Comedy film. A bumbling dad-type slips on a banana peel, falls onto a skateboard which sends him careening downhill. The skateboard hits a rock, sending him flying in the air, arms pinwheeling. He flies straight into the red mouth of an active volcano, screaming his cartoonish, wacky scream all the while. The volcano emits a plume of smoke and a burp. This is where you’re supposed to laugh.
I hate that cartoonish, wacky screaming.
Same goes for laugh tracks, and dramatic music that tells you how to feel.
Advertising campaigns that use bright colors and catchy jingles to get you in the door.
Salesmen with plastic smiles, slick hair, and flowery well-practiced pitches.
Cheap gimmicks whose sole purpose is to delude you into believing the narrative is worth listening to, laughing at, buying. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge.
I’m disgusted by it all.
If your movie sucks, don’t try to convince me it’s funny. If you can’t let the facts speak for themselves without wiggling your eyebrows and forcing a pained, constipated smile, then you’re selling snake oil. I’m not in the market to buy things I don’t need.
The more razzle-dazzle there is, the more suspicious I find it.
I stew in the hot shame of my own hypocrisy. I’ve made shitty jokes to try and lighten the atmosphere. I’ve laughed harder than necessary at stupidity, ringing hollow in my ears. I’ve made desperate attempts at humor to disguise burning insecurity. I’m only human, fumbling along with the same transparent bravado of a 19-year-old strolling into a liquor store, pretending I belong here. All to cover up my “gee-golly-gosh” bashfulness. To disguise the fact that, really, I just want to rip my skin off and dance alone, howling at the moon.
I’ve smiled and listened to the sales pitches, annoyed at the fact that I do indeed need to buy what this clown is selling.
There will always be pigs: stinky, dirty, naked, ugly truths we’ve got to deal with. I want to see the pig as it is, in all its offensive, unruly stinkiness, front and center. No ruses, no cover-ups. But out there, in the world, sometimes you have to make an effort. Some people prefer their pigs to wear lipstick. It gussies up the boorishness, makes it more presentable. Some smear the lipstick on unconsciously and automatically. And sometimes, the pig is easier to deal with that way.
And if I have to follow suit and smear on the rouge to get through the day, then so be it. But for the record: I wish I didn’t have to.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a few kicking, screaming swine here that need tending to.
Seemingly opposing variables get muddied together, but I want them to stand alone, distinct, clear.
I’m getting vertigo, trying to make sense of incoherencies, those things that are intangibly mutating. I’m repulsed, alarmed by that which is illogical.
It’s unsettling to admit that I only know what feels good, and what doesn’t.
I’m walking downtown, foggy-headed, untethered.
Busy-minded people blur by. I look down at the ground as I walk. I can’t bear to meet people’s eyes, to see the endless parade of the same vacant gaze.
The ground is littered with their filth. Cigarette butts tossed away and stomped underfoot, like all our dirty secrets. Forgotten scraps of paper, napkins kissed with lipstick. Styrofoam pellets that will outlive us all.
Just ahead, a parked motorbike jumps to life, revving its ugly whine. After it pulls away, I pause in front of its former resting place. Spilled oil is smeared all over the sidewalk, from it and many others like it.
I’m surprised to find it beautiful.
Variables align into one clear moment that pierces through the blur.
This feels good.
Through the fog, brilliant moments still make their way in.
They always do.
What would it be like to peel each of these layers off?
Give form to that which is heavy and intangible.
Pull apart the seams, fashion each piece into a parachute.
Hold on tight and jump off that cliff
That’s always been in my periphery
Impartial, mysterious, seductive.
If I choose to jump and be reborn, then will I be free?
I’m looking at the goofy smirk of someone who’s delivered a burning comment, minimizing, derisive. Defiant whispers in my intimate classroom setting, being interrupted, receiving groupfuls of disgusted stares. Perhaps without realizing, my students can be decidedly unprofessional. Deers in headlights turn aggressive. “I don’t understand you” leads to uncomfortable feelings, and the instinct to deflect and lash out with a cutting remark.
I’m no stranger to the vulnerable insecurity that arises when your language is symbolically taken away. Suddenly confronted with the inner discord of translating a rainbow of thought into black-and-white, just to be understood. Not to mention that in France, classic pedagogy is infused with the idea that you can always do better, no matter how good you think you are. Liberté, Egalité, Critiquez. Make a mistake, and pay for it. The language classroom is no different.
Many of my students have lived the trauma of classroom humiliation at the hands of the all-powerful Teacher. Being shamed for the crime of being wrong, the hurt when classmates chimed in to further deride them. They’ve been trained not to ask questions, to expose a vulnerable moment. It’s easier to shut down. A common student response, be they 8, 18, 38, or even past retirement age.
Interactions with me can make ancient antagonistic feelings bubble up. I am seen as a critic, an insolent interloper, imposing my language–deemed simple, inferior, lacking nuance or artistic merit–onto my student. I become the symbol of their Old Rival.
English itself becomes a fetish object. Adored, yet feared. Necessary, yet despised. Simple, yet frustratingly irregular and nuanced. A language of countless verbs, a language of action. Not like French, a language of adjectives and lush description. English, a language that contains far more words than theirs, with double meanings and endless colloquialisms. Many don’t understand the true complexity of operating in a language where you cannot translate word-for-word.
In those moments of student frustration and corresponding contrarian response, I’m no longer speaking to an adult member of society, but to an insecure child, that lashes out with an antagonistic “I know what YOU are, but what am I?” This speaks to my inner child, who hates to be told what to do, is tired of people lording their authority to minimize and patronize me, to diminish my intellect, my language, my heritage.
No, I refuse. It does a disservice not only to myself, but to my student, if I am no longer present. My role is to facilitate, unblock, decode this system, to break it down into sensical, ordered, comfortably logical bits. Not to field proverbial spitballs. So I wait out the emotional hailstorm, extracting linguistic information.
Storm dies down. Move in, execute my grammar lesson, administer study tips and friendly goodbye’s. Deep breath.
If only they knew how often I must become the emotional bouncer, keeping out the riffraff.
Rumbling vibrato in my throat is my beat in the morning cloud of traffic, audible only to me. I’m having a grand ol’ time, heels clicking in time with my funky vocal stylings. I’m killing it.
“Left a good job in the city…Working for the man every night and day…”
I’m groovin’ now, get a little shoulder action in there.
“Big wheels keep on turning–“
Screeching wheels, screaming horn, urgent dinging explode behind me. A tram is gliding on a collision course with a pedestrian.
The man is a zombie with earphones, gliding coolly in the spotlight of the tram’s headlights. The tram is still moving, and he isn’t reacting.
I shriek an expletive over my shoulder and recoil, convinced this is the Nightmare Moment. Morbid curiosity holds my gaze to the scene.
The tram’s nose has halted, narrowly missing the zombie’s legs. No reaction whatever; he has no idea that he almost met his maker.
Passersby look askance at me for standing in the sidewalk, taking up space. I’m part of the morning pedestrian traffic flow, how dare I deviate?
My boots click more irregularly now, and my voice is caught in the hollow of my throat. False notes squeak out: “Proud Mary keep on burnin’…”
And then there is no more music. I’ve been smacked back into reality. My eyes start burning, and I am silent the rest of the way to work.
What the hell is wrong with us?
Eyes closed, breathe deep
Ashamed confusion, deflect
Look askance instead.
Self-absolved, no duty to try
Intellectual curiosity is dead.
Autopilot, flapping jaw
Blabbing to a wall
Deaf ears, blind eyes
Why am I here at all?
Disinterest plus passivity
Birth of escape fantasy
Hubby at the wheel
Elope to the absurd
To where words pay for meals.
“Attention, all passengers for the 11:20 train for _____. Due to–”
A herd of elephants trumpets by.
“…we regret to inform you that there will be a significant delay. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
Bouncing into the information office, I see the usual old dogs at their post, along with one grizzled unfamiliar face.
“Hello! I’m meant to take the train at 11:20, but I didn’t catch the reason for the delay…?”
I try to speak as naturally as possible, but my accent gives me away. My French is like a dog wearing a hat: innocuously unnatural.
Tired, deliberate, his response lacks all pretense of social niceties:
It does not concern you.
Excuse me, but I have the impression that it was just announced.
It. Does not. Con-cern. You.
His tone adds, “Fucking foreigner.”
His stern face dully chastises me, through deep frown lines and a graying smoker’s pallor. Maybe he always talks to women like this. Maybe he’s sick and miserable, and needs to vomit his misery onto others. Maybe his dog just died, and his boss made him roll into work today anyway. Maybe his partner is terminally ill, and he’s angry at the world. Maybe he’s just a Grade-A asshole.
10,000 maybes, and it’s likely that not one is correct. Whatever the reason, it is irrelevant. I know I will meet him again, in countless other forms.
My friendly demeanor melts away, and with a bite in my voice, I thank him for the information and bid him good day. I resist the burning urge to flip him off as I turn on my heel and escape.
My logical mind is outraged: I’m not to be cowed by one passive-aggressive backhanded comment. What nerve he’s got, shirking social conventions of politeness! How dare he! A brute like that shan’t speak to me in such a ghastly manner! I’ve a mind to dress him down!
Someone tell that big talk to the pressure in my chest that’s feeding the fire in my throat. Angry tears boil over. I wish for thicker skin, for French that could cut, for some witty Bette Davis-style comebacks: grace with a touch of disdain. Yes, if only I had a sharper tongue! Then these people wouldn’t mistreat me; they’d respect my invisible anti-bullshit forcefield. I feel infantilized, maladjusted, incapable of survival in this world filled with Grade-A assholes.
I speedwalk away, hiccuping pathetic tears, hating myself. The more I walk, though, the more the burning subsides. What am I doing? Is my core this easily swayed by an external force? Why do I need to wait until I’ve become the Perfect Me to be acceptable? No, I’m deserving of respect now, first and foremost from myself, because I can’t count on anyone to fork it over automatically.
One more experience under my belt, one more internal growth spurt. Ready for the next meeting with another manifestation of that unbearable condescension that I despise. Next time, every time, I don’t want to be so quick to minimize myself. There will always be another grating external force. I’m learning that it will sway me only if I allow it to.