Posts from the ‘It’s a Beautiful Life’ Category

Art and Bias

One of the major recent conflicts in artistic spaces has been this sense that liberals are taking over. It’s much of the motivation behind the attacks on Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, and Zoe Quinn. It’s also the main motivation behind the Sad Puppy slate that very nearly swept the Hugo nominations. I want to talk about the general idea BEHIND these conflicts (that of “the liberals are taking over and conservatives are getting unfairly ragged on”), as I feel like the specifics have been well covered by a lot of people much smarter and better informed than I am.

I’m a huge fan of entertainment media. Books. TV shows. Movies. Web series. Video games. I’m all for consumable art that both entertains and makes me think. It’s a thing that I like a lot. I spend most of my free time reading or watching TV shows while crafting. I find it mind- and world-expanding. I also accept that any art I consume is inherently biased. Entertainment does not exist in a vacuum and there is no way to strip the biases of the creators away from a piece of art, nor my biases from my experience while consuming. Bias is part and parcel of the entertainment package.

As a base line: I’m a liberal who was raised in a conservative household (and I actively maintain good relationships with my conservative family and friends). I am NB trans and pansexual. I am white and middle class and Christian, specifically Mormon. So, I have a few things going for me culturally and socially, and a few things not so much.

I grew up consuming mostly conservative art: movies that reflected strict gender roles, TV shows that idealistically claimed intelligence/hard work were all that mattered, books that portrayed heterosexual romances, media with almost no sex/swearing. The only exception was books I got from the library. My parents attempted to control that, too, but I was such a prolific reader that they couldn’t keep up and they were loathe to prevent me access to the library. I am lucky that, when faced with the choice of denying me access to books since they couldn’t supervise my reading or giving me some reign while trying to encourage me  to choose what they perceived to be “appropriate” reading material, my parents chose the latter. Some parents wouldn’t. They knew I read books they didn’t like and expressed disappointment when they felt it was appropriate, but mostly they let me read what I would read. Only occasionally, when they could directly connect mental distress/a bad behavior to a book, would they intervene. Sometimes that intervention was to take the book away, sometimes it was to put limits on when I could read the book (during the day, under supervision), and sometimes it was to read the book with me. It was always done with some discussion between us. This is, to this day, one of the best things my parents could have done for me. I was an active participant in my own entertainment choices, but I was also watched over and cared for. It was responsible parenting at its finest.

And, of course, this meant that I read a lot of books they didn’t like or that expressed ideas they found repugnant. Some of these ideas I ALSO found repugnant. Some of them, quite frankly, were saving graces amidst the wash of conservative entertainment that I found at home, at school, and – often – in the library. I was taught a different perspective that spent years maturing. That perspective eventually lead to semi-liberal political leanings and extremely liberal social leanings.

These days, several years into my (now not-so-semi) liberal politics and social leanings, I am seeing a lot of my conservative friends, families, and artists I respect say that there’s a liberal-positive/anti-conservative bias in [name art here]. For some, it’s TV shows and movies. For some, it’s the news. Others may see it in video games. Yet others, it’s infected their book world.

Art has always been a place of progression and experimentation and examining social issues. You can do that from a liberal lens and a conservative lens, but that is the whole point of the convention that is art. So, in the case of those who are complaining about ANY art being too much in that line, I fully and completely believe that they are mourning a social construct (“Art that is, simply, Art”) that never existed. Rather, I believe they are mourning a time period in their individual lives in which they were too inexperienced (due to youth, a sheltered life, a lack of education) to see what was already there. I have always loved art for these reasons of experimentation and social comment. It was there to be seen by child!me and has only become more apparent as teen!me and college!me and adult!me have gained more experiences and education.

Often, things under the microscope in that realm of experimentation and examination are long-established structures: governments, religion, the class system, the social heirarchies of race and gender, sexual dynamics, colonialism. Many of these things are examined for flaws. Often, the determination is that power systems that have long gone unexamined have a MYRIAD of flaws that need to be addressed, perhaps even dismantled. Often, the result of trying to dismantle the errors of long-held traditions is painful.

