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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Tina Fey’s Prayer for a Daughter has hit the Internet by storm. I may not be as funny or smart or witty. However, boys deserve something, too. I don’t want to pray for Monster. I just want to give him some life rules to live by. Here are the Ten Commandments for My Son:

1) Thou shalt not be an ass. No, really. If you bully or treat others condescendingly or mock peers or adults, you want to find a cardboard box to live in for the next ten years. Being respectful to others is respecting yourself.

Corollary: Thou shalt learn appropriate use of snark. No one should ever be too nice. People who are too nice are fake. Be true to yourself without being mean to others. Yeah, I know. It seems to break The First Commandment. Life is full of conundrums. Learn to negotiate the gray areas.

2) Thou shalt listen to thyself and only thyself except when listening to thy Mother or Father. See that thing called a curfew? Yeah, that requires listening to thy Mother or Father. See that thing that says, “Drink ALL.THE.BEER and do ALL.THE.DRUGS”? That requires listening to thyself. Make your own decisions. Make them with forethought. Listen to the little voice in your head when it speaks. Mostly, it knows the right answer. Except when it doesn’t. Then listen to that other voice. Remember that the voices are ok unless they’re telling you to commit a homicide. Then seek professional help. Do not pass go. Do not collect anything.

3) Thou shalt not wear a banana hammock. Or anything vaguely resembling such body wear. Just say no. There is no gray area for this one.

4) Thou shalt be whoever thy wishes without recourse unless said recourse involves non-civil rights based law enforcement. Look, your mama’s an attorney and covering all the loopholes with wood putty. Deal with it. Be a drummer. Be a lawyer (ok, don’t be one of those…that likely breaks the First Commandment). Wear pink. Wear blue. Wear my high heels. Wear Converse Chuck Taylors. Be who you want to be when you want to be that person.

Corollary: Do not be yourself at the expense of disallowing someone else to be him/herself. That violates the First Commandment. Always remember the First Commandment.

5) Thou shalt not fear failure. Failure is the mother of all success. You cannot achieve success without understanding your limitations. Learning what makes you unhappy, whether it be academic or work or relationships, will allow you to further understand what brings you joy. Do not wallow in failure and seek it out. However, do not run from its potential.

6) Thou shalt do things thy parents should not now nor ever know about. Do things about which you know we would disapprove. Don’t tell us. Do not break the second half of the Second Commandment. You will not always agree with our ideas or our decisions or our choices. As long as you do not break the Second Commandment, explore new ideas and experiences. Make sure to stay within the boundaries of the law and keep the First Commandment in mind. Be your own person on your own terms. Just remember that while we love you, there are some things that remain in the realm of Too Much Information. If you wouldn’t tell your mother? Don’t.

7) Thou shalt not shave or wax thy chest for fashion. No. Really. I promise you’ll regret it. Yes, hair grows back. However, really. No. Just don’t.

8 ) Thou shalt paint and sing and read and run and skip and jump. Be active. Be creative. The two are not mutually exclusive. Be a baseball player who sings opera. Be a poet who runs a marathon. Think outside of society’s rules for gender or socioeconomic status or educational background.

9) Thou shalt not expect the world to support you financially for your whole life. By “the world”, I mean thy Mother and Father. Learn responsibility and learn the importance of self-sufficiency. Learn that making minimum wage at 16 makes you more likely to want to make more than minimum wage at 26. Learn that you are the sOn and not the sUn. The world does not revolve around you. Learn that being supported does not mean being carried. The advantages that thy Mother and Father try to allow you to experience are so that you can become the person you need to be. They are not provided. They are earned based on your ability to appreciate them and not take them for granted.

10) Thou shall feel loved, be loved, and give love. Freely. To whomever. Without recourse.

