Friday, May 16, 2008

Is she friendly?

This one is simple but, if I might say so myself, revolutionary.

I’ve been spending a lot of time milling around dog parks lately. I don’t have a dog, or hang out with anyone who does, but it’s gotten nice out, and I don’t know what to do with myself now that the Festival is over.

I’m not too familiar with dog-owning etiquette, but through these recent Jane Goodall sessions I’ve observed fascinating patterns of behavior observed by man and his best friend. The most fascinating among them occurs anytime one dog approaches another with the intention of contact (face licking, snout biting, butt sniffing, etc.). One dog owner pulls back on his dog’s leash and asks the other dog owner, “is she friendly?” The other dog owner responds based on the personality and general mood of his dog: “Yes, but she doesn’t like to play rough,” or, “usually, but today she’s feeling shy,” or, plainly, “no, she’s not.” Green light – dogs play. Red light – both dog owners move on.

Simple, social brilliance.

Apparently it’s a universal dog interacting rule. You have to ask before your dog gets access to play. The purpose is utilitarian in origin: some dogs are more aggressive than others and just don’t play nice. Some dog owners don’t want their dogs in contact with others because the dog has flees, or a head cold, or can’t keep his you know what in his pants. There are a myriad of reasons all managed easily and with no argument by the very simple, “is she friendly?” access point question. No means no, and you can’t argue with it. Yes can be qualified (“sure, but I like to keep her on a leash” or “she’s temperamental, but you can try”), but it’s a go-ahead. It works on multiple levels. A. a dog owner knows their dog best. They can assess who should have access and in what manner. And B. dogs can’t talk. This needs no further explanation.

You see where this is going. We should be doing this. It could single-handedly solve all awkward approach interactions.

Consider this: In the human scenario the owner is replaced by a friend or family member. Prior to interacting the interested party is required to approach the friend to ask for permission to proceed. “Is she friendly?” applies (note: use of “she” and not “he” is only because I’m a girl and he/she looks ugly in print), but we could shift to something more generic, “can I talk to her?” or “is she available?” It’s then up to the friend or guardian to grant permission. Ground rules would be established prior to any outing (“okay, tonight we’re rejecting anyone under 5’9” and people who dress like they watch Gossip Girl” or just “anyone with a penis, unless they’re drinking a vodka-soda-cran”). Then proceed as directed. Sure mistakes could be made, and there is room for sabotage, but poor judgment is easily corrected:

Friend: That guy was sniffing you out but I pre-rejected him because I overheard talk about the Dallas Cowboys.
You: Hhmm, thanks, but I’m going to overturn it. I’m desperate.

The process is just as effective the other way around. Envision the following:

Guy: Hi, is that your friend right there? I’d like permission to talk to her.
Friend: Yeah, she’s with me, but she’s involved in a mess with this married guy and tends to be pretty possessive, so I’d say abort mission, but it’s up to you.

Done. If he gets bit in the ass, it’s on him.

It’s a totally new concept for the old “wing man” definition but one I argue could really create greater social efficiency and an end to the awkward mouthing of “PLEASE SAVE ME” known to bar goers the world round. It too works on multiple levels. A. friends know each other very well. They can assess who should have access and in what manner. And B. people's judgement is usually clouded by an irrational desire to talk to someone who has any remote interest in them. This needs no further explanation.

Yes, I realize this implies we’re all hopeless puppies with no control over our tendency to hump things or pee when we’re excited. But face it, a loving owner to tug at our leash when something poorly trained comes sniffing would help avoid scenarios that end with our tails between our legs...or the invention of Puggles.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Getting to knooow you.

It really started to hit me after the third conversation that went something like this:

Me: Oh nothing much, just worked on another draft of that book.
Him: Right, the novel.
Me: No, the baby book.
Him: Wait, what baby book…?

