Short Story: The Entropy of Denim

denimShe held up the jeans and looked at them critically for a moment. She remembered the last time she had worn them. She had crouched down to pick something up and her left knee had finally poked through the old, tired denim. It was for the best. There was a spot between the thighs that was rubbing awfully thin and she was about one awkward move away from splitting her pants.

Some holes were good. If you bought them from the store like that, they were even cool. But homemade holes from wear and tear never looked like the ones fresh from the factory.

But, oh how she loved these jeans.

She remembered why she had bought those jeans, turning to look behind her, staring at the mirror with the sort of intensely critical eye that she only ever turned on herself. Back then it had been about how they fit on her waist and her hips and her thighs. It had been about where the pant leg had landed on the top of  her foot. Not too long. Not too short. It didn’t matter if they were a little rough and stiff because they had made her butt look fantastic. And isn’t that what it’s all about? A fantastic looking butt?

Those jeans, back then, had been a good pair of jeans. Added to the rotation, worn when she needed something unfaded and whole. Her nice jeans.

Somewhere along the line they had slipped from that. They became soft and pliable in a way they had never been when she had bought them.They stopped being worn out on date nights and weekend activities. They became the jeans she threw on to go to the grocery store, to run errands, to wear around the house. They weren’t her nice jeans anymore, but they became something more. She began to love how they felt on her skin, how they moved with her body instead of against it. They hugged her lower limbs. They didn’t restrain them. Maybe, her butt didn’t look as nice in them anymore, but goddammit, they were comfortable.

Then her knee rudely poked right through that beat up space at her knee.

That was just typical. If something got comfortable, it wasn’t too long before it seemed to all just fall apart.

It was like that soft pair of shoes, her favorite after months of wearing them in, until the soles began to detach so when she walked it was like two mouths flapping open and smacking against the pavement. There was the couch that was neither too firm, nor too soft, that allowed for long afternoons reading or laying in front of the television, but then the cushions started to lose their shape and the whole thing seemed to just sag. There was the car that she loved to drive right up to the very moment that the transmission failed.

Then there were her relationships. It wasn’t true of all people but for her it was. As soon as she started to get comfortable with someone, well, she couldn’t help but start pushing holes through the weakest areas. And there were always weak areas.

For example, there was her current boyfriend. He had been just like those nice jeans at the beginning. Everything he did and said was interesting. He brought her flowers. They went out to fancy restaurants and gallery openings and festivals. He always dressed nice and smelled good. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck, the lobes of her ears, and whispered sweet things to her.

All of that was nice, but there were the other parts that were less comfortable. She wasn’t sure if he would like everything about her. Maybe, he would discover who she was at her core and he would reject her. Along with all of that heart fluttering excitement of young love, there was fear and insecurity there . When he didn’t call her back or didn’t text, she wondered if he was getting bored with her. When they ran into his ex-girlfriend, she felt jealous. She didn’t always get along with his friends. She wasn’t sure but she was fairly certain his mom didn’t like her. It was fun being with someone new, but it wasn’t always easy.

Yet, slowly, it turned into something comfortable. She didn’t feel like she had to put makeup on every time she saw him. He didn’t feel like he had to dress up. They didn’t have to go to fancy restaurants, nor did either of them have to spend time or energy thinking of fun and exciting things to do. What was the point of going out all night and closing down the bars, when they could just lay on the couch, eat takeout and watch movies? She didn’t feel embarrassed around him. There was nothing to prove. They knew each other and at the end of all of the knowing, they still liked each other, loved each other. She knew why he didn’t return her phone calls sometimes and she certainly wasn’t jealous of his ex anymore.

There was a brief moment of enjoying this comfortable life, before she started to find the holes.

Sure, she was happy, but she began to wonder if he was the right person for her. If he was “the one.” After all, she may have forgiven him for past transgressions and she might have forgotten the fights that they had over the past few years but they were still there written in the faded and worn cloth that was their relationship. You could patch over it, but you knew it was there.

And if she was honest, it still bothered her why he couldn’t just return a phone call or at least text. It wasn’t hard. And no, she wasn’t jealous of his ex-girlfriend, but why was she always still around? It was beginning to feel like they couldn’t go anywhere without running into her. And would it be so terrible, if just once he dressed up and took her somewhere nice? She couldn’t remember the last time he bought her flowers.

Sure, she loved her boyfriend. He was great. And yet, sometimes, she found herself wishing for something new, something exciting and maybe just a little uncomfortable.

