Offer for Constructive Criticism Declined

Dear Constructive Criticism Provider,

I have received your claim of  “just trying to help” and trust that you offer yourconstructive criticism with the best of intentions. However, after careful consideration, I must decline your services.

Though I appreciate the opportunity to conduct my affairs in greater alignment with your values, I am afraid my own must take priority at this time.

Please note that while I try to accommodate every petition, requested alterations in employment, residence and relationship status require significant bandwidth to implement.

I am pleased to know you are certain of what you will do if you find yourself in my situation. Indecision can be taxing on the mind and body.

If it is any consolation, I can predict based on our past conversations what yourcriticism will be and can assure you that I have already internalized it and cultivated the appropriate self-doubt.

Sincerely,

Director of the Department of Self-Esteem Management

You are receiving this letter because you have submitted a request to the Department of Self-Esteem Management. Please note that appeals will take 3-5 business days to process.

Earth and Ether: A Memoir in Dreams

Earth and Ether: A Memoir

“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, a veritable butterfly, enjoying itself to the full of its bent, and not knowing it was Chuang Chou. Suddenly I awoke, and came to myself, the veritable Chuang Chou. Now I do not know whether it was then I dreamt I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.”

-Zhuangzi

When I was four I discovered a magical land under my deck. I would trace secret codes onto the wooden panels and jump and boom I was underground, charmed by the subterranean train conductors singing Southern folk songs, and rabbits too.

The land was unpredictable, for it’s also where I found the “oh my” monsters – green blobs resembling the Grinch that chased me yelling “Oh My!” with their gaping, drooling mouths. They disguised themselves as animals and farmers and aliens and pounced to eat me once underground without witnesses.

After these encounters, I’d look for my parents, but just as I resolved to do so, my house became an obstacle course of rocks and rivers and no boats.

The worst was when my parents were giants, and not the big friendly kind. They used my bed as a table, drinking magic potions, telling grown-up jokes.

The most horrid was the horned gremlin, my mother, but the more I ran away from her the more I ran into her.

Thus began my transition from tunneling to flying, from land to sky, from monsters that lurked under my bed to those that towered above my head.

I’ve spent my life losing and regaining teeth.

And cats. Mine have died more than nine times, but each time they’re alive again my heart skips a beat.

I have encountered the supernatural; I have been the supernatural. I’ve lived long past my own death. Mary Poppins flew me up to heaven on her umbrella, and I’m still trying to figure out if I’m writing from a cloud or if I have returned to the deep earth I discovered as a child.

When I talk to animals, they are fluent in English — some well versed in philosophy.

“Those who believe in free will have no way to reconcile purpose and destiny,” the tortoise said.

I’ve had a penis on and off for many years but never notice when it materializes and disappears.

As my aunt drove me downtown, she explained that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius had destroyed most of Rhode Island and it had to be rebuilt, but this one area was preserved from ancient times. The buildings looked like limestone. 

Every time I have a new boyfriend, my father dies. But they all shape-shift so habitually I’ve stopped recognizing who is who or which brain goes with which body.

I flew to a height so magnificent that when I looked down I saw a live map.

 

I’ve also been a nudist on and off.

When I was ten I got stuck in a clock, thinking 60 seconds had passed after one revolution – only to realize I was on the minute hand. My parents showed disconcerting signs of aging, and I became a teenager overnight.

My mom made no pretenses about preferring her pet rabbit to me.

My exams get progressively harder; the last required painting and sculpting famous masterpieces without even a photograph for reference.

The rabbit fancied Shakespeare, and the grocery store lacked variety.

It wasn’t until my twenties that I learned how to fly. It wasn’t freeing like you would expect. Flapping my arms strenuously to stay off the ground, I was always flying away from something scary. The motion was like swimming the breaststroke, trying to stay at the water’s surface. I’d rise above the heads of my attackers and sink.

The ship landed in southern California.

I can only read stories in my head. When I look down at a page, it’s impossibly blurry.

