I hate calling people I'm not good friends with. And I am terrible at ending conversations - that is perhaps the strangest part of all. I can face my fears and answer the phone. I can answer the questions the caller asks of me. I can call other people (although I prefer to do it when my co-workers are away from their desks or pre-occupied so they can't listen to me as easily). And I imagine that I can end the conversation politely and professionally. But sometimes it seems to catch the other person offguard, and their alarm turns into panic for me.

This is what happened today. I thought it was better to chat with a co-worker in another part of the country about some questions I had, rather than email her and lose the inflection and personal touch. So while the person who trained me was away from her desk, and the colleagues in my row were chatting with other people, I picked up the phone and dialed.

My co-worker answered and we exchanged pleasantries. So far so good. I had written my questions down so I knew what to say, and I followed that script. I even typed in the answers to reinforce my memory, because in panic-y moments as this I tend to have no memory

Once my questions were done, I tried wrapping it up by saying that that information would help me, and thanking her for it. She said she was looking forward to my update (which we had previously exchanged an email about).

Then I said, "Okay, I'll talk to you later," maybe a little too quickly. She responded with something like, "Oh - okay. Good bye." She sounded stunned, like I had said something crazy. I don't know what I did wrong, except maybe speaking too fast. But it obviously bothered me enough to compare it to a fear, as if I was being tested like Tris was.

That got me thinking about what my fear landscape would look like. It wouldn't be anything physically traumatic like suffocating or being too high off the ground. It'd be mental. I'd have to answer a series of phone calls from unknown numbers. I'd have to eat a sandwich in a windy sand dune. Okay, maybe I'd have one where someone was breaking into my house, and I couldn't find them, because I'm always paranoid about sounds when I'm home alone. And I'm sure there'd have to be one scenario with bugs creeping up my legs. But other than that, I'm not really sure. I'm not afraid of jumping off a bridge or drowning in the ocean or of small spaces. I had no traumatizing beatings as a child to rehash, or deep-seeded fear that my family will die because of me. I think I am a bit of a thrillseeker, and I'm more rational and logical than emotional concerning most things. Research tells us most people are afraid of public speaking, but I've faced that fear and am largely over it. While in the Onsen in Japan, I was liberated from the nervousness that comes from being naked in front of people, because the Japanese women didn't even try to hide their stares. I've been comfortable being naked ever since: in tanning booths, in massages, in front of doctors.

SPOILER ALERT: Four's origins I supposed that makes me like Tobias in the book. I have four fears, while most people have 10 to 15. Is that accurate? Or is it because the kids in the book are still young, not having had time to face all their fears yet, and I'm nearly double their age. I suppose if I assume public speaking and nudity were fears I had when I was 16, that gives me at least 6 fears.

SPOILER ALERT: Tris' fear landscape I'll endulge myself to go a little into some criticism of the book. Tobias' fear landscape had four unique fears represented. It was clear in each scenario what the fear was. But in Tris' fear landscape, most of the scenarios can be tied back to a single fear: lack of control. And really, I may not be totally cognizant of my own fear in this respect, because I imagine I'd struggle a bit with those scenarios too. But still, if she had seven fears scenarios, but six of them were merely the same fear played out differently, then really, she's a prodigy with only two fears. Maybe her parent one was different, so call it three fears. But then, she should in theory be over the one with Tobias, so its back down to two. That's half of Tobias' highly-acclaimed four. Maybe we'll find out later that her Divergence causes her fears to be duplicated or something like that, but it just seems unfair. She's braver and smarter than she gives herself credit for, and she should be recognized as such.

Anyways, fear is not something we talk about a lot. In fact, my oldest sister and I went 20 years probably without realizing that we shared the same anxiety about phone calls. Yet they probably shape our lives more than we consciously realize. For me, being called too often by the some telemarketer or even professional contact irritates me. I typically avoid picnics and activities that involve sitting outside, for fear of bugs crawling onto me. I am not a fan of eating outside in general, even if its not near sand, because dirt in my sandwich has the same effect on me.

On the other hand, when overcoming a fear is important to me, like public speaking, I've made choices that lead to me facing my fears, in order to diminish them. Public speaking being my primary example. The Onsen example was not so much a choice as something I was flung into and permanently changed as a result, which is okay too.

