Don’t complain. The tables will turn.

Every time I come to France, I struggle with the…well, what should we call it…the brash entitlement of customers in the face of stubborn bureaucracy of administrations. And it’s inbred. They’re born with it. Whereas Americans have online articles explaining how to complain about poor service, the French just naturally push back against authority. Maybe they have to, because of the ridiculous red tape here. But that’s another idea for another time.

So I take it in stride when we’re applying for my monthly bus pass and the woman hands over a protective plastic sleeve for my card, which my companion immediately also asks for, since she never got one. And another man storms over, out of turn, to demand his own, complaining about how damaged and worn out the cards get without one, and then you have to pay for a new one, and you’d think with all that money they’re getting, they could at least provide protective plastic sleeves for everyone…whew.

I also take it in stride that the biggest sporting goods store in the biggest mall in town would have two workers manning the four self-checkout registers, which only take credit cards, and one lone cashier for the 20-minute-long line of other customers waiting to pay with cash or check. And the mumbling and grumbling that everyone in line is doing. Including my companion. Including her son, whom the trip was for. And I take in stride that everyone, including my companion, will express their displeasure orally with the lone cashier, who I’m starting to pity. And that my companion will grumble even more when a manager is called for a price check, which takes another few minutes.

And all of this, after half an hour of being wonderfully helped by the staff on the floor. But nevermind that.

But the tables do turn sometimes. After all of that, and after ringing up a whole cart’s worth of goods…her wallet isn’t in her purse.

Panic. Ever so slightly. (We don’t have the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with us, of course. We might panic.)

But instead of turning their backs when the tables have turned, everyone in the store willingly and generously rallies to help. Team members are dispatched to the areas where we were, the cashier works with us to accept another method of payment, and the reception desk explains how to contact them if it’s discovered that her wallet isn’t at home.

Which of course it is. Sitting on the kitchen table.

We all thanked them profusely for their help.

 

(P.S. Seriously, thank you, Decathlon. You were very helpful.)

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“Dancing isn’t creative.”

What. I’m sorry, what??

Last night, as has become my Wednesday habit, I went out swing dancing at a studio in Rochester. There’s a good scene here, nice people, lots of beginners, and a solid contingent of experienced teachers. There’s also a dearth of male leads, which means it’s very common for girls to ask guys to dance (and/or snatch them away from the 20 other girls also looking for a partner…which is fine, it hasn’t become cutthroat yet…).

So I went up and asked a guy to dance that I hadn’t seen before. Wearing a nametag, so probably a beginner from the earlier lesson, and looked like he had a good head on his shoulders. He agreed readily. And as he was leading me out onto the dance floor, he said:

“I really don’t get this dancing thing.”

Sorry? What do you mean?

“Well, it’s not creative at all.”

…Sorry?

“You’re not creating anything, you’re just doing the same steps everybody else is. I’m a musician.”

Oh. Wait, what?

“Every time I sit down to play, I’m creating something. There’s something new.”

And I just let my mouth hang open in flabbergasted astonishment for a few moments.

But wait! I have rebuttals! I dabble in both dance and music. And just last month, I was lucky enough to attend a day-long workshop put on by the current International Lindy Hop champions, Todd and Ramona, where they talked at great length about how every dance is different, because everyone dances with their own style, and putting two people together as partners will create something wonderful and fresh. I hunkered down and started probing deeper. Mostly out of morbid curiosity. And probably a little masochism.

He plays guitar. Okay. Chords. There are basic chords to playing guitar. Everything builds off of those. Everything that is “creative” is created upon that foundation. Yes?

“But nobody leaves the foundation here. Look around. Everyone’s doing exactly the same steps.”

BUT NOT IN THE SAME WAY! I don’t actually scream that, though. Instead, I continue that sure, many of them are, but they’re just learning. Lots of beginners in this scene. Here, let me point out the more advanced dancers, who are doing their own thing with their partners, more “creatively,” as you say.

“Yeah, but it’s still all the same steps. They have to know what steps they’re going to do ahead of time.”

GAH. No. That’s the difference between social dancing and choreography. New tack. “Okay, you’ve been playing guitar for how long?”

“Ten years.”

“And how many years of those ten have you been done with the basics, creating something new every time you sit down to play?” (As a side note, I know most musicians — and dancers — are never really “done with the basics.” It was for the sake of the argument.)

“Ten.”

What. Fine. But dude. All those chords have been played before, and they will all be played again.

No real point in trying to explain to him that there are people like that in the dance world, too, even in the world of partner dances.

Why are you even here? Being a really good friend with a car to his buddy with a girl. Who now owes him big time. Seriously? Dude, go to the bar, there’s a nice one across the street. Which he likes. Fine. I’d suggest not sharing your opinions, your vitriol, with any of the other dancers here. You may incur their ire. Their wrath. Don’t do that.

