Yes! We’re all different. Yes! We’re all individuals.

Not many people I know would want to call themselves conformists. Yet even the self-proclaimed non-conformists I know conform in certain ways.

How do you pick those ways? Why is one person who doesn’t want to date or get caught up on interpersonal drama still decide to get a 9-to-5 job? Why does another person who will eat only food she has killed or grown herself still celebrate Mother’s Day and all the other Hallmark card holidays?

I’ve been called odd, weird, nonconformist, interesting, and different. Most people who know me think I’m not like other people they’ve met. But in many ways I’m not really that different at all. I attend social functions. I pay my taxes. I’m in a heterosexual marital relationship. I watch popular TV shows.

I do find it fascinating to see how people pick and choose what they want to be “individual” about. Everyone conforms in some ways and decides to be “different” in other ways. How do you make up your mind about what falls where?

I think part of it has to do with how much you can get away with. I wore flip-flops through four New England winters (all year round, actually, but people didn’t think it was odd when I wore flip-flops during the summer), and people thought that a little odd. I got asked “Aren’t your feet cold?” more times than I can count. Ultimately—atypical though my behavior was—it didn’t hurt anyone. And I still wore proper shoes for formal occasions.

If, however, I’d decided to be different by yelling back “Fuck you!” to anyone who said a friendly “Hello,” well… that may not have gone over quite so nicely. Instead of weirdo, people would have called me asshole. For some people who are misanthropes, that’s okay, though. They want to be different in that way. They don’t want to be different in ways that are just odd and personally idiosyncratic. They want to be oddly offensive. They want to jar people, have a definite lasting effect on others and not necessarily in a positive way.

And sometimes the dice just fall where they do. A lot of the time, I bet people others label as “different” or “marching to the beat of their own drums” really are just being themselves, and that doesn’t jive with how they were brought up to be. In fact, that’s pretty much why I am as “normal” as I am. I didn’t really go looking for ways to be weird. I just followed my whims for the most part and conformed in ways that were convenient to conform to.

You don’t have to follow me. You don’t have to follow anybody. You’ve got to learn to think for yourselves. Otherwise…

Life relationships

Can you help whom you’re attracted to?

Kind of an odd question for a married person to ask, I know. But I do have single friends.

My gut tells me “No.” It says “You can’t help whom you’re attracted to. Attraction is chemical. It’s coincidence or fate or something magical. It’s not like going to a store and picking something off the shelf or sifting through products online based on reviews.”

I’m not so sure if it’s quite that simple, though. I know quite a number of couples (both fictional and real) who were not attracted to one another at first but who developed an attraction later (for a fictional example, watch When Harry Met Sally…). I’ve also heard of some arranged marriages in which love (actual romantic attraction, not some kind of duty or obligation) developed over time.

And what do we mean when we say “Oh, just give him a chance” or “Wait till you get to know her better” to friends?

I think one of the reasons people tend to be skeptical of the idea of love at first sight is the knowledge most of us have that you develop love as you get to know someone. And it isn’t just getting to know facts about them. It’s the experiences you share together—the memories of the good times and bad times, the things you’ve taught each other, and the things you’ve fought about.

Surely we can’t just be successfully romantically involved with just anybody, but there is a little bit of choice or willpower involved. Just ask any het woman who has said something like “Oh, I used to go out with jerks because I thought they were exciting, and then I realized they were just jerks, and the drama wasn’t worth it.” If attraction were immutable, you would have to say “I’m attracted to jerks, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Even simple physical attraction can change over time, as your tastes change or as you get to know a person better. There are times when you initially see someone attractive (because of a confident presence or good bone structure) and get to know her or him and later consider that person ugly… yes, even physically. And vice versa: there are people who don’t have the best facial structure, but their smile and warm personality come through in their faces and seem to be the most physically attractive people you know.

Whether it comes naturally at first or develops over time, I think everyone wants to feel attractive to her or his mate.


Broken toilets suck

This past weekend, our apartment’s toilet broke. It just stopped flushing. We’d push the flush handle and it would just make a pathetic hissing sound. And it’s not one of those toilets that have a floating buoy in a tank. It’s an industrial flush—the kind you find in shopping malls and restaurants.

So until the plumber could come in to fix it, we were filling up a huge pot with water and then dumping it in the toilet to “flush” manually. It’s not a terribly convenient thing to have to do, but it did make us aware of just how much water we use every time we flush the toilet.

A nice reminder. But now it’s great to finally have an automatic flush back. Ah, the pleasures of modern living.


Moments from the past week

Since most of my blog readers aren’t people I know in person, I rarely write posts about my everyday life (and most blog posts about “What I did today” are quite boring to read, so this may be too).

