my albatross has an aspect ratio of 4:3

my sister megan and i watched a lot of television when we were kids.  when we got home from school in the afternoons, we turned it on immediately to make sure we didn’t miss the growing pains reruns.  then we left it on to watch whatever came on after that, and whatever came on after that.  during the summer, when we didn’t have anything else to do, we watched talk shows and old partridge family reruns and movies we’d taped on vhs.  we were very upset if doogie howser was on when my dad called us to the table for dinner.

our parents would get fed up.  my dad would come home from work and, seeing me slumped in the recliner in front of yet another sitcom, would put his hand on the top of my head.  “feel that?” he would say.  “that’s your brain turning into jell-o.”

“hmm,” i’d say, annoyed because i’d missed a line of dialogue while he was talking.

mom and dad imposed limits on our tv-watching sometimes.  we could only watch an hour of tv a day, they said.  so we’d watch our hour a day, whether anything good was on or not.  then, after everyone went to bed, i’d plug my headphones into the television upstairs, sit as far away as the short cord would allow, and watch reruns or talk shows or saturday night live.  the headphone cord was only two feet long, so the image of danny devito in his joey buttafuoco pants is still burned into my brain.

megan stopped watching so much television when she hit high school and her honors classes and hobbies didn’t allow her much free time.  me, i kept going without her.  i kept watching television through high school and my first years of college.  i kept watching when i dropped out of college and worked as a web designer.  i stopped when i went back to college to finish my degree, but once that was done it was right back to the tv for me.

on any given weeknight during the television season, i’d estimate there are two or three shows i make sure to watch.  when those aren’t on i watch reruns.  on the weekends, i put on dvds of my favorite shows while i clean or sew or make jewelry.  and i hate myself for it.

i hate myself every time i neglect my hobbies and interests in favor of a simpsons rerun.  i hate myself when i choose my buffy dvds over writing.  i hate myself every time i sit down on the couch to watch things other people created instead of creating something of my own.  after all, the people who write and produce and act in television didn’t get there by watching it all the time, at least not as much as i do.

(this is why i can’t watch the blooper reels on my dvds.  blooper reels are of successful people who like their jobs, and that’s really depressing.)

and i know why i do it.  i watch tv because it’s easy.  it’s easier to watch someone else’s (fictional) life than it is to deal with mine.  it’s easier to let the lights and sound alleviate my loneliness than it is to go out and meet new people.  it’s easier to watch someone else’s creation than it is to make my own.

on my roadtrip, i hardly watched any television at all.  i didn’t have time.  there were too many things to do and see and places to go and people to talk to.  i didn’t even miss it.  when staying at my friends’ houses, i noticed a definite correlation between how successful and happy they were and how little tv they watched.  many of my friends didn’t have televisions at all, and the ones who did didn’t have it on all day like i do.

since i’ve been back from my trip, people have told me how proud they are of me.  they’re proud that i went through with it, they’re proud that i finished it and did it safely.  and i guess i’m proud of myself, too, but you know what?  it was easy.  on my roadtrip i didn’t watch the office or lost or gilmore girls or veronica mars or house or bones or 30 rock or scrubs or anything, really, and it was easy.

what’s not easy is waking up in my apartment every morning and trying to fight the nagging thought in the back of my head that i should turn on the television. it’s too quiet in here.  i can’t stop thinking.  i’m only halfway through my season six buffy dvds.  it’s okay if i watch them right now and do other things later.  but it’s not okay.  it’s really not.

when she knows she has a lot of work to do, my sister megan rips the cable out of the back of her tv and stores it in her locker at school so she won’t be distracted.  maybe i should put my antenna there, too.

summer cramps

i’m getting that feeling again, the one i had last summer. you remember the one. it was the “why should i write if i don’t have anything to say?” feeling. which i bet you actually don’t remember, because i didn’t write about it! if you remember things i didn’t say, you are stalking me.

don’t think i can’t see you watching me from the other side of that fence, there.

what am i doing instead of writing?

1. selling my collections of vintage shoes and fabric on ebay. selling my jewelry at ridiculously low prices. rusty probably doesn’t remember this, but he told me to do it. “sell everything you own and go on your trip!” he said. so i am. except for the brown 60’s spectator pumps. those are too awesome for anyone else to own. take that, rusty!

2. breaking my printer. it screeched at me, ate some paper, spewed ink everywhere, and then died. remember that south park episode where cartman says everyone craps their pants when they die? it was kind of like that, except with ink instead of crap.

