Friday, November 23, 2007

Trytophan and judgment

So it's official--I'm sick. I always get sick this time of year. Sore throat, stuffed up face, coughing. Over the next couple of days I will get better, and then, right at the end of the semester, when I get home, I will get super-sick again. But I will be home then, so my mom can ply me with hot tea and Drambuie. Mmmmm, being-taken-care-of and Drambuie. Right now, though, I am sitting in my red chair, watching "Snakes on a Plane," writing to you, and drinking hot (non-alcoholic) tea.

Two of my dearest friends in the world came to visit me for Thanksgiving. We have spent the week New Yorking [shopping at various places--like H&M and shoe stores, wishing we could shop at other places--the eighth floor of Sak's with its Prada shoes and high-fallutin candy, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade--live! from the corner of 46th and Broadway, meeting folks at the parade--this adorable family from Jersey, another adorable family from NYC who are moving to North Carolina, and this asshole couple who stepped on our feet and then acted like we were the tourists]; cooking [turkey and dressing and Sonya's yummy cranberry sauce, white trash casserole and pumpkin pie. I wanted pecan pie, but I was voted down. That's ok, I can cry myself to sleep on my huge piles of leftovers]; and chatting [about all sorts of things. These are some fantastic, clever women. I am lucky to know them. After supper yesterday, we sat, drinking wine, and talked about everything from illegal immigration to maternity leave to true love to passing judgment].

From all of these conversations and interactions, I have learned a few things.

First, I am lucky to know people like this. Not only do they teach me about cranberry sauce and freezing turkey--they show me what it is to love somebody unconditionally. They are good at loving each other, and they are good at loving their friends and family. I am lucky that they let me into that precious space.

Second, our strolls through NYC made me wonder--what is a tourist? Can one be a native tourist? What is the value of "touring" a place or a person (i.e. is there such a thing as permanent tourism, and, if there is, is that a good or a bad thing?). There might be something gorgeous in re-learning things as you go, approaching even familiar people and places as if they were always already new and sort-of-dangerous and delectable all at once. On the other hand, that would be exhausting, and we all need a break every now and then, right?

Finally, in these tourist spaces, we must be on guard. That's one of the first things we learn when we are planning travel--keep your money close, watch out for strangers, look both ways before you cross the street, pay attention to local customs and habits, don't be an asshole. You know, your basic rules of different. Thinking of the conference last week and the holidays coming up, these guidelines might do me a world of good; instead of assuming that the friends and family we love will not pass judgment or tell stories about us is a bad idea. The ease with which we pass judgment (on ourselves and on loved ones) can make every place we go a tourist trap. The sad thing about this (and I'm thinking of DJ Joshie's blog about gossip here) is that, if we are constantly aware of the possible pitfalls and traps into which we could wander, we never get to rest. Josh writes about the never-ending cycle of gossip that drives large groups of people. And the result of that discussion is to make us all very solipsistic, very self-obsessed people--when we read his post, when we hear people talking, we automatically assume the worst: that the gossip is about us and that the gossip is bad. Touring on purpose is one thing, touring because that's the only option is another thing entirely.

That being said, may you and I both give and receive a little bit of rest (from gossip, from judgment, from hypocrisy and thoughtlessness) this season.

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