I am a graduate student eating a sandwich.

To be a graduate student is to live a life teeming with paradoxes.  When I am not pontificating questions of relative insignificance, I often wonder:  How can I read so much, yet feel as if I am getting stupider?  How can I think so many thoughts, yet think that I am not thinking enough thoughts?  How am I becoming older, yet simultaneously so much poorer?

For the latter question, I compensate for my inverse age-purchasing power relationship by swiping miniature cups of half and half from departmental refrigerators and attending formal lunches hosted by my graduate institution no matter the topic of roundtable “discussion”.  To do so successfully, simply refrain from writing your full name on the sticker tag, silently eat a salad, nod strategically with dire concern, speak with your hands, make grunting sounds indicating vague agreement with someone speaking with his or her hands in dire concern, leave inconspicuously with three cookies and five packets of Sugar in the Raw in your jacket pocket.

This past week, I was delighted to attend a lunch in which I could actually, without the aid of Wikipedia, define all the words in the title of the event – a discussion on philanthropy, non-profit and public entities, and the world of foundations.  Of course, this piece of writing has absolutely nothing to do with the actual content of said roundtable discussion because that, in fact, would be practical and educational.  I didn’t go to school to become more practical and educational.

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A Story:

The lunch takes place in a large room located in the oldest building on campus.  The room, with its chandeliers, fanciful off-white trimming, and paintings of women sewing thirteen (THIRTEEN!) stars on an American flag, is, at once, timeless and exceedingly gay.

I divert my attention specifically to the lunch spread.  Immediately, I notice that there is only one can of Diet Coke left.  Predicated by this lone can of Diet Coke, I know this room is full of old white women who wear turtlenecks tucked into their pleated pants.  I, on the other hand, am wearing a button down shirt – a shirt wrinkled by my idea that taking a really, really hot shower and letting my shirt hang on the towel rack is equivalent to an iron that civilized people use.  I suddenly become concerned with my concern in the sole can Diet Coke as it confirms that I truly am an old lesbian soul named Bernadette who likes to spend her Friday nights petting her (literal) cat while watching Antiques Roadshow.  In spite of this anxiety of my true, authentic self, I cut two other old white women wearing turtlenecks tucked into their pleated pants and grab the last can of Diet Coke.

As I move towards the salad and I contemplate, who do I want to be today?  This question is imperative because it determines the selection and arrangement of my plate.  I pile the Styrofoam with salad because I am adult – specifically spinach because romaine lettuce is for peasants (not indentured servants like myself).  I am afforded three types of dressing, but I am not fooled by the idea that these are options.  Light on the vinaigrette and never heavy on the ranch dressing – this is Georgetown University not Rick Perry’s dude ranch in west Texas.

Sandwiches are a food that I have very explicit, personal rules for, particularly when it comes to public consumption.  In meetings, I avoid anything in baguette form since I have learned from painful experience that I am incapable of completely biting through the bread, thus rendering a scene of my tugging at a piece of sandwich in my mouth as I attempt to dissect the 7th pie chart on the 87thslide of this 362-slide presentation.  I opt for a meat that is in one uniform mass – ham, turkey, roast beef – since anything with “units” (chicken salad, egg salad, tuna) consistently results in said “units” splatting loudly on my agenda, leaving concrete evidence of my inability to eat like a successful product of natural selection.

In the dessert section, there are two options.  There are the tiny square brownies topped with a chocolate emblem in the shape of something akin to the pattern on Marie Antoinette’s wallpaper – or the GIANT COOKIES covered with M&Ms.  Truly, this is a test – choosing this GIANT COOKIE with M&Ms over this ampersand brownie means…ah, fuck it.  Just give me giant cookie.

The murmurs of casual conversation overlaying the sound of scraping plates the splatting of chicken salad on agendas halts upon the entrance of the esteemed speaker.  Suddenly, everyone raises his or her hands.  Suddenly, when chosen to speak, everyone’s voices lower by two or three octaves.  Suddenly, we all begin to sound like undergraduate American Studies sophomores wearing oversized plastic glasses and analyzing Avante Garde film.  And suddenly, I turn over the agenda and begin to…

Writing

Note: Which scribbles turned into paragraphs in this piece?