It was difficult to decide what to do. She could stay with her boyfriend, despite the threadbare spaces and the discolored patches they put over the problem areas, but always, she felt the pull to go find someone else. Maybe, when things finally got comfortable with the new person, it would be different. Better.

She held up the jeans and looking at them one more time, eyeing them up with that same intensely, critical eye she had turned on herself when she had bought them.

Well, there was no point in holding on to them. She draped them on top of the other clothes she was getting rid of, sweaters that had shrunk in the dryer, the print that she thought might be fun but just ended up looking weird, the dress that wasn’t quite long enough. Then, she hoisted the box up and marched it resolutely down the stairs and placed it by the door.

Her boyfriend was sitting on the couch, watching television and he looked over at her and then the box. “I can’t believe you’re getting rid of those jeans. I thought you loved them.”

Everyone is wrong and so are you

My dad and I regularly get into arguments.

We’re not talking about little things, like where to get the best cup of coffee or what is the best way to get to the beach. No, my dad and I get into awful fights about big stuff, what we believe in, what we don’t, where we come from, how did we get here, the existence of god. Most of these arguments stem from one large, all-encompassing conflict related to the religion that he is still a part of and that I have long since left. He believes with a faith that seems unshakeable. I don’t. I told him one day that as sure as he is that he is right about his religion, that is how sure I am that he is wrong.

These are not fun discussions that we have. We should probably stop doing it. We’re most likely one big argument from doing serious damage to our relationship. These arguments feel like they have no end. There is certainly no chance of resolution. In the end, all I end up feeling is sort of inwardly bruised and torn. If I had to guess how he felt I would say it’s probably bewildered and profoundly disappointed.

I bring this up because it seems very familiar to a lot of the political debates that I see on Facebook and Twitter. Largely two sides. Each one absolutely certain that they are right. Arguments ending unresolved with most people feeling angry, or hurt, or bewildered. I feel the same sort of confusion that everyone else feels, the same sort of confusion that I feel while arguing with my dad.

I think, how does he not see what I’m saying? How am I telling him something and he absolutely refuses to see? When I argue about politics, I think, why do they feel that way so strongly? How can we have the same information but come to such drastically different conclusions? Facts are facts. Why can’t they see that I’m right?

I have the facts.

I’m obviously right.

See, I believe that I’m right because of a neat little thing called “confirmation bias.” What is that? PsychologyToday defines it as “the direct influence of desire on beliefs.” It’s simply wanting to believe something is true, so we do everything we can to support that belief, often sacrificing reality to do so. Maybe we do it by getting out information from sources that share our beliefs. A liberal might get their news from MSNBC. A conservative might choose to get their news from FOX news. It’s why when we look something up on the internet, we will scroll past pages and pages or sources until we find the one source that backs up our point of view.

This is why there are people out there who still think that vaccines cause autism and there are still people out there who believe that global warming is a hoax. It’s why conspiracy theorists thrive. Everyone is a search query away from finding a person, an article, a blog post that confirms everything that they believe to be true. They distrust the government, their doctors, the scientists, their teachers and now you can too!

Facts don’t matter. Science doesn’t matter. When confronted with facts, we can say, well, I still choose to believe the contrary. Like, if I tell you that the sky is blue, if you tell me that you believe that the sky is fuchsia, well, there’s not much I can do about that. Facts are testable, but beliefs are not. It doesn’t matter if all of the experts tell you that vaccines do not cause autism, if you still believe that they do.

We do it on purpose when we only get our news from only a few sources, when we only surround ourselves with people who share our view, or when we scroll past anything that might contradict what we believe. But our brains take it one step further. In the background, they are also subconsciously working on all of our biases. And we have a lot biases. You can look them up on wikipedia, or better yet you can check out Buster Benson’s cheat sheet to them. At the end there’s a pretty neat infographic as well. The point is that even when we’re not aware of it happening, our brain’s are working to confirm the things that we already believe.

For example, if you think that I am a vain person, your brain will constantly keep track of any evidence of that. Every selfie that I post. Every time you catch me checking myself out in the mirror. Your brain will make a note of that, constantly underlining that early judgment you made. It won’t matter the times that I’m not acting that way. Your brain will discard that material. It’s harmless until you think how you could make a judgment about a whole group of people, like refugees, or Muslims or Mexicans and your brain will cheerfully help you find the evidence for that belief you now hold. You can tell yourself that you’re not racist. It’s just what you noticed. But, is it? Or, are your own biases getting in the way?

