Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Perfect Party Analogy

I have somehow combined my knowledge of successful art and my experience partying and party planning to create the Perfect Party Analogy.

This all started because my younger sister is turning 21, and she asked for my advice on what to do for her birthday party. This analogy arose out of the depths of my mind (you know, one of those file folders that you haven't seen in awhile and accessed only through playing a lot of sudoku so your neural pathways don't close). In psych they always called the brain a filing system. The more organized the easier access to thoughts/memories.

Anyway off topic. The first rule of painting and drawing I ever learned (before I decided I like abstract art better) was that there must always be something going on in the foreground, middle-ground, and background of a composition. This applies mainly to painting or drawing landscapes, but also works for still life and photography. The idea for art is that the brain will process the most important part of what it is seeing if it doesn't recognize anything unusual beforehand. Some artists take advantage of this by inputting mysteries into the background of their work (think the uneven skyline in daVinci's Mona Lisa). Most artists just leave it as it should be, background. It helps you see what is important.

Okay so enough about art. There are many types of people, from loners to joiners to dependents. There is a chance that so many types of people will show up to a party. The point is to please everyone's taste. This is very hard to do when you don't necessarily know everyone 100% (think frat party or housewarming). This is where the basic analogy applies. Every party needs a foreground, middle-ground, and background. For my examples, I will use what I explained to my sister, but hopefully it will be general enough to apply to any party or event.

Let's start with the background. This is for loners and/or people who have trouble being social with strangers. It is for everyone technically, but it makes these people feel comfortable. They feel included without having to force their way in. Essentially, something must be going on for the whole length of the party that is easy, includes everyone, and most importantly, that can be taken or left. This is something that can be done religiously if one so chooses, but can also be ignored for the most part and done only occasionally. If you're confused by what I mean, here is the example. At any party where there is drinking, and good background event is a television show drinking game (particularly one invented by the host involving a well-known show or movie that they have access to). My sister happens to love Dexter, so that's what I suggested. I've never seen the show, but here are some specific examples: (1) House says something snarky, (2) Zombies appear in The Walking Dead, (3) David Caruso makes a terrible pun and takes off his sunglasses on CSI: Miami. A couple of rules for this: TV works better than movies, because there are tons of episodes with similar themes, pick something that happens often enough to not get boring, but not so often that your guests will be vomiting after one episode. This type of game allows for people to just sit on the couch and watch and drink, occasionally calling out other people to pay attention and drink as well. However, if no one pays attention most of the time, it can just be funny when other things get dull or a specific guest wants to drink with the host. Obviously this is only one type of example, but think about the clothespin game from baby showers, buffet meals at holiday parties, or even just music or a football game in the background. See how this interacts with what is going on the in the middle-ground and foreground but doesn't overwhelm it to become front and center.

Middle-ground. This is for the joiners and/or socially independent people. It is technically for everyone, but it is mostly for frequent party-goers and people who are occasionally the center of attention, but don't need to be (my best friend is like this and I aspire to be like her). This is something that a group of people can be involved in, but has distinct beginning and ends unless you're just a spectator (in which case it could go on all night). These events are many (as in all of the events going on in the center/middle-ground of a painting, they can include spectators, and usually they have a bit of competition involved. They are not the most important thing going on (that would be in the foreground), but they contribute directly to it. Here is the 21st birthday party example: DRINKING GAMES. Beer pong, Kings, Beer Hockey, Quarters, Asshole, Up the River-Down the River, Cornhole, Baseball, GolfFuck the Dealer, etc. etc. As I said, these games can oscillate between being front and center (if the host is playing) or a nice rhythmic middle-ground. Remember: Anyone can play, anyone can watch, no one has to play or watch. They are simply available. Other examples of middle-ground can be trivia games, cooking, football at Thanksgiving, etc.

The foreground is the main attraction, and depends on the type of party. It is for the "main character" and their dependents. It is again for everyone, but mainly focuses on the host/celebrant and their closest friends. These people are not usually very social or they don't know many of the other guests. Their comfort zone is with the person who invited them. Anyone can join in, which makes it a good way to get the dependents to meet some new people. It also prevents them from leaving early or getting mad, or crowding the host. For example, when the host is challenged to a game of beer pong (this is when middle-ground activities meet the foreground). What I explained for my sister is that whatever she is doing at her birthday party is what people will want to be involved in. They came to celebrate with her, so if she is taking shots with a group, playing a game, or eating dinner, that is what the other guests will be watching and doing. It allows her to circulate and for each person to share something with her. This is obvious for any party that has a main character (a birthday, graduation party, wedding). For other parties, it is usually an event, like present-opening at Christmas, or simply a conversation, like asking about home improvements of a new homeowner. The foreground is always there, and it is the most important thing going on.

Okay, so there is my analogy, perfectly developed in the twenty seconds it took me to respond to my sister's question. Guess my synapses are working alright, despite all the drinking :). Party on my friends, party on.

A Certain Haziness

There is a haziness that overcomes a person who does one of three things:
1. Takes an afternoon nap
2. Drinks just a bit too much
3. Spends a whole day in the sun (for me, this is usually while at the beach)

For me at least, the haziness is always the same. The body is slow and sore, but not in pain. Every position is a comfortable one, whether your head is cutting off the circulation to your arm or your neck is twisted painfully to the size and elevated. Your eyelids are heavy, but they feel just as normal open as closed. Those, plus the temperature. It must be just right, like bathwater. Warm enough to wear a bathing suit or sleep with no sheet, but with a breeze that makes it cool enough not to get sweaty. This haziness...well, it's my favorite thing.

Only within this haziness does everything make sense. Life is not stressful, the future and the past are not there. All that is, is this moment when the blur overtakes your body and your mind settles on the steady rhythm of sleep, conversation, or waves. My dreams are always good. My speech always witty.