It takes some time to catch someone up on the previous 24 years of your life. After the first series of dates – those interview sessions where things like, “it’s a small town in Central Jersey” and “yep, oldest of four girls” come out – you shift into this weird phase of knowing enough to stop treating every outing like a speed dating session, but still not enough to avoid moments like, “it was right after I quit Cheerleading. Oh. Wait. Right. I was a cheerleader. Forgot to mention that…”

It’s a delicate balance, the full-life reveal. You want to be open enough to highlight everything the package includes (college education, current profession, musical tastes, major aspirations), but not so open that one might opt out before really knowing you (participated in a college tradition involving a strip tease before a crowd of hundreds – twice). Which stories you tell, which friends you highlight, what opinions you share, and what mistakes you don’t. Way more complicated than that little ditty from The King and I, though she was dead on with the second verse. It’s that “getting to hope you like me” that’s at the crux of it. That’s the part that influences the way we stack our stories.

Me – I take the project my own self-consciousness to create his presumed opinion of me approach. I’m self-conscious about my writing so I share it sparingly -- he’ll probably think my college fashion column is ridiculous. I wish I’d never been a cheerleader thus I pretend it never happened and downplay it if/when it finally comes up -- "Yeah, but there were two other captains, so it wasn’t a big deal.” Sometimes it’s deliberate (have yet to mention Drinking Survivor) and sometimes it’s not (the Junior State of America just happened to come up when we were talking about his own political involvement), but what we say and when and how we say it is always in our control. Ours to over-analyze, and then blurt out on an occasion we didn’t plan in a manner we’d frankly dump ourselves over: “Aww, that is a cute dog. Have I told you I once had an ovarian cyst?”

There’s that list of things you have to mention, in fairness, before things get too serious: my parents are divorced, I’m hoping to move abroad within 6 months, I voted for Bush, I’m a virgin. Things that, if the person finds out too late, they’ll be offended. “You probably should have mentioned that” things. Then there are things that could/should probably wait: I likely won’t stop having kids until I get a daughter, I’m roughly 5K in debt, it’s not that I don’t believe in God, it’s just that I’m not 100% sold on it/him. Things you want to test that waters on a little before you launch in. "Okay, um, good to know..." things. The rest, fair game, undefined, grey zone, hell.

This makes me sound like I’m sometimes lying (and always a freak), which is not at all the case. There’s nothing I’d keep from someone I’m truly getting to know, but any story reads differently depending on how you order the chapters. And since there hasn’t been quite the right moment to suggest we each complete one of those Kairos-style life charts outlining all major points of our personal and spiritual development, the process is going to be gradual. Gradual, and maybe a little bit awkward.

You: How was your day? Did that crazy co-worker bring her boyfriend to the party?
Him: Yeah, and get this! He was straight off the boat from Puerto Rico.
You: Oh yeah, you don’t say? Hhmm, than this might be a good opportunity to tell you that I once dated a Puerto Rican. And by once I mean right before you.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Prude is the new whore

I'm about to make a very controversial statement.

I believe that it is now more taboo to be vocally against casual sex in group conversation than for it – more clearly - that in a room full of modern 20-40 year olds, those declaring that they only participate in/approve of sex in committed, exclusive relationships will be in the vast minority.  I believe that a proud prude is the new gossiped about whore.

The theory requires some basic definitions and a lot of back peddling.

To start we have to define “casual sex” vs. “committed sex”. People use the term casual sex to describe anything done outside a committed relationship. But this can go on for months with the same person in today’s “dating” scenario, making it far from casual. It can also occur between people formerly committed, making it stupid but still not casual. Oxford describes ca·su·al (adj) as: not involving emotional commitment or promises of loyalty, or lacking in thoroughness or seriousness. Since this rings true in 9 out of 10 non-committed sex situations, the terminology stays. But for argument’s sake, the modern connotation goes more like, “free sex” or “independent sex” - worth noting as we continue.

Committed sex is easier to define. Following a talk where someone uses the words “exclusive”, “girl/boyfriend”, or “AIDS test” you’re having committed sex. Prior to that, even if you’d use the term “definitely seeing each other” or “seriously dating,” either person could casually sleep with someone else and get away with it in the court of your college roommates. It would be shitty, but it would be true.

