Thursday, October 25, 2012

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Monday, October 15, 2012

#149 - Backseat Parenting

Backseat Parenting

10/15/12 (#149)

Being a dad for a second time is a totally different experience. When my first was born, I was a nervous wreck, barely hearing conversations around me because I was incessantly monitoring my daughter’s condition: She just coughed, was that her normal cough? Is there such a thing as a normal cough? Should I track cough frequency and chronicle it in a notebook? I have a blank page between poop colors and sneeze counts, I should totally jot this down. Wait, where’s my pen? Holy shit, I left the house without a pen? What kind of father am I? What if I have to write to her doctor? Oh my god, who allowed me to have a child, she…wait, she did it again. That wasn’t a cough, it was a grunt. Is she trying to talk? Oh my god, did she just say her first word and I dismissed it as a cough?  

And on and on and on. Everything was so new and foreign and heavy with the weight of the world. I didn’t dare look away or even slip into brief reverie for fear that a momentary lapse would result in my child falling into a culvert or accidentally boarding a bus without me. She couldn’t even walk, yet I was able to concoct imaginary scenarios of how a careless moment would decimate my existence and leave me with 50 years of telling the horror story of how my daughter was blinded by a llama or lost her leg to the escalator at Target. Those were tense days.

Ten years later, my infant girl coughs and my reaction is: She’s not blue. Cool. I’ll keep an eye on her.

Because I am more relaxed about the minute-to-minute process, I’m able to pay a lot more attention to the world around my daughter without feeling like I’m neglecting her, and I’ve discovered a delightful strain in many parents, in the same way that watching a movie a second time reveals nuances that you missed when you were busy trying to figure out the plot.  

Don’t mistake this as a critique of other parents. Parenting is all-consuming, and every child is different, so I empathize with everyone’s circumstances and keep my opinions to myself. (And appreciate when others do the same.) But there’s one compulsive bit of kibitzing I see that amuses me to no end. It occurs when a child fusses or cries, and people offer unsolicited assessments of the cause. For example, a conversation might sound something like this:

(baby cries)
Parent 1: (in playful baby voice) “Uh oh. Somebody’s hungry.”
Babie’s mom:  “She just ate an hour ago. I think she’s tired.”
Parent 2:  “It sounds to me like a full diaper. Bridget gave that whine when she was wet.”
Parent 1: “I don’t know. Even if she ate an hour ago, it depends on how much she ate.”
Babie’s mom: “She ate a lot. And I changed her just before you guys arrived. I’m going to lay her down for a nap.” 
Parent 2: “Make sure you check that diaper. If she ate a lot, it’s probably poop.”

These insights are always delivered with a tone of “just trying to help,” but there’s often a passive/aggressive undercurrent of certainty, and there’s the rub: Anyone who believes themselves to be right will bristle at being proved wrong, so there’s an emotional investment in the advice. The baby might have gone days without eating, but the “he needs a nap” parent is intent on having accurately called the scenario. (“Sure, he’s humoring you by drinking some of that bottle, but I bet he zonks out right after.”) Worse, when circumstances demonstrate that one parent in a group is right, they often develop the swagger of a subject matter expert, eager to demonstrate again their super-tuned baby radar . Conversely, the parent who struck-out in their assessment quietly hopes another issue arises so they can take another swing, double-or-nothing. 

I expected this would be limited to parents with similar-aged babies, each trying to elbow past the others as the most competent caregiver, but it’s bigger than that. Grandparents do it, too, piping up with the confidence of proven veterans coming off the bench to show the rookies the ropes, quick to dismiss all this new-school “new age” advice about how to holistically coax a child into full bloom. “Why are you asking him what’s wrong? Babies can’t talk. Stick a bottle in his mouth and he’ll settle down.”

Of course, the advice is usually offered to a mom, and even on my first go-round, I knew better than to try to tell a mother something she doesn’t know about her own child. I’m probably batting only about .400 when it comes to predicting the hungry/tired/teething/soiled/just-plain-grumpy cause of my own child’s discomfort, so when it’s happening to someone else’s baby, I’ll let all the other experts in the room handle the diagnosis.