3. reading the world according to garp. i get most of my books from half-price, and this copy of garp is no exception. it’s fraught with the usual typos you find in stuff from half-price: “is is” instead of “it is,” “there” instead of “their,” characters’ names misspelled. i often notice these typos, and it’s usually easy to ignore them and move on. but i folded down the corner of the page on which the phrase “summer cramps” was used in place of “summer camps.” summer cramps! how awesome is that?

it made me think of my own summer camp experiences. they were crampy in their own way, i suppose. central texas summers made everyone sweat so much that even three showers a day didn’t help; the sweat came back as soon as you turned the water off. we were tired and hot and dirty all the time, and no matter how clean or cool or well-rested i was (and i never was), none of the boys ever liked me. it was probably the braces, or the acne, or the fact that my hair was held in place with so much gel it didn’t even move in the nonexistent breeze. i think one summer i used up an entire bottle in the course of a week.

when it was time to leave, all the other girls would cry, and promise to write, and make out with their boyfriends behind a tree. i might have cried, too, but my tear ducts were clogged with sweat and makeup and hair gel. those were some crampy summers, all right. john irving may not have known what he was typing about, but i sure do.

4. googling minor celebrities, witty online forum posters, and astros baseball players to find out if they’re single. i have no business dating anyone right now (or possibly ever), and it’s unlikely i’ll meet these people or even like them if i do. but still, i google.

and i’ll tell you why. i’m at the age (28) where everyone i know is getting married. i don’t necessarily want to be married anytime soon (or possibly ever), but when everyone i know is forming tiny armies of two, it leaves me a bit lonely. that’s not a very strange feeling to have, but this might be: what if everyone in my approximate age range pairs up and i’m the only person left? it’ll be like in school where nobody ever picked me for anything, so i had to work with the teacher. except there’s no teacher in this scenario, and if there is, he’s forty-five and creepy and i definitely don’t want to marry him.

i probably don’t want to marry any of the celebrities, baseball players, or forum posters i’ve googled, either.

5. finding this. the person who has that blog is not me. she’s so much not me that she’s the opposite of me. it’s funny; last september i signed up for myspace to download some pictures a friend had posted. when i tried to use bluishorange as my username, i was told it was already taken. i thought maybe i’d signed up and forgotten, but i never received a response to the forgot-password request i sent. and now i know why:my name’s being used by a seventeen-year-old!

five things you didn’t know about me

nobody tagged me on this thing (boo hoo whatever), but i’m doing it anyway, because it seems like a good writing exercise:

1. in high school, i really wanted to be an actress. but back then i was painfully shy, so the auditions never went well. while onstage i was mostly focused on all the people watching me; to say that my line readings suffered as a result would be an understatement. i tried out for rumors and the best christmas pageant ever with no luck. this upset me a great deal, because i just knew that if i ever got the chance to be in a play i’d be awesome. eventually i was given a small part in this is a test. my performance was marginally awesome.

the part i played in this is a test, though small, was pivotal. i was one of three members of a small chorus of sorts, and our job was to recite this one bit in a round. “this is a test. a what? a test. a what? a test. oh, a test.” our lines varied a bit, though, and sometimes instead of tests we’d be talking about pencils or books or what-have-you. i was the middle person, so the first person would say “this is a test,” and i would say “a what?” and she and i would do the whole bit. then i’d turn to the third person and say, “this is a test,” and the third person would say “a what?” and we’d do it over again. but at the same time, the first person would move on to the next item and say to me, “this is a pencil.” so i’d have to face each person in turn and say, “this is a test. a what? a test. a what? a test. oh, a pencil.” it was hard to remember what item i was saying to the third person while paying attention to what item the first person was saying to me. as i recall, it took me a few tries to get it right, but i didn’t mess up at all during the performance.

this fall my friend jessica’s middle school theatre program did this is a test. even though she teaches middle school and i was a junior in high school when i was in the play, i felt really good when she told me she picked the smartest member of the chorus to play the middle part. suck it, seventh graders! i was marginally awesome!

2. also during my junior year, my church youth group held our second annual dinner theatre. our youth group leaders were in charge of the first annual one, but for the second one, they decided to delegate. this was how my sister came to be in charge of the dinner, and i was put in charge of the entertainment. though now that i think about it, i probably volunteered. i’d been going to that church since my parents brought me home from the hospital, so i knew i’d feel comfortable performing for an audience that had known me for sixteen years. while my sister organized the food and decorations and chose a theme, i picked out skits and sets and costumes.

i loved being in charge of the theatre stuff. i held auditions for the parts, went on thrifting and borrowing sprees for the sets and costumes, and organized and led rehearsals. i even made the programs myself. my day planner from that time (which i still have) was filled with ideas and to-do lists in bright orange ink. in retrospect i was probably a bit over-stressed: i remember calling one guy’s brother an asshole, and hanging up on someone’s mom when she informed me that her daughter wouldn’t be able to attend rehearsals that day. but i was on a mission!

i had only planned to be in one skit myself, but when one girl had to drop out in favor of band practice, i took over her part. to me, that was the most fun of all. that skit had a romeo and juliet plot, but the characters’ lines included their stage directions. for example, i played the princess, and one of my lines was, “the princess stands at her tower window,” or something. there was even a curtain character, who would walk to the middle of the stage at the end of every scene, say “the curtain falls,” and then fall over. everyone died at the end of the play, and my last line was, “the princess dies, and is beautiful even in death.” my pratfall at the end of that line got huge laughs. suck it, high school! i was awesome!

