eighteen

tempt the shortening days
obscure the seasons turning
over a new leaf


These past few weeks have been difficult for me, but I managed to squeeze out a haiku today after a walk in the swampy heat we’ve been having, in which I was surprised to find many gentle reminders of pending fall. Peace to you.

seventeen

Pungent, dirty brass
The wholly forgotten smell
Of childhood bangles.


I cannot count the times I’ve sorted through my jewelry. When I was a kid, I kept it in a pretty glass and wooden box. Since college, my storage has devolved into a small plastic container with drawers that I now cover in a nice scarf because it’s too shameful to look upon as a twenty-five year old. I’ve purged my collection dramatically over the years, sending bags of bracelets, earrings, and necklaces to young girls from church who would appreciate them more than I, if not use them more. Beaded things, homemade things, wire and gem and silver and plastic.

 

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A practical storage solution: Necklaces on top, bracelets in the middle, and stamps on the bottom.

I am proud to say I greatly reduced my collection during college. Every time I went home, I would discard half a dozen items or so. Every time I moved, I would go through my box again and get rid of more.

I went through it again today, but I no longer set the pieces aside to give to others, and this is why: I once saved a cheap fake gold chain for probably close to fifteen years just because some teenage girl I admired had gifted it to me, even though I broke it within days of receiving it. That’s right. I saved an irreparably broken necklace for over a decade. I decided I don’t want to subject other young minds to the difficulty of parting with my useless junk down the road. It is cruel to them and a cop-out on my part, as if I somehow delay the inevitable destruction of my possessions by giving them to new owners, rather than throwing them out myself. I have been a coward.

So today I simply tossed them. Bracelets from my travels. Beach jewelry. Gifts from sisters (sorry). Somehow a necklace that was given to me for my fifth grade graduation still made the cut, and even as I sit here writing I feel both horrified by and justified in keeping it. It’s a lovely little frame with tiny pink pressed flowers behind clear resin. I haven’t worn it in years. Many years.

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Received when I was eleven. Haven’t worn since maybe fifteen. Can. Not. Part. With. It.

I threw out several things (including the last two bottles of my high school perfume!), but still kept more than I use, or will use, probably ever. I do like jewelry. I enjoy receiving it and looking at it and coveting it. But my body tends to get uncomfortable very quickly, so in reality I only wear standard 316L stainless steel rings in my various piercings, plugs in my ears (all new since adulthood), an engagement ring (new since February) and occasionally a necklace with a single pearl. In September I will add a plain titanium band.

And yet after going through my hideous box, here I am, sitting on the couch, with not one but two old anklets around my foot, and I have no intention of throwing them out today, despite this being the last time they will likely ever be worn.

When will she learn? The truth is, she is still learning.

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Just hangin’ out in my Correct Toes, wearin’ anklets. The bottom one just reeks of cheap brass.

good

The house is almost out of food, but my feet hurt too much to grocery shop and it’s too hot to cook anyway, so here I am, writing, prolonging the inevitable.

I had a good week. My car, which had been making a sound that concerned me, was discharged with a clean bill of health (and a mere thirty dollar bill) by my trusted mechanic. My partner and I watched through the new Netflix original show, GLOW, which we enjoyed immensely and recommend.

I planned every morning to get up early so I could make coffee and lunches and have enough time to sit on the couch and drink my coffee instead of heading directly to work…and I made this happen one whole time! Monday morning I had enough time to do all of the above, and to finish a short story by The New Yorker author Yiyun Li, from her stories collection Gold Boy, Emerald Girl. The experience was so lovely, so the rest of the week I continued to set alarms for 5:30, 5:45, 5:55, 6:00, 6:10, and 6:15, but, alas, my half-asleep self has always been a stubborn, brutish fiend. I hope someday to replicate the experience. Maybe when I’m forty.

The heat and humidity has once again turned my kitchen into a sauna, and my plants are loving it. Candice the Caladium seems to have new leaf growth every day, and my partner won’t stop exclaiming about the success I’ve had with my avocado plant. (Yes, it does work! Expecting homemade guacamole in approximately three to fifteen years.)  I keep having to incrementally raise the window blinds because I believe Candy and Avi are having a height competition. Finally, my ginger root decided to become a plant again, its only stimulus from my end being disuse.

