My dearest Stella,

Your exploration of the age old question “Who Am I?” in Ennui, Part I, Ennui, Part II, and Ennui, Part III reminds me of this fabulous quote from Gertrude Stein:

“The minute you or anybody else knows what you are you are not it, you are what you or anybody else knows you are and as everything in living is made up of finding out what you are it is extraordinarily difficult really not to know what you are and yet to be that thing.”

My thoughts exactly!

So . . . search, and yet continue to elude ourselves, we must.

Warning: What I’m about to say may set off some high-tech academic alarms. Please, cover your ears, earnest academics everywhere.

I AM TRYING TO RECOVER MY “ESSENTIAL SELF.”

Now, now, earnest academics, don’t get your panties all in a knot! I know perfectly well I’m not allowed to say such a thing, even if I am sitting at home feverishly pumping air quotes around “Essential Self.”

(Incidentally, do you remember, Stella, when you said you’d pay me 50 cents per air quote during a presentation at a CCCCs conference? I believe that was also the very same conference I accidentally got an M&M stuck up my nose in the elevator ride to my presentation. But then again, who can keep track of such hi-jinx? It could have been an entirely different time and place.)

“Essential self?” In this post-post-(why not throw in another one for fun?) post-modern world, I might as well have said I’m searching for an honest and just government official.

But stay with me here. This is an important moment in my journey. Perhaps it is an important moment for recovering academics everywhere (if I should be so bold)—a journey toward Recovery, after, say, 13 years of academic mind-melding.

In my Dissertation Defense (as you know, since you had the pleasure of sitting in the back—in forced muteness—while you watched the “final curtain fall,” shall we say, helpless, yet vigorously taking notes or doodling nervously (and did I perchance see you rock back and forth, just a bit, holding yourself close?)), how a certain academic-type, hand-picked for me it seemed (in a therapy or Joss Whedon here-is-your-chance-to-face-your-demons-kind-of-way), as he seemed to be the physical manifestation of all that I deem unholy in this world, said to me:

“You can’t mention Derrida without talking about Schiller and Schelling and Heidegger and the whole History of Everything that might have anything to do with Derrida and you certainly can’t even think about Derrida (or, God forbid, dream about him) without talking about Everything German (even though, duh, he’s Fraunch, but Everything Important can be traced back to Germany, all Good and Important Philosophers know that), and while you’re at it you can’t use the word “grammar” or even the word “the” without referencing the Etymological History of Everything That Ever Was and All Words That Have Come to Pass and Shall Ever Be Uttered From Here to Eternity.”

Or something to that effect.

I’m sure you recall, as well, my response to such nonsense. Let me remind you, dear friend:

images2

Or something to that effect. (Thank you, Adrian Piper.)

In the meantime, I have since come across this distinction between Emancipation and Liberation. I’m paraphrasing. Without Citing My Sources. Just for fun.

Emancipation: Gaining rights within a particular system.
Liberation: Freeing oneself from the system altogether.

Up until now, I have been preoccupied with Emancipation. What I have called the “Struggle for Legitimacy” —fighting for academic respect, while simultaneously poo-pooing the system I want respect from.

It is in the spirit of Liberation that I say, now, with pleasure:

I RECLAIM THE RIGHT TO SPEAK WITHOUT REFERENCING THE HISTORY OF ANYTHING!

I RECLAIM THE RIGHT TO PLEASURE, SILLINESS, AND JOY!

I RECLAIM THE RIGHT TO SAY ESSENTIAL SELF WITHOUT AIR QUOTES IF IT SO PLEASETH ME!

I RECLAIM SPACE IN THIS WORLD FOR LITTLE OLE ME!

This feels like an Essential Act.

This feels like a Political Act.

This feels Urgent.

This feels Fun!

Now, I know that the Essential Self I seek doesn’t look a particular way or do particular things. It doesn’t, for example, consistently eat waffles for dinner or perform Beyonce’s Single Ladies dance to mind-blowing perfection (though it certainly is on its way—just a little more practice…)

Like you say in Murakami Inspired This, perhaps I can only delineate where the Essential Self “lives” and where it is not. (It’s certainly not buried up some stick-in-the-mud’s behind, I can tell you that…)

The closest I can get to identifying this elusive Essential Self is this set of photographs my Dad took of me when I was four.

