Sunday, November 26

Counting Blessings

Well the Thanksgiving holiday is gone, along with the last slice of pumpkin pie. It was a good holiday, actually. You never know when family gets together how that's going to work because nobody punches your buttons, or feels more free to do so, than family.

This time of year always makes me thoughtful. Its nearing year end so I look backwards at things that have happened, not just this past year but over the course of several years. I'm blessed in many ways. I have close family. As mentioned above they make me nuts on occasion but I always know that if push came to shove they would be there for me. And isn't that what matter most? Not the petty little disappointments, or the times they were less than perfect, but the big things that really matter.

I have a career doing something that doesn't suck, that I'm good at and that suits my personality. And I'm lucky to have a good employer, great bosses and terrific co-workers. Its not exciting work and I'll never stand on the upper rung of the ladder, but I'm much happier as a grunt than I'd ever be as a leader.

And I have had many friends. I have some great new ones, and a few long term ones - a small elite handful. There have also been a few that I've parted ways with. Generally this has not been the sad occasion you might think. Sometimes you have to face the fact that you are different people now, that whatever connection there once was just isn't there anymore. And you know I think its better to let these things go gracefully than to cling desperately. Friendship should be more than just history; you should both still be getting something out of it. Maybe that something is just a shoulder to cry on, a shared laugh, or the one person you know will always take your side. These are not small things. Usually you don't need someone to "fix it" just someone with whom you can rest between battles. And sometimes you realize that you aren't getting anything out of it and haven't for a very long time. This other person is taking more than you have to give and you have to cry "enough." Its sad to let that history go.

Letting it go is not something I have done easily. Maybe I even clung longer than I should have because there were memories there. I don't regret the parting, though. It was time. I don't regret having had these people in my life, either. They are part of who I am, part of my personal history. And it wasn't all bad. I read somewhere that some people are meant to be in your life for only a short time, because you - or they - have something that the other needs at that point. Once that need is fulfilled, you each have to move on. A handful of people might travel with you for longer, a lifetime if you are very lucky. But if they don't its because it wasn't meant to be.

I count these people among my blessings too. It doesn't matter that they aren't part of my life any longer. They were once and they helped shape the person I am now. I hope wherever they are that they are a little better for having had me in their lives too.

Blessings. Past, present and future. They all matter.

Sunday, November 19

Is It Us or Them?

Conversations as you get older so often seem to include variations on the phrase "it was different when I was younger." Its true about everything after about age 30. Before 30 you can tell yourself you are still one of them. But after 30 you start becoming one of us *she rubs her hands together and cackles gleefully*

For instance we didn't use calculators in school, we actually learned math. And you've probably seen the email joke that makes the rounds every six months or so about how we entertained ourselves and didn't expect instant gratification* at all times. (Note the asterisk; you'll need it later.) I made the discovery recently that there's another way our generation differs from theirs ... and our parents from us and so on. Humor.

I was watching Jeopardy the other night. You'll have to stay with me on this one; there's a train of thought I promise. I was watching Jeopardy and it was Celebrity Week so they had been having famous people on, competing for charity. The Celebrity Jeopardy shows are much more relaxed and not to be taken too seriously because these folks are entertainers, not scholars, and like to grab the limelight whenever possible. But a number of these folks had acquitted themselves reasonably well through the week. So anyway, this one night they have 3 people who do comedy. One was Martin Short, of whom I am not a huge fan; but that's a personal taste thing, not a critique. And this chick who does a sitcom whose name I can't recall but I did know who she was at the time. And the last player was some comedian I'd never heard of.

Like I said, I'm not a Martin Short fan, I think he's a bit over the top as a rule. But he was pretty low key that night. And the chick was pretty funny. Then there was the last guy who was just OUT THERE. The Three Stooges acted less foolish than he did. And I'm watching him and thinking "I don't get it." But here's the thing, I didn't know him but he was a 'celebrity' so clearly a lot of people do. And a lot of people must find him funny or he wouldn't be a 'celebrity.' Logical, right? And it got me to thinking that probably the generation after mine thinks this guy is a stitch.

