Monday, February 23, 2009

Girl Talk

I can competently find the bathroom, order food, and get directions in myriad countries. I look forward to watching Telemundo after midnight, observe American Sign Language speakers intently as I secretly eavesdrop on their conversations (is that horrible?), and even have a special language with my friends, yet I find my linguistic skills lack when it comes to insanely fanatical girlish statements. What may appear as mundane, apathetic comments are truly packed with meaning, which can take hours to deduce— far too late to apply the actual meaning to the situation.

I was recently at a friend’s house for an all night movie party. Awesome? I know. She paused the first movie before it even started and called out to her sister, “We’re going to wait for you, okay?”

“Yeah, sure, I’m just getting food,” her sister called back.

Translation: “We want to watch the movie so get your butt over here. Now.”
Translation: “I’m hungry. It’s Saturday night. We’re watching chick flicks. I’ll eat what I want and take as long as I want picking it out.”

It took another friend to properly decode the language from one girl to another, joking that only the female gender would understand this dialect. But do we? Can we just deduce whatever meaning we like from what these girls say and enjoy it?

I sure cannot. I either a) fail to realize that the implications of the code, or even notice that the conversation is being carried on in code or b) respond with some unreasonable code of my own.

“Would you like to come inside?”
“Well, I have to be somewhere in an hour.” (Said place is fifteen minutes away)

Now what? Seriously? Stay? Go? Nod rapidly and walk away? What decision was deduced from this foolish, implausible, language of the female gender, in which each girl feigns indifference, never reaching a solution but causing the other girl to completely twist the words in every possible combination in order to conclude something?

This weekend I took a trip to Cleveland with a couple friends. The theme of the weekend was “100% neutral” as in, when we would make plans during our time in Ohio, none of us would make a decision.

“Want to go to a party?”
“I’m 100% neutral.”

“Would you prefer a hot or cold breakfast?”
“I’m 100% neutral.”

“How do you feel about the flattest land on Earth?”
“100% neutral.”

As we boarded the train to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame my friend asked, “Are you sure this is smart?”

Friend 2: “100% neutral.” (I should mention at this point friend 2 is actually male, however exhibits many female tendencies—upon typing this I realize I will be beaten later, sorry man).

Me: “What do you mean? Of course this is smart. We’re here. We’re going.”

Translation: “Do we really want to pay $22 for a stupid museum? I don’t!”
Translation: “Not really, but I’ll just go with the flow.”
Translation: “Stop talking in code. We’re going to see Madonna’s cone shaped bustier, end of story.”

Upon leaving the museum, which is clearly one of the coolest places ever, there was no question whether the experience was worth our money. Absolutely no question.

We are never indifferent. We cannot accomplish anything by being 100% Neutral. And in lieu of quoting John Mayer, I do however need to ask: Why can we never just say what we need to say? Is it that difficult?

What is with all the code? Why can’t we just say what we really mean? What is going on that even in the closest of friendships we cannot even express our simplest desires? From where did this girl code originate, who thought it was a good idea, and when will it stop?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pedaling Along

As I sit here eating Mexican rice pudding out of a violet “It’s not easy being a princess” mug, I can acknowledge one thing: life is good.

This is true, not just for me, but for everyone. As often as it may seem fantastical, fictitious, or distant, we’re pretty damn lucky to be alive.

Imagine: a bike ride in February, in Chicago. Yes, today I skipped my beloved kickboxing to take a ten mile bike ride up and down the Green Bay Trail (it’s a path parallel to the train which runs across the North Shore of the city). As I pedaled on my highest gear on this surprisingly warm and pleasant day, I kept pushing myself to go faster, travel further, and never stop. A mix of Juanes, the Flashdance soundtrack, and maybe even the Dixie Chicks kept me cycling through the drenched sludge. My black leggings were soon gray with splattered mud but I dutifully continued on.

After I reached the point of exhaustion I began to travel home. (This is a bad idea. Bad bad bad. Start for home when you are about half tired…) The sun started setting in the most beautiful orange-pink iridescent glow as I traveled my last few miles at a considerably slow speed. There were points when I felt like I couldn’t possibly move my feet anymore but I forced myself to keeping moving, however sluggish I may have been.

I watched as the other occupiers of the path—joggers, dog walkers, and, of course, my fellow bikers—passed by in either direction, either nodding or waving a slight “Hello, keep up the good work” or furrowing their brows in an inconspicuous manner, trying to hide their discontent for my unbelievably slow pace and embarrassingly filthy clothing. Either way, with each interaction I was motivated to continue my trek, make it home without fail, and acknowledge all of my fellow path sharers.

