Expatriation, T-12d

Only twelve days until I leave the country.

You don’t know the meaning of “goodbye” until you expatriate. Sure, when you go on a little trip, that’s one kind of goodbye. If you move to a different state, that’s another kind of goodbye. An expatriation goodbye is something completely different…you’re not just stepping off stage right, you’re leaving the theatre and joining a different acting company.

I Stink at Small Talk

I’m dressed to four 9’s in my spiffing, starched white tennis regalia…But I feel like a poser. Cause every time that tennis ball comes my way, I swat that thing like it’s a bat out of Halifax, sending that sucker back across the court with the vengeance of Pickett & Co.

This is how I feel when it comes to making small talk. I absolutely stink at it. My preferred game is watching other people conduct small talk. Sometime I feel like a societal leech. Sometimes I feel like a boring person. But as soon as someone asks me, “What’s new?” I think hmm, well I’m going to Europe in three weeks, then I say, “Nothing.”

I can talk about how to make Chinese egg tarts; I feel comfortable discuss the significance of the printing press; I can sit and talk about linguistics until the proverbial cows make their way to their proverbial home. But it takes me about two hours to settle into those conversations. Small talk? Sorry, that’s a game I just can’t play. I just end up sweating through my polo short and pulling a muscle while swinging my racket at that frightening green ball, as if it’s a live grenade and I’m porcelain teapot wearing white.

Why I Don’t Like Likes

Suzy XYZ and ten other people like your status.”

We’ve all seen the notification, after hitting the globe with the red rectangle that tells us someone thought of us today. For me, finding out that that red flag only means someone “liked” something I wrote is only mildly satisfying. And then I realize that I’m the problem, I’m the ghost in the machine.

When I started regularly Facebooking a year ago (“No Facebook, ever!” I had always firmly held, but my resolutions melted when I found it was the only way of keeping up to speed with our swiftly tilting planet), it didn’t take me too long to realize that the majority of users don’t actually produce regular content. Perhaps I was just spoiled as an internet babe, cutting my teeth on the blogosphere as my first form of web discourse. When I joined Facebook, I knew that it wasn’t going to be greatly satisfying, but I joined anyway. Scanning the news feed, looking for actual information about my friends, I found that the more popular pastime is reposting news articles and memes.

I’m a high-content guy. I recently sent a writing partner my share of ideation on a piece of work we’re doing, and she responded, basically, “Nope. I can’t do this. To much information. Break it down.” She suggested crumbling the (very big) project into smaller chunks…the sizes she cited left me with a sense of impatient disappointment.

Perhaps Facebook isn’t the problem. And I’m willing to accept this as a major possibility, because I know I’m a major social anomaly. Maybe I’m the problem. Facebook isn’t a social catch-all; it’s tailored to a certain set of efficient people. So, while I may enjoy taking two minutes to craft a comment for someone’s post, others will just hit “like.” A binary love note will appear on my dashboard…like getting a signed Hallmark card from a long-lost friend.

This speaks to the infrastructure of the website, though. It is, in many ways, a depersonalized social machine. I suppose that, since the average Facebooker has approximately 500 friends, it needs to be depersonalized for it to work at all. If each of those 500 friends posted regular content daily, one would never get through one’s timeline. And if you commented on the daily statuses of 500 people, it would take an eternity to catch up. Hence, it is much quicker just to hit the thumbs-up button. Liking and sharing, rather than leaving text, is a pragmatic shift in interactions, designed to cope with how fast users must consume “content” in order to get up to speed.

If the majority of Facebook users spent more time crafting content and responding thoughtfully to statuses, we would spend a lot more time on Facebook. As a result, people would have to start rethinking how many people with whom we are willing to keep in touch. 500 would become 50, and perhaps 50 would even become 5.

However, once again I realize most of this is me. Not everyone likes high-volume text–Some people would rather eat candy than cake. Ultimately, Facebook is an exercise in mass-production, and as with all manufacturing operations, processes must be streamlined and optimized to work efficiently.

Kachunk. Kachunk. Whirr.

The Living Human Body As Art

Here on Earth there’s a sort of planetary economy that used to be based on work. Actual, physical work. You got on your knees and got your hands dirty and planted seeds and if you waited long enough, plants would grow. And if you waited for them to grow tall and proud, you could pick them, turn them into cloth, and weave them into a garment. Or if they were food, you could throw them into the back of a wagon, drive them to the village square and sell them for money.