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OK, I hate Pearl Jam. I’m a heathen. I have no idea how a kid who grew up in the 90’s and wore nothing but oversized flannel for four years can hate Pearl Jam, but it’s been true since 1993. I have several reasons for this. 1) Eddie Vedder has better hair than I do. Sorry, that’s a major negative right there. In all honesty? I have issues with 1980’s Jon Bon Jovi too, if that helps anyone out there. 2) He mumbles. I hate that I always get the lyrics wrong, then get mocked for it. I like singing along to music. I hate having the words wrong. I hate not being able to figure them out without the use of a search engine. 3) A lot of the music was just a little too guitar driven with what always felt like a little too much groove going on for me. I like harder rock, often with a bit more bass and less guitar. (My love of Dave Matthews is mainly cemented by the electric violinist, Boyd Tinsley. iI used to want to be him.) While I may not like Pearl Jam, I can safely say that I’ve always respected them. I agree that they are a formative band of their time. In the same way that I don’t like U2, Springsteen, and The Beatles, I haven’t ever liked Pearl Jam. In the same way that I’ve always respected the bands for the impact they’ve had on rock music, I’ve always respected Pearl Jam. Hey, just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean I can’t have respect for it.

Tonight, however, I took Mr. A to a Pearl Jam concert because he is a huge fan. I got him the tickets for his birthday. In fact, if you must know, I’m currently a Superfan who tried to join the fan club to get priority tickets but missed the ability to do so by three days, after paying $20 to join and staying up until 1am one night to buy the membership so that Mr. A wouldn’t find out. Only to find out, by reading the fine print about ticket sales, that I was too late by three days. Let’s just say, disappointed doesn’t aptly describe my feelings.

I logged onto Ticketmaster at 9:50am the day the tickets went on sale. In fact, I was F5ing my way to ticket purchase happiness for about ten minutes prior to the official time because I wanted to make sure to get tickets. I totally got confused and, even though I was in the queue, logged out. Then I logged back in about 90 seconds later. I managed to get tickets – in ROW Z of the upper balcony area. On the side. I can safely say that after debacle after debacle, my interest in attending this particular concert had waned amazingly. If I had any excitement for this particular event, the hoops I went through to get the tickets pretty much killed it. With a machete. Slowly. Appendage by appendage.

The concert, however, is possibly like attending a tent revival in which the enthusiasm converts the heathen. Eddie Vedder still has better hair than I do. He still mumbles. As concerts go, this was probably the best one I have seen in recent memory, contrary to my preconceived notions. Let me backtrack briefly. Mr. A and I generally have a theory – for the price of a concert ticket, the people involved have to be a) close to death (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – c’mon, we’re lucky Crosby’s made it this far), b) close enough to death and hating each other enough that they’ll never be together again in my or their lifetimes (Crosby, Stills Nash and Young AND Simon and Garfunkel), or c) someone whose entire songbook lives in our brains (Springsteen, Billy Joel) because their music is the songbook to our lives. Pearl Jam, granted, was a lot cheaper than any of the others listed above. In fact, for what we received, the ticket prices were more than reasonable.

Pearl Jam exceeded all possible expectations, even if they had been high. First of all, more than anything else, what astounded me was the fact that Vedder could take a 15,000 person arena and make it feel as intimate as a local bar. His performance, with the minor exception of the final song wherein he lived up to Rock Star status by standing on various portions of the stage and basically pulling one of those classic rock concert moments of athletic prowess, was the same one you could imagine him giving to a small bar in Seattle. During instrumental solos, Vedder walked around the stage, lighting up a cigarette and drinking a beer. He stepped out of the spotlight and hid, giving his bandmates the stage and the spotlight. At those moments, my respect for him soared. At the end of the concert, he stood to one side, went to the fans in the front row and handed them his beer to pass around, similar to a communal wine in a church. He is, indeed, a priest or prophet of rock and roll. (My own personal jury remains out as to whether the hygiene issues inherent in this activity outweigh the coolness factor…there’s something kind of gross about saying, “OHMIGOD! I just drank Eddie Vedder’s backwash! I can now die happy!”)