If you are honest with yourself, really, truly honest, what are some of the things that you just know that are not backed up by any sort of scientific evidence? Are you clicking share every time you see a meme or a picture with some clever words that back up what you’ve always believed to be true and not stopping to look for the evidence that backs up the presented claims? Do you find that when confronted with an alternate view to the one that you have that you do not allow yourself to even consider the viewpoint? If you’re doing these things (I do them too) think to yourself,  what truths am I keeping myself from knowing?

So, why do we do this?

After all, as Jonah Lehrer writes in WIRED, “We’d be a hell of a lot smarter if we weren’t only drawn to evidence that confirms what we already believe.” It’s true. If we weren’t so hell-bent on looking for ways to prove that we’re right, we would be able to see the world around us as it actually is and not how we think it is.

One reason they believe that we do this is because it’s a great way of processing information. We are constantly getting bombarded with information, from our television, from our computers, from our smart phones. The world around us is buzzing with news and if we didn’t have a quick and effective way of dealing with all of that, we would probably lose our minds. I sort of think of myself as a packrat of information and my brain as the tireless organizer. It only keeps the stuff that goes along with what I already believe to be true and ignores the rest of it. It’s like having a spouse or roommate or partner who is constantly going through your stuff and throwing it away and you have so much stuff that you don’t even notice.

Another reason why we might do this is that we don’t actually want to be wrong. We want to feel good about ourselves. We want to feel smart. If we discovered that our truths and beliefs were inaccurate, we wouldn’t like the way that felt. And the higher we valued that truth or belief, the worse we might feel in discovering that we were wrong.

The other day, my son had a cold and I wanted to give him orange juice. My husband said that orange juice wouldn’t be good for him. I looked it up and I saw that he was right but it still took two full days for me to tell him that he had been right about that. Being wrong is the worst.

So, maybe you’re thinking, okay, I can see how maybe I do this from time to time.

How do I stop doing it?

Is there any hope for those of us who wish to shake off our blinders, who want to see the world outside of our own biases? Yes. But like anything worth doing, it’s not going to be easy.

  1. gijoeBe aware of the danger of confirmation bias.
    I’ve already helped you with the first one. You’re welcome. This is a classic, “knowing is half the battle” sort of thing.
  2. Go looking for an argument.
    Okay. Settle down. I hope you haven’t just started one on Facebook. What I mean is this: seek out the opposition to what you believe to be true. Get your news from a different source. Get out of your echo chambers. Don’t scroll past all of the articles that conflict what you believe, but read them. Think about them. Sometimes, they will confirm your beliefs. Sometimes, they won’t. That’s okay.
  3. Consider the source
    Are you getting your information from someone who is an expert in their field? A real expert. If you have a problem with your heart you’re going to go to a cardiologist, not an auto mechanic who has beliefs about the human heart (which is that a good prompt for a romance novel or what?). So, if you want to know the truth about vaccines, maybe you shouldn’t get your information from an actress, but maybe a scientist or a doctor. Check to make sure the person presenting the information actually knows what they’re talking about and can back it up with facts.
  4. Have an open mind
    Be open to the idea that something you always believed to be true might not be. It’s not a great feeling. Maybe, you based your whole life on these beliefs. Depending on how long you held those beliefs and how strongly you believed in them, admitting to yourself that they aren’t true can be devastating.  It’s worth it. It’s far better to live in reality than to hold stubbornly to untruths.
  5. Try to enter argument without worrying about winning
    I am admittedly terrible at this. But it goes hand in hand with the previous point, argue with an open mind. Allow yourself to consider the other point of view. Remove your ego from the argument. Approaching an argument like you want to learn something, instead of win something is a great way of opening your mind to other viewpoints. And listen, you don’t have to admit that you were wrong. My god, I’m not a monster.

There is still room for beliefs. There is still room for differing opinions. But it should never be more important than facts and reality. You can be conservative and still be right. You can be liberal and still be right. But don’t sacrifice truths for it. Looks things up. Research. Find multiple sources. At the end of the day, you will be smarter for it, more often right, and an easy winner of all of the best Facebook arguments. And take a deep breath, the election will be over soon. Of course, the debates of differing viewpoints will never go away.

If you are interested in reading more about confirmation bias, I recommend these as they were very helpful in writing this post.

Hot mic: The power of words

christmas-soapLast summer I swore in front of my mom.

It wasn’t one of the lesser of the swear words, the ones that you can sort of explain away. No, this was the big one, the big grand-daddy of swear words.

It was road rage, I guess.

“I can’t fudging get over!” I shouted. Only I didn’t say fudging. The people in the other vehicle? They didn’t hear me, but my mother sure did.