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Candy
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Avi. Just decided on this name right now, if you couldn’t tell.
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Well she’s not named Blondie. Do I need pets?

 

It just started to thunder. I’m hoping the torrential rain sends a much-needed cool night our way. But right now, as the walkway floods, I’m enjoying the heavy sound of close thunder and fat rain.

boiling eggs

I am good at following directions. This has made me a teacher’s pet, an over-critical manager, and a passable cook. But following the letter of the law sometimes fails me, as it did today when I was boiling eggs.

I decided to try a new recipe for egg salad in an attempt to cut grocery costs (E. has expensive taste in lunch meat) and because it incorporated radishes, which sounded delightful. A few months ago I finally stumbled upon the best, most hassle-free, repeatable way to boil eggs perfectly, and I was excited because it was easy enough that I could add it to my [very small] collection of “recipes” I know by heart. (Although I must admit, all I remember is that it involves a steamer insert and the number thirteen.)

Fast forward to this evening. I noticed that the new egg salad recipe seemed a bit strange in how it said to prepare the eggs. I even thought the words, “This won’t work.” But directions are directions, and I followed the steps flawlessly. When it came time to peel the eggs, I went to roll the first one along the counter to break up the shell. The entire egg smashed beneath my hand, leaving a gooey, raw mess. I felt utterly betrayed. My partner ignored me as I yelled and cursed in the other room about how it wasn’t fair. Then I did something even stupider and tried peeling a second egg.

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Bottom: four of the six original eggs, round 2. Top: the replacement eggs, boiled according to my own judgment. Reflection: me angrily taking a picture.
I reboiled the remaining four and started afresh with two new ones. After recovering from my anger at the instructions, I am now only angry at myself. May this be a lesson to me, to listen to my better judgment and, for God’s sake, to memorize more basic recipes.

see

Occasionally, my friend and I take trips to garden centers together. Although we have yet to leave empty-handed, we mostly do it for the fun of browsing. We point out the things that move us, say why if we can, and the other joins in the movement.

During one of these trips he observed to me that the plants and flowers that catch my eye are very different from the ones that catch his. Different colors speak up, different forms stand out.

But this happens all the time. When I take a walk, as long as I’m not looking down (I’m prone to trip), certain things catch my eye that, based on my partner’s responses (or lack thereof), I know are not conspicuous or interesting to everyone.

I walked to work today and decided to remember some things I noticed on my way. Here are a few.

A squirrel eating a pinecone.

The cloudless sky.

A beautiful gate enclosing a shitty yard (a metaphor not lost on me).

Bricks and angles. 

The small weeds that grow in sidewalk cracks.

An old window on a collapsing house.

Chipped paint.

I don’t know why I notice the things I do, but it’s an interesting exercise nonetheless. What do you see? Why do you see it?

android

We sometimes hear stories of innocent suspects falsely confessing to crimes. They fail to get a lawyer in time and become entangled in probings and accusations until fact and fiction blur and their minds create a new reality for them – one in which they’re guilty.

People can experience this self-delusion in a less drastic way, as well. How many times have you stood in front of the mirror and told yourself you’re a strong, independent woman, when in reality you don’t earn enough to live alone and can barely dead lift fifty pounds? The idea is that if you say it enough, you’ll start to believe it.

It works with negative things, too. When people ask me how wedding planning is going, especially in terms of decorations, I have found myself repeating the mantra, “I have poor taste in design” (not because it’s true, but partly because I don’t enjoy decorating and am trying to slough the burden off onto another person, and partly because I want an excuse for not having gotten further along on this project), until I am now fully convinced that I’m the last person in the world who should be making decisions about my own wedding decor.

It’s especially easy to rewrite the self-esteems of children. Lasting damage can be caused even by simple suggestions. For example, if you imply to a child that everyone in the family is bad at math, you’ve given them reason to think they will be bad at math too, and it can make them expect failure. If this supposed obstacle is repeated to them often, math might seem too daunting of a task to bother overcoming at all. And that is how you end up with a lot of English majors.