The second best part of the haze is the disorientation. Now, one would think that to be disoriented is to be in a negative state of mind. This simply isn't the case for the blur/haze.
1. After waking up from the most amazing dreams and being in the cloud of comfort, there is a bit of disappointment (which is when most people decide to sleep just a bit longer), but then there is a clarity. All of the imagination and creativity comes rushing back to the brain. It is ready to plan and remember. The mind is disoriented from stress and negativity.
2. While drinking a bit too much, there is a clarity of speech. People say things when they are drinking that are unguarded. Most of the time, it isn't such a big deal that they were said. The sober mind believes certain things are inappropriate, ill-timed, or damaging. The buzzed mind considers people only: interprets their facial expressions, explains more clearly, avoids arguments. The mind is disoriented from social rules and selfishness.
3. After spending a whole day in the sun, there is simply a clarity. The mind is free to see only the things right in front. To appreciate the waves and the sand, the murmurs of family, the numbness of the body. The mind is disoriented from little pains and annoyance. It is happy just to be.

Others may not agree with my moments of clarity, my haziness (after all, it is different for everyone), but I think there are a few appreciators I can count on, even if they have never quite put it into words before. I hope I have described their feelings accurately. I can only truly say for myself.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


You have faults. Many, many of them. Admit this to yourself every day.
Admit: I sometimes pick my nose in private. I am sometimes an aggressive driver. I think about myself or myself and others 85% of the time. Etc. etc.
A new one every day.

Selfishness is very easy to pin down. Being unselfish always has selfish tendencies.
Examples: When a person donates money, this is considered charity. However, the percentage of their income they are sharing (a rich man giving $100 verses a poor woman giving $5) determines how charitable they seem. Also, giving money versus giving time. Perhaps they are lazy, or hate the causes they give to. The always popular "they just want to appear unselfish so they are justified in spending money on themselves." Etc. etc.
Ignore these contingencies.

Give intangible things. Give tangible things. Time is not money.
Collecting food for the hungry is just as kind as feeding the hungry. Donating a hammer and nails is just as kind as helping put in the floor of a house. One makes you feel different than the other.
Mix them up.

Continue to live your daily life. Turn daily tasks into charity.
Running to lose weight becomes running a 5k for a dozen causes. Cleaning the pantry becomes food collection. Organizing clothing becomes consigning. Yard sale proceeds become donation worthy. Cutting wood for the woodpile becomes cutting wood for all the neighbors (charity does not only mean helping those in dire need, it means helping those with any need). Pulling weeds or cleaning the bay is a good way to get a tan and Vitamin D. Planting or building is a good work out.
Consider paying forward.

Those faults that you list are fine. Forgive yourself for them. Then, forgive others for their mistakes too.
When you are cut off in traffic, consider how stressed the driver is and the amount of times you've done the very same thing in desperation to get into another lane. When you make wishes for yourself, wish them for other people too: I wish that I did not have this cold. I wish that no one ever had to suffer through a cold. I'm so lucky to be able to afford cold medicine.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Fall

He is unhappy with his lot. Apparently only I can see this. He smiles at parties, asks questions politely, listens to idle chit-chat. Then he stares. Stares out into the distance beyond people, thinking about how miserable this all is, until someone brings him back with a question.

How do I know this, you ask? I am him. I have been in this deep chasm and survived. The problem? I am the one who threw him in. I don’t blame myself in all. People are responsible for their own choices. But I am the instigator. I am the fall guy.

Let us start from the beginning. When I crashed my car. The squeaking grinding metal is all background noise to the scream, coming from my mouth, that permeated. That was all I could hear. All I could see was his arm trying to comfort me, his eyes staring into mine. The blood running down his arm from broken glass. We were rushed to the ER at some point, but I think they sedated me while I was distracted by his hand and my scream that didn’t stop.

She left with a quietly closed door. It was like a pat on the head and a disappointed speech. There were trust issues. I didn’t realize I had lied to protect her. I didn’t think I was righteous. Later, when she was getting married, people told me these things. To her, she got out just in time. To everyone else, she was carried to her new life by my words. And I held my now dead dog in my arms and listened to the door close quietly. A hundred times. And no one told me.

Then they came. I would walk through campus, beginning with a moment in my head, and evolving into a full blown conversation from my future. If I dealt with problems in my head (if I figured them out for myself) than there was no problem. Why did he say she say this or that and how should I could I did I respond? And when the problems became too big, and the stares no longer bothered me, I would cry obsessively in my car, hearing myself tell me I am worthless and no one loves me.

All along he cocked his head at me and furrowed his eyebrows. He concentrated on listening to me shield him from my thoughts. Then he would go back to her and they would sleep peacefully or not at all. Their world had a silence. Their world was not easy. But it had silence.

I was in this deep dark place when I finally went home. I went home and I changed everything. And the days became mediocre and then fine and then good enough. Silence returned to me. It is difficult to explain how this all happened. Just be content that if you were not there, it was like seeing someone sober up after a long drinking binge when you never saw them take one single sip. An otherwise happy person became a recovered person. You saw no change, but maybe their words and actions start to make sense.

And then I threw him in. A series of short events. One I found the right girl. Two he lost his. Three he lost family members. Four I moved away. I took away his balance, and when the seesaw tipped, it didn’t come back up. He no longer trusted one word I said. He stayed silent on the phone. He ignored the alarm clock and stared at the ceiling. 

That is what I see now. I see a shell. I was a shell. I have a shell-friend who doesn’t want me. But I am the only one who sees him stare towards a steep ledge or the other lane of traffic or somewhere quiet where things don’t have to go on and on and only get worse. I try to teach others to see. I point. But when the smile returns, their concerns turn elsewhere, and we are both left staring at emptiness.