The music, however, is what escalated this concert to something more than just another show. The studio recordings tend to have a more “groove” feel, to me. Alive, while definitely a rock song, has more of a jam band feel in a lot of ways in the album recording. Live, the song is transformed with a harder edge. My favorite song of the evening, Satan’s Kitchen, was the highlight for me. The song, reminiscent of The Ramones, was short, fast, and hard. It reeked of punk history and hardcore rock sound. The old school favorites seemed to have new life to them. For me, this was a musical awakening. I had always agreed that Pearl Jam was a great band, but I had never actually liked them. For the first time, I felt myself connecting to the music in a whole new way.

Finally, the Totally Fucking Cool award was won at the moment when Vedder took his guitar, faced it towards the spotlight, and focused the reflected light on the crowd. The effect was similar to taking a watch and reflecting the sunlight off of it. The effect itself was cool enough. To be honest, watching him hold the guitar aloft as though it was a sword of truth, would have been enough. Taking it to the next level, using the spotlight meant for him to enlighten the crowd made it more amazing. The crowd is what makes the band able to disseminate their message. Using the guitar to shine the light of musical truth on the crowd held a meaning that hopefully few missed. The music made the evening. The symbolism enhanced it. The fact that it was a crazy, fucking, cool effect, better than the blow up snake at the 1998 Aerosmith concert, made it win the award. It wasn’t a big moment in the concert. However, it was one that I will never forget.

Live, Pearl Jam is amazing. They play like a local band, even in an arena. Their music moves the crowd. They are prophets at the altar of music. They are not gods. They are prophets. They give their followers the message. They do not create the truth, but they share it. One of the songs Vedder performed was written with Neil Young. Vedder might be the Neil Young of my generation. He might not. However, he has the same love of music that seems to be missing from the majority of music today. The music industry has become just that – an industrial complex in line with that against which it used to rebel. Pearl Jam, tonight, proved to me what I knew all along – that they are outside the industrial complex. They are to the 1990’s and 2010’s what CSNY and S&G were to the 1960’s. Today’s music, for the most part, is about the money, not the message. Pearl Jam uses the message to make the money. They not only proved to me that they are about the message, but that in person, their music is something that can convert the grunge loving heathen to their cause. Sometimes, it just takes a little bit of purity to create a convert. Sometimes, it just takes a heathen willing to open her mind. Sometimes, converting the heathen just needs a little more bass, a little less bling, and a lot more totally fucking cool guitar tricks. What can I say?

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Today, I had the fabulous opportunity to attend a free exhibit of Chuck Close art at the University of Hartford. The first time I saw Close’s work was in the NY MoMA. I had stumbled upon it during a college trip to the city. Rarely do I find myself so intrigued by an artist that I can remember the works years later. I can remember staring at the gigantic canvases, being impressed by the detail necessary for the grid work and reproduction by hand of the photographs. I loved that each painting was the exact same picture and yet the enlargement contained something greater. Each part was equal to the whole, yet the whole was nothing without each part. I stared, fascinated that someone would think to take a photograph and go to such lengths to recreate it by hand, with paint, when there were so many easier ways to do it.

That was my youth. My youth never really contemplated the link between the artist’s vision and the artist’s handiwork. Today, I sat back and thought more deeply. The exhibit interested me in several ways. First, it consisted of several portraits in different medium. First, daguerreotype Second, digital images. Third, tapestry. Fourth, photgravures. According to the handout available at the exhibit, Close often shows the same images in different medium to help show how the manner through which the image is recreated can change the viewing experience. According to the handout,  “People think that if you have a photographic image, there is pretty much only one thing you can do with it, that because of its iconography, it is fixed,” he has remarked. “But changing the medium, the method of mark-making, and the scale transforms the experience of that image into something new.” I love the idea of taking one image and recreating it to make it into something else entirely. In fact, taking a detailed look at the images did bring this about.

Looking at the daguerreotypes, I found myself stepping back in history. It was like looking at Civil War images, only they were taken in 2000 and later. I enjoyed imagining what these people would have been like 200 years ago. I loved the way that the faces within a certain area were clear, but due to the medium, the rest of the images were blurred. Even more, I loved seeing a medium that is usually weathered with age and disintegrating as it would have been when first taken. The digital prints had a much more modern quality, obviously. In fact, when reading the handout about the use of an Epson printer, I started to wonder whether the ability to reprint the same image somehow devalued it. The photogravures were my personal favorite. They were beautifully done. The light, bouncing off the hair of woman in the picture grabbed my attention in its clarity and its  contrast to other, darker areas of the image.