They have this guy. And the previous generation have (Not "has." "Have" - because most of us are still around) Saturday Night Live alumni. And my parents' generation had Bill Cosby ... well still do because he's still around, too. And actually I think he's pretty funny, myself. And their parents had Hope and Benny. And if you don't know who they are, look them up. And as we all know so many comedians today resort to foul language and what I think of as 'shock' laughs because people laugh more at the shocking language than at the humor. But that's a value judgment and I'm showing my age so we won't go there.

But think about what's really different about each of these comedians. Yes the topical humor is different because its different times and comedians today are a lot more daring. Well so is sitcom TV. Judgment call again but I personally think a lot of it doesn't belong in the family hour. Okay, apparently I am going there. Hey its my blog, and if I can't be judgmental here, where can I? But ... follow the bouncing ball because we're actually still on the same train. (Yes I mixed my metaphors; deal with it.)

What has actually changed about the way comedians do humor over the generations? Today's humor is more "in your face." Not just the language, but distance to which they will go to get the laughs. SNL sort of started that, really. If you look back at Steve Martin and the gang, their humor resembled my 4th grade class with all the boys snickering over a planet called Uranus. It was a bit juvenile. Hey I'm not dissing it because SNL was really really big with the high school crowd, my crowd, when it first came out. They weren't as crass as a lot of the comedians of today's generation, but it wasn't our parents' humor either. I'm at a place in the middle because I grew up with Cosby-esque humor but came of age with SNL. I'm straddling the line. Maybe that's why I can see it. The Hope's and Benny's had a more subtle humor. It hit you a few beats after the joke was told. The humor was sometimes topical, and yes they poked fun at the VIPs and current events of the day; but they were subtle about it. You had to think about that joke for a moment. You had to engage that part of your brain.

Yes I'm still on the same train. Keep up.

Cosby was/is more topical and a bit more daring. Not risque, but he uses material the Hope's and Benny's wouldn't have. However his humor is subtle as well. It builds up. They aren't one-liners but rather sophisticated because you have to stay with him to get to the punch line. And sometimes it takes several minutes to get there. Kind of like this blog.

Saturday Night Live was my generation's Three Stooges. There wasn't much subtle about it. They smacked you over the head with the humor and were very blunt about the VIPs and topics they were taking on. It was often physical in scope and left little to the imagination. You didn't have to wait for the punchline or wait for the joke to hit you.

Stay with me. We're almost there.

So how did this guy from Jeopardy differ from SNL, Cosby, Hope and Benny? He was completely lacking in subtlety. He made Martin Short look dignified, okay? His humor didn't build up, you didn't have to wait for the punchline, and activating any part of your brain was not necessary. If he had held up a flashing sign saying "laugh NOW" he couldn't have been any more obvious. If Hope and Benny were a tap on the shoulder, this guy was a 2x4 upside your head. No waiting for the laugh. *INSTANT GRATIFICATION

(TADA! Told you we'd get there.)

Its not really the fault of the comedians. Because we are in an age where we (well its really more they) expect instant gratification. And the comedians are delivering. They're just giving the audience what they ask for. Big return with little effort.

So its not them, its us. Okay not us, but them. You know what I mean. Sorry this took so long. But I'm one of us. I like the subtle build up, and I appreciate delayed gratification. Especially if its yours and not mine.

Thursday, November 16

Everybody is Really Very Much Like Everybody Else

When I was maybe 11 my mother introduced me to Agatha Christie. I think it was Mom's thinking was that nothing much happens in an Agatha Christie book that you wouldn't want a kid to read. Well okay there are those dead bodies, but even they are done with good taste, artfully arranged and already dead so you don't even have the violence factor.

Christie's most famous character was the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, a rather comic figure with a mustache obsession. But very very people smart. He understood that people do fall into types or categories and usually act according to type. Yeah, I know its terribly un-PC, but these books were written back before WWII, most of them.