So this brings me to the perceived liberal-positive/anti-conservative bias: Yeah. It’s there. I think it’s great that people are examining things that seemed to be given not too long ago and are asking, “Must it needs be this way?” and, when they realized it mustn’t, dismantle and discard. A LOT of things that have been long-held and unexamined are actually REALLY screwed up or have distinct areas of screwed-uppage. I also think it’s great that there are areas people find worth conserving. An example: Personally, I think religion is one thing that SHOULD fall under both categories (in the sense of “faith, if you have it, is an excellent thing to keep, however the power structures built into organized religion need to be examined”), but is often tossed out in the “dismantle and discard” pile. I don’t like that. I don’t like that there will be many people who will look at my religious bent and/or my particular religion and discount my words. (“Political” could be inserted for “religious” in that sentence as well.) However, all I can do about that is to make sure that that is not what am doing. I try to give a multitude of opinions a change to impress me and react accordingly.

However, this leads to why I claim a liberal-positive bias: experience shows I can trust liberal creators more. I rarely know the politics/social inclinations of an artist before I consume the art. But, in my experience, I have rarely been surprised at the political/social inclinations of an artist when I discover them AFTER the fact. And, I am generally more pleased by the work of those creators with a liberal leaning to their social and political views. Why? Because there is room for me there. You see, as a non-binary, pansexual individual who is culturally perceived as female, I rarely find characters like me or stories like mine in art. I rarely find art that reflects the racially diverse world I live in. I rarely find dynamic, fully characterized women like the women I know. When I do find it, it is most often (though not always) in the art created by liberal people. I know, for a fact, that I am not alone in this experience. This is where the wider bias comes in: many people have felt unwelcome or marginalized, many creators have seen the loneliness and gate-keeping in their friends and fans, many have made art that is more expansive and inclusive in response (whether due to experience or witnessing the experiences of others). For all those who have spent so much time looking desperately for those inclusive spaces, this is something worth buzzing about. Loudly. In many ways, that loud buzzing has built into a prevailing wind. I can’t claim to be disappointed for myself, though I understand why the members of previous prevailing winds would be.

Be that as it may, when it comes to my continued consumption of entertainment, my philosophy is simple. I have no desire to limit my imagination to a world that is less than my own: less diverse, less complex, less welcoming. I get enough unwelcoming, simplistic interactions every day. Everyone I meet assumes I am female – including people with a liberal bias. In the main, it’s people with liberal leanings that try to correct the assumption in their own head. Everyone assumes I’m straight. In the main, it’s people with liberal leanings who apologize and move on when I tell them otherwise. A great deal of people assume that I am less capable/less interested in X because I present as female. Generally, it is people with liberal social bent that encourage me to break through those assumptions, rather than remind me of the difficulties that come from challenging those assumptions. There are people with conservative bias who have made great efforts to call me by my preferred pronouns, who have responded with kindness and compassion to my sexuality, and who have not taken the time to inform me how hard my life will be if I choose to run up against the barriers of assumption every day, but rather offered a shoulder to cry on when those barriers bruise me. But, again, in my experience, it has been the socially and politically liberal individuals who have done these things quicker, with less hesitation, and with fewer missteps. This is how my bias developed. It is also how it will continue to be guided. There may well be a day when the pendulum shifts.

For now, I tend to trust liberal creators more. I tend to put them on a higher priority on my list of art to consume. I tend to forgive their missteps more readily if they have a body of work that proves to me they continue to try to improve in the areas I feel they’ve failed. I tend to listen to their opinions on recommended works, until they consistently recommend outside my preferences. I tend give more weight to their opinions because they consistently give me reason to. Until they don’t – and then the trust and respect for their opinion is retracted. I give this same trust and respect to conservative creators who have been as consistent. Some have been around me since I was a child. Some are recent discoveries. But there are less of them.

And until there is room for me in their stories, in their created worlds, there always will be.*

____________________________________________

*To be clear: this is not me asking or demanding that any creator make room for me in their work. It’s saying that their work will be less appealing to me until that day comes that I am welcome there. And you can’t just say I’m welcome. You have to act like it. Forgive me if I don’t accept an invitation to watch a show or read a book or see a movie that I KNOW has sexism and racism in it. Your words may say, “Come in!” but your actions say – very clearly – “There is no room for you here.”