The question then becomes, what fears do I still have that I want to diminish? I got stuck here, because I'm not sure I really care enough about any of the other fears. I am confident and courageous in the most important aspects of my life, I think. And on the other side of the coin, having the humility of a few fears might be good for my overbearing pride.

If anything, my phone anxiety could use some work. Breaking it down a little bit, I suppose my inclination to make phone calls when other people aren't listening or are pre-occupied means I'm afraid of sounding stupid or unprofessional. The reason I don't like answering phone calls is because I may not be prepared for the questions being asked. Also, I think I just don't like being interrupted. I like being in control of my schedule, of how my time is spent and what my priorities are. When someone calls me, that appears to me as an assumption that what they're calling about it more important than what I'm working on. And maybe they're right, but usually they're wrong. I have the same feeling about Instant Messages at work - and that annoys me even more I think because it loses the justification of wanting to hear voice inflection. If its truly a quick question that the other person would generally be able to answer off the top of their heads, I think that's an appropriate use of IM. But IMing me or calling me to tell me you sent an email, unacceptable. Should it be okay? Or are people just really that bad at communications etiquette?

But I digress... I'm not sure what bothers me while I'm on the call. It seems like I should be comfortable. Maybe I'm worried I'm taking too much of their time. I don't know what it is, but its easy for me to get flustered. Interestingly enough, conference calls are a whole different scenario for me - I'm comfortable on conference calls, like I am with public speaking. They fit in the same category for me. Maybe its just one-on-one interaction I don't like, like its confrontational (which I know I've always disliked). I think that must be it - I see one-on-one phone conversations as confrontations, and I shirk away from confrontations. So how does one get better at confrontations? Clearly, just doing more of them hasn't seemed to improve my ability.

I remember a revelation I had when I was learning to become an instructor, it stuck with me all these years when I think about public speaking or when I'm advising someone else on public speaking. It was that the audience wants you to succeed. I guess we naturally assume that everyone is waiting for us to fail, and that makes us nervous. I relaxed and became much more confident and comfortable once I told myself that my students wanted me to succeed -that nobody in the room wants to see me get flustered or panicked. So, perhaps I can apply that to confrontations. I need a mantra - like, they are seeking me out because I'm an expert - to help me relax. I'm not sure that's the right one, but something along those lines should work. Maybe it's they want to help me succeed. That wouldn't have been true in my last job, but much more likely to be true here. Certainly, I had a very negative person I had to work with my first job, Rhona, and she did everything she could to make sure I didn't succeed. That wouldn't have worked with her. With someone like Rhona, I would have to tell myself that I am smarter than her, or something like that. Maybe I need a combination of those - I'm smart so I will succeed, and maybe this person can help.

Well, it's not catchy. But I'll give it a go. I'm smart so I will succeed, and maybe you can help.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Toilet Talk

We have a male janitor at work, and he is probably the nicest, least creepy male janitor a woman could ask for, knowing he has to enter the women's bathroom to clean it on a regular basis.  But seeing him waiting patiently outside the bathroom got me thinking about gender issues at they relate to separate bathrooms, and I think I've convinced myself that bathroom separation by gender is outdated, if it was ever correct in the first place.  

History books tell us of the old racist America having bathrooms for white people and bathrooms for "colored" people.  I've never seen such thing, and I hope they don't still exist anywhere, except maybe in a museum to remind us of the wrongdoings of our past, so as not to repeat them.  But my understanding from the context is that the "colored" bathrooms were probably dingier, less sanitary, lower quality, and otherwise less desirable to enter.  From "The Help", we learned that white people did not want coloreds using the same toilet, so it was common for them to build separate bathrooms for their black servants.  I only bring these issues up, because I sense that there are parallels, although much less extreme, in our continuation of separating men's and women's bathrooms.  

