Pre-coffee: I am easily endeared

I’ve recently come to terms with my impossible-to-kick propensity for projecting onto strangers. It’s just a thing I do. And I do it with a confidence that is pretty unreasonable, by any standards. Is it fair to the people I observe? Often, no. My perception is dependent on countless variables, very few of them being controllable by either myself or the person in question. Chance! It is what life is all about. But many times, the portraits I blindly paint of strangers end up sympathetic and even affectionate. My last blog post, admittedly, was not a great example of this – it was a prime example of my ability to project, but she was unlucky enough to land on the negative end of my Spectrum of Bus Strangers. Today, we will explore the other end. Is your heart ready to be warmed this crisp September afternoon? Because I’m not into guarantees.

Over the course of the summer, I grew very fond of a mother-son pair across the aisle from me. She had an accent – something Eastern European – and cropped brown hair, a kind face. More often than not, she was wearing a cardigan. I never saw her without a crossword puzzle in her lap, which I liked. Her young son, probably ten years old, usually elected to sit in the seat behind her with his clunky, slate gray laptop. He held it like he’d never owned anything more precious. The reflections of light in his wire-frame glasses sometimes obscured his eyes, but never his quiet excitement. One morning, I overheard a conversation between the mother and our bus driver (this was an exceptionally personable bus driver, and he reminded me of a train conductor from the fifties) – she explained that her son was attending computer camp at my university. As if a kid at computer camp isn’t sweet enough, I immediately thought of the woman’s love for her boy. She took the bus into the city with him every weekday for at least a month, presumably dropped him off at his class and waited for him to be done, and then accompanied him on the peak-traffic bus ride home. This gave me a lot of feelings. Her supportiveness. Her sacrifice of summer days. Her dedication to making sure her kid got to do something he loved. Oh, my heart. Seldom does a pair of strangers strike me with such poignancy. Devoted parents everywhere: I admire and appreciate you on the highest possible level.

There was also the Animated Phone Conversation Lady. On any other day, I would have been irritated out of my mind with this woman. Her voice was loud and gruff in a chainsmoker kind of way, and she made clear her impatience with the person on the other end of the line. But for reasons I do not remember, I was in a very good mood that day. I paused my music just in time to hear her snap “she!!! is going!!! to lunch!!! with PATRICK!!! at noon!!!” Her anger was somehow good-humored, which sounds impossible but I can assure you it is not. I loved having no context for this conversation. Earlier, she had identified Lunch Date Patrick as “that freaky fucker” and I was automatically endeared to her. One communication disaster blurred into another as she left her daughter a voicemail, calling the girl’s father by the wrong name and correcting herself a second later. “Hah, oh my god, I promise I know who your dad is.” By the end of that call I think she’d noticed my attentiveness and laughed as she explained her state of mind as “pre-coffee.” I stifled an “I love you, who are you” and simply told her I was familiar with that feeling. I hope she got her coffee. And I hope Patrick lives up to that nickname, even though I’m not sure what that would entail.

Honorable mentions include the edgy guy self-diagnosing on WebMD; the scraggly, white-haired old man with a cane, his dog, and the fresh-faced girl the dog nuzzled into with a sweetness and familiarity only achievable by mangy dogs; the frazzled new bus driver with dark eyes, cracking jokes about how he preferred driving semis cross-country over this shit; the toddler who defiantly held a Starburst over a crack between seats as her mom warned “don’t you do that! ohhhh, don’t you do that!” – and then she dropped it; the man with the freckles and a baseball cap who described the Seattle summers of ’59 and ’71 as “sunny, but not this kind of heat”; and finally, the driver who tossed his trash into the little bucket at the front of the bus with such accuracy that I knew he must have done it a billion times before.

I love people. I really do.

The Ambiguity of Laughter

In what is quite possibly a subconscious effort to preserve individuality in the age of technology, everyone seems to develop a distinctive texting style. There are a number of factors that can shape a person’s style – reply time, use of abbreviations, memes, emojis, etc. – but undoubtedly one of the most important is the textual portrayal of laughter. Just another ridiculous subject on the never-ending list of Things I Don’t Understand.

Some people opt for “LOL.” Some for “lol.” Some for either of those, only used ironically. I’ve seen the full range from “hehe” to “teehee” to “tee-haw,” occasionally “MUAHAHA” if the person is feeling something a little more maniacal. Ever since I ditched the use of “LOL!” in the 8th grade, I have been, exclusively, a “haha” or “hahaha” kind of girl, and I have always been slightly self-conscious about it. Am I actually uttering those two or three syllables when I respond to a text? In 99/100 cases, no. But I also feel self-conscious when there is not a “haha” attached, as the short phrase is the equivalent of a smile in a face-to-face interaction, in my eyes – I feel like I’m being curt and not engaging in the conversation if “haha” is absent. Sometimes it can be replaced with a smiley face. But those can be over-the-top pleasant in some situations, or unintentionally flirty in others. Do you see my dilemma?

