Category Archives: Music

What’s a Girl Gotta Do to Browse?

When I took that class a few months ago on white privilege and fighting racism, one of the reading assignments was on a website called Medium, which aims to curate “Stories to keep you informed, sane, and entertained,” with a liberal bent. It’s definitely a quality site with respected sources, and they send me daily emails with stories that cover the gamut of racism, Black experience, women’s rights, and lighter fair in dating and relationships. The daily feed is a bit too much content for me — I’m a delicate flower and these days it doesn’t take much to push me into overstimulation. But as long as I can browse and pick and choose, I’m good. Kind of like radio, you know that old-fashioned thing — I pick the station like Emerson College radio or classic rock and they do the rest.

But then I got an email that said, “Hey, we noticed you read some articles on this topic, here’s a bunch more for you.”

Wait, what? No, no, no! Don’t algorithm me! This is why I stopped liking songs on my Pandora Donna Summer station. I was young and naive when I first started listening, so I clicked on the little thumbs up icon and “liked” an ABBA song, and suddenly I was deluged by ABBA deep cuts. No, no, no! I don’t like them that much, I was just being electronically nice. So now, I don’t “like” anything, and am content to listen to repeat songs after an hour of listening. It’s a small price to pay, and feels a lot like an actual radio station.

I get that a lot of people want to control every aspect of their lives. In certain aspects of my life, I’m looking for less control. Job, family, and friends take a lot of my energy, which is good and right. Do I want to spend what’s left on micromanaging my music and reading? Not really. If I want to hear or read something specific, I’ll go find it myself. Otherwise, I kind of want you, Pandora station and Medium articles, to throw random things at me. I’m cool with it, really.

But the algorithms are on the prowl, and trying to turn me into a more narrow reader than I already am. Talk about the “echo chamber” effect. This is like the echo of the echo. I’m already a lefty leaning snowflake, so please don’t make it worse by just sending me the stuff I read. I’m not really the best judge — if I had my druthers, I’d mostly read funny articles about bad dates. But I do have some curiosity and if you show me something well-written on another topic, I may read that. But then I may be done, or I may want to know more. But I don’t know that until I get there.

While I’m browsing the shelves at the library or a bookstore, sometimes I prefer to wander the aisles and see what catches my eye. This is how I stumble upon a book I wouldn’t normally read. Or I may go right to the bodice rippers section and dive in, cuz that’s what’s on for this week. But I don’t want the librarian or the bookshop person to see my books and start telling me all the books that are similar. Unless I ask first. See how that works?

I get that places like to customize the customers experience — what with that incomprehensible alphabet soup of “UX” and “UI” and UTI, oh, wait, that’s something else. But maybe you can give me a choice first? You can even make fun of me. I would totally check a box that says, “I grew up with the randomness of radio and get crabby about having my echo chamber double echoed back at me. Please keep your algorithms to yourself.” Look you can even roll it into your goofy “branding.” Like the store Moosejaw (HQ in Michigan, don’t ya know) where I bought a coat online and had to call customer service about an issue. Those poor souls have to answer the phone, “Welcome to Mooooooooose (higher pitch) jaaaw (lower pitch).” They could make the option say, “Would you like our Mooooooooose jaw antlers to stay out of your coat buying choices? Then go ahead and click on the moose hoof. We don’t mind!”

That would actually make me crazy too, but I’m trying find a compromise here. I’m not quite sure what to do about Medium; Pandora at least gives me an option to not press the like button. How do I not read articles? Or do I have to read all of them and go crazy, or do I have to go to the main website and sift through pages of filter choices (if they even have them). Ah yes, turns out I do:

  • Recommended stories
    Featured stories, columns, and collections that we think you’ll enjoy based on your reading history
    OnOff

Off, please! OK. fine. That works. I’m still crabby that I had to go to the site in the first place to turn off something I didn’t ask for. If your algorithm really worked, you should have known that about me and turned it off yourself. Or you could at least use my wording — that’s a customization I can get behind.