I looked around and tears came to my eyes.

I narrowly escaped a sexual exhibitionist in my bathtub. Except we were in an antique shop, and then he was a little kid and I a babysitter, and then I was walking him on a leash, and then he was a toy poodle.

The trees! The sky! The redwood forest! The enchanted zoo!

I exist on and off.

This was not a city; it was a prophecy.

Every toilet I encounter is in public, but if I really have to go I still use it.

Sometimes there is no me or I, just musical mosaics or an entanglement of strings yelling, “it’s falling apart!” or an image of a girl with my brother’s face.

I headed home with flying skis on my feet and sadness in my heart.

Sometimes there’s an “I,” but sometimes it’s a Hindu goddess and sometimes it’s a hero who saved a bunch of puppies from my office’s basement and sometimes it’s a piece of fruit about to get eaten.

Why do we reduce these to one letter?

I met Benjamin Beatrice Fish Freak when I had stones stuck in my knees.

There’s an ice cream shop on the beach by my house that never carries the flavor I want. I keep going back expecting that eventually it will.

To this day, I have never eaten ice cream.

And then there were the moments in between, between the east coast and other lands and seas, but I don’t remember them mostly, and if I tried to relate them to you they probably wouldn’t make sense.

Once upon a time, when bananas were berries and oxen were amphibians, watermelons overflowed the ocean.

How to get through a quarter-life crisis

Disclaimer: I am in the midst of a quarter-life career crisis. I don’t have experience getting through a quarter-life crisis, but in the process of experiencing one, I’ve been talking to a lot of helpful people and doing a lot of reading and soul searching. I’m compiling these pieces of advice mainly for myself, but I thought I’d share them in case they inspire you as well. 

1. Give up the idea of a career path. Maybe 50 years ago, more people treated college like trade school and graduated expecting to work in the same field forever. Now, a hypothetical career “path” might look like this: study philosophy, become a consultant, start a business, sell it, go to law school, clerk for a judge, work for a law firm, and work for a nonprofit, all while teaching yoga on the side. If there’s one thing you love so much you can’t imagine doing anything else, hey, you’re one of the lucky ones. But if not, don’t worry – there are endless ways to combine all your interests.

2. Be honest with yourself. You’ve probably gone through enough job interviews to get in the habit of crafting a linear narrative of your path (see above) when in reality it may look like a road with a bunch of forks and you’re jumping between prongs. In conversations about your career development, give up that narrative. There’s a place for your pitches about why X industry is the next big thing and X job is really great amalgamation of your skills – job and school applications require is to explain our backgrounds in a way that makes sense –  but sometimes these pitches become so rehearsed you forget you ever considered other possibilities. Maybe you studied creative writing in college and have worked in publishing since but have always wondered what it would be like to be a software engineer. While you probably wouldn’t tell this to a prospective employer for an editorial job, allowing yourself to feel that curiosity may lead you to explore options you otherwise would have overlooked.

3. Ask for help. Reach out to literally everyone you know in fields you’re considering. I vastly underestimated the number of people  who were willing to meet or Skype with me to answer career-related questions. This is also an excellent way to keep in touch with potential mentors, employers, or recommendation-writers.

4. Don’t let your job define you. If you’re lucky enough to have a 9-5, the post-5 pm world can be as much a part of your identity as your workday. You can take a class, join a Meetup group, attend a workshop, take a night job or freelance position, or work on a side project. It’s up to you whether you consider yourself, say, a project manager who writes poetry or a spoken word poet with a day job.

5. Remember your fifth-life crisis. And your tenth-life crisis. Because people who are vulnerable to quarter-life crises are generally vulnerable to other crises as well. When I look back on my early crises, I think, what was I so worried about? I mean, I was a *kid.* I had plenty of time to figure things out. In a few years, that’s probably how we’ll all look back at this period.

Good luck, and know you’re not alone.

He Does Not Live In Calendars

He does not live in calendars.

He does not live in clocks.

He does not live in a dictionary.

