a supposedly fun thing

So. I’m going on a cruise next week. I know, right?

Here’s how it happened. A cruise isn’t necessarily the vacation I’d choose myself, given a week off and X dollars to spend or whatever. But my close friend Sharlee is turning 30 on March 3rd. To celebrate, her husband Dusty picked out a cruise, got a travel agent, and told all of Sharlee’s friends to call and book it! So I called and booked it. I like to do things I’ve never done before, and I’ve never been on a cruise or to Mexico or on a cruise to Mexico, so here I go. It’ll be Dusty, Sharlee, six of Sharlee’s other friends & family members, and me!

A person of my specific temperament (a bit cynical, often cranky, not good with unfamiliar situations, and frankly kind of a snob) is not especially suited to things like cruises, where there are group activities and large numbers of children and forced hospitality and people with no sense of personal space. I’m reminded of this scene from an episode of Modern Family:

Mitchell: One of my favorite childhood memories was attending the Moscow Marionette Theatre.
Cameron: I grew up one mile away from Missouri’s largest waterslide.

Headleys are more Marionette-Theatre than Missouri’s-Largest-Waterslide. When Megan and I were kids, our parents took us to plays and symphonies, mostly. If we went to something like a baseball game or an amusement park we’d get one diet soda apiece, leave before the traffic got too bad, and eat a sensible dinner at home. I don’t think I ever saw the 9th inning of a live baseball game until I reached adulthood. In other words, the Headley family motto should be: If It’s Going To Be Crowded And Hot, We’ll Just Stay Home And Read A Book.

So I’ve had to do a lot of research and give myself a lot of pep talks for this cruise. I know without a doubt that I’m going to have fun—I love traveling, swimming, trying new things, boats, and spending time with my friends—but I’d like to do so without ever turning into Cranky Alison, or Alison Who Hates Nearly Everyone, or This Music Fucking Sucks Alison. So I found out what my cabin will look like; I made a list of what I’d like to do on and off the boat; I checked what time meals are served, how money is handled, where to wash my clothes, what kind of snacks I can bring, what people usually pack; and I even looked at maps of the ship. I am Prepared.

Sometimes people ask me, “Why can’t you just relax and enjoy things, Alison?”  Actually, they ask me that a lot. Well, I’m afraid I can’t do that. It’s not in my nature, and I don’t think it ever has been. What I do instead is maintain enough self-awareness to compensate for my high-strung temperament and make sure it doesn’t get in the way.

To prevent Cranky Alison from showing up, I’ve got my own room on the boat. That way I can go to sleep and wake up whenever I want, take all the naps I please, spend as much time alone as I need, and use up all the space in the bathroom.  I’m going to bring lots of books, and I’ll make sure my iPod is always charged in case I need to employ some Pixies or Phoenix to clear any bad music out of my head. I’m packing nearly everything I’ve seen suggested: earplugs, duct tape, dramamine, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, woolite, two emergency ponchos, ziploc bags, three kinds of sunscreen, flashlight, string, the works. I even sewed myself a little passport cover.

Here are some weird cruise fears I’m having that my excessive preparation can’t eliminate:

  1. The book(s) I bring with me won’t be enjoyable (I’m picky), so I’ll be left with nothing to read.
  2. A wild pack of unsupervised children will throw me overboard.
  3. I  will be forced into a conga line (and I know who’s going to do it).
  4. The becostumed cruise mascot will make me try to have fun, and I will kill him.
  5. Someone will stand at the bow of the ship and say that they are king of the world, and I will kill them.
  6. I will take too long on a shore excursion and miss the boat and have to live in Mexico for awhile.
  7. I will get fish bites.
  8. Maude will die while I’m gone.

But those probably won’t happen.  What will mostly likely happen is that I will wear a ton of sunscreen, be cranky once or twice for short periods of time, have a lot of fun, and not miss being at work one little tiny bit.

