Thursday, September 27, 2007

True Laughter

I miss peeing my pants.

Yes, it was awkward and disgusting and humiliating, but I did it because I was laughing so hard, I could not help myself. Helpless laughter. Uncontrollable, unbridled, unfeigned job. That is what I miss.

I cannot remember the last time I laughed because I literally could not stop myself from doing so. This is not to say I don’t laugh now; I do laugh. I laugh because it is appropriate. I laugh to put others at ease, to avoid the awkwardness that would result from a lack of response. I laugh to signal acceptance of whatever has been said or done.

When did this transition take place? Was it gradual, did it sneak up on me unannounced? Was it learned by observation and imitation? Or is it the result of truly having less to laugh about?

What did I used to laugh about, as a child? What was so funny that it made my stomach sore and my bladder weak? Those things could not have changed; only I could have changed.

Have others undergone the same change? Is their laughter now merely a social lubricant, or do they actually still feel that uncensored, childish joy?

I want that joy back. Yet, the more I force myself to laugh, the more I feel that pure feeling of joy receding into my past, becoming a memory like strawberry popsicles at Disneyland and mud pies in the backyard.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Clothing Comfort

The following quote from Jane Smiley's novel A Thousand Acres catapulted me back to my anti-jean, childhood days of stretch pants and high ponytails:

“…another thing I distinctly remember about being a child is that awareness of oneself inside one’s clothes. Pinching shoes, a prickling slip, a dress that is tight across the shoulders or around the wrists, ankle socks bunching in the heels of my shoes. Mommy and Daddy never complained of their clothes, but mine seemed a constant torment.” (page 278)

I remember abhorring tights, because they itched. Forty minutes-a-week for dance class was almost more than I could bear. When I would stand out at the bus stop in the dead of winter, my neighbors’ grandmother would poke her head out of their front door and holler, “Aren’t your legs cold?” I always answered, “No,” even if I was shivering. Being cold for ten minutes was far preferable to wearing clingy, itchy tights under my jumper all day long.

I did not start wearing jeans until at least fourth grade. Before then, I generally had not had to worry about what others thought of my fashion sense, since I attended Catholic gradeschools. However, fourth grade is about the time when kids start having their birthday parties at public places. Public places mean being Seen in Public, and so everyone begins to regard their own appearance critically. When kids start being self-critical, they start criticizing others—how else can they come out on top? In effect, I knew I had to conform or else be rejected from society as I knew it. So I wore the jeans.

The same can be said today: conform or face rejection. Throughout high school, I continued to prize comfort over what most people would consider “fashion,” substituting sweatpants for the skintight jeans or dangerously short skirts that seemed to be required of every girl who was anyone. If you wanted to be looked at, you dressed nicely. Period.

I could claim that I simply didn’t want to be looked at, but I don’t think this is true. I didn’t find the payoff worth the cost, that’s all. Sure, I wanted boys to be interested in me. I just didn’t want them to be interested in hooking up with me. I felt confident that if they were truly interested in me for Me, then they wouldn’t care what I was wearing. I successfully found one guy who fit that description; we became very good friends.

I have always upheld the opinion that as people get to know one another better and grow to like each other more, they become more attractive to one another. This is not to say that they physically change, but their subjective opinions of one another’s appearance become more positive in spite of any initial aesthetic perceptions. My “close high school friend” Ben completely disagreed with me. Four years after knowing me, he revised his opinion. Now, he will only admit to one exception to his rule that if you’re not initially attracted to someone, you never will be. One is enough for me.

Ben liked me in my sweatpants. And while no one else has, I’m certain someone else eventually will. In the meantime, I’ll dress “appropriately,” when I must, to appease the masses. Otherwise, look for the sweatpants.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


There is something so small, so manufactured, so unreal about my life here in Rochester. I never felt it before I went abroad, but living on my own—or at least as “on my own” as I ever have—in England, living away from campus, in the community, has made me feel much more confined now that I am back living on Rochester’s self-contained campus.

Without knowledge to the contrary, a student might think that this existence—going to class, going to the gym, perhaps going to an on-campus job—is all there is to Real Life. In reality, though, living in a prepaid cocoon that is cleaned for you once-a-week (also known as a dorm), working for managers who are desperate for student-workers and will therefore rarely fire anyone, frequenting a “free” gym at my leisure, and having everything within walking distance is really quite absurd. What is even more absurd is the way that all of the buildings fit together uniformly as if they are all part of one jigsaw puzzle in which you, as a student, are trapped. If you don’t own a car and need to go shopping, you are “permitted” to go off campus only as often as the “bus” will take you—that is, three times a week (Wed., Sat., or Sun.) at the designated Rochester Shuttle pick-up/drop-off times.

However, so long as no disasters occur, everything you should ever need is available on campus: prepared food, canned food, sweatshirts, pens, batteries, cough drops. In fact, now that there is a little corner store in Sue B. Anthony (the freshman residence hall), a student could literally stay inside his/her dorm all semester if he/she wanted. There would be plenty of food (with all-you-can-eat at Danforth Dining Center, the Hillside coffee shop, and the mini-Corner Store all in its basement), the obviously necessary dorm room for sleeping, functional bathrooms right down the hall, and—of course—perpetual Internet access. What more could a student want? Next thing you know, the campus post office will move into that building, and everyone can have their books shipped directly to their dorm rooms; no library or bookstore necessary. (Although, if someone really and truly wanted to hibernate, he/she could get a friend to pick up his/her mail. Just give hand over the CPU box key and offer a little incentive, like a quarter of the required meal plan that no average freshman will ever finish.)