He does not redefine the unknown

in terms of the known

because he knows

with understanding

comes the loss

of the pre-understood.

 

He does not live in a continuous clock.

He lives on a discrete number line, jumping

from one rung to another, skipping

the in-between space.

His hour, minute, and second hands don’t move.

They simply disappear and reappear in new

locations

every second,

minute,

hour.

 

His present is not the sum of his pasts.

His presence is not the sum of his parts.

He does not live in a tautological dictionary

where every term equals itself and the other

terms that equal it.

He lives in a book where nothing equals itself,

where nothing equals anything, and everything

equals nothing

and nothing does not equal nothing

and zero is the largest of numbers

and zero is a black hole

and zero sucks in everything.

 

He does not live in calendars. He does not live

in clocks.

Between each of his motions,

while zero seconds pass,

the universe is created again.

All his years are zero,

all his meetings are introductions,

and he does not live in these words.

Try to fit him in a dictionary,

and he will create a new language.

Beliefs

Jacques Derrida believed in ghosts. He believed in conceptual excesses that haunt us when we speak. Some might say this is just an ideological ghost, not a real one, but to him, ideas are real, and reality is just an idea. The kind of ghost he hears in his basement late at night is the kind that emerges from the supplementary structure of language.

Halfway through my college career, I reached a threshold where I believed so strongly in nothing, I believed everything. I had to go through a lot to get there, including an existential crisis of the “If everything is relative, why believe anything?” variation. I put this problem to rest after learning the difference between ontology and epistemology. I gave up on searching for ontological truth because I decided it was more productive to think about what is known than to think about what is.

My therapist told me I was intellectualizing. I told her that the conceptual and the concrete are not as dichotomous as they might appear. She told me this was all very heady. I told her that she shouldn’t buy into the opposition of head and heart and proceeded to give her a lesson in mind-body metaphysics. She told me this was all a waste of time.

I left and started seeing a satanist (romantically, not therapeutically). I sort of believed him. But at this juncture, I treated beliefs as thought experiments, not convictions. I tried them on like clothes; a new outfit each day, and when I got undressed for bed, I’d assess how being a nihilist for a day worked out, or which social situations may warrant my poststructuralist hat.

And as for this guy, I entertained his claim that the cat behind my dorm was an intelligence agent sent by God to spy on His adversaries, but after we broke up, it was all quite ridiculous. Not because I doubt the supernatural, but because I dislike the racially coded, anthropocentric symbolism of black cats. Even experimental beliefs have their limits. For some, belief stops at the supernatural. For me, belief ceases when it holds the potential for violence.

“And what do you plan to do with that?”

I just found this old piece I wrote when I was about to graduate college and thought perhaps others could relate.

 

“And what do you plan to do with that?”

Do with it? I’ve been too busy getting through college to think of what to do with it.

I probably should have asked myself this question before deciding to
triple major in the most uselessly obscure topics ever (cognitive
neuroscience, modern culture and media, gender and sexuality studies).
But when I was a sophomore filing concentration forms, I didn’t think
of a college major as something you had to do something with. I
thought of my college education as an end in of itself, a reward for
Saturday nights in studying for the SATs, not as a means to an end. I
thought that once I reached that end, I could take a breather for a
second and stop focusing on the next step. Everyone always says to do
what you’re passionate about, so I guess I missed the memo that I was
supposed to be passionate about economically useful things. “I’m
passionate about consulting,” said no one ever.

What am I go to do with my Brown degree? I’m probably going to sit
around in cafes seeking audiences for my theories about Foucauldian
confessions on reality TV and the gendered language of perception in
philosophy of mind. And when people stare at me blankly, I’m going to
ask them if they would like me to unpack that a bit. I’m going to
think about pheromones every time I kiss someone until the day I die.
I’m going to piss off my friends by psychoanalyzing them and piss off
my family by calling them out on their sexism and racism and
Eurocentrism and perhaps some kind of
phallogo-capitalist-ethnocentric-colonial- ablist-
hereronorma-speciesist, all rolled into one Other-fearing Boogie Man.
And rather than the productive debates this might start at Brown, I’ll
probably get that dreaded response: “You’re reading too deeply into
it.”