I suppose the major difference between the two bathrooms (men's and women's) is that the men's are known to have urinals, with no stall walls for privacy.  It would seem odd for a woman's bathroom to have anything but private areas to do our business in.  In fact, I once went into a public bathroom, I think at a state park or something outdoorsy, that had no doors, just walls on the sides of the toilets, and thought that was really odd.  So my first question is whether or not this privacy is really necessary.  Most adult women have seen male private parts, and its not like the men walk around their bathrooms completely pantsless or anything like that (at least I hope).  In fact, with many stereotypical men being homophobic about bathroom situations, I suspect that perhaps men would prefer a woman, rather than another man, to be around them while they urinate.  Not that there'd be women starring if we shared bathrooms with men - most men in the bathrooms of our workplaces would not be attractive to us anyways, so its not like we'd try to see - just that passing glances may be less offensive coming from the opposite gender.  Maybe.  Nevertheless, what are we really talking about here?  It's okay for men to see each other's private parts, but not for women to see them?  It just seems odd, when you think about everyone being an adult.  And even with kids, wouldn't it be better for them to know and be comfortable with the opposite gender, rather than have a societal separation from the start?  Again, little boys are bathrooming with little boys, why would it be bad for them to bathroom with little girls too?  In fact, thinking about how my nephew and niece used to bathe together when they were younger, I think the grosser idea is that old men bathroom with little boys, and that we say is acceptable.  Perhaps if bathrooms should be separated, they should be separated by age, below 18 and over 18.  

As I thought more about this seemingly basic issue, its complexity unwinded.  Separation of church and state was initially created to protect the church, and is commonly misused to try to protect the government.  Are we doing the same thing with our bathrooms?  Who are we protecting?  By separating the bathrooms, are we protecting the women from the gross men, with their tom foolery and stinky farts?  Or are we preventing the men from seeing the gross parts of being a woman, with their tampons and time spent adjusting themselves in the mirror?  Who cares?  Women fart in the bathroom while I'm in there all the time, what difference would it make if it was a man farting instead?   And men know about our menstrual cycles, its not like its a big secret we've hidden from mankind.  I'm not saying we should talk about it more openly even, I'm just saying its a known part of life, so why should it only exist in the private recesses of the women's bathroom?  It's childish, really, to keep the men and women separate in the bathroom.  We are practically putting up signs on our bathroom doors saying, "Boys ONLY!" or "Girls KEEP OUT!" like we're 5 years old and defending our forts.  

Being a female engineer, I've had many opportunities to listen to and empathize with female engineers who came before me.  They talk about the discrimination they faced, much worse than what I've seen in my career.  I've heard from some women that, when they started their careers at engineering firms, the companies didn't even have women bathrooms yet, and they had to wait until the men cleared out before they could go in to use the restroom.  It reminds me of my high school Computer Networking class, in which I was the only girl.  Our high school's genius networking administrators put the networking closet in the men's bathroom, so I had to make field trips into the men's bathroom to do my school work.  The teacher always made sure there were no other boys in there except our class, but some of my classmates whipped it out in front of me anyways.  My teacher was very sensitive to gender discrimination, and always encouraged me to report anything of the sort.  I think he just wanted to reprimand a certain boy who picked on me a lot, because the teacher didn't like the boy's attitude.  I didn't mind being picked on, because I could defend myself and hold my own.  It taught me a very early lesson in discrimination.  

On the other hand, working at a male-dominated company meant that most of the time I had the bathroom to myself.  I very rarely ran into another woman, because there were just so few of them in my building.  Naturally, the building had to have the same number of bathrooms for men as it did for women - anything less would be discrimination, right? - even though there was far less fewer of us, and it was not necessarily practical to have so many women's bathrooms.  When I did see another woman in the bathroom, especially if she and I knew each other well, we would chat.  It was like our own private water cooler, where only us gals could gossip, and no overbearing men could hear us or identify the speakers.  It was like a club house of sorts, which also meant that the men had their own private water cooler club house.  Even if its taboo to talk to one another at the urinals, I suspect some men do, or at the very least, they talk while washing their hands, or something.  They must, right?  And us women are strictly excluded from these conversations, not because they aren't relevant or interesting to us, and not because we don't have anything interesting to contribute, but simply because our society dictates that we use the women's restroom.  

How different would it have been, for me in high school, if bathrooms were gender-neutral?  I wouldn't have been out of place working in the networking closet.  The boys would have one less way to pick on me.  And in my professional career, and for my female engineering predecessors, if bathrooms were gender-neutral?  That would have been one less thing to make us stand out for the wrong reason.  It could have been one less way that the men could have had a "boy's club".  

