Yesterday I had a long phone conversation with HK, and then another slightly less lengthy one with Bert. This isn't news in itself, as I've been spending a lot of time on the phone lately--but in the course of those conversations HK happened to mention that she'd been doing a serious number of stomach crunches every day, and Bert mentioned that he'd started going back to the gym.
Well, of course, you might be thinking. It's summertime, so everyone's getting in shape.
No: it's summertime, and our 10-year college reunion is in less than a week.
I'm not so big with the exercise, but I've begun my own regimen: 8.5 or 9 hours of sleep a night, and to bed by 11 or midnight. 64 oz of water a day. No crying. Because while I've generally been doing okay with regard to That Thing That Happened, I've had consistent trouble getting as much sleep as I actually need, and what with that and even the occasional meltdown (most recently, Friday night), my eyes have seen some serious dark circle and puffiness action, which I find is just not my most fabulous look. And it would be a shame to disappoint my pretty clothes by looking haggard in them.
I don't think there's anyone in particular whom any of us is trying to impress--speaking for myself, I can say that none of my exes or ex-crushes is important enough for me to want to dazzle (although, okay: I wouldn't absolutely hate it if I did), and they're all married anyway. But at a time like this I think that everyone does want to project something that seems like her best self, even if more for herself than anyone else. And like it or not, it's the external self that first telegraphs a message of success or the lack thereof.
Hence, these physical self-improvement projects. Hence, the repeated trips to the mall (where, God help me, I just bought another pair of shoes).
Bert and HK and I are all, I suppose, behind the ball in some ways--not currently partnered, not property owners, and with no savings to speak of--but we're otherwise doing respectably enough by the standards of our graduating class. Bert's been doing HIV/AIDS public policy work in New York and will be starting a grad program in that field next fall. HK has worked a variety of interesting jobs, lived abroad for a couple of years, and just graduated from one of the approved law schools (nevermind that she hated it). And as for me, well, I guess that I have a Ph.D. from an approved institution, and now I have a tenure-track job (nevermind that it's at a school most of my classmates won't have heard of--at least it's in a blue state in the east!).
And although I do feel some anxiety over the probable greater success of many of my classmates--those nice homes, summer homes, spouses, and exotic travel--one of the nicest thing about Instant Name Recognition U is that even the corporate-climbers tend to have a sincere interest in and respect for the arts, the liberal arts, and the more unusual career paths. All those lawyers and bankers? Most of them kinda think they took the easy path. They know their jobs aren't particularly interesting, and they try to make up for it by getting season tickets to the opera and the symphony and reading the latest literary fiction. In my experience they love to hang out with people they can romanticize as having "pursued their dreams."
But you know, nothing says, "I have an amazing life that I love" better than looking gorgeous and prosperous, or as close to those things as one can reasonably come. And it's not only my college classmates I have to impress: I'm also having lunch with Advisor, who has a tendency to notice--and to comment on--matters of self-presentation.
So, we're trying over here.