Sunday, June 10, 2018

Something going on

I'm not sure what's up with me. I did have a borderline migraine last evening and sometimes in the aftermath of that, it affects my moods.


- In the wake of the high-profile celebrity deaths this week (esp. how they died), I am thinking of my cousin Tom Nelson again and feeling sad. (Dangit, brain, that happened FIFTEEN YEARS ago. Please learn to let go of that particular grief. Though I guess it's true that grief is like a scar - it hurts badly right after the wound, and gradually hurts less and less over time, and sometimes you might even forget about it, but then something bumps the scar, and you hurt all over again).

- Driving to church, I have to pass the house that belonged to Steve. There was a big Estate Sale sign in front of it. (No, I'm not going, it will make me too sad, even if there might be something that later on would bring up good memories)

- The really baffling one, though, is this: someone joined church this morning. It's someone who's visited for a while - she was a member here years before I came, when she was young, but after marriage and family, moved her membership to a different church. Now widowed, she's back here - and she's become kind of a friend of mine*

(*I never know where to draw the line. As I said on Twitter: I have not really had someone I'd openly declare as "my bestie" since I was 13 or so, and I never know, because I tend to be an arms-length kind of person so I sometimes wonder if people I regard as "kind of close friends" think of me as a "friendly acquaintance" because I tend not to be all up in people's business like some friends are)

Anyway, she joined. (Rejoined? I guess that's a better word for it). And dangit, but I started tearing up. Why? I don't know. It's fundamentally a happy thing - we have another person making a formal commitment to being here**

(**One of the problems I think in this day and age is that people tend to be afraid of making formal commitments and would rather kind of hang out on the fringes of groups - not having to take on responsibilities. Not just in churches, but I've also seen civic groups where people came to some of the meetings and then just totally ghosted on us. And I recognize I'm an oddball in some ways because I was brought up by parents with a strong sense of "If you're gonna do something, you need to commit to it" and also being single and childless, I CAN commit to things without worrying about "but how will I get my son to baseball practice?" - actually, a comment I read somewhere today about the death of golf courses was that "fun" now has become so kid-oriented that parents don't do things that their kids don't take part in - so maybe it's a different form of commitment, but it's one that leaves longstanding civic groups in the dust, and also leads to childless people like me kind of on the outside of everything)

But anyway: I teared up. And the bad thing about this? Minutes later, I'd have to pray at the table as an Elder. I managed to get it together, thankfully....but it often baffles me when something hits me like that.

And it's also good I had pulled it together because after church a small group of us were talking and she remarked that one of the reasons she came back here (left the congregation she had been in when her husband was alive and kids were young) was that after her husband died, she kept feeling like the people there saw her as "half of a whole."

And I kind of gasped. (And granted: sometimes a person's perception is different from what the people they are perceiving intend, but...) I hope I've never done that to anyone who was widowed/divorced/broke up with a long term partner. I don't think I have. But I can see that happening sometimes, especially in the little microculture that exists in my town - the vast majority of people, it seems, are coupled up in some way.

And yeah. That's one thing about the congregation I'm part of: they don't seem to do that. And I'm sensitive to the "uncoupled" aspect of it, having been so all my life. I mean, a few people have jokingly said "we need to find you a man" and I've laughed along, and I wouldn't reject a "set up" if the guy were a decent guy....but also neither has anyone been forthcoming with a single brother or cousin or some such. But it's still OK that I'm here even though I haven't followed the path most women follow, and to be honest, there have been some groups in town where I visited and got the distinct sense it wasn't OK for me to be there, apparently rubbing my single-childlessness in people's faces, or something.

 (We also, being what you might call a more "progressive" denomination, are one of the relatively few religious groups in town where people who are openly gay are welcomed).

But yeah....interestingly, the sermon this morning was based on the Ethiopian eunuch (in other words: someone who was very much an outsider being welcomed into the fold). And maybe that influenced her, that this was the week - rather than some other - to come forward.

However, on a happier note - one of the things she said to me upon seeing me walking: "Oh, you were missed!" (while I was out of town). I think it is important for people to hear that; to me it reminds me that I matter to these people and maybe it goes a little way to, if not slaying, perhaps diminishing the internal dragons I have, that were spawned back in grade school. I remember when I was a kid being excluded (a case of a girl in my class inviting EVERY GIRL BUT ME to her birthday party, and making a point about that) or bullied, or sometimes told "No one wants you around here, why are you hanging around?" and the truth is, for the much-vaunted resilience of children - they internalize that crap. I know I did. How many times I tortured myself, especially when younger, with the thought that, "Those people are just tolerating having you around to be polite, they don't really want you there" and while, intellectually, I know that's stupid - and also is a disservice to my friends, who were and are good people - still, emotions are often illogical, and scream loudly, even as one's logical brain tells them, "Stop being silly, of course that's not true."

I still do it to myself on occasion, though far less than I did when I was younger. (I have said from time to time that one of the few blessings of aging is realizing I'll never have to be a teenager again, and I stand by that. I doubt that very many people really experience "the best years of their lives" as a teen, and it seems cruel to make that claim to someone, because can you imagine a bullied kid hearing that, and thinking, "Wow, it's only going to get worse?")

But it does help. It does help to have people tell you they missed you when you were gone, or that they're glad you're here, or any of the hundred tiny kindnesses that people who are fundamentally decent people do for others. (And again: I hope I do that for other people enough in my life).