I started to wonder to myself, who would defend bathroom segregation if it was brought to the table to change?  Does anyone feel a compelling reason to keep them separate?  There's a notion, right or wrong, that women's bathrooms are cleaner than men's.  Is that because men produce more bodily fluid?  Or because they have poor aim?  Or is it because women clean up after themselves better?  Or make less mess to begin with, because they are more familiar with cleaning?  Or is it because women complain more if the bathroom is dirty?  Frankly, if my bathroom shares a janitor with the one across the hall, and he happens to be a man, I would think that they'd be equally as clean.  The same would be true, I'd assume, if we both had a female janitor, although one might argue a woman's emotions could lead her to do a better job in her own bathroom than what she doesn't have to use.  No, I'd argue that cleaning procedures are cleaning procedures.  

Then I thought about how women's bathrooms often have sofas in them.  Perhaps that's an artifact of breastfeeding, and I think a lot of places now provide specific rooms for such a thing.  Certainly, my current company and my prior one both have such a room.  Is it fair that we have a sofa and men don't?  It's not like we're going to sit down and read a book in there, and while our male counterparts have to work all day.  Maybe its there because women are social pee-ers, and we go to the bathroom together, so there is a place to sit for the non-peeing accompanying friend.  Regardless, if there is any inkling of women's bathrooms being nicer than men's, that seems wrong, doesn't it?  Discriminatory in the opposite direction than sexists usually go - benefiting women!  But still discriminatory, nonetheless.  

Here's another scenario: I walk into a fast food restaurant, and I want to use the restroom (or even just wash my hands) before I order and sit down and eat.  But there's someone in the singular woman's restroom.  So I'm standing awkwardly in the hallway waiting.  There's noises, but nothing that makes me believe she is wrapping up anytime soon.  I continue standing and waiting.  The men's restroom is clearly vacant.  I think about going in there, but then a man comes up beside me and enters.  I continue waiting.  The man finishes quickly and comes back out, looking a little surprised / annoyed to see me still standing there.  I could have ordered my food and had it by now if I hadn't opted to come to the restroom first.  

That scenario could play out a dozen ways, but the bottom line is that the gendered bathroom segregation adds awkwardness, inefficiency and wasted time.  What value would I get by using the women's restroom over the men's?  What would happen if there was a man waiting when I came out of the men's bathroom?  Again, if we assume we're all adult about it, it shouldn't matter which restroom we use, so why make the distinction?  Indeed, some public places with single restrooms have made them gender-neutral, and I think that's an obvious play for restrooms with no separate stalls.  Afterall, most private homes don't have a men's and women's bathroom.  Maybe its because urinals aren't common in private homes, or maybe it just doesn't make sense.  

My mind wandered to a scene from Glee in which the student, born a male but dresses and acts like a female, talks about using the bathroom where she fits in best.  She tends to only go to the bathroom during class, never between classes, so as to ensure as much privacy as possible.  And even though she has male parts, she uses the women's bathroom, because that's where she feels she belongs.  She gets beat up for being different in the men's restroom, and rejected by insensitive girls in the women's.  I've never been well-acquainted with someone who is transgendered or in transition or anything like that, but I could definitely see the dilemma the Glee character faced.  And again, I came to the same conclusion: all this drama and awkwardness could be absolved if the norm was one general bathroom for all people.  Or, with students and teachers being a sensitive topic, an adult bathroom and a children's or underage bathroom.  Age, unlike gender, is a clear cut thing.

Similarly, sexual orientation is a sensitive topic that is aggravated by our insistence to keep bathrooms segregated by gender.  The recent coming out of a top NFL recruit stirred up conversations about a gay man in the locker room.  It's a topic of discussion, because it's different, and it scares some people.  If everyone accepted it as easily as everyone wants to pretend that they accept it, or as their lawyers or peers say they should accept it, then nobody would be talking about it.  But it's different, so its a topic of discussion.  Look, if we all grew up sharing bathrooms with both genders and all sexual orientations, then there would be no difference to speak of.  Same goes for gays in military, and I'm sure other situations which haven't blown up yet.  The distinction starts with the "norm" being straight people and separating the boys from the girls.  If boys and girls weren't separated, then gay men in the locker room would be a non-issue.

