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Back to School in More Ways Than One

The first back to school was last month. My building had an Artists’ Open House, aptly named “Back to School,” since we live in a school and all. It is always a little scary opening your home up to random people off the street but it was a success for sure! I even sold a copy of our zine — “Growing Up Half Ass(yrian).” Brian showed off his woodworking skills, and I promoted this blog with spiked punch of course.

openhouse

spikedpunch

The second back to school is my graphic design program, of which we just finished the first half of the first quarter. Apparently, I didn’t get enough college the first time around. It dawned on me that has been almost 10 years since the last time I was a freshman in college but only now am I getting the college experience I always wanted. The program of course, is great. The people have cool stories and shoes to match, plus the faculty actually knows what they are doing! But my apartment building also has that collaborative, college vibe as well. Propped up doors with neighbors wandering in for a few beers is not unusual, especially you have a nostalgic record going and the Altered Beast plugged in. Since we are all artists, it gives us the chance to work on projects together.

In any case, better late then never.

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When the hipsters co-opt your lifestyle

klein

“Where did you get this?” Seana’s man-friend says to me, nervously pawing the Klein tools bag that I’m using as a purse. “You didn’t buy it at Urban Outfitters or something did you?”

“No. I stole it from S who bought it at the hardware store.”

He lets out a billowing sigh, “Well, that’s a relief.”

“It’s the hipsters,” Seana whispers, “they’ve taken over everything he’s into.”

It’s true. I look around their loft space, speckled by unintentional hipster goodness. The work boots, home-jarred peaches & pickles, and cans of PBR for starters. The wood working projects, shaggy curly hair (on head and face), and record player for seconds. And Seana isn’t helping, with her zeal for vintage clothing (which she posts on her shop GrandmaISH) and furniture that she has reupholstered with fabrics of teals and oranges harking back to the 60s and 70s.

“It’s bad enough. The shoes, food, drinks that are now all expensive…but not my Klein bags.” He launches into a story about his first Klein tools bag, which was white and glorious. He’ll send me a photo of it later. “They make really nice tools…and bags.” He looks wistful.

I’m not sure, but I think he’s mainly annoyed that his favorite things and areas of genuine interest are now trendy and expensive, meaning less available and accessible for himself. It must be annoying as hell, because he’s not spending his Saturday nights pickling and freezing homemade chicken stock because it’s cute and ironic. My guess is that he does it because that’s how he’s always done it. That’s how his papa did it, and his papa before him. Because hand-made, good quality things are just plain good. I keep thinking about what will happen when the hipsters move on. I mean, they won’t be wearing plano glasses and skinny jeans forever, right? What will happen to the folks whose interests and objects were taken over and then discarded? Will the originators of these trends then be seen as passé? Will the hipster items go back to being cheap or will they become obscure and difficult to find, even more expensive? Should we start hoarding Chucks now? I think they will move on. And when they do, watch out! The hipsters may be out for you and your lifestyle next.

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Growing Up Half Ass[yrian] Zine

photo(19)

The much-anticipated zine is here! Okay, maybe you haven’t heard anything about it, but it is here.

We have compiled some of our favorite blog posts and created a zine about growing up half-Assyrian and half-white. We made some drawings with watercolors based on our childhood photos and rewrote the stories on our grandmother’s typewriter. It was a lot of work but we are so happy with the result!

If you are in the San Francisco area, come to the SF Zine Fest Saturday and Sunday 11am – 5pm.

We would like to thank our beautiful mother, Odette, for her olive inspiration, our Aunt Marlin for her always fun parties and stories, Julia for hide-and-go-seek, Larkin for her beauty, Pam for editing on such crazy short notice, Rachelle and Rochelle for the Assyrian writing help, and our friend Jeff from J & N Printing in Belmont for cutting our pages for free!!!

Buy it here on etsy!

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Between the Lines: Listening with a Tarof Ear

With a background in anthropology and a family of immigrants, I like to think that I’m pretty good at understanding people. For folks who grew up with tarof we’re going to say things differently than say, plain white people from the Bay Area. But I’ve realized that even though I should be listening with different ears depending on who’s talking, sometimes I get lazy and mix them up.

