Monday, May 1, 2017

on being happy and guilty

2017. I've had such a beautiful, blessed, sprawling life so far: twenty-three privileged years of being white and wealthy and loved and safe. 

There was public school in suburbia. A Bachelor's degree. An apartment with a hot tub.

Parents who came to all my guitar recitals and poetry readings and choir concerts and who showed up for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Timberline Middle School six nights in a row when I was playing Potiphar's Sexy Maid in 8th grade. Parents who read Faulkner and Steinbeck and Brontë and Dickens and Le Guin. Parents who took me to church on Sundays and picked me up from Kaitlyn's house late at night and drove me all over Utah County. Parents who fed me whole wheat bread and never smoked crack cocaine or whatever.

A big rock house in the middle of an old naturalist artist's community from the 1970s surrounded by woods and weeds and sunflowers and sage brush. A romping, rolling fairy wildlife as my childhood: deer and raccoons and scrub jays, the dirty foothills behind the house, a hot black trampoline in the summer. Air-conditioning. Land Rovers and Jeeps and Jimmys. Rescuing little hurt baby things from the rough wildnerness of my neighborhood: premature kittens and a squirrel with a broken leg and a pair of tiny, raw-looking starlings that rode from California to Utah in the hood of an old John Deere tractor and died after a few days. My dad drawing cartoons in his wood-smelling studio and watching Bonanza and Gunsmoke at lunchtime. My mom making big, cheeky, panoramic art quilts and winning blue ribbons for them. My dad showing me Harryhausen films and The X-Files and The Twilight Zone and Raising Arizona. My brother coming in dirty from soccer, or tennis, or whatever. My mom baking elaborate loaves of bread and sketching in a notebook when she got bored at church. My dad playing Scarborough Fair on the guitar downstairs when I was falling asleep at night. My brother reading Garth Nix and Hellboy and Brandon Sanderson. My mom playing Carol King loudly when she cleaned.

I, like, skied as a kid. I had a family where everyone just went to college like it was no problem. Everyone loves each other so, so much. We all call each other just to talk. My mom always buys the Girl Scout Cookie cupcakes I like on my birthday. My dad is working on Curious George. Me and Dylan are both writing novels. My sister-in-law just directed a production of The Jungle Book. Everyone is happy, and weird, and wonderful.

So I'm bragging about my sunny, pastoral life ad nauseam. The thing I'm attempting to convey is less gloating and more bewilderment. More bafflement. More astonished, astounded, eye-blinking/eye-rubbing, dazed wandering through the halcyon sunbeam of everything that has essentially just been handed over to me randomly and reasonlessly. I was basically just plonked unceremoniously into a dreamscape with all the lovely, wonderful things I could've ever needed or wanted. I can't even believe my own buck-wild luckiness.

I'm graduating from college with a Film degree (eye-roll) and a Creative Writing minor (eye-roll) and a Women's Studies minor (mm, I'm not eye-rolling this one). I spend every single day with Hunter Phillips, who is ambitious and easygoing and gracious and brilliant.

Here's Hunter: tall, leggy, left-handed, an American citizen, a Mormon convert. A movie-watcher. A dog owner. Currently reading Flanner O'Connor. Full of political/global angst. Lover of The West. Honest and upstanding and sexy in a vaguely cartoony way. A feminist. Hunter Phillips has promised me a Boston Terrier. Dating Hunter is like dating Abraham Lincoln. I wish we were all dating Hunter.

I'm healthy and young and basically graduated from college. Nothing scary under my bed. I'm neurotic and anxious and moody and full of venom -- I've been heartbroken and depressed and scared and self-conscious and a lot of other unhappy things -- but my life is essentially good.

I don't believe that I've ever done anything to deserve the life I have more than someone else. I truly think this was all bonkers, stupid luck -- and that stresses me out so much. There are better people than me living in worse conditions, in unhappier circumstances, and in tragedy.

I want to talk about the weird guilt of being #blessed.

I think it's important to note that I'm not just talking about pure, simple happiness in this post, I'm talking broadly about happiness + privilege. Being able to live so freely and with so few social dangers is a product of being born white and upper middle class in Utah. There are certain luxuries, liberties, and securities that I get to take advantage of simply because I'm not part of a marginalized minority -- and let me make it explicitly clear that the privileges that I have because I'm straight and white and cisgender and have wealthy American parents are unfair and the fact that my quality of life is better because of this privilege is wrong and sinister and it is a giant problem that the entire world is facing right now.