And then radio came along, and then television. And people don’t want to turn on their set to listen to the rustle of grain or to see a loom clacking away, they want to see a face. They want to see people. In particular, beautiful people.

So began the living human body as art.

We began to dress and act as though we were in a movie or on TV, modeling ourselves after what we saw in the glowing glass, thinking it was a mirror. We thought we could imitate what we saw in the picture, unaware of what was going on just outside the edges of the screen: Massive lamps, heavy cameras, directors doing sign language, a hundred grips running with looped cords, and boom microphones were all posed just outside the line of sight.

We thought we could be like them.

Now people think their lives should run like a movie, that what they say should be gifable, and that the outfits they pick out should be worthy of history.

It takes a lot to make a movie; about one hour of work goes into one minute of film…and that’s for a small indie project. The question is, are you really willing to put that much work into your life? (Apart from the fact that that would be mathematically impossible.)

The living body as art is a decontextualization of life. The body you see on screen, wind-blown hair just so, outfit just so, quips and quotes just so, exists in a certain context. A context outside reality. Redefining beauty standards doesn’t mean you should be fat or just not take care of yourself. It means you should think about what a healthy, happy person looks like in the context of life. Dirty, everyday, mundane, natural life with nobody filming or feeding you lines.

Math, Science, Linguistics, and Writing

Since I left off tending House of Happy, I found that I couldn’t keep away from blogging for long. I went ahead and started a couple others, under the name of Mikel Maine. In case you’re curious as to what I’ve been writing, here are the links to those sites. I’m going to keep both of these blogs active, because I’m one of those annoying people who’s into math, science, and grammar, and it needs to go somewhere. I especially love talking and thinking about linguistics. These two other blogs are going to be my outlets for those bursts of scientific “Hey, did you know…” moments. This way, I’ll be able to get those thoughts out of my system, and House of Happy can remain an engaging, imaginative haven, without the burden of lengthy scientific rants.

Of course, nobody’s stopping you from reading all three.:)

House of Happy. Writing. This blog you’re reading now.

Seventy-Three Thousand. Math, Science, Psychology. A place to cultivate my scientific curiosity. Interested in ferrofluids, the squares of prime numbers? This is the blog for you.

Mr. Schliemann. Linguistics, Language Learning. Here, I document my efforts in learning Mandarin Chinese, as well as letting out other linguistic musings.

The Three Year Vacation

Victoria Baths via Wikimedia, by GBPhoto27

I feel as though I’m walking into a large, empty foyer with a lantern, and that what I write here will echo blankly across the walls, bouncing back at me to confirm what I already feel: that nobody’s left here to listen to my timid greeting. Which is to be expected; it’s been two and a half years.

I feel as though I am walking into a mansion where fabulous parties once took place and some of the best conversations happened and some of the best meals were served and some of the best guests attended.

It’s been a three year hiatus, I think to myself as I turn on the old gas stove and start looking through the cupboards for canned foods. I see a loaf of bread so covered in mold the only recognizable feature is its shape, and next to that there’s a jar of peanut butter that was left open and was so chemical-ridden it has somehow resisted decomposition. As I start to heat up some Campbell’s soup, I warm my hands over the stove top, listening to the crack of expanding metal, and glance at the photographs hanging on the walls of the guests who used to attend those parties, and realize how much I miss the constant exchange of ideas and experiences.

Taking my warm cup of soup I dampen a washcloth, then move to the kitchen table and wipe off three years’ worth of dust. The last time I sat here thinking up stuff to write was in 2013, June, when I wrote about Introverts and Extroverts. That was a long time ago. I find, though, that there’s still a notebook here, with a pen sitting there next to it wrapped in a cobweb. I brush it off, click it open, and start writing a list of things that have happened between then and now.

Ran a restaurant. Went to China. Finished college.

For a year, I worked at a bank. Then I was an accountant at a seafood distribution company. Then I did archival work at a TV station. Now I’ve been a receptionist at different places, on and off since before Christmas.

Grew a mustache. Moved away from home. Lost most of my plants to weather. Lost dear friends. Made new ones. Learned a language. Got cultured and became disillusioned with it at the same time.

I started a couple new blogs, but it just hasn’t been the same. Frankly, I miss all of you, and I miss the freedom of expression I had on this particularly themeless blog, this particular House of Happy which is now whirring as the boiler in the basement kicks on. I turn on lights in the different rooms and find half-read books on sofas, unwashed coffee cups on side tables, sheet music still open at the piano, the paper yellowed with age and the notes all but faded away.

Gosh, I’ve missed this place.