The big current topic related to gender is same-sex marriage, and I could see why it is such a priority for gays and supporters.  It's a big deal to couples who want to marry.  I get it.  But to me, I would think bathroom segregation would be an easier battle to win, and do more for defeating discrimination, for straights and gays and transgenders and a host of other groups of people.  In fact, same-sex couples have a strange advantage over straight couples:  Same-sex couples can wait in line together at busy events.  They don't have to each find their separate bathrooms at large venues, and then try to find each other when they're done.  Wouldn't it be better if all couples could wait in line together, go to the same general restroom, and come out together?  Such a thing could be possible with gender-neutral bathrooms.  And while religion is the biggest barrier to same-sex marriage, it doesn't matter what your religion says, everybody has to use the bathroom.  

Now, going back to my bathroom conversation before I get anybody worked up about same-sex marriage, I don't know why we have separate bathrooms.  I don't think there is anything in the Bible that says, "Thou shalt not urinate in the same room as someone of the opposite gender."  I imagine in ancient times, there probably was no separation.  I couldn't find any concrete history on how and why bathrooms were separated, only a hint that it may have been a Puritanical concept.  Wikipedia put it in the category of a legal requirement based on safety concerns.  I don't get the safety concern thing.  If a man wants to attack a woman in the bathroom, what better place to do it where he expects no other man to be - in a women's bathroom!  If we had gender-neutral bathrooms, then whatever sexual predators might try in the bathrooms is more likely to be stopped, and thus less likely to be attempted, than if the bathrooms were separate.  

As I research this topic, it's a relief (pun intended) to know that I'm not the only one who has pondered this, and there are a lot of other good arguments for unifying the bathrooms and tearing down the walls of segregation by sex.  The only arguments I've seen against it are illogical ones, trained by our norms, like, "I don't want men in my bathroom," and "I like my privacy".  Privacy in a public bathroom?  I suppose you also think only your friends can see your facebook pictures, and that when you delete posts, they're gone forever.  Get real.  If we can elect a black President, legalize marijuana in some states, and allow same-sex marriage anywhere, this should be a no-brainer.  I suspect the only reason it lingers is that it doesn't have a dire enough consequence for enough people.  There's no burning platform like there is for same-sex marriage.  It has a dire consequence, no doubt, for a small population of people, and it has a small negative consequence for a lot of people, but even combined, those aren't big enough issues to compel the nation to change.  But maybe someday.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Scaling the Wall

I don't read a lot of fiction, but I've always had an affinity for utopian stories, like The Giver and 1984.  I recently started listening to Divergent during my commute.  Coincidentally, I also started watching "Almost Human".  Both make reference to a barrier surrounding the cities they take place in.  In Divergent, it's The Fence.  In "Almost Human", it's The Wall.  In Arizona, we know all too well about our Fence, supposedly to protect us against illegal immigrants and drug lords.  More personally, the house of my late grandparents had a half wall in the backyard that was low enough for us kids to climb, and we took lots of pictures and balanced and danced on the wall so much, it became an affectionate part of our lives, dubbed The Wall.  Fences and walls have strong imagery and emotional iconology.  They keep good things in, and they keep bad things out.  Or they keep bad things in, so they don't get out among us.  Yet they are simple.  It is

simpler to protect a wall or a fence than it is to protect the entire city or country it contains.  And when we struggle in our personal lives, we are sometimes said to build walls, figuratively speaking.  When you run and run and run until you feel you can't go any further, you are said to have hit the wall.  When struggling to communicate, you say that it's like talking to a brick wall.  White picket fences are part of the epitome of the American dream, at least the old one.  All these analogies got me to thinking about what walls or fences mean to us. 
Do we believe that walls or fences will really keep us safe?  Or do we build them, literally or figuratively, or virtually (firewall, anyone?), in hopes of fooling ourselves into thinking we are safe and secure?  What happens when we reveal all?  When we tear down the walls and be open?  We are vulnerable, yes.  But only then can we be seen for what we really are.  So if you're erecting a proverbial wall, stop and think why you're doing it, what you're trying to accomplish, and if that's really the best way to deal with the issue you're having. 

