Saturday, June 23, 2012

Growing Up Special

Our parents told us we could be anything. And our teachers. And our coaches. They all promised us that if we tried a little harder, put in a little more work, we could be something special. They assured us that we were innately special, and all we needed was to develop that potential.

Yet, our specialness was not specific—it applied to whatever we might want to do. “Follow your dreams,” we were told. “Do what you love—the rest will follow.” They encouraged us to choose our electives based on interest, to choose our majors based on passion. They prodded us to go faster and farther not by debasing us and saying we weren’t good enough, but by promising that if we improved just a little more, we could maybe prove our specialness.

We were told over and over again that we were smart. Talented. We were told we had potential, were perhaps destined for greatness. And that is what we believed. We believed if we put in enough effort, we would get somewhere.

We thought that our successes would grow exponentially: our hard work to “be someone” in high school would transfer to “being someone” in college. Then, if we worked hard in college, we would be hired for the job we wanted. When we worked hard at that job, we would then be recognized, and we would continue to achieve because we had potential to be superior, to be important and known. If we just worked hard enough, we would make a difference. We would matter.


The reality is that the further into adulthood we venture, the bigger the world gets. We might be someone in high school. We might be someone in college. We might even be someone at our companies. But what we didn’t realize until we made it out on your own, with no parents and teachers and coaches to reassure us that we are special, is that we are replaceable.

When we graduated high school, those niches we filled were filled by someone else. Maybe we were the smartest, or the prettiest, or the funniest. Maybe we were the most athletic or the best public speaker. But those superlatives are in every yearbook, with new faces under the title each year. Our faces are long gone.

When we graduated college, those papers we wrote were filed away with thousands of papers from thousands of students who came before us, and will be covered with thousands of papers from students who will come after us.

And now here we are: big, important Adults in the big grown-up workforce. Maybe we’re good at our jobs; maybe we’re excellent. Some of us might be promoted quickly, and our bosses might love us. We work hard, so why wouldn’t they love us?

Still, the undeniable truth is that we are one cog out of hundreds, thousands that comprise the huge, grinding gears of a company. We fit a certain mold. We are replaceable. The company doesn’t care about our “specialness.” Maybe, when we are gone, a few coworkers will miss us, but not for the outstanding, irreplaceable work we did. Not for the hundreds of hours we spent in front of a computer monitor, typing at a keyboard and clicking a mouse. No one will miss us for that.

We grow up thinking that we will do something lasting, something that matters. We grow up thinking we will do something that makes others proud. We think we will make ourselves proud. But then we are confronted with the harsh reality that is adulthood, with its health insurance and its mortgages, its rent checks and its credit card payments. We find out that the only people who are remembered are the Steve Jobs and Michael Phelps of the world, and even their legacies fade once someone comes along and invents something better or sets the new world record.

So we are left wondering, what was it that made us so special? Were we just surrounded by a bunch of inferior people up until now? Were our parents and teachers and coaches completely blind? Are we now failing to live up to our childhood potential, or are we finally recognizing that no such potential existed in the first place?

And of course, the ultimate question: if we don’t achieve anything special, can we still be happy?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Lime Green Sneakers

On May 24th, I posted the first of two short prose pieces I wrote at a New York Writers Coalition workshop. I promised that the second piece would go up on the blog at some point, so here it is. Again, it's nothing polished, but for a piece written in 15 minutes, I'm satisfied.

The second prompt was to take something we heard while we were all sharing our first pieces and to use that, somehow, in our second piece. I chose the image of lime green shoes. Here is what I wrote:

His sneakers were the giveaway, how I knew he was cool. Lime green. With yellow laces.

Otherwise, he looked perfectly normal: stonewashed jeans, plaid shirt, silver watch (although he wore it with the face turned inside, so it rested against the inside of his wrist . . . but I didn't notice that until later).

I had never dated a non-Jewish guy. A "goy" as my sister would say. For a while I just figured non-Jewish guys weren't into me; after all, it takes a pretty mature guy to date a girl who won't wear short sleeves or pants. And let's face it: how many mature sixteen year old non-Jewish guys are there?

With Kevin, though, I couldn't pretend he wasn't into me. He put notes in my locker and told all my friends. He sent me flowers, and left me chocolates on Valentine's Day. It was kind of intimidating. But like I said, he wasn't Jewish. Which is why I turned him down. The first time.

The second time, I think I was just intimidated. Intimidated by those shoes, intimidated by the three friends standing behind him and the two standing behind me. I guess I just wimped out, because at that point, I really did want to try it, try dating this non-Jewish boy. Kevin.

And then, finally, we were on a date. By accident. Sort of.

His friends went to Applebee's the same night as my friends went to Applebees, and we all ended up at back-to-back booths. And then the boys started coming over, and stealing nachos, and licking the salt off of their fingers, and drinking right out of our straws. Mara and Caitlyn chased them back to their booth, but of course they had to linger, and steal a chicken wing just to "get back at them," and dip it in ranch dressing, once, twice, bitten part and all. Tammy and I were left alone at our table, crunching ice from our empty Cokes and wiping up chip fragments with the pads of our fingers. Then Tammy went to the bathroom, and the next thing I knew, Kevin was there, sliding into the booth next to me. He stopped about a foot away, and then inched closer and closer until his thigh almost touched mine.