Though if you’re wondering what is causing the exhausted eyes, the impatient tone, or the irritable expression on another dad’s face? That one I can hit out of the park. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

#148 - Left, Right, and Wrong

Left, Right, and Wrong

9/18/12 (#148)

I don't like talking about politics, and rarely do, for the same reason I don't like talking about religion: Too many people are too certain they are "right", which makes everyone else's opinions wrong. But throughout the election season I have watched my Facebook wall light up with venomous declarations of certainty and pronouncements of idiocy levied at anyone who holds a different opinion. Right wingers dismiss half of the nation as idiots intent on making America a Socialist nation, while left wingers damn half of the population as suckers who buy into lies that keep the rich rich and make everyone else poor. This divide seems to grow wider with every election, and good intentions are lost beneath fiery rhetoric and manipulated data.

Every election is purported to be an opportunity to change the direction of the country, to finally get on a real path to prosperity. But recent history reveals a frustrating pattern: The Dems win, they spend more and solve little, so the pendulum swings, the GOP wins, and they spend more and solve little, so the cycle repeats. Worse, both sides sometimes don't even TRY to fix things, they simply promote their own ambitions and endeavor to block the opponent's agenda. (If my daughter's fourth-grade class had a "mock congress" that behaved the way our elected politicians do, the teacher would intervene and say, "You seem to have misunderstood the assignment. I didn't ask you to be petulant divas, I asked you to work together to find a compromise.")

I have a reputation in my family as being a liberal (perhaps because they are mostly conservative and have limited depth perception when they look left) but I refute any political label because such words have become tools for putting someone on a particular side of a dubious debate. I rarely hear anyone use the word "liberal" or "conservative" outside of a political context: when my colleague gives a homeless guy a buck, no one says "Nice work promoting your liberal ideals," and no one looks at the person who didn't give money and says, "Look at you, maintaining your conservative principles of self-reliance." Those two words have become epithets, heavy with baggage and usually inaccurate.

But those are the key terms of our public discourse. Politics is an increasingly perverse game of revenue enhancement, with politicians arguing about gay marriage and the definition of rape while the nation buckles under $16 trillion debt. Watching the two parties is like watching a couple argue over what color to paint the kitchen while the foreclosure notice is sitting unopened in their mail pile. We have allowed our politicians to become the equivalent of reality TV stars, and in too many cases, their goal is nothing more than securing a role in next season's show. I'm exhausted even being a witness to this spectacle, let alone a participant.

Walt Whitman, speaking as America in Song of Myself, said, "Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)" America once celebrated itself as a melting pot, but more and more, people seem to seek homogeny. Look at Ron Paul's journey to Tampa and the RNC. Convention officials did everything they could to shut out Paul's supporters, to silence their voices. This isn't even partisan politics — they're all Republicans, yet factions in the party made tremendous effort to silence other factions of the party. The irony of using decidedly un-democratic tactics as a fulcrum to hoist your candidate for a democratic election is so bald-faced that it should have been lambasted by every person at that convention, and in America. Are we to believe that silencing dissenting voices is somehow fighting the good fight? Would we praise our children if this is how they managed to get ahead in school?

Our fellow citizens are not our opponents. They are not the enemy. We are all Americans, and shame on us for allowing the conversation to escalate to where we self-righteously pass judgment on another person's patriotism. My latest favorite is posting an image of the US flag and saying "I'm not embarrassed to post this. Are you?" So you define patriotism by your own standard, then anyone who doesn't meet your standard is a sub-par American? If I don't do what you do, it's presumed I'm embarrassed?

I'll trump the flag-photo posters and remind us all of what it says in the Pledge of Allegiance: "One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."* Indivisible? Are we collectively fulfilling this pledge when we declare liberals to be idiots (because all liberals are the same, just like "women" and "Latinos" and "gays" are completely homogenous demographics ) and call conservatives suckers (because anyone who doesn't come to the same conclusions that we do is obviously a pawn to some diabolical machine?)