 

It’s a Classic

I’d walked by the small sign on a tiny side street in Boston’s Beacon Hill many times on my way home, and always wondered what was behind the door at 37A. Most of Beacon Hill is made up of tiny side streets that barely accommodate cars, so I often feel like I’m travelling back in time and can hear a faint clip clop of horse shoes on cobblestone. The name fed into the time travel: Harvard Musical Association. I rarely saw anyone going in or out, and I wondered if Harvard, which was way across the river, had misplaced a piece of itself.

But that’s what I love about Boston. You could walk on side streets all over town and stumble on these tucked away associations and societies — some still active because of a blue blood trust, some long gone with only a plaque to mark the spot, but all of them tracing their roots back to clip clop on cobblestone.

By chance I got invited to a fundraiser of a friend’s music organization for kids called musiConnects to be held at — you guessed it, the Harvard Music Association. Two-fer! This liberal snowflake would get to support music for kids and find out what’s behind mystery door #57A. My friend asked to pass the invitation to anyone who liked classical music. I was short on time, so didn’t have a chance to drum up anyone to bring. I also wasn’t sure who of my friends liked classical music. I like it myself, once I got over my father’s efforts to push it on us as kids, and I even took some adult ed classes to learn more. It always seemed me to be a type of music that to truly appreciate it requires some knowledge of the interplay of the notes, the vocabulary, the context in which the composers worked. Unlike, say, a kickass Jimi Hendrix guitar riff. It didn’t help that I learned the hard way, you don’t just buy Schubert’s Symphony #4 for an afficionado. They want a recording by this specific symphony, with that guest conductor who was there in 2005, on the occasion of the composer’s 350th birthday.

Jimi playing pretty much anywhere is good stuff.

At least listening to kids playing classical music, I had a better chance of accessing it. I know, I know, symphonies want a broader audience, and I get it, but some of us are still intimidated by the ornate hall and the impeccably dressed musicians. And memories from that one summer concert at the Hatch Shell when a storm blew up suddenly. It delayed the performance for a short time, but also rained, hailed briefly, and then created a spectacular rainbow, which I and my small son enjoyed thoroughly. First we laughed at the crazy weather, then ooed and ahed at the rainbow, all the while getting the stink eye from the older patrons, who seemed to take issue with our glee at mother nature’s interruption.

I had no idea what to expect, but from the moment I entered at 57A, it was pure magic. The door led to a typical winding 1800’s staircase that led to a gorgeous main room. I love how so much space is hidden in these old brownstones. The streets outdoors are actually more cramped than the indoor spaces.

The walls were lined with paintings, of course, and bookcases of musical scores. The association has a storied history, cuz, you know, Boston, complete with a library, free practice rooms for musicians, and having a hand in creating the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As one does. You can read it all on their website. But that was just the appetizer.

The real treat began when muciConnects resident musicians played 5 chamber pieces, all composed by women, in  sets of string quartets, one which included the kids, and another featured a drummer of the tabla, a drum used in North Indian classical music. These professional musicians teach hundreds of Boston kids to read and play chamber music (which is typically played in small groups of 3-6 people). In the process the kids gain confidence and learn collaborative thinking.

I’m not sure what I expected, but the intimate setting and the personal chat the musicians gave about the piece and their experience with it totally flipped everything for me. This wan’t an academic talk, or giving information you could find on Wikipedia. They were speaking of it as a live thing that mattered to them. One musician introduced a piece by Fanny Mendelssohn, sister of the more famous Felix Mendelssohn (but only because he was dude). She said it was a difficult piece and during practice the group struggled with the sound, so they decided to sing the notes instead and that helped them hear it in a different way. If she hadn’t mentioned the difficultly, I might not have appreciated the last movement, which indeed sounded amazing and looked … difficult. The four bows were flying back and forth, up and down, making the notes fell over each other and into each other into a beautiful finale. When they finished the last note they all looked at each other briefly and their eyes and smiles said, “Yes! Nailed it!” And how can you not get excited when the musician says, “This a really fun, energetic piece, I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.” The joy on their faces when they played was as uplifting as the music.

