"Christeene Fraser is a vibrant new voice on the poetry scene. Starkly confessional, yet warmly human, her writing strikes a nerve in the audience...a poet to watch."

Bruce Haring, Director, New York Book Festival

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

You're So Vain, I Bet You Think This Status Update is About You

Hello. My name is Christeene, and I'm a Facebook junkie.

After an entire work day of staring at a computer, I came home the other night and fired up my laptop for an extended YouTube/Facebook/piddly waste of time extravaganza. I wanted to unwind from my long day of exhaustive computer usage with...more computer usage.

[Enter toddler, stage left]

My daughter ran in the living room, circling the coffee table in her brand new plastic play heels and hot pink tutu. "Mama, can I sit with you?" she asked. Before I could respond she plunked down next to me on the couch, sucking her middle fingers while I looked at a friend's family vacation photos. She asked, "Who's that, Mama?" when it hit me: I was looking at pictures of other people's children while my own sat next to me, ignored.

I snapped the laptop shut, and proceeded to make a jerk of myself for her entertainment for the next two hours. But I have to admit, and here is the ugly truth: some small part of me hesitated momentarily, as though this were an actual choice that required thought or sacrifice.

Recently my brother told me he was writing a research paper about social networking for his Communications class. "What about it?" I asked, to which he summarized, "Basically about how social networking sites gimp us as humans." Well said, Plato, well said. Gimps, indeed. I couldn't agree more.

But what is it about social networking sites that "gimps" us as flesh and blood people, communicators?

Some people argue that social networking sites are the penultimate tools of the narcissist. Where else can you update your friends on the completely useless minutiae of your day? Where else can you carelessly broadcast every idiotic or base thought that crosses your mind? I am not exempt from this. It's just an observation. You know the old adage, "God gave us two ears and one mouth so we could listen twice as much as we speak?" Well, He also gave us ten fingers to type, and those bad boys can construct atom bombs in 140 characters or less. Just ask chief-foot-in-mouth tweeters John Mayer and Kanye.

Now we can snipe and ponder and proselytize via status update, the Reader's Digest version of conversation. Thank God there was no Facebook when I was in high school lest every embarassing moment, ill-conceived blurb, or compromising picture haunt me ad infinitum.

So why even bother with these things?

I think there's something fundamentally human about the need for connection. Even the biggest misanthrope wants connection, or at the very least a sense of being "understood" by someone outside of him/herself. Social networking sites give people just that, or, at least they give us a possibility of connection. In many cases, Facebook has allowed me to reunite with family members and old school friends I might have never have spoken to again after life took us on our separate paths. Indeed, I even know two couples (former sweethearts) who reunited over Facebook and were consequently married. But for every reunion and joyous reconnection, there are countless stories of Facebook or Myspace as the impetus for many empty and false relationships, bullying, strained friendships, and in some cases, divorce.

It's not just social networking sites, it's the whole way we communicate as a generation. Text messaging has made me all ancy about phone calls, even with people I know well. Admittedly, I will silence a call and reply with a sufficiently witty text message later if at all possible. Despite the false appearance of the instant update, we've in essence taken the spontaneity out of communication and relationships in an effort to put our best faces forward; and in many instances end up looking and behaving even more foolishly, and feeling more empty, I think, in the long run.

The problem lies when this virtual life replaces or supercedes the actual one; when writers/teenagers/businesses begin to believe the things that are said to or about them online; when our time and energy is directed toward posting family pictures depicting a happy life instead of living one out. Of course I don't think social networking is 'The Devil,' or the next great social ill. It is what you make of it. Most of us, unfortunately, make too much of it.

I propose a detox.

I think over the Thanksgiving holiday, I will NOT allow myself to access Facebook, MySpace (yes, I still have one), or Twitter. I want to take this opportunity to be totally present for my family, whatever that entails, as we sit at my mom's house and salivate over the turkey. If I want to communicate with someone else not physically present, I'll call them (holy panic attack, Batman).

Now if you'll excuse me, before I detox, I need to make sure this blog post is linked to all three of my social networking sites...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stop Waiting, Start Living

"My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends. It gives a lovely light."

--Edna St. Vincent Millay

I don't think I've ever simultaneously neglected and nurtured myself to this extent. Let me explain. For the first time in my life, I feel like something is actually on the horizon because I'm consciously putting it there. And that requires a lot, metabolically speaking.

The future is not this amorphous thing, even though I have no idea what will happen to me in the next hour. Of course if I don't unexpectedly keel over from an aneurysm, there will be work, and the commute home, dinner made for my family, and bed time stories for Ava. But I guess what I mean is, I am conscious of the future I am creating for myself: repercussions, pains, pleasures, and all. I'm writing this after having stayed up until 3 am to finish homework, so maybe the overdose of caffeine and the lovely crisp weather is making me grandiose, but I don't think so.

I'm tired of waiting for my Hollywood ending, for life to come banging on my door as if it is obligated to me alone.