"Why won't you go out with me?" his voice vibrated against my ear. I stared at my lap and saw a flash of lime green beneath the table.

"Just once," I told him. "We can go out one time. And you have to meet my mother first."

That's how it began, this affair with a non-Jewish boy. Kevin.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Seat Smushing: A Not-so-great Way to Start the Morning

I would like to claim that I am a tolerant person. In fact, in most circumstances, I think I am very tolerant (some examples being when R___ doesn't do the dishes as promised, when my dad loudly reads out the prices of thousand-dollar dresses in Bergdorf Goodman, etc.). However, I do have an unfortunate bias against people who do things that I consider inconsiderate.

One such inconsiderate action is when over-sized people take up more than their fair share of a row of seats. Locals where this occurs include airplane seats, bus seats, and--as happened today--subway seats. Maybe if the woman who sat down beside me today had done so in the afternoon, rather than at 6am this morning, I would have felt more genial. However, when she sat down and her body spilled halfway over into my seat, wedging me up against the nearly-as-hefty man sitting on my left, my internal reaction was not very cordial. If you are too large to fit in one seat, lady, you should probably stand until you can. Like I said, not nice. Fortunately, I know better than to voice my thoughts in these situations.

Of course, I also have a healthy guilt complex, so I now need to spend the rest of my day trying to make up for having such evil thoughts toward a fellow human being. Therefore, if you want a smile and a kind word, now is the time to come and see me!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Post Nav-E Sink or Swim - Ironman Thoughts

The day was gorgeous, the water was perfect, and the company was grand (thanks P___ and A___!). I could not have asked for better conditions than these for last Sunday's 2.4 mile Nav-E Sink or Swim. Granted one woman tried to drown me at the beginning of the race and another tried to drown me at the end (which, I must add, is bad form: at the beginning it is acceptable because of the crowded start conditions; at the end there's no reason to swim so close to someone else that you're whacking and yanking at their limbs). Still, I prevailed, and actually managed to enjoy the swim a good deal.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I seriously contemplated whether, when I emerged from the water, I theoretically had enough energy to get on a bicycle. After all, I was swimming amongst a whole slew of triathletes--as was made apparent by the literal sea of wetsuits, which "pure" swimmers would not wear--and I had just completed the full swim portion of an Ironman. Was 112 miles on a bicycle after that swim so out of the question?
In a word, yes.
Certainly, I wasn't exhausted. In fact, if it were just a marathon I would have to run, I would consider it within the very close realm of possibility. However, riding merely 40 miles on bicycle exhausts me. The thought of 112--with or without a swim beforehand--seems almost unachievable. Except, of course, for the fact that plenty of other people can ride that distance . . . and then run a marathon afterward, no less.
So I am not completely ruling out the possibility of someday competing in an Ironman race. First however, I'll finish the Pittsburgh Olympic Triathlon this summer, and then we'll see what's what.
Results for this race:
Race Length Finishing Time 1.2 mile splits Average Pace Overall Place Age Group Place (F25-29)
2.4 miles 1:01:09 31:11.2 / 29:57.8 24:58/mile 52/262 5/7

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How to Stoke a Girl's Ego

I am on the E train, heading up from Fulton Street to 14th (then transferring to the L to Union Square). I'm frustrated, because my initial plan had been to take the 4 train straight to Union Square; then I arrived at the Fulton Street station to find the uptown track for the 4 train closed.

I've just taken a book from my bag and opened it to the bookmarked page when the woman sitting in the seat in front of where I am standing leans forward and opens her mouth as if she wishes to say something. I bend over to hear her better.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure," I reply, assuming she's about to ask me for directions or, perhaps, something about the book I've just pulled out.

"Do you model?"

Thank you, universe. My day is now complete.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Poignant Quotes from "A Life Without Limits"

Several sections of Chrissie Wellington's memoir A Life Without Limits really spoke to me. While I am in no way the same as her, several of her descriptions of her mentality or tendencies at certain points in her life closely match my own. Whether or not that bodes well for my ambition of one day competing in an Ironman race, I have no idea, but in the meantime, here are a few quotes that really rang true to me:
How I feel every single day: “When you are lying on your deathbed, you don’t wish for more time in front of a computer.”
How I used to feel every time I raced one particular girl on the summer swim team, regardless of the fact that she swam on a year-round club team while I tap danced and took piano lessons:

I had to beat her, and every time I didn’t it made me seethe. Naomi was very driven too, but for her it was about improving herself; for me, it was about improving myself and beating everyone else.

A mentality I also struggle against: I have an illogical conception of what weakness is. If I lose a race, that is weakness; if I have a bad training session, that is weakness. For me, anything short of perfection is weakness.
How I often feel during a race, especially if it is going well:

Surreal is the word. During a race, I feel as if I’m in a kind of bubble—it’s as if I’m swimming underwater. I can see and hear all this pandemonium—helicopters, cameras, media and spectators jumping up and down—but it also feels as if it is happening just slightly somewhere else and to somebody else.

The way I try to look at the challenges of a scary race or a hard training schedule:

The interface between the conservative and ambitious impulses in the brain should be a front of continual struggle. And remembering the pain of previous sessions or races we have successfully endured gives us the confidence to go through it again, and the evidence to present to the brain that we are capable of handling it.