As if “haha’s” mere presence wasn’t problematic enough, I also have to worry about the placement. While I used to stick to only using it after the end of a sentence, basically as its own sentence (“This is a dumb blog post. Haha.”), I have recently moved to using it primarily at the beginning of a sentence, with a comma (“Haha, seriously though, so dumb.”). The latter, I feel, flows better. But I have noticed that a sizable chunk of the population sees no separation at all between laughter and sentence, choosing to neglect any marks of punctuation. Is this style to be interpreted differently? Like, are they supposed to be laughing while saying whatever they are saying? Does “Haha.” as its own sentence sound like laughter was an afterthought? What should I be doing? AM I DOING IT WRONG?

If you came here looking for answers, I have none to offer. I continue to be perplexed by this 21st century phenomenon. I’ve tried to quit “haha” cold turkey a couple times, but it is easier said than done and I have failed at all attempts. Consider this a quiet little cry for help.

lol

Rant No. 2

You know what I really hate? The way crane flies buzz into my room and just die on the floor. But I’m not going to talk about that today.

A couple months ago, I was very passively involved in/eavesdropping on a conversation about the downfalls of social networks, Facebook in particular. These guys were complaining about the little “what’s on your mind?” box being a platform for people to exhaustively keystroke-vomit each unimportant detail of their lives onto every camp friend and coworker virtually residing on their respective friends lists. Am I right in thinking we all complain about this very thing at one time or another? I know I’m guilty of it. But while I was listening to these guys talk about their concerns, I realized a few of my own.

Not long after this, my mom sent me a NYT article (as she is wont to do) called “How Not to Be Alone” by Jonathan Safran Foer, an author whose brilliance both intrigues and frustrates me. I encourage you to read it, but I promise I won’t cry if you decide not to. Basically, Safran Foer discusses the ever-changing relationship between humanity and technology, and I believe it can be pretty accurately summed up in one sentence from the article: “technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat.” GENIUS. Thank you for that, Jonathan, thank you. (I’m actually not being sarcastic for once in my life, this is legit, guys)

Obviously, I don’t keep my love for the internet a secret. I love reading blogs, watching British people attempt American accents on YouTube, and seeing pictures of my friends on vacation. I try to maintain an aesthetically-pleasing Instagram account; sometimes I retweet Mindy Kaling. I definitely use texting to keep in touch with people, and you are dead-wrong if you think I don’t enjoy it. My point is I’m not anti-technology. I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I’m not one of those people who’s always like “ah, the olden days…” No. I’m not like that. But occasionally I get a little freaked out when I realize how crazily intertwined we, the humans, are becoming with them, the computerthings.

A lot of people say our phones have become “extensions of our arms.” Although that’s poetic and eerie and I like it, I think it focuses too much on the physical aspect – we are always physically on our phones – and not enough on the mental aspect. I find it difficult to concentrate on the simplest things sometimes because I’m like, ooh, I wonder when so-and-so’s gonna text me back about this-or-that. Even when my phone or my computer or whatever is not in my hand, it is on my mind. Ew. I should be thinking of things much more important than a $200 rectangular chunk of glass.

As for the retreat part, oh my god. I mean, pretending to talk on the phone to avoid real conversation. Scrolling through Twitter or whatever to look busy. Plugging in the headphones to tune out all other human beings. Need I say more? That is passivity or retreat out in the real world. In the world where your entire person is condensed to just a string of weird computer coding, it’s a little bit different. Facebook, for example, makes it very possible to “know” someone without ever even speaking to them. You’re not actively getting to know that person by perusing their about page and their likes; there’s no exchange there. And although I can see the good things about texting and facebook statuses and tweets, I think it has become increasingly easy over the years to develop an internet alter ego. I’ve encountered people whose personalities flip a 360 when being conveyed by their thumbs instead of their mouths. Personally, I think that’s kind of a dangerous habit.

I’m definitely not one of those people who has “lost faith in humanity.” Those people are cynics, and if you want to find them, pay a visit to tumblr or something. I’m just… skeptical. I am conscious of the problems skipping hand-in-hand into our lives with the progression of technology, but I don’t think we’re too weak to resist them. Yeah, it’s easy to choose a bright and inviting iPhone screen over potentially awkward interactions with real people. I get it. But when we experience things in reality, in the physical, tangible, human world, those moments become more real, rewarding, and more embedded in our memories – not the memories of our SIM cards.

So. What’s all this mean? Well I, for one, am going to try to be more present. If you want to join me on this little quest, I’d love some company. Also, I would love for someone to come pick up these dead crane flies on my floor, please and thank you.