There was that moment, that desperate, frantic moment where I tried to talk my way out of that slip. Could I say that I had said something else and she had misheard me? Could I pretend I didn’t say anything at all? Could I blame it on other people, those nonexistent, terrible people around me who also use that dirty language? Was there any way that I could blame it on my husband?

I looked over at her where she sat with quiet dignity.

“I’m really sorry I said that.” I didn’t have to say what “that” was. I swear I could still hear it echoing through the car.

“It’s okay,” she said quickly.

“No, it’s not,” I replied.

She waved it off, a quick forgiveness that I probably wouldn’t have gotten if I still had lived at home. She wasn’t above washing our mouths out with soap.

Words say something about who we are. People may hear me swear and make some assumptions about who I am as a person. I don’t like that my mom now knows that I use that language. I still cringe when I think about saying that word in front of her.

There is a reason we should watch what we say. Words have power and if we get in the habit of using certain words or to take it a bit further, expressing certain thoughts when we think no one can hear, they find ways of coming to the surface. Sometimes, they can reveal who we are in a way that can be damaging to how we want to be perceived.

There’s no better lesson for this than the lesson that Donald Trump is learning over the leaked hot-mic footage from 2005. It’s been three days since that has been leaked but it’s been everywhere. If you haven’t heard of it then I assume you live in a cave and then my question for you is do you have room for one more? Trump has since apologized, and talked about it in the debate where he told us once more how much respect he has for women. Yeah. Okay. There has also been an influx of posts where people have rushed to come to his defense. I’ve made a list of some of their points that I have seen. Let’s talk about those.

It’s just locker room talk.
I thought the expression, “Boys will be boys,” was bad. I mean, come on, is it such a terrible thing to make boys be accountable for their actions? Now, words of misogynistic men are just explained away with, “It’s locker room talk.” This is what most men will say when women aren’t present.

But, is it?

There is a subreddit called AskMen, and a redditor asked, How much truth is there that guys have lewd, vulgar “locker room talk” between themselves (a la Trump and Billy Bush)? The answers didn’t surprise me. One redditor said “I’ve lived in a lot of countries, and engaged in a lot of male-only conversations, and have never heard anyone say anything like this in my entire life. If anyone had, the reaction from the other men wouldn’t have been “slightly uncomfortable.” We’d have thrown him out on his ear.” Another redditor said, “I’ve played rugby in the macho bullshit culture of an Australian rugby club. Sometimes shit got really crude, but not once did anyone cross the line into discussing sexual assault, even in a joking manner.”

So, maybe this isn’t just locker room talk? Maybe, not all men talk like that? Maybe, and in my case I’ve found this to be true, men are so much better than what they are sometimes given credit for.

It’s just crude words.
cuxaw14waaadhfzLet’s just be clear about this, joking about sexual assault and admitting to it goes far beyond just using crude words. I personally don’t like the word pussy. It’s certainly not what I call my vagina, but I’m not offended by that particular word. What does offend me is someone talking about grabbing a pussy. The word grab is the problem, because that is assault. It’s not being overly sensitive to say that joking about this or basically admitting to doing it is disgusting. My being offended by this is not the product of a society that is too concerned with being politically correct. My being offended by a joke about sexual assault is the product of living in a country where every 109 seconds a person is sexually assaulted. Every eight minutes, a child is the victim. Have you ever been groped in public? Ask around. Have people you have known been groped in public? Ask them if they think that what Trump said was just crude words.

It was over ten years ago.
Yes, this was over ten years ago and maybe it would be something we could sort of shake our heads at, accept his apology and move on. Except, this is a man who has a history of saying awful things about women. There are articles, entirely too long, detailing all of the very public things that he says about women, essentially reducing us all to the shapes of our bodies and our only worth based on how we look. He has been making these comments for most of his adult life. I don’t have to go into all of them, do I? Do you want me to remind you that he called Megan Kelly a bimbo or that he said that Heidi Klum was fat (Heidi Klum!). Just last week, he talked about the former Miss Universe’s nonexistent sex tape. If you don’t know what I’m talking about or you think that I’m exaggerating, check out this and this and this. And let’s not forget those were things that he said in public, when he was supposed to be watching his mouth. The hot-mic clip gives us an idea of what he says in private.

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For what it’s worth…

You read Fifty Shades of Grey.
Listen. I read all sorts of things. I don’t limit myself. I read Fifty Shades of Grey. I thought it was awful, but I read it. Does that mean that because I’ve read that book and that admittedly I’ve read other books that sometimes explore kink and the beautiful and strange world that is human sexuality that it means you can say or do whatever you want to me? Does that mean I’m not allowed to be offended when someone laughs about sexually assaulting someone? If I read a book about someone being murdered, does that mean that I’m now okay with murder? No. Obviously not.