Then the 3 students came up and played with their teacher/musician. The music was simple, but they did so well. They were working hard to watch their teacher and each other, smiling the whole time. The relief (no mistakes!) when it was over was just as sweet.

So what’s behind door #57A? An evening I won’t soon forget. Thanks to the musiConnect kids and their teachers for showing me that classical music actually is accessible, even to a Jimi Henrix fan like me.

 

 

 

 

 

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

I’m still haunted by the 52% of white women who voted for Trump. I’m being lumped in with them, and I don’t like it, but guess what, buttercup? The Black folks are saying, “Welcome to my world of being held responsible for your race.” So, this buttercup is sucking it up.

I wrote the piece about it in the spring of 2017, and at that time, I couldn’t get the actual numbers of white women voters. The few websites that had data said the final numbers were still being calculated. So here it is, well over a year later, and you still cannot Google “How many white women voted for Trump” and get an actual number. News outlets give only repeat that depressing percentage.

This could be white guilt, or perimenopause anger talking, but I need to know the actual number.

Would you rather inherit 75% of someone’s bank account or $50,000? You’d need to know the number in the bank account, right? 75% sounds good until you learn there is $1,000 in the account. That’s why I’m obsessed with this white woman number. Yes, 52% blows me away, makes me angry, depresses the living heck out of me. How many whackadoodles are we dealing with? 1 million? 10 million? 100 million? How big is my problem?

Because no one seems to have the straight up number, Word Girl here had to do math, and that is never a good thing. And I needed the high school math I hated the most– an algebraic word problem.

If 138.8 million people voted in the election, and according to exit polls 37% of those were white women, and (according to every maddening news source) 52% of those women voted for Trump, how many white women pissed me off in 2016? According to my calculations…

trumpvotersblog

26.7 million women are not my friends. OK, so the numbers didn’t make me feel any better (and actually made me feel slightly worse) but defining how deep the hole we’re in is important.

If 22 million white women voted for Hillary, and 94% of Black women voted for her, how many Black women do I have more in common with than the Trump white whackadoodles?

9.1 million.

So, you 22 million white women, I invite you along as I try to educate myself about Black culture. If you went to France, you wouldn’t go knowing no French and asking (in English) for hot dogs and pizza, would you? Well, if you did, you would be known as the really bad stereotypical American tourist and ruin it for the rest of us. Black culture is the same. Black people have enough on their plate without having to teach whites about their culture. We need to do it ourselves. Showing up knowing a little is a sign of respect. Knowing a lot gives you more access. I’m not an expert, just going where my interest and curiosity takes me. Oh, and white men, you are welcome to come along, too, I just used all my math skills on the women, so I couldn’t quantify you. But by all means, hop on board.

Because it’s summer, and I am a big believer in the power of music to connect people, let’s talk about “Motown the Musical.” I saw it in Boston in June, at the end of its North American tour. You can now only see it in London, but it will be at the Shaftesbury Theatre through November 2019, and other parts of the UK, so you’d better get on that. That’s plenty of time to find bargain fares, and I know you want to see Princess Meghan or one of those royal babies anyway, so now you have more reasons to go.

It was on Broadway from March 2013 to January 2015 came back in July 2016, so shame on me for not knowing about it all this time. If you already know the story of Motown, then good for you — you can skip this lesson and post your favorite fact.

Motown gives you the back story to all the music you love/grew up with/heard in a meme/were embarrassed to hear your mother/child singing to. Young Berry Gordy  makes and produces music, but can’t get the white radio stations to play it. They say they don’t play Black music, but he argues that his music belongs to everyone. They won’t budge, so he borrows money to start his own label.

But the story starts before then. As a child, Berry experienced an amazing moment when his childhood hero boxer Joe Louis defeated the German boxing great Max Schmeling in 1938. It’s one of the most famous matches of all time. This occurred at a time when Black boxers were often denied championships, and the Nazi party issued statements that a Black man could not defeat Schmeling. After the fight, Berry recalled, “I saw my mother crying. I saw my father crying. Everyone was so crazy, just going mad.” Berry decided then that he wanted to do something that made people that happy.