I have a collection of black and white bicycle photos, which I hope to make into a book someday. I have a fascination with bicycles-- it's so interesting to me that way that people have complete control while riding, and how people fill these inanimate objects with such life.

By the time I finally arrived home, my legs felt more like Jell-O than actual human ligaments and I doubted my ability to stand up much longer. But I felt accomplished. Maybe it was all the endorphins from hours of endless pedaling or perhaps just the good weather, but I suddenly felt like everything was perfect. Not ideal, just perfect.

Because everything has a way of working itself out. Good always leads to more good. An obstacle opens our minds and makes us stronger. Even unnecessary bad causes us to react, reconsider ourselves, and understand that something better will eventually occur.

There’s a lot about life that I don’t understand, most of which I probably never will. But I do believe in the universal good. That the people who nod to you on the trail, suffering alongside you, truly understanding your position, make a life worth living. That everyone is in this together, pulling alongside each other, no matter how different our views may sometimes seem. That even the person scowling at my mucky pants just wants to help, hoping that I didn’t wear my favorite pair on such a yucky day.

And I know that eventually, everything works out. Something worse could always happen, something better will always come along. Just like my Jell-O legs brought on a craving for this pudding…

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sadistically Amusing

Last weekend I went to the doctor. To preface, I am irrationally afraid of the doctor, or more specifically, needles. A stocky nurse came in wearing heavy make-up and a maroon velour sweatsuit. She instructed me to hold out my right arm and she slapped a blue rubber band around it. “Can you take it from my finger, please?” trying to seem like the other three year olds that crowded my pediatrician’s office. (No way am I going to a real doctor. No. Way.)

“Sorry, we need too much blood,” she responds without any sympathy. By this time I am already convulsing uncontrollably. “I think you need to go lie down,” she says as she points me to the table. “We do this with the younger kids.” Great. She starts wiping my inner arm with a wet cotton swap and I start weeping uncontrollably. I snap my head away, forcing myself to stare out the window as she performs this elaborate procedure. “Your veins are long and slender, just like you.”

“What does that mean?”

“That means this will hurt.” Wonderful. Thanks. Because I am so calm already… I sob as I feel the cold metal enter my skin and break out into hysterical laughter.

And there I am, bringing up the average age of the pediatrician’s office crying and laughing as my blood gets sucked out uncontrollably. I laugh harder and cry harder: Why am I doing this? Why do I have this unreasonable, illogical, foolish fear? Why do I find this funny? After what feels like hours of waiting, she jerks the needle out and instructs me to wait for a few minutes while she retrieves a tuberculosis scratch test. “But I don’t have TB,” I protest, “I don’t use heroin, I’m not around homeless people, and I haven’t been exposed.” I list off all the various causes from the laminated sign hanging in front of my face, “Seriously,” I plea, “this is a waste of a test, save it for someone who actually has TB.”

“No, you need it,” she dictates as she jabs another needle into my flesh. More laughter and tears.

While my tribulations at the doctor may seem mundane, trivial, and even juvenile, I truly learned a valuable lesson. As I lay on my back on the nylon exam table, I realized my absurdity, my irrationality, and my pointlessness. I imagined all the worse things that could have been happening to me at that moment. I envisioned all the suffering so many other people undergo as a necessity to stay alive, and I was just fretting over a simple blood test.

I went home last Friday feeling defeated. Each event from the day made it worse at worse. While no event was truly bad, detrimental to my health, or life-changing, I found myself counting down the minutes until the day ended. After school, I went to Borders to buy myself a gift to make myself feel better and ended up feeling guilty about spending money. I ate a tub of chocolate Funfetti frosting to bring a smile to my face and ended up feeling sick. I flicked on Tyra and it was a re-run. Nothing could make my day improve.

And nothing did. I went to bed early, relieved to end what could go down as one of my worst days and frustrated at my inability to cheer up.

It wasn’t until after I left the singing glass doors of the doctor’s office, with my coat only on one arm due to my half-imaginary, half- blame- the-slender-veins pain. I realized the problem with the world. The problem with the nurse, the problem with teachers, the problem with the community: we don’t laugh enough.