So we’ve got casual sex (no “the talk”) and committed sex (post “the talk”).

On to taboo – not as easy to define. Oxford again: ta·boo or ta·bu (n) a type of behavior or belief system that is disapproved of because it is considered socially unacceptable. Clear enough.  So I’m arguing that the belief that committed sex is the only appropriate form of sex and (more importantly) expression of that belief is considered socially unacceptable by the majority of modern sex-havers because they collectively believe otherwise (read it twice and then re-write it in proper grammer).

Here’s where I back peddle because my sisters read this. I’m not saying the masses are right. I’m not even saying that they individually believe what they openly support. I’m saying that if the modern world caucused Iowa-style on casual vs. committed, the casual side of the high school gym would be packed.

The root of this theory isn’t groundbreaking. People have been having casual sex far longer than the invention of Samantha Jones. And for just as long, people have determined that sex outside a relationship is not for them. Both fair positions. But that’s not the controversial part of my controversial statement. The controversial part is the vocal part.

Yes I live in the Sex & The city and work for a company that eagerly uses the word fuck in published editorial. So I acknowledge that if we caucused Iowa-style in Iowa numbers would be slightly skewed. But major social trends don’t start west of the Mississippi (I’m not counting LA because I don’t like it).

For good or bad – you’re no longer hearing proud voices around the water-cooler saying, “No, I haven’t slept with him because I don’t sleep with people before we’re committed to each other because I don’t believe in that for x, y, or z reasons.” You’re hearing, “Oh (blush) not yet.” Or, “Haha (blush) I don’t kiss and tell.”  From the stronger voices maybe a, "Um...none of your business!"  It’s phasing out of the vernacular and not because it’s no longer something people believe or practice. I think it’s because it got trumped by collective comfort with, “I tried not to sleep with him on the first date, but it had been so long” or “Wow! Three weeks! So…how’s the sex??”

That's the heart of my very bold theory.  That, right now, there is only one socially hailed form of sexual behavior, and it does not involve a wedding night.  

There are people, call them shy/self-respecting/what-you-will, who aren’t vocalizing it at all. They’re not concerned with what’s taboo or not. But abstaining doesn’t give a point to the other side. It’s mob rule in culture wars, and right now, in my very bold opinion, the casual camp wins, hand down. The only outstanding question is, why?

Monday, May 12, 2008

"So...what's he like?"

In fairness, I’ve never raised a child.

So I’ve never had to bear seeing that child rejected by a middle school crush or crying because their braces just got tightened too tight. I’m told these rights of parenting passage are particularly difficult for Moms – all part of that love-them-more-than-you-even-knew-you-were-capable-of love that gives 100-pound women the ability to lift vehicles under which their kids are trapped.

It’s easy for me to say that I’ll be perfectly calm and very understanding in the passenger’s seat as my child drives for the first time. Or think it's cool and expressive when they arrive home from study abroad with a nose ring. Or ask only the most reasonable, not-too-invasive questions while appearing supportive and thrilled when they arrive home and announce that they're dating someone really great.

Apparently it’s not that easy. Apparently that mothering instinct flicks off some mental switch from "normal annoying" to "complete crazy pants" making sane questions like, “so what are his hobbies?” tumble out as insane questions like, “strange that he didn’t go home for Mother’s Day, no? What do you think that says about him?”

Like I said – I’ve never even had a child, let alone raised one to 24.75 years, so I just can’t say how I’d react when confronted with a man who did not fly home to North Caroline for Mother’s Day trying to steal away my prized first born (Me: Mom, his parents are vacationing in England. My Mom: So they’re vacationing on Mother’s Day without him…interesting.), but I’d like to think that if and when I do, I’ll pull out my crazy-shit Mom censor and only ask reasonable, polite questions.