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My Birthday Wish: You.

I’ve never struggled with what I want for my birthday. I’ve always known. Which is why I hate making birthday and Christmas lists, because what I want isn’t something I can really put on a list.

I want you. Here.

I want to spend time with you.

I don’t want to feel an absence when all I want in the world is your presence.

I don’t want to plan a day filled with time instead of people.

How do I put that on I list? How do I ask for the impossible? You have lives. You have jobs. Your world does not revolve around me and I don’t believe it should! But that doesn’t change that the thing that tops my birthday list is YOU. Your smiles and your laughter. Your hugs and your voice. Your pitch-perfect renditions of the birthday song and your off-key belting of it. Your love.  I want a day and a heart full of the people who I love best.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, for those of you who’ve been around the block with me a time or two know what I’m going to ask you to do. I’ve done it before. I’ll probably do it again. You ready?

Call me. Only for a minute or two, I know you’re busy.

Yup. That’s it.

I know you can’t be here. I know my birthday wish is pie-in-the-sky high. Everyone I love? In one place? I must be crazy. So, I’m asking for the slightly inconvenient, but hopefully doable.

Because then, I’ll still get to spend a little time with you. I’ll get to hear your voice and that’s ALMOST as good as getting a hug. I’ll hear the background noises and get a sense of your life that’s slightly more full than I can get through e-mail or text. I’ll get to hear love and laughter. I’ll get to hear one of the most important voices in my world.

Don’t have my phone number? Message me! If you’re seeing this, you have access to my facebook, twitter, tumblr and/or blog e-mail. Send me a private message. I’ll happily reply. And next Wednesday, July 2, I’ll hopefully get a call. And hear a voice. And know you’re there. (Please keep in mind, I live in Colorado, USA. UTC -7)

It won’t be perfect. It won’t be exact.

But it will be just enough.

In Remembrance of Suffering; In Hope for Peace

Rah-rah nationalism is not for me.

I won’t pretend that I think the United States is the best country in the world, or even the continent.  Much like how I feel about my own mother, I love my motherland for the life it gave me, the values it gifted me, and the opportunities it fostered for me;  I also see the errors of its ways that I do not want to see repeated in my generation and future generations to come.   I want it to improve and grow and be better and I want to be part of that.  I am fine with being part of that here or by leaving until America does better.

So, when I say that this day, twelve years ago, is day that I will never forget, it isn’t because I see it as some national “come together” day or some proof that you can’t cut America down. While I am grateful for those who serve to defend my right to say and do what I please, I don’t see today as the day to honor their sacrifices – I should be doing that every day.

Today means something that’s really quite hard to describe.  It means anguish and pain and terrifying uncertainty.  It also means love and reaching out and a desire to progress in the face of it all.  It was horrifying and enlightening.  It wasn’t about borders or national values until much later – no.  That day was about huddling together collectively as humans who needed comfort in the face of fear.  National borders disappeared as people around the world watched what was happening and looked on in disbelief.  This day, as the day of any tragedy, is a wound on the human psyche.  And so, I will choose to remember no matter where I go, no matter which nation I choose to make my home.  Forgetting is not an option, even though distance might separate, even when it feels like it would be kinder.

—–

I don’t forget because it was a tragedy – a human tragedy – that happened on my doorstep.

I won’t forget because I see so many people still suffer effects of that day in this day.

I can’t forget because that day showed me my selfishness and taught me to be better.

The suffering of many is something I do not wish to forget because I can alleviate suffering, if I choose to see it.  If I choose to be better.  If I choose to be the best of what it means to be human to the best of my ability.

That’s what today is for me: a remembrance of suffering that encourages me to hope.

I do hope for a better world.

I will hope for the peace and tranquility we’ve spent a dozen years searching for in the the wrong places.

I can hope for selflessness in others as I work to express it in myself.

The hope of many is something I wish for because if we can hope together, I believe we can build a new, better world together.

On this, the twelfth anniversary of a truly horrific act, I wish to remember and I wish to hope.

