30 August 2011

the gamble

Although it seems like much longer, I arrived in Stockholm about three days ago. With delay after delay, I thought that this arduous journey could not get any worse, until all of my frustration culminated in the loss of all my luggage. Needless to say, it sucked balls. What’s important now is that I’m here and happy.

Now that the obligatory introduction to a new locale has been completed, I can move on to the point of this post.

I am not the gambling type. Considering my track record, I think it would probably be better to bet against me. But taking gambling advice from me would be a bad idea.

Living in Sweden requires me to take huge risks. Before you groan about a stereotypical inspirational blather about being open-minded and proactive to make friends and learn about the culture, know this. I am talking about something with way higher stakes: food.

I went grocery shopping for the first time yesterday, and was immediately overwhelmed by how little Swedish I knew. Sure, the pictures on the labels were semi-helpful, but at the end of the day I just wanted everything to be simple. Is it so terrible to want to buy a bottle of still water with the confidence that it won’t be sparkling? Is it so wrong to want to take a sip of juice with the confidence that it is, in fact, juice? Am I so unreasonable to want to know what granola package contains straight up granola?

I really hope that these are strawberry/raspberry yogurt and crackers. We’ll see.

But that isn’t even the biggest fear I have with food.

Once, I went to a bakery and ordered a chocolate croissant, mouth watering at the thought of its potential for deliciousness. However, the universe had something different in mind. When I took my first bite, I was bombarded with ham (which I detest) and cheese (which is actually okay). Maybe the ham and cheese croissant wasn’t terrible, but since my mindset was fixed on the notion of chocolate, the incongruity between my expectations and reality was jarring.

In other words, this.

Back to Stockholm.

I was ready to buy milk, but remembered someone mentioning that sour cream is often in a nearly identical package to that of milk. The labels even resemble each other.

Sure I can navigate the Tunnelbana (Stockholm subway system) and find my way around Gamla Stan (Old Town Stockholm) without any trouble. But read and make a decision? Preposterous.

Can you imagine pouring sour cream over some cereal? Unfortunately, I can, and far too vividly. I left the store without milk today. If I muster up the courage, there may be some in my future. But yesterday? I made a safe bet.

24 August 2011

the mary-kate philosophy


Recently, I conducted another little social experiment, this time involving a very dear friend of mine. This lovely girl, who shall be henceforth referred to as Subject H, is notoriously bad at textual communication. To make plans with her required me to actively seek out her current situation, then call her to make sure she was awake during our specified meeting time. No spontaneity with this one.

It started innocently enough. I wanted to talk to my friend. But as I became frustrated with my uninterrupted string of displayed text messages on my phone, the researcher in me emerged with a diabolical plan.

Since we have been separated since the end of last semester, I decided that I would test what exactly I would have to text to her to illicit a response or, god willing, a conversation.

I began with simple texts, nothing too serious, that said something along the lines of “hello how are you I miss you,” except less desperate and more friendly. Subject H responded rather infrequently, and when she did, her texts were often mono or disyllabic. None of these warranted the response for which I had hoped (a conversation with a friend).

I then took the next logical step and upped the ante. I texted increasingly outlandish things to receive some sort of validation. I referenced inside jokes, made comments with which I was sure Subject H would agree with my opinion, and emphasized how much I value her as a friend.

What finally caught her attention was this text, verbatim: “there’s a smudged spider carcass on the ceiling of my bathroom. i left it there as a warning to the others.”

This carefully crafted narrative was perfect in ways that I only realized after the fact. Yes, it was crazy. But it was also true. This text message contained enough normalcy to be plausible, but it was also riddled with a wtf factor that was as undeniable as it was alluring.

Which brings me to the title of this post.

If you know me, then it’s possible you are aware of my unhealthy obsession with Mary-Kate Olsen. Yes, I’ve seen her various film and television projects, I’ve lusted after her clothing lines, and follow a few fashion blogs devoted to her sartorial choices.

After conducting this little experiment, it occurred to me that that same philosophy applies to other things in life as well. For me, the most apparent example lies in my fascination with MK.

Sure, her normalcy isn’t quite as obvious. Her upbringing certainly doesn’t help my hypothesis. But she does normal people things: she drinks Starbucks, she goes to the airport, she does yoga. Likewise, her clothes are fundamentally normal: pants, shirts, heels. But she also has that wtf factor that makes me ever so curious. Why is her coffee so comically large? Why are there so many superfluous layers on such a small frame? Why would she decide to wear six-inch heels on a flight?