With these things in mind, I would like to make a proposition regarding a well-loved character from a well-loved sci-fi show. A few years ago, Netflix graced us with the full body of Star Trek shows, including all seven seasons of The Next Generation. Being a Trekkie and infatuated with Commander William T. Riker from childhood, but bound by the restraints of cable, reruns, and bedtime, I was excited to finally see the episodes in order and in their entirety (and commercial-free!). My friend beat me to the punch and I ended up watching many episodes sporadically during his binge sessions; however, my partner and I started from the beginning last fall and are now on Season 6.

*Be advised: spoilers and extreme, unabashed geekiness of the philosophi-sci-fi variety to follow!*

There are certain TNG episodes that immediately get you excited (for example, Q episodes), bummed (Geordi episodes), or scared (Borg episodes). But nothing beats the realization that you’re about to experience a Data episode.

Lieutenant Commander Data is an android and the first artificially intelligent lifeform to become a Starfleet officer. He put himself through Starfleet Academy and over time earned his position as third in command aboard the starship Enterprise, where he holds the position of Chief Operations Officer. He was given human functions by his maker, as well as the ability to reprogram himself, i.e., to adapt to his surroundings. One of the very few things he incapable of is human emotion – a fact he reminds people of at the slightest provocation. Data makes attachments (read: friends) by growing accustomed to people’s presence and idiosyncrasies. He has sex. He, in a manner of speaking, reproduces. He mimics art and music and even laughter (sort of…), but he is not capable of experiencing or sharing the passions behind them. And in this one aspect Data falls hopelessly short of humanity.

Or so he is convinced.

I, however, am convinced that Data can – and does – feel.

In Season 4, Episode 3 (“Brothers”), Data finds out that his maker has built an emotion chip specifically for him, which will allow him to finally feel the human emotions he has wished to experience for himself his whole existence. This immediately becomes problematic for me. If he’s programmed to be human but is not given human emotions, is it also part of his programming to notice that lack and to strive to fill it as something that would make him complete? And if that is the case, in what way does this noticing-a-lack-and-striving-to-fill-it differ from desire, the essential human urge at the root of emotions like love, lust, and loneliness?

The beauty of a story built over the course of 178 episodes is that you really get to know the characters. And the beauty of this story also being something that you watch is that you can pick up on visual hints from the show which, in writing, would be implicit at best. You get to watch Data’s face as his maker offers him the emotion chip. And you get to watch his face when, in Jacob-and-Esau fashion, he finds out that his evil brother has duped their maker into giving it to him instead.

Did I simply impose that flicker of hope on Data’s face? Did I project his devastation? Maybe so. In the most recent episode we watched, Data asks his best friend, Geordi, whether his original poetry elicited an emotional response, and Geordi doesn’t answer right away. Data says, “Your hesitation suggests you are trying to protect my feelings. However, since I have none, I would prefer you to be honest.” After hearing him repeat this spiel over and over again over the course of the show, even to people who definitely know it well by now like Geordi, it begins to sound like self-delusion.

To be a human comprises what one does and what one feels; to be a robot comprises function without feeling, utility without self-consciousness. As an experiment, I asked Siri a few formulations of the same question.

 

What differs between Siri and Data is that Data is sentient. He’s alive and he knows it. He has thought about having human emotions; in fact, his pursuit of it consumes the majority of his free time (which is considerable, because he doesn’t need to eat or sleep). We often find him in his quarters painting or talking to his cat, Spot, or working on his Shakespearean acting skills or practicing his laugh.

One reason why Data episodes are so beloved in our household is because they’re extremely touching. Despite being rather stoic, my partner usually tears up during these episodes and expresses his love for the android. Are we touched because Data can’t experience love even though he is undeniably lovable? Are we sad because he can’t feel how tragic his story is? I, for one, am touched and sad because he has convinced himself that he cannot have the full human experience, when it is clear to those close to him that, despite all his automated claims to the contrary, he already experiences a variety of emotions: friendship, loyalty, amusement; desire, disappointment, isolation; and affection toward his cat.