WallOfEars_Plantronics

Let’s go through an example with my make-believe friends Shirin and Emily. Emily/Shirin is going to do a load of laundry. I’m visiting from out of town, staying at her house.

Emily says: Do you have clothes you want to wash?

Emily means: If you have clothes to wash, go ahead and put them in the washer.

//

Shirin says: Do you have clothes you want to wash?

Shirin means: Do you mind if I wash my clothes first?

//

Emily says: My socks are upstairs.

Emily means: Please don’t start the wash ’til I get my socks and add them to the wash.

//

Shirin says: My socks are upstairs.

Shirin means: Would you mind going upstairs, getting my socks and putting them in the wash?

Now imagine that I’m doing laundry with Emily but I’m interpreting the words as if I were with Shirin. Let’s listen in:

Emily: Do you have clothes you want to wash?

Me: Oh, go ahead, no problem.

Emily: Well, I don’t have a full load.

Me: Oh, do you have other clothes you need to wash?

Emily: No. I mean, do you want to add your clothes to mine?

Me: Oh, oh. OK, um, sure. Let me add some.

[As I’m loading my clothes…]

Emily: My socks are upstairs.

Me: Sure, where upstairs?

Emily: Huh?

Me: How can I get them if I don’t know where they are.

Emily: I’ll get them of course, just wait for me to add them to the load.

So, this actually happened the other day. Fucked up, right? That’s what happens when I use my tarof ear to listen to a non-tarof conversation. It is tedious for all involved and happens more often than one would think. I did at least respond non-tarof. Otherwise I wouldn’t have added my laundry to her load. I would have said, no I don’t have clothes to wash. Confused yet?

For more tarof tales, read this post, or listen to this great story from This American Life.

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Lemon Juice Changed My Life

684_1lemon_slices_03_togashi

I am a lover of lemon juice. So much so, the enamel on my two front teeth has been reduced to basically sandpaper and I had to get a few hundred dollars worth of veneers. Worth it! (Thanks Mom.)

When I was young, I was a notoriously picky eater. My mom would cook all kinds of amazing Persian, Assyrian, and with the help of Julia and Jacques, French dishes. My mom would beg me to at least try her food, so I would touch the tiniest spoonful with the tip of my tongue, wince and say ewwwwww. Man, was I annoying. All I would eat was riza masta (rice and yogurt).

But I always loved lemon juice. Maybe it’s genetic (my siblings are the same) or maybe it’s just cultural. Persian food is all about the sour. Lemons, pomegranates, and cherries are used a buttload. So I started opening up to eating anything that I could put lemon juice on. And by put, I mean my food would swim in lemon juice. This included fish which then evolved to seafood and sushi.

Ghormeh Sabzi Irani- tumericandsaffronblog

Ghormeh Sabzi is one of my favorite Persian dishes. I wouldn’t go near it when I was young but once I figured out there were dehydrated and therefore super sour lemons in it, I was all over that shit.

My love of lemon juice is mirrored by my love of vinegar. I can sip vinegar straight. So obviously, anything vinegary I will probably like. Torshia (Persians call is torshi) is pickled vegetables and goes with basically every meal. So once I started eating that, I would put it on everything. I even started eating spaghetti with red meat sauce (yes, I didn’t even like that; it was pesto or nothing).

And let’s not forget the cleaning properties of both vinegar and lemon juice. I use diluted vinegar as an all-purpose cleaner all over my kitchen and bathroom. Lemon juice can be used in laundry to brighten whites (I learned that one from Fruit Ninja). My grandmother on my white side swore by a spoonful of vinegar to cure hiccups. Dude, it works.

Basically what I’m saying is lemons and vinegar changed my life. One of my favorites still is sliced lemons with salt. Mmmmm.

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Pink is for Boys and Blue is for Girls

This is how it used to be for much of history. It is really only within the last 60 years that it flipped.

If you look at the many Jesus-y paintings from the Medieval or Renaissance eras, for instance the Annunciation paintings, you will see the Virgin Mary usually wears blue and Jesus or the angel Gabriel usually wears a dark pink or red.