(And yes, I did read David Foster Wallace’s “Shipping Out.” DFW, I’ll be thinking about you, wherever you are.)

two little things, which coincidentally are both about my mom

1. Over the past few days, people searching for “facebook login” on Google have been clicking on the search result for this ReadWriteWeb article by mistake, thinking that they can log in to Facebook from there. There are hundreds of comments on the article from confused people saying that they hate this new Facebook layout and dammit they just want to sign into their account.

I work with a lot of people who are not so tech-savvy, so this didn’t come as much of a surprise to me. People ask me about “this page on your website” when they’re really talking about another site, they tell me they can’t access our website from home when they’re not connected to the internet, and when I tell them where to go on our site to get employee discounts on Microsoft Office, they ask me how to install software.

This frustrated me when I first got this job, but now I’m used to it. I’ve come up with some simple things to say that will help people without making them feel stupid, like teaching them about the address bar vs. the search box, showing them how to use bookmarks, or telling them where they can go to get software-installation help.

My dad’s been into computers since we got our Commodore 64 in the eighties, so he’s never had much trouble figuring out the internet. He asks me for recommendations on things like the best site for him to post photos or where he and my mom should sign up for web space, but that’s about it. I learned everything I know about the basic inner workings of a computer from him.

My mom, though, has had a bit of a harder time. I remember a few times in the late nineties when she would send large PowerPoint files from her office to home via email, and then call me from home to tell me that “the email is stuck.” I’d explain to her that she should go do something else for awhile and come back to check on the email progress later, because a 15MB PowerPoint file was going to take a very long time to download on their 28k modem.  I can also recall this incident in which my mom, having neglected to look at the address bar, thought my little Geocities website was much larger than it really was.

These days her level of internet-savvy has improved. She signed up for LiveJournal so she could read my private posts there, and then posted an entry of her own. Last year she won an iPod Nano in a contest, so over Christmas I showed her how to use iTunes to import some of her favorite CDs and put the songs on her iPod.

While reading a Metafilter post about the ReadWriteWeb/Facebook confusion, I came across this comment:

My dad, thank the lord, is not on Facebook, but he does the search bar thing all the time. Every time I grit my teeth I remember that he knows how to rebuild a diesel truck engine and I can’t change my own oil.

At Thanksgiving in 2008, the after-dinner conversation turned to “what’s the grossest thing you ever saw?” I talked about the time I saw a dog get run over, other people talked about stuff I can’t remember, and then it was my mom’s turn. She told a story about having a few drinks with a friend one evening while they were in nursing school. They went downstairs to the morgue to see what it was like all deserted and dark, and when they opened the door they saw that the room was full of cadavers covered by sheets. My mom’s friend dared her to lift one of the sheets and look underneath, so she did.

In other words, my mom’s not good at the internet, but she’s seen a dead person’s brain all covered with maggots, so.

2. Do you guys know about my Tumblr site? I mostly use it to reblog things from my other Tumblr contacts. Sometimes I add commentary, sometimes I don’t. It’s not super interesting most of the time, but the reblogging with commentary thing was something I couldn’t resist.

I don’t usually get really going on a subject over on Tumblr, but yesterday I did, so I thought I’d repost it here.

Virginia law now states a single “yes” is enough to destroy any accusation of rape


“Let’s say you start having intercourse with a man (and) 30 seconds into it you say you want it to stop,” [Defense attorney, Robert W.] Lawrence said. “Some states have said that’s impossible and it wouldn’t be fair. Some states say you have to look at the specifics of the case … and give the man reasonable time to react.

“My position, personally,” he added, “would be if the female consents and they start having intercourse, he has a right to finish.”

Holy. fucking. shit.

No, no. I think you mean HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT.

When I was 12, Ann Richards and Clayton Williams were running for Texas governor. Among other controversies in that race, this one stuck out for me:

During the campaign, Williams publicly made a joke likening bad weather to rape, having quipped: “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.”

That shit scarred me for life. Before then I had no idea someone would ever even THINK something like that, let alone say it in public. The realization that people with opinions like that could make it into positions of power was huge. I was just a 7th grader at the time, but I’ve never, ever forgotten Clayton Williams’s name, and I’ve never forgotten that quote.

