Archive for June, 2010


I didn’t start having dreams about my mother until months after she died, though I had been warned that I would. But the dreams I was warned about were dreams in which she was alive and well, dreams I would wake up from feeling stricken, lost.

Instead I had dreams — dozens of them — in which she was resurrected, or just hadn’t died — but in which she was still sick, really sick, and knew it. Knew she was dying.

A little back story is in order. When my mother died she had been an induced coma for several weeks: sedated because the ventilator was breathing for her, and our conscious bodies don’t like to let machines breathe for us. We have to be knocked out. In my mom’s case, they’d knock her out for a few weeks, let the steroids heal her lungs, then wake her up gradually.

The first time this happened doctors encouraged us to talk to her, to play music for her or leave the TV on stations she liked (basically: HGTV), but also told us it was hard to know how much she heard or how much she’d remember.

When she woke up, she told us what it had been like: sometimes the nurses let the same CD play over and over and over and over and over, so that Neil Diamond – whom she had loved, which is why I bought her the CD – made her anxious and weary. For some time she believed the balloons we brought her (none of us really liked balloons, but we couldn’t take flowers into the ICU) were people, ghost-figures floating in the corner. Occasionally during visits, she thrashed in her bed, frantic. It seemed to upset her more to have us there than not, because she could not answer us when we talked.

There were two more of these, episodes where she’d be knocked out only to wake up and discover she’d lost weeks of her life in a hospital bed and that she had to learn to walk again: not for the reasons stroke victims do (the brain has to re-learn), but because the cortiosteroids and bed rest had sapped her muscle strength entirely, because her arms and legs had rapidly wasted to skin and bones.

The fourth time, she begged my father not to allow her to be put on the respirator again, not to allow her to be knocked out, and lost. Three weeks later her lung collapsed. Several other organs were failing, either due to the progression of her vasculitis or due to the toxic effect of high doses of cortiscosteroids and chemotherapy drugs administered during the previous six months.

My brother and I flew home. My brother, my father, my grandmother, and two of my mother’s sisters and I held several strained and tearful meetings with my mother’s pulmonologist over the course of three days. On the third day, we decided to withdraw life support. My father and I said our goodbyes privately and waited in the lobby; the others elected to be with her in her final moments.

On top of all that: at the end her doctor informed us that her blood oxygen levels had been so low that she had very likely suffered brain damage, too. In the unlikely event of her recovery there was no telling who or how she would be, or what kind of life she would have.

All of which is to say that when I went into the hospital room for the last time and told my mother she didn’t have to fight anymore, and that I loved her, I don’t know how much she heard; I don’t know what it meant to her; I don’t know how she processed it.

I’ve never had an answer for the question of what happens after we die: specifically, whether some part of our consciousness continues. I like to think so, but I don’t know, and I’m actually all right with that.

But I have – some part of me has – been haunted by questions about the degree to which my mother was conscious when she was still alive, particularly in her very last hours. Haunted wondering whether she heard and understood me when I told her I loved her. Haunted, more to the point, by whether she understood and accepted the decision she had made. Whether (for all her talk about death with dignity) she was really ready to go. Whether there was anything she wanted to say to us before she did.

Whether I was wrong not to give her the sliver of a chance (less than five percent) at survival.

In the dreams, we found a way. We bought her time. In some of the dreams she was…re-animated somehow. Rose from her grave.

The problem there was that she was still dying, still very, very sick. We knew we’d have to re-dig the grave. We had no idea how we’d explain to all of our friends that we were going to have to have another funeral in a few months, how to explain to the newspapers that actually, we were going to need to place another obituary.

It turns out that, actually, re-animating your dead relatives is kind of a dick move.

Apart from the…awkwardness, the additional expense of a second funeral, it would happen again and again, that bringing Mom back to life, giving her this conscious, careful death, this closure – it wasn’t something we’d done for her. We’d done it for us. We’d brought her back to die awake so she could suffer. We’d brought her back to say goodbyes and have her heart broken again and again with dread. She had watched people die, who knew they were dying: her own brother was dying slowly and utterly conscious when she went. Why did we want that for her? Why did I?

This is my actual last conversation with my mother: I was standing on an astroturf lawn in Venice Beach, talking on my cell phone. I’d flown down to Los Angeles for a work-related conference and decided to stay on an extra couple of days and go to the beach.

