Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sweet, sweet adolescence

As a fairly confident, generally happy thirty year old, few things make me feel like an insecure, unbalanced seventeen year old - thankfully. Sadly, however, this past week, I re-discovered my inner, unbalanced seventeen year old and had a complete confidence meltdown. What could make me feel this way? The GREs and young adult fiction. I read quite a few young adult books, but in conjunction with the more adult aspects of my life, such books of teenage angst and insecurity do not adversely affect me. Certainly I feel great amounts of sympathy with the pimply, awkward protagonists, but their high school dramas do not get me down. I know that they too will outgrow that horrid era of high school and move on to better things. But, in combination with my agonizing preparation for the GREs, reading young adult fiction reignited a part of me I thought had disappeared long ago. As a result, I have grown a large pimple on my chin, lashed out at the people I love for no apparent reason (at least to them), and stressed out about things that only a week ago would have slid off my back.

See, taking standardized tests has always been one of my most hated activities, second only to throwing up and maybe hitting my shins. They make us sit in a small, usually windowless room, in an even smaller cubicle with a computer in front of us. We sit here to be judged on our intelligence, or at least, our test taking abilities. The computer provides a tutorial informing us of how the test will proceed. Then, we are on our own. In the upper left corner, a vicious clock counts down the minutes until our time to answer questions is through. In the center of the screen, just barely to the right of the ticking clock, are the tortuous questions with trick answers. The trick answer always standing out a bit brighter from all the rest. And down in the left hand corner are the evil options, telling us we can quit the test or leave the section. What those options do not tell us is that we essentially become a complete failure when we click on them. So, our eyes gravitate back to the center of the screen, with a quick peek at the ever descending numbers of the clock. For some, like my brother, this experience might be exhilerrating, challenging him to beat the system, the man. For others, for me, such a set up breeds sheer panic and a complete evacuation of the brain. All the words, geometric formulas, and reading comprehension skills I learned through years of schooling and weeks of hard core cramming are gone. My brain is a blank. Empty. And then the trick answer glares brighter on the screen. I know it is a trick, but panic tinged with a moth-like fascination take over and suddenly I am compelled to click. And click, and click, until suddenly time runs out. At the end of the computerized test, our scores flip on the screen. For some, elation and/or pride might overwhelm them. For others, for me, a true sense of mediocrity and failure fills my gut. We know we have yet again let the ETS and standardized tests get us down. Even at thirty, such an event is painful, reminding me of the very insecurities I felt thirteen years before taking a similar exam. Always wondering if my grades and hard work would be enough, or if this three hour test would break me.

Add these feelings with a little teenage vampire sexual tension, and I reconnect with that seventeen year old self - the one I so proudly thought I had outgrown. Hubris. Tonight I reacquaint myself with thirty through a French film, red wine and Jane Austen. I'll just have to ignore the pimple.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


I am just an average middle-class white girl - not as pathetic as Bridget Jones, but not as interesting either. I wake up each morning at 7AM, perform my morning toilette, eat breakfast and run to the bus stop. I then take the number 55 bus downtown and walk ten minutes up a huge hill to work. I arrive each day at 8:55. And each day, I heave a huge sigh wondering if things could possibly be more boring.

Now, I realize times are tough for almost everyone in the great USA. Even the guys on Wall Street are having their salaries capped at $500k per year if they are receiving government money. Must be tough! Reminds me of that NBA player from the 1998 players strike who whined on national television about not making enough to pay his car insurance. After some research, I found that the man had five cars, and they were not Hondas. So now, the Wall Street guys will have to cut down to one yacht. Those docking fees can really add up - and no one likes it when the tax payers get angry. Unless of course, you don't know any tax payers - which seems to be the case with these Wall Street and Washington folks.

Given my tendency to listen obsessively to NPR, I should know better than to complain about the rather blah flavor of my life just now. But, just for kicks, I think will indulge anyway. After all, it's free and kills time, so actually, I am doing myself (though not the economy) a favor by complaining. When focused inward, I don't notice the cute clothes I am not buying, or the chocolate cake in the fridge I should not be eating, or the house I should be cleaning. No. When writing about my vanilla life, I have what John Stewart would call my moment of zen.

Why am I so cranky, you ask? Well, I'm bored. After juggling multiple jobs and a full load of graduate courses while commuting four hours everyday, working 9 to 5 feels slow. While in school, my days were usually divided into quarters. First quarter: commute on the train for 1 1/2 hours. Second quarter: work. Third quarter: class. Fourth quarter: commute home for 1 1/2 hours while doing homework. A little variety! Now, I ride the bus, work in a windowless basement with mousetraps everywhere from 9-5 and then go home. Once home, there's dinner to make, of course, but no homework to complete or articles to read. So then what? What's a woman to do? I could rot my brain on television, which I am wont to do from time to time. I could write, but you can see what occurs when I do that. I could read, but after reading all day at work, I am finding the eyes are getting a little tired. I could sew, but my hands and wrists are sore from using the computer all day. (How old am I?) So here I am. The most boring 30-year old EVER!

I usually end up reading which, don't get me wrong, is very enjoyable, despite the fact that it might render me blind in five years. Lately, I have been reading some wonderful non-fiction that amazes me and makes me feel like a lazy, selfish, unmotivated piece of poo. Perhaps I should be out in the world building houses in New Orleans or El Salvador, establishing schools in Pakistan or Tanzania, putting Afghanis and Iraqis to work rebuilding the cities we destroyed - or creating brilliant, unique poetry, writing wonderfully engaging novels or making the next groundbreaking independent film. But I don't do any of this. I go to work and feel sorry for myself for being bored and not having any windows. I come home and feel sorry for myself for no good reason because I have a roof over my head and food to eat and someone to love me. I have caught the Kate Winslet disease - surburban woman feeling trapped by the confines of normal life. I have not yet taken a lover or decided to move to Paris - but given time, I could get there.

Now before you get too disgusted with me, understand that I am also disgusted with myself. I know I am blessed and in all reality have absolutely nothing about which to complain. I won't even have to work in the windowless basement anymore after Friday. So why the malaise? Why the feeling of biding my time?

I was inspired by the mission presented to me in library school and by our new President. I believed I could go out and make a difference each day just by working hard and contributing to the greater good. Each day I think I do that by preserving bits of our country's important past and by making it available to those who choose to explore that past. For some reason, that's not enough. I don't fall asleep at night feeling that pleasant heaviness of accomplishment and satisfaction. Sure. I have all I need and all I could ask for in the practical sense. So how do I satisfy that other need? Get off my butt and go where? Do what? Perhaps my NPR listening, informing me of all that's wrong with the world, makes me wonder where my efforts would be most useful and how the actions of one person could possibly do anything to make the crumbling, melting world a little better. Perhaps I need to turn off the radio and do something - anything - and know that it's enough. Perhaps.