Hats for Women (Or: Why Recognizing Privilege Matters)

This is a story about hats.

But it isn’t.

It’s a story about privilege.

But it isn’t.

It’s really a story about how change happens and how we need to seek change more than we do.

Let me start by saying, I KNOW privilege is one of the most over-used words on the internet.  But there’s a reason it’s over-used: it’s still a problem.  Just like racism and sexism and shaming are over-used because these are still problems.  Is it true that rarely, infrequently, these things are used in wrong and exploitative contexts?  Yes.  But that does not make all uses invalid.  So, please, hang with me while I talk about privilege as best and applicably as I can.

I went to a small, conservative college. The department I was in had a strange mix of liberal and conservative ideals, sometimes within the same professor.  In some classes, I had to be there without fail.  In other classes, as long as I got the work done, they didn’t care.

I had one particular professor who was a walking conflict.  He got so angry at me one day for refusing to watch an R-rated film that had no curricular value to it that he told me to “Go to BYU, then!” and dismissed me with a flick of his hand, as if I were somehow inferior for not wanting to watch gratuitous nudity and language in an academic setting.  As if this one stance of personal morality in the face of a completely non-academic film showing somehow made me unfit to go to a university not run by people who shared that standard.  (By the way – if you didn’t already know – I am excessively liberal in comparison to most of the adherents to the LDS faith and basically loathe Mormon culture (please note the difference between faith and culture).  I would have had ten-fold as many professors telling me not to let the door hit my butt on the way out had I gone to BYU.) This same professor demanded strict attendance, stricter homework procedures, and the most ridiculously stringent note-taking system I have ever seen – all in the fashion of a school that has been proven by academia as out-of-date and inherently broken – but some teachers still adhere to it because it is “traditional.”  I HATED these classes with a passion for a long time and tolerated them with a fatalistic acceptance in my final year at Missouri Valley.

Predictably, this professor also had a fairly conservative dress code: show up to class looking like you give at least a minimal amount of care.  This standard was relaxed in the 8:00am classes (because NO ONE was showing up to a Groobs class that early without the choice of attending in PJ’s), but one thing was strictly maintained: NO HATS.

Except, well, if the girls were wearing them.

YUP – you read that right.  Men weren’t allowed to wear hats to class.  Women were.  The rational was that when a man wore a ball cap, it was laziness or disrespect.  When a woman wore a hat of any kind (ball caps included), it was an accessory.

Ashamed as I am, I admit that this made sense to me for a moment.

I know, I know, stop the truck.  I am white, middle-class, and well-educated, so I grew up with plenty of privilege that I need to (and do my best to) see around.  But, that being said, I am also female, bi/pan-sexual, and non-binary gendered.   I grew up with plenty of lack of privilege, too.  I have been abused. I was culturally conditioned to be so frightened of my own gender/sexuality that I didn’t come out until I was twenty-five. TWENTY-FIVE, people. I have been told I can’t do things /  can’t do them as well because I’m “just a girl.” I know what it is like to be on the unprivileged side.

And yet, my own privilege it made sense to me, if only for a moment.  Now, this is a totally human reaction – there’s some interesting science behind it.  It’s a type of confirmation bias when you start out with advantages and you feel you deserve them because you’ve always had them . . . BAD BAD BAD thinking!  Bad Joie!

Thankfully, in the next moment I realized how wildly unfair this was.  Yes, I use hats to accessorize my outfits (I love hats).  But, the fact of the matter is, I also had an extremely high ratio of hat days to bad hair days.  Wearing hats was, in many cases, laziness on my part because oh-my-gosh-I-hate-my-hair-so-much-just-cover-that-crap-up.  How was that different than the male decision to wear a hat?  Also, what kind of ridiculous assumption was it to think that because men are men that their hats – ball caps or fedoras or top hats – were just functions of laziness?  Why can’t their hats, from simple trucker hats to expensive fedoras, be specifically chosen accessories? I knew, in fact, that they WERE accessories in some cases!  But why does that make those who wear hats out of habit any less worthy of the chance to wear a hat in a classroom?