At the risk of losing sight of it the moment I try to represent it….. Bird Watchers! Cameras ready!

I present to you the rare and exotic Essential Self:

essential-self2

Ennui, Part III

April 21, 2009

Dear Stephanie,

 

Three words: staff development meetings.

 

Pardon me if I’ve caused you to have an unpleasant flashback! If you are hovering in a corner in the fetal position tearing manically at your hair, please—please!—forgive me!

 

But stay with me. I recommend deep cleansing breathes. Do you recall this treasure of an assignment? I am a writer who _________.

 

As I recall, a colleague of ours found this particular task not only impossible but also personally insulting because, she said, her “primary identification” (her words) was as a writer, so I guess the request felt like it would require her to simplify in a way that felt cheap. Or something like that.

 

“Imagine if someone asked you to respond to ‘I am a mother who ______,” she asked me, as a way to help me understand the highly problematic nature of this assignment Because I didn’t. I didn’t question these things; I just did them to the best of my ability. I don’t mean this as a way to pat myself on the back—it’s actually really, really, really annoying—or as a subtle jab at others who struggled. Just a fact, ma’am: My mother and her wooden spoon trained me to be unquestioningly obedient, and I am still learning how to be rebellious and resistant. It’s a long process, but fun.

 

The assumption seemed to be that I primarily identify as a mother. This isn’t the case, actually. I am a mother, true, and I love being my son’s mother and take it very seriously, etc. etc. But I am many things.

 

But anyway, our colleague’s response to this assignment got me thinking: do I have a primary identification, and if so, what is it? And what does it mean to say that you identify yourself as one thing, primarily?

 

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like there isn’t any one thing (“thing” being an occupation or activity in which I engage) that I could say identifies me, except for maybe human female.

 

Yup, I’m a human female alright.

 

Therefore, to answer the last question in my ennui exploration series—who am I?—I feel compelled to repeat:

 

I am a human female.

 

And also to add:

 

I am a heterosexual human female.

 

I am a complicated, heterosexual human female.

 

I am a complicated, contrarian, heterosexual human female.

 

I am a complicated, contrarian, heterosexual human female deeply committed to silliness, beauty, and kindness.

 

I suppose there’s a lot to add to this, still. But I feel this sufficiently covers my “primary identifications” and also explains why I experience ennui in my daily life. Don’t you think?

 

Love,

Stella

Dear Stella,

I, too, never want to “sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed.”

Unless, that is, we’re talking about a process of fermentation or distillation, whereby barley malt converts starch into sugar and then yeast eats it like Pacman and somehow, miraculously, delicious and powerful substances result.

That’s right, dear Stella, you guessed it—I’m talking about Bartending School.

I entered Bartending School like I enter most group activities, with an almost painful longing for all of us involved to end up, at the completion of class, holding hands, swaying and singing “Welcome Christmas” like in the last scene of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. “Fah who foraze! Dah who doraze!”

Needless to say I was surprised, then, by the Montessori-style schooling—everyone at their own level, working on their own things, practicing by themselves at their own stations.

Which meant I left my own company and the company of my laptop for the company of…myself! It seems wherever I go, there I am. Like most solitary learning experiences, mostly you learn a lot about yourself watching yourself try to teach yourself something.

Okay, so it’s me and me in the corner station. We’ve just been given a lesson on Sour Drinks and I’ve got three hours to myself (with myself, by myself) to practice.

Me: Whatchu gonna do, me?

Me: Well, I thought I’d start by setting up a system.

Me: A system? Are you on crack?

Me: Shhh, I’m trying to think.

Me: Dude! I was hoping we’d take a little vaca from all that thinking. Jeez, talk about a teetotaler…

Me: OK, so first, I’m going to sort index cards by the color of the drink: You got your pink cards for fruity drinks, your white cards for drinks with cream, drinks with vodka, and drinks with vodka and creams, you got your brown cards for drinks with Amaretto, Kahlua, Frangelico, Bailey’s, coffee, anything nutty…

Me: Did you say, “Nutty?” Hello! Mean anything to you?