In conclusion…yep. Good (read: solid) head on his shoulders. Actually, just solid. Solid, rock-hard, and stubborn. I wish him all the best at his bar. Because his friends, the lovebirds, were adorable, and really interested in dancing.

He better not have driven them home drunk.

 

But look. There’s another story in this. These are the same arguments that people use to support the theory that translation isn’t creative (albeit in different clothing).

“It isn’t writing, you’re just copying what other people have said.”

“It’s all the same words, found by flipping through the dictionary. You don’t create anything.”

“Maybe literary translation is kinda creative, but those boring legal documents and medical texts aren’t.” (Don’t ever tell me this. I’ll grant that literary translation can be more creative than pharmaceutical reports, but writing is still writing. There’s an element of creation in all of it.)

Sure, think they’re wrong. But what would you tell people who express such opinions? More ideas are always welcome.

On Prosopagnosia

Also called “face blindness.”

I enjoy swing dancing. It’s ridiculously fun, besides also being good exercise and a nice way to be social and meet new people. Most everyone ends up having trouble remembering people’s names, since it’s such a rapid-fire way to meet people. Dance with them for four minutes, usually in a darkened room while you’re concentrating on connection and steps and all of that, then exchange names, and move on to the next person.

But for me, it sometimes goes beyond that. I may have had a long conversation with someone one night, but I won’t recognize them the next day. I danced with someone for over a month, left town for a while, and upon coming back, couldn’t remember if I had ever met them.

As an undergrad, I majored in both French and psychology. And in a psych lecture one day (Perception, I think), the professor started talking about prosopagnosia. It’s when a person’s ability to recognize faces is impaired. Thanks to something in the brain called the fusiform gyrus, human beings have a unique ability to recognize and distinguish between faces, much more easily than other similarly complex types of input. But prosopagnosiacs can’t. Depending on the severity of their disorder, they may have to rely on other clues: voice, hairstyle, glasses, gait, even clothes. With varying degrees of success, of course — people change their clothes every day.

And then I started doing a bit more research on the disorder. I recognize my family and friends just fine, yes. But if someone I know has shaved off their hair, I do a double-take. I have trouble distinguishing people in movies or plays if they’re the same race and build. And if I run into someone out of context (a classmate out shopping, a swing dancer in the library, the coffeehouse barista out to dinner), I may not know who they are.

Unfortunately, this lack of mental ability can be interpreted as rude. If the other person doesn’t remember my name, I have an easy out — we can both laugh and commiserate over how difficult it is to remember the names of every single person we meet. Or if we’ve only met once, or even twice, it’s easy to explain away. But. Otherwise? Ugh.

And networking? Fuggedaboutit. Oh yes, it’s possible, of course. But if I have to remember what someone looked like, I sometimes have to use my secret weapon: Google Images. Maybe it’s cheating. Maybe it’s the only tool I have. Thank goodness for the Internet, sometimes.

I’m lucky, though. A friend of mine, a psychologist in France, has a more severe case of prosopagnosia. She has to explain to her patients that she won’t be able to ever recognize them by face alone. Saying “Oh, but of course you’ll remember me! How could you not?” doesn’t actually help. You’re not a special case. Your face is just like any other face, unrecognizable. And she’s lost patients because of it.

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to the split-second terror that comes when someone walks up to me with a smile on their face, saying “Hi, Allison!” and I have no idea who they are. If there’s nothing distinctive about them, I’m lost. If it’s not the smooth, dark-skinned woman with wonderfully wavy hair who always drapes scarves over her shoulders…or the 6’5″-tall swing dancer with rectangular glasses and a matching smile…or the pale woman with very straight, naturally bleach-blond hair and cutely scrunched up features…or the guy with the light brown hair in a ponytail all the way down his back…… If I don’t have any other cues, I’ve gotten used to the hot pink that creeps up my face to my ears, and my heart pounding THUMPTHUMPTHUMP against my bones that drowns out the question I’m forced to ask, “I’m so sorry, but I’ve completed blanked on your name…where was it that we met?”

How embarrassing. But only because prosopagnosia, no matter how slight, has not entered the collective consciousness. It’s still not socially acceptable. The automatic assumption is that of course there’s not any valid excuse for forgetting someone’s name, someone’s face. You’re forgetting their very identity. To you, they’re not a person. How rude.

How rude for that assumption to be made of millions of people with some form of the disorder. Really. An estimated 2.5% of the population. That’s millions.

So I rely on my coping mechanisms: Google Images, cell phone pictures, conversational cues, re-introductions, profuse apologies proffered. And, subconsciously, a solitary career that minimizes the amount of time I have to spend with other people. Seriously — there are only two girls who work afternoons at the coffeeshop I began frequenting, and it was two weeks before I could tell them apart. Not much of an incentive to go work as a doorman. -woman. -person. -holder. I’d be the worst receptionist ever.