Here I am trembling uncontrollably, trying my best to add humor to a rather uncomfortable and terrifying situation and the best this lady can do is give me some backhanded compliment about my body, without even cracking a smile?! I mean, seriously, where’s the fun? Are we supposed to just suffer through our fears without laughing, smiling, or making each other feel better? Where’s the compassion? The unity? The love?

My grandma tells me every week that laughter is the best medicine. That joy and good times helped her battle breast cancer and allowed her to gain the strength she has today. I have to agree. While science may be a large part of it, can we not attribute some of our health to happiness? If we cannot appreciate all the humor and pleasure in life, what are we living for?

I left the doctor’s office feeling elated, realizing that the true solution to my problems was laughter, humor, enjoyment. I batted away tears as I laughed some more, grasping the ease with which I could enjoy my life so much more. I vowed to laugh more, appreciate everything, the good and the bad, and realize that there is always something to laugh about, that it could always be worse, and that I am lucky to be where I am.

The doctor called yesterday to tell me I had perfect blood. “Everyone should have blood like yours,” she said. I instantly felt motivated to donate and then I remembered the needles…

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Don't Drink the Kool Aid

I recently went out to brunch with some friends. Everything was perfectly familiar—same restaurant, same plastic menu, same four crayon colors with the stolen children’s menus. Our routine felt familiar, comfortable, and enjoyable, yet not dull in the very least.

The Culties (origin of name unknown) are the most special people in the world to me. And although we may have lost a few members of our special group and made new friends along the way, this core set of friends has always been there for me, helped me out when I needed it, and made me who I am today. And while sometimes we may want to scratch at each other’s eyes and pull each other’s hair out (wait- is that just me?), we truly, deeply love each other.

But the weirdest thing happened last week at brunch. As we sat around familiar orders of chocolate chippies, blueberry syrup drenched pancakes, and steaming sugary apple pancakes—along with unfamiliar orders like egg white omelet…— we saw our past flash before us. As we sat in old Hanes t-shirts and worn sweatpants, feeling like the coolest, most carefree people in the world, we watched as tiny thirteen year olds, braces flashing, Tiffany’s jewelry chiming, pranced into one of our usual booths under the Walker Brothers stained windows, smiley and proud to be wearing eyeliner and size 2 jeans, feeling more cool and carefree than anyone in the restaurant. How we’ve changed over the years! Or not…

We used to have our parents carpool us uptown for our special brunches, now we manage to find our own way. We used to dress up, now we barely burden ourselves with the trouble. We used to fight over who sat next to who, now we agreeably sit next to whomever fate put us.

We used to humor ourselves by reading the menu, although we know the exact price of each item, and can easily order for everyone else at the table. We used to talk so loudly that we’d receive disturbed looks from all the senior citizens seated around us; we still forget to adjust our volume and continue to shriek with laughter whenever appropriate. We used to fight over the bill, calculate and re-calculate the tip; we still can never manage to get it right.

We stared at the younger girls seated behind us, laughing that we used to be so immature, so inconsiderate, so childish. But nothing has truly changed. I love that I can name the type of shampoo each girl uses, that I know all of their mothers’ maiden names, that I can recall when each got her period for the first time, who everyone liked in third grade, who used to throw sand at each other in preschool, who likes only cooked tomatoes, who likes only raw tomatoes, who will never eat tomatoes. I have been blessed with nine other sisters: sisters that through both the best and the worst times have become inseparable parts of my identity.

We giggle as a server brings eight plates of bacon to our table, knowing that it is clearly impossible this is for us. We chuckle at the young girls behind us stretching their digital cameras in an outstretched arm in front of them to take pictures for Facebook. We laugh when a glass of ice water spills, because we know it has to—it’s tradition. We gawk and chitchat about the juvenile brats sitting behind us, proud of the extent to which we’ve grown up, but ignorant to the obvious similarities between our two groups.

I can do the Walker Brothers word search in under a minute. Sure it was made for six year olds, and sure, I have been circling apple and waffle in green crayon since I was five, but I cannot stay away from the tantalizing game. It reminds me of the endless time I’ve spent there, but more importantly, the company. I will never have another group of friends like the Culties. Together as a group we fit so comfortably, so perfectly, so ideally; I could not have asked for more.

We couldn’t have asked for better timing. As we all travel off the new destinations next fall, we know that these brunches will not last forever. We see the middle schoolers enjoying themselves just like us and can remember and appreciate our unique bond. Visually see the everlasting bond that ties our group together, knowing our group will never sever as long as we have pancakes and bacawwww.