Me: Okay, but now I’ve got to find a way to signify drinks made in Rocks Glasses vs. Collins Glasses, vs. Sour Glasses, vs. Cocktail Glasses. And then, some drinks have the standard 1 oz of liquor and some have more…

Me: Not crack? How about PCP? I know! Some fancy club drug?

Me: … and some drinks are shaken and some stirred, and some have limes or cherries and oranges and some have nothing at all…

Me: It’s okay, just ignore me. Pretend like I’m not even here. (Whistles a fancy tune), not here, not here, still not here…

Me: Okay, I’m sweating a bit, but I think I’ve got it under control. I’ve got a sound methodology that compares the ration of drinks with vodka in Collins with limes vs. drinks with vodkas in Rocks Glasses with cherries, with drinks with cherries in Cocktail Glasses with cranberry juice vs. drinks with cherries and limes and cranberries and vodkas….

Me: …still not here…not here…don’t you worry about me! I don’t need to sing no stinking Christmas song anyway…

Me: Voila!

chart

(Footnote 1)

I pause, take a deep breath, and look around me. The others (a ragtag group of folks, including one guy on crutches who broke both ankles snowboarding (ouch!)) are….get this—actually making drinks?!

I can hardly believe it! The audacity! To just dive right in and make drinks? I can barely wrap my brain around what’s happening. I haven’t even had time to research “Best Ways Over the History Of Time to Learn to Make Drinks” and these guys have just—jumped right in?!

Me: ahem, um…told you so?

It’s an intriguing concept. I must admit, I’m scared, but I’m also a little excited, a little thrilled (perhaps even a tad turned on?) by the prospect. It feels so wrong, and yet – so right.

I go behind the bar, to My Station – that’s right, MINE. I own you biyatch, I whisper to it, lovingly. I pick up a Collins Glass, palm its cool frosted smoothness. I grab the metal ice scooper—ah, the sound of it gathering those fabulous ice ovals—and —that’s right, brace yourselves, I. Fill. The. Glass. With. Ice.

Me: No. Way.

Me: Yes way!

Me: OMG!

Oh, the satisfaction! The glass was empty, now it’s full! I can hardly believe my raw power—the force of it! You are soooo history, Vodka Collins!

I take the Vodka bottle from my Speed Rack, press my pointer finger against the nozzle just so, tip the bottle like a pro (if I do say so myself) and pour—that’s right, count em—one, two, three, four counts— that equals (ah, according to my chart) one shot of liquor.

I’m starting to get cocky now, and when I pour the Sour Mix, I move my hand in a slight circle. Now comes the roll—place Short Shaker over glass, flip, lift, and pour back in, shielding the customer (Oh, the customer! How I adore the abstract “customer!”) from the pour, should any sweet succulent liquid splash.

I haven’t had this much fun since I played “Manimal” as a kid and hid inside a box until I changed from Cheetah back to Man.

I press “Soda” on the Speed Gun (WOWSA, now THAT feels good), garnish the drink with a cherry AND orange, plop in a straw and … yup, that’s right, I serve, mothafucka.

Who’s the boss now? Huh? HUH?

Thus passeth Day One.

I have tasted something here today.

Is it a Vodka Collins? No! (I hate to break up whatever little fantasy you’re concocting, but in school we just use water colored with dyes that smell like egg.)

Is it Freedom? Yes!

Is it the Satisfaction of a Job Well Done? (as opposed to, say, the constant feeling you are never goodenoughsmartenoughrigorousenough, I mean, hypothetically speaking of course.)

Is it the Joy of Working With My Hands? (Even better when what my hands are making is tasty!)

Is it—dare I say it—Pleasure?

Me: Oh no she didn’t!

I’m not sure what real bartending will bring. Or if I will even get the chance to bartend for reals. But for now, I have found a tender and fleeting joy in making makeable things, in measuring measurable things, in playing with pretty colors, in handling smooth glass, and in filling things that were once empty.

Me: But what does it all mean?