The part that I found disappointing in some ways were the tapestries. Looking at the tapestries, the layer upon layer of colored threads that made up nothing but black, white, and shades of gray from a distance amazed me. However, as someone who knows many talented fiber artists, I found this segment of the show to be disappointing. Essentially, according to the handout at the exhibit, “A daguerreotype serves as the basis of an 8-by-6- foot portrait tapestry. A digital scan of the original is rendered into a computer program for the warp and weft threads, which the loom then processes into a tapestry.” All of this is done through a partnership with a manufacturer of image based tapestries. To be honest, they reminded me a great deal of the blankets people get made out of pictures. I found myself beginning to question at what point the artist’s ideas are the art and the artist’s physical interaction is detached from it, or not necessary.

The fiber aspect of the tapestries is, from my own background, obviously what bothered me. I know people who weave. No, they may not be able to include 17,800 colored warps to achieve the desired artistic effect. The images remain amazing. The tiny blips of color that you see up close blend into the varying shades of gray and black and white. The artistic effect is far more similar to his older work. Yet, to me, the amazing quality of a person creating this enlarged image through the multiplicity of smaller images is lost. I never question photographers who do not do their own dark room printing, although I find those who manipulate the images to be far more interesting. I do not question digital photography, although I’ll admit to a preference for film and negatives. However, for some reason, this added distance of using a corporation to create the art feels as though the artist is so far removed from the final project that the artistic quality is lost.

I’m not an artist. I have never seen myself as one. In Close’s case, considering his stroke in the 80’s, I understand the need to take on other avenues for creativity. However, this generally leads me to wonder, at what point is the artist’s ideology so disconnected from the physicality of the art itself that anyone could create what the artist suggests? I feel that paying someone, even with oversight, makes you less an artist and more a director. To be an artist, one needs to have an artistic vision. However, if the artist cannot physically complete the art herself and can only oversee it’s completion, I feel there is a point at which the vision is different from the final product. For me, this line has greatly become blurred. I admit. I am not sure at what point the disconnect between artist and product moves beyond the sphere of art and becomes directorial vision as opposed to artistic creation. For me, the greatest work of the artist has been that in which he places himself within the portrait, creating something new. Artists should not remain stagnant and should move forward with their work. They should explore, expand, and experiment. However, to me, for the artist to be fully engaged in his work, he cannot simply ship the work out to others and call his oversight his art. In these works, while he has done what he physically can do to continue his art, I simply query whether it is a continued attempt to create in a state where frustration would otherwise take over or whether this is truly the artist creating his own works. I query for myself, what the meaning of art becomes in a digitized, flat world. Perhaps, the vision of artist and artwork need to change to accommodate these new landscapes. Perhaps, I am an ol’ skool loner. However, I can have an ideology, perhaps even as expressed here, but my lack of physical ability keeps me from being an artist. In the end, I think that what this exhibit has proven to me is that you can be an artist who creates or you can be a philosopher of art with an ideology or you can be both. However, perhaps, the lesson for me is that the philosopher is not necessarily the artist. Perhaps.

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One of the greatest joys of having a child is being able to relive those early days of youth when the world is magical. In fact, it makes the world a magical place all over again. Dandelions are beautiful flowers, not annoying weeds. Dirt is a plaything, not something to rid from a house. However, the true joy of this time is being able to hand down childhood favorites in the hopes of inspiring a future of the same traditions.

This weekend was a weekend of childhood firsts. These firsts were not the general milestones of youth – walking or talking. They were initiations into a remembered childhood filled with happy moments. Happy moments are the ones that you can remember loving and still, thirty years later, see in Technicolor when you close your eyes. They are the places that in your memory are frozen in time. You want these places to be just as they were when you were a child, when the world was simpler. Sometimes, you’re just lucky enough to find that there are places and memories that will always remain just as they were, no matter the year’s number of the age you are.