3. i had seizures when i was a baby. massive infantile spasms, they were called. as i was only a few months old, i don’t remember any of it, but my parents definitely do. according to them, i was in the hospital for awhile, and then my dad had to give me steroid shots at home. i can’t even imagine what it’s like to have to give a shot to your own baby. the way these infantile spasms went, the doctors were pretty sure i’d be mentally incapacitated in some way, so my parents had me take an IQ test a few years later. i also can’t imagine how you administer an IQ test to an infant, but the results of that test put my IQ at a genius level.

when i was thirteen, my mother took me to the hospital to get an EEG. they stuck all these suctiony things to my brain with glue and plugged me into some machines, and then they put me on a table in front of a big observation window and told me to fall asleep. there’s no way i’m going to fall asleep! i thought. i’m not tired and things are glued to my head and this table is uncomfortable and zzzz in retrospect, i wonder if they slipped me something.

after the EEG, my mom took me to lunch at the hospital mcdonalds (do they even have those anymore? it seems counterproductive), and showed me a letter she’d written to me when i was a baby. in the letter, she said that there was only one chance in two or three hundred that i’d end up normal. the word normal is a subjective one, but i suppose i am normal in medical terms.

i used to think that my beating the 0.5% odds and emerging from seizures with an infant-genius IQ meant that god had spared my brain so that i could achieve something specific. but i don’t think i believe in god anymore. and really, that’s way too much pressure.

4. in the last eight years i’ve had no trouble asking people out, but my first experience asking for a date was a terrible one. there was a sadie hawkins dance my sophomore year of high school, and i wanted to invite jeff tupper. he was in three or four of my classes that year, and i’d found him pretty easy to talk to. which was saying a lot, since i didn’t find anyone easy to talk to in high school. also, i liked his hair.

i’d told my friend jean about my crush on jeff tupper, and we’d decided i should ask him to the dance the next morning, which was a friday. i’d asked jean if she would go with me to ask him, since i didn’t want to do it by myself. we found him in the hall just before the first-period bell rang.

“hey, jeff,” i said. that part was easy.

“hey, guys,” he said to jean and me.

“uh, jeff,” i said, “i was wondering if you would, um, go to the sadie hawkins dance with me?”

he froze. a look of horror crossed his face, and i knew what he was going to say before he said it. “no,” he said.

i did not know he would be so abrupt. “ok,” i said, and took off running down the hall. jean followed.

of course i had to see him in classes all day. and i knew he’d told his friends, because i kept catching them staring at me. jean said that at least now i knew what would happen if i asked, but it was small consolation.

i spent that weekend moping around the house. when you’re fifteen and your parents live in your house too, it’s hard to mope around without telling them what happened. i was able to avoid talking about it until sunday afternoon when the phone rang. “it’s for you,” my mother said, handing me the phone. she had a strange look on her face, so i knew the call wasn’t from a girl.

“hello?” i said.

“alison, it’s jeff.”

he’s changed his mind! i thought. he does want to go to the dance! oh god, i’m so nervous. what am i going to wear? “hey,” i said.

“i’ve been calling everyone all weekend trying to find your phone number,” he said. “i wanted to tell you that i said no because i have a girlfriend.”

i suddenly recalled seeing him in the halls at school, always with this one girl. how could i have been so stupid? “oh,” i said. “i didn’t know.”

“i didn’t want you to think it was because of you, so that’s why i called.”

“ok,” i said.

“ok. see you tomorrow.” he hung up.

it didn’t make me feel any better at the time. i was still embarrassed, and of course i then had to answer my mother’s inevitable who-was-that-on-the-phone question. but now i think it was pretty brave of jeff tupper to call and tell me about his girlfriend. so thanks, jeff tupper, even though that’s not your real name. you should have just looked me up in the phone book; there weren’t that many headleys in there.

5. i think this is something i always knew, but i didn’t fully realize it until a friend and i discussed it this week. the television is always on in my apartment because the noise and picture and general distraction keep me from thinking about bad things. i’m afraid if i turn the tv off and try to work in silence, i won’t be able to keep the terrible thoughts at bay — the thoughts about my life and career and past and relationships that would derail my entire day if i let them take over. in my better moments i tell myself that there are just a lot of shows i like, and i watch them because i want to know what’s going to happen next. but that doesn’t explain all the reruns and old tapes and dvds. no, those are around for the bad thoughts.