My mom, no such censor. Full-on, insane question vomit:
  • Mom: So he’s 29? So – hhmm - that means he’ll be 30?
    Me: Um, yes, that’s the goal.
  • Mom: Oh he has a dog?
    Me: Yeah, adorable dog that he shares with his roommates.
    Mom: You know, a dog is a lot of responsibility. Do you think you have the time for that?
    Me: Um, well, it’s not my dog, so I’m not really that worried about it.
    Mom: Well I’m just saying…it’s a lot.
  • Me: I’m not sure exactly what I’d call him at this point
    Mom: Well are you dating? Is he your boyfriend? Are you just friends?
    Me: We haven’t really talked about it yet
    Mom: Your generation and your liberal, career-driven, not-talking-about-it, and not saving for your 401K and never cook meals at home. I did not raise you like this.
    Me: But I am saving for my 401K, and I’d say I cook about 3-4 meals a week at home. I just haven’t had that talk with him yet.
    Mom: Exactly my point.
One 4th of July when I was something like 3-years-old my Mom threatened to kill a large, male Jersey City gang member after he threw a fire cracker that landed next to my stroller. My Mom is 4’11”. Everyone who saw it happen agreed she could have taken him.

So I get it - that this crazy is just the manifestation of a love I have yet to be blessed enough to experience. And so rather than respond with frustration and sarcasm, I’ve decided to take a deep breath, answer each politely, and keep this guy as far away as possible until all the questions settle.

Note to self: have boys.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Are you sure you want this to be Your Moment?

We didn’t vacation a ton when I was growing up, but when we did it was – involved. Car trips from New Jersey to Orlando. Camping experiments in Acadia National Park. Two-week bus tours with 15 family members around most of Italy and a small piece of Switzerland. Not quite beach-front relaxation; we were out to really experience things. We were pack your sandwiches and read every single placard in the museum people.

I’m the oldest of four girls, so any family vacations were really more like group expeditions. Coordinating six people moving in unison without the use of walkee talkees or those ropes that pre-school classes all hold on to when they cross the street is a hysterical task. We wore like colors and assigned emergency meeting points, but these were not low stress occasions. If someone was afraid to go on Space Mountain, someone else lost out. Also Dani could get motion sick on a play ground swing and Sara was allergic to bees. Naturally we had our “moments.”

I can’t remember when the policy was instituted. Maybe after the fourth day of pouring rain when Mom stormed out of our tent and declared we were going to a hotel, with or without your Father! It might also have been after I dropped Dad’s laptop on the marble floor of the Hotel Cicerone in Rome, where - fyi - there are no Apple Store Genius Bars. I’m not sure if credit belong to my Mom with her Masters in Early Childhood Development, or my Dad the Ad Executive, who could entice the devil out of hell with a clever enough campaign. Somehow, by some stroke of combined parenting genius, they developed “Your Moment.”

The rule was that everyone got one over the course of the entire vacation. It could last for a collectively determined amount of time (the family voted on 30 minutes max), and was exercised at the sole discretion of the person. Your Moment was your Moment – if you wanted to cry or carry on or sulk or give everyone the silent treatment, that was your prerogative, but you could only do it once – and once you did it – you’re Moment was up. Hitting, kicking, biting, and cursing were not allowed. You could physically distance yourself from the group, but not so far that Mom or Dad couldn’t still see you. And your Moment was to be respected. No matter how ridiculous or wasteful it seemed to the rest of the group, Your Moment was your choice, and no one was allowed to make fun of your decision to use it because you couldn’t grab a stuffed animal out of the arcade machine after three tries. If that was your breaking point, so be it.

After years and years of playing this psychological game (which at the time I considered such a steadfast policy that I once used my Moment because Dani made fun of Alex’s Moment which was obviously completely against the rules!!), I can’t remember many of the actual temper tantrums. But what is absolutely burned inside my brain is the sound of either of my parents and any of my sisters saying, “Um…is this going to be it? Is this going to be your Moment?” They would pause (even the baby – it was priceless) and then launch into the lynchpin of the Moment tactic: “Because if you really want this to be your Moment then that’s fine. It’s up to you. But then that’s it.” Pause, dramatically. “So, if I were you, I would think long and hard about it. Maybe save it for something more worth it.”

