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Getting rid of the rut!

I read all the time that 21st century Americans are delaying traditional rites of passage.  Thanks to the rising costs of college, the increasing uselessness of a mere Bachelor’s degree and the disinterest that many educated Americans have with being tied down to one company for longer than 5 years, adolescence has been extended until the mid -to-late twenties.  A woman marrying and having children before age thirty is becoming such a rare occurrence that we question those few who do shamelessly flash their rock while still 20-something babies.  “Wow, she’s only 24 and she’s getting married? Weird.”  And as for retiring…well, do people still do that?  Can they afford to?  And for those who do manage to save enough to retire comfortably, are they willing to go silently into that good night?  Or do they simply leave the job they only tolerated for the security (and pension) and jump right into the job they really wanted to do all along, relieved to finally have the luxury of pursuing their passion?

50 is the new 40. 40 is the new 30.  30 is the new 20.  Despite all of this reported Benjamin Buttoning of society, I, somehow, have managed to fall into the dull routine of a cranky, middle aged woman during this, my “new 20s.”

Okay, some might simply call it a rut.  I go to work.  I go to the gym (sometimes).  I eat.  I write.  I have brunch/dinner with friends.  The same friends at the same restaurants.  I see a movie with those same friends.   I have the same drink (mimosa/mojita) at a lounge and talk about the same damn topics with the same damn people over and over and over again.  When I break from my routine, I have a late night snack at a jazz lounge with the same damn people, drinking the same damn drink and then reflecting on what we have just done in great detail.

Yeah…it’s a rut.  And while I understand how most people get stuck in them, I do not understand how 30 somethings who live in mega cities like New York find themselves in ruts?  

There’s a lot of shit happening in this city.  Right now as I type this, there are cool, courageous people out there doing totally outrageous, totally new stuff with diverse, original people.  When I first moved here, wasn’t I one of those people?  

I could commiserate on my rut and how easy it becomes to rely on it, justify it, even.  But, commiserating on ruts rarely results in climbing out of them.

Soooooooooo….

For the past few weeks I have been engaging in this experiment.  I call it the “George Castanza stance.”  For all those fellow Seinfeld feins, you know where I’m going with this.  Whenever my mind tells me, “That’s so not you; don’t do it,” I pretend what my inner voice has really said is: “Whoa…girl, that sounds like something totally friggin’ awesome” and I do it!

It has been interesting so far.  

I traveled to Miami to see a former co-worker who I had always assumed was more of an acquaintance than a friend.  Furthermore, making the effort to get to know her and make her a friend seemed too bold and required too much weird vulnerability that I hesitated to make the trip, assuming, of course, it would make me look corny.  I took this trip with a co-worker who I liked, but again assumed that making an effort to get to know out of work was too uncool and dorky. And required a lot of effort with little pay off.  (What if, after all, she liked to have dinner BEFORE the movie?) 

In Miami, in the middle of winter…I wore a tank top (day and night) and got a tan in 70 degree weather!  

Rut be damned!

I stopped in a local Starbucks to get a drink and catch up on my beloved New Yorker.  A random guy strikes up a conversation.  When I hear “Damn, I don’t feel like engaging this dude/there’s a great article on Mumbai slums in this magazine that I have yet to read/while I love men, dating them is becoming increasingly tiresome, etc. etc. etc,” I force myself to think, “Hey, a respectful, well-mannered greeting from a relatively attractive and seemingly sane man…FRIGGIN AWESOME!”  So, I save the saga of the real-life “slumdog” for later and I engage the Starbucks gentleman in conversation.

For about an hour, I have the most interesting and informative chat I’ve had all week.  There were chuckles and full-fledged laughs involved.

When it is time for me to leave the Starbucks and return to my rut, the charming gentleman asks me to brunch the next day.

I immediately hear: “But, tomorrow is Sunday/you’ve got rewrites to do and the gym/you don’t like doing things on Sundays because well, work happens on Mondays/ damn, you haven’t even started your lesson plans yet/you have to cook the lamb chops before they rot, etc. etc. etc.”  I force myself to think: Food!  With a really cool dude who doesn’t appear to be a serial killer.  FRIGGIN’ AWESOME!!!!!

I tell the gentleman that I would love to break bread with him.  Even throw in: “It sounds like fun.”