And so he did. For the rest of the musical you get to see both the musical genius and just creative people doing their thing — arguing over creative differences, falling in love, falling out of love, working together towards a goal, feeling artistic jealousy, and making incredible music. Through it all is, for many of us, the soundtrack of our lives that wouldn’t exist without Black people. Where would you be without Diana Ross and the Supremes, Michael Jackson, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson?

Don’t take that soundtrack for granted. That music emerged from people constantly having to prove themselves. Dive a little deeper and learn more about where it came from. You love this music, you’ve danced to it, made out to it, laughed and cried to it.

Read some books about Motown, watch some movies.

Taking a deeper dive into the music of Motown is not going to solve racism. But if you are familiar with how the music flourished in spite of racism, how promoting the music in segregated towns was risky and even dangerous, maybe it provides an opportunity to connect or have a conversation. Just remember, no mansplaining, please. Black people still know way more than you do, but it’s a place to start.

I heard that through the grapevine.

Dear Tomato Plants: You’re a Heartbreaker, Dream Maker, Love Taker

If you have been following this blog for a few years, you know my travails with my tomato plants. And by plants I mean 3. My dear friends Becky and Susan raise tomato plants (and many others) lovingly from seed, carefully place a few in my hands, and before you can say “fresh tomato and basil,” I’m usually sending them frantic pictures of their hapless babies, crawling with bugs or curling up and withering away. Usually accompanied by a text in all caps, “WHAT DO I DO????

But I thought I had turned a gardening corner. Last year, after a brief scare of white bugs I was able to soap blast into non-existence, I got a decent crop of juicy grape tomatoes. Then I moved to a second floor with a sunny deck and started with a clean slate. I even planted marigolds to help fend off bugs. And it was glorious for nearly 2 months. The plants were growing like crazy and a spell of hot, humid days made the baby tomatoes appear faster than if Harry Potter had waved a wand.

bogtomato2

Then last week, I spotted it. One of the marigolds looked a little limp. Maybe it just needs more water, I thought. When the leaves start wrinkling and drying up, I searched for bugs. There were none, so I turned a blind eye. It’s a defective marigold. Stores sell you bad plants all the time, right? It’s just that one, I’m sure. Then I saw another one in the pot next to it looking grim.

blogtomato3

Not even the river denial can argue with that. I forced myself to look at the leaves of the tomato plant. It ain’t looking good, my friends.

blogtomato1

Crap. It is now a race against time. Can the tomatoes high above ripen before this scourge works its way from the bottom to rob me of my beautiful tomatoes, and break my heart once again? Only time will tell, my friends. Meanwhile, I’ll be singing with Pat Benatar. Don’t mess around with me.

Phone Envy

Phone envy? Not. All I got for you this week is a photo I took a few weeks ago on the train. I guess I’ve accepted that most people are buried in their phones on the train. Except for me, of course. I’m a superior being who looks around or reconstructs the night before in my head, or exploring the notion of a power nap. If I am looking at my phone, it’s to read some very important book or article. It’s rarely, if ever, to read cheesy summer romances. It’s all on the up and up, I swear.

Anywho, as I was looking around in my superior way, I saw this guy.

No, it’s not the manspreading — it was later at  night on the train, so knock yourself out, I say. No, it’s the two phones. He has two phones. What the hell? Then I spent the rest of the trip watching him closely. Was he listening to music on one? Texting with the other? He seemed to be making use of both of them, alternating touching each screen and more frequently than changing a song, unless he was only listening to 5 seconds of each one, which, hey maybe he was. If you need two phones, that’s probably one reason why.

I was flabbergasted. I was gobsmacked. Flummoxed. Thunderstruck. So much so, I was able to use all my favorite words.

Seriously, what the ever living you-know-what??

So, I’m mystified to this day. I was worried it was a trend, but so far he’s the only one I have seen doing double duty. Now when I look around, I’m just grateful people are buried in one phone. And for that intellectually stimulating article on my phone.