Another of her characters was Miss Jane Marple. Miss Marple was an elderly spinster lady (it was the 1930s, people; they had spinsters back then) who lived most of her life in one small English village of St. Mary Mead. Miss Marple has learned in her life time that what most people call intuition is really just being guided by your own life experiences. In her first appearance in "The Murder At The Vicarage" Miss Marple describes it this way: "Intuition is like reading a word without having to spell it out. A child can't do that because it has so little experience. But a grown up person knows the word because he's seen it often before." I've always thought that was an excellent analogy. You recognize when something is a bad idea without having it "spelled out" because you've seen this situation before, or heard about it, or heard of someone else's experiences. Recognizing those similarities gives Miss Marple an advantage over the police quite frequently.

Miss Marple also says, in many ways through out many stories, that people are really very much the same wherever you go. And I've discovered over and over again how very true that is. People do fall into 'types'. Oh, not obvious ones. But if you live long enough, and you pay enough attention, you start noticing things. That perfectly likeable person that turns out to be completely unreliable. The grouchy complainer that actually comes through for you before anyone else. The clean cut kid at the store who ends up short changing the next customer. And somehow your 'intuition' recognizes pieces of them in other people you meet.

This was Christie's genius. The plots were fun and the mysteries clever. But what made her books timeless is the characters. Those bits and pieces of real life behavior that she weaves into fictional people. Not just the good and bad people, but the everyday people. The person who means well but ends up pushing someone away. The one who wants so badly to be impressive that they make entirely the wrong impression. There are variations on themes but essentially people fall into a finite number of categories. And often when we are reading we'll come across some character, over the top and more of a caricature, perhaps; but all the same, they remind us of someone. Because art really does imitate life. And everybody really is very much like everybody else.

Friday, November 3

Go Away; I'm Reading

I am a Reader. And yes I use initial caps for that. A Reader is someone who reads for the sheer enjoyment of it. Not to pass the time or to educate ourselves, although that's always a nice by-product. We carry books around with us just in case we get a moment or two when nothing else is expected of us. If we walk into the doctor's office and we are told it will be a 15 minute wait, we are secretly gleeful because it means we get 15 minutes of reading time, guilt free. We aren't neglecting something else we should be doing, its not our fault that there's a wait. But we're willing to take advantage of it.

My reading is an addiction, an obsessive-compulsive disorder I cheerfully embrace. I'd rather be reading than doing anything else. I can lose myself for hours between the pages of a book. I need to read the way an athlete needs exercise. And a lot of people don't understand that. They don't need to understand. Just accept. I am blessed because I have people in my life who do accept. My love of books is not because my life is boring, or no more than anyone else's anyway. Its not because I have nothing else to do. Its not because I am devoid of friends. I have friends. I have family. I have a job and responsibilities and obligations up the Yazoo. My love of the written word is not something that needs fixing, or a 12-step program. It is not something that I can be coaxed out of or shown the error of my ways. I read for the sheer pleasure of it. I read because its FUN. I read because its what I most want to be doing at any given time.

And I am not alone. This reading obsession is not an aberration, it is not abnormal. Lots of people feel exactly the way I do. I know this because I've encountered them. Oh, yes, we recognize each other. We're the folks who carry a book with us EVERYWHERE. We're on building rooftops (its quiet and not crowded), on subway cars (you aren't expected to make eye contact anyway), in coffee shops (its practically trendy to read over your latte). And every so often self-preservation nudges at us enough to look up and around at the rest of the world. At the table next door, or a few people away we'll spot another head buried in another book. Maybe that person will look up at that moment and see our book, our eyes will meet, and we both smile. Because we recognize a kindred spirit. And then we go back to reading because conversation is not only not encouraged, its a breach of Reader etiquette.

So, the next time you see someone sitting in the waiting room/coffee shop/subway car/etc. and they have a book in front of them ... leave them alone; they're reading.