Annunciation, Fra Angelico c. 1437-1446
Annunciation, Fra Angelico, c. 1437-1446

Yes, that is a male angel in pink, he’s just pretty.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Virgin on the Rocks, c. 1480
Leonardo Da Vinci, Virgin on the Rocks, c. 1480

Again, the boy angel Gabriel in pink.

Carracci, Pieta, c. 1560-1609
Carracci, Pieta, c. 1560-1609

Blue was considered a virginal and feminine color and pink was considered a strong, manly color representing the passion or blood of Christ. Whether she is getting knocked up, giving birth, or grieving, Mary is rockin’ blue. Many times the Virgin Mary will wear both colors, representing the impending, well you know, Jesus killing.

A 1918 article from Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department wrote, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

Interestingly, nobody knows for sure why the switch happened. They do know when though, sometime during WWII.

One theory is that since Hitler used a pink triangle to identify homosexuals, pink became regarded as an effeminate color. Yes, it wasn’t just a star for Jews, every color meant something different. A stripe above the triangle meant repeat offenders.

German concentration camp signifiers
German Concentration Camp Badge Colors

Maybe a bit of a stretch, but it sounds like a plausible theory. Now obviously, the homosexual community has embraced the pink triangle as a symbol of pride.

I’m not sure why I am so angered by the color pink forced upon my gender. Maybe it is because I hate that whenever anything is that certain baby pink, it is considered a woman’s issue. Like the pink breast cancer ribbon. Really, that’s the best you came up with? Pink? Dressing babies in an excess of pink or blue is like already deciding for them what their favorite color is. Can’t you just let them decide?

This Smithsonian article cites our 1950’s obsession with consumerism for deepening this pink/blue split. Making parents buy a whole new set of clothing meant doubling their profits. It was fairly common back in the day for both little boys and girls to wear dresses. They usually wore white or pastel colors. Children wearing gender-neutral clothing meant you could pass down your daughter’s clothing to your son. It was simply more economical.

Speaking of cross-dressing children, this great NY Times article discusses “gender fluid” children, or more specifically, “pink boys.” Basically, boys that like to wear dresses. In an attempt to be more understanding in our slightly more homosexual-accepting society, self-proclaimed liberal parents are trying to figure out how to raise a gender-fluid child. We as a society like defining: male, female, gay, lesbian, transgender. But what if your child doesn’t fall into any of those categories? In the article, Alex wants to sometimes wear boy clothes, sometimes wear girl clothes, but still identifies as a boy. He hasn’t gone through puberty yet so who knows if he will be gay or straight? And is that even important?

A line that really stung my feminist core was, “Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.”

It made me stop and think, it’s so true that tomboys are generally culturally accepted. It’s okay to act like a boy but God forbid your son wants to dress like a girl. It goes on to say:

These days, flouting gender conventions extends even to baby naming: first names that were once unambiguously masculine are now given to girls. The shift, however, almost never goes the other way. That’s because girls gain status by moving into “boy” space, while boys are tainted by the slightest whiff of femininity. “There’s a lot more privilege to being a man in our society,” says Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who supports allowing children to be what she calls gender creative. “When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?” Boys are up to seven times as likely as girls to be referred to gender clinics for psychological evaluations. Sometimes the boys’ violation is as mild as wanting a Barbie for Christmas. By comparison, most girls referred to gender clinics are far more extreme in their atypicality: they want boy names, boy pronouns and, sometimes, boy bodies.

In the comments section (many I have to skip because they will make my blood boil), a reader eloquently states, “It is, to me, very sad on many levels that boys who want to dress in dresses [and] skirts are vulnerable to bullying and judgement. The whole problems with gender identity issues lies pretty much in the reality that society denigrates women. Period.”

What is so shameful about being a woman?

I suppose my point is why force a color or a way of dress on a child? I do not believe that gender is only a societal construct, but I also do not see a need to push the genders further apart.

