Friday, November 30, 2007

Words of Induction

Tonight I attended the Induction Ceremony for New Members of the Golden Key International Honour Society (of which I am now one). The event proceeded as these sorts of events usually do: with all of the “important people” in the society introducing each other and the prestigious college members whom they invited to praise and the inductees, everyone reading speeches in stilted, falsely inflected voices punctuated by very obviously staged eye-contact, and of course, lots of catered food at the end. (I want to attend just one formal function where all of the food is home-cooked by the society leaders. That would show some real honor of the new members.) However, in league with all of the other “honorable functions” I have attended, this has certainly not been one of the worst. I managed to stay awake and attentive throughout the whole thing, even so much so that I jotted a few notes on my program concerning what the speakers had to say.

One of the honorary speakers at this ceremony was Dr. Terry Platt, a UR Biochemistry and Biology professor whom I seem to see at all notable functions on campus (i.e. he must be a very important guy). His speech, while “read,” was surprisingly engaging. His was a speech of compliment to us as inductees, as he addressed the differences between achievers and nonachievers and what qualities we possess that have gotten us to where we are today. One comment he made that I wrote down (which was actually him quoting someone else) was, “Successful people fail more often than unsuccessful people.” I almost wish he would not have gone on to explain why this was so, because I enjoyed the immediate challenge of reasoning out the paradoxes of that statement. Successful people take more risks. Successful people try more things and therefore have more failures in order to have more successes. It is an interesting conundrum and one to keep in mind as I embark upon my Big Scary Career Search.

During his speech, Dr. Platt told the story of a psychology experiment involving a bell and a marshmallow. Four-year-olds were left in a room with these two objects with the instructions that if they rang the bell, the experimenter would come back into the room and they could eat the marshmallow, but if they waited until the experimenter returned without ringing the bell, they would receive two marshmallows. Obviously some children ate the marshmallow immediately, while others were able to “hold out” for fifteen minutes or longer. (Squirming, fidgeting, and hands-over-eyes were involved.) Platt concluded his story by saying that the results of the experiment itself did not reveal much, but that those children who participated in it then grew up, and their life results are known. Unsurprisingly, the children who could exercise self-control grew up to be accomplished, successful individuals; the ones who rang the bell immediately tended more toward lives riddled with drug use, gambling, and other forms of immediate satisfaction. He then made a statement that bothered me deeply: “Self-control is desirable, if not essential, for success. You are all here today for exercising this self-control.”

Obviously—as he made clear in his following statements—Dr. Platt meant that we, the Accomplished Ones, were able to sit through boring classes (and speakers—ha ha) because that is what was necessary in order to succeed. However, I cannot help but feel that this outright praise of self-control reflects our society’s unhealthy fixation on the trait. Yes, self-control may make you successful, but what about ambition? What about innovation? What about self-motivation? Self-control seems to have a much more negative connotation to me; if you don’t have self-control, you are weak, you are pathetic, you are basically an inferior human being. That is why we despise fat people: if they just had some self-control, they’d get skinny. That’s why we feel contempt for drug addicts: if they weren’t so lazy and self-indulgent and got a little self-control, they could fix their problems. This portion of Dr. Platt’s speech just hit a discordant note with me.

The other honorary speaker was Dean Matthew Burns, UR’s Acting Dean of Students, otherwise known as the college disciplinarian. I found him an interesting choice of speakers—the chapter leaders invited these individuals to speak at the ceremony—and even more so once he commenced speaking. He made an interesting observation—particularly interesting to me, anyway, because I am so fascinated by words and their meanings. He claimed that the word “responsibility” means “the ability to respond.” I have never considered the “root meanings” of the word (response + ability), but when I think of it this way, it brings a whole new aspect to its usage. While many different words insinuate potential responses, “responsibility” is very different from others such as “obligation” or “option.” “Obligation” demands a response, regardless of whether one is able or not, and “option” does not necessarily imply a response/action. I thought this was a very insightful comment, and one I took much more to heart than his final charge of, “You are separated from the community by your achievements but also expected to become part of it by your involvement with this society. So congratulations, but get busy.” Thanks, but I am busy. And so, I would imagine, is everyone else who paid the $70 fee to join this society.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Adults Yet? A Thanksgiving Thought

