Monday, February 25, 2008

Marla tries not to be skim milk, though she's often cheese.

Here's the thing about Facebook:

It's all about the status updates. Much like in life.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, or for those of you who haven't registered on it yet despite the loud, often belligerent efforts of your nearest and dearest to peer-pressure you into posting a profile onto yet-one-more social networking site, Facebook is, essentially, electronic ice cream. Hear me out:

There's a hierarchy, if you will, of social networking sites, which I liken to dairy products:

TIER 3: Friendster
Skim milk
Friendster is functional enough: It covers the basics of where you work, what kind of music you like, what your relationship status is, when your birthday is, those kinds of things. But then, after its initial use, it gets boring, and then it begins to curdle, because it doesn't take long to realize that the sunny packaging is shrouding a bland product that ultimately is laden with seemingly good features that turn out to be bad features. For example, you can make the choice to see who has viewed your profile, but you can only enable that function if you're willing to let others see if you've viewed their profiles. It's horrible for stealthily searching for exes. As users get older and more lactose-intolerant, they inevitably move on from Friendster, which ceases to hold interest as well as sit comfortably in the stomach. I had an ex-of-sorts who said, once he saw that I drank skim milk, "Your milk is grey! Milk isn't supposed to be grey!" Friendster is grey milk: pretty harmless and serves its purpose, but there are better options out there. (Incidentally, that ex was on Friendster, but I wouldn't look at his profile because I didn't want to have to change all my settings to remain hidden. Annoying. Luckily, he's heavily Google-able, and the stuff I found on Google is far more hilarious than anything I'd find in his Friendster profile. If you're going to succumb to Friendster, trade it in for Google, which is far more entertaining and informative.) For the record, I no longer drink skim milk; I drink freakin' rice milk because I can't handle milk at all — not even soy milk. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

TIER 2: MySpace
Brie cheese
MySpace is a crowd-pleasing snack that appears exotic but has become mainstream. It's still tasty though rather busy (what does one do with the extra rind of excessive design?). I confess I've never used MySpace, though many of my coworkers have been forced to dive into it because so many celebrities and bands have pages. It's a good source for music, and as such, it's a nice addition to the party watercooler — a cheese-and-cracker tray of sorts. Even so, it makes my friends feel old, and they yearn for something more substantial to whet their palates.

TIER 1: Facebook
Ice cream
The perfect all-weather snack that never gets boring even when it's been sitting out for a little while, and the more chunks and sprinkles you add to it, the more enjoyable it is. Delicious and refreshing!

Never mind that it's easy to use — it's easy to upload photos, it's easy to add friends (though a bit complicated to search for them), it's easy to read, it's easy to edit your information, it's easy to e-mail people. Never mind that there are lots of fun applications to add to your profile — More Cowbell! maps of the world so you can click on the places you've been! Scrabulous or however you spell it! — and that it's also easy to ignore all the applications people send to you so you don't clutter your profile. Never mind all of that.

It's the status updates.

Facebook has a widget, appearing right after your name, that allows you to say, well, pretty much everything. For the longest time, there was an automatic is, so you'd add your state of being. Marla is regretting her shoes. They've since dismantled the is, and now you can do anything as far as verbs are concerned. And when you want to change it, you just click on your current status, a cursor appears, and you change it. And many of us, especially my friends at work, change it over and over again all day long — though I haven't changed mine since the Oscars, so it still says Marla would like for Renée Zellweger to eat a small country, please.

The status function is the entire purpose for the existence of social networking sites, and Facebook is the first one to just call it like it is: You want people to know how you are, so just tell them.

We go onto these sites because, yes, we want to reconnect with people. We want to find the people who made us feel best during the times of our lives we remember the most fondly. We want to know how they are, we want to know that they're happy. But more than that, we want everyone to know how we are. That we're better than we were then. That we're more focused and educated and well traveled and experienced and better at being ourselves now than we were then and less of a loser than we were then. (But of course we are! That was then! If I'm the same now as I was when I was 16, jebus help us all.)

And a status change is immediate. So if your mood changes? If you come up with a better idea of who you are than you did five minutes ago? Fix it. Fix it and become more appealing than you seemed eight seconds ago. See? I just changed my status: Marla is much more appealing now than she was five minutes ago. If I had the ability to literally change my status, change my mood at whim, would high school have been completely different? Do I really feel more appealing now than I was five minutes ago? Probably not. I mean, look at my hair right now. Maybe I should change my status again: Marla has put her status into perspective.

Much like the Dairy Striations of the Internets, there seem to be three forms of status update:

1. The Status Status:
Bob is at home.
Bob is at work.
Bob is in Topeka.
Bob got a great deal on a cardigan at Fashion Bug.

2. The Sensory Status
Bob wonders if it's all worth it.
Bob is excited to see Clay Aiken tonight at Ethel's Beef 'n' Stuff.
Bob needs to rethink his life.
Bob worries about his dog's limp.

