9/20/10

Miss Mingle and the Three Cafes

One upon a time there was a writer on vacation in a small town who could not find a place to write.  (Okay, let's be clear: The writer in question is me.)

I had been advised (in advance) about the virtues of the supposedly quaint cafe adjoining the library; however, when I got there it was so quiet I could hear my heart beat.  (I'm telling you that, for a New Yorker, the silence was mind-numbing.)  Next I tried a nearby internet cafe which someone in the parking lot had told me about.  I was seduced with talk of three-shot espressos and unlimited internet access; but when I got there the LeAnn Rimes music and the uncomfortable chairs chased me away before I could discover exactly why the broadband I tried to access did not work.  I wandered on and found a jazz club with a patio and a cool day-time coffee clientele; All seemed to be perfect at last--that is, until the two women behind me started to talk in loud voices about parking tickets.

 I left.  I wandered on and on, searching for a place where I could concentrate.  Though the day was gorgeous--sunny, 75 degrees, the area replete with wide open beaches and boardwalk--I could not find a spot that made me happy.  What was wrong--was it me?  Why was I not able to be happy where I was?  We all know the secret to wisdom is to be content where you are (As Emerson said, "We are always getting ready to live, but never living"), and not to always be searching for a better spot.  So why couldn't I light somewhere?

Then I started to worry: Was this a Miss Mingle sickness?  Was this in fact why I took up mingling in the first place?  After all, the art of mingling is considered by many of its critics to be nothing much more than the act of moving superficially from one place to another, during which you avoid a commitment to one conversation, and instead just flit along the surface, so that you can sample here and there, always scoping out the next social opportunity.

"And yet", I thought, as I tromped along Main Street of the town, "What's wrong with trying to better one's experiences?"  What is wrong with trying to soak up everything, make sure we are surrounded by things that encourage our natures?  Why should I stay in a place if I am not comfortable there?  Why should we not go for all the gusto, endeavor to engage in everything we can in the fullest manner possible?  Mindfulness, or living in the moment, does not necessarily mean being content to stay where you are.  Goldilocks did, after all, find the perfect porridge, the perfect chair, and the perfect bed. 

 I finally found the perfect spot to write.  It is in the shade, in an out-of-the-way cafe, in a little corner protected from the winds of Hurricane Igor.  They have wonderful coffee, and easy-to-access internet.  I found an outside table where there is some kind of big green plant waving gently over my head.  Now, I can say that am happy--for the moment.

9/13/10

The Human Sacrifice

My friend Joelle recently had a harrowing cocktail party experience.  She was cornered by one of life's most dangerous predators--the Crashing Bore.  Apparently obsessed with his family's genealogy, he just wouldn't stop pontificating about his great-great-grandmother no matter how many times Joelle tried to change the subject. (Apparently he was descended from a very old family of Boston blue-blooded Bores.)  After fifteen minutes, she tried a common-variety escape maneuver: She said she had to get a drink. This proved ineffective, as the Bore followed her to refill his own glass.  After another 20 minutes, she gave up and left the party.

What Joelle really needed was the Human Sacrifice.  Miss Mingle wishes to pass on this time-honored technique to her readers, so they might never suffer a similar fate.  The Human Sacrifice is a particularly clever ploy because--when executed well--it poses as a social grace.  Here's how it's done:

Step One) Surreptitiously look around you and locate someone you either know or have just met. (Don't worry, if the person you are with is a bona fide Bore, he won't notice your eyes wandering a bit.) Proximity is important; you are going to have to be able to reach out and shanghai this third person.

Step Two) While nodding enthusiastically to what the Bore is saying, pull this new person into your twosome.  Immediately you will feel a shift, a loosening of the Bore’s hold on you.

 Step Three) Introduce the sacrificial lamb to the Bore in a way that implies you are just being a good mingler by introducing two people who will probably have a lot in common.
 