I believe that everyone wants to see our nation thrive, and that everyone is genuine in their expression. I applaud those who are passionate about their views and care about the future of our nation, but many have let that passion cloud their perception. If we encounter data that underscores our beliefs, it is valuable information; if it contradicts our beliefs, the data is deceptive. If a candidate espouses our values, we can forgive them for failings; if not, everything they do is deemed suspect. It calls to mind the proverb, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" — which serves better as a proverb than a platform.

It is frustrating that the government has managed to establish itself as the only way to get things done, yet partisan bickering makes it nearly impossible to get things done. It's frustrating that the government has its hands in absolutely everything — as a friend who emigrated from Laos once told me, "America talks a lot about freedom, but you aren't free at all. If you want to get married, you need the government to make it legal; if you want to build a fence around your yard, you need the city's approval; if you even want to have a yard sale to sell your old things, you have to get a permit." We give a lot of lip service to America's freedom while our elected officials overtly or unconsciously work to limit those freedoms every day. (Of course, it's okay to limit freedoms on things we don't care about — just don't touch the things that matter to us personally.)

I am not against the the idea of the federal government: the armed forces and the interstate highway systems alone make me willing to support the concept. But we have accepted the ridiculous state of partisan politics as par for the course, and not enough people are calling it out as such. I expect better of us as citizens, and I believe we should expect more of our politicians. We should demand more from them.

But there's the catch-22: the problem isn't the government, it's us. We have become increasingly selfish, intolerant, even belligerent, and anyone who benefits from discord (including political parties and political action committees and the media) takes advantage of that. We have become a nation divided, and for that, we blame the opposition, not ourselves. We sing the praises of America's forefathers, but we don't want to act with the strength and character and cooperation that defined them.

I have hope for America (and I'm not embarrassed to say it), but I have genuine concern that this partisan, money-fueled government is merely a reflection of a national partisan mindset. We tolerate politicians buying votes by promising government projects, we elect and re-elect candidates whose lack of understanding of the issues they oversee is demonstrated by their public statements. We have accepted that a person can win an election not on the merits of their own ideas, but because there were enough people willing to vote against their opponent.

Margaret Thatcher said, "Power is like being a lady... if you have to tell people you are, you aren't." That's analogous to my idea of America as a great nation: it's not enough to say America is great — we have to behave with greatness. We have to stop reveling in the petty, disruptive infighting that permeates our national discourse and focus on solutions that demonstrate the legendary spirit that has defined our greatness for the last 240 years. I don't believe those solutions will come from so-called leaders who promise to steadfastly promote a particular agenda when they get to Congress. "I will not compromise" shouldn't be seen as a strength, it should be questioned as a failing of one's flexibility.

Ever heard the phrase, "You're only as good as your last game"? It means that no matter what you're history, your reputation depends on what you do today. America has a rich and storied history, one that warrants a claim to greatness. But we can't simply stand on the shoulders of giants — we need to continue to be great. And being great as a nation requires being great as individuals, committed to the ideas and ideals upon which this nation was founded.

Let's start with one word: Indivisible.

Think we can do that?

* quoting the original pledge, as "under god" was added 62 years after it was written and I'd rather talk about us than god for the moment

©2012 wpreagan

Monday, June 25, 2012

#147 - The Lyrical Offenses of "Hey Jealousy"

The Lyrical Offenses of "Hey Jealousy"

6/25/12 (#147)

My friend Ben, who I like and admire, recently attempted to sever our friendship by admitting to having fond memories of The Gin Blossoms. This is hard for me to accept because the band was borne from a tainted era of generic American "alternative" bands. If you lived through so-called modern rock radio in the 90s, you know the crop of crap I'm talking about — it was an endless potpourri of upbeat innocuousness sung by that annoying prick in your high school math class. The bands were generally interchangeable: you could slip a Dada disc into your friend's Better Than Ezra case and the subterfuge would likely never be discovered; if someone went to see a Marcy's Playground show and Blind Melon took the stage instead, would they be disappointed? Would they even notice? Ditto for The Gin Blossoms. Even the band's own mothers sometimes mistook them for Dishwalla.

