Hitting the wall

John asked me the other day if I had given up blogging completely.  I don’t think he was kidding, either.

The short answer is, “no.”  The longer answer has something to do with the combined effect of summer, school, and a full-time job.  I haven’t felt much like doing a lot of the things I usually enjoy doing: writing, running, and knitting are all on that list these days.

In the past, I might have freaked out, decided that I must make myself do these things I enjoy doing — else, who am I?  Enter identity crisis, then insert frenzied period of making a job out of things I enjoy, which is pretty much a one-way ticket to aversionville.

It only took me a couple of decades to figure out how utterly insane this is.

So, my new method of dealing with that feeling is to use the old “if you love something let it go” philosophy.  I have a pretty solid notion that these things I do truly love to do will return to me in their own time without my insisting that they Come. Back. Right. Now.  (A negotiation tactic that is only slightly less effective on one’s own desires than it is on our dog — which is to say, on a scale from “not very” to “not at all”).

In the interim, apologies for the light posting.

What I meant by that.

A few days ago, I posted this, which I admit was rather cryptic:

Hey!  Do you dislike some Thing?  Has someone else expressed an appreciation for that Thing?  Well, by all means – the most appropriate thing is to crap all over that Thing!  Otherwise, how else would anyone know you’re too cool for that Thing!  Now go – be scathing!  Extra points for using a really limited data set to express how little you know about that Thing!

What did I mean by that?  Well, I have been thinking lately about how much harder it can be to enthuse than to sneer.  Sneering somehow has a patina of respectability, whereas enthusiasm is often considered a bit twee.  If you scoff, the implication is your tastes are higher and purer than those who love (or even appreciate) the thing you scoff at.  Conversely, if you enthuse, you are shallow.

It takes a certain amount of bravery, I think, to simply say that you like something.  And the word “simply” is there for a reason.  It takes far less bravery to attempt to defuse the potential scorn of your audience by saying, “Well it’s not highbrow, but…” or “I know you may not like it, but…” or any other apologetic phrases that preemptively excuse your egregious cultural lapse.  

This is not to say that I believe that everyone must appreciate everything.  But how hard is it to say, “Oh – yeah.  I tried that and it wasn’t my thing,” or even, “Well, I heard about it and it didn’t sound interesting to me.”  Instead, all too often I hear people expending huge amounts of energy on vast verbal rampages of withering scorn that not only label the thing they are discussing as utter and complete trash, but state or imply that anyone who does like that thing has the taste and discrimination of a toddler.  It is not enough to dislike it — you must make sure that everyone else either dislikes it too, or is shamed for their preference.

Worse yet, if you intimately know the thing that the speaker is ripping to shreds, you may detect that they are only familiar with a tiny piece of the entire work.  The first chapter of the novel is taken as a stand-in for the whole or the one movie is emblematic of the director’s entire body of work.  It makes sense that the person who didn’t appreciate the work didn’t go on to find out whether or not it grows on them or if their single experience was an anomaly — who hasn’t given up on something they’re not enjoying?  But the assumption that everything that flows from that source must be identical to the part the speaker didn’t like is absurd.

When you agree with someone that the thing they decry is pretty shoddy and the speaker has a certain amount of verbal facility and a cutting sense of humor, these rants can admittedly be entertaining.  But it strikes me as an adolescent kind of entertainment: ripping down rather than building up.  And if those in agreement start piling on, doing their own share of the ripping, then the results can be downright adolescent in their ugliness.

Let me be clear and say also that I am not saying that criticism itself is bad.  I don’t believe that at all.  But the particular type of criticism that doesn’t just say, “I don’t like this,” or “I think this was badly done and here is why,” or “This story has been told before and done much better,” but must go on to ravage the entire landscape and salt the earth by saying something akin to, “This is utter crap and anyone who likes it must be intellectually and culturally deficient,” well, that for me is a bridge too far.  What does the speaker mean to achieve by such a statement?  Will the people who are the objects of his scorn suddenly say, “Oh – you are so right.  I do have terrible taste.  Please take me under your wing and show me the right way to think and feel.”  I’m thinking the answer to that one is no.  So what is left for the speaker?  The satisfaction that no stone was left unturned in the pursuit of expressing their loathing?  

I know I’ve done my share of ripping.  You have to be pretty saintly to be immune to the lure of looking clever and sharp, especially before a certain audience.  But henceforth I’m going to put my energies towards either appreciation or constructive criticism, and I will try to make sure that my expressions steer clear of the sort that either say or imply that I believe that the appreciation of something I dislike represents some sort of moral failing.  The scornful may keep their scorn with my compliments.  I like what I like.  

