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.
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.
A SECURITY services salesperson just showed up at my door. I’d name the company, but I really don’t feel like getting sued today. Suffice it to say you’ve heard of it.
“We’re offering an advertising special,” he opened. “If you’ll display our yard sign and window decal, we’ll install the electronics for free and only charge you the monthly monitoring fee.
“Suppose I take the service but refuse to display the signs,” I said. “Then what will the electronics and installation cost me?”
“Nothing,” he replied, “just the monthly.”
“Two things,” I said. “First, I don’t need the service. I have a four-legged, 60-pound security system with a full set of teeth. The only reason she hasn’t had you for an afternoon snack is that I gave her a stay command. That, and because she ate the UPS guy for breakfast, so she’s still full.”
He looked past me at my dog and allowed that she is a beauty. Which she is.
“Second,” I continued, “—and please know that my gripe is not with you, but with the company that fed you this pitch—there’s no advertising special. That’s evident from the fact that the price is the same either way. So your employer has trained you to use a sales pitch that opens with a lie. I suggest you go back and yell at your employer. Ask them not to make you lie.”
He was gracious. He thanked me. Then he went to the next house.
I was searching for a cartoon of an irrational, ranting person to go with a bit of humor writing. Before long, I found just the image.
The facial expression was right. The body language was dead-on. The art was hilarious.
The problem? The cartooned person was female. And had red hair.
Women, especially redheaded women, don’t need more crap, I thought. I continued my search and found a better cartoon. It wasn’t quite as funny, but that’s okay.
Spare me the “can’t they take a little ribbing?” speech. That’s a bully’s defense.
Near my house sits an Asian restaurant whose name sounds rather unseemly when pronounced in American English.
It struck me as funny, so I made a meme.
I sat on it a while. In the end I decided against posting it.
Asian people don’t need more crap, I thought.
Spare me the “laughing-with-not-at” speech. That, too, is a bully’s defense.
“It’s getting to where you can’t make fun of anyone,” a friend whined.
Not so. Some movements, institutions, and individuals deserve mockery. I submit Christian nationalism, Fox News, and Trump.
But an entire population is rarely fair game, and a disadvantaged population never is. Mocking the latter arguably constitutes a verbal hate crime, contributes to violent hate crime, and helps inure the public to the prevalence and horror of violent hate crime.
Some of my right-leaning friends (how far do they lean? Clunk!) criticize me for trying to be “so woke.”
I find it revealing, and not a little disheartening, that anyone would make a call to awareness, empathy, and common courtesy into a pejorative.
That, too, is a bully’s defense.
A meme making the rounds says, essentially, that because Ukraine is war-torn and we’re not, “… it’s time that we all be a lot more thankful and definitely more grateful.”
I cannot begin to express my contempt for that shallow recycling of Think you have troubles? There are people who have it worse, you know and There but for the grace of God go I.
Never mind that “a lot more thankful and definitely more grateful” is the kind of redundancy that suggests a simpleton’s aspiring to profundity. The notion that someone else’s horrible circumstances should make us happy about our own fortuitous ones is galling in its inhumanity. No better is the underlying suggestion that complacency at home is the proper response to someone’s having it worse abroad.
On the contrary, the situation in Ukraine should fill us with compassion for Ukrainians and horror for Putin. At home, it should galvanize us against the least degree of tyranny, violence, inequity, injustice, racism, intolerance, misinformation, environmental assault, and other ills—not make us grateful that such could be worse.
Far from “a lot more thankful and definitely more grateful,” I am concerned. Deeply so.
Today’s post on my RESPONSE Agency blog discusses wedding cake vendor bigotry. It’s short. If you would care to read it, please click here.
IN HIS COLUMN today regarding the Ahmaud Arbery case, George F. Will claims that hate crimes are actually thought crimes, and that expressing horror at them is naught but virtue signaling.
(No, I won’t link to his column. It is odious, and I prefer not to help it organic search-wise any more than necessary.)
I find it hard to imagine that a mind as acute as Will’s truly fails to grasp the concept of hate crime. Will, of all people, surely knows that hate crime is not the same as thought crime. Hate crimes are terrorist acts that target specific populations.
No one in the U.S. goes to jail for hateful thinking. But if you assault The Other for being The Other, you terrorize other Others, and you damn well should go to jail for it—over and above going to jail for the assault itself.
Granted, hate crime isn’t the best moniker. Unfortunate nomenclature plagues many a worthy cause. Black Lives Matter, not the best moniker. Defund the Police, not the best moniker. But it’s incumbent upon decent people, and especially upon writers of Will’s stature, to inform themselves — and their readers! — of what a movement truly stands for. To argue against what the uniformed think a term means as opposed to what it actually means is brazen intellectual dishonesty. It is the antithesis of what is known in debate circles as the Principle of Charity.
Do not let George Will and other fear-mongers worry you that prosecuting a hate crime is a walk in the park. To prove he killed them because they were black as opposed to he killed them and they happened to be black is notoriously difficult. When a hate crime is established to a jury’s satisfaction, it is not to be taken lightly.*
If you so much as glanced at the evidence in the Ahmaud Arbery case, you are most likely aware (even if unwilling to concede) that because he was black came through loud and clear.
So, no, Mr. Will, Ahmaud Arbery’s killers were not convicted “because of their benighted beliefs.” They were convicted for committing the kind of racially motivated murder that, unchecked, has the effect of terrorizing all African Americans.
And: Virtue signaling? Really?
Virtue signaling, a term that the empathy-deprived seem to thrive on flinging of late, is a propagandist tool used to dismiss laudable actions by accusing the person taking them of a holier-than-thou attitude. It is the would-be sophisticate’s version of calling someone a goody two-shoes. It’s a nifty and flagrantly dishonest way to divert attention from the issue to the character and intent of the person raising it.
I thought George Will was smarter than that. Or least not quite so dishonest. Or at least not quite so childish.
* Not that it is to be taken as holy writ. I am well aware that juries can and do err. No need to @ me on that one.
“All friendships are ultimately inexplicable, although some of them are harder to figure than others.” —from A Dance at the Slaughterhouse by Lawrence Block
TWICE IN my life, a father figure showed up when I desperately needed one.
Later, I would learn that each man was guilty of something egregious.
With apologies to your curiosity, I shall not provide details. They would only get us off-track. Suffice it to say that the revelations knocked me for a loop.
An inner voice told me to hate them, to have nothing further to do with them. Yet I couldn’t. The kindness, validation, and support each had shown me was still there. Certainly the good did not erase the bad; but, at least for me, neither did the bad wipe out the good.
“Good person” versus “bad person” is a false dichotomy. Human character comprises many parts, each landing somewhere along its own acceptability continuum.* Some people land consistently near either extreme, but most — including you and me — land in different places on different continua.
Consciously or not, we average the continua, and choose to write off some people and not others.
Some of my friends hold views that I find odious. It’s a charge falling well short of “guilty of something egregious,” yet sometimes someone will ask how I can be friends with “a person like that.”
We love not just because but also despite.
* When you find yourself unable to make a decision, you are experiencing different aspects of yourself at war with one another. That’s an admitted oversimplification. For more information, I commend you to neuroscientist David Eagleman’s excellent book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.
... 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.