The reason why MK stands out in my mind is that she’s not completely normal, but also not completely batshit. She straddles the line, and sometimes errs on the latter side, but she isn’t on either extreme. She doesn't seem to be dressing like a crazy person so that other people with notice how alternative she is. She looks to me like she genuinely enjoys herself, which makes her all the more compelling. I look forward to what she comes up with next, with the hope that she will remain creative to satisfy herself and not just to be crazy for crazy's sake.

It is for this reason that my spider text sparked a conversation. It wasn’t a mundane catch-up, but it also wasn’t a plot to murder someone or something else equally insane. It was a true story with a hint of lunacy that was interesting enough to start a dialogue, but not so extreme that it was inaccessible as a starting point for discourse.

It has been nine days since you last texted me. Your move, Subject H. Unless you want me to go all MK on you. I don't mind; I actually kind of like it.

All photos courtesy of Olsens Anonymous (not so anonymous anymore).

18 August 2011

social experiment: pacing and spacing (or walking, for normal people)

Before you go on about how walking doesn’t seem to be that difficult, do me a favor. Next time you’re walking around, pay attention. I mean really pay attention. Notice the order in which the parts of your feet make contact with the ground. Listen to determine whether or not your breathing and footsteps are in sync. Feel the role your arms play in propelling you forward. If you can maintain a normal stride while being painfully self-aware, I commend you. Apparently, I cannot.

For most people, walking is a process that requires very little thought. But upon further inspection, there are certain rules one obeys, and, more often than not, does not even consider their existence.

I’ll begin with the most basic rule: pace is important. I noticed that I tend to walk with a purpose, regardless of whether I actually have one. As a result, I keep a brisk pace. I suppose my upbringing plays a large role in my pre-set rhythm; my mother walks fairly quickly, so if I couldn’t keep up I would be left behind. But walking around in a city has undoubtedly contributed as well. There isn’t a predetermined pace for the sidewalk per se, but it is very easy to tell when someone is going above or below the speed limit.

Likewise, there is an unspoken decorum about spacing. Of course, I think my personal space bubble may be larger than the average person, but most people will agree that there is a certain threshold when it comes to spacing on a sidewalk, both laterally and longitudinally (?). Spellcheck tells me that that is a word, so I am going to continue. Spellcheck is apparently not a word.

Anyway, there is a safe distance that must remain between strangers, and therefore people must adjust accordingly. There are some instances that cause confusion for yours truly, like revolving doors (is it okay to share a segment with someone if you know the person? I mean, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a stranger, but I also don’t like being cramped in there. Also, I am uneasy about the idea of having my heels run over by the partition or being knocked over in general. I usually just wait the awkward amount of time for the next available space and go at it alone.), but in general people act without giving it a second thought.

Despite my fairly rigid ideas about what constitutes “correct” walking etiquette, I decided to play around with other people’s concepts of propriety. Also, I was hopped up on caffeine with no productive outlet. Naturally, I resorted to testing the patience of those around me.

I began by messing with pacing. I tore down Powell, making sure not to disrupt anyone else as I wove expertly between groups of milling tourists. I didn’t really elicit any response, but I was thrown the occasional dirty look as I bypassed some of the larger groups, who were not unlike grazing cattle. Not that they were fat or anything.

I then tried the other extreme: I moved at a glacial pace, espresso in hand, with a complacent if not slightly spacey expression on my face. I could feel people losing their patience around me, but since I was alone, it was fairly easy for people to walk around me, quickening their pace noticeably, as if to admonish me and set an example for how I should behave. I had to wonder whether this act of passive-aggression was intentional. I had to stop, however, because I was becoming annoyed with myself. It is surprisingly difficult to defy what one was hard-wired to do.

After recording my findings, I moved onto spacing. This portion was much more difficult than the pacing portion because of the amount of external factors over which I had no control. The lateral portion proved the most challenging by far. It was almost impossible to walk alongside someone without the other person changing pace almost immediately. Ignoring my overwhelming feelings of rejection, I put the situation in perspective and realized that I, too, would be creeped out if a random person (no matter how cute) started to walk alongside me. I would quicken my pace, which is what most people did. I guess it’s a subtler means of escape than exaggerating the walking motion to slow down. It would have been funny, though.

I had more success with the longitudinal test. I found the threshold at which people started to notice there was someone behind them with relative ease, as indicated by the person in front looking back, but after crossing that line, the results varied significantly. More sensitive folks altered their pace upon realization that I was trailing them. Others looked back, and, realizing that I posed no physical threat, continued their consistent speed until I got too close, then changed. One woman didn’t even look back, and I was three steps behind her for about five blocks until she turned in the opposite direction of where I was headed. Either her peripheral awareness was lacking, or she didn’t care that I was following her rather obviously.

