Category Archives: Social Cues

How to Cope with Reality after Living in a Book

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Nothing beats the depression of reading the last paragraph of a captivating novel, only to turn the page and snap back into the reality that none of it was real. The events were pretend. You are not a Geisha. “A” is no longer for Alibi. And you do not, under any circumstances, want your slimy boss to tie you up and ravage you.

Yet, somehow you need to muster up the stamina to leave the fantasy world behind, go to work, and interact with the three-dimensional people. Even as you secretly harbor anger for a world that didn’t continue into an eighth book. Even though, while you were saddened by the death of Dumbledore, the real tragedy was that the closest you’ll get to living at Hogwarts is going to Disney World and yelling Expelliarmus! at the pretzel vendor.

So how do we leave the fantasy behind? How do we begin coping with the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Novel Disorder so we can function in the real world?

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Step 1: Recognize the symptoms and admit that you have a problem. Within an hour after putting down your book, do you have to stop yourself from speaking with an accent that is not your own? Do you begin online shopping for old-timey fashion accessories, such as bloomers or Yankee Militia Jackets? Do you start paying particular attention to your co-workers’ eating happens in case they are, in fact, vampires? And most importantly, are you about to throw your squeaky-clean corporate image down the drain so you can get a tattoo and start solving mysteries?

Step 2: If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, put the book down right away and schedule a lunch-date with a friend. If your friend begins to recount details of her weekend bar crawl, and you respond with “Frankly, I don’t give a damn” while twirling your parasol, you will quickly realize that you must decide between a relationship with your friends and one with your books. Try to muster up the courage to choose the former.

Step 3: If you do choose the latter and storm away from the table demanding, from the pages of Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography, that “no one can make me feel inferior without my consent!” then attend a Reader’s Anonymous Meeting (a.k.a. book club). Discussing your obsession with other addicts will at least make you feel like you’re not the only lunatic in the world.
There are many others, and we are all here to support you.

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Politi-cillin: a Painful (but Necessary) Dose of Reality

Syringe 5 with drops.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a rule at work that we can’t discuss politics or religion. Every day, I bring the newspaper to read during my lunch break, and my coworkers ask me if there’s any good stuff in there, pointing to advertisements for half-off Swiffer Dusters and $19.99 Bed, Bath & Beyond Deluxe Juicers—all of which are sandwiched between articles about mass murders in Syria and the Sudanese border conflicts. Sadly, the conversation goes far enough for me to pull out the ads and glance at them for a second before we ponder aloud whether or not Macy’s has better deals. Then, as quickly and boringly as it began, the conversation is over.

Likewise, in our modern social lives there’s an unspoken rule to not discuss anything political or religious. After all, it might lead to hurt feelings. It’s much simpler when we can just contribute a comment about Jessica Simpson’s Weight Watcher’s deal and then keep sipping our lattés in peace. Even Congress members don’t want to ruin the day by talking about the political climate of the country. In the midst of falling off the fiscal cliff, it only took the faint smell of a Christmas turkey before they had their jet-black SUV’s lined up and waiting for them outside.

So what’s happening in modern society that no one can, or will, have friendly conversations about the world-altering movements that are shaping our lives? Certainly the issues haven’t become more pressing than they were in the past, nor the perspectives more radical, nor the people more convicted in their beliefs. Yet the dialogue has slowed, almost halting altogether. Rather than engaging in philosophical discourse, everyone avoids the subject in fear that it will turn into a whirlwind of Hatfield & McCoy finger-pointing. So many interesting truths can emerge during a discussion about the role of government, the influence of religion, and the way social programs aid society. But everyone shies away from honest discourse, something I’m sure the CEO of Lehman Brothers would agree with. So what’s the real reason for this—the reason why I have to skip over the World News section of the paper to talk about Swiffers and Juicers or the reason why it’s not polite to ask my friends who they voted for in the elections?

The reason is that people are self-serving. If someone disagrees with us, it’s a personal affront to our way of living. People connect to political and social issues as if their very opinions are going to shake the world into perfection, often by expressing these opinions on Facebook (while subsequently cowering in the corner when any real discussion is about to occur). No longer does our society feel satisfied listening to others’ beliefs and then weighing differing perspectives. Why do that when it’s easier to shout something out an open door and then slam it shut? After all, ignoring others’ responses is as easy as turning off the computer. Influencing politics through discourse and then action is too altruistic in a world where we constantly want to shout (or tweet) our own beliefs, ignore everyone else’s, and then run away from action. People are self-serving. And it’s creating a world where each man is only out for himself.

The solution, then, lies in realizing that just as we all covet our national right to vote, we should also covet our ability to have open and honest discourse with our bunk-mates on this planet.

Talk about what matters. Get heated. Have differing opinions. Observe how our government officials problem solve and interact during conferences and through various new channels; watch how they discuss the most critical issues plaguing our nation.

And then use it as a model of what not to do.

The Real Social Network

The future is here. Over the past couple of decades, computers have begun to replace our math and grammar skills, edged us out of our jobs for financial efficiency, and even substituted our presence on the moon and undersea. We, as humans, are now becoming obsolete to the machines we have created (thank you, Mary Shelley for predicting a future of Dr. Frankenstein vs. The Creature). Now as a final phase of the process, we have become so used to this mechanized world, that we, too, are turning into computers—zombie-like, creativity-impaired computers. And as a warning: it didn’t end well for Dr. Frankenstein.