Some of these arguments occurred at the time, some of them came through later re-examination.  But the fact of the matter is – I did nothing about it.  In fact, I abused my privilege for some time.  I knew I could get away with hats, so get away I did. I never defended the rights of my male counterparts to wear their hats and happily made sure that a ball cap was always available for the worst of hair days.

Now, Groobs was definitely a “pick your battles” sort of teacher.  He tended to be hardest on the best students and to apathetically let the struggling students fail because clearly they weren’t trying hard enough.  I got my butt kicked in those classes trying to keep up with his higher expectations (because I had proven to be successful previously) while I watched other students who needed Groobs’ attention and scrutiny wallow because he had given up on them.   Hats were the least  of any of our worries.

But they were a teaching moment.

Eventually, I stopped wearing hats on days that I had classes with Groobs.  Not always, but mostly.  Eventually, I not only recognized my privilege, but reacted to it in a way I can be proud of.  You see – this was never about wearing hats or privilege.  It was about how I reacted to it, as well as how I didn’t.  It was about  how I decided to take advantage of a status quo, how I decided to stop taking advantage, and how I didn’t speak out against it even once I established a rapport with Groobs.

Because I did.  He’s a cantankerous old coot and I won’t be shy about saying I’m glad he retired (for a myriad of reasons), but he’s also the cantankerous old coot who held my hand through my thesis, who pushed me to think deeper, who took the time to take me aside privately so we could celebrate some serious accomplishments of mine without lording them over others.  He was the cantankerous old coot who both stubbornly clung to his wrong opinions AND noticed that I was struggling with cutting an apologized for being an asshole during one of my fragile times.  He was the cantankerous old coot who learned to listen to me and learn from me, as I learned to listen and learn from him.  I could have said something.   I didn’t. Because, despite being aware of how wildly unfair my privilege was, I didn’t recognize it.

And I didn’t seek to change it.

This is a really small example.  I could talk about recognizing my educated privilege or my middle-class privilege or my white privilege. But there’s something significant about this hat situation: I can no longer do anything about it.  Every day, I seek to change who I am so that I am more understanding and – while still privileged – aware of the struggles of those who don’t have my privileges.  I seek to change the world so that my privilege doesn’t cause others harm. I seek to change a world that shouts “SPECIAL TREATMENT” when someone tries to give privileges to those who otherwise will not have them.

I cannot change the hats, though.  The systemic abuse of privilege marches on because people do not seek to change the hats.  Yes, tackle the big issues.  Save your time and energy for the fights that need them most.  But NEVER EVER be complacent, and most certainly NEVER EVER EVER be complicit.  Even if it is just as simple as saying, “I think this is wrong,” it is important to those who are wronged to hear and see that you don’t wish privilege at their expense.  It is important to me to talk about the hats because I cannot change them. Because I was complacent, perhaps even complicit by the views of some.  It is important to me to say, “I am sorry I did nothing.  I am sorry about the hats.  I was wrong.”

So here goes:

I am sorry I did nothing.

I am sorry about the hats.

I was wrong.

And I seek to never do that again.

You see, change doesn’t happen because we see wrong and don’t participate in it.  Change happens when we seek it.  Change happens when we SEE wrong and DO SOMETHING about it.  Change happens when we recognize wrong in ourselves and seek to never be wrong like that again.

Recognizing privilege is important.  We can’t seek to change anything if we don’t first see it.

My miserable failure

Or: that time I tried to make kimchi.

The Desire

I was sixteen or seventeen when I first tried cucumber kimchi.  I loved it, first bite.  Sour things, salty things, spicy things – these are a few of my favorite foods!  And here they were, all mixed up together!  Why was this not something we ate on a regular basis, Mom and Dad?  Hmmmm?  Because everyone else hates it?  FINE.

Fast-forward to college with my own money to buy whatever I liked.  Buried amongst a shameful amount of cheap pizza and hush puppies (mmmm, hush puppies), there was a trip to the nearest city’s Asian market.  Said city was so far away, the three of us had to make a weekend of it, but make a weekend we did!  Included in my purchases was a beautiful bottle of cabbage kimchi.  I made it last for nearly a month.  When I wanted some for lunch or dinner, I would sneak the bottle into the school cafeteria, get one of the bowls next to the cereal, then pop it in the microwave, furtively casting glances to the cafeteria matrons who despised outside food in their space, hoping I would not be caught.