Here's what I think is the closest thing you can get to Making Up For It: freakin' spreading the wealth and sacrificing hard for those who aren't as arbitrarily lucky as you. It's not settling into the charmed, cheerful goodness of being safe and prosperous and healthy and just watching it pan out before you greedily, accumulating more and more privilege to the point where you can't identify with or really even recognize those who are in the midst of The Struggle. And I'm not just talking about donating to women's shelters or the WWF or putting in long hours at the local food bank -- although these things are all wonderful and noble and necessary, and we do need to be serving in these capacities. But I'm talking about just the regular scope of your everyday life. You on Twitter. You in statistics class. You at the mall. There's a certain way to weaponize your own privilege against privilege. Learn to engage in productive discussions about privilege/disadvantage and speak up against problematic behaviors and ideologies; learn to step aside when it's time for someone else -- someone who doesn't have the same built-in entitlement that you do -- to enter a space of success or authority that maybe doesn't include you for once. Maybe it isn't our ("our" meaning those of us who are wealthy and straight and white and whatever else) time to harvest wildly and overwhelmingly anymore. What we're hoping is that the millennium-long tyranny of Straight White Males can finally end and that women, PoC, the LGBT+ community, everyone that didn't have it so easy, can finally be in a position to experience the kind of freedom and safety and general quality of life that we've been taking advantage of for so, so long. It isn't about reversing the oppression dynamic so that all straight white people will be oppressed the way minorities have been for centuries -- it's about fixing the oppression dynamics altogether so that antiquated systems of hate and degradation and bias won't have to exist at all.

So it's about moving aside and not taking all the easiest routes every time. It's about letting other people have some of what you have, and not hoarding every good thing for yourself. It's about not getting everything first and best and only

One thing that I feel very strongly is that there is enough bounty, enough delight, enough joy to go around, but the world has been taught to be selfish. I don't think that sacrificing and working for other people is a means of letting go of the gifts and pleasures that you already have, it's more of a way to broaden and expand them, and to let other people fit inside your privileged circle of safety and good fortune.

I live in luxury and abundance, gluttony even. The thing that I'm trying to better is to make it so other people don't have to have such a hard time because my good, easy life.

"My head cocked toward the sky, I cannot get off the ground." (James Tate)
-Avery Jalaine

Friday, February 24, 2017

against 'good enough'

I've been thinking a lot about the different ways people settle in relationships. It seems like hardly anyone is dating/married to the person they originally wanted to be dating/married to, but that they've made so many compromises and adjustments just to be with SOMEONE that they've contented themselves with settling. 

I was kind of halfheartedly doing some research and discovered an article by Lori Gottlieb in the March 2008 issue of The Atlantic called "Marry Him!: the case for settling for Mr. Good Enough." Essentially Gottlieb is like, "Bleh! You women are too fussy! It's too hard to find someone you really want to be with! JUST SETTLE FOR SOMEONE WHO SEEMS OKAY." This line of thinking makes me want to die one million times. Maybe I'm a little snobby about the whole idea of settling because Not Settling Ever has worked for me every time. I can think of every guy who tried to date me who I dumped and I still feel really confident about all of my choices. I have good instincts about who I like and who makes me happy and who I want to spend time with -- and I think everyone has these same good instincts -- so trying to force myself into situations with people who fall short of my standards never really works; I'm always left bored or annoyed or apathetic and ultimately unhappy

Gottlieb says, "My advice is this: Settle! That’s right. Don’t worry about passion or intense connection. Don’t nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling 'Bravo!' in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go. Based on my observations, in fact, settling will probably make you happier in the long run, since many of those who marry with great expectations become more disillusioned with each passing year. (It’s hard to maintain that level of zing when the conversation morphs into discussions about who’s changing the diapers or balancing the checkbook.)" Like, sorry? I think Gottlieb is underestimating every single woman by assuming that women are incapable of recognizing when someone is or isn't actually making them happy. 

I've been noticing, like, an onslaught of settling recently. I have friends who are dating guys because "it's better to have someone to go cuddle than nobody" and friends who are dating guys because of family pressure. I know someone who is dating a guy to get over another guy. Moreover, I'd definitely include jumping into serious relationships too quickly as settling, because it's 100% settling for the Honeymoon Phase or settling for not-bothering-to-get-to-really-know-somebody. It's settling for a fantasy rather than reality. 
Someone I love is getting engaged after two and a half months of knowing her boyfriend -- as in, less than ninety days; as in, less than a semester -- because "she just knows." I see fear and desperation and loneliness, but I don't see any self-care or confidence or self-love. Everybody deserves to be in a relationship that is both exciting and sustainable, a relationship that they actually want to be in that doesn't feel like an afterthought or self-preservation against a lonely future. 