The most astonishing form of this transition comes by the way of communication. This isn’t just the deterioration of communication through the obvious channels: text-messaging, Facebook posting or any other type of virtual speech. Instead, it’s in the way we think (or don’t think) when we are speaking to our fellow humans. Every response to a question has a colloquial counterpart that can be bounced back. Wish you wouldn’t have partied so hard in college and made better choices? Monday morning quarterbacking’s a bear. Envious of your friend’s new condo? The grass is always greener on the other side.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg (isn’t it original to compare the magnitude of the problem with a submerged mass of ice?). I was reading my Marie Claire magazine: a typical place for women to flock when they want standard advice to problems that the fashion industry imparted upon them. And there, in the @Work section (because even magazine editors must shorten “at”), were conversation starters for a working dinner. Not Dale Carnegie-natured tips, but rather advice for people who just folded-up their tents and moved out of the woods. The first pointer was to ask about the weather…for the duration of the appetizer. When the main course comes, you may then move onto a deeper discussion, asking about the recent deal you negotiated in the office. But, as Marie Claire warns, that stops when dessert is placed in front of you, as it is now time to converse about something less stressful, like weekend plans.

So getting past whomever’s annoying idea it was to parallel your conversation with the complexity of the courses, like some kind of symbolism, when in history did we begin to demand a guide-book for how to converse with other people?

This transformation was born from nothing other than competition. In a world where every job is a coveted position, where every conversation has an ulterior motive, and where every process has become mechanized for efficiency, there isn’t a need to be creative with dialogue. The appropriate responses to questions have become streamlined so that we always have the best answer possible. But here’s an idea: we could all talk to each other like people. We could stop pretending that the weather is something interesting to talk about, especially at a working dinner. We could realize that it’s possible to meet an executive without going to a networking event. We could even genuinely respond to our friends, instead of saying true, or that’s crazy to something that we all know wasn’t that crazy.

Spoiler alert: at the end of Frankenstein, everyone dies. The Creature prevails. So instead of social networking, just be social…and don’t let the world turn you into a science experiment.

Siri: You Don’t Own Me–I Own You

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

In our current iNeedEverything era, most people don’t just have an iPhone. Most people also have an iPad to flash at the office, an iPod that connects to their paycheck-sucking iTunes account, and probably an old iTouch lying around (because at one point in our lives, paying for a $30 data plan was just plain outrageous!). And it’s not our fault we’ve collected this myriad of digital companionship. (Right?) I mean, why wouldn’t we fall into the trap of buying all this after watching Apple commercials that proclaim that all of life’s happiness is neatly packaged into this little gadget? And even if you aren’t tantalized by the promises of everlasting happiness, then at the very least you must want to join the revolution, so as not to be left out as one of those people who still reads paper newspapers, looms around the bookstore, and use phones for (gasp!) calling people.

But the problem is not the gadgets, or for that matter, anything else that us modern consumers can’t seem to live without. The problem is that when consumerism sky-rocketed simultaneously with mass-media advertising, all of a sudden the concept of dissatisfaction was born. Well, that’s even saying it lightly—dissatisfaction was born and then quickly grew into a toddler who constantly screams at us and leaves us half-drunk at the end of vodka-infused night of regrets. In other words, nothing is ever good enough for us these days. Not even having four different forms of iCrap.

But the issue goes even deeper than consumerism, and looms in the depths of how we mold our lifestyles. Job dissatisfaction, economic dissatisfaction, relationship dissatisfaction: all these are hitting us at the same time, because we see movies and TV shows that produce an image of a life that doesn’t really exist. It’s like the world has begun to choose for us how to feel, rather than us choosing for ourselves. And here’s my guilty confession: I sit back and take it! Well, of course, as a writer I should be living like Carrie Bradshaw, flirting with an expensive lifestyle filled with martini lounges and Manolo Blahniks. Oh, but reality: I get paid nothing to write and I go out for drinks at a Japanese grill because it’s half-priced in the afternoon. And my shoes are from the Rack.  Oh how trendy TV shows paint a pretty picture of what we all think we should have.

But of course there’s always a caveat. While the dissatisfaction virus does propel us into a very fake reality (hello, ‘made in China’ Fendi bag!), there is a way to use our dissatisfaction for good rather than evil. How? Separate dissatisfaction from unhappiness. It’s okay to demand more from life, as long as you realize that the way life is right now is perfectly great, too. Dissatisfaction makes people aspire to be better, so we can’t kick it down completely. I mean, if I felt all-together satisfied working my day job, I certainly wouldn’t be giving up an afternoon at the beach to sit at my computer writing, while Pandora keeps choking me with Justin Bieber songs.

Moral of the story: don’t let media make you hate your life! Just like a Mullet, dissatisfaction has to trimmed and tamed. Let dissatisfaction propel you forward. But don’t be unhappy with your current job, bank account, or friendships.

No matter how many times Apple tries to convince you that Siri is the only companion you need.


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