Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Big Idea

Next month-- the 27th of July to be exact-- is my 25th birthday, which also happens to fall on the opening day of the Oregon Brewers Festival. Since it is my birthday, I will be tossing decorum out the window and, in an unprecedented move, my non-drinking ass will attempt to keep up with my rugby-player husband in the sampling and/or enjoyment of various beers. By my calculations, this means I will be piss drunk within approximately 5.2 minutes of entering the festival, which should be entertaining for everyone. If you want to come watch me giggle madly for about 30 minutes (an hour if you're really lucky) and then complain about how sleepy I am (if I don't just fall asleep right there and have to be carried around), feel free to come on down!


I have rather violent allergies to, as my dear allergist once put it, "pretty much everything." They are especially bad here in the Willamette Valley, whose climate is much more hospitable to various flora and fauna than my native high desert, and it was these allergies which led me to finally seek out a doctor in my new home town. I thought I was having trouble with my lungs, since I'd been waking up early each morning coughing and wheezing, but the doctor informed me that she thought my symptoms were being caused by post-nasal drip. The constant stream of mucus down the back of my throat, in other words, was irritating my throat and making me cough, which in turn aggravated my asthma and triggered an attack. She prescribed a new inhaler (yay!) and Zyrtec-D, which I at first thought was some kind of miracle drug.

Zyrtec-D immediately took care of my hayfever-like symptoms and all but eliminated the terrible sinus headaches I'd gotten used to living with. It wasn't so great with the nasal drip-- I still woke up coughing every morning-- but curing the headaches was enough to keep me taking it, and I thought it was great.

I noticed, however, that any time I forgot to take it for more than 12 hours, or if I didn't refill my prescription on time, I would start to itch. I considered that this might be an allergy that Zyrtec was suppressing, but I never had any itching symptoms before I started taking it. It disturbed me enough to decide I didn't want to take the drug anymore and ask my doctor to prescribe some other decongestant. I haven't actually gotten around to making that appointment with my doctor, and my prescription has run out. Sunday, I took my last pill.

I am losing my mind.

My hands itch the worst. My fingers themselves, and the webbing between them, almost hurt with the intense itching, and the tops of my feet and my scalp are nearly as urgent. I itch anyplace my clothes touch persistently-- like waistbands or tight cuffs-- and pressure on any non-itchy area of my body makes that area start to itch. We've been making jokes about how I am a crackhead withdrawing from my drug of choice, but it's not really funny right now: I actually got out of bed to write this because the itching was keeping me awake. The only time I feel relatively itch-free is when I'm standing naked in the shower, and I can't very well spend the next week in the shower while my body stops craving the goddamn Zyrtec.

I finally had the sense to google "Zyrtec itching withdrawal" this morning and discovered one of those medical message boards where people discuss all of their health problems with other sufferers, and apparently I am far from the only one who experiences unbearable itching in response to stopping Zyrtec. The funny thing is, I can't find any kind of official information about it-- nothing from the pharmaceutical company, nothing from any doctors, nada. Just a bunch of hypochondriacs bitching about their imaginary side effects and myriad health complaints. Except this one has to be real, because it's happening to me too.

I guess I'm one of them now.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hey Baby, I like your tits!

HollaBackNYC got me thinking about street harassment this morning. I'd be willing to bet money that almost every woman in the United States has experienced this particular form of unsolicited attention at least once in her life; I've got dozens of incidents stored away in my memory, and I was a small-town girl for the most part.

It's difficult to describe to a man why street harassment is such a big deal for us. It's really hard to come up with an equivalent situation; while most men have undoubtedly found themselves outnumbered and feeling physically threatened at some point in their lives, this threat was likely not coupled with graphic descriptions from the threateners of just which holes they'd like to stick their dicks in and how entitled they feel to do exactly that. This is something with which we are confronted every time we go out alone. Not only are we objects to be intimidated physically, we are objects that exist to satisfy their sexual urges.

For a more personal touch, some anecdotes just from my high school years in Bend, Oregon:

When I was in high school, I lived a little over a mile from the school and thus did not fall within the radius of bus service; I walked to and from school every day. One fine spring day when I was 15, I was walking home in the sun, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and carrying a heavy backpack like I always did, when a pickup truck piled full of high school boys drove past me, its occupants hooting and whistling, and then pulled over across the street several yards ahead of me. They were all older than I was, somewhere between 16 and 18, and there were at least seven of them. My heart raced as the three boys in the cab of the truck and the (at least) four in the bed began climbing out of the truck and crossing the street to block my path. I had no choice but to stop as they surrounded me. "You've got a nice ass, you know that?" one of them asked with a sneer. "Thanks," I said flatly, staring coldly at his face. "You want a ride?" another offered, looking me up and down. "Thank you, but I prefer to walk," I replied, giving him my best disapproving mother gaze while clutching the straps of my backpack so they wouldn't see my hands shaking. "Excuse me." I pushed forward, and they moved miraculously out of my way without trying to restrain me. I could feel their eyes on me as I walked away, but the relief of having them out of my physical space was so great that I couldn't bring myself to care. They hooted and whistled at me a little more as they all climbed back into the truck, and one of them waved as they drove off.