Me: I don’t know, my friend, I don’t know. But I’ve made a chart here to help us try to understand the projected percentage of joyful moments as they might unfold over a set period of time, against x number of controllable and uncontrollable variables…

Me: Help! Someone get me a drink!

love,
Stephanie

(Footnote 1): Complicated chart (and real use of) can be found at: http://aduni.org/courses/algorithms/courseware/psets/Problem_Set_06_Solutions.html

Ennui, Part II

April 13, 2009

Dear Stephanie,

Where am I, anyway? I’m in suburbia. One of those immaculate suburbs populated largely by wealthy, white people—men who work in finance and women who play tennis and do lunch and have cleaning ladies and drive gas-guzzling SUVs or, as you once saw with your very own eyes, big, gleaming Hummers. You know, in case the Iraq war hits the home front.

I do not do any of these things (other than eating lunch, occasionally).

So I don’t identify with these non-working women in my town, who often have children the same age as my son and with whom I’m therefore supposed to share a magical connection because we are Mothers, all.

Sometimes, as you know, I say mean things about them that is unbecoming of me—like, I make fun of them for wearing workout clothes in non-workout related spaces (like Starbucks or the supermarket). The tennis outfits pique me in particular, especially when they’re shopping at Whole Foods. 

“Look at me!” the tennis outfit trills as it moves seamlessly among the fresh organic vegetables. “I am wholesome and healthy! I play tennis and buy organic food. See me select items for complicated recipes (which I have committed to memory). Later, I will combine these ingredients into elaborate meals for my husband, who wears expensive, well-cut suits and rides the train to the city, where he makes seven figures. Later still, I will get to work spending his money on private workout sessions and cleaning ladies and botox and endless activities for my children! Tra la la.”

See?! See how mean I am!

I’ve done the obligatory mom dinners with them and left feeling resentful—resentful that they seem to enjoy, fully and completely, all the things that I find tedious:

  • Cooking
  • Tidying
  • The care and maintenance of a husband and/or a home
  • Not working

But mostly, I feel resentful that they always want to “split the bill” when they have had three courses, two glasses of wine, and coffee, and I have had a salad and water (total cost: $80).

But they are perfectly nice! What kind of monster would mock them for engaging so wholeheartedly in their lives? A terrible, terrible monster!

“It’s not you,” I would like to tell them. “It’s me!”

And I mean this sincerely. I mean, is it really so terrible to want to look attractive for your husband? To want to cook him nice meals and help him relax after a long day? In the abstract, this seems like a lovely impulse.

But clearly not an impulse that grips me, so I thought I should maybe get to know some of the working moms in my town. I thought I might have more in common with them. This was very naïve.

Because the working moms in my town mostly work in The Business World, doing lots of selling of things that are processed and bought. It’s very difficult for me to care about such things, even when these women hire me to write crap for them.

I would see this as a personal limitation, but it aggravates me that they always try to get out of paying me. Further, they are so creative about exploiting me. For example, if I tell them that they can pay me by the word for the final product, they keep me on the phone for hours working out their ideas and then endlessly rewriting until I would like to rip my face off, or theirs.

So if I get wise to this scam and ask them to pay me by the hour, then they spend the minimum amount of time explaining what they want (p.s. in any case, they don’t know what they want) and then are never happy with what I write.

They are averse to paying me, in any event, though when they run into me around town, you would never know this. They greet me amiably, even cheerfully, as if their intention is not to stiff me.

“What are you up to?” they ask me, idiotic smiles plastered to their faces.

“Waiting for my check,” I would like to say. “Or cash. Whatevs.”

To get paid, it’s necessary to hire goons to shake them down. This is unseemly. 

They are like roaches. They adapt so well. Their survival is ensured whereas mine…

This leaves me wondering, who am I anyway?

Love,

Stella

Ennui, Part I

April 13, 2009

Dear Stephanie,

I will be exploring the sources of my ennui in a three-part series. Here is part one:

Have you ever seen the movie Say Anything? It’s a 80s classic. What’s so great about this movie is that it’s sort of like a chick flick–preoccupied with the fulfillment of True Love–but with a twist because instead of the girl being the hopeless, love sick puddle, the guy is! Fantastic!

In the movie, John Cusak’s character (Lloyd) has dinner with his girlfriend and her father, and the father interrogates Lloyd about His Future. In response, Lloyd says this to his girlfriend’s father:

“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

I first saw the movie when I was in high school, and Lloyd’s words were very influential words because they verbalized my intentions. These words subsequently stuck with me, followed me around like a lost, hungry kitten looking for milk.

