’80s Basement Lecture Series, 18 Feb 2017: Satire

About a month ago I was feeling nostalgic about NYC, as I sometimes do, and I remembered that my friend Brook started a lecture series there where she would invite various experts to talk about their specialties. It all started in her living room with a small group then grew into an impressive crowd. She called it the Living Room Lecture Series.

This memory sparked in me a desire to copy her. I texted some friends to see what they thought:

Hey, friends! I’m thinking of starting a quarterly lecture series at my house. Maybe 20-minute talks, followed by discussion and treats. The lectures would come from us and cover a variety of topics. Reilly could talk about Family Guy, Maddie could discuss writing copy or songs, Kylie poetry or Ndichie, Jon film, etc. You don’t have to lecture if you don’t want to. Does this sound fun? Would you support this?

The replies:

  • OH MY HELL. I would ADORE THIS.
  • I strongly support this message.
  • YES!
  • If kids are welcome I’m totally interested. We used to do something similar in DC and I love that kind of thing! Also I’m also interested without the kid. Both ways, totally interested.

So we set a date and time, which was February 18 at 7:30pm. I thought about holding these meetings in our basement, which has wood paneling and strange patchy brown carpet from the ’80s. I decided to call this thing the ’80s Basement Lecture Series. Genius, I know.

This past Saturday the guests arrived, and we gave them a tour of our home. Then we ate some pizza and got really drunk. JUST KIDDING THERE WAS NO PIZZA. Just kidding, we had a lot of pizza and zero alcohol.

We headed down to the basement. I introduced Reilly, and he gave a terrific lecture about satire and its evolution on television over the past 30 years. He defined indirect and direct satire, using Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as examples. He hinted a quick comparison of Tomi Lahren and Samantha Bee. He showed clips from the Simpsons and Parks and Recreation. We had a fascinating discussion about the current political climate and people who don’t get satire. And we discussed the purpose of satire: in what ways does it motivate us to act/speak/think? It was a lot of fun.

I looked at the group of us and wondered: Are THESE the people I like hanging out with, slightly strayed, slightly jack-Mormon AND incredibly faithful, moderate-to-left-leaning, super smart, extremely big-hearted; socially conscious, ever eager agents of change to make the world a better place?

Yes, YES.  A frillion times yes.

The conversation, their presence, their intelligence and spirit: I basked in it all.

I’m not gonna lie. It’s great bringing people together to share ideas and foster and strengthen friendships. But I may have started this lecture series just for me. Selfish little me.

Can’t wait for the next meeting.

“Who’s your friend that likes to play?”

There is a scene in the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out where Bing Bong is sad because his space rocket has been thrown away. Joy needs to get to headquarters and tries to cheer him up by being happy and silly, but Bing Bong keeps being sad and won’t tell her how to get to the Train of Thought. Then Sadness walks up to Bing Bong and tells him she’s sorry that his rocket his gone, that it must have meant a lot to him. She gives him a hug, he cries on her shoulder, and he opens up to her. Joy tries to interrupt to say there’s not time for that, but once Bing Bong has someone to sympathize with him, he says he feels better and points to where they can catch the Train of Thought. On their way, Joy asks Sadness, “Hey, how’d you do that?” Sadness starts, “Well, I just -” and then the train arrives.

We know how she did it.

Sometimes all I want is to talk about my problems. My feelings. It helps me feel better to have someone listen and not want to jump in with solutions. Just to be there, to reassure me, to be supportive or say something like, “I’m sorry that happened.” Or “I know how that feels.” Or “What a sucky situation.”

I know what the solutions are. It’s not like I haven’t done the research, and the new information often can overwhelm me with yet more things I can do wrong or have failed at. More often than not I have applied this new information and am still frustrated. There are situations where I feel utterly helpless; there are times when I need to feel the uniqueness of an experience in my life before understanding that others have traveled a similar journey. This is when I can best feel the support of humanity, once I peek out of my self-involved bubble and am reminded that I am not alone.

It might just be certain personalities to offer fixes right away. And it’s definitely my accommodating personality to accept these people while still feeling horrible inside. Yes, thank you for trying to help, but that’s not what I need. Yes, I will feel better soon, but I first need to be allowed to feel sad/helpless/frustrated/embarrassed. That’s a part of my process, and it helps me in the long run if I don’t dismiss it or diminish it in any way.

Of course I try not to be melodramatic or overreact, and I’m resilient.