As a child, one of the fondest memories I have is of going to the Bushnell Park Carousel. In my mind, when I climbed up on those horses, I was no longer a small child. I was a princess or a knight. I rode the fastest steed in the room. We would race, galloping up and down, trying to beat out all the other horses. My horse would always be the best. He would always be the fastest, sleekest, most beautiful horse to ride. This weekend, I initiated The Kid into the wonders of the carousel. The music is as I remember. The loud, tinny organ is reminiscent of a time when high technology was considered mechanized air through pipes. Stepping into the cavernous wooden building, history consumes you. I became not just an individual living in a techno-crazed 2010, but I was also transported back in time and can imagine what it must have been like to be forced to wear an ankle length skirt, ride a real horse side-saddle, and not be able to vote. In that building, the world is transported back to a time when children were forced to use their imaginations for personal entertainment. My mind’s eye still sees myself as a child riding a magical steed in a fairy-tale land when I walk in there. Watching my son ride the same horses and hear the same music from my childhood, I realized that the past, present, and future are not so different. Children remain the same from era to era. Life continues with the same beauty and horror from era to era. The world can, at times, remain static, even in an ever-changing era. The smiles of children that ride those horses are the same today as they were when a carousel was considered the height of technological amusement.

Similarly, some places remain exactly as they were and have been for the past twenty or so years. Today, in a search for a table for The Kid’s Thomas the Tank Engine train set, we went to a hobby shop my parents used to take me to when I was small. Once again, this building holds memories. As a child, one of my favorite toys was the doll house my father built for me. I would make up stories about the people who lived in the house. Each doll had a name. The height of excitement would be to go to the doll house store for furniture or more dolls. I would carefully choose furniture. I would carefully choose lamps, side tables, small knickknacks for the mantle. There were tea sets and plates. I would craft elaborate lives for the little people who lived in the house. Today, rounding the corner to the hobby shop, I felt the same excitement that I did as a child. I recognized not only the building, a big, old, brick edifice, but also the smell. There is a musty smell to the old building. The store has model planes, toys, and puzzles on the first floor. The second floor is given over mostly to miniatures – trains and doll houses – for both the serious and childlike collector. Walking up the stairs to the miniature section, I felt the same sense of excitement and wonder that I did as a child. I walked up the stairs alone, leaving Mr. A and The Kid to their toy exploration on the first floor. I walked in and faced a doll house almost exactly like mine as a child. I looked at the rows of doll house accessories and trains and was transported back to my own childhood. I longed, in that brief millimoment, to be transported physically back to those old days when being able to choose a new chair or doll was the height of special treasured moment. Then Mr. A and The Kid arrived. The Kid immediately beelined for the Thomas trains. He played. He was experiencing that same joy that I had. In that moment, I was transported back to my own childhood. I was reliving the days of simplicity when imagination was the key to a fun afternoon. I was suddenly no longer living in 2010, but in 1985. I was passing forward not just a memory but also a joy of wonderment.

All of this was culminated by dinner at Shady Glen.In these areas, Shady Glen is a legend. They have cheeseburgers that are to die for. Literally, I could see someone waiting for one to come while on her deathbed. The cheese still has the same crispy edges of my childhood. The ice cream is made there. The wait staff still dresses as though it were 1950. In the last 20 years, the place has retained the same diner tables and counters. The food is still served rapidly. The fried cheese is still crispy and tastes of just a hint of burnt, as it should. Bringing The Kid there was a yet another step into the past. Watching him reach for my milkshake, I briefly considered not sharing. After all, it’s sugar, right? That wasn’t really the reason though. The reason was that the milkshake was incredibly tasty. He pointed to my glass. I told him to sign “please” to try some. He did. He tasted. He briefly thought about the flavor (cookies and cream if you really must know). He decided, within a few brief milliseconds, that he liked it.