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Photo: JeongMee Yoon
20130619-112841.jpg
Photo: JeongMee Yoon

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Feeding Expectations

drakes beer

I’m a terrible hostess. I hardly invite friends over to my place. When I do I get so distracted by their presence that I’m barely able to ask how their grandma’s been doing lately and pour a beer at the same time. My meals are haphazard and I never have the right condiments. I invited my cousins over for a BBQ last year, declaring that I would have hotdogs and hamburgers, but then forgot that I don’t own ketchup (I don’t eat it, so I don’t buy it), much to the surprise of my guests. You don’t have ketchup?!

Despite being hopeless when it comes to entertaining and feeding others, I have learned that I do enjoy rules for feeding guests. And I enjoy being fairly certain of what to expect when eating in someone’s home. I have written about the differences in eating with my French relatives compared to eating with my Assyrian relatives. But they do have something in common, there are clear rules to feeding others, and guests know what to expect.

Every single time I’ve eaten at a French person’s home, they offer an aperitif. This is a little alcohol to stimulate the appetite and it is usually served with some nibbles. Sure, the quality of what is served varies a lot based on how old the host is, his taste, how much money he likes to spend on such things, etc. It could be malibu rum and lays potato chips or it could be champagne and home-baked bread with Sicilian olives and lardons. The point is, you know that upon arrival you’ll get to nibble and chit chat in the living room. Then you move to a table where you get entrees, then there’s the main dish, followed by cheese, dessert and a digestif. As a guest, you can bring a bottle of something or offer to bring a dessert, but rest assured you will leave satisfied.

french table

At an Assyrian (or we’ll more broadly call this Iranian) household, it’s the same thing. You can bring a bottle, dessert, or flowers as a guest, but no worry, you will leave with a full belly, leftovers in hand, and probably a little tipsy…or a lot tipsy. The rules are different, however, than the French rules, but in both cases as a guest, you pretty much just show up. As a kid at my aunt’s house, I’d be offered, or rather told to have some “pepsi mepsi” and munch on “chipseh mipseh.” Almost scolded, as if my refusing to eat and drink is a criticism that I don’t think their food and drink is good enough. Now as an adult, I get booze and the same appetizers. There are tons of dishes to snack on, and it’s easy to get full on this. Pace yourself! After a couple hours of grazing, comes dinner, which is always family or buffet style, including giant pots of stew, rice, salads, mounds and mounds of food for days. Same with desserts, there’s often more than two kinds to choose from, and you’ll be offered tea with your dessert.

At a “my great-great grandfather is German, his wife was Italian, my family’s been here for many generations” European mutt white-American house, there are no rules. It’s very inconsistent. You never know what you’re going to get or not get, and I’ve left more than one American party hungry. Hungry! The shame! I went to one party recently where we were instructed to not bring anything but booze. So that’s what everyone did. All liquored up, we realized, oh, there’s no real dinner. There were probably 20 adults and 10 kids at this thing, and enough food for half of us. I perched in the kitchen area and managed to grab 1/3 of an ear of corn and some chips but completely missed any salads and BBQ. The plates emptied before they hit the table. We were starving. “Aren’t they ashamed?” I asked my guy, horrified that the hosts would not have enough food to feed their guests. But I don’t think they knew that they should be embarrassed. Also, the parents at the party had no shame in grabbing food, “it’s for the kids,” they smiled sheepishly, sneaking bites into their own mouths. I know I’m whining, but I was stunned, and starving. I whispered to my man friend, “can we please go get some dinner and come back?”

All this to say, I like going to someone’s house and knowing I won’t go hungry.

“It’s so stressful,” my cousin said to me once, “going to a white person’s house, it’s all potluck, byob, you have to buy and prep stuff ahead of time. With Persians, it’s so easy, you go and you know you’ll be taken care of.”

So, come on my white folk, let’s pull ourselves together and buy too much food, or at least enough food. And I’ll promise to buy some ketchup.