Racing as slowly as I can

Hey there – just a quick fundraising note (yes, I know I promised to entertain you all of your days, but honestly?  I have a paper due tonight at midnight.  Check back later for entertaining).

The Komen Race for the Cure is less than a month away (June 6) – if you have a couple of bucks to throw to a worthy cause (breast cancer research), please consider supporting me.


One other Thing…

I do want to do a follow-up to the hateful phrases post. In the meantime, I would like to say something about nonspecific hateful phrases.  Call it a PSA:

Hey!  Do you dislike some Thing?  Has someone else expressed an appreciation for that Thing?  Well, by all means – the most appropriate thing is to crap all over that Thing!  Otherwise, how else would anyone know you’re too cool for that Thing!  Now go – be scathing!  Extra points for using a really limited data set to express how little you know about that Thing!

A few phrases I would be very happy to never hear again

What follows is a small catalog of annoyance.  I am sure I have uttered these words.  I am sure those I love have uttered and will utter these words.  Those of us who live on the planet are bound to irritate someone at some point.  But henceforth, anyone who hears these words uttered around me is going to know what’s going through my head, even if I am sporting a socially correct veneer of facial politeness.

“Doesn’t [person] have anything better to do?”

Blogging, Twitter, Facebook, knitting, reality TV, insert your guilty pleasure here.  We all have them, but some killjoy is just dying to make you feel like a fool for your choices.  This cute little number is intended to make the target feel like a frivolous, time-wasting moron.  On the other hand, I suppose one is to infer that the speaker is a virtuous ascetic who only expends effort to create great beauty or value.  Right.  Get back to me when you’ve won the Nobel Prize.

It also makes me wonder, “Why do you care so much?  What about this activity gets up your nose so much that you feel the irresistible need to sneer?”

I would also venture to guess that the subset of people who are superciliously passing judgment and who have also tried that thing approaches zero in nearly every circumstance (which would tend to account for the fact that speakers of this phrase seem to think that typing out 140 characters a couple of times a day takes So Much Time).  Therefore, I shall now respond to all such questions by saying, “No, actually — and don’t you have anything better to do than to make fatuous judgments about stuff you don’t understand?”

“I am the kind of person who…”

This one reminds me of the quote often attributed to Margaret Thatcher, “Power is like being a lady; if you have to tell someone you are, you aren’t.”  (I can’t find an authoritative source for this — at least not swiftly).  The point is, all too often the quality that follows this statement would rarely be attributed to the speaker by anyone who knows them.  It’s almost a guarantee of willful blindness to one’s own personality.

A close cousin to this statement is a manager’s boast that he has an “open door policy.”  Generally, this person only has the door open the better to swing it firmly shut on your ass and your ideas.

“I have to be honest with you.”

After hearing this, I always think to myself, “Okay… how many lies did you tell me prior to this statement?”

“Get a life.”

You first.

Got any choice hateful phrases you would like to see banned from polite conversation?

5K – take two

Do I need to apologize for light posting?  I suppose I do.  A combination of work-crisis and middle of semester has my thoughts otherwhere these days.  So, very sorry if you are expecting great — or even not-so-great, but just regular, thankyouverymuch — thoughts from this space.

So, what to do when one is rather stretched for time?  Add another commitment, that’s what!  In this case, it’s the Komen 5K Race for the Cure, which I will be doing on June 6.  If you care to sponsor me, the link is here — no dance o’ Paypal needed this time, since they use a service to help their runners and walkers collect funds (though the service could use some help on the back end – is it so hard to make the runner or walkers’ links easy to find for said runner or walker?  Apparently, yes.  Or someone just needs some help with their UI).

ANYway, I need to go off and get in a run while today is sunny so I’m actually in training for this!

And a very big “Happy Easter” for all of my readers who celebrate the holiday.

A short statement with which I heartily agree

Today’s musings on more or less random thoughts come courtesy of John Scalzi:

It’s not hard to apologize, incidentally. I have a big fat ego, but I like to believe that ego isn’t invested in having to win, which big egos often are; it’s invested in being correct. The correct thing to do here was to say I was wrong and to say I had thoughtlessly offended people, for which I apologize. Because I was, and I had, so I did.

The tendency to sometimes conflate the need to be correct with the need to win is one that runs through my family’s DNA as surely as broad shoulders and a love of songs written in minor keys.  This is a cogent reminder of the not-so-subtle difference.

Thanks, John.