I'd also like to point out that the opposite of settling isn't just finding the hottest boyfriend with rock-solid abs and a billion dollars and a Mazarati.
Another friend of mine is supposed to get married in March and recently texted me that she's having major doubts. She isn't happy. Her fiance has "all the right things": a temple recommend, a high GPA, a future in some money-making field, a Herschel backpack, a fixed-gear bike, a bunch of nice friends, a big welcoming family, a Tumblr blog. But despite everything that my friend isn't settling for, her fiance has never been interesting enough or smart enough or strong enough or brave enough. Just because a person looks right for the part doesn't mean that you're compatible on a really basic, primitive level. You can settle for all the minutia of a personality that doesn't impress you mentally/emotionally, and that's still heartbreaking and unfair and serious.
Another thing I've been feeling baffled by is Twitter re: relationships. Provo Twitter is a weirdly bleak and desolate place for a lot of single/dating/engaged people because the pressure for young Mormons to find literally anyone to get married to is amplified by the echo-chamber of similarly frustrated and/or lonely voices. I love Twitter and all the friends I've made there, but some of the relationships I've seen form between "mutual followers" are alarming and, like, super super super embarrassing. I'm not really an insider in the local community of Instagram or Snapchat or whatever, but I kind of imagine that it's vaguely the same situation. The problem is that a lot of these relationships are forming on a base of nothing -- mostly just one lonely voice calling out *into the void* or whatever and a similar lonely voice answering -- so these relationships become toxic and flimsy because they're ungrounded and phony and insubstantial. I truly believe that a relationship cannot be founded simply on mutual loneliness, or mutual wanting-a-significant-other-very-badly-because-all-their-friends-and-all-their-siblings-are-married-and-their-bishop-has-been-pressuring-them-and-it-sucks-to-sit-at-the-kids-table-with-the-rest-of-the-unmarried-cousins-and-their-ex-started-dating-again-and-it-would-be-a-lot-easier-if-they-could-just-settle-down-with-someone. It's settling. It's settling for a relationship that isn't rooted in truth or reality.

I guess this is kind of an unfair thing to post about so critically because I'm the kind of person who would rather not be dating anyone at all than be dating someone who has an annoying Twitter presence or talks about football too much or doesn't read or whatever -- especially because my dating track record is kind of this barren landscape of romantic casualties: I'm famous for not giving anyone the benefit of the doubt, for being "picky," for having impossible standards,
for being brutal, for being unimpressable and undateable. Maybe I'm not the right authority to be like, "Everyone Is Settling!!" because I'm unusually hard on guys and might be the outlier here. Maybe everyone is having a good time settling and I'm just being a crabby goblin about it. Maybe my crazy high standards are just that: CRAZY, and maybe everyone else would be unhappy being as fastidious and particular about the people they spend time with as I am.

But then again, my pickiness and bonkers high standards led to Hunter Phillips: the smartest, silliest, most interesting boy of all the boys. Loving Hunter has never been settling because I wanted smart and he's the smartest. I wanted kind and he's the kindest. I wanted funny and he's the funniest. I wanted weird and he's the weirdest. I wanted talented and he's the most talented. I never had to go through some weird phase where I thought he was kind of gross or cheesy or dumb or narrow-minded. I never had to come around to the idea of loving him. I never had to teach myself how to love him. Hunter is easy, even obvious, to love. Everybody is in love with Hunter.

I don't want this blog post to seem gloat-y or smug or like I'm against compromise. I don't want it to seem like I'm not aware that "perfect" doesn't really exist and that finding someone who is really, really, really good is HARD. Even your ~soul mate~ or whatever is going to have some weird habits and annoying opinions, blah blah blah blah. I don't want to have to baby everyone by doing some big dumb disclaimer about something we all technically understand about how relationships work. The bottomline is this: you don't have to settle for someone who has flaws, opinions, habits, etc. that you don't want to settle for. 

Everybody is allowed to be super, super, super in love and not to feel distantly sad about it, like maybe you're better than this. Like maybe you could be happier with someone else. Like maybe you're settling after all.

-Avery Jalaine