Fast-forward once more to the month before my 21st birthday.  I knew that kimchi needed to ferment for a while, so I thought I could use a precious Saturday off from work to put it together, then open up the fruits of my labors on my birthday and have a snack no one else would even think of stealing.  But did I know anyone who could help me achieve this goal?  Nope.

The Recipe

I think this was my first mistake: thinking recipe cooking was a good idea.  As previously established, I cook from scratch more often than not, especially now that I live on my own.  But this was during the living with the family phase and so recipes were still par for the course. Ish. I liked the guidelines they provided, but rarely ever followed closely, much less exactly. But, seeing as I had never made anything close to kimchi, I decided it would be a good idea to use a recipe.  Just this once.  Unfortunately, recipes are this magical land that I occasionally try to observe or contribute to, but recipes confuse the heck out of me.  This is why I cook from scratch.  No recipes to confuse me, just smells and taste tests to let me know if I’m “right” or horribly, terribly wrong So, I went looking for the easiest recipe possible. (WARNING: DON’T DO THIS.  A LITTLE EFFORT GOES A LONG WAY IN SUCH CASES.)

The Attempt

I found an easy-ish recipe, but I still needed an impressive amount of supplies that weren’t around the house.  One (not-so) quick trip to the local Asian market provided me with the food stuffs and a (really-not-so) quick trip to the local grocery stores finally  resulted in the jars my fermented deliciousness would ferment in.  So, I followed the recipe.  I made a mistake (ACKACKACK . . . oh, I can fix that easy-peasy!), I started crying when the spicy powder got into my eyes, I shoved three jars three-quarters full of my cucumber muck/kimchi-to-be and hit it downstairs in the storage room, which had the benefits of being the coolest room of the house AND one of the least visited, in case of smell.

The Wait

It was long, but kimchi was at the end, so I deemed the effort worth it.

The Result

The kimchi wasn’t ready by my birthday.  None of the tell-tale signs (including bulging tops to my jars) were there.  So, I pouted a bit and had a good birthday anyway.  Then I proceeded to completely forget about the kimchi.

I went to college for another year.  I worked that summer.  I played a bit, too.

I went to yet another year of college.  I graduated.  I was a bridesmaid in my former roommate’s wedding.

It was not until I wandered into the storage room looking for a long-lost teddy bear (I lost it when we moved from California to Colorado when I was four . . . this exercise in futility is something of a yearly nostalgic pilgrimage) and instead found the long-ago hidden kimchi.  Which still had not bulged like it was supposed to, but by this time was two years old.  Brave as I am when it comes to old, should-be-rotten-by-now-but-looks-okay food, this experiment tested the firmest of my resolves.  My sense of adventure was found wanting.  I quietly sneaked into the garage with the three jars and unceremoniously chucked that kimchi into the garbage, extremely glad that my family was not around (this time) to witness my shame.  To this day, I have no idea what went wrong, but if two years wasn’t enough to ferment those puppies, there was something very wrong.

The Lesson

There’s an Asian market in town, dear.  Leave this one to the experts.

The Real Lesson

Adventures are a good thing.  It was a hilarious screw-up and though my private shame is not so private anymore . . . the point is to try something new.  This was a pretty big fail for me, but it didn’t stop me from cooking or looking at recipes and finding what worked and what didn’t.  I can’t say The Kimchi Fail taught me anything significant except humor in the face of a failed meal/snack – which is pretty important when a lot of money ends up down the drain – but it did allow me to remember that food is fun, even when it isn’t edible.

The Actual Real Lesson

There’s an Asian market in town, dear.  Leave this one to the experts.

__________________________

Any funny food fails from you?  What tripped you up?  Was it the recipe or unfamiliar ingredients or something in the air that day?

Digital Divide

Digital Divide

I do not usually shill for people.  I think it’s pretty skeezy.  But when you get passionate about something, you do something.