I see this a lot in my girlfriends as they try to test their men.  If a boyfriend
does something "wrong", their supposed better halves will erect imaginary walls to punish them or teach them a lesson.  "I won't make him dinner until he realizes what he's done and apologizes..." is the general sense of it.  But that path of thinking is destructive, and only ends in pain.
Sometimes walls are built without our input; like glass ceilings.  As much as we talk of equality, there are still things beyond our control that hold us down.  But that doesn't mean we're helpless.  It might mean we need to go a different route, or change which roof we work under completely.  Sometimes it just means we need to be extra careful in certain areas, and work extra hard in others to bash the stereotypes and perceptions that hold us back. 
So whether its a glass ceiling or a wall between you and a loved one, or a fence you've erected around your heart, I think its worth examining why its there, what you think it's doing, and what can be done to tear that sucker down. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

What a Girl Wants

Or, more specifically, what this girl wants, and not so much wants, as needs.  I'd like to think I'm reasonable, easy going and low-maintenance, but I know I'm demanding with my boyfriends.  I have known this.  I have come to accept it, I think because when I try to give too much of it up, I end up hurting more than if I just stood up for what I want.  I'm tired of giving up too much, and I'm wary of doing it again.  Even still, I don't think my demands are unreasonable.  

I need to feel loved.  That must be the most important thing, because so much boils down to that.  I'm not a very jealous person:  my boyfriend can dance with whomever he wants and he can be friends with girls, I have no problem with either, as long as at the end of the day, I know he's mine.  But I only know he's mine when I feel loved.  I want there to be "us" time.  He can have his "me" time and he can have his friend time.  He has time for school and time for work and time for homework.  But I need some time to be for me.  And I prefer a lot of it, but I don't demand a lot of it, especially when his time is absorbed with school and homework.  Feeling loved I think is both an ongoing thing and an incremental thing.  Saying "I love you," and hugging and kissing and cuddling are all good for the ongoing thing, but I still need to feel extra special sometimes.  This means that I need to be taken out to dinner or treated to a surprise, something above and beyond routine, every now and then.

I need to know the plan.  His time and his friend time and his homework time and his work time and his family time are all okay, as long as I am given enough information to manage my expectations.  If I know he won't be around, then I can make my own plan to do what I want.  I think I communicate my plans very clearly, maybe to the point of giving too much information, but that's how my mind works.  I would rather overcommunicate than let someone think I have ditched them.  Even if the plan is to "wing it" or be spontaneous, that's okay, as long as I know when it will start and stop.  We can spend a whole weekend doing whatever, but I know on Monday morning I have to go back to work, and I can't be somewhere that prohibits that from happening.  I don't need to know every detail, but timing is important.  If the plan is, "I have a surprise for you," or "I want to take you somewhere," just tell me when to be ready and make sure I'm home in time to get some sleep if I have work in the morning.  As long as it doesn't conflict with what I've already established as part of my plan, I don't need to know any more.  And if my boyfriend is going out with friends, I don't need him to have a curfew, I just need to know that he may not be home when I come home from work, or that he will be out late and I should do dinner on my own.  I just need to know enough to decide whether or not I should make plans for myself.

I need to feel appreciated.  I go out of my way to do nice things for my boyfriend, and I want to know that he noticed.  I am sure I can also show more appreciation as well, so I'm not going to pretend its a one-way street. This is just a fundamental need.  

I need to be allowed to breakdown.  Life is hard, and I get stressed.  I am generally a very strong person, but I can't always be the strong one.  I need someone that I can lean on when life overwhelms me.  I need to feel taken care of when I'm sick or vulnerable or frustrated.  