3. The Snark Status
Bob thinks Hillary Clinton's pantsuits are extremely fashionable.
Bob is admiring you from afar.
Bob is my rock and roll fantasy.
Bob would rather knead the dough than need the dough.

Guess which one I employ.

The one that I'm most afraid of, and am left most uncomfortable by, and am most aware of, is the Sensory Status. Because that's how people really feel. If someone is undergoing a complete life evaluation, it often shows up in their status updates. If someone is struggling, it's there. It's brave, as most venting devices are. It makes me wonder what they're going through, but I don't know that it's my place to ask. When it's clearly a response to adversity, it often reads as a cry for help, which is a bit too personal for my eyes, I think.

I love reading them. I love seeing how my friends feel. Lisa is always a godmother, never a god. Sometimes they're just hilarious, and they serve no other purpose than to just be funny or cheeky or testy. And often it's where these people let us know, briefly, that they're traveling or they're pregnant or they've bought a house or they're getting married or they got a new job. The things they post are the answers to the very first things people ask when they see each other, or when they run into mutual friends and ask how everyone they know is. The status updates answer, blatantly, what people want to know when they seek ... a status update.

Genius. No bullshit. No small talk. No niceties. Just tell me. Just let me tell you.


Marla thanks you for your bluntness.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Decision '08

I do not understand Excitable Oration Voice. You know the one: when a politician approaches the end of a sentence and the crowd starts going wild and the politician gets louder and raises his/her arms awkwardly until his/her suit jacket's shoulder pads smoosh into his/her neck until his/her ears go missing, probably so he/she can drown out his/her own Excitable Oration Voice.

Campaigning is all about trying to make people like you. But in order to do this, you apparently must speak in sounds loud and monotone and louder and more monotone and EVEN LOUDER AND EXTREMELY MONOTONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Therefore, by using the transitive property, I have deduced that in order to influence the electorate and appear qualified for certain jobs and challenges, one must employ the two most irritating speech intonations known to man/woman. How is this useful?

In other news, it's my turn to be Super-of-the-Month. (I live in a five-apartment brownstone with no landlord, so each unit takes turns doing menial chores, including taking out the garbage, mopping the vestibule floor, clearing away leaves and shoveling snow.) Without fail, whenever somebody in my building has a baby or it snows, thereby presenting the messiest and smelliest clean-ups, it's my turn to be Super-of-the-Month. So naturally, it snowed yesterday. I woke up at 7 this morning to shovel the front stoop and sidewalk, but the warm rain did most of the work. Even so, I'm thrilled. We haven't had any kind of substantial snow yet this year, and this former Detroiter doesn't believe winter is winter until a snowflake touches the ground and stays there for at least a few minutes. So I took pictures, including one of a four-inch-tall snowman sitting on top of a picnic table.

This also reminds me of Friday's Merriam-Webster Word of the Day:

sitzmark \SITS-mark\ noun
: a depression left in the snow by a skier falling backward

I love words that sound like sniglets.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

My Valentine's Day gift to you. Thank me later.

One of my very favorite blogs is Elyse Sewell's LiveJournal. Elyse Sewell came in third on the first season of America's Next Top Model, a show we all know I love to love and just refuse to stop watching no matter how jacked it gets. She applied to the show as a fluke and was actually en route to medical school at the time, a veritable smartypants. She's become arguably the most successful model to have come out of that show, which doesn't say much — success post–ANTM basically consists of former contestants showing up at Tyra-affiliated events in unflattering sateen slipdresses and blotchy skin, and those who don't. But a small handful of the hamsters do manage to get some legitimate work, and Elyse has forged her own extremely successful career. She wisely detached herself from the ANTM brand and has traveled the world, getting signed to agencies and, as she calls it, ladyposing all over Asia and elsewhere.

I love her blog because a) she's an amazing writer with a vocabulary I covet; b) she's an extremely talented photographer in her own right, so much so that I bought the same camera she used, and her blog is probably the number one inspiration for why I take so many random photos, especially of food; c) despite all appearances to the contrary because she's naturally so thin, she will eat absolutely anything, including street meat in Cambodia; d) she's fiercely independent and that makes her travels, which she writes about extensively, that much more interesting (the blog is mainly about her travels and the hilarious and beautiful things she sees wherever she may land; the modeling is secondary); e) she's self-deprecating and doesn't take modeling too seriously, while always acknowledging that it's given her great fortune; f) she has a killer sense of humor. People read her blog who have never seen her on TV; they found it because it's really, really good. She got a book published because of it. She's just cool and I want her to be my friend. She's also a fucking great model, very easy with her body.

Confession: Sometimes I take a bazillion pictures of myself so I can "find my angles," i.e., the best way to hold my face so I'm not chinny. And then I delete them, unless I've found my angles. Those I keep. It's sometimes the only way I can really see myself.

Anyway. Elyse, for many years, was dating Marty Crandall, the keyboardist for The Shins. This love affair began before either of them was famous. They seemed blissfully, to the public at least, happy. But you never know what goes on behind closed doors, and during the holidays this winter, it came out that he beat the crap out of her, and not for the first time. After much ugliness, she left him. Right now, she's recovering at her parents' house, mourning her relationship, nursing her wounds, enduring all the emotional shit you have to suffer when you break up with the love of your life, having to reconcile the hard truth that the love of your life can remain that person even if they hit you. It's horrible.