Watching The Kid taste his first milkshake, I realized, once again, that there are life experiences that transcend time and age. His first taste, the face he made, the moment in which he banged his chest signing “please” with an almost desperate quality. Please mama, please please more milkshake. Children through the ages have begged their parents for treats for as long as treats have been around. Once again, the moments, the setting, and the personal history coalesced into something greater. We were but on small example of a greater human experience

Living through your favorite childhood moments through your own child brings on a unique sense of wonder. It’s not like trying to live in the past. It’s trying to bring the past into the present so that it can continue into the future. It’s not about trying to relive your own life. It’s not about trying to make your child into yourself. It’s about trying to share life experiences in the hope that, like in your own life, those moments and memories will linger creating a happy collage of life. It’s not about revisiting the past but about passing joy forward, one person at a time.

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In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed something. People think I’m stupid. No, really. You laugh at that (or, I’m hoping you do), but it’s true. My students seem to think that I’m some kind of first class, grade A idiot. A lot of other people that I’ve come across seem to feel the same way. Obviously, this means I need to evaluate my life choices.

Thinking about things, I realized something. I am not a pretentious person. I live my life by a few various codes. First and foremost is that what you see is what you get. I am not someone who pretends to be something that I am not. I have ink, but I wouldn’t go out and say that I’m a bar fighter bad ass. I like classical music, but I wouldn’t say that I’m some kind of intellectual snob. I enjoy reading, but I like to balance “smart” books with good ol’ fashioned chick lit. I like to think that I’m eccentric and not weird, but let’s be honest – eccentric implies a savings account that I do not possess.

I am a beer and nachos kind of gal. I like to cook home style, stick to your gut food. I would choose Paula Dean over Julia Child any day. Then again, Paula Dean takes too much time to make. However, man, her food speaks to me. Paula Dean’s cooking is something that says family, home, hearth, simplicity, even if it takes hours to make some of it. There’s something satisfying, to me, about the idea of that good old simple food that makes people think not of a foreign country but of the people nearest and dearest to me.  To me, food is about connection. Connecting to people and nourishing them. While plating food and how it looks is something that causes people to want to eat it, the style of food that best represents me is not a complex concoction of ingredients. It is something as basic as jalapeno cheeseburger meatloaf with jalapeno blue cheese macaroni and cheese. This is not something complex. This is a homestyle meal that fulfills in a tasty way. It is not difficult. It does not take a lot of time. It is tasty. This, to me, is the goal of food. Pretension in food, to me, is when people think less of the joy of eating and more about the kudos of the cooking process.

I’m a person who loves my home. My home looks, currently, like Toys R Us vomited on the floor and then a tornado blew threw and spewed this toy vomit everywhere. My furniture does not match. My decorations are not intended to decorate but to commemorate. My home is not a house. It is not a place you go to in order to oooh and ahhhh over the loveliness that is a put together existence. It is not something I show to many people. In fact, if I have invited someone to my home, that person should feel some kind of honor since I do it rarely. My home is my private place that reflects my family and I. We are people who, while not without the monetary spendiness that comes along with our current yuppie status. We like the good things. However, we like to enjoy them in a way that doesn’t shout, “Yo! We’ve got cash to show off our taste!” We like to enjoy our lives in ways that are quieter, simpler, and more homey. Our home is not a showplace; it is a cozy retreat from the rest of the world.My home is one in which we live. Pretension, to me, would be creating a house in which people could visit, admire, and then living only in one or two select rooms.

In my conversations, I try to use the most appropriate word for the situation. However, I also try not to use complicated language only for the sake of sounding intelligent. A few years ago, a student wrote on my review that I was condescending because I used big words. I try to remind students that my use of vocabulary is intended to explain my thoughts as best possible, not to intimidate them. Language, to me, is about communication. To communicate effectively, the other participants in the conversation need to be able to understand the words being used. In many academic settings, people use academic language in an attempt to sound smarter, to be more intellectual, to intimidate their listeners. I am not a showy person. I am me. I use the words that best describe things in a way that my listeners can understand. Last semester, I had a group of students who told me that I needed to use bigger words. If I used bigger words, to them, I would be smarter. The hilarious part of the whole situation is that when I did use large words, they did not understand them. Pretension, in this situation, to me would have been using language that made me look smart while making others feel less intelligent.