Another time, when I was 15 or 16, I was just walking into my neighborhood when a car with two much older young men (I'd guess they were in their early 20's, which seemed very old at the time) slowed down next to me. "You want a ride home?" the driver asked me with a salacious grin. "No thanks," I said, "I'm almost home anyway." "Come on," he pressed. "We'll take you up the street." "No thanks," I said again. I was still walking during this exchange, while the car crept slowly along the rode beside me. The driver finally shrugged and rolled his eyes dismissively, then drove slowly up the street. I watched his car turn down a side street and then reappear. He was following me. Not wanting him to see where I lived, I walked past my house and up the dead-end street at the end of the block, where I ducked through a gap in the fence and ran down a trail to the Forest Service supervisor's office. I took a circuitous route back to my house, cutting through a cemetery and watching every car that passed to make sure it wasn't the creepy older guys.

Walking through the high school parking lot one morning during my senior year, I was followed by a group of five guys. They talked loudly and explicitly about the sexual things they wanted to do to me, described different parts of my body, and one kept saying, "Hey! Turn around! We want to talk to you!" I walked resolutely toward the school, terrified but pretending to ignore them, while they kept up the lewd commentary. As I neared the building, one of them shouted, "We'll get you next time, you rude bitch!"

They're describing in detail how they're going to rape me and I'm the rude one. Yeah. That makes sense.

I have many more experiences just like these, but these three were some of the most memorable and most personally frightening because they happened at a time when I was much less self-assured than I am now. I know from experience that acting confident (even if it is just an act) and refusing to take shit from men like these is generally the quickest and easiest way to end the situation and get away, but this is yet another case of easier said than done. In our society, we are generally conditioned-- especially as women-- to be polite and avoid drawing attention to ourselves unnecessarily, so it is difficult, even in a situation where the behavior is entirely warranted, to summon the willpower to be both rude and loud.

There are, of course, varying degrees of harassment and every woman has a different idea of just what "harassment" is. While I personally wouldn't take offense to a stranger saying something like, "Smile, beautiful," some women would and do. The thing we must remember is that these gradations start to disappear after one has spent a lifetime being weighed and measured and undressed by a male gaze that believes it is entitled to do all of these things. Though men might see a stark difference between telling a strange woman she is beautiful and grabbing that woman's ass on a crowded bus ride, the emotional and psychological effect of both of those encounters may not be so different: in both cases, the underlying message to the woman is that she is only a physical being, that her value is contingent on maintaining an appearance that is pleasing to men, even men who don't know her. I have had strange men comment on my ass, my legs, my hair, my smile-- and it all starts to feel the same eventually. In each case, I am faced with a man who does not know me presuming that he has some right to express his opinion about my body. It is rude and insulting, and also a hard thing to explain to someone who has never experienced it.

I'm not trying to say that all men are like this or that all compliments on a woman's appearance equal harassment. I appreciate it when my husband tells me I look beautiful, because I know that he knows me, and he also thinks I'm smart and funny and fun to be with-- I'm more than just a body to him. Additionally, I find him very attractive and I want him to be attracted to me too, so it pleases me to know that he likes the way I look. Other men, however, don't hold the same status. I neither want to appeal to them nor care to know what they think, so for them to offer their unsolicited opinion is at best irrelevant and at worst offensive.

It's a complicated issue with lots of gray areas, and a difficult one to discuss without unintentionally stepping on some toes. It is a real issue, however, and any woman who's ever walked anywhere alone knows exactly what I'm talking about. Big city, small town, dressed to the nines or dressed in sweats, whether we are fat or thin, short or tall, dark or light, there is always a man around who will tell us exactly what he thinks of our appearance. And no, we don't like it, no matter how good-looking he might be.

Monday, June 19, 2006

School Daze

I am currently awaiting an e-mail containing my FAFSA PIN from the US Department of Education. I have forgotten the number, and although I'm sure I wrote it down someplace last year, I cannot for the life of me locate that scrap of paper, and thus I was forced to request it e-mailed to me. Usually these sorts of things are almost instantaneous, but not from the government; no, they gave me this message: "Within 4 hours you will receive a PIN notification email with instructions on how to retrieve your PIN." This was nearly three hours ago, and I have yet to receive the promised e-mail.