And…here is the kicker:

It was fun.  There was some damn good french toast and some hilarious insights on child-rearing, overly dramatic females and men who do stupid stuff (repeatedly).  I had a BELLINI with my french toast.  It was friggin’ awesome.

Rut be damned!

I will be continuing my George Castanza stance.  While it has not turned me into a wild and crazy real 20 something who actually travels to Brooklyn after 9 just to go to a hot party, it has slightly altered my dependance on the familiar, the easy, the safe.  Taking a mini-vacation to visit a friend and making last minute plans with a relative stranger are not terribly imaginative, I admit.  But, I will say they have put me steps closer to being the woman I fantasized about when I was in high school. A woman who enjoys and actually LIVES life instead of a woman who observes and then writes about life.

Rut. Be. Damned.

The Only Black Dude

CNN has been consistently featuring a black dude in most of its recent stories.  I see this black dude sitting in a room full of white people a lot.  Sometimes, the white people are only men.  They smile and look intently at this black dude as he talks.  Sometimes, the cast changes and there are a few white women thrown into the increasingly familiar news clip.  Sometimes, the setting of the clip changes and the black dude will not be sitting in a room full of attentive white people.  Just this Sunday on CNN the black dude was standing in front of a podium.  Talking again.  The white people were behind him this time.  And in front of him.  The ones seated in front of him raised their hands in an orderly fashion and asked the black dude several questions.  The white people standing behind him nodded their heads approvingly as the black dude answered.  All of them smiled wide authentic smiles.  The white people in these clips always seem to be smiling.  Sometimes, the sound is turned down too low on my TV and I wonder what the black dude is saying that is making the white people so pleasant.  Normally, when there is a black dude in a room full of white people…well, let’s just say, the smiles appear just a tad bid TOO broad…a tad bit TOO forced.  A tad bit TOO self-conscious.

Every time I look up from the papers I’m grading or the book I’m reading and catch this recurring “only black dude” clip, it takes a second for me to remember that this black dude is the president of the United States.

The flood of choked emotion that used to fill my throat when President Obama’s image flashed across the TV screen has melted into something else now.  Far from awe that he has accomplished what many (including myself)  thought to be impossible, I now look at the news clips and wonder about the rules of professional survival black folks gradually learn from the moment they set foot on a college campus.  Rules that they vehemently fight, but are eventually forced to accept once they have had innumerable awkward encounters with the many white people who fill up the rooms they will walk into for the rest of their careers.  

Does Pres. Obama have to be careful about his tone when he is angry?  Does he have to make certain that he does not come off as too frightening?  Too forceful?  Too intimidating?   Does he, like other only black dudes, make certain that he keeps at least a half smile on his face most of the day so as to make his co-workers comfortable around him? So as not to appear as too unapproachable?  He’s a skinny black dude, which helps him in the making-white-people-comfortable department.  But, he is tall and highly intelligent and even when he is not trying, walks with a slight pimp stroll.   Is Pres. Obama required to be acutely aware of how all of these traits he can not control still have to be controlled in some way because he is the only black dude?

Are the white people actually required to listen to him when he talks?  I wonder if they are finding it hard to resist the knee-jerk reaction to wait for the guy who is in charge to say something important when he opens his mouth.  Even more than the rules that Barack has to follow, I find myself terribly intrigued by how well the white people are doing when it comes to adjusting the superiority complex they will never admit they have when the only black dude in the room speaks.  Do they even realize now that they do it?  That their minds wander for a few seconds when the only black dude shares his idea/proposal/report and they have to snap themselves back into attention?  That, occasionally, they don’t quite believe in the effectiveness of his idea/proposal/report until the white dude restates the same idea/proposal/report, only changing a few words here and there. 

Do those smiling eyes turn to Joe Biden for a quick second after Pres. Obama relays his plans for the country?

There has been much discussion about what Pres. Obama’s presence in the oval office represents for this country.  That he serves as a symbol of how extraordinary our nation is.  To elect a black dude to the nation’s highest office is, indeed, a testament to our ability to move on from a shameful past.  However, what I long to see on CNN are more people seeking to find an answer to my question.  (Or at least having the courage to ask it.)  When he is sitting at a conference table in a room full of the highest ranking CEOs?  When he is signing legislation to close Guatanamo Bay?  When he is meeting with the staff he himself has hand selected?  Why is the man who made history by ushering in the era of racial equality still the only black dude in the room?

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