Don't get me wrong, I will grant that "Hey Jealousy" is undeniably, even unmercifully catchy. (See the video here.) But if we measure quality by the ability to create an earworm that burrows into the listener's skull and leave them so crippled that they frantically seek out mattress-store jingles as a means of relief, then roll over Beethoven, because Katy Perry has some news to deliver. Ben's mention of the band reanimated that insidious melodic virus in my head, and after de-friending him on social media (including LinkedIn, because I could never work with someone who might say, "Hey, know what will make this workday go faster? New Miserable Experience!") I could feel old questions rising up within me, questions that confront me every time I listen to "Hey Jealousy":

  • Is Jealousy a person? The syntax of the lyrics makes it seem so, but perhaps he's speaking of an emotional abstract, sort of in a Chuck Palahniuk-esque "I am Jack's wanking nostalgia" sort of way. Though neither way makes much sense, so this is more of a rhetorical question.
  • Have these guys ever had the cops chase them around? Let's be honest, this band seems a bit wussy, what with the well-washed shoulder-length hair that makes them all look like the actors listed as "Rock Band Members 1-5" in a Disney movie. And frankly, while the video features a vintage 60s Ford or some other retro-approved gas-guzzler, this band is pure Toyota Corolla, and cops don't chase Corollas — cops catch Corollas. Ten-to-one says that if The Gin Blossoms were pulled over by the police, at least one of them would say, "Shit, my dad's gonna freak. I'm still on his insurance!"
  • Considering the vacuousness of the lyrics, couldn't you have written a third verse rather than repeating the first? Before you assert that many songs repeat verses, here's how the repeated-verse device usually works: The first verse seems to mean one thing; the second verse adds a twist; the first verse is then repeated, but has a different meaning because of the new information. For example:
    Verse 1: I hate going to Jenny's house.
    Verse 2: I have always ached for Jenny, but she likes girls. Like, like-likes.
    Verse 3: I hate going to Jenny's house.
    See what happened there? Verse 3 is a repeat, but it's more poignant because of what you learned elsewhere in the song. That doesn't happen in Hey Jealousy. Instead, a drunkard tells you he's in no shape for driving, and then drunkenly says it again 90 seconds later because he apparently doesn't remember saying it.
  • What the hell is a Gin Blossom, anyway? Is that some Southwest cactus thing, or is it like Concrete Blonde, a juxtaposition of hard and soft words? Watching the video, I doubt these guys drink a whole lot of gin. Though Wine Cooler Blossoms is admittedly long.
  • Does the singer really think he's making a plausible case for regaining Jealousy's affections? A quick examination of a few particular lines reveals some serious chinks in the singer's Ring-Ding wrapper armor:
    • "If I hadn't blown the whole thing years ago, I might not be alone" — ahhh, so sweet. Rather than emphasizing your previous inability to recognize someone's value, just tell them you don't want to be alone. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to be a convenient port in the storm?
    • "All I really want is to be with you, feeling like I matter too" — Listen pal, time to brush up on Wooing 101: Make the other person feel special; telling them YOU want to feel special makes you seem like a high-maintenance douche.
    • "You can trust me not to think, and not to sleep around" — Wow, you are setting the bar so high. How could a person ever live up to such a chivalric declaration?
    • "If you don't expect too much from me, you might not be let down" — This lazy pronouncement of slackerdom would be awful even without the caveat, but note that he says "you MIGHT not be let down." So even if you DON'T expect too much (and let's be honest, Romeo, no one is by this point in the song) this jackass STILL might not live up to those low expectations. Gosh, what a prize!