Seeing as how I don’t have a rant related to feminism, pets, racism, religion, or computer operating systems, I figured I’d just share a few funny moments from the past week:

  • My wife and I bought a large appliance from Best Buy. I wanted to get it from NewEgg instead, because I hate Best Buy. But my wife’s reason prevailed, seeing as how we live in an apartment building, and waiting all day for a delivery would be annoying, and if something was wrong with it, we’d have to mail it back at our own expense. I love it when the Best Buy employees, who supposedly don’t work on commission, try to push X, Y, and Z on you. We just had to keep saying “No” repeatedly. We stood our ground, though, and I’m glad we did.
  • I gave myself a papercut while filing stuff at work. It was dumb. I hate getting papercuts. And this one was under my fingernail, too. Ouch.
  • I started doing our taxes online and put in the wrong letter for something, so it appeared we owed the government some insane amount of money. I started to despair. Then my wife caught the error, and we both sighed in relief. Seeing as how I pride myself on meticulousness in data entry, I hung my head in shame for a good hour afterwards.
  • When I was walking home from work one day, I was singing quite loudly along to my Sandisk player, and just as I got to the bridge of Michael Jackson’s “You Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” a runner passed me, turned to look at me with a smile, and gave me a thumbs-up.
Health Life

Let’s add this to the list of stupid things I’ve done

I used to do a lot of stupid things when I was younger. Fortunately, I don’t do stupid things quite as often as an adult, but I still do them.

My mother tells me when I was a toddler I used to climb on unfinished wood in playgrounds and then cry when she pulled the splinters out of my hands… and then I’d go back and climb on the same unfinished wood.

One time in middle school, I went to a camp, and a bunch of friends of mine and I decided it would be a great idea to prank call 911. It wasn’t a great idea. It was a dumb idea.

Then there was that time in college I was pulling weeds barehanded, and it turned out the weeds I was pulling were poison ivy. That was dumb.

Well, last night, I was cutting up an avocado. Usually I dig the knife into the pit, twist, and then remove the pit in one or two strokes. The pit wouldn’t move, though. It just broke in half. So instead of doing what a smart person would do (give up and realize the avocado was not ripe yet), I decided to dig into the pit with the point of a very sharp knife. I slipped and cut my finger. It was painful, and there was a lot of blood.

I’m an idiot.

You live and learn. Well, hopefully you learn…

Life Work

Why do exempt jobs have hours?

Okay. I confess. I work an exempt job that makes sense to have hours for, since I am also the receptionist for my office, so I have to be ready in case the phone rings, or at least be able to get back to the phone message quickly if I miss the call.

Some other people have exempt jobs that require them to work very hard all the time. And then there are the non-exempt folks who get paid by the hour.

But I know a lot of people who work salaried, exempt jobs and who have to be at work from a fixed hour to another fixed hour, regardless of how much work they have to do. That I find silly. If your job doesn’t require meeting people who randomly walk in or answering random phone calls, you should be paid to do your job, and not to be in an office for a specified number of hours.

But the culture of the American office workforce is “Work these hours,” not “get this job done.” Because of that culture, millions of employees spend hours of their time “on the job” talking with each other at the water cooler about what happened on some TV show the night before or surfing the internet and doing some online shopping. The best is the employee who spends all her time complaining to her co-workers about how busy she is (uh… the time you’re spending complaining about how busy you are? You could use that time to actually get your work done and then be a little less busy).

Imagine if you were a manager and had a project you wanted to be done well, do you think you’d get a better result saying, “Do as good a job on this project as you can. I’m going to be judging the project by how well it’s done. I don’t care if it takes you two hours or two weeks to do. Whenever you’re done with the project, go home” or saying “Do this project. No matter how good a job you do on this project, you have to be here from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM”?

I had a job once that was a lot like the latter. People would always marvel at how quickly I got things done, but I think that’s just because they had no incentive to get things done quickly… or even well. All they knew is they had to be in by a certain hour in the morning and leave by a certain hour in the evening. That’s it. What gets done or doesn’t get done in the meantime, for a lot of office workers, is just enough not to get fired.

Am I alone in thinking this way? Can my readers from other countries shed some light on whether this is a uniquely American phenomenon or not?


The way to a man’s heart

When I was growing up, I never understood that saying about the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach. I got it intellectually. I knew it meant it’s about feeding the man to make him happy. I just didn’t get it get it.

It’s sad to say, but when I was growing up, I didn’t eat much good food. Neither of my parents prided themselves on being cooks. And when we ate out, it tended to be at chain restaurants instead of local mom-and-pop eateries. Pizza Hut is what we considered gourmet.