Cartoon credit: Raymond’s Brain

It’s Your Life, Don’t You Forget

I’ve been thinking lately, which frankly, tends to get me in trouble. From more than one area of my life, I keep hearing from and about people who are having to push against family or societal pressure to succeed or define their life success in the very narrow way of school, career, marriage, house, kids. There may be stuff to achieve after this, I’m not sure. Or maybe once you get all that stuff, society leaves you alone to your mid-life crisis. The whole thing leaves me scratching my head. Although does it? That’s where the thinking comes in.

If you are an English major or other humanities major or an artist/creative of any kind, your career path will most likely be rather interesting, not terribly lucrative, and it will follow the beat of its own drummer. Mine certainly has, and it’s only been in the last 5 years that I have landed in a comfortable spot, where I actually get paid decent money to write things that matter most of the time and have a personal life too. I fell into the trap of sitting back and thinking, how do all these people get caught up in that narrow definition of success?

And then the bad movie special effects kick in, the calendar pages flip back, and the ominous narrator intones, “It was the 1980s — the height of the Ronald Reagan years and Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street declared that ‘greed is good’ … ”

My honor student status in high school made it seem like I was just as good at math and science as I was at English. But that says more about the quality of the school than my academic achievement. I do remember an emphasis on the practical, which translated to studying science in college. And that’s when I was exposed as a science and math fraud. My ass got consistently and sequentially kicked in Bio 101, 102, Chem 101, 102, and Calc 101, 102. This honor student was suddenly looking at C’s and Ds and a GPA that hovered around 2.5.

Sure, I got an A in my writing class, but that had been fun and easy. Somewhere along the way, I had picked up the idea that fun and easy was wrong. I thought life should involve suffering and be a hardscrabble scramble in order to “count.” This may be a stab in the dark, but I wonder if being raised Catholic and seeing Jesus hanging on the cross every week, which I was made to understand I was responsible for, had anything thing to do with that?

Nahhhh.

The idea that something being easy is not always the right way to go only makes sense if you’re trying to train for a marathon by running one fast mile and stopping. That’s too easy, and you ain’t gonna cross that finish line before dark.

So there I was at the end of freshman year, with a GPA on life support, but still invested in the idea of life being practical and hard. So I did what any dumb, sensible person would do and took up accounting. This turned out to be just as bad as the science classes and I was suffering, so I knew I must be on the right track. I did enjoy the guy I sat next to who loved accounting and was making methodical plans to work for what was then the Big 8 — although I think they are down to 4 now. I could have listened to his confident plans all day long, but I should have been paying more attention to the connection of his accounting joy and his success in the subject. Instead, I wrote poetry in class while the professor droned on about first in, last out, or last in, last out. I got another D.

As a super ironic aside, a number of years later I was the sole administrative person for a tiny nonprofit and got put in charge of the books with monthly help from an accountant. It took me a year of her visits to truly understand what happened to the numbers when I put them in the accounting software columns and they popped out on the balance sheet. I always came out of those day-long sessions with a huge headache. Once when I was really discouraged, she told me I understood the process better than most of the college accounting graduates they hired. That is a rather frightening thought, but I’m guessing these were not my joyful Big 8 guy, but people who were trying to be practical and pursue the narrow definition of success.  I wish them the best and no headaches.

At the end of sophomore year, with my GPA still in the toilet, I had no practical place left to go. I threw up my hands and gave in and became an English major. I suppose if I had gone to a small school with advisors who gave a flip, I would have clued in sooner, but what fun would that be? There’s something to be said for failing rather spectacularly to teach you something. And once I switched, for the first time school wasn’t a grim struggle, it was actually pleasant and even fun sometimes. Who knew?

And then I also learned the more valuable lesson not to care what people thought, because I knew I had tried and was confident that this was the only thing I was good at. Oh to be sure, I endured a fair amount of sneering. “English major! What are you going to do with that? Teach?” Which is actually also snubbing teachers, BTW. Journalism was also not my thing, so I concentrated on my own writing and fell into nonprofit administration as a source of income. Then I had to endure the “Oh, you’re a writer? What have you published?”