So here’s my two cents about Digital Divide, the companion novel to A Girl and Her Fedmy absolute favorite web-comic:

It’s amazing.  It’s funny.  It’s about political intrigue and cyborgs and how we see technology in an increasingly connected and disconnected society and has one (okay, a lot, but I am in love with Agent Netz) of the most amazing and wonderful characters I’ve come across in recent publications.  It’s well worth the $5 price tag.  I can only buy so many copies, however.  Now it’s time to encourage you to spend a small amount for some huge fun.  And no, you don’t need to be familiar with the web-comic to understand the novel.

Also, it’s a tiny way to help turn publishing on its ear.  DO IT!  This is DEFINITELY one worth doing it for.

Elevator + Book (Or, the perfect equation.)

About three years ago, I had the opportunity to present at the Sigma Tau Delta Annual Conference. Sigma Tau Delta is the international honors fraternity for English Majors. The 2010 conference just so happened to fall over Spring Break AND be in St. Louis (a mere three hours away), making it almost a crime to pass up the opportunity. I submitted my work, I was scheduled to present, and suddenly the other presenter from my school and I were on our way.  I don’t think the conference would have been half so fun without her.

However, my most distinct memory of that week was a night I spent alone, in an elevator. My fellow presenter was on the phone and I felt my friend deserved privacy. So I grabbed the book I was reading and headed to the nearest elevator, fully intending to go to the lounge area and read for a bit. As it happens, the elevator was empty. Now, I LOVE the feel of elevators.  The contrast between the mechanics being clearly translated through the chassis to the feet of the passenger and the floating feeling from acceleration and deceleration is fantastic. I also am a nester, especially when I read. I like my reading experience to be cozy, warm, and small. So, when no one joined me between my sixteenth floor start and ground floor finish (skipping, of course, the unlucky 13th floor), I merely let the doors close, curled up in the corner of the elevator, and enjoyed the ride. I reveled in the mechanical purr I felt into my bones and the lift my stomach experienced as the elevator slowed down to let on the first passenger I would encounter that night.

Over the course of the next hour, I rode up and down and up and down, in between floors and friendships. Some passengers responded to my greeting, then turned back toward the doors of the elevator, calmly ignoring me as I ignored them. Others clearly noted me as an attendee of the conference and asked which school I was from, or if I was presenting, or which workshops sounded interesting to me. Some people, looking for a friend’s room, talked to me two or three times that night as they investigated different floors, hoping to find the right room. Other people, who had no idea what a college student in her Dr. Seuss pajama pants was doing in a Hilton Hotel elevator, fumbled through a thirty-second conversation by asking me what I was reading. It was an Anne McCaffrey book. Some people knew her, others didn’t. I made a whole host of friends that night over a love of books and a love of elevator rides. I happily engaged in conversation and I read–maybe–three pages of my book.

If I learned anything from that night, it’s that the strange or unexpected doesn’t have to be revolting, it’s can be a relief to see it reflected in others.* Reading in an elevator was an unintentional, but beautiful, confirmation of this fact. By staking that small corner of the elevator as my reading spot for an hour in my xkcd sweatshirt and my One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish pajama pants, I claimed the right to just be me. As it turned out, a lot of people decided to join me. There was the frat boy who asked about my book, then stayed on an extra floor to talk about the missing 13th floor in his dorm, since it used to be a hotel. A supervisor who just needed a little space from his passel of kids and I reveled in the quiet of the elevator. A fellow conference attendee, who first noticed my book, saw my sweatshirt, which lead to a  great discussion about science and math at a convention full of English majors.  All I did was love books and elevators. Somehow, that turned into a night full of people and stories, a night I still treasure.

It’s three years later. I’ve been a graduate for nearly all that time. I’ve had fun collecting stories in other ways, but for some reason, perhaps no other reason than the fact that I’m wearing the same sweatshirt as I did that night, today I want to find an elevator. I want to grab a book. And more than anything, I want to ride up and down in between floors and friendships, inviting people to share what they will: stories, book recommendations, silence, or nothing. All are welcome.

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*Also: reading a book in a public space will always be an invitation to talk. Not that minded, but I find it funny that I never have people start conversations with me the way they do when I’m reading.