For the part of the trip I was not to be reimbursed for, I stayed in a hostel (and successfully determined that, at 27, I was officially too old for youth hostels). I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember what was on my mind that weekend: how much I loved the sun and sand after a somewhat chilly Portland spring (though nowhere near as chilly as the one I just experienced), how I derived a surprising amount of pleasure from driving on the LA freeways (I’d never done it before). I was getting ready to move into a new house in Portland (though I wouldn’t see it until the next day). Mom was in Moscow; she just found out she’d been accepted to a doctoral program. I congratulated her; she passed the phone to my father, who’d just turned 60. I told him happy birthday.

That was about as heavy and eventful and emotional as conversations with my mother ever got. Given that she’d escaped death twice that year (let alone that she’d be dead in a month), though, it was light as the breeze coming up from the beach.

I never for a second, for instance, doubted my mother’s love for me, but she rarely said it. Instead she wanted to talk to me all the time about silly little things, which is a theme I’ve trotted out more than once in this space already.

It’s the reason that, while — to my surprise — I can listen to “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Tapestry” and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and the bittersweet whole of Neil Diamond’s catalog without crying, when I heard Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time” a little over a month ago on a jukebox at a bar, it took everything I had not to hold the tears back.

Was this, like the others, one of her favorite songs, a song she always sang along to, a song that sometimes made her cry?

No. Actually, “For the Longest Time” drove her nuts. It was an earworm. We sang it whenever one of us was in the other mood to drive the other out of her mind.

Last December I saw A Serious Man. It’s a strange, sad, grimly hilarious movie, and I adored it — despite (or perhaps because of) the distinct sensation I had, from the second the projector started rolling, that my own heart had been ripped out of my chest.

If you’ve seen the movie, and paid attention to the grotesquerie above, you might have figured out why: in the film’s prologue, a dybbuk visits an elderly couple during a snow storm and begs to be let in. (A dybbuk isn’t actually a reanimated corpse, rather a ghost that’s been attached to a living person, but – not being familiar with Jewish folklore – I didn’t know that; I saw Miserable Person Believed to Have Died Already, Dying All Over Again.) He dies a second time before their eyes, saying, “I don’t feel well at all.”

The scene was so bizarre and so darkly funny and so closely resembled so many of my nightmares about my mother that I almost couldn’t breathe.

And as we’ve established, I’m a fan of conversations of great emotional import, but pretty much only in theory (or, apparently, on the Internet). As we were walking out of the movie I muttered something to my date about dybbuks and wanting to research them, and for a moment or two considered telling him the other part, why this notion of a free-floating, furious person who’s supposed to have died a long time ago set me on edge. Instead, I either changed the subject or let him change it. I figured a lot of dead mom talk would send the evening straight to hell. (It went to hell pretty quickly anyway, for reasons that may or may not have had to do with one or both parties being a tad or more on the emotionally avoidant side. GOOD TIMES.)

I think I write because I’m sort of ambiently anxious, rarely resolved in my interactions with other people. I use the expression “the ghost in the stairwell,” I am guessing, once a week, and the cruel appropriateness of that analogy only just now occurred to me.

The easiest thing is to blame the blithe way my family tends to relate. The stories that feel more authentic to me, in terms of trying to tell you exactly what it is I lost when I lost my mother, are ones like these: every day at five o’clock my mom and I watched “The Simpsons” together in syndication. Every day after the show was over, channel 12 would show a short spot listing its translator stations. One of them was in Tuscarora, Nevada.

If it happened that we were still tuned to channel 12 when this spot aired, my mother would sometimes get up and leave the room, or change the channel, or just throw back her head and yell: “AUGHHHHH! TUSCARORA!”

Because every reference to Tuscarora, Nevada would invariably trigger an association, in my mother’s mind, with the episode of “Happy Days” where Pinky Tuscadero drove her motorcycle off a cliff. This had been going on since the first time that episode had aired, 20 years before, and she was well and damn sick of having to think about Pinky Tuscadero several times a week: sort of a non-musical earworm, an association so firm and frustrating it was almost Tourettic.

It haunts me, she said.

I, of course, sprinkled our conversations with references to Tuscarora, Nevada at every opportunity. I was delighted by a scene in “The Simpsons” wherein Marge tells Homer he’s confusing his own memories of adolescence with “Happy Days,” and he says, “No, they weren’t all happy days. Like the time Pinky Tuscadero crashed her motorcycle, or the night I lost all my money to those card sharks and my dad, Tom Bosley, had to get it back.”

(This scene at least provided some consolation: she hadn’t realized it was such a well-remembered episode.)

Once I was playing a Springsteen tribute album that included a Suzi Quatro cover of “Born to Run”; my mom asked who it was; I said, “Oh, this is Suzi Quatro. In addition to her music career, she’s done…a little acting. She had a short run on ‘Happy Days,’ as Pinky’s sister, Leather…Tuscadero.”