I need to feel included.  Some research shows that men separate the parts of their lives into buckets, and they don't like mixing the buckets.  If that's the case, and the girlfriend bucket is separate from the family, friends, and work buckets, then I guess I'd ask my boyfriend to consciously make an effort to bring me in, especially when it impacts me and also when it is obvious I am available.  For example, holiday planning should be done together; it is not acceptable for my boyfriend to commit to his family without first talking with me about it.  That puts me in an awkward ultimatum; I either go with him or have to be separated from him for the holiday. Holidays can be a sensitive topic, and I think planning should be treated as a negotiation, not an ultimatum.  As another example, if I want to get together with some friends for drinks, I always ask my boyfriend if he wants to go before setting the plans in stone.  If he doesn't want to go, then I tend to choose a time when he is working or planning to do something else.  That way, that leaves time open for when we both might be available so that we can do something together.  If he does want to go, then I of course try to accommodate his schedule in planning.  This is my inclusive mindset; I like having everyone around me, the more the merrier with me.  All I ask is that I am likewise included in social plans that my boyfriend is involved in.  If his friends want to meet at a time that I am not available, so be it.  But I'd still like to know in case my plans are flexible, so I am given the option of attending.  If he makes plans for when he knows or thinks I may be available and doesn't invite me, I don't generally understand that at all, but if its a boy's night out or something explainable, I can live with it.  If it becomes a habit, though, I may have a problem again.  

I need to get my way sometimes.  Some relationships don't work this way, I guess, but I insist on it.  I will not be shut out completely and told what to do by the person I claim to love.  We can't always go to the restaurants he's in the mood for, or watch the movies he wants to watch, or do the things that he wants to do.  We need to go to a restaurant of my choice, watch the movie I want to watch, and do the things I want to do some times.  Certainly not all the time, and I think I tend to be very giving in this area, because my priority is spending time together, and I care less about what it is we're doing as long as I have that quality time.  But I can't give in every time, period.  

I need to see progress.  This might be the thing that, more than anything else, makes me hard to love or come off as demanding.  But it's a part of me, it's how I've come as far as I have and it's why I'll go even farther.  I push people, and I push myself.  If my boyfriend says he wants to do something, I will push him to accomplish the steps that will get him there.  I guess I hate lipservice and dreaming that are not supported by action.  If he says he wants something, I assume that he really wants it, and I want to help him get it, and I expect him to hold up his end, or tell me he no longer wants it.  So if my boyfriend wants to buy a house, he should go get pre-approved for a loan and then find a realtor.  If my boyfriend says he wants to go to England, then he better get a Passport.  One thing that endears my boyfriend to me is when he helps me accomplish my goals, because I like to see progress on my desires too, not just on his.  When my boyfriend helps me with a home improvement project, that becomes one of my fondest memories, even if it was brief and the help was minimal.  Progress with relationships is generally important to me, too, but I am perfectly happy with the state of our relationship and do not feel like we need to move forward anymore right now.  Early on, I wanted my boyfriend to move in pretty darn quickly, and I knew I was asking him to move faster than he was used to, but we talked about it honestly and he did move in pretty quickly.  If he hadn't, I may have pushed more for progress, but where we are now is great.  I imagine in the future I will want to get engaged and get married, and once I feel that itch I will want to see progress towards that or I will get frustrated, but that is for the future.  

I need to have fun.  Work is tough, chores suck, exercise is hard to get excited for, and paying bills can be depressing, but these are things in life we must do.  If that is all we did, though, I think I'd kill myself.  I work hard and stay healthy so I can have fun, and I do chores and pay bills so I can enjoy my house and let others enjoy it.  I'm simultaneously easy to please and difficult to please in this matter, because just about anything sounds like fun at least one time, but I like variety.  Watching TV every night will not suffice, I will want to get out and dance.  Dancing every night might drain me, and I would want to stay in and watch TV.

The good news for my current boyfriend is that he is pretty damn good at all of these things.  My only reservation all along was that he is maybe too good at the having fun thing, and not so good on the making progress thing.  But, he lets me push him and he responds as best anyone could when I get upset.  I know he loves me by his words and his actions, and, at my request, he has worked on communicating his plans to me.  He handles the relationship stuff with maturity, and I love him.  

Friday, February 7, 2014


I was inspired by a Glee episode to ponder whether or not we need
heroes in our lives.  Are people really looking for heroes?  Do they need someone to follow, someone to look up to?  Do people want a superhero, a public figure known for righting the wrongs of this world?  Do they want a role model?

I find more times than not, when you ask someone who their hero is, they say either their mother or their father.  If its not one of their parents, its usually a relative.  Well, certainly not every family in the world has a superhero, or even a really good role model, I couldn't believe that.  So what is it about a mother or father or influential family member that makes them heroes in some way to their loved one?  Is it just that they are there for them?  That they have been a shoulder to cry on?  They've had their back, or given them advice?  Helped them in a time of need? 