So what have I learned today? People, myself included, like their personal space, and make adjustments, either consciously or unconsciously, to maintain that space. There are unspoken rules that only come to people’s attention when they have been violated. Creeping on strangers can be fun when executed considerately. In other words, I have learned nothing.

10 August 2011

spoiler alert

Warning: This blog post contains spoilers for the Sailor Moon series. Not that any of you guys probably care. But just in case...

While I was bedridden, I was sure to make use of my time productively. I mean, I literally had to be horizontal, so I took advantage of my disability. I watched all two hundred episodes of Sailor Moon, an activity that I had not done since I was in elementary school. Despite my usually impeccable memory, parts of the storyline were fuzzy. After all, Sailor Moon was such a complex, nuanced series. I was shocked at just how useless Tuxedo Mask was, how mean Sailor Mars was, and just how much Serena's character developed.

But as I was watching on YouTube, I noticed that some of the episode numberings were off, leading to confusion and frustration on my part. Naturally, I consulted the authority on all things Internet-related: Wikipedia.

People like me should avoid Wikipedia. Not only are there endless ways to become immersed in the content until I can't remember my original purpose for visiting the site, but there are also spoilers. Lots of them.

Yes, I did manage to figure out why there were discrepancies in the numbering (it was a matter of what was released here versus Japan, as well as what was dubbed versus subtitled). But because I am composed of equal parts curiosity and stubbornness, I couldn't help but read the spoilers about the general plot. Even though I didn't want to, I learned about the whole Queen Serenity plotline (it was super obvious how that one was going to turn out).

I had unwittingly learned the synopsis of the entire series. Luckily, I had the self control to ignore the descriptions of each individual episode.

At least, I did on Wikipedia.

But as I was watching on YouTube, I developed the nasty habit of reading the comments as I waited for the video to load. There was one episode I regret doing so in particular. Because I hate myself and enjoy ruining things, I read the comments as usual, only to read one that said something along the lines of "Rini is Serena's daughter from the future?!?!?!?!?!"

If only you were present to hear the colorful language that erupted forth from my outraged mouth.

I had completely forgotten that detail. I was angry at a complete stranger for ruining a surprise that I had forgotten. But I was even angrier with myself for being weak. Also, for not learning my lesson. I spoiled Serenity for myself (Spolier alert: Wash dies). I spoiled the first season of True Blood for myself (Spoiler alert: Rene is the murderer). I even spoiled Dexter for myself (Spoiler alert: Dexter and Rita have a baby. Although, technically it was Netflix's fault because they showed the cover of the dvds and the third season had Dexter with a baby. Also, Rita dies). I cannot tell you how many books I have ruined for myself when flipping to the last page to find out how I can evenly divide the pages among a certain amount of time.

It probably doesn't help that Spoiler alert is usually written in bold, thus drawing the eye toward the words.

07 August 2011

a benevolent dictator?

Perhaps I am alone in this, but I have often wondered what would happen if I were given complete, omnipotent control in a world without restraints. Luckily, for like-minded people of my generation, there is an outlet through which we can see just what kind of ruler we may be. I am talking, of course, about the Sims franchise.

I have been an avid player since the inception of the game; my first exposure to this experiment occurred at the tender age of ten. I didn’t realize it at the time, but by playing, I was beginning to answer the age-old conundrum: does great responsibility necessarily come with great power?

She looks pleasant.

At first, I was purely pragmatic. The choices I made affected the lives of these people in concrete ways, and so I did everything in my power to make it as easy for me as possible. Did I want them to die of starvation? If not, I should probably make them build their Cooking skills. Similarly, it made sense that they should pursue careers in which the skills necessary were skills that the Sims would need to survive anyways. Hence, during the first phase of my gameplaying years, my Sims were all chefs.

But that quickly became boring. And, as you probably know, a bored me is a dangerous me.

It should also be noted that my game experienced a glitch around this time, permanently disabling the save function. In other words, there were literally no lasting repercussions to the actions I decided to take. There were no consequences and no responsibilities.

Sure, I would do my best to make my Sims the best they could possibly be. But, after a couple of hours of succeeding without any challenge, my Sims would ultimately find themselves in a tiny carpeted room with no windows or doors being forced to play with fireworks for hours on end. Or, if I decided to draw the inevitable deaths out further, I would simply remove the ladders from the pool (before the Sims creators upgraded the game so it wouldn’t matter) and watch as they circled the metaphorical drain. Also, I considered it an achievement to have a social worker take away the children or for the Tragic Clown to attempt to ameliorate the situation. The levels of cruelty I exhibited were unprecedented, and luckily, have yet to reappear.