Did I always feel confident? Of course not, when you get that 5th, 10th, or 80th publication rejection, you kind of think, what the hell am I doing? But now I’m starting to understand that I had a couple of key advantages, which seemed like disadvantages at the time. One, early on in life, I learned I did not have strong enough skills in any area that would have put me on the society-endorsed path. Also I’m allergic to gray corporate cubes. So I had no other option than to figure out how to succeed with the writing skills I had. Two, I come from a working class background, which I tried to run from in college and after. It came with high expectations in the moment — do your chores, do well in school (or don’t bother me with teacher notes that you’re screwing up). And it also came with low expectations for a future life. And that turned out to be an extraordinary gift, that I am only now fully appreciating.

Benign neglect combined with being kid number 4 (which one are you?) allowed me to find my own path and define success in my own way. I do recall my father pressing some rather random career choices on my siblings, so here is a formal thank you to them for wearing him out first. By the time he got to me, benign neglect has set in.

Life isn’t easy, no matter what path you choose — even those who pick the society- and family-sanctioned path will struggle at some point, so you might as well put your effort towards the skills that are fun, easy, and worth your while.

To paraphrase a Catholic call at the end of the Mass, go in peace to love and serve the skills you have. It’s much better than a headache.

Photo credit: Still from the Talk Talk video, “It’s My Life.”

In Your 20s and Confused? Get Over It

I try to stay out of the internet fray. In my 20s I remember getting steamed over all the articles about about the baby boomers. You couldn’t pass a newspaper or magazine without seeing a headline about how many of them there are, their spending habits, who they were marrying, where they were choosing to live. And the TV shows! I let “Thirtysomething” piss me off every single week. (Apologies to my beloved sis who loved that show — love you!) There were way more of them than my Gen X, and it seemed to me they were just this giant vacuum cleaner of materialism sucking up all the resources in their path. The media coverage of it led them to think they were entitled to it. Meanwhile Gen Xers were left with their crumbs and dust and a string of Republican presidents to try to patch together a life. So, yeah, that’s why they call us cynical.

Did me getting pissy about it change anything? No. Did I manage to patch together a life? Yes. And maybe I could have done it faster if I hadn’t wasted so much energy getting my panties in a twist about them. Or maybe that’s just the nature of being a 20-year-old. Your fairly new life panties get twisted about stuff. You are at the start, and while you know the most you’ve known in your whole life, it’s still not actually that much. You have to figure it out as you go. One thing I learned from those years is that I am happier if I don’t get caught up in the media stories about stuff that is only a thing because they are writing about it. Sometimes it’s insightful or entertaining, but mostly it just makes you feel bad.

So I set up a bubble against what I think of as pseudo news stories (as opposed to fake news — that’s a different post). Pseudo news is: yes, it’s true that the boomers are a very large and influential generation; however, that fact alone does not make them news. Of course staying in the bubble was much easier when it was just print and TV. The internet pummels the bubble much more, and it’s inevitable that things slip through. Just retrieving my email on Comcast, I get pelted with clickbait headlines and pictures of people I don’t recognize, “ripping” other people I don’t recognize. But no matter, I’m older and crabbier now, so even when the bubble is breached, my alter ego Blanche takes a drag on her ciggie, downs a shot, and says we don’t give a flip. I get my real news elsewhere.

Except on rare occasions when my pissy 20-year-old is poked.

I read a story about how all the #metoo and attention on sexual abuse has got men in their 20s questioning their own behavior. That’s a good thing. The situation also seems to have men and women in their 20s allegedly confused about the rules of dating. The article earnestly quotes men and women who say they don’t know how to act, and interviews with concerned therapists who say their male clients are so befuddled they are afraid to even go on dates. Wah, wah, wah.

Cue eye roll. This, my friends, is pseudo news.

Just because you have more information about something, especially about sexuality and dating, don’t expect it to make things easier. In fact certain information will make it a lot harder. But that’s what is called “growth,” which often hurts like hell when you are going through it, but can make you a better person.

Twitter alert: Life is just awkward and uncomfortable, if you’re lucky. It can also be much, much worse. If it’s just awkward, count your blessing and move on. And if you happen to be a confident, focused 20-something, you will hit a confused patch at some point. There’s no skipping stages.