A not-so-heavy example: Yes, I’ve been complaining the past seven weeks about my cold. But should one suffer with a cold for that long? Should I rearrange my life around coughing, since it has wedged itself into my schedule? Should I just say “Oh, well” when my ribs are bruised from coughing so violently and for so long? No. But these things have happened to me, and I plan to get through them and to rise up stronger and more determined than before.

But for now, my body still needs to expel phlegm. But when I do this, or laugh, or take deep breaths, it hurts my ribs on the left side.

What’s my process? First, whine about it. Check: I’ve told several people, who range in sympathy, from: “Have you been checked for pneumonia?” to “Oh, man, I’m sorry. That sucks.”

Next, process this feedback. I’m glad that I could tell people who were willing to listen. I’m grateful for those who stepped back and truly sympathized/empathized. And I’m learning to be grateful for the form of concern people offer as suggestions or solutions. People mean well. And people have different points of reference.

Next, question myself: Wait, what am I doing trying to understand the people I want to understand me? Why does this feel like a bigger effort from me all of a sudden?

Next, return to feeling grateful: People love me, and they care.

Next, keep on keeping on: I’m going to make sure I get plenty of sleep and food and exercise. I’m going to work hard at work and be a good mom and wife and friend, one day at a time. Hopefully enough days pass to heal my ribs and make my cough go away.

Any time along the way, this process could repeat itself any number of times.

I’m well aware others are in far worse situations. The not-so-heavy example of my bruised ribs partly serves to imply that much heavier issues are going on in my life. I’ve talked to some people about those issues, implemented these very steps of handling my emotions and becoming stronger and moving forward with my life. The sadness, helplessness, and frustration would be a much greater burden without this process.

It’s a blessing to share these clunkier and unpleasant parts of my life with the people who mean the most to me. Thank you for being there.

 

On Conversation and Small Talk

“A friend of mine once said that you can never trust a person who doesn’t talk much, because how else do you know what they’re thinking? Just by the act of being willing to talk about oneself, the person is revealing something about who they are.”

— Chuck Klosterman, Eating the Dinosaur

Almost everyone I knew in high school observed two main modes of speaking from me: Snide comments and occasional insights. This did not count raising my hand if I had the correct answers to teachers’ questions. I made friends slowly at that time, and those patient enough to stick around discovered that I was also capable of thinking deeply, even though I didn’t often verbalize my thoughts.

How did I process reality back then, that version of life trapped inside a high school bubble? I listened. I observed. This is how I found out about THE shocking moment of the Crying Game during trigonometry. One of my classmates saw the movie at the theater, and she could not wait to talk about it at school the next day.

Observing is also how I found out that band members M (girl, drum major) and T (boy, trumpet player, OF COURSE) may have had a thing for each other. M was a senior and T was a junior. I was a sophomore. After school one day, the band waited for our band director to return from somewhere and start rehearsal. I was practicing my part in one of the instrument rooms. Minding my own business. Then M and T ran in, oblivious to everything. T closed the door and had M pressed against it with his body. Then they started making out.

I watched for a few seconds, and I wondered if I should keep playing my clarinet. I decided that was better than watching. When I played the first few notes, T and M stopped what they were doing. I tried not to look at them but to keep playing. After a few seconds, one of them opened the door and they both left the room.

Beyond high school and into college and the real world, I continued the habits of listening and observing. I liked talking about myself, but I would only do it when people asked me questions. But I also loved asking other people questions and getting to know them better.

This was fun to do in college and especially New York City. I found myself in several settings with complete strangers. After a few questions, some laughs, and some observations about how we ended up in New York, we discovered valuable commonalities that became the foundation for friendship.

I never liked small talk, and because of this, friendshipping in the big wide world pushed me out of my comfort zone. While I always did better if people were willing to jump into deeper subjects more quickly, I also observed that small talk was some people’s starting point for meatier conversation. In some cases, if I couldn’t stick around past small talk, bonds would only form at that level.

Not everyone was like me; not everyone would work the same way my high school friends and I did to maintain our relationship. I would have to manipulate a paradox and give interpersonal space at the same time as internalizing the world around me, bringing different perspectives within my grasp.

Over time, I practiced and became good at small talk. Because I had worked on my observation skills for so long, I could read a person, initiate a conversation and make subtle adjustments to keep the discussion going. It felt great.