In August of 2009, I looked at my father in a casket.I held the weight of his body in a box, poured his ashes into the ocean. He was 45. And as trite and common as this may sound to many, something inside of me snapped. My father told me once that he wanted to be an architect. He wanted to build things, be both an artist and a mathematician. In no way do I believe that his life was wasted or cheapened because he did not do those things. It's just that, I know how bitter that was for him at times, knowing that he could have had something else, something more.

The last year, I have nearly broken myself apart living my life. I rarely sleep. I've gotten down to about 1 or 2 meals a day, max, because I'm writing every chance I get. There are days and even whole weeks where I feel so burdened by school obligations and life and my own self that I cannot talk to people. BUT. And here it is:

I am alive.

I will not waste my time chasing down retirement. If this means living a life that is odd or inconvenient to some, so be it. What extraordinary person ever lived a life that looked like a carbon copy of someone elses'? Some people may call me crazy for it, but I'm telling you what's crazy is living like you have time. For me it is writing, but for someone else it could be starting a family or a business. Maybe it's a mission trip you keep sweeping under the rug, or a move to another state. Or a job that you hate but are too fearful to leave. What really is our excuse when the smallest, most insignificant thing could end our lives this very hour? Perhaps the best thing we can do to combat the grave--even over and above diet and exercise--is pursuing a life worth living now. Mistakes. Scars. Memories. Relationships. Art. Even if it means making ourselves look ridiculous from time to time.

We are candles, light. Impractical and beautiful things. Candles are useless if they sit in the cupboard waiting for a power outage. Candles were meant to burn. And burn I will.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Girl's Girl

Surely you've heard of the expression, "He's a man's man." This implies that a man has certain qualities that makes him lovable by other men.

Usually this involves some sort of hard cowboy stoicism, a certain sense of humor, a notable knowledge of "man things" like sports statistics or vintage cars. He holds his liquor well, is good with the ladies, he's respected by other men, has a sense of fashionable edginess without looking like an overly-coifed metrosexual. You know, he's a dude the other dude's want to be, or at least be friends with.

So what's the woman's equivalent? What qualifies someone as a 'girl's girl' or a 'woman's woman?'

From my experience, a girl's girl is someone who:

1) Is attractive without being threatening or overly sexy. In other words, she escapes the skank factor. This is a big one. Because most women want to better themselves with friends who will propel them into the next category, without constantly worrying if their spouses secretly lust over their gal pals.

2) Her house is just so. Do I even need to explain this one? No.

3) She wants babies, lots of babies. Or at least, she publicly pines over all things motherhood in a way that rivals only her husband's rabid love of SEC football. Because this, apparently, is the fruition of womanhood. And of course one child is never enough. One child forces her to ask the question, "So when are you going to have another one?"

4) She is smiley. In fact, the probability of being a girl's-girl increases with the size of and the frequency by which you flash your pearly whites. Think Julia Roberts toothiness. She played a prostitute in "Pretty Woman" and still audiences perceived her as wholesome as granny's apple pie every time she bared those mega-watt chompers.

5) She does not have a past. Or if she has an unsavory history, it is one that makes her look enduring in a June Carter, Lifetime movie sort of way.

6) She is good with correspondences: think thank you cards, holiday cards, birthday cards, scrapbook pages, etc...

7) She has a well-stocked purse. Need a tissue/nail file/safety pin/tampon/ironing board/tire iron/vintage off-white cameo pin? This girl has it all in her Kate Spade. Eat your heart out Mary Poppins.

8) She is better than all of your friends in at least one hobby. Bonus points if she is a) a militant jogger or triathlete, b) insane coupon-clipper, c) yoga instructor, d) culinary queen, or e) a combination of two of the above.

9) She looks effortless in ridiculous trends. Somehow she manages to be the one person on earth who doesn't look like bloated roadkill while wearing jeggings and faux-fur wrap.

10) Other girls like her, and she likes other girls. The majority of her friends are other women (mostly) like her. Because girl's-girls tend to attract one another.

I've brought a good deal of suffering down on myself wanting to be a girl's-girl. I've always known that I wasn't one. My throw pillows are not perfectly fluffed, or even necessarily matching. My nail polish chips almost instantly. Sometimes I go a little overboard on cleavage or eyeliner or high heels, or all of the above at once. I loathe baby showers. I am terribly uncomfortable in groups of women. I've got a past that may land me a movie deal with HBO, not Lifetime. I'd rather fish than go on a girl's getaway. But that's okay. The strange thing is, I've recently made a few girlfriends because of church, and they are ALL girl's-girls, and they're...wonderful. I've learned at least that there is room for us all. The girl's-girls and the...well, others, like me.

NOTE Celebrity girl's-girls include: Reese Witherspoon, Gwenyth Paltrow, Julie Roberts, Kristin Chenoweth, Meg Ryan (before the Russell Crow affair), Natalie Portman, and anyone who is stylish, but not classically beautiful i.e. Sarah Jessica Parker.