Vicky’s potluck was declared a success. Around twenty people attended, the food and drink were plentiful, and all had a good time socializing and “catching up” with each others’ lives. Really, we were all proud of ourselves for being so grown up. Kelly brought three separate courses: steak and chicken kebobs, pirogues, and brownies. Emily brought her new boyfriend, Jake. Mike and Gabby played the perfect long-term couple, having jointly prepared two types of pesto pasta. Ben provided garlic potatoes which his mother undoubtedly helped with, and who knows what Dee brought, because he was dressed in the snazziest shirt of anyone at the party (black button-down, with pink and blue pinstripes, or something to that effect). Brooke not only made spinach-artichoke dip in a bread bowl, but also broccoli balls, which she served to us hot from a hot platter straight out of the kitchen. Meanwhile, Vicky was busy playing hostess, making sure everyone had enough to drink and that each course was being eaten “on time.” (We couldn’t start the main courses until Ryan arrived, and he was running late because he was busy making a casserole that required “a pound of cheese.”)

Everyone was terribly impressed that “even the boys dressed up and even cooked.” As we started with drinks and appetizers, I learned from Kelly that she had a superb job prospect in Texas and from DayG that he was the current squatter in Vicky and Brooke’s house. I watched Dee put on his coat and go out the back door, come inside, drink and beer and go upstairs, return downstairs, don his jacket, go back outside, come back inside with another beer, and repeat the process until dinnertime. I chatted with Jake while Emily socialized with others at the party, filling him in on who everyone was. I told Ben about the WIPIAL playoff game I had seen the night before, where Central beat Gateway. Eventually more people arrived (Amy, Jason, Becky) and there were hugs all around. Finally Ryan arrived, and we commenced eating.

It was such a communal atmosphere, spooning helpings of mutually prepared food onto paper plates and sitting beside one another on steps, couches, floors. It did not seem to matter whether we were old high school buddies—as many of us were—or complete newcomers such as DayG or Jake. It was like a 21-year-old modernized Thanksgiving feast.

Eventually, around dessert time, things segued into the more stereotypical 21-year-old “feast” of beer and brownies: the Thanksgiving buffet was converted into a beer pong table, many cooks stepped outside for their evening smoke, and the remaining guests began to say their goodbyes. Several friends with whom I had not really gotten to converse seemed genuinely disappointed to see me go, including Andy and Brooke. Unfortunately, I knew that the longer the night got, the less conversation I would be likely to have with them, even if I did choose to stay. Dee also seemed in favor of my staying, but I doubt he intended to converse with me much.

Emily, Jake, and I said our “Good-bye, see-you-at-Christmas’s” and left. Back at Emily’s house, we played Boggle and talked for the rest of the night.

Is this really what Adulthood is all about? When half of the “men” and “women” decide to make their houses open bars and the other half leave to play board games and go to bed? Or is there a less simplistic answer?

Either way, it was a Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Trash to Treasure

Don’t be wasteful!
Innovative ideas for your “trash” before you pitch it (all of which I currently employ or have employed in the past):

Cereal boxes:
  • Cut out 3.5” x 5” squares, and vio-la! You have a set of unique postcards
  • Cut off the narrow side panels. Long skinny cardboard rectangles = pretty recycled bookmarks

    Fuze beverage bottles:
  • Remove the wrapper from the glass bottle. Wash glass bottle. Add some water and fresh-cut flowers, place on table or windowsill, and you have produced a very efficient vase. (And, moreover, a much more attractive one than the plastic Coke or milk pint bottles I have seen in some dorm rooms.)

    Page-a-day calendar pages:
  • Instead of throwing out each page when the day is done, turn it over and start a pile on your desk. Instant memos!

    Plastic shopping bags:
  • Wad up as packing material/padding around items shipped in mail parcels
  • Line smaller garbage cans (no reason to buy Hefty brand when these bags come free and equipped with handles!)
  • Use as rain-resistant covering for important materials (books, etc.) when carrying items out-of-doors in inclement weather
  • Sunday, November 11, 2007

    Where are all the women?

    Ever since I started taking ENG 380: Problems of Western Civilization, my feminist eyes (which I didn’t even know I had) have been progressively opened. Example: a simple outing to the Regent Movie Theatre yesterday was an eye-opening one.

    I was on the bus, coming back from having had battery replaced at the mall—can you believe I survived half a week without a watch?—when I ran into a member of Film Interest Floor (a double suite in which I have several friends). He told me that a bunch of them were going to see American Gangster and invited me to come along. As this is one movie for which I have actually happened to see previews (I must admit, this has been one benefit to watching House every week), I decided that it looked intriguing enough. Also, a social outing to a movie would be at least marginally more productive than spending my afternoon brooding over the fact that I was not in upper state NY with the rest of the swim team. Thus, I went to see the 4:15pm showing of American Gangster.