Let’s rewind. What am I going to do after I graduate? I’m going to
wake up the next day wondering about the giant guinea pigs or exposed
toilet or missing teeth or whatever I happened to dream about. I’m
going to go to some coffee shop and wonder if I should order a chai
latte because I really should keep to my plan not to have caffeine,
but I mean it’s not even coffee, but then again it probably has more
caffeine, but it also has milk and milk is good for your bones and
chai probably has some kind of detoxing powers because I think it
comes from India and I’ve heard they have a very healthy diet in
India, but it’s also probably quite caloric, but I shouldn’t worry
about getting fat because I’m been drinking these lattes forever and I
think I look fine, or do I? I’m actually getting a bit chubby — then
the barista snaps me out of that thought and I have no time to think
so I order the latte.

We haven’t even gotten to 9 a.m. I haven’t even gone through the
stress of deciding what to put on my bagel. And then I’ll have to
decide what to do for the rest of the day. Maybe I should go to yoga,
because yoga is good for you, but then again I straightened my hair
yesterday and if I get sweaty I’ll have to wash it and that would be a
waste of a head of straightened hair. But then there’s that cute guy
who sometimes comes to yoga and what if he’s my soulmate and I don’t
even know it, and what if this is the day we could meet and perhaps
fall in love? Am I giving up my future husband over hair? This thought
tires me out and then I don’t feel like doing anything at all.

So I go on Facebook and, via my newsfeed, end up on political blogs
lamenting the state of our country and world. If only people would
just GET it, if only people would realize they’re disseminating the
very logics they seek to dismantle, and then I think about the
objectification of women and watch in horror as my body turns to meat
before my eyes and I want to escape it and then I think about meat and
those poor little cows who had families once. Once, a guy I was dating
brought groceries to my house and made me veal chili, and I really try
to avoid meat but it was so sweet of him so I ate it, and he asked me
what veal even was, and I had to look him in the eye and inform him
that those cows didn’t even get a childhood; then again, with the
conditions on most farms, they wouldn’t want one. The peppers were so
spicy that after he chopped them his hand stung for the rest of the
night. He used a huge stuffed dog as a pillow and told me not to touch
the dog without washing it because he touched it and the pepper was so
potent, but I snuggled with it the next day because it smelled like
him.

And now I’m lost in thought and should go back to what I’m doing, and
yoga’s supposed to help with focus, but I also need to pick up a
prescription and wash my gerbils’ cage and email a bunch of employers
about jobs I’m pretending to be interested in. And then I’m wanting to
return to the giant guinea pigs or exposed toilet or missing teeth or
whatever it was I dreamt about.

—-

When I got a fairly menial summer job, the first words out of my mom’s
mouth were, “well that doesn’t relate to anything you want to do.” No,
duh, it doesn’t relate to my future plans because my future plans are
nonexistent. Besides, I thought I was supposed to be economically
independent, and no prestigious company has any motivation to put me
in a high-paying (or, for that matter, paying) position. So I can be
like Hannah on Girls and mooch off my parents until some hypothetical
endpoint in which my unpaid internship turns into a job, or I can be
like Marney and get paid to look pretty while old men try to grope me.
That’s the great thing about America: choices.

Speaking of internships, apparently you’re behind in the job market if
you haven’t paid your dues by providing free labor. As with
cultivating a passion for consulting, I missed the memo on this. It’s
not like I was lounging around at home during the summer. First, I
worked at a summer program for high schoolers (not a path to
anything). Then, I went abroad to study cognitive neuroscience (a path
to either medicine or research, which both terrify the crap out of
me). And then I was an editorial assistant (a path paved with unpaid
internships and leading to a dying industry).