He wasn’t running for president then.
So? Seriously. So? Does that mean that when he began his candidacy for president we should have wiped clean the slate, pretended that he didn’t say all of those racist and sexist things? That’s not how it works. He is running for president now and to be honest his candidacy hasn’t exactly slowed down the racist and misogynistic garbage coming out of his mouth.

Hillary Clinton/Bill Clinton/Rap Artists/Anyone else you can think have said or done worse.
I’m not interested in getting into an involved discussion about all of the other people who have said and done worse things. Pointing the finger at someone else doesn’t change what Trump has said or did. It’s irrelevant. We can talk about rape culture. We can talk about rap artists. We can talk about the Clintons, but it doesn’t change for one moment what Trump said or admitted to doing.

See, words are important. Trump’s words tell us more than anything else how he feels about women. We could also talk about how he feels about minorities because we all know he has had a lot to say about them as well, but I’m trying to stay focused here on just this one issue. Trump says terrible things in public, in speeches, on twitter, in interviews and then thinks we should all forgive him for what he thought he said in private. He wants to just sweep away the words with a half-hearted apology, but you can’t do that. I can’t unsay the f-word that I said in front of my mom. I can’t blame anybody else. Trump can’t unsay words just to get out of the consequences of them and he can’t lessen them by pointing the finger everywhere else.

It must be exhausting having to defend this. I almost feel sorry for the Trump supporters who are looking for the ways to make this okay, to minimize this. But, really, you don’t need to that. Do yourself a favor. Stop. Stop defending this. You don’t have to like Hillary Clinton. I don’t care who you vote for. (Well, I do, but I’m not going to get into that.) Vote for Trump, if you must. But, stop defending this behavior and these words.

If you’re okay with everything he says and does and how he feels about women, that’s fine. I’m not here to change you. But, I need you to know that you also are a misogynist. Own it. Write it on a t-shirt. Wear it as a sign around your neck. You cannot be okay with all of these things that he says and does and then shrink away from what that makes you.

A misogynist.

That’s a pretty powerful word, isn’t it?

Lessons from the dance floor

danceDo you know what I learned this weekend? I learned that for me dancing the electric slide is not like riding a bike. It is not something that I just remembered how to do. I shouldn’t have walked out onto the dance floor and expected all of the steps to come back to me. No amount of wine was going to help me and I think if I’m honest with myself I think it might have been a contributing factor in my subpar performance.

In case you are the one person in the world who doesn’t know the electric slide, it’s a simple dance, basically a lot of shuffling. In fact, when you have a second, watch it on YouTube. It’s fantastic. You are going to love every second of it.

Anyway, I seem to recall being fairly excellent at it when I was a kid. I know that my memory is faulty when it comes to what I was and was not capable of as a child, but I had to have been better at it than I was the other night. I don’t think for the duration of the song that I was ever going in the correct direction and there is a poor woman out there who nearly had to limp off the dance floor when I stepped on her foot.

I only danced to one other song that night. I forced my poor husband to dance to YMCA and it was awkward and we were clumsy and ridiculous. Twice, I tried to do the letters too early and my husband kept doing a backwards letter C. We made up for our ineptitude with buckets and buckets of enthusiasm and we had fun.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, oh here we go, Amanda is going to take her tipsy foray onto a crowded dance floor and turn it into some sort of life lesson.

And my answer to that? Yes. Yes, I am.

There are so many times that I don’t want to do something or I hold myself back because I don’t want to look foolish. There was a time that my butchery of the electric slide would have mortified me. But now, that I’m trying to loosen up and not be so hard on myself I think, what’s so terrible about looking foolish? Do I have such a weak sense of humor that I can’t even enjoy a joke at my own expense? Do you know what’s really foolish? Not ever doing anything at all because of being afraid of being laughed at. No, it’s not foolish. It’s sad.

So, from here on out, I’m up for it. I’m doing it. I’m going to treat my life like I’m in the middle of a dance floor and I’m trying to learn the steps as I go. What I do know how to do I’m going to do with enthusiasm. Gusto even. What I don’t, well, I’m going to learn. And until I do, I’m going to have a sense of humor about it.

If you’re out here on the dance floor with me, I’ll try to be mindful of your toes.

Sidenote: I’m going to be doing Inktober for the first time, which is an ink drawing for every day in the month of October. I’m not committing to 31 drawings, but I am hoping to do what they call the half-Marathon, only an ink drawing every other day. I plan to write a post about it at the end of the month and share my work, so stay tuned.