So when senior year in college crept up on me and I had to make Decisions about My Future, this line cozied up to me again, begging for milk, and to placate it, I decided to go to graduate school.

“Academia,” I thought, “is not about selling, buying, or processing. Academia is about ideas. Academia is about lofty things.”

“I will read books,” I said to myself. “I will think important thoughts, and those thoughts will comfort me.”

“I will write those thoughts down,” I asserted. “And it will be fun.”

Instead, the early stages of graduate school robbed me of my loves of reading, writing, and thinking, and even though the later stages of graduate school helped me recover those loves, it’s all so circuitous that sometimes I wish I’d skipped higher ed altogether and stuck with the food and beverage industry.

But no, this is hyperbole. I am prone to hyperbole. Of course I do not wish this because then I may not have met you. Then where would I be?

Love,

Stella

(A response to: Dear five-inch leopard wedges from Bergdorf’s)

Dear Stephanie,

I have stolen a laptop, snuck into the Bergdorf’s lavatory, and hacked into Stella’s wordpress account. This has been a difficult feat considering I’m five inches tall and have no fingers. But I did it for you, my Gossip-Girl, Hello Kitty PJ-loving friend, all to communicate this urgent message about rejection:

The fact that Stella let me go reflects her limitations, not mine.

Remember this, dear Stephanie: rejection isn’t always personal, especially when the rejector has spent all of five minutes in your company before stuffing you back in your box, resealing the shipment container, and rushing off to the post office to mail you back as if the two of you never meant anything to each other.

Here’s how I see it: It’s like how some guys don’t like to date attractive women. They’ll hit on them, and, if given the opportunity, “score” with them, but date them? Oh, no. This is because, deep down, they are fearful and can’t handle having other guys macking on their ladies all the time. They enjoy the flattery of having attractive women want them but then can’t close the deal, so to speak (providing “the deal” refers to a relationship whose duration exceeds 20 minutes in a public restroom or, alternately, the back of a truck). They’re afraid to take a risk; they’re afraid to get hurt; they’re afraid of looking foolish in front of their friends should the attractive girlfriend dump them.

All this is to say: I have a feeling that Stella was maybe a little bit intimidated by me. Like, she sees me, these bad-ass, Christian Louboutin five-inch leopard-print wedges, and she thinks, “what can I possibly have to offer you? Daily trips to Starbucks? Friday nights at a dive bar? The solicitous attention of the mostly male staff at the local deli? Wedges of your pedigree grace the feet of Victoria Beckham and Katie Holmes. You’ll get bored doing this work because you’re capable of so much more.”

What she failed to understand is the fact that she lives in suburbia and rarely ever goes anywhere remotely interesting never mattered to me. That stuff is so superficial when you have a real connection. Besides, Victoria Beckham wears shoes of my ilk just chilling with her kids at the mall. And Katie Holmes wears us to the beach, for fuck’s sake!

You know what? I would have done wonders for her feet. Who wouldn’t I flatter? Just look at me!

BGS09_X0BGX

Let’s be honest, for a moment. Size eight? Not a small foot for someone who stands 5’2” on her best posture day. But that’s the beauty of wedges! I can make even the biggest feet look tiny! Wear me under jeans and I will elongate your legs! You in a skirt with me on your feet? Your calves will looked ripped, whether or not you work out, I promise you. She would have been so lucky to have me.

This is not to say that she doesn’t have a lot to offer, too—strong arches that could (in the right shoe, i.e. me) awaken a latent foot fetish, toes that graduate proportionally. Plus, she never wears open toe shoes without sporting a very tidy French pedicure. We could have been so good together.

But this brings me to another point. I think maybe she feared I would outshine her, much like how everyone wants a bar buddy in that hot friend who draws a crowd but then can’t help being rendered insecure by that friend’s hot ticket-ness. But attention is no big prize. It’s momentary and fleeting. In the end, the hot friend ends up feeling objectified and wonders why it’s possible to draw a crowd but not sustain a long-term relationship (see above). I’m just saying.