Of course, the comeuppance for all of this is that while references to Tuscarora, Nevada, are fairly rare in my current life, now I’m the one who, say, stumbles across a blog post paying tribute to Suzi Quatro and groans.

I’m the one who, on hearing references to “Byzantium,” thinks about my mother’s story of being a sleep-deprived college student, writing a paper about Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium,”and realizing with a start that she didn’t actually know what or where Byzantium was. She could find no reference to it in her dictionary, or in her encyclopedia. The day after she turned in the paper and she managed a little sleep, she looked it up again, and there it all was: Istanbul. Constantinople. The Byzantine empire.

For years I took this as evidence that my mother was an abject lunatic, or maybe a little dumb, and ribbed her about it for years, until I went to college myself, lost a lot of sleep and with it, a lot of what I used to know.

For all I wish I could talk about the big things, it is actually the little and terrible and stupid things I’m terrified of forgetting, the memories like hangnails, the ones that drive you crazy and then quite suddenly fall off. A month ago I was talking to a girlfriend and I remembered a story I used to tell about my mother all the time, but one I was sure I hadn’t thought about even once in the last two years: once, Mom and I were walking down the cleaning products aisle of the supermarket and, with little warning, she punched a package of Brawny paper towels, square in the face of the grinning, blonde, mustachioed fellow on the label. I followed suit.

It’s not hard to see things her way when you give it even a second’s thought. He’s so smug! And blonde! And the rolls of paper towels have a tremendous amount of give! We each hit him several times, giggling like school girls, until a checker (someone we saw nearly every day) yelled HEY!, trying to summon a manager, not really certain what was going on.

We quit, pulled ourselves together, but occasionally re-indulged the whim during our rather frequent trips to the grocery store.

(I’m telling you. The son of a bitch has it coming to him.)

There’s a reason I’d rather tell you that story than tell you about holding her hand for the final time, and I don’t think it’s just that it’s funny.

I still have the kind of dreams I talked about, these alive-and-knows-she’s-dying dreams, sometimes.

In one, she was a little smaller than me, and when I asked her if she was ready to die, she cried like a child. In the one I had a couple of weeks ago, though, I asked her if she was sad she was dying, and she got a little sad and contemplative, as if it wasn’t really at the front of her mind after all, and she said, Well. Of course. But it was an afterthought, simply the fact of the matter. She wasn’t angry. She wasn’t dragging her weary body around anymore. She was just dying.

But in the middle of all those there are these others, and these are more frequent. Last October, she said, Christen, I got you your birthday present already. It’s a purple velvet blazer. Delighted, incredulous, I said, Mom, you’re dead. How are you ever going to get it to me? She paused, and said brightly, I guess you’ll just to have to buy one yourself! And both of us laughed and laughed.

(I still haven’t found one, though I acquired an unbelievable purple suit at a clothing exchange a few weeks back. I figure I’ll know my purple velvet blazer when I see it. Mom rarely got my birthday packages to me in time anyway.)

I read once that we use our neuroses to protect us, because we’re afraid of love. And, fine: I’m increasingly aware of the fact that my difficulty discussing things of emotional import until it’s too late is, in plenty of circumstances, a hindrance.

But then I think that some neuroses – some tics – are also evidence of love, evidence that somebody has gotten under your skin or are rattling around in your brain and will for a long time.

I don’t think I believe, as some people do, that the mother I see in my dreams is some real manifestation of her afterlife self, her spirit trying to speak to me.

But I am certain that if she did want to speak to me, to check in on me from the other side from time to time — if she wanted to haunt me, she wouldn’t do it as a dybbuk or a reanimated corpse or a slow-suffering patient. She wouldn’t come bearing bad or burdening news. She’d want to talk about clothes and birthdays.

I’ll never forgive myself for quoting You’ve Got Mail here, but by dint of being one of her favorite movies, it became a guilty pleasure, and anyway, she’d approve of my recalling that Meg Ryan at one point closes an email saying, All this nothing has meant so much more than so many…somethings.

It isn’t that Mom was afraid of feelings or big, heavy, real, hard, dark stuff. But because the big, heavy, hard dark things just are, and they cannot be fixed, so why belabor the matter? When you tell your daughter you love her by calling her up to tell her about a commercial you saw this morning that reminds her of something you used to say when you were in middle school, you’re not going to haunt her with your own sense of dread and anger. You’re going to say, I’m dead, honey. Buy your own birthday jacket. It isn’t the whole truth about her, but it’s about as close as I’ve gotten yet.

