On the strangeness of truth

You wouldn’t believe it, but I was once dumped in a park while a couple stepped around goose poop to have their engagement photos snapped beneath lime-colored leaves. 

You wouldn’t believe it, but whenever I get lonelier than I previously thought possible, I just take a walk downtown and surround myself with train car awnings, staged displays, and afternoon drunks. It’s good for mental momentum. 

You wouldn’t believe it, but I once fell in love with a guy who called me darlin’ and smoked without stinking. 

You wouldn’t believe it, but based on my dating history, if you want to kiss me, you just need to play an instrument, be crippled by depression, have no concept of self, hide behind your empathy, or just have an active Okcupid account. 

You wouldn’t believe it, but I’d like to reinvent myself. Go from this melancholy cardigan-wearing blonde to a fiery alpha woman. This transformation is possible. It’s happened after two or three vodka lemonades. 

  

You wouldn’t believe this, but tonight I wrote for two hours by citronella candlelight with the company of the dumbest junebug in the state of Wisconsin. 

What we laugh about when we laugh

Whenever I’ve been asked to describe my sense of humor, I begin answering under the assumption that I absolutely know its definition. “I’m kind of silly and self-deprecating,” I start saying. This is about as far as I get before I start to second guess how to continue. My instinct is to continue, “I think it’s a bit smarter than other people’s sense of humor. Not in a referential sort of way, just in a more sensitive and observational way.”

It’s a good thing that’s not a vague description.

I’ve been seeing someone the last few weeks and he’ll often try jokes on me. When I don’t laugh, he seems surprised. At this point, he probably shouldn’t be shocked anymore. We have fairly different styles of humor. His jokes tend to comment more on mental models of societal groups. That’s my polite way of saying he makes jokes about stereotypes. He’s an equal opportunity commenter – Asians, lesbians, Jews, and feminists are all free game in his book.

I recognize that there’s a group of people who enjoys this vein of comedy. “It’s clever & plays on the peculiarities that we avoid articulating,” they probably argue. Maybe there are some comedians out there who do this exceptionally well. To do it successfully, I imagine you’d have to combine stereotypes, social commentary, & wordplay in a fresh way. These are probably the same kinds of comedians who ridicule the audience members who don’t laugh at the jokes. “Ohhhhhhh. Don’t want to laugh at that and get your liberal panties in a bunch, do ya? Come on, we’re all assholes here.”

Until recently, I haven’t been forced to explain why I’m not a fan of this kind of comedy. I think I’ve got it though. The way I see it, this vein of comedy functions primarily by poking at others. Beyond the obvious (making the audience laugh), I can only assume the goal is to portray the comedian as a witty, superior, and crudely charismatic alpha. I’m either too jaded or I’ve read too many books to not see through this. Whenever I hear this stuff, it’s like the comedian is offering the joke up and expecting the audience to award him for being so clever and ballsy to speak so politically incorrect.

The thing about politically offensive jokes is that if they’re not done well, it backfires and makes the comedian look insecure. These jokes aren’t gutsy. They’re simple commentary whose vehicle is previously established phrases and unevolved assumptions. Instead of uniting people in a shared experience, it divides them between those “gutsy enough” to laugh and the “prudes.” Call me idealistic, but I don’t see the humor in an offensive term or quip that reduces a person (or group of people) to single societally-decided negative characteristic.

We’re complex creatures whose narratives continuously overlap, but so much of our lives are spent focusing on obligations and frustrations to see that our insecurities and quiet humiliations are universal. The jokes I appreciate function on good storytelling and the comedian’s willingness to be vulnerable. It’s wry and sensitively self-deprecating. Instead of simply illustrating their own idiocy, the comedian is telling a personal story that resonates with the audience at an individual level.

Stand up

I’ve said this all without ever having done so much as an open mic, so that might weaken my entire argument. But that standup spotlight and mic has got to be lonely. Nobody wants tell a joke and see offended expressions and obligatory laughter. I’m sure there’s a multitude of reasons a person does standup, but the goal is the same: to feel connected. This isn’t an argument for easy jokes to get the most laughter. But if you’re going to do this at all, what’s the sense in seeking anything other than a genuine connection with the audience?

Nicole Krauss & Hydrangeas

Goddamn I have good taste.

If at large gatherings or parties, or around people with whom you feel distant, your hands sometimes hang awkwardly at the ends of your arms – if you find yourself at a loss for what to do with them, overcome with sadness that comes when you recognize the foreignness of your own body – it’s because your hands remember a time when the division between mind and body, brain and heart, what’s inside and what’s outside, was so much less. It’s not that we’ve forgotten the language of gestures entirely. The habit of moving our hands while we speak is left over from it. Clapping, pointing, giving the thumbs-up: all artifacts of ancient gestures. Holding hands, for example, is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together. And at night, when it’s too dark to see, we find it necessary to gesture on each other’s bodies to make ourselves understood.

– Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

This is me, copping out on writing a blog post on a Friday night because I bought myself flowers and I want to read pretty words.

You’re welcome.

On the Verge of 27: Expectations vs. Reality

So, the last thing I left you all with was a brief, barely edited & segue-free piece about my family needing to put our family dog to sleep. It was real uplifting, I know. I thought it would keep you happy for at least six months. My parents have since adopted another dog – a yellow lab named Duke who often prefers a too-small cat bed to his memory foam futon contraption and loathes isolation so much that he attempts to slyly crawl on your lap while you’re working on your taxes or reading. If he succeeds, he falls asleep on top of you.

He had been snoring for 20 minutes when I took this picture.

He had been snoring for 20 minutes when I took this picture.

It feels a little blasphemous to have a dog so soon after Jack was gone. I try to visit my parents once a week, and I keep catching myself calling him Jack. He answers to it half the time, so I guess it works. I often wonder how the two dogs would get along. I’d like to think that they would, but I think Jack may have experienced some kind of puppy-envy. Jack spent years earning the right to crawl on the bed or couch. Duke’s been around for about a month and has practically forced his way up. He’s so pitiful that it seems cruel to say no. He’ll walk up to you, rest his head on your lap (or keyboard, crochet project, book, etc), whine, and stare at you until you resign and invite him up.

Other than that, I’ve been doing a lot of the same things I talk about each time I return after a blogging hiatus: working, reading, dating, crocheting, justifying Target purchases, and eating ice cream. It’s life. My only real goals for 2015 were to learn all the lyrics to Kanye West’s Graduation & get super skinny. I’ve made progress on one of those.  (WAKE UP MR WEST, MR WEST, MR BY HIMSELF HE SO IMPRESSED) Notable exceptions are as follows:

  • Deciding to read one book at time rather than six
  • Discovering that emojis are not an app I have to pay for – they’re just on my iPhone
  • Signing up for Stitchfix, & keeping everything in my first fix.
  • Getting a In-Home Try On from Warby Parker and finding a pair of glasses that make me feel unstoppable.
NO ONE (WO)MAN SHOULD HAVE ALL THIS POWER

NO ONE (WO)MAN SHOULD HAVE ALL THIS POWER

While for the most part, I love my life, once in a while, I take a step back and look at myself through the eyes of 18-year old Ashley. She doesn’t get why I’ve been spending so much time with Excel and so little with a notebook and RSVP pen. She also doesn’t care about self-imposed midweek curfews or sensible casual office wear. Car insurance is something that Dad apparently makes the payments on, and rent will never be a responsibility. She thinks I should read more Chuck Palahniuk (she’s wrong) and fewer Vice articles (she’s probably right).

I’ll turn 27 at the end of the month. Eighteen year old Ashley assumed I’d be married and pregnant with my first child by now. As far as a career, I wouldn’t be doing anything really. My husband would take care of all of the expenses – including all my student loans – because he’s a gentleman like that. Though her ability to be incredibly self-absorbed without a speck of self-awareness is impressive, I wish she would have had her heart broken earlier in life. It would have saved the universe fewer re-readings of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But whatever – she was too busy being oblivious and trying to prove to baristas that she was cool.

Self-deprecation aside, I just assumed my life would be filled with more creativity and music than spreadsheets and metrics. It surprises me how much I love my job sometimes. I assumed I would never lose my drive to journal or wax nostalgic while listening to Beck. As college was wrapping up, I sometimes imagined living in my own sunny studio apartment, baking ginger scones in the morning, and reading Flannery O’Connor stories as the sun rose, not caring that I was just barely making rent & student loan payments while working as a barista. (That sentence is hilarious for two reasons: 1, I own way too much crap to ever fit into a studio apartment & 2, don’t be absurd: baristas can pay one or the other: rent or student loans.) I didn’t imagine leaving the office at 8:30 after Excel froze because of too many countifs formulas on a tab of an executive summary page.

I miss how my younger self disregarded margins and completely filled notebooks with her thoughts. Though she was meeker and far more impractical, her only real aspiration was to live vibrantly. At 27, my life is now vibrant in different ways than I expected: A fulfilling career has replaced my housewife pipe dream, and independence has replaced my assumptions of comfortable monotony and security. I still read a lot of books. I laugh often. I’m comfortable in my own skin and am comfortable articulating my thoughts. Is that really so bad?