    For those of you not familiar with this movie, the basic plot is this: Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas, the lacky for one of NYC’s big crime bosses. Early in the movie, his boss dies, and Frank takes his place, expanding and improving his heroin operation with the introduction of an extremely pure strain called “Blue Magic.” Meanwhile, Richie Roberts—played by a somewhat stoutly Russell Crowe—is an ex-cop, booted from his position on the force for honestly turning in upwards of $900,000. Ever the “good guy,” he takes on NYC’s drug war, pursuing—inevitably—Frank and his family in the face of social and political opposition. (And yes, I did write that extremely catchy plot summary myself; can people make careers out of these sorts of things?)

    Needless to say, before the movie even started, my “anti-woman radar” went on high alert. Movies nowadays seem intent upon barraging their audiences with images and sound from the moment you walk into the theatre. I honestly thought we were missing previews when we entered the screening room, there was so much noise and commotion going on on-screen. However, big flashy movie-esque advertisements are now the norm before movies; no more idle chatter while waiting for previews to begin. (If you want to talk, you’ll have to shout into the ear of the person sitting next to you, never mind trying to communicate with someone a few seats away.)

    After a sexualized car ad and a rather repetitive Fandango ad (I suppose they work, though, because I did remember that brand name), a music video began to play. It was a new song by 3 Doors Down called “Citizen Soldier.” This video is apparently a simultaneous advertisement for the National Guard, which is a very interesting ploy on the part of both the entertainment industry as well as the department of defense, but that is not what I want to point out regarding this ad. As shocking as this entertainment/military combination may have seemed, what shocked me even more was the absence of women from the video.

    I saw two women in the entire video. One was receiving a medal of some sort from an obviously higher-ranking man. The other was running to retrieve her child from a man who had obviously rescued him. There were no women combatants, not even in the scenes from current day wartime situations (as contrasted with those from revolutionary times, where I would not have expected to see any women). And yet, the lyrics say the following (the bolding is mine):
    On that day, when you need your brothers and sisters to care.
    I'll be right here.
    Citizen soldiers.
    Holding the light for the ones that we guide from the dark of despair.
    Standing on guard for the ones that we've sheltered.
    We'll always be ready because we will always be there.

    By excluding women from the video, the producers (or the band? or the National Guard?) are making the implicit claim not only that women are not involved with war, but that we are in fact not citizens. If soldier-ship is equated with citizenship, and women are not soldiers, then women are obviously not citizens, either. And we thought we had achieved equality!

    Now, this was all before the movie even began. I will allow that American Gangster was a period piece and, therefore, I am willing to accept many of the roles that women played as their “places” in that particular society. (For instance, I doubt there were many women cops serving as part of the NYPD in the 1970s.) However, women were not only treated as completely secondary characters in this movie, they were treated as stereotypically weak and cardboard figures, as well. Frank’s wife, Eva (played by Lymari Nadal) is chosen by him and follows along with his every whim. She plays the typical money-bulldozed wife of any rich man, who suffers silently and even when she does attempt to take a stand, ends up acquiescing and retreating back into silent assent. Most of the other women who appear in the movie are the heroin choppers: they are black, nude, and (literally) voiceless. (The only one with a line is the “head” of the operation, and even she only gets two lines, neither which were of any significance.)

    The only woman who shows any strength at all throughout the movie is Frank’s mother—she threatens to leave him if he kills a cop. Yet, the strength of this influence is still questionable, because before Frank even has the opportunity to kill the cop, his drug operation is destroyed and Richie takes him into custody. Would he have killed the man, anyway? Would his mother’s having left him even mattered? Is that all the influence women have: the threat of disappearing?

    According to “Citizen Soldier,” we weren’t even visible to begin with.

    Friday, November 9, 2007

    Managed by a peer

    I’ve worked with her since Day One when we were both neophytes learning how to make smoothies at Common Ground. We rose in knowledge and power together there, gradually taking on more shifts, learning to stock inventory, becoming nighttime student managers. Then, she started working mornings at Hillside Café. I took a few “emergency shifts” over there from time to time and did the late-night extravaganza at the Java Cart during reading and finals week at the end of each semester, but otherwise, my progression was lateral; I took a second job as a Writing Fellow and then a third as a copyeditor for Deb.