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I think I’m going to ban myself from blogging late at night (sadly, I was not drunk). And also from polls. There’s so much I was thinking about last night that I really do want to write about and really do care about, and yet that poll was the result of weeks’ worth of conversation and private rumination and there was ha, ha, no way to distill it in a way that I think would really be appropriate for this partcular venue. I CAN’T PROMISE I WON’T KEEP TRYING, HOWEVER.

Last night I played kickball at the park near my house. It was cloudy out but clear; my league’s first game last week was actually rained out. I still occasionally find myself explaining that I’m not in third grade, that kickball is a thing adults in some American cities — including mine — do voluntarily in the summer. And that, I don’t know, I’ve lived near this particular park for two years and, while I walk across it several times a week on my way to other places, I rather rarely actually visit it, either to recreate or just sprawl out on a blanket and read. I sit on the porch and watch the people in it; I’ve occasionally crawled across the street with friends and whiskey after last call, to continue drinking and talking without disturbing my housemates. When I first got the cats, they would sit on the footboard of my bed and watch people play basketball in the court across the street.

As critical as the park is to my life and my happiness about the same, it began to feel wrong not to spend more time in the park itself, and these days I need external excuses and schedules and structured activities more than I’d like to need them, and an organized kickball league felt like a good enough step in that direction. Afterward, we went out for beers on Hawthorne.

No one on my team is a Portland native (only two of us even grew up in the Northwest); several have been here less than a year. (Of course, in Portland, one becomes native after about a year; where I grew up, one still introduced onself sheepishly as a “newcomer” after 10.) None of them are people I’d be likely to run into over the course of my (rather damn busy) social life. Which is precisely the other reason I joined. It feels symmetrical, appropriate, if also very strange, to make myself meet new people who are new to town just as several of my close friends have left or are planning to leave.

These days people talk about Portland as a city with a particular sparkle, a city people choose for the city itself rather than the opportunities it offers; this almost seems to be the consensus, used to both praise and disparage the place. But it’s not that long ago — when I lived in Corvallis, for instance, and socialized with mostly Portland natives — that I remember people talking about Portland as a place that people went not because they so badly wanted to be there, but because it was a Nice Enough Place and they doubted they could hack it anywhere else. I’ve oscillated between both views in my time here. Now that I have fewer reasons than ever even to stay planted in the Northwest, I get a little tired imagining what it would take to make a life work anywhere else.

(Which is probably to say that I am not actually tired of Portland, but I am, I think, tired of anyone’s opinions about Portland, be they dazzled or disillusioned. Yes, that means YOU, trigger-happy Internet commenter! THIS APPLIES TO NATIVES, TRANSPLANTS, AND NEW YORK TIMES REPORTERS ALIKE. YOU ALL CAN SUCK IT.)

Yet it’s only in the last year or two that I’ve really begun to plant myself here: gardening, playing sports (however loosely we define that, I AM SORE HOWEVER) (I’m a pussy) in the nearby park, researching the historical attractions in my neighborhood, taking long walks around Mt Tabor (which I’d never even visited before last year?!!?) and sort of doing everything I haven’t done in the last five years here.

Summer might not come this year, and while I’m surface-irritated about that and typically-for-me depressed by the cloud cover and torrential rain, I’m also weirdly optimistic and enthusiastic about all of this, like — by virtue of being completely different for me than any before it — this summer could be radically better than any before it. It’s a trick my mind has played on me before, I’m pretty sure. Nonetheless.

I know this is very Livejournal of me, but I’m honestly curious here. I was thinking about specific people I know for whom the answer is (I think) (a little according to what they have said, a little according to what they have seen) (though I suspect they might end up disagreeing with what I say I have seen on this matter) (which is why I am not naming names) obvious. I was thinking that for myself I can give some specific examples of each: at least times when my heart led me, or my brain led me, or I was perhaps motivated by other impulses entirely to pursue a particular party (feign shock, everybody! FEIGN SHOCK).

I’m already making some pretty significant assumptions here: that we want to engage intimate partners emotionally, intellectually and physically; that it’s rare (maybe impossible) for all three of those things to fall into place at once. But then I wouldn’t be asking if I weren’t assuming that there was some room to disagree with both of those assumptions.

Maybe the question is really about what breaks the deal right out, versus what one would tolerate, versus what you even notice first as a potential red flag. (Stupid is a tough one to fix, for instance, but easier to disguise than one might imagine. Or maybe I’ve told you more about my on-first-meeting priorities than I ought to have.) Is stupid worse, or is bad sex worse, or is a lack of emotional availability worse — for you?