I know The Gin Blossoms aren't the only chumps who parleyed a catchy riff into a few years of steady blasting from frat house windows; I know that the canon of banal pop lyrics is vast enough that it's hard to single out one band as special; I know that many of America's youth have succumbed to the notion that growing one's hair out is a sure-fire remedy for blue balls. The Gin Blossoms didn't invent any of that — but they are the essence of that, the overlapping center of the Venn diagram of laughable rock clichés, and I'd wash my hands of them forever if I could just get that goddam song out of my head.

©2012 wpreagan

Sunday, June 17, 2012

#146 - Pandora's Boombox

Pandora's Boombox

6/17/12 (#146)

Have you seen Louis CK's mini-monologue on The Conan O'Brien show, generally known as "Everything is amazing and nobody's happy"? I am not prone to hyperbole, but I think it's the most important four-minutes of television of the 21st century. In a humorous and curmudgeonly way, he lambastes the modern entitlement mentality and all that we take for granted. I'm 45 years old, and I couldn't agree more.

I think of Louis' rant whenever I listen to music on Pandora. If you aren't familiar (and you are forgiven if one of the overwhelming number of web services and apps got past you,) it's a program that lets you create a "radio station" based on specific music you select. Not like regular radio which offers a few stations that may or may not maintain the mood you're in; instead, you type in a song title or a band and it customizes an endless playlist of songs by using musical algorithms to parse your selection ("basic rock song structures, a subtle use of vocal harmony, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation, and major key tonality") and then finds other music that fits that description. For example, type in Portishead and it creates a stream of trip-hop deliciousness. Songs you know, songs you don't know, but almost without fail, it serenades you with a string of similarly themed music that you would never have enough time to find and investigate on your own. It doesn't matter where you start  —  Nick Drake, Prince, obscure Boston-band O Positive  —  it's like having an instant mix-tape of that style of music.

Frankly, it is nothing short of amazing — and I'm happy. Science fiction Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." That's how I feel about Pandora. My daughter thinks that Pandora is the norm, that immediate access to a personalized music stream is how you listen to music; but I know better — because I have known a reality other than this one.

I grew up sitting in front of the Realistic stereo (purchased from the leading technology outlet of the era, Radio Shack) patiently waiting for a song I loved to get it's slot in the radio rotation. (That patience was often tested.) When the DJ's blather seemed to be coming to an end and they promised a coveted song was coming up, I had my finger ready on the record button of the 8-track. Those early 8-track mixes were technically horrible (I had no understanding of what the "record level" knob did) and aesthetic train wrecks: intros to songs missing due to slow reaction time, many songs rudely interrupted by the alarming "kachunk" of the 8-track player switching to the next program. When I tell this to my 9-year old, she looks at me like I must have been dating Laura Ingalls at the time.

A few years later, the cassette tape came into vogue - and no wonder! The cassette was so efficient, the pinnacle of human achievement. Half the size of an 8-track, and without that violent lurch of the program change. Sure, it had to be flipped over at the halfway mark, but so did an LP record, and the LP had to be handled like a museum piece to make sure you didn't scratch it. Not true of the cassette — you could toss 30 tapes into a shoe box and they were impervious to destruction. (Unless you left that shoebox on the seat of the car on a sunny day.)(Cue sad trombone sound.)

At risk of channeling my inner-Wilfred-Brimley, that's what I had and I liked it. So what if I missed the first 18 seconds of Freebird and there was a 12-second gap when the 8-track clunked over to Program 3 — I could listen to Freebird whenever I wanted! It was amazing.

Of course, as Louis CK said, there are still people who find fault with Pandora. They respond to this stunning technology by bitching that it doesn't fully utilize the music genome logarithms, and that there are other applications that more accurately synthesize the central musical theme and produce better playlists. I suspect they're right, because Pandora isn't perfect — last week I heard The Time immediately followed by 38 Special, and I assure you, that's far from perfect. But to me, that's like complaining that the guy who instantly makes you an unlimited number of mix tapes based on any genre of music sometimes includes a song that you wish you could skip. (By the way, there's a skip button.) When I hear someone make this complaint, I try very hard to conjure Louis CK into existence so he can punch the malcontent in the face.