For a long time I've been under the impression that people like to have a voice, they like to hear the sound of their own voices, and they want their opinions heard.  This is why there are oversharers on facebook and Twitter, this is why people like to comment on articles, etc.  The internet has really revolutionized the way the masses can speak out, and it's been both a good thing and a bad thing.  So maybe heroes are just people with the superpowers of listening, showing empathy and confirming that it's okay to feel the way they feel.  That really is a superpower in itself, but is that all?  Or is there something more to being a hero? 

Superheroes are portrayed as mostly ordinary people (in some cases, the frailest and most ordinary as possible) with one amazing trait.  But people never really follow heroes, usually because their identity is secret, but also because they don't understand and can't relate to the superheroes differences.  Superheroes are often portrayed as a nuisance in the public eye, the media always looking to trash the superheroes to sell more.  Everybody likes a good train wreck. 

On that note, the most popular TV shows are those about people who aren't spectacular, sub-ordinary in most cases, that are full of exaggerated drama.  From stressed out brides ready to explode at the slightest touch, to uneducated hicks slurring their words so bad they need captions so the viewers know what they're saying; from princesses having to do farm work to gold digging idiots trying to make money buying and selling someone else's junk; from little people running a farm to criminals telling their stories; from ex-strippers starting a family to people from extreme religions doing wild things.  TV producers must love this fad, if it is a fad, because they don't need writers to come up with the next big twist or fancy game show sets or highly-paid talented actors.  All they need is a few recording devices, and for a fraction of the price of filming a sitcom, America watches as the drama unfolds.  Some of these people have maybe overcome something, and maybe that makes them heroes in some way, but they're a far cry from superheroes protecting the greater good with some amazing power they have.  

A show about heroes would be a show about people trying to make a difference in this world.  But every entertainment journalist would search high and low to find some dirt on those people, to rip them back down to our level, and we reward that much more than the good-doing.  I doubt Lance Armstrong was ever mentioned in South Park until after the scandal broke out.  Joe Paterno died under the circumstances of being villainized after being a hero for so many years.  Every big pop star had a drug addiction or beat their wives or molested children.  Some major athletes follow suit.  On the one hand, it goes to show that nobody is perfect, so it gives us hope in some small way.  On the other hand, everybody loves a good scandal and they won't leave the heroes alone until they find one. 

Lots of musicals are about aspiring to be great, finding the greatness within us, or figuring out what makes us great.  In Wicked, the bad witch was really the kindest person alive, just severely misunderstood and trampled on, until she gave in.  She was "Defying Gravity", one of my favorite songs about letting nobody hold you down.  In Pippin, the main character is convinced he's "Extraordinary", and goes from battle to drugs and sex and politics and nearly forfeits his life to prove he's Extraordinary, when he realizes that an ordinary life with a beautiful woman and son is actually pretty special.  In Rent, the songwriter wants to write that "One Song" that will make him legendary, and the filmmaker wants to make a difference with his footage.  In Les Mis, the rebels see just "One More Day" until the uprising, for which they had high hopes that it would bring a better life.  

I think about whether I should be a hero at work.  I want to be seen as someone who is smart and can always find a solution.  But experience has shown that when you're too helpful, you just get bogged down with more work, people want you to fix their problems instead of learning how to fix it themselves and they come to you with issues you don't know anything about.  Just imagine if Spider Man or the fantastic four were commonplace in every city; we would eventually do away with the majority of our police force, or the police we had would become lazy and incompetent, because someone else is doing their jobs for them.  What if a superhero had the power to cure cancer?  Then we wouldn't take care of ourselves, because we'd know there's a cure. 

No, I don't think superheroes are what the world wants and needs.  The precedent set by a superhero is that you don't need to learn or take care of yourself or do your job, because the superhero would take care of it.  In some ways, technology is a superpower, like in Iron Man.  We expect computers to read our minds and do what we want them to do.  Indeed, technology has simplified our work and made us more productive, but at what cost?  We can't do simple arithmetic in our heads because we're used to calculators, we can't remember anybody's phone numbers because it's stored in our phones and now on the cloud, we don't know how to spell because we have spellcheck to take care of that.