This lack of pretension is what makes me seem stupid to people, I think. I think the fact that I do not exploit my actual intelligence makes people underestimate me. However, to me, that is pretending to be something that I am not. I am not someone who tries to make others feel bad. Sure, I do it on occasion without meaning to do so. I’m on occasion aware of this or, at least retrospectively made aware of this. I am not someone who wants people to be in awe of me. I want people to be pleased by what I do. I want family and friends to be proud of my accomplishments – be they career, family, food. I want people to know me. I want people to see me for who I am, when I let them, at least. I want people to know that yes, I am simple. Simple in my likes. Simple in my tastes. Simple in the things I enjoy. I am proud of the person I have become. I am not someone who wants others to live in awe of me. I know I am not that interesting. I like the fact that I live a simple life. I like the fact that the greatest joys in my life are ones steeped in simplicity – be it knitting, spinning, or child-rearing. Enjoying these simple pleasures do not mean that I am a simple-minded person. They mean that I am comfortable in who I have become as a woman. Pretension does not equate to intelligence. In the same way, simplicity does not equate to stupidity.

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Courage of Self

For my birthday, The Kid got me a necklace, with a little help from his daddy. The necklace, by Me and Ro is simple – a small square charm with the Chinese symbol for “Courage” on the front and the word “courage” written on the back.

Mr. A watched me open it, and then said, “That’s right, Kid. Mommy has the courage to be herself.”

I cried unabashedly. There is no greater love than someone who loves you for who you are, despite what others may think. Courage to be oneself is a rare characteristic. It is far from a gift. It is a reward.  Time and experience create situations in which people can choose to be themselves. The courage is one that, I believe, takes fortitude of character to maintain, but that anyone can attempt in small doses throughout a day or lifetime.

Courage of self does not need to come as a moment of epiphany. It does not need to come as a culminating moment at the end of a great trial. It needs to come at a moment when a person realizes that she/he is someone who deserves to be respected, albeit not necessarily liked, simply for her/his beliefs. A person who has the courage to be herself/himself is a rare human being. In all honesty, I may not truly be this person. However, this is what I strive to be.

I have always been a people pleaser. I like making people happy. I like it when people like me. However, given that in preschool my teacher told my mother that I had a “strong sense of justice” (aka I was a snitch who liked people to do the right thing), I have apparently never been what one would consider “popular.” As a kid, I was unpopular. Let’s be honest, when you sit at the nerd table and they mostly ignore you? Well, you end up not having a whole lot of other good friends.

This had gone from the time I was in preschool. There was a girl. Let’s call her Miss Perfect. Miss Perfect and I had never really gotten along. I tried to befriend her. I tried to be someone she would like. I worked hard at it, for a long time. Come high school, things got worse. A general sense of academic and social competition seemed to be fostered. No matter how hard I tried, I gave in to it. This only fueled our general dislike of one another. By the time we reached our senior year, we both seemed to adjust to the mutual sense of perturbment. I took my own route my senior year. I applied early decision to college, got accepted, and took some easier courses so I could enjoy myself. I did not take AP everything. I took some classes in which I was interested, not that would give me an edge in higher education. Another friend, we’ll call her The Betrayer, had been ostracized because of a boyfriend. All of this sets up the great moment in which I realized that standing up for myself and having the courage of conviction would make me the person I am today.

Given The Betrayer’s issues, she wanted to have a sit down with Miss Perfect and some others. As we settle in for the Great Intervention, a ripple of tension palpably rumbled through the room. Sitting around the room, Miss Perfect started out and decided to be nice to The Betrayer. I don’t remember the whole scenario in all of its clarity. Everything seemed to whirl out of control. In the end, I vaguely recall that The Betrayer said something blaming me or denying our friendship. At this point, I realized, no matter how hard you try, sometimes being yourself is more important than anything else. This was the point at which I said the statement that has defined me for the majority of my life:

“You all can go to hell. I am out of here in three months and I’ll make new friends who actually like me. I don’t give a fuck what you think.”