If I could travel back in time and tell that kid laying on the floor by the 8-track about Pandora, he would never believe it. "A steady stream of music, new and familiar, custom-selected for my mood, all for free? And all I have to do is listen to a 15 second ad every 15 minutes? You are bullshitting me, future Bill." That version of me would hear about Pandora and assume it was only possible with magic.

And he'd be exactly right.

©2012 wpreagan

Monday, June 4, 2012

#145 - Unspeakable Things

Unspeakable Things

6/4/12 (#145)

It seems we tend toward definitive beginnings and endings, usually deliberate and ritualistic: We start a new job by eagerly settling in at our new desk, and we leave the job cleaning out our desks; we write love letters that carefully articulate why we want more, then Dear John letters that carefully articulate why we've had enough; we make a virtual holiday out of birthdays and wedding anniversaries and other significant events that marked new chapters in our lives. Our resumes are a detailed timeline of our career, an obligatory means of asserting a competency that is in no way proven by calendar dates. As a rule, we like clear starts and clean finishes, probably because closure helps us catalog our own lives in a logical manner. At least that's true for me.

I've been thinking about this since the horrible Café Racer shooting in Seattle on May 30. If you hadn't heard, a gunman shot a handful of diners, killing four people and critically wounding another before he left to kill one more person and himself in other parts of town.

I didn't know any of the people killed, but I saw footage taken moments before the shooting and they all look like people I know. There is no drama in the photo, no impending doom — just some folks talking and drinking coffee, a scene so commonplace that it underscores the randomness of the event. None of the victims have any idea that their lives will end or irreparably change in the next moment.

When I heard the news, my thoughts jumped to all the loose ends left dangling in the victim's lives. From the minutia of phone calls unreturned and emails unwritten to the massive bulk of conflicts unresolved and ambitions unrealized, these were lives interrupted midstream. In that way, it was like every sudden tragedy: no chance for professions or apologies; no chance to say goodbye. The thought of it cascades through my head like a line of dominos. I try to imagine the intensity of their last moments and worry that, had it been me, I would be overwhelmed with regret for things those loose ends left hanging. I cringe at the thought of my daughters not having my guidance and support, the emptiness that would rush into their lives at that moment and remain forever.

I am not heading toward a platitude like "make sure the people you love know you love them" — though that is certainly good advice. My frustration lies in a sense that I will never be able to adequately express the depth of my emotion for my daughters. I could talk myself tired and whatever I said would still feel inadequate. Trying to sum it up with words feels like trying to use jars of pennies to buy a home.

I expect most parents understand this. Before I was a parent, my friend Doug told me, "You never know how much love you have in you until you have a child." He was right — and it's an amount so great that I feel helpless to express it. I tell my oldest often, and emphatically, how important she is to me, but it's like describing a sunset: I can wax eloquent about the radiant hues and expansive splendor, but she will quickly sigh and say, "Yeah, dad, I get it, lots of pretty pinks." Yes, lots of pretty pinks. But a sunset is more than the colors in the sky — it's how the shifting lights changes the entire world around us, how everything is in a process of transformation as the darkness envelops us. It's the temperature of our skin as we slip first into cool shadows and then the cold of dusk.

I tell her anyway, but I have no way of knowing if she understands how completely.

I've been wrestling with this dilemma since I heard the news of that shooting. I try to make it a point to tell my friends how much I appreciate them (though I don't tell them often enough), I try to emphasize to my wife how excited I remain about being with her (though after 20 years together, I worry the phrases are too familiar to carry real meaning), I try to reinforce my pride in my oldest daughter and my elation with my youngest (and vice versa,) but it never feels like enough. I never get the feeling that it's complete.