More time passed and maybe I fell out of practice or took it for granted, because suddenly it seems now that I suck at talking to people. Wires crossed somewhere and created a short and my conversation skills are no longer where they used to be. Although I can still listen and observe, it’s harder for me sustain my side of the conversation with actual spoken words. I’ll occasionally interject a question or a snide remark, but while I listen I also close up. Or go back to the safe space of small talk. Which I hate. But it’s safe. Defense mechanism, definitely. But why? and how can I get past it?

Part of it is that I can sym-/empathize, but sometimes I don’t know how to express that. Or I don’t know what’s appropriate. Or that if I try to relate, I’d be saying and revealing too much about myself when the conversation isn’t about me. I think that goes beyond introverted tendencies.

Obviously, I have no trouble writing about myself.

In general, people have been so willing to let me know more about them. I need to reciprocate. I have been selfish for so long, and I have to be better.

So, how about this weather?

Recent Ritual

Reilly sits on the couch. He usually has his laptop, looking up his grades, reading for class, planning lessons, or catching up on the local news. Sometimes the television plays in the background, news or Food Network or the Jazz game.

I start walking toward him from across the room. He sets his computer aside and puts his hand up, palm facing me.

01

Like a magnet, Reilly’s hand draws my tummy toward it. I can’t stop walking.

03

While I walk, sometimes I say in a high pitched voice, “Da-da?” Sometimes I point to my tummy and state the obvious, “There’s a baby in here!” And as my tummy nears Reilly’s hand, there’s giddy anticipation. Energy. Electricity. The gravity of this growing ventral orb strengthens when the distance between us decreases. The world seems to stop, but Reilly and I do not take our eyes off each other.

05

The palpable focus switches from Reilly’s eyes when his palm and my tummy finally make contact. I can tell that Baby knows that Daddy’s right there.

07

Then Reilly and Baby spend a few moments of quality time together. I stand by and adore this interaction.

08

This has easily become one of my favorite activities. I am grateful that we’re already hanging out so much.

The Culture of Heart Muscle Memory

I recently read a Facebook discussion thread about a sensitive topic. It seemed that someone disagreed with the majority opinion in that conversation. Then many people in the majority zeroed in on the lone dissenter and poked holes in his argument, very … pokedly. There were accusations and assumptions and underlying hostility all around. The thread’s originator even asked the others to back off, but no one really did. The dissenter didn’t respond. By the end of the thread–some 20 comments later–someone observed that he simply took his comments and left the discussion.

I do not know a few things about this discussion:

1. How the dissenter presented his disagreement

Well, I guess that’s the only thing. I’m probably ignoring other things, which shouldn’t matter, because if people were really willing to have a conversation with two perspectives, I would have been able to read the actual opposing opinion.

The dissenter could have been a bona fide jerk. But his withdrawal doesn’t quite indicate that.

It could be that the dissenter’s argument was particularly specious and he felt embarrassed and removed his comments, but since I only have the remaining less kind comments to use as evidence, what other conclusion am I supposed to draw other than “we will marginalize your differing opinions”?

I mean, the prevailing views in this conversation are held by people who already feel marginalized; they are in a distinct minority. They have felt op-/suppressed and question many things about the culture and traditions that helped form their character. They feel vulnerable and scared and insecure. And I guess this particular conversation felt like a safe place for them. And when they felt threatened–maybe by someone who felt just as insecure and vulnerable–instead of reaching for understanding, they pushed away.

What has changed? To oversimplify the idea, what really has changed from feeling that “If you don’t agree with the Church you can just leave” to “If you disagree with my opinion there’s no room for you in this conversation”?

Can someone help me understand?

Say, “Cheese!”

Parce que c’est fromage!

Tonight was our annual French Club soirée fromage. It felt a bit different this year than last year as a 101 student. I ran into mostly people who were in my 101 class, then a girl from 202, and a guy from 321. Then I got to talk to random strangers about Paris.

Also, when the jugs of juice were empty, I was standing in line, watching nothing come out of the spouts. Then I said, « Il n y a plus de juice ! » It rhymed, therefore it was funny. It’s not as funny – it’s actually downright sad to say it in English: “There isn’t any more juice.” That really makes me want to cry. I didn’t realize how much I love grape juice until it was all gone.

Saturday at a potluck, I met a guy (he was with his girlfriend) from Orleans. It was his first time in the United States. He was very soft-spoken, and his french was very smooth-sounding. We talked for a little bit. Being the way I am, I asked questions so that he would do most of the talking. He is not LDS, but he attended a session of General Conference in Salt Lake City. “Vous avez écouté les discours en français?” Of course he did. And he was very impressed with the interpreters. He prefers English to “American,” and I don’t blame him.