The Gentle News

Pungent poetry from a potty punkin.

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Part III: Serenity Through Ergonomics

May 25th, 2009 · 2 Comments · Potpourri

“In my attempt to focus on what people mean rather than what they say, I’ve tried to stop focusing on what I mean and just say what I’m thinking.”

What’s wrong with that quotation? First of all, it’s a trick. It shouldn’t be in the middle of the page or italicized. I don’t know how long it took me to put those words together, but they seem to fit. So I wrote it down, and then later began to wonder if it was original. As a result of my desire to determine the originality any of the things I say or do, I got stuck in a loop. It’s that same loop that keeps me from getting really comfortable anywhere. Of course I want adventure, but I don’t know what drives me toward it. We make lists and come up with little mantras to try to keep ourselves grounded in what we know, but even that keeps changing.

“Watching this movie is like being forced to sit through a remedial philosophy class.”

Movie reviews, whether professional or amateur, usually confound me even if I agree with the ultimate thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Not only is it usually difficult for me to determine whether I like or dislike a film, I think it would be damn near impossible to make myself rate one based on a 1 to 5 stars/thumbs/cheesecakes scale without some algorithmic scoring method. I tried that, jokingly, with limericks a while back. It got old and boring after a while, but probably because I’m not enough of an engineer to come up with workable rules, even for a prolonged joke.

After I watch a show, read a book, or hear music for the first time, the only thing I know for sure is whether I enjoyed it. I also retain a few judgments regarding technical merit, but I don’t always allow those to immediately determine whether I could have enjoyed it more or less. This is part of why I like revisiting creative works. Including old television shows. Skepticism lives comfortably in my brain, and my brain makes my body comfortable when the characters in it chill out long enough to let me find the fun I want. Many reviewers come across as cynics to me, so I bristle at them. But if I keep using cynicism vs. skepticism to determine how much I let myself enjoy things, I’ll go crazy.

(I’ve reluctantly ignored Grace’s morning whine party for about 15 minutes in order to get this far. I’m going to pick her up and love on her, because I love her. Future action items in my head now: Set a reminder to change litter box daily, and another to completely wash it out once a week? Experiment with new food so that we know she’s not just bored or dissatisfied with the relatively healthy stuff we give her? Keep a log of when she whines, observable environmental differences at the time, and the duration of the resulting contentment she displays?)

I’m trying to reduce or eliminate unnecessary, quantitatively comparative (and especially superlative) language from my writing. It’s mental practice for preventing myself from using it inappropriately in my speech. This makes blogging require more time than it has in the past. (Look, I didn’t even make it through one sentence.)

For the recovering pedant, The Elements of Style is still a very good reference for how to communicate with people and actually enjoy it without turning everybody off. Just don’t talk about the damn book unless you’re actually discussing writing. Or if it’s funny. Oh, and here’s a tip: correcting someone’s grammar or usage is rarely funny. I’ve almost taught myself when and when not to do it, and it feels great.

I have to be cautious about setting these types of syntactical rules. I’ve done it in the past, such as trying to wean myself off of parentheticals. But they’re just too damn fun, so I embrace them, and try to learn more about my own style by rereading things long after I’ve written them. Sometimes they look stupid or out of place, but then again so do I.

“You’re talking to people who aren’t here.”

Sometimes I do that, but even then it’s usually myself I’m talking to. Sometimes I’m not fully present, even in the company of people I hold dear, and end up talking to myself. In order to reconcile my need to be creative but still ground myself in facts and natural order, I’ve gently coaxed myself into being OK with the comparison of creativity to mild schizophrenia.

“There is nothing new under the sun.”

Rhetoric is ancient, as is the proclivity to treat particularly clever pieces of it as final, like a stinger at the end of a song or a finishing move in a beat-em-up video game. I really don’t see words as bullets. My hesitation before opening my mouth to say something I think is interesting is not me loading a gun and aiming for a kill. It’s me putting my foot in the pool before deciding whether I can handle jumping in, or if I need to ease my way into it. You’re free to be the guy who always says “Oh, just jump in, you’ll get used to it,” but that’s not me.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.”

Everybody has (or knows) a grandmother with an old cross-stitch of this prayer on her wall. I like it, because it really is a difficult thing to do, but not so difficult that it should be ignored or dismissed, even if you don’t believe in the entity being asked.

Two things three important people have in common: none of them knows what he or she wants. That belongs on a sticky note for everyone to bump into regularly.

Next time somebody who has it all figured out tries to explain The Blues to you, just listen closely to them. Look him or her in the eye, because he or she is the only expert on the source material.

If Mickey and Mallory really are demons, then what are we chasing? What are we facing together? What’s the answer to a question you can’t answer? “What?” is the answer to a question you can’t answer. Face it together.

I just thought of a very boring and disastrous drinking game: “I always.”

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