Generally, my wife and I fix our own meals (we don’t have similar food tastes). We also tend not to fit into traditional gender roles. But I do feel like that stereotypical think-with-your-stomach man every now and then. Last night was one of those nights. Every time I have one of Park Chow‘s apple pies a la mode, I’m in food heaven and definitely feel the link between my stomach and my heart. I hope my wife wasn’t too embarrassed that I practically licked the plate clean.

Park… Chow… apple pie…

Life Movies Music I Like Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

On consumption and censorship

The recent news about Wikipedia being blocked in the UK (not totally but mostly) because of album cover art in an article about a 70s band being possibly child pornography got me thinking about censorship and consumption.

Generally, the debates I’ve heard about censorship are polarized. On the one hand, I hear the “decency” folks saying there are some things that cross the line and shouldn’t ever exist. On the other hand, I hear the “freedom” folks saying if you don’t like it, don’t look at it or buy it.

But what if you don’t like it and you still look at it? If I watch Deep Throat in a Women’s Studies class in college for the purposes of dissecting it and analyzing it, is that different from watching it at home for sexual stimulation… or laughs? This goes back to a debate I used to have with some of my fellow department members when I was an English teacher. Some English teachers think the job of an English teacher is to expose students to “great literature.” I disagree completely. I don’t think The Scarlet Letter, for example, is well-written or even interesting any more from a literary perspective. It is, however, historically significant, and it, like any work of fiction, can be analyzed and argued over. The point of teaching English is to get students to think critically about what they consume—not to consume blindly, but to see that every work of art (visual art, comic book art, music, film, novels, poetry) conveys its author’s worldview or agenda, even if the author herself is not conscious of that.

I like to think I can analyze and distance myself from anything I consume, but sometimes I can’t. I’m not a big fan of visual or audio displays of torture, for example. It’s very possible that these could be presented within the framework of a well-crafted artistic work with a good social agenda. Nevertheless, I am human and not an intellectual machine. I still experience human emotions and horror.

This is also why I find it hard to believe politicians (especially male ones) who actively campaign against pornography and even show “exhibits” in hearings on pornography are able to fully distance themselves from the material they’re criticizing, especially since they’re usually criticizing it by arguing that it affects people’s morality (so it affects other people’s morality, but not your morality?)

When confronted with works of art that are controversial, we all should remember that we are both human and intellectual. We can be subject to raw emotion and gut reactions but we can also distance ourselves and analyze what we see. I don’t see enough of that tension in discussions about censorship. I’d like to see it more often.


More useful than I’d thought

I have two souvenirs from my last two jobs that I basically thought were junk when I first got them.

The first was from an advisee I had. It was my first year in the private high school scene, and I wasn’t used to getting gifts from students. For Christmas, one of my ninth-grade advisees gave me a pair of foot duvets. My immediate thought was, “Gee, thanks. What the hell would I ever use these for?” I already had dreams of stashing them into the remotest corner of our apartment and not seeing them again until years later when I would throw them out. I’ve had them for seven years now, and I’m still using them. They come in really handy when it gets cold in our apartment and I don’t want to wear socks, or when we stay over at other people’s apartments that are a little bit on the chilly side. Who knew? I’d never even heard of a foot duvet before then.

My last job was a cubicle job (my first one). Since there was a lag time between my predecessor’s departure and my arrival, there was a lot of junk in that cubicle I had to clean out. Some things I reorganized. Some things I threw out, shredded, or recycled. A few things I kept. One of them was a Wells Fargo cooler bag. It was ugly as sin. But it was a cooler bag, and I thought, “Hey, this may get a couple of uses out of it. Or maybe I’ll throw it away later.” Again, years later, my wife and I are still using this thing to haul around refrigerables and cooked items (our hard-case cooler is too heavy sometimes). Maybe some day we’ll get a good-looking cooler bag. Until then, it’s Wells all the way.

Of course, we also had a ton of stuff we actually bought that we thought we’d always use but ended up being junk… stories for another time.


Glad Thanksgiving’s over

Every now and then, I feel like an alien, especially when I’m surrounded by these humans obsessed with Thanksgiving food. In America, we have this holiday called Thanksgiving. Supposedly, it’s based on some myth of pilgrims and native Americans sharing a meal together in a harsh winter and getting along for a short bit before the pilgrims started taking over all the land and massacring or exiling the native Americans. From that, we’re supposed to give thanks. Really, though, it’s about the food.

And that’s why I feel like an alien.

Last week, I was surrounded by co-workers and friends practically drooling as they thought about and got prepared to eat turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Meanwhile, I shrugged my shoulders and thought about how it’s good having a few days off from work. Mashed potatoes are okay. I can do without the gravy and all the other stuff.

Now, after Thanksgiving weekend is over, I can finally give thanks for no longer feeling like an alien. Life goes on, and I’m not bombarded with people talking endlessly about food I find disgusting.