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Quilting: The Opposite of Instant Gratification

I subscribe to hundreds of blogs, mostly design and art blogs. I will see about 300 blog posts a day, a few per second. Next, next, next. The image overload is mind altering. I usually tell myself I will look at them for inspiration but most likely I will end up feeling bad about myself because everybody is always making cooler shit than me. The ones that I like end up on my Pinterest. I am an addicted Pinterest user: pinterest.com/ssm818. It’s public but not invasive. I love how visual social media, like Pinterest, has become. I remember in high school one of my first encounters with social media was xanga. It was a wordy, text heavy journal. Or I guess more like an online diary. I think mine is still up . . . xanga.com/shaba_the_hut. My bff pimped it out for me. Little did she know what she was doing was graphic design! Anyways, you had to pay for xanga premium in order to post your own photos. Not exactly an emphasis on imagery. Then came lord what was it? Well some more crap. Then myspace, putting more of an emphasis on photos. Facebook, the same. Twitter – basically instant messaging. Instagram – my newest addiction! Image only. And only one at a time which I think is perfect. Then obviously Pinterest. So many images, so little time.

As a graphic designer, it is exciting to see websites condense their information to images. This means they are conveying information in a more efficient and visually appealing way. Designers should be asking themselves everyday–how can we make this information more clear? The more words, the less likely someone will read it and the less likely you will get your point across.

But what is this image overload doing to us? Well I can tell you I haven’t finished a novel in years. Starting them yes. Finishing, no. I have a sneaking suspicion that my patience is being depleted.

So one day, I was at a friend’s house. Actually, it was Sunshine’s, from my previous post about communes. She was working on an amazing quilt made of Crown Royal bags for her brother.

crown royale quilt
If you are an alcoholic craft-person, this is the project for you

I wanted to start a quilt but the idea of starting a full size quilt was daunting. So Sunshine showed me some quilting books and I decided to do some throw pillow covers. I have had a bunch of squares of different colored pieces of silk that my mom had given me from 30 years ago! At the time, she was a fashion designer working for someone who was into tie-dyeing. So I decided since I already have the material, it will be cheaper and more special than buying throw pillows. Usually my rule is that I only make something if it is cheaper than buying it and/or what you want doesn’t exist. I am totally in support of making things but if I decided to make everything, nothing would get made–so I get a bit picky.

So I got sewing, got greedy, and rushed. Many hours later I ended up with something that looked like it was made by a drunk child.

See?
See?

I ended up seam ripping the whole thing and quilting it by hand. I found something very meditative about doing this hand embroidery. Even the seam ripping wasn’t too terrible. I could carry on a conversation, half watch tv, or just listen to music while doing it. It was a relaxation I have not felt for a while.

The end result. Was this post a thinly veiled attempt to brag? Possible...
The end result. Was this post a thinly veiled attempt to brag? Possible…

But I sort of realized how ridiculous making these pillows were. After buying extra fabric for the back of the pillows, the pillow forms themselves, a quilter’s pizza cutter thing, and thread and needles, I had spent $80! The money plus the approximately 40 hours I had spent on them made me think, why didn’t I just get this shit at IKEA? At this, my man-friend got a bit defensive. He is into woodworking and if he had his way, would make everything. Tables, kitchen islands, sofas, you name it. (I must say he has already made us a beautiful kitchen island). I usually have to talk him down from the ledge. I reason that it would take way more time and money to make a sofa then to buy one. Like I said, I am totally in support of hand-making as much as you can, but at what point is it too much? Now if you want something very special or custom then it’s totally worth the extra time and money. Or sometimes you can really make it for less than what you could buy it for.

Anyways, I guess the point is maybe I was wrong. If you make something, even if you could buy it for way cheaper, you are putting pride into something that will be in your home. So at the end of the day, it is worth it. Maybe knitting next?

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synchronize: what we are all doing at the same time

marclay_clock_01

I watched a tiny piece of Christian Marclay’s The Clock at SF MoMA last week. From 4:37 – 5:05 pm or so. If you’re like me and had not heard of the work before, he (and most likely an army of unpaid interns) stitched together thousands of movie clips that reference time and matched each clip up to the actual time, minute for minute, for 24 hours. I thought it’d be a crazy hodge podgery, but the scenes, despite being from completely different movies, flow into each other quite well and create a unique narrative. It also makes for a great game, who can spot the clock reference first.