I suppose I could make the poll that much more painful and ask: when you’ve been rejected (and told why) (regardless of whether it was after a very short-term or long-term relationship) (though comparing those data could be interesting, because that third-date judgment is so DAMNING, but oh so too can the third-year one), it was for the lack of…what? Smarts or hot sex or emotional connection? But good lord do I ever not want to know. Nor do I want to tell you. Which well may answer the question for myself, mightn’t it? (Shut up.) (Anyway, I’m going somewhere bigger with this.) (Maybe.)

The summer I was 19 I lived alone, after 10 months in a university co-op with 50 other women. I hated living in a crowded house, or thought I did, so I moved into the College Inn, a big efficiency apartment complex for students, by myself. It was my first summer in Corvallis and I didn’t know how college towns empty out in the summer. I took summer classes and worked two jobs and wrote e-mails to my friends, almost all of whom were somewhere else: at their parents’ houses in other towns, or working at summer camps.

I didn’t have a kitchen in my room, or even a minifridge and microwave (I could have rented these from the university, but I was cheap). I either ate in the dining hall downstairs or took the elevator up four floors to one of the kitchenettes and cooked baked potatoes or Korean bowl noodles (I also didn’t have dishes, though I stole some flatware from the dining hall).

Sometimes my friend Birch would throw rocks at my window late at night and we’d go for long bike rides, or stomp around muddy fields outside of town. Sometimes my friend Nick and I would go to Lyons or Shari’s, the two 24-hour cafes on Ninth Street, which were right next to each other and one of the only entertainment options for people under 21. (I didn’t drink back then, anyway.) But mostly, I went to work, went to class, and then went home and was alone and tried to ignore the silence.

The summer started out bad, I mean. And it got worse. I slept with a man I really, really, really shouldn’t have slept with; the proof that our dalliance was a Terrible Idea was that the man in question got not just weird (they do that) but hostile. Nick took it upon himself to give me advice on the subject. The advice backfired horribly — and his spending a lot of time with me one on one, talking about my poor sexual judgment ad nauseum, didn’t improve his or my relationship with his girlfriend. The one female friend who was still in town just belittled me for having been so stupid.

In August I had my appendix out, and when the nurses at the student health center told me to call a friend to take me to the hospital, the only person I could get hold of was The Asshole. He obliged, irritated, and didn’t so much as write or call to check that I was OK.

I tried to dig it, though. Tried to put an appreciative spin on how lonely and miserable I felt. After summer class session ended, and my jobs wound down, I had an interval of a couple of weeks with nothing to do. The last thing I needed was an idle mind, but I took long walks and said to myself, You are as free now as you will ever be in your life. I picked flowers and pressed them in my journal. And I listened to music.

At the beginning of the summer I had bought a copy of The Breeders’ Last Splash from the bargain bin at a local record store. The album was several years old at that point, but I had only heard the singles. That summer I listened to it daily. There were two beds in my room (double rooms were cheaper to rent than singles, even if you were the only occupant) and I jumped on them while listening to “Divine Hammer,” sometimes putting the song on repeat, pleased for those minutes to be old enough that no one was around to tell me not to jump on the bed, and young enough that I didn’t actually own the beds myself, so I did not care if I broke it.

I’ve listened to Last Splash enough times to have pretty much solely positive associations with it instead of weird and bittersweet ones. Now it just sounds like summer to me. Now I own a bed I am pretty damn disinterested in breaking, and I live with three people and two cats I love, and I rarely leave the house without running into someone I know, by chance. The bed I’ve no interest in breaking is a little emptier than I’d like it to be these days, but I rarely feel lonely.

Still. Perhaps to balance the surprisingly beautiful, sunny, mild winter we had in Portland this year, the last six weeks or so of Portland weather have been just hideously gray and wet and cold and, weirdly, torrentially rainy (contrast with the usual Portland mist). For the last week or so I’ve responded to the weather by listening to a lot of sad music and crying, and posting the saddest songs I could find to my Blip account. Because I’m a sadist who demands that all my social media contacts get weepy right along with me. Once or twice during this bout of lousiness, we’ve had one nice day, making me think, Hey, maybe this shit’s over! Only to be greeted the next day by torrential rain and wind. I vowed that I would post a happy song once we had two nice days in a row.