I find myself wandering around the same places day-in and day-out: specific classrooms, the gym, the library, my dorm room. After a while, it is hard to think outside of this routine. Get up. Dress in Java City attire. Go to work at Hillside. Change in the Danforth bathroom. Eat in the library. Go to class. Change. Go to the gym. Shower. Eat in the dorm. Read. Sleep. Repeat. It becomes difficult to realize that anything outside of this routine does or can exist. I see the same people, some of whom I recognize and yet do not actually know at all. I see the same places, sometimes dirtier, sometimes cleaner, yet very much the same.

I suppose this sameness and familiarity is true no matter where you live; it is the consequence of settling into any kind of community. Yet, everything feels so much more compressed, so much more isolated on a college campus. We really are living in our own little bubble here, with an occasional foray out into the rest of Rochester. How odd that I originally desired this. Living At College made me feel like I had finally entered the Real World and was succeeding On My Own, when I had just entered a new part of the world, and a self-contained one, at that. College life offers a new, different sort of safety and security that seems wild and free when we first embark upon it. Now, it just feels like an artificial community. I am in Real World Training, and the training wheels are about to come-off.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

UR Darkness

What happens when campus-wide power goes out at 6 p.m.?

1. Fire Marshall rules are blatantly flouted. Those who have candles have power. And college students discover the necessity of flashlights. It feels like camping!

2. The campus choir suddenly finds hundreds of recruits. Without their internet, video games, televisions, or even reading lamps, what else can college students do but exercise their operetta voices? Again, reminiscent of camping.

3. The beer flows, more heavily than before. Welcome to the Shit Show: “We have nothing else to do…. And campus security won’t even be able to see us!”

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Saturday Morning at the Public Market

There is something so real about farmers’ markets. Real people in regular clothing selling raw produce outdoors—the whole atmosphere seems so awake. Fruits and vegetables in wicker baskets and wooden bins. Smooth, firm, touchable skins. Nothing is dyed or sealed with wax and encased in plastic. Green peppers turning a bit yellow in spots; dirt-covered carrots with green exploding from their tops; misshapen eggplants; plum-sized apples; potatoes with “warts.” Real food. Food with deformities. Yet, it is all still perfectly edible.

Handwritten signs are propped up amongst the rainbow array: market scrawls on rectangles of cardboard. A pound of sno peas, $1. A basket of peaches, $2. Fresh cheese. Homemade pies. An Amish bakery. An organic herb stand.

Farmers’ markets have a rawness to them that is hard to find anymore, in any part of life. The food is transferred straight from grower to eater; there is no processing, no packaging, no politics in between. This, it seems to me, is how a market ought to be. And, in a way, how people ought to be: raw, real, unprocessed, unpackaged. Touchable. So what if we’re all a little dirty, a little discolored, a little deformed. Put us out under the sunlight, someone’s going to want us.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Change of scenery

What is it about scenery that has such power to affect out mood?

In order to relax before classes started, my suitemates and I planned to take a trip up to Lake Keuka and spend a day at a cabin of one of their grandparents. Being my usual don’t-deal-well-with-change self, I was curled up in bed that morning, reflecting on the fact that it was my third day back in Rochester, and I already didn’t want to be here. I didn’t know why I didn’t want to be here or where I would rather be, but I knew that being here made me not want to get out of bed. Needless to say, Ben (Rochester Ben, not Pittsburgh Ben) proceeded to be his usual pushy self and barged right into my room the moment he realized I was awake. In the end, there was no choice but to go along as planned unless I wanted to make a scene, so I packed up my bathing suit and flip flops, stuck a book in my bag, and piled into the backseat of Tom’s car with Hayley. Ben jumped into the passenger seat, and just like that, we were off.

I have always had an immense appreciation for lakes, particularly because they make me nostalgic. My family and a few other families dear to us used to spend a weekend every year camping at Keystone State Park—a park arranged around a central lake. The scene reflects the beauty of the varying seasons; nothing but a tree-covered, shivery-watered landscape can give me such a feeling of serenity and appreciation for nature. I love the crispy, bitter smell of trees in the summer and the earthy smell of leaves in the fall.

The weather on our day at the lake was perfect. Not one cloud could be seen in the sky—it was literally a blank canvas of blue. The lake was massive: at least a mile across and twenty or so miles long if you could straighten out its bends and jetties. On the hills surrounding the lake, the trees were so close together that their tops, all in varying shades of green, resembled moss a giant might tread upon. At the very crest of the hilltops, the sky turned a pale yellowish, whitish-blue that gradually melded into a turquoise blue the higher it climbed. The sun was brilliant, reflecting off of the water; the top of the lake resembled aluminum foil, sparkling the way it would if you crinkled it up. It was literally picture-perfect.

We spent the morning jetting around the lake on a speedboat, tubing, and swimming. Around two in the afternoon, Eric’s grandmother served us corn on the cob, potato salad, and baked beans. Tom grilled the burgers and teriyaki chicken breasts she had prepared. We sat at a wooden picnic table to eat, sipping ice-cold cans of lemonade, waving away bumble bees. Afterward, we swam some more and then tried jet-skiing. Hayley kayaked down the lake, and when she did not return right away, we met her with the speedboat and I kayaked back.

Despite the rigorous activities of the day, I returned to Rochester significantly more relaxed than I had left it. I truly believe it was the much-needed infusion of nature that I needed to revive my spirit. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of the beauty of simplicity and those things we cannot control. I did not have to do anything to create that day or that scenery, and that is exactly what I needed.