9 times out of 10 we would stop, pout, and walk away – defeated and yet unknowingly victorious. It was parenting brilliance.

I ran into a particularly difficult client day eight of the Festival. It was 9:30 in the morning on a cold-ish, rainy-ish day that makes everything seem more out of control. She was at the end of her rope having spent a week dealing with their company President, a 75-year-old Irish man intent on having his product displayed in every corner of the Festival – bar or otherwise. It wasn’t me she was freaking out at – just the situation at large. Not enough bar signage, not enough branded glassware, the President would be furious, how are we going to fix this?!?! All the while flailing her blackberry at me and threatening things like nervous breakdown and removing the liquor from every venue for the rest of the Festival!!

I grabbed her blackberry out of her hand, walked her to a quiet corner, and said, Kate, let me tell you a story about my Family.

She decided this wasn’t going to be her Moment. In two days the President’s wife was coming and she might need to use her Moment then. Good thinking, I said, you’d feel like a fool wasting it when it wasn’t really necessary. Spot on, she said.

I know my parents tricked us into behaving. They created this sickly genius sibling competition of who could use their Moment last, if at all. But it worked - so well that I’m now using it as the cornerstone of my client management process.

God they were good.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

N-n-now that that that don't kill us

I have never - and frankly will never - run a marathon. The only sport I’ve played is cheerleading and, while the training was painful, we did it in mini skirts and ended it with lemonade. For a week during my senior year of college I volunteered in orphanages throughout Kingston, Jamaica. It was very hot and very emotional but only five days long and we all got free rum.

There are things that push you to your emotional and physical brink: war, childbirth, triathlons – those are the biggies as I see it. They usually involve little sleep, high stress, and no money. I had never been involved in anything quite that “break you down” until I started working for the Tribeca Film Festival. Having just today completed my second Festival I feel qualified to nominate it for placement among those biggies (frankly, I think it’s way worse than what I’ve heard about childbirth, but you don’t end up with a kid when it’s over, so birth remains).

13 days working a total of 208 hours at 36 events serving 71 sponsors, business partners, and the like. It’s a lot like war accept you’re not allowed to kill anyone and you have to wear a dress. Yes, there are celebrities and amazing films and once-in-a-lifetime experiences but the day-to-day tasks are far less glamorous than the Access Hollywood coverage would suggest. One day I worked coat check for a party of 1,000 because my volunteer "didn't feel like it."

Kanye West once said, “Work it, make it, do it, makes us harder, better, faster, stronger.” True and poignant words. Of course he also said, “Why everything that so bad make me feel so good?” Both apply to my Festival experience.

I worked – harder and faster than I ever have before. I’d like to think I became stronger than I was prior – emotionally and physically (for some reason setting up bars for various functions with POS (point of sale) items from our beverage sponsors falls under my job description. 6 foot tall Stella neon signs are as heavy as they look.

I survived – succeeded some might even say -- and cliché as it is to say, built some of that ever-elusive but commonly hailed “character” to which loving parents and Lifetime original movies commonly allude. It’s like back-packing around Europe or writing your first screenplay. Once you do it you know you can do it, and then you start to wonder just what else you can do. Then just like that, in a haze of Festival swag, free booze, and “then Whoopi turned to me and said, ‘Damn, your Festival’s been around for a minute, but you’re really doin’ it,’” moments, your brink gets nudged a bit further.

It will be good to arrive home in the daylight and eat meals that aren’t passed to you bite-by-bite by people in oddly fitting tuxedos. Tonight I will catch up on four weeks worth of television while putting away the mountain of shoes piled up on my bedroom floor. Over this coming weekend I will call many friends and even see some of them in person. Then, after almost two months, I will make my return to the gym.

But it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life. I'm not sure if it's that I'm still drunk on the Tribeca Cool Aid or if I'm just the type person that thrives on this kind of crazy, but I’d take another five days of it all. But anything more than that would definitely be beyond my brink -- plus I'd have to repeat outfits.