What I liked most about it, was thinking about what specific activities are time-bound. Around 5pm I saw:

sitting in an office eying the clock

working in factories

punching time cards

leaving train stations

meeting people

talking on the phone…

This made me think about our synchronous activities. If I’m eating breakfast at 7:30am, how many 1000s of other people are doing the exact same thing at this moment? Doesn’t it remind you of that scene from Amelie? The part where she wonders how many people are having an orgasm at this precise moment. And there’s something very comforting about this normalcy. I find comfort in the communal nature of every task, even if I’m doing it by myself.

What most commonly happens at 12 midnight in movies? New year’s or turning back into a pumpkin. What about 3am? Something dark, dangerous, or naughty?

What else is going on at this precise moment in time?

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A Typology of Selfies

Most people I know take selfies. And some of us have the decency to be embarrassed about it. Why? Because most of them are examples of us trying to show off for the social media world –  lips pursed, hand in hair, chin down (aka jowls hidden).

poser3 poser2 poser

I just took these, but you get the idea. They’d be even better with a slutty top and tons of makeup. The dead give- away that it’s a selfie is the disappearing (usually right) hand and foreshortened arm.

We have a love-hate relationship with these kinds of photos. We take them, yet they make us cringe. But in fact, there are many kinds of selfies. And what if we knew the stories behind these different types? Would that make them more endearing?

To start, there’s the selfie that a colleague or employer asks you to take. They probably actually mean for you to send them a real professional pic, but I’m too cheap for that. I took this photo one morning for the website of a conference I help organize.

“Professional” Selfie

me

Not too embarrassing, yeah? I had taken a million the night before, but once you try too hard to look natural + professional + fun, but in a serious way, your face starts to hurt. For this, I was up against the deadline. I just woke up, got dressed, and snapped.

Still serious, but also self-aware of the silliness of the exercise, is what I usually put on my social media pages.

Social Media Portrait Selfie

me too

This was early last year. I was so sick that day. But I was also sick of being in my apartment. So I crawled to the Cantor Arts Center and into this Richard Serra. I like that I look grumpy. I like that I’m listening to headphones for some reason. I really like that I’m standing in a Richard Serra piece, but you probably wouldn’t know it if I didn’t tell you.

Sticking to the serious theme for a minute, I’ve tried the “thinky” selfie. I took this one night probably watching some shitty tv show.

The “Thinker”

me three

We can do the thinker of another flavor too. Trying harder to be arty perhaps.

The Thinker, All Thought Out

me again

So far, we’ve been professional and arty. When I say arty, I only mean that the photographs are not the most flattering, but I’m still somehow proud to show them to the world.

Now, this is where we start sliding back into asshole territory. The “I’m in a cool place and want to show the world.”

“Proof I Was Here” Selfie

seoul5

This type can coexist with other categories. Here we have, I’m in a cool place and a “reflection” selfie in the Seoul metro.

Window Reflection Selfie

reflection

Mirror Reflection Selfie

mirror

(This type also commonly occurs in bathrooms). This photo is in fact a threefer, “I’m in a cool place” (Shanghai flea market), mirror reflection, and a little bit of a “where’s waldo” selfie (other examples  of this occur on cups, cutlery, faucets, anything where your reflection is hard to find or not immediately obvious.)

Faux-accidental selfie

photo(12)

I took this in Seoul at the Leeum Museum of Art. Ahem, that’s a cool place right? The only redeeming quality is perhaps the angle. I could title this “chin, nose, and sideburn.”

Finally, here’s a rarity for you. A truly, honest-to-god, accidental selfie.

Truly Accidental

photo me

I was taking photos out the window and took this, I guess, bringing my hand back down to my lap. Funnily, this could be in a series with the faux-accidental, entitled “chin and nose.”

There are lots, lots more types, but I think I’ll stop before we hurl, yes?

So, did the stories help? Or do we still love-hate the selfie? In any case, I got to show mine off to you. So thanks!

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For more on the social-psychology of selfies, read this Mashable article.