    Then, this semester, Starbucks replaced Common Ground and Cathleen convinced me to move over to Hillside rather than train to work for Starbucks. This way, I could stay working with all of my friends, continue doing familiar work (since many of the drinks and operations were the same to how we ran things at Common Ground), remain a student manager, keep favorable hours, and—best of all—receive a raise. Once I began working at Hillside, I realized that Cathleen nearly ran the place as much as Blythe (the official “adult” manager) did. She was there constantly, knew how almost everything worked, and took it upon herself to chastise us for even the smallest infraction (e.g. I always forget to put the plastic flaps down over the grab-n-go cooler, and apparently this is one of her biggest pet peeves).

    Initially, I felt a little taken aback at being “ordered around” by someone I considered my equal. Maybe I hadn’t worked at Hillside nearly as long as she had, but we had worked at Common Ground together for three years, and I was a student manager, too! However, about a week ago, Cathleen informed us (me and a few of my coworkers/fellow student managers) that she was applying to replace Blythe, who would be overseeing the new café opening inside the library. I will admit, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Someone my age who I had worked with side-by-side for an equal amount of time eclipsing me in ranking? Granted, this sounds silly, talking about coffee shop “prestige.” Furthermore, Cathleen wants to be a businesswoman: she intends to own real estate on the other side of the Genesee and rent it out to college students. I, on the other hand, intend to move to a city and edit books. Why should I care if she will be my boss for six months?

    As it turns out, she will. She got the job, and her position starts after Thanksgiving. In many respects, I am very glad that she will have the position. It’s about time that someone who has done the “grunt work” does the higher end managing, because maybe now things will finally be run the way they should be, with someone on the managerial staff understanding what practically needs to be done/ordered/provided in order for us to do our jobs efficiently. Moreover, Cathleen will understand—having been a worker herself—that if she wants me to work “emergency” shifts, she had better make it worth my while monetarily, not just give me a little smile and a pat on the back. And maybe—just maybe—she will finally have enough spine to fire the workers who don’t show up for their shifts. That would be nice. I have yet to meet a manger who is willing to do that.

    On the other hand, I’m not sure how I am going to feel about being ordered around by someone I consider my peer. I know I do my job well, and the few liberties I take, I feel I deserve. Having worked with her directly, I know that she knows how I work and what liberties I take. If, now that she is my boss, she tries to micro-manage my work, I do not doubt that I will resent this. However, perhaps I am being too hasty. Perhaps having a friend in higher places will prove to be everything it can and should be.

    Either way, I am bound to find out.

    Monday, November 5, 2007

    Quote of the day:

    "Get out the marshmallows ... 'cause my game's on fire!"
    (compliments of Peggy's teddy bear)

    UR Raving...mad

    Guess I needed a reminder why I don't attend college parties....

    Friday, November 2, 2007

    Sniff this

    Bad habits and personal quirks can be annoying, but sometimes things that people don’t do are even more irksome than the things that they do. When my suitemates don’t wash their dishes, for example, it bothers me to no end. (Don’t cups of stagnant, gnat-breeding water and sauce-encrusted knives and forks sicken everyone?) If I pass a swimmer on the way to class and he/she doesn’t return my “hello,” I get a little peeved. (Am I that invisible? Are they that superior?)

    Recently, I have been bothered by a lack of deodorant. This is not a widespread phenomenon, but I do know one person who, whenever I am within five feet of him, I want to grab and shake. “Maybe you can’t smell yourself,” I want to tell him, “but for god’s sake, have a little consideration for the rest of us. I can barely breathe!”

    He probably does not smell himself, or if he does, that smell does not bother him. Nor must it bother his girlfriend, as they have been dating for quite a long time without any detectable change in his scent. Yet the smell bothers me, and I am bothered by that very feeling.

    Why should I consider natural human smell unpleasant? Was I trained to think (…smell) this way? Practically from birth, we are made to keep ourselves not only looking unnatural but smelling unnatural. We pluck, shave, and brush our natural hairiness into submission, not to mention painting, puncturing, and tattooing many of our natural physical features. Why should we not use flower-scented soaps, herb-scented shampoos, and chemical-scented perfumes to make ourselves smell as unnatural as we look?

    Yet, what bothers me is the fact that I have come to interpret these appearances and smells as pleasant and normal to the point of being insignificant and to interpret what is actually natural and human as abnormal and repulsive. Nevertheless, whenever I see (or, rather, smell) this boy, I feel the intense desire to hand him a bar of deodorant and ask him to please, at least for my sake, use it.