I walked out of that room with my head held high. I cried. I won’t lie. I got in the car to go to my violin lesson that day, and my mother asked me if I really wanted to say that, wasn’t I sorry, what was I going to do about prom and end of the year activities. I told her, I didn’t care. For the first time in twelve years, I felt free.

Several times in my life, I have had these moments. These moments where holding on to who I am is more important than how others perceive me. Each of these moments feels equally freeing.

Sure, I worry about what people think of me. I don’t just walk around with an “I don’t care” attitude. I care a great deal. As I said, I’m a people pleaser. I want people to like me. I want people to want to be around me. However, that’s the thing. I want them to want to be around me, not some version of me that they make up for themselves.

This is the key. People with the courage to be themselves do care what other people think. They do want to be liked. However, they want to be liked for the person that they are. They do not want people to attach to some imagined version of who they are. That imagined version is the lie to the self.

Courage of self means holding tight to convictions. It means being willing to be unpopular at the risk of staying yourself in the face of adversity. It means being willing to have the courage to say, “Yes World, I am me. This is my self. I hope you like me, but if you don’t, I can live with that.”

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What is consciousness? What is self? Are people hardware to be programmed? Can technology replace humanness?

Joss Whedon’s latest creation, Dollhouse, aired its final episode last Friday. Tears were shed. At least, I shed me some tears. Dollhouse, in short, is about a corporation that wipes people’s memories, making them into “dolls” and then gives them new identities for each assignment that they have to go on.  Each doll has a history – a past that s/he would like to erase for five years. At the end of the five year contract, each doll’s personality is returned and the doll is handsomely remunerated.

However, the true heart of this show were the greater questions above. What aspects of personhood remain with us, regardless of our memories, thoughts, or knowledge? Whedon answers this question beautifully by showing how two dolls connect, or as it is called in the show, “couple”. Coupling is considered, within the Dollhouse, to be an error in hardware. However, it leads to the idea that there are human qualities that cannot be erased.

At the very bottom of all of this, the viewer begins to question what it means to be human. For example, we consider ourselves to be based on our pasts, our memories, the experiences that create “who we are.” What were to happen if all of that were erased? Clearly, when your self is on what looks more or less like an 8-track, you exist somewhere. Self, allegedly, can exist beyond the body. Self becomes a pattern of thoughts and behaviors. Self does not require that body and mind be together in order to exist. In fact, self appears to be entirely unlinked from the physical in many ways.

Technology, not even the large corporation Rossum who funds and develops it, is the Big Bad of this series. Technology can take away our human qualities. It can remove them. We can be molded into mindless, emotionless nothings through technology. We can have our selves erased, stored, and returned on a whim. This theme actually has greater reach in today’s world than even a sense of self does.

The expansion of the internet seems a far distance from having your mind’s hard drive wiped clean. However, is it a small step in the direction of having lived experience be erased. Although social networking sites help to facilitate friendships and keep connections intact, they can also start to create shallow social interactions that appear real. For example, if someone posts a status, a “friend” may assume that the status is somehow at the essence of the poster. If status updates have a general theme, it is because the poster has  an image s/he wants to create. That does not mean that the “friends” know that person. As technology becomes a greater location of social gathering, it also changes how people see themselves. It changes the lived experience for many. In fact, for those who use it, it changes the lived experience for all.

danah boyd discusses how teens utilize social networking sites as a way to “meet up”, in the same way that many pre-internet youth used malls. Sure, kids still go to the mall to hang out. However, most often during the week they are connecting via social networking sites. They are changing the way that they interact. Social interactions are becoming, with this new medium, progressively more digitized. By removing the old-fashioned lived experience, young people are changing the way that they create their sense of self.

This changing sense of self arising out of the use of technology means that we need to re-evaluate what we think our “essence” is. Today, we need to determine how to create a sense of self in a changing world. Allowing our lives to be based on bits and pieces of data dehumanizes us. We need to continue to make those connections that keep us from being nothing more than dolls. We need to couple – to make human connections in a world where technology increasingly reigns. We need to remain people and not dolls.

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