This can’t be just me. It’s not. I’m part of a whole generation that
was told we could follow our dreams and accomplish whatever we put our
minds to. So, we developed a sense of entitlement to everything we
“put our minds to,” and now we are undergoing the shock of doing
everything right and still not seeing results. I grew up thinking that
“writer” was a job — that you could literally sit down and start
writing books and that would be your whole career. But that was around
the time my dad asked me to guess how much money our house cost and I
ventured, “a hundred dollars?” Once I developed a concept of money, I
was set straight on how much it costs to live, how much it pays to be
a writer, and the discrepancy between the two.

I often complain about this to Jagdish, the old man who works at a shop
around campus where I stop by for tea and advice. He tells me I am
“overflowing with potential” and need to believe in myself. This makes me
more bitter: it is advice like this that has made me blindsided about the world
I’m about to enter. I am officially more cynical than an old man.
When he tells me not to give up on being a writer, I ask him how I
could possibly eat on that sort of pay. “If you can’t, then I’ll feed
you,” he says.

This is the first time in a while I feel lucky. Maybe, I think, it’s
not as important what I do with my degree as what I know, and whom I
know, because of it. Maybe what we’ll do with our Brown degrees is
inspire others by sharing bits of the people we’ve met here. If we
can’t have success, we just might be the generation to redefine it.

And meanwhile, we’ll continue finding ways to acquire free food.

A fictional lecture on the apocalypse

My position varies slightly from other theorizing about the apocalypse. Interpreters of the Aztecs say the world will end in floods from hurricanes and tsunamis and melting glaciers; I beg to differ. Robert Frost said ice would suffice but his bets are on fire; I disagree with both postulations. T. S. Eliot claims it will end not with a bang but a whimper, but what if the apocalypse is something nobody can hear, or see or touch, for that matter? Now that we have eliminated two of the four elements, we can argue between air and earth. Yet how would the Earth end with earth? We’ll come back to that problem — though there are conceivable ways the Earth could self-destruct, we will reject the theory for the time being and entertain this curious assumption: that everything begins and ends with air.

The outermost layer of our planet, air is the portal between this world and the rest. The moment we die, we take our last breath, and the moment we are born we start breathing (though some claim that life begins before birth, we will have to disregard that for brevity’s sake). Meanings are transmitted through the air. All that is spoken and heard consists of changes in air pressure. Similarly, every image is electromagnetic energy travelling through ether. Our messages depend on air for transmission; the world as we know it is brought to us by air, and the world as we don’t know it can be too. And since our world is that which we know, this world-as-we-don’t-know-it is a non-world. Ironically, we will be so busy trying to overcome the subjectiveness of our perceptions, to see the world as it truly is, that we will lose the ability to perceive and so lose our world entirely. Then, the air we be useless, empty space full of nothing to transmit: a vacuum. A vacuum engulfing us into God’s dust bag.
This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a flood but a drought.

ALERT: YOUR NEXT TEXT IS ABOUT TO CHANGE EVERYTHING

You over there, with your index finger hovering over the “send” button: Before you proceed any further, please note that your next text will make or break this relationship.

Before that text goes zooming irrevocably to the recipient’s phone, choose your words wisely. Do you really want to “hang out,” or would you rather “meet up”?

Lest you unwittingly alter the course of this relationship, remember that whether you write “hey” or “hi” will determine if he even likes you.

And is this really a “party” you’re going to, or is it more of a general “get-together”? Don’t be a liar!

Before you press that “send” button, consider the whereabouts of the recipient. Could he be at dinner with his parents? Walking his dog? If you disturb an important activity, you just may garner his eternal hatred. Then again, could he be on a date? Maybe if you intervene just in time, you could occupy some prime real estate in his head!

But how long has it been since you last spoke? If you’re desperate enough to text someone a day after your last meeting, you’ll probably grow old alone save a few feline companions.

Since it can be tricky to determine which words to use, read various drafts to yourself. Then read them aloud. Then read them to a friend.

Then conduct a multivariate survey on how each of your friends would react upon receiving different iterations of your text, and use it to construct a sentiment analysis of each emoticon.