Once I upgraded my game, however, my sense of responsibility returned. Instead of committing horrifying acts of sadism, I devoted my energy to making my Sims extraordinary. They strove to master every skill, befriend every citizen, and reach the top of their careers as the indisputable best. Not only were they capable of taking care of themselves, but they were cultured and interesting to other Sims. Some even became Celebrities. These SuperSims were the fruit of all my efforts and wasted hours. They were no longer my playthings. They were individuals, and they deserved the best.

I have to wonder, now that I have a bit of distance, if the change in my attitude reflected what was happening in my development. As I matured, I put increasing value in merit, and less in senseless violence that I knew would be absolved the next time I logged in to play. I suppose I figured that being pimped out was a much more favorable option than dying repeatedly with no recollection of the previous death.

I know I’m not the only one who has subjected their Sims to oddities. But I do know that I am far less inclined to do so presently. It is quite upsetting to watch a Sim to whom I have dedicated a large amount of time fry from electrocution. Especially when that Sim was just about to achieve her Lifetime Goal. I’m not bitter.

I really must be growing up.

05 August 2011

it's a bit early in the night to post something that makes this little sense

As I was lying in bed during yet another sleepless night, I thought to myself, “Welp, now’s as good a time as any to write.” So here I am.

Students who desperately need money are a cliché, but that doesn’t make us any less real. Hell, clichés have to come from somewhere, right? Unfortunately for me, being out of school also means I’m out of a job (unless someone out there needs someone to archive historical documents or make snarky comments. call me!). But that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried. Here are some tips I have, based on my personal experience, on how to be a failed entrepreneur.

Step 1. Be lazy.

That’s all I have so far. You can’t expect me to be consistently brilliant in the middle of the night.

Sweet dreams! Salvatore is watching you.

PS I'm working on a new bracelet.

PPS It's less cute as a mustache.

Ignore the almonds.

02 August 2011

this post is not for the faint of heart

I realize that my morbidity may make a few people uncomfortable. As a courtesy to those people, I have written this disclaimer. If you don’t necessarily enjoy reading about the often graphic inner workings of a young mind, please consider perusing this website for something less obviously messed up. I wish you well on your endeavors.

This is my muse, Salvatore. He’s sassy. And before you ask, why yes, I do love unicorns.

For those of you who decided to stick around, hello. I am now going to share with you a thought process that I experience nearly every day.

Maybe I read too many books in my formative years. Maybe I spend more time in my own head than in the real world. Maybe this kind of behavior is completely normal. But sometimes, my vivid imagination gets the best of me and I have to stop and take a second to remember which is reality and which is fiction.

For example, when I’m sitting in a car, I often have to overwhelming urge to open the door and unbuckle myself. I know that it’s dangerous and I’m not supposed to do it, but I’ve always been so curious about what would happen if I did. At times, the urge has been so severe that I’ve had to lock the door and sit on my hands so I don’t do anything stupid. Or gruesome.

Although I’m not a mathematical person, I find myself considering the probability of being injured on a daily basis, and marveling at the fact that I have somehow beaten the odds.

Think, for instance, about how many times you may have walked through tanbark in open-toed shoes. Or ran through a thicket of trees without any protective eyewear. Or stepped on one of those bumpy yellow things at the corner of every intersection (I don’t actually know what they’re called, but you must know what I mean) without consciously deciding where to put your feet.

There were plenty of opportunities for the universe to flip you a huge middle finger and lodge an errant piece of wood under one of your toenails, stab you in the eye, or twist your ankle so you fall into the street.

But it didn’t. For something so horrific to happen, the circumstances would have to be exactly right (or exactly wrong, depending on whether or not you’re the recipient). And, if I can trust my mathematical skills, the odds of that happening are very slim. I suppose that also depends on the frequency with which one performs these tasks.

Even though I understand the logic, I know that I will always tread carefully on tanbark, extend both hands in front of me to catch tree branches, and place the heel of my shoes exactly between two yellow bumps on the ground. No matter how curious I get, I will lock the door and occupy my attention with something else (my phone). I’d rather not tempt fate. We’ve hung out before, and we don’t exactly get along. Fate was the one who gave me a papercut between my index and middle finger on my right hand so that I couldn’t type properly. Fate was the one who gave me a mosquito bite on the inside of my left nostril, just out of reach and making it look like I was digging for gold.