Yesterday I forgot to slather my pasty Irish self in sunscreen, and turned slightly pink; today I rode my bike in the sun. When casting about for happy, summery music to keep my promise with, I was initially at a bit of a loss. When you’re depressed you lose perspective. You get resigned. You forget what life was like when you weren’t dodging hailstones or sitting in your bathrobe crying over “Seasons in the Sun.” And then you remember how miserable and terrified you were 10 years ago, even with the sun out, your first summer in the valley you’ve come to call home, and how for a few minutes a day, you were lifted, you were ecstatic, and you thought you might end up OK.

OkCupid: tyranny of the hottie?

So I recently deactivated my OkCupid account, after having maintained an active profile for several years. For most of those years I was using it to kill time, take stupid quizzes, etc. I didn’t expect to actually meet anyone because I was either living in the middle of nowhere (thus unlikely to encounter anyone I actually could hang with in real time) or in a monogamous relationship (thus uninterested) — but I also had an overriding skepticism about the idea that I could meet anyone interesting on the intertubes. After the end of aforementioned relationship, I put that skepticism aside, partly because I had met the fella in question (along with many, many other dear friends of mine) through a Website. Not one devoted to dating, mind you (though so many people hooked up because of that site that friends and I have often joked that its only real success was as a dating site) — but clearly, my bias against Meeting People On the Internet had proven somewhat ill-informed as well as hypocritical.

Anyway, for the last year and I half I’d actually made several efforts to Meet People through OkCupid, and experienced varying degrees of success. I ultimately quit because I’d noted that successful online dating — at least to degree I experienced any success with it — requires one to market oneself a certain amount of cheekiness and come-here-go-away swagger that were very much reflective of my mindset and approach to dating like a year ago, but no longer.

That said, I found the site — over online dating sites — super intriguing. Partly because of the blog, which, dude, is just super awesome, partly because it’s not afraid to occasionally call out its userbase for being jackholes, and even applies its data to other arenas.

Now, on That Other Website, there were points! And a level system based on those points! And without getting into the dull and nerdy details, these points were based largely on what other people thought of your writing. And this led to so many tantrums and dramas and hurt feelings and NOBODY HERE UNDERSTANDS MEs I cannot even tell you. Me, I figured out pretty quickly that sometimes something I’d tossed off in 10 minutes while I was annoyed and waiting for class to begin, a piece of writing I didn’t care about or actively thought was stupid, would get way more upvotes than a piece of writing I’d worked on for a week, combing over every word to make sure it said exactly what I wanted it to say.

Other friends who wrote for the site noticed this, and it actually made them angry. (Which seems really silly in hindsight, because it was really silly, but you have to remember that writers, myself included, are a bunch of egomaniacal and wildly insecure crybabies.) Me? I thought it was hilarious. I started gaming the system – both consciously and unconsciously, I think – trying to figure out what people would respond to, and what they wouldn’t. Eventually I determined that spending so much of my creative energy telling this really limited audience of geeks not just what I thought they wanted to hear, but what I thought they wanted to hear from me — that it had outlived its usefulness as an exercise, that it was limiting my growth as a writer, and I moved on to work on other projects.

At which point, by the way, I learned that the same phenomenon occurred over and over in the Real World of Professional Writing. When I went to work at my first newspaper job, I was sometimes astonished at the high praise I’d get (from editors, readers, whomever) for a column I’d dashed off in 10 minutes on no coffee and no breakfast and whose contents I could care less about, and at the vitriol or apathy I’d receive for pieces into which I’d put a great deal of care.

I’m going somewhere with all this young-writer wank, I swear. The thing is that because I really wasn’t look for, or expecting to find, my Soul Mate, on the OkC, anymore than I was expecting to launch a major writing career over at E2. So I decided to play with the system.

I’ve heard of other people doing this with fake identities and such, experimenting to see what responses they’d get if they fudged their identities a bit. I didn’t go that far, but: inspired by this, posted different pictures, changed the tone of my profile, took different approaches to interacting with others (sometimes deliberately lying low and just giving people star ratings or winks, if anything; sometimes messaging aggressively; changing my “what I’m looking for, etc.).

And while I didn’t really draw a lot of useful data from all of that, a few of my experiences corroborated what the authors of the blog said: the holy grail was a flattering, somewhat high-quality photo of me smiling; unflattering, poor-quality photos of me smiling still won over flattering, high-quality photos of me looking thoughtful. Glib-bordering-on-hostile profile language won out over glib-friendly. Sincerity was a total nonstarter. All of these things have a lot to do with the reasons I left, actually. It’s not OkCupid’s fault that glib, grinning hostility gets a girl so much more attention than kindness or sincerity, or that it got this girl attention of a sort she no longer wants. These things are just as true in bars as they are on the Internet.