But look, if the Banana Republic wedges make Stella happy, if she’s satisfied with the Michael Kors sandals, I mean, I don’t judge her for it. I just hope she’ll be happy. I don’t think they’re capable of what I’m capable of, but, again, I just want her to be happy.

And yes, I understand that economic realities are at work here. I don’t come cheap. I’m Christian Louboutin from Bergdorf’s, okay? I won’t pretend to be less than I am to placate others’ insecurities. A turtle is a turtle, and a hare is a hare, you know what I’m saying?

But anyway. I don’t know. I guess you could say it just wasn’t the right fit, so to speak. It’s probably better this way. If she’d kept me around, she’d probably grow to resent me, like those Chloe boots buried in the back of her closet that she just can’t stand to look at anymore. Look, she has issues. Who doesn’t? She liked the idea of me but couldn’t figure out how I fit into the big picture.

What I want you to know, dear Stephanie, is that I’m fine. I’m going to be fine. Do I feel a little bit used, like my purpose was to boost her ego and then quietly disappear? Yes, a little. But I refuse to be diminished by this experience. I will stand tall, all five, leopard-print inches of me. I will find my home, and it’s going to be fucking fabulous.

Love,

Wedgealicious shoey-poos

(A response to: Chronicle of Debt Foretold and Sandals: The Much Anticipated Update)

BGS09_X0BGX

I understand you have recently been “let go.”

If are you are just shoes, after all, and can’t hear me, please, forgive me. I have a long history of personification. I just adore the piece by Lydia Davis where she sees a wounded animal on the road and, upon discovering it is only a brown paper bag blowing in the wind, continues to feel deeply for it.

All this is to say, I feel for you, leopard wedges; I feel for all five inches of you.

I feel for you because I know the journey ahead will not be easy. It is difficult to believe you have arrived “home,” only to discover that you have not, or that what you thought of as “home” is really quite different than you expected.

You may have said to yourself, I know who I am! I am five inches tall! I am a leopard! I am a wedge! I am from Bergdorf’s! Then one day—Wham!—you aren’t any of these things, and you find yourself sitting in your Hello Kitty Pjs watching a Gossip Girl marathon wondering how you can get the “crack cookies” to come to you without you having to move. During the commercials you wonder (no need to waste precious show time), Where did my professional identity go? Where did the respect from my colleagues and superiors go? Come to think of it, where did my colleagues and superiors go? Where is my paycheck? Where are those crack cookies? And why am I wearing Hello Kitty pajamas in my thirties? (Gossip Girl is perfectly respectable, however.)

I’m just sayin’.

You may discover, dear wedgalicious shoey-poos, that you do not know who you are. You may discover that the things you thought you knew about yourself are no longer true. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Strange, yes. Difficult, yes. But not always bad. Maybe you are five inches, but perhaps you really want to be flats (God forbid, but stay with me here). Maybe you are leopard, but perhaps you dream of becoming—anything is possible—plaid.

True, the road ahead might be treacherous. Just because you are from Bergdorf’s and have a fancy degree from a brand name school does not mean that you will have an easy life. Let me remind you, little five-inch wonder, of an old hero. Have you heard of Odysseus? Nothing to be ashamed of if you haven’t. I don’t expect they have a copy of The Odyssey in the Bergdorf’s lavatory, but then again, I wouldn’t know, seeing as how I don’t have a job and I have no business messing around in bathrooms of stores I can only pull a Winona in.

Let me fill you in: Odysseus leaves home, can’t get back, gets trapped on various islands, gets lured by women of all shapes and sizes (I’ll bet you, too, have been lured thusly, you scrumptious shoey-pie).

The one that always gets me is Circe’s attempt to make Odysseus forget his purpose, his “home.” (Imagine the feet on that Circe, little shoey-do—supple, fresh, arched just so….she may be no Stella, but shoey—let’s be serious for a moment, there are a lot of feet out there!)

Ah, but let’s not forget the point: Odysseus makes it, after all. (True—people die, things happen, but still—not the point.)

Here is the good news, little wedge: you are at the threshold of a new beginning! You will make discoveries you never dreamed possible! Being “let go” may be the best thing that ever happened to you! It may just save your life.

Love,
Stephanie