Step Four)  As soon as their eyes meet, leave immediately; you must fade out of the conversation within twenty seconds or this substitution will not work.  A pleasant “Excuse me” will also serve as an alternative to a silent fade-out. 

The Human Sacrifice may sound mean to some people, but I assure you it is perfectly acceptable party protocol.  You can’t be considered rude to the Bore since you have procured a new conversational partner for him before leaving.  And the person you just used as the sacrifice can just as easily find his own way out, if he wants to.  Remember: All's fair in love and mingling.

9/6/10

In Your Face(book)

It's early morning.  You log onto Facebook, perhaps not yet completely coffeed up.  Wham--you are immediately assailed.  There, in front of you, in a relentless scroll, are the announcements, thoughts, recommendations and photos from dozens (or hundreds) of your friends and acquaintances.  The sudden influx of status updates almost make you squint.

You remind yourself that Facebook is a wonderful thing.  It's really such a miracle--like having your friends stashed inside your personal computer waiting for you.  But on the other hand, yikes! All your friends are inside your computer waiting for you. It can be daunting, overwhelming—complete social overload.  Almost against your will, you are shown  evidence of the luxuriousness of your friends' vacations, the accomplishments of their kids, the beauty of their homes.  You are treated to images of dinner parties, concerts and picnics (to which you may or may not have been invited).  And you are bombarded with a million provocative personal causes and interests:  “Joan B. likes this page.”  “You absolutely must read this article posted by Rick H.”  “Tom S. has commented on the link that you commented on.”  The videos are particularly “in your face.”  It's hard not to click on a You Tube a friend has posted.  (The younger generation? Drunken pictures from the college dorms--in your face.)  People's politics are in your face, their lifestyles are in your face, their achievements are in your face.  And their seemingly seamless happiness is in your face. 

One of the most annoying in-your-face aspects of Facebook is the tendency to be incessantly cheerful. There is after all an imperative to show your best, your most positive self.  But at what point does sharing good news become just bragging?  “Just saw the greatest sunset in the WORLD!  LOVING LIFE!”  “I just got back from yoga and I am so glad to be alive!”  Before social networking we were never expected to witness every achievement of everyone we knew, as it unfolded.  And we must be interesting when we post!  There is pressure to perform on social networking sites: You've got to be fun, got to be smart, got to entertain.  You've got to promote something, even if it is only your recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich.  (Believe me, I am not one to criticize anyone else for self-promotion.  God knows Miss Mingle is all up in your face(book), all the time.)

Anyway,  it's supposed to be this way.  It is, after all, what Facebook is--a public forum, a hyper-linked hyper-community.  It's been called Orwellian; it's been touted as the end of privacy as we know it, something that devours our time and our souls.  You turn it on in the morning and it is just lurking there the whole day.  It may not yet be a huge interactive totalitarian wallscreen; so far, it is only your friends watching you, not Big Brother (well okay, we all know that Google is probably watching.)  Still, it is, without a doubt, pervasive.

Facebook itself has its own “in your face” practices, such as the niggling ads on the right hand side of the page, and all the helpful FB notifications: “Joe Johnson is friends with Frank Smith and 6 OTHER PEOPLE.” (OMG, it's in-your-face friend-making!  Better get off your duff and catch up with Joe Johnson, Jeanne.)  Or “Jeanne, try Facebook friend-finder.”  And “Jeanne, you have 3 friends with birthdays this week.”  “Jeanne, you have 2 unanswered events.”  "Jeanne, you have 4 page suggestions, 3 cause invitations and 1 donation invitation.”  “Jeanne, who's on Facebook?”  “Who's not on Facebook?”  “Who is here because of you?”  (How does every thing you are seeing on this screen relate to you, Jeanne?)  Facebook is in our face continuously. 

But in the end how can I justify complaining?  I signed up for Facebook willingly and I check it many times a day.  Like its 500 million other members, I guess I actually do like having people in my face(book).