Thank goodness for the books. I can at least recognize them by their covers.

For more information, start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopagnosia

Proofer’s Eye

Add this to the list of, well, conditions that I have. That many writers have. That, indeed, all copyeditors and proofreaders have. All of them. (All of them worth their salt, anyway.)

Proofer’s Eye means that you can never just read for pleasure. The slightest misplaced comma stabs you in the gut. The odd-one-out verb tense is like lemon juice on a canker sore.

It means that entire conversations get completely derailed when walking down the street, barraged by signs and ads, if any word is inappropriately capitalized.

It means that you find markedly less humor in lolspeak, because why would anyone in their intelligent right mind ever type like that?

You don’t necessarily have to be a grammar nazi, lashing out and taking everyone to court for their mistakes. Proofer’s Eye encompasses the more private heartaches and bitter tears shed in your own living room. But it does exist, and it is a problem.

Please, if you know someone with this debilitating disorder, do your part to help them out. Don’t forget your apostrophes. Don’t write non-poetic fragmented sentences. Do murmur tacit agreement when they shake their head. Don’t let them tear their hair out.

Be there for them, not they’re for them.

 

(These statements not endorsed by any creators of the DSM-V, although I was quite intrigued when it was recently released…)

Been rejected, and it feels so good!

Oh wait.

No, no it doesn’t, really.

Actually not that great.

Especially when it’s one of the coolest pieces you’ve worked on to date, and you had crafted it so lovingly, and you had really thought that it fit the magazine perfectly, and you even had a colleague introduce you to the editor-in-chief herself…nope.

Turns out, there’s no Magic Bullet to getting a story accepted. I mean, I knew that. But rejection still sucks.

So you keep working. There’s an editing job today, and one lined up for tomorrow. There are still several irons in the fire, other submissions that you’re waiting to hear back from. And this is only one in a long string of rejections that are bound to come. You’re a writer, after all. Writers, all writers, even very good writers, get rejected all the time. (Except for possibly Neil Gaiman.) It’s a ridiculously large percentage: 9 out of 10, or 99 out of 100, or maybe even 993 out of 1000 submissions will be rejected. You just have to keep plugging away.

Besides, it’s still a very good piece of writing, skillfully translated. There are other journals out there. Eventually, someone will bite.

They have to. Right?

One Peril of the Publishing Industry:

Lead time.

There’s that expression that goes: “Hurry up and wait.” That is the publishing industry, from an author or translator’s perspective.

You hurry up to get that manuscript to your editor…and then wait nine months to see it in print.

You get super stressed about finishing it, and tweaking it to perfection, and you’re so excited/relieved when you finally do…only to put all that excitement on hold for the marketing push next season.

Or even before contracts are signed, you translate a new sample or write a new story as fast as you can to send out to all the magazines and literary journals and agents that you can…and then try not to sit around waiting for the response to hit your inbox, because it won’t come for a very long time.

Then, when everything’s done and you’re finally ready to share your work with the world, and accolades start coming in…you’re not allowed to publicize the reviews until they get published, which could be days or weeks after you’re notified about them.

——-

In my younger days in a children’s chorus, we worked with a wonderfully eccentric performance artist. At lunch one day, he got everybody’s attention, because he wanted to share a poem with us. “It’s called, ‘Waiting,'” he said. He cleared his throat. Exhaled slowly. Gazed at the ceiling in preparation. Took a sip of water. Made eye contact with every single person gathered around the table. Stood up. Straightened his vest, brushed the crumbs off of his vest. Planted his feet in a firm stance. Clasped his hands in front of him. Took a deep breath.

And bowed, to giggles and a rapid crescendo of applause.

That was it. And it’s the only poem I remember in its entirety from before age 15.

Hurry up and wait.

Hey, it worked!

Well, Sandy came in. And left again. Left quite the wide swath of destruction behind her.

I’m one of the lucky ones. We’re high and dry in an inland suburb of NJ, on a hill. No flooding. Also, no downed trees, which were the big worry, with the giant pines in the backyard.

We still have no power, but we have running water. Running hot water. Oh glory hallelujah. Seriously. And gas, too. We’ve cooked at least one hot meal a day so far. And, there’s a fireplace, where we’ve had a roaring fire for the last two nights. Power and internet are starting to be found, and cafes and the library. Life is actually pretty good.

AND! Here’s the other thing! My goal to do more work, more uninterrupted work, has actually been achieved! I’ve finished the first draft of a big project, most of which was using pen and paper. I’ve fleshed out much more of a second project. And I’ve even done a lot of research on pirates — I had borrowed some library books over a month ago, lugged them places with the intention to read them, and never had. And now, I’m done with an entire book, and halfway through the next, with rich new treasure troves of vocabulary and linguistic ideas to show for it.

Life is really good.