This weekend was lousy for her, so she posted on her LiveJournal, calling for readers to share their worst breakup stories to help her feel better. And oy vey, last night I sat up for hours reading these comments, story after story of the horrible, nonsensical and simply sadistic things people do to each other. I was transfixed. Not only is it a recording of (often way beyond) borderline sociopathy, but it's also a testament to survival. As one reader put it, pain is just a thing, it's not you. Most of these readers went through the most insane drama and have come out clean on the other side, which is so reassuring. Read the crazy shizz here.

It, of course, got me thinking about my own romantic past. I can thankfully say I've never had a body-paralyzing, appetite-killing, heaving-crying, danger-flirting, cessation-of-functioning heartbreak. On the contrary, most of my relationships (which I tend to call entanglements, as few could hardly be classified as true romances) nearly always went one of two ways:

1. The guy would pursue me, pursue me, pursue me, and when I gave the thumbs-up to move forward, all of a sudden they'd slink back, give me the whole "I don't know what I want" rigamarole, the entanglement would fizzle until there was nothing left after I'd driven myself crazy to make it work, and then we'd have the most lackluster breakup ever;


2. It would be a Friends With Benefits situation in which I would always, always, always get attached.

There were two exceptions, both from high school: The most traumatic breakup happened when my boyfriend dumped me completely unexpectedly on our two-month anniversary after he took me out to celebrate. I truly did not see it coming and was distraught. I later heard his next girlfriend gave him herpes, so that was kind of awesome. (Truth be told, we stayed friends for a while. No hard feelings. That was a long, long time ago. The herpes thing was just a rumor — one I chose to believe at the time because, again, at the time, awesome.) The other breakup followed a really nice six-ish-month relationship, an actual boyfriend/girlfriend deal, but it fizzled sadly but naturally. The breakup was very fair, very civil, we're still friends. So that feels good.

On the flip side, Josh dated a woman for more than six years. When I met him, I was hugely intimidated by this relationship because he'd parterned with someone he thought he was going to marry, and that whole concept was so outside of my realm of experience. On the other hand, he was hugely intimidated by the fact that, during the time he was exclusive with his ex, I was trolling the streets of America, being a giant ho. I didn't sleep around, but I did, um, bond with a lot of boys, mistaking one kind of attention for another. He once asked me how many boys, I refused to tell him, the conversation spiraled into me telling him, and him freaking out.

ME: Honey, we had completely different experiences in college. During those years, you were off the market. You were committed. I wasn't. I was looking for commitment by kissing these boys.
JOSH: !!!!! I can't believe ... !!!!!!!!!
ME: Sweetheart, please understand: I went to a Big 10 school. You were in love. A Big 10 school can't compete with that.
JOSH: But ... eh ... uh ... !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
ME: Big 10! Please understand!

I have this fear, even though I'm happily married, that because I haven't had that destructive heartbreak yet, it is eventually going to happen, and until it does, I have no right to advise other people through their breakups because I cannot relate to them. This is not to say I don't understand heartbreak: In most functional relationships, you can still have your heart broken, you can still do unforgettable, unforgivable things to each other and eventually move past them and learn from them, still keeping them in mind as you move forward. I never take Josh and my luck at having met him for granted — I think this is all part and parcel of having been so single for so long; I was virtually single even when I was paired up — so I have this nagging paranoia that the forces of evil could intervene and it could be over at any time and I couldn't possibly survive that kind of pain. I have no reason to believe this will happen, and there are no signs pointing in that direction, I just have fear that it will, simply because it's never happened to me before. (Please keep in mind I also have an unreasonable fear of being set up for a crime I didn't commit and landing in prison. So take all this for what it's worth. Also, I'm terrified of express elevators.) And yes, this drives Josh bats. He thinks I'm a freak. I'm even nervous to post this, as if it's tempting fate; I'm going to let it sit for a while. It would be nice if I could turn the whole it-will-happen-because-it-never-has-before into a positive omen, thinking it's a reason I'll eventually win the lottery or become a size 6 or someone will magically appear on my doorstep to decorate my apartment free of charge or my apparently crack-addled kittens will let me sleep past 7 a.m.

People have a tremendous capacity for navigating trauma. A breakup can feel like a death. It rewires how you feel when you wake up in the morning. I read what Elyse is going through and can't imagine her pain, and I read the hundreds of comments that followed her post and wonder how all those people, male and female, gay and straight, lived through the stalkers and cheaters and liars and beaters. But they did. And she will. And I hope that, if god forbid I ever had to, I could too, that I would have the same strength I admire in these strangers. But for now — and I'm banking on for always — I have the fortune of being able to tell Josh I love him, and he'll say it back, and then I'm free to go take more pictures of myself so I can see what gratitude looks like.

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