So forgive me if I’m rolling my eyes at the 20-somethings who are confused about dating. Since the cavemen were trying to hit cave women over the head as a way of asking them out, or hoping her brother was home instead, or she was more interested in gathering nuts and berries with the hot cave ladies, dating has always been confusing. More so when you’re 25, but it’s no picnic for anyone. If you work at it, you just get better at knowing your worth and what you want. And even when you do, you still sit across from your date and think, does he like me? Should I go home with him? Is spinach in his teeth and his collection of antique dentist equipment a deal breaker?

Wah, wah, you’re confused about dating. Welcome to Human 101. Now you’ve forced my hand, and I have to tell you a Story. One of those Older People Stories you hate, because who gives a flip about older people? Well, you brought it on yourself, so listen up.

When I was in college, my friends and I went to a frat party, and did all of the usual things one does at frat parties — drink, dance, and then sneak past the “Private Do Not Enter” sign in the stairway to raid the refrigerator on the 3rd floor when our drunken snackies set in. What? Like anything in a frat house is private, and BTW we were the ones in danger — it was food that 20-year old boys were pretending was edible. It was slim pickins, believe me, but we represented ourselves well.

Anywho, a very large, drunken frat brother named Quentin started dancing with me. As a nerdy, introverted woman, I had ZERO experience with boys. In high school I had an unrequited crush on a friend, and as a junior I went to the senior prom with THE king nerd of the class, pocket protector and all. He was a nice enough, but two shy nerds do not a make out session produce. Freshman year in college was no better. Another unrequited crush on a friend, and I had been hit on by a super awkward guy in a chem lab class (it mostly involved staring, so I have to take my friends’ word that he was hitting on me). Another friend had professed his like for me while he was drunk and I was trying to get him home safely. Not a super turn on. Oh, also, I had been told plenty of “scared straight to virginity” stories. And I was brought up Catholic. See? You think you have dating problems? Puh-leaze.

So there I am dancing to Micheal Jackson with Quentin; then a slow song came on, and I was enveloped by his gentle, yet giant bear-like arms, and suddenly there was a tongue in my mouth. A sloppy, drunk tongue, if I’m going to critique it 30 years later. Okaaaay. I was not really enjoying it, but here’s the thing. He was black, and I thought if I pulled away, he would think I was a racist. See? This is what I’m saying about awkward, stupid shit in your 20s. So I let it go on for a while, plotting my escape. I think he may have asked me if I wanted to go back to his room. So I took the opportunity to say, “Wait here, I just have to tell my friends.” I know, I know! Why not just say “No, thank you,” and move on? Because you’re 20, and you don’t know what the hell to do because Catechism never covered this, except to tell you never have sex. So all you are left with is to do dumb stuff like try to prove you are not a racist and running away.

So I ran off and found my friend Rosemary, who I unceremoniously grabbed and marched her home with me. And during the 20-minute walk home I was on a drunken, sobbing loop to her: Dance, tongue, big arms, he’s black, I’m not a racist, I just don’t like tongue in the first 5 minutes of a non-date; Dance, tongue…and on and on until we got home.

The next day found me immobilized with the double-whammy of physical and emotional hangovers. I sought out Rosemary to apologize and studiously avoided Quentin (who of course lived in my dorm). But here’s the thing:

Neither of them remembered anything about that night. Rosemary stared at me blankly during my apology and then laughed at me. At one point Quentin saw me, and I saw the same blank face. Had I gone to his dorm room, he would have surely had that face in the morning. Awkward.

The racism guilt lingered until finally my friend Sonia, who is black, told me to knock it off. So I did.

As the Who sings in “Another Tricky Day,” “You irritate me my friend, this is no social crisis … just another tricky day for you.”

I get it, it is confusing. We’ve all been there, and there is no magic way around life’s obstacles. Keep your good friends close, have an escape route, do your best to learn what you can from each awkward encounter. Oh, and stay off the internet. That thing will make you crazy.

Photo credit: Flashbak