I am getting text messages from my mother.

My recent foray into the world of smart phones has been luminous – the kind of experience that has been so formative, it may be the entire narrative arch of my forthcoming semi-biographical* coming of age novel (which, I have concluded, is to be titled “Choosing Laundry Over Sex:  A Lifetime of Counterintuitive Productivity”).  I am certain that the story of my flip phone losing functionality in 75% of its buttons will rival Holden Caulfield’s, inciting just as many hipsters to stroke their tiny handle-bar mustaches as they contemplate the abject existence of (wo)mynkind and apply to graduate school in Art History.

My smart phone has been imperative to my being, a Maslow-ian need.  Like water, food, air, sex, and shelter that will protect me from rabid beavers in Northern Virginia, I often contemplate how I functioned without this device – a device that has allowed me realize my full potential in being an Asian taking pictures of other Asians who are taking pictures of food only to share said pictures with other Asians taking pictures of food.  How did I ever truly live without the ability to ignore people in public as I satiate my need to simultaneously watch the opening credits to the Ghostwriter series, the trailer of the 1995 adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s seminal novel The Baby Sitters Club, and videos of baby sloths getting dressed in pajamas?  OMG.

Most of all, my smart phone has allowed me to forge stronger, nearly impenetrable connections with my friends and family.  It has especially allowed my mother to inundate me with text messages, reinforcing with each neon green iChat bubble that no matter what I do, no matter how much education I get, no matter how much I accomplish, you didn’t survive the Vietnam War like I did, bitches.  You’re studying English?  Don’t you speak it already?

My inferiority complex via text messages from my mother is split into six different categories, outlined below:

Category 1:  Stop spending money.

 Category 2:  Baby, I am too busy to talk to you.

 Category 3:  Update your technology, you Neanderthal.

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Category 4:  I am not impressed.

 Category 5:  I birthed you from my loins without the use of drugs.  What did you do today?

Category 6:  OMG, LOOK AT YOUR BROTHER.

*Editor’s Note:  By Semi-Biographical, I mean completely thinly veiled fiction that is completely autobiographical.

I am getting a smart phone.

Nothing represents the desecration of human society more than a smart phone. I see only peril in hand-held machines that can communicate, give directions in vague British accents, and allow us to become merry cartoon whales that fly atop rainbows without the aid of recreational drugs. They embody the beginnings of a cruel dystopian world where smart phones evolve into hyper intelligent phones and, eventually, into pretentious, liberal arts educated phones in New Hampshire that pontificate about whether a box of dinosaur shaped cereal featured in a Francois Truffaut film represents the extinction of meaning and feelings.

All of this being said, I am getting a smart phone. It is a decision that I made with scrupulous consideration – and by scrupulous consideration, I mean desperation and hypocrisy.

Why, you ask, has it taken an inordinate amount of time to transition to a smart phone like the rest ofSub-Saharan Africa? I have been in possession of a simple flip phone for over a year – generously lent to me after I literally washed my previous device and failed to revive it even after frantically shaking it in a bag of brown rice.* Like most things that generally suck, I managed to find proverbial and literal silver linings such as:

  • Never having anxiety about anyone stealing my phone – and feeling either greatly humored or worried about the status of mankind at the prospect of its theft.

Alas, endless discussions about pseudo Middle-Triassic reptiles have been significantly outweighed by:

  • Eliciting laughter from someone in a bar after taking out my phone – a kind of laughter I have not heard since I was a little, puffy, otter-like adolescent changing for 7th grade PE.
  • Having my co-workers hear every single letter I punch into the phone when I send a text message.
  • Being forced to put a moratorium on the phrase, “That’s so 2008. And you’re so 2000 and late.”
  • Wanting to express, via T-9, that something, someone, or some situation is “cool” only to send “book.”
  • Not reaching a significant benchmark at the age of 25 – and that is hearing Ah-ha’s “Take On Me” in the morning as my alarm ringtone.
  • Making the following flow-chart documenting the process that I must go through since losing the function of three buttons on my phone: