A CALIFORNIA UNIVERSITY where I majored in music required weekly recital attendance. Most performances exhilarated. But the one in which a solo artist played a “piece” for grand piano, pitcher of water, drinking glass, and deck of cards stood out as an exception.
The performer fist-bonked and slapped piano keys at seeming random, poured water into the glass, sipped from the glass, bonked and slapped more keys, shuffled the deck of cards, tossed a few cards onto the strings inside the grand piano, and then bonked and slapped the keys again, which made the cards somersault this way and that.
This he managed to keep up for an hour.
I left resentful. I was working in a department store, putting myself through school. I didn’t have many hours to waste, and if I was going to waste one, I wanted to waste it in a manner of my own choosing.
But then, I suppose the hour wasn’t a complete loss. I did derive some entertainment from overhearing fellow music majors discuss “the piece” on their way out of the auditorium. It was “interesting.” “Quite the statement.” “Motif and development …”
Lest you ask, yes, they were serious.
I often recall that moment after consuming literature, music, or art that critics and/or sophisticates have been raving about, only to find myself thinking, What on earth were the critics smoking?
Sometimes there is anti-intellectualism. Sometimes there is recognizing that would-be sophisticates sing praises of the godawful solely to display, as they suppose, their elevated taste.
How to kill a conversation
Say I decide to grouse. Like, “I always seem to end up in the slowest-moving line at check-out counters.”
Please take my grousing as an invitation to converse. A possible conversation-promoting response might be something like, “I hear you. Don’t you hate that? Just like in traffic, when you finally switch to the faster-moving lane and the one you just left speeds up.”
But if you’d rather drop a sure conversation-killer, take my grouse as a problem for you to solve. You might reply with something like, “Just shop during off-hours when the lines are short.” Or, if you have delusions of subtlety, mitigate it somewhat, like, “Doesn’t happen to me, because I always shop during off-hours.”
Besides stopping the conversation cold, you will have suggested that I was seeking a solution, not connection, that shopping during off-hours hadn’t occurred to me, and thank god for your wisdom and experience.
Call it mansplaining, which, despite the moniker, is not exclusive to men, or call it being a fixer. Either way, you do it more than you realize, and it’s more annoying than you think.
I’m a recovering mansplainer, so I get it. It was a marriage counselor who finally helped me understand that sometimes people want only to be heard, not fixed.
The timing couldn’t have been better, because later that day I came home to a screaming match between my now late wife and my then 11-year-old daughter. My daughter wanted a certain girl excluded from the school carpool, and my wife was trying to explain why that wasn’t possible. Turning to me, my wife spat out, “YOU deal with her” and stormed off.
Old Me would have tried to talk sense to my daughter. But, recalling the marriage counselor’s advice, I tried a different approach. I asked my daughter, “Why do you want X out of the carpool?”
My daughter said, “Because she’s stupid and stinky.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I wouldn’t want to ride with a stupid, stinky person, either.”
“Yeah!” said my daughter, and walked off happy.
Hmm, I thought, maybe there’s something to this validation stuff.
SOMETIMES my fingers fly over the keyboard and, voilà, a publishable article. But sometimes the process is like pulling teeth.
The article I’m working on right now is of the latter sort. I am 20+ hours into it and have completed but three short paragraphs. Which I will almost certainly rewrite.
I plug away because, having done this before, I know that great satisfaction awaits me upon completion, at that blessed moment when I read it through and say, “This works.”
I’m a perfect example of what happens when you don’t censor what your kids read.
By age 10, I was reading classics, murder mysteries, current events, spy novels, adventure novels, horror novels, history, sociology, science, and even parts of the New Testament.
Know what? Shakespeare didn’t lead me to fake suicide in the name of love; Dostoevsky didn’t make me rationalize, plot, and carry out a murder; William Golding didn’t make me hunt with intent to kill my classmates (not even the ones who arguably deserved it); Mary Shelley didn’t make me reanimate dead tissue; and Luke didn’t lead me to strike people dead for lying about their income.
Reading didn’t shape my values. It helped me shape them. It did so by making me think about the characters, the issues, and how characters dealt with issues. And by allowing me to weigh their thoughts and actions for myself.
Some adults have been adults for so long that they forget what they could handle when they were young. Let your kids read. They can handle it. If you’re worried, don’t take away the books. Rather, get involved. Read the books for yourself, and then discuss them with your kids.
I loved it when my kids shared with me the books they were reading. Now my grandkids do the same. It’s a huge compliment, an invitation into their world and minds, and an opportunity to bond and, yes, to help shape values.
No ill comes from deepened perspective and broadened horizons. A good deal of ill comes from the lack.
Welcome to Cunoblog
... where I share thoughts about writing. I don’t consider myself a writing authority, but that doesn’t keep me from presuming to blog like one. Oh, and I reserve the right to digress when I feel like it.