Current 12-year-olds, I’m sorry that there are people like Clayton Williams and Robert W. Lawrence, and I’m sorry that they are successful.

Here’s another one: when I was 18 and about to go to college, my mother came into my bedroom and handed me a condom.

“Uh, what’s this for?” I said.

I’m not going to quote her because I don’t remember her exact words, but she told me to keep it in my backpack at school at all times. She said that if I were ever sexually assaulted on campus late at night and I couldn’t get help or fight him off, I should tell him to at least wear a condom. I didn’t know what to say to that, but I took it and put it in my bag anyway.

I told a friend about it a few years later, and was shocked when they told me that asking my rapist to wear a condom would keep me safe from pregnancy and STDs, but would  probably keep the rapist from being convicted of a crime.

Yup, this is what it’s like.

houston’s craziest

This Houston Press article is making me angry. It describes a program in which severely mentally ill people who commit crimes repeatedly are assigned caseworkers to help them get back on their feet. Instead of putting mentally ill criminals in jail or the psych ward over and over again, they’re given some personal attention and aid that is tailored to their specific situation. It’s one of the best programs I’ve ever seen in terms of reducing crimes committed by the mentally ill–treat them like people with potentially-manageable diseases instead of just more bodies to incarcerate, and you’re well on your way to lowering your crime statistics while also not being an asshole.

BUT! Did you notice the title of the article? “Houston’s Craziest.” So much for treating these individuals like people! The Houston Press (in accordance with HPD, who released an actual list of 30 crazies to watch out for), in choosing that offensive, disrespectful, eyeball-grabbing title, has undermined the content of the article itself. In choosing that title, they’re letting their readers know that despite the existence of a well-run program to keep severely mentally ill people off the streets and out of jail, they should still be known as “Houston’s Craziest.” In publishing that list, the Houston Press and HPD are letting everyone know that, despite every living person’s desire for respect and dignity, it’s still okay to point and laugh at the exploits of “crazy people.”

And I know, they didn’t publish everyone’s names. And maybe some of the people on the list could in fact be described as crazy. But it doesn’t matter. The public existence of that list undermines the efforts so many people have taken to change the terrible stigma associated with all levels of mental illness.

I’ve been very fortunate when it comes to my depression, for the following reasons:

  1. It’s not terribly severe.
  2. I grew up the daughter of well-off, suburban, highly educated people. I had parents who knew when something was wrong, knew where to take me for treatment, could support me financially when I needed it, and were able to provide me with medical insurance until I was 25.
  3. Because of #2, my depression and anxiety were caught relatively early and have therefore almost never gone untreated.
  4. Because of #2, I’ve been able to get an education myself, acquire job skills and social skills, find employment and a place to live, and support myself financially.
  5. Because of #4, I’ve acquired a savings account, health insurance of my own, and a support network of local friends to help me when I need it.

As I said, I’ve been very fortunate. But take away one or two of those things (ESPECIALLY #s 2 and 3) and any of those people on the list of Houston’s Craziest could be me. Well, not the men, because depression doesn’t change your gender. Hey-ohh! But make no mistake: I’m here with my laptop on the patio of the apartment my boyfriend and I rent, with my nice shoes and my clean teeth and my belly all full, writing complete sentences on the website I pay to host, because of the way I was born.

This isn’t about fate, because I don’t believe in it, and I don’t think I’m special. What it’s about is the fact that the “crazy” guy on the street could have the same exact illness as the girl in the cubicle next to you; the only difference is that she’s had it better in life than him.  It’s important that we keep the guy on the street from committing crimes and harming others, of course, but it’s also important that once we’ve done that we treat him like a human being, and not like a person on a list of undesirables.

This ties in nicely with my thoughts on Dave Cullen’s Columbine, but the cold front’s about to come in, so I’m going to go inside, sit on the couch with my dog, and knit while watching an episode of “Firefly.” Later I’m going to take my meds and get in bed with a book. That sound you hear is me trying not to take it for granted.