I don't have a solution. But I've come to the conclusion that the only way my daughters will truly understand is to one day have children of their own, children who fill their hearts until it feels like panic, who slay them for years with stunningly logical insights and terrible improvised toddler jokes and earnest gray-day lemonade stands. Maybe in those moments, they will finally understand what I fear I will fail to convey. In those moments, my most important loose ends might finally be tied.

©2012 wpreagan

PS My deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the victims of the Café Racer shooting, wrestling with a horrible reality that is only hypothetical to me. I wish that a lifetime of wonderful memories soon reclaim the parts of your hearts and minds where sadness currently has its hold.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

#144 - Beauty Consultant for Hire

Beauty Consultant For Hire

3/28/12 (#144)

I want to change careers. It would be a big shift, but I believe I will make a fantastic beauty consultant. Not like the animated mannequins at high-end department stores who prey on people's insecurities by demonstrating how they can mask miniscule "flaws" in the interest of so-called self-improvement, and certainly not like the plastic surgeons who multiply that make-up counter pitch to exponentially more permanent and costly extremes. No, my services will be much simpler: For the smallest possible fee that would still allow me to feed my family, I would meet with people professionally and point out every beautiful thing about them.

A career built on being complimentary? Don't be too quick to dismiss it, because there are two critical factors that make this a plausible business model:

First, I honestly think most people are beautiful. This doesn't mean they fit some preconceived template for attractiveness like the stringent guidelines employed by the advertising industry — it means they're beautiful in their own right, on their own terms. For me, it's as simple as this: When you see a person, imagine what the person who loves them loves most about them. Maybe it's the warmth in a woman's eyes or the readiness of a man's smile, the breadth of their shoulders or the grace of their gait, the confidence in their posture or the effervescence of their laugh. I don't think anyone is beautiful in exactly the same way someone else is beautiful, but that doesn't mean they aren't every bit as beautiful as the next person, and the next.

Second, so many people seem painfully self-aware of their supposed flaws. You can see it in the way they apply their make-up or use clothing as a disguise, how they cut their hair to cover their face or keep their smile tight to hide what's behind it. Maybe some of what I see is my imagination, but I recognize the ruses - I've done the same things myself, because I consider my best features to be between my ears, not on my face. I know the vulnerability one feels when a smile is met with a deliberate glance away, when we invest more effort than we should into aspiring to what only feels like adequacy, let alone excellence. In short, I know what it means to be human. And I'm smart enough to realize that being human is enough.

I would be amazing at the job, primarily because I would approach it with complete abandon. I would never lie to my clients, because I wouldn't have to — I would simply accentuate the positives that people too often deny in themselves. The real beauty, not the blueprint imposed by inaptly-named "beauty magazines."

The goal is not to convince people that they are closer than they think to some fictional ideal they have set in their sights. Pursuing an external definition of attractiveness is the opposite of what I want to achieve. My aim is to expose that fiction as a fraud, to reveal to them what is obvious to me: they are already beautiful, and any time spent worrying otherwise is time wasted. I don't presume it will be an easy conversion, but I believe I have the facts on my side.

While I really do believe that almost everyone is beautiful, there are still ways that people make themselves unattractive. Arrogance is a genuinely ugly trait, and no amount of make-up can cover it up; ditto on hatred, because drawing ugly lines in your heart also creates ugly lines on your face. (I know no one who finds scowl lines enticing.) But as for the rest of the species, I use the food analogy: there are absolutely no similarities between pizza and apples and ice cream, and I appreciate every one of them. I don't wish they were more like each other — I celebrate how different they all are. People have big noses and small noses, perfect teeth and crooked teeth, balding heads and hairy arms and curvaceous thighs and flat chests and furrowed brows and flirty smiles, and there's something genuinely compelling in every feature if you look at what's there, not what's missing. To hell with anyone who tells you otherwise — you (yes you, dear reader) are genuinely beautiful, and I'm not just offering platitudes. You really are, so-called flaws and all.

(Wait, this business model isn't going to work if I keep giving this away.)

©2012 wpreagan