Friday, January 08, 2010

It's 2010, so that means it's the future!

Time to pick up the slack reins of blogging once again.

I had a great holiday break, filled with all kinds of things that I want to do.  I returned to Kansas City in the midst of a snowstorm which was how I left it on Christmas Day.  This pleases me greatly.  Last night the low here was -2 degrees or so, which is certainly cold enough for anyone.  It may kill my friend from Florida when she arrives -- if one can die from snow-anger and grumbling.

I've caught my normal January illness, which has dogged me for the last three years or so.  Thankfully, this episode seems mercifully free of the death-pall that followed me two years ago.  I expect to make a recovery soon, or at least not get any worse.  Kleenex consumption is at a 12-month high.

I had a serious moment of introspection on Christmas Eve, and I've already been working on that entry for days.  Hopefully something will come of it before Independence Day.

A few days after Christmas, I visited my best friend near Cape Girardeau, MO.  His two children are the closest things I have to nieces or nephews and I don't see them anywhere near as often as I'd wish.  When his son was in Columbia, I saw him and played with him several times a month.  Alas, this is only the fifth or sixth time I've ever seen his daughter (now almost 4).  Which is too bad, since we get along really well.  Especially after she figured out that by sitting on my shoulders, she could be taller than daddy AND touch the ceiling.  Try as she might, though, she couldn't leverage me into being able to fetch down the forbidden Play-Doh from the top of the fridge.

--- --- ---

A large portion of the six months prior has been focused on how I end up presenting myself.  A while ago, I had a female friend confront me in anger, accusing me of emotional abuse.  The gist of her argument (and remember, this is my take on the matter) was that I had a pattern of toying with her emotions and it was ruining her life.  To say I was surprised would be an understatement.  It would be easy to slip this under a rug covering all manner of self-perception issues, a rug which (from my understanding) is surely more of a tent in today's world.  But as is often the case, I have plunged into excoriating self-introspection (my tent of choice) to try to extract the kernel of truth.

And I think the kernel is that people expect irony in their conversations with others.  This touches something that my friend Libbilu (or libbilu, like e.e. cummings) mentioned in her "Epiphany" list (HERE).  Libby wonders if the "little white lie" is actually the most damaging of all kinds of misdirection.  Being a connoisseur of prevarication, I'm not about to name a favorite among any of the tools in my reach, but I think she's gesturing towards the misunderstanding between my erstwhile friend and me.  From personal experience, I know that people today have often become so tight-lipped about their experience and thoughts that it sometimes feels the only way to get at the nugget of the matter is to plumb the perceived facets of word choice, inflection, and pregnant pause to try to deduce the "true meaning".

The whole problem of communication (especially in romantic relationships) boils down to honesty.  Is the other person being completely and truly honest in whatever statement was just made?  And can you take what was said at face value?  When I say to a friend of mine "you look nice today", I could be "meaning" several things:

-- "Whatever you're wearing has caught my attention more than normal, and I acknowledge and reward the more-than-usual effort you've put into your appearance today."

-- "If I innocuously compliment her, it will be the secret sign to begin the accelerating avalanche of feeling that will culminate in declarations of love that we've each held inside for so long."

-- "Thank GOD she's not wearing crocs and pajama bottoms.  Quick, make with the encouragement!"

-- "Boy, this conversation really died.  Time to reach into the bag of tricks for something -- ANYTHING.  Is it still cliche to talk about the weather?"

-- "That color is really pretty on her."  

-- "It's her wedding day, I should probably say something meaningful."

And that doesn't even touch on the sarcastic possibilities.  We've become conversational miners who seek out the true meaning, because that meaning is often lost under obfuscatory clutter.  Maybe our society is drifting towards shame, an emotion that forces us to disguise our true meanings.  We spent a lot of time advancing false opinions to see if they get attacked, hiding real opinions to keep the peace, and generally playing games to keep ourselves protected.  We naturally assume that everyone else is playing the same games, because they're bound to be just as guarded as we are.

Into this arena, a person who speaks their mind is extremely dangerous.  One one hand, everyone thinks they're being ironic, so they're misunderstood.  And once it's revealed that they mean what they say, it sets off explosions in people who aren't used to dealing with naked opinion.  We're largely unprepared and childishly naive.  Instead of miners, we've become minors.

It's often assumed that the people who tell lies have the power in conversation, because they can shape the stories to their will.  This ignores the parallel notion that the speakers of truth have an incredible power to dominate the conversation by making modern people uncomfortable.  Declaring opinions and forgoing guile are incredibly disconcerting, and it can lead to all kinds of conversational problems.  Perhaps accusations of my abuse are likewise the result of a style of conversation more than a purposeful intent to deceive and belittle.

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