I went to Bend over the weekend to see my friend Yancy graduate from OSU-Cascades and visit with my dad for Father's Day. My mother's friend also graduated from COCC's Emergency Medical Services program, so I went to her graduation ceremony Saturday morning and Yancy's in the afternoon. Both were outside, and I did something phenomenally stupid: I forgot to wear sunblock. My right arm, the back of my neck, and my nose are burnt to a crisp and stinging miserably. It wouldn't be so bad if I could console myself with the thought of the tan I would get out of this, except that my pale-ass skin just burns and peels and then turns white again. So I'm enduring misery for NOTHING.

Summer term starts up in exactly a week, and I am struggling to create a list of worthwhile things I would like to accomplish during my break. So far all I can come up with is "nap."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

So, I did something I never thought I'd do: I signed up for MySpace.

After following a link to someone's profile, sheer curiosity had me searching the site for people I went to school with-- and it was like a freaking high school e-reunion up in there. Curiouser, I searched for some old friends from middle school, and found one in New York (apparently attending medical school, from what vague references I gathered in her profile) and another in Cameroon as a Peace Corps volunteer. I couldn't resist signing up so I could send messages to both of them.

This little blast from the past has me feeling my mortality again (is this my quarter-life crisis?) and thinking about just what it is I'm doing with my life. In the past two years, I've done several things I never imagined I'd do and developed some desires I never imagined I'd have. Moving back to Oregon, losing my grandmother, and marrying my best friend have all underscored the importance of family in my life, and I've realized over the course of the past six months that I want to have a baby. But there are always these little voices in my head whispering what if? I grew up being told I was smart and I could do anything I wanted-- which meant I would go to college and be successful professionally. I've made a career of not living up to my potential, generating occasionally brilliant work for random classes but generally slacking, doing just enough to get by. The history class I took this term is a perfect example of this dynamic: we were assigned four essays, each worth 20% of the grade, and I just completely blew off the first one. Didn't do it. Of the following three essays, I received perfect scores on two of them (and lost one point on the other) and wound up with a 76% in the class. The instructor e-mailed me after I sent him my last essay.

Hi, Molly:
What an outstanding essay! The thesis is nuanced and consistent, the support is detailed and compelling. This is nuanced and persuasive, a splendid piece of work.

He then told me he was bumping up my 76% to a B- (instead of the C it should rightfully have been) because the work I had turned in was "exceptional." This made me feel great at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I started to feel like a jerk.

I should have earned 100% in that class. I could have, easily, but I was too lazy to do what it took. And why? So I could play video games at night? So I could spend more time reading the news? Was there even a real reason for my slacking?

Reading the MySpace profiles of people I knew in school, seeing their advanced degrees and realized goals and exotic travel destinations, I feel jealous. That could have been me, I think as I read their stories, if only I'd been willing to work harder. I'm certainly smart enough, and I've never met an academic subject I didn't like, but would it have made me happy? Would it have been enough? I'm terrified of choosing a path that turns out to be the wrong one, and as a result I've mostly avoided the choosing entirely-- instead of picking a definitive subject for my degree, I declared a Liberal Studies major, which lets me take a few classes from every discipline, gaining a broad range of knowledge but never really polishing me up in one particular area. I have effectively arranged it so that it is impossible for me to fail, but it is also impossible for me to succeed in any substantive sense, since I'm not establishing a basis for any kind of advanced degree or even any particular professional field.

Right now, it seems I'm on the fast track to housewifedom: when I'm not doing schoolwork during the day, I'm washing dishes or doing laundry or planning what to cook for dinner. And I love it. I love my life. I know that over the next couple of years, we will buy a house and start a family and I will be home with the baby, and it will be satisfying and fullfilling like I never imagined it could be. But those voices in my head, they tell me this is not a valid choice. Someone with my brains shouldn't be wasting away as a housewife, the voices tell me. It makes me wonder if this is what I really think, or if I've just internalized all of the expectations I always felt other people had for my future.

I guess what I'm getting at is this: I don't really know what I want. When I do think I want something, I don't trust myself. I never really believe that what I want is the right thing. It makes me crazy. I have vague ambitions of academic greatness, but the sneaking suspicion that I'm just not cut out for that sort of life keeps me from really working for it; meanwhile, I drag my feet while I head in a direction that I know will make me happy but holds the possibility of a life filled with unanswered questions of potential. I know where I'm heading, but I never thought of myself as the sort of woman who would end up there. As an insensitive friend once told me, being a housewife isn't a Job. Is that where I'm going to wind up? As someone's mother and someone's wife and someone who never had a career? And is that okay with me? Because I can defend myself to the world, but self-doubt will eat me alive.