And also my one colleague who was present (because he is teaching this summer), on Thursday when I went in to the office, said "Oh, you're back! I missed you!" and yes that matters a lot to me. Probably more than he realized when he said it. Even though we might not interact that much beyond saying hello or a little bit of the semi-meaningless water-cooler type chat - knowing that people notice when I'm not around somehow makes a difference.


Another random thought, something I've been thinking about. There is a documentary about Mr. Rogers coming out soon, and a lot of people have been talking about it. And someone quoted another essay about him on this MetaFilter post and I just found myself nodding kind of hard, the writer was taking on the fact that some adults refer to Fred Rogers' style as "creepy":

"We are conditioned to traffic in cool. You have to look cool, not look nice or distinguished or presentable, but cool. But it's all so generic. Everyone seems to have the same new haircut that no one 5 years ago had. We all have the same cynical politics.

Something about the counterculture from the 60's is still with us but it has been co-opted into a form of synchronized periodic obsolescence and mockery of that which came before. There is something fundamentally anti-intellectual about this, but I can't quite articulate it. There some element of arrogance there. Like everyone is perpetually 18."

I think this is very true. And perhaps the reason I have failed to "fit in" in some places is that I can't "do" cool - I can't "fake" cool because whatever my own specific brand of non-neurotypicalism is (I don't think I'm on the autism spectrum, but there IS something odd about my brain), I just can't do that: I'm too literal minded and too prone to take things at face value and too prone to totally and utterly LOVE, and love without a trace of ironic detachment, the things I love.

The guy goes on:

"Cool is America's code, and I really do think this is an American problem, because cool is propagated mainly though mass media, and there is no greater media saturated culture on earth than America's. Will I look cool wearing this? Will I sound cool saying this, or reading this or doing this. We're committing mass murder in other parts of the world because somebody figured out how to make violence cool and tough-talk politics cool, and then they combined the too. Swagger is cool. Cowboys and fighter jets and JDAMs and war porn are cool. So that's what we have. We are the Kingdom of Whatever. "

Which seems to me to be a much smaller and sadder place than "The Kingdom of Make-Believe" And about Rogers' effort, all the work he put in:

"Of course he hated ad-libbing on camera, because ad-libbing on camera is inexcusably lazy. It's what you do so you don't have to write or rehearse. Actors and comedians and musicians improvise as a way of living within a moment that is in some way artificial. A method actor may improvise because he is trying to become the character, but he isn't the character to begin with. A Jazz musician improvises because while the structure and the changes are the same, and the audience is familiar with them, the particular moment of performance is not, and that has it's own emotional context.

Mister Rogers was the same guy, so why improvise? The show wasn't about his character, it was about the kids, os you have to work out ahead of time how best to communicate with the child viewers. Everything was planned.

He talks slowly not because kids are dumb but because as studies have shown, children's brains are considerably more active than adults', and they need time to return to the original thought communicated to them after branching off in multitudinous directions.

The puppets? Puppets are good because they are considerably smaller than the human actors around them, and thus kids perceive them as safe. They look like toys. Contrast this with a giant seven foot all yellow bird, and ask yourself which inspired more nightmares.

The show is glacially paced and had the same structure with the same things happening in the same order because children respond to structure and routine is a source of comfort, particularly in children whose lives were anything but predictable.

Maybe that's what cool is - withdrawing from the context of one's life into an artificial one, in which the cool perceives itself to be somehow outside of reality, looking in and commenting on it. But this isn't insight, it's not reflecting on the world. It's standing at the edge of the world sniping into it.

Mister Rogers isn't creepy. CSI with is gruesome bloody corpses every Thursday at promptly 9:14 EST is creepy. Thirty million people looking at that and snaking on chips while they watch is creepy"

He's right, of course. I care less about seeming "cool" than I was years and years ago, when I was younger. Part of it was realizing that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't fake it, and the point of "cool" is it is absolutely not something you can fake, people will see through you in an instant, and it's worse - in terms of being ridiculed - to be fake-cool than it is to be genuinely geeky or dorky or whatever term is used now for an uncool person. Part of it is I just flat care less, because the people who would ridicule me for being uncool are people who really don't matter, and the truth is, often when someone is poking fun at someone else's uncoolness, they are, as we say now "punching down," and it tells you more about that person and their lack of class or compassion than it does about the nerdy person being ridiculed.

But part of it also is the realization that sometimes being kind and low-key and forgiving and all that stuff - in some ways, Fred Rogers was a radical example of that (the writer of the comment also cites "The Pope," and I presume he meant John Paul II, going into the cell of the man who shot him to speak with him and presumably offer forgiveness. And to me, in my mind, that's a more radical and brave thing than any stupid punk-ass (sorry) "cool" things the perpetually immature might do)

I dunno. I am still in some ways trying to find my own way through this world, and I don't always succeed at the "kindness is better and ultimately takes more strength than joining the Snark Brigade to pile on to someone or something" part of it, and I am not always good at reminding myself that person who might snicker at me for being chubby or an old maid or a little odd or whatever is telling me more about themselves than they are telling about me....but at my best I can.

1 comment:

Lynn said...

I decided long ago that being "cool" is nothing more than following the crowd and therefore is actually uncool and being "uncool" is going your own way which is in reality the coolest of the cool. But maybe that's just my brain finding a way to be okay with being uncool.