Shortly before I left, OkC sent several users (note: I was not among them, but a couple of my friends were) an email announcing a new tool sorting the attractive wheat from the less-attractive chaff. Both friends who said they got this e-mail were slightly and understandably incensed at the language it used; one said she wrote them and said she had no interest in being matched with pretty people: they’re entitled! They’re a pain in the ass! Another was annoyed with the idea of physical attractiveness as a sorting factor. So was this writer.

What I found interesting is that in all this indignation about “false beauty standards,” no one was wondering (nor was OkC, in its email, reporting) how attractiveness was defined. People almost seemed to assume that the site admins themselves were sitting around looking at photos and deciding who went in the “hot” file and in the “not” file. Which I kinda doubt. It seems instead that they’re trying to sort based on this information and maybe even mitigate some of the problems identified in the post.

Still. It could be that the very reasons I can’t get all that incensed about this — the idea that a dating website is talking about attractiveness and trying to put attractive people in touch with each other — is not just that I suspect the criteria for that sort are a lot fairer and less punishing than folks are giving them credit for. There’s something underneath it that probably also has to do with why I left OkC: users of online dating sites are incredibly fickle (I don’t except myself from that) and one’s experience on those sites is stunningly easy to manipulate.

Assessments of (physical) attractiveness are no less arbitrary in the real world; people (maybe men especially, but don’t quote me on that) know when they find someone attractive, but are often unclear on the specifics. It’s true out here in meatspace — how many times have I been complimented on my blue eyes (when actually, my eyes are a rather dark hazel)? Or asked if I got my hair cut when actually, I’m just wearing contacts instead of the glasses I normally wear? Or been complimented in some other specific way that gets the specifics totally wrong?

I love that, though. I love that it’s such a messy, inexact science. I love the way a completely ordinary-looking person will make you howl at the moon if they’re really funny or kind or carry themselves a certain way, how a model-pretty person will have the opposite effect if they’re stupid or treat service people badly or just have a terrible fucking speaking voice. I like how all the superficial and not-superficial aspects of ourselves balance to make us interesting and attractive to other people — or not-interesting and attractive to other people, or interesting and unattractive, or something. That’s more true in meatspace than it is in the world of online dating, I think, though if you’re a good enough self-marketer you can make any flaw attractive using any medium.

But that’s just it: maintaining an online dating profile began to feel like a particularly grueling marcom project, with endless experimentation and revision and then saying, “Okay, WELL. THIS branding strategy is gaining us a lot of market share in THIS demographic, and losing us a lot in THIS demographic, though it’s probably this OTHER demographic we want to seek out really, so how do we do THAT?” It’s, ultimately, fucking brutal and I need a break from it, maybe a permanent one. But I actually totally dig OkC’s attempts to in some way mitigate that brutality. I dig that they’re totally honest about what a brutal business they’re in.

Tag Team. Back again?

So one of my favorite (and also least favorite) things ever is Internet Conspiracy Theories. They make me giggle. They make me furious. Often at the same time. More accurately, they make me giggle until I realize PEOPLE ARE SERIOUS and then I have a stroke contemplating their ridiculousness.

The vaccines-give-you-autism crowd, for instance. Such delightfully absurd premises! Such refusal to concede even as each and every one of those premises is dashed to hell! It’s a laugh riot, until you remember that children are dying because of this nonsense.

(ASIDE: While I’m here, I’m just going to say that I’m also kind of galled that Jenny McCarthy hasn’t been called out for her ableism. I mean, seriously, Jenny. You don’t care how many kids have to die before we get the never-actually-linked-to-autism-and-also-in-reality-removed-from-vaccines years ago additives out of MMR shots? Because autism is a fate worse than death? Really? Because that is absolutely the message your advocacy has sent, and on behalf of autistic-spectrum folks and their families everywhere, I’m going to eschew nuance and social niceties here and say FUCK. YOU. JENNY MCCARTHY.)

Anyway, don’t EVEN get me started on Birthers. Just don’t. The road from ha-ha-people-are-so-ridiculous to good-lord-people-are-terrifyingly-ignorant-I’m-never-leaving-the-house-again-where’s-the-tin-foil-yes-I-see-the-irony-here-seriously-make-with-the-tinfoil is even shorter.

But every once in a while a conspiracy theory will come along that merely charms me. And such is the case with the…the…dude, I can’t even TYPE this without giggling…the Whoompers. That is, the folks who’ve noticed a stunning likeness between some dude who had a three-second cameo in the 1993 video for Tag Team’s “Whoomp, There It Is!” and the President of This Fair Nation.