Then run an A/B testing campaign blasting different versions of this text to your Twitter followers and analyzing your engagement metrics. Track your click-through rate based on timing as well as word choice, since an innocent invitation at 12 noon can become a booty call at 12 midnight.

If your recipient is a Twitter user, you may need to leverage other channels to ensure everyone but the recipient gets the text. One option is to dedicate a separate web page to each variant and compare traffic with Google Analytics.

And while you’re at it, you’d might as well collect all your data in a relational database for SQL analysis. Then again, by the time you get the software up and running, you may have missed your window of opportunity.

Either way, only once your data is statistically significant should you release your muscles and let that finger descend to that phone.

Although you’ve already revised this text 13 times, replacing “some time” with “soon” and “do you want” with “would you like” and drawing other imperative distinctions, recall your last unanswered text. If you’d just phrased it a little differently, you could be married by now.

So I’ve started this Tumblr

I realized I’ve been writing a lot these days about the challenges of dating as a feminist (exhibit A, exhibit B), so I’ve decided to create a blog dedicated to this topic. You can now follow me on dwfdatingwhilefeminist.tumblr.com.

I’m calling it Dating While Feminist, abbreviated as DWF – similar to DWI or DUI – because dating while feminist can sometimes truly feel like a liability. You’ll be hearing about some dreadful and hopefully laughable dating experiences, what they’ve taught me about our f***ed-up society, and how I attempt (and sometimes manage) to retain my feminist convictions and even occasionally some faith in humanity.

The idea for this blog came about when I was dating someone who was altogether adequate except for his lack of feminist allegiances. Some people suggested that, given the state of the dating market that straight women face, I can’t afford to be so picky regarding this criterion. I’m using this blog to demonstrate and commiserate about how bad the market really is – but argue against settling as a solution.

Sentences like seeds

I am ten, away at sleep away camp, my cabin-mates staging a late-night pow wow. My bunkmate complains there’s nobody for her to talk to. Someone points out my presence; she says I don’t speak so it makes no difference.

I am thirteen on my porch, listening to my dad lecture me about loneliness. He tells me when a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, it still falls. I say sound requires matter to travel through. He says that’s irrelevant. Air is everywhere, even places without ears.

I am twenty-one in my dorm room, crying over a breakup. The affection that begs to be expressed runs up against the inside of my skin. I contemplate writing love notes with no expectation for a response, just to get it out of me. The fruit ripens and rots.

I am twenty-three in a cosmetics store, wasting time trying on samples. When I arrive home with no evening plans, I panic and take pictures so my face doesn’t go to waste.

I am twenty-four in a meeting, trying to focus on next year’s marketing plan as a perfect sentence slips through the cracks of my brain. I jot it down when I get back to my desk, but the sequence and lexicon are lost.

The mind of a writer is a forest full of trees. They often fall in front of deaf ears, or toward readers turning blind eyes. Their fruits ripen and rot.

A forest is a self-contained ecosystem. Trees fell before they fell before people. They made sound waves before ears. They had chlorophyll before green.

But changes in air pressure are not sound, and meanings are in the mind of the beholder. Reading creates meanings. Writing creates words. Speaking creates sounds.

I am twenty-four and keep diaries from since I was nine. I don’t read them – I’d be too embarrassed – but it helps to know they’re there. It helps to hoard ideas. But my breath catches when I think of them locked in a desk drawer, a diary coffin.

Writing reminds me of death. An idea stops being dynamic once it’s put to rest on paper, resolved, no longer in flux.

But not writing reminds me of death, or of never being born. Sentences either fester in my brain like seeds underground or rot like fruits that fall and also end up underground. Underground, they birth more plants, which end up underground themselves.

Asking why I write is asking why roots grow branches. Trees fall and make sounds whether I hear them or not. The sounds propagate between me and the trees; the trees and I simply scatter the seeds that don’t wonder why they grow and the sounds that never wonder if anyone hears.