The great thing — as the Gawker post points out — about the Whoomp theory is that having been pretty much discredited already, it has evolved and spawned meta-conspiracy theories.

First, there is the thing this is really about race, you know, whiteys’ presumption that all black folks look alike. Which it is, of course, but that’s only part of it. Don’t forget that black people are also cooler than us. Obama, especially, is just sort of cooler than any President we’ve ever had, despite having all sorts of stuffy-ass credentials (like having been a corporate lawyer and attended the very conservative University of Chicago Law School).

I mean, GWB had a broadly-acknowledged fratty affability, sure. Clinton was easily the coolest president we had before that, but he also liked, um, that musical act that I generally refer to as Fleetwood Mac Ewwww Change The Station OMG OMG. (Note: I do admire Stevie Nicks for some reason, and have a particular fondness for “Tell Me Lies,” as it’s the first song my father ever dedicated to me on the radio.)

But Barry’s favorite TV show is The Wire, for crying out loud! And while he was probably actually just working in some shitty, non-air-conditioned office engaged in some particularly un-glamorous aspect of community organizing during the exact three seconds allegedly captured in the video (like I bet he was calling some people for a meeting and had just gotten a busy signal, or maybe he was getting a paper cut while licking an envelope), I believe in my heart that Obama is cool enough to have been in that video. No other president is cool enough to have been in a hip-hop video. Not one. Not even in a weird Ron Howard kind of way.

But there are other facets to this story as well. SO, SO MANY MANY FACETS. Perhaps, I mean, Tag Team — they didn’t have any other big hits, right? Perhaps THEY planted this story as a way to STAGE A COMEBACK! (And if Obama is as cool as I want him to be, he will totally give a wink and nod to the Whoompers by inviting Tag Team to play at the White House sometime!) I mean, seriously, has no one thought of that? Also, I’m not going to fuck up this theory by Googling them only to find out that they’re dead or not talking to each other or something. THAT’S NOT THE POINT.

(EDIT: Just kidding. I have to ruin everything for myself. Except as far as I can tell none of the Whoompers have even contacted TAG TEAM for comment. And there don’t seem to be any “Where are they now?” stories about them anywhere either, except “tag team” is such an overused phrase that it’s hard to really Google this sort of thing anyway. I mostly got wrestling articles. Oh, except this thing — which I remember hearing about as a teenager but assumed was an urban legend or something about how the song was actually ripped from an earlier song, and the lyrics were DELIBERATELY ALTERED to make it sound like they weren’t talking about butts! Which I guess would explain the White House’s silence! Being in a video for a song that is allegedly about butts might not be considered very presidential, in some quarters!)

IN THE ABSENCE of any recent comment from Tag Team themselves, or any word on where they are now I am going to stick by my assumption that they planted this story deliberately, maybe to restart their hip-hop careers, or maybe merely in an act of CULTURE JAMMING. Like, “Sure, we could be out there making really long videos about killing men and feeding them to people, but whatever boring. We’re also responsible for that story about swine flu being totally made up. By the way, who do you think killed Jack Ruby? That’s right. TAG TEAM. BACK. AGAIN.”

EDIT: Via Mark, someone did ask! BARACK OBAMA IS ACTUALLY A RAPPER NAMED LA SNOW. WE’RE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS HERE PEOPLE.

So I’ve been working up a post in my head about penis size and the public health ramifications thereof (stop laughing! It’s a serious issue! OK, you can laugh a little bit) but I’m feeling kind of lazy and decided instead to link this video instead. I posted it to my Facebook and Twitter feeds a while back, after Kim sent it to me. Like almost everything I think is awesome, everyone I know either loved it or was like, “ZzzZZZZzzz what? Christen, you are so weird.”

And as with everything I think is awesome, I’m tempted to stop speaking to everyone in the latter category, or rather be surprised that they continue to speak to me. IF YOU DO NOT LOVE VULGAR, SELF-DEPRECATING HYPERBOLE, YOU’RE A SICK SHITFACE AND I HOPE YOU EAT A BUNCH OF BAD INDIAN FOOD AND DIE IN A RIVER OF YOUR OWN SHIT! BECAUSE YOU NEVER UNDERSTOOD ME AND YOUR HAIR LOOKS DUMB. Also, please watch the whole thing because it only gets better.

(Note that I have been engaging in a lot of introspection and some discussion this week about my tendency toward vulgar, self-deprecating hyperbole, so that might be why I decided to revisit this clip today, but I don’t yet have any thoughts about that that I feel comfortable sharing here. Watch this space? Or just watch the video.)