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There is a famous discussion activity (sometimes) referred to as “The Ark.” The idea is simple. The world is about to end (by flood) and the UN has chosen twelve very different people to move to an island in the South Pacific that will be untouched by the natural disaster.
The task is that a bureaucratic oversight (screwing us to the end!) means that only eight of the twelve can go, so the students have to decide on the four to die and the eight to live.
The catch is that the characters are all either physically or socially “flawed.” One character is a major in the British special forces, who might appear to be the perfect candidate because he can cope with extreme situations and is a survival expert, he is also gay. While none of the somewhat liberal kids in my class (seem) to have any problem with homosexuality, the question is raised because he will have to help reproduce. Another character is a female marine biologist, the exact sort of person you’d want on a Pacific island. However, of course, her mother has just died and she is an alcoholic.
My students are not lacking empathy, but they do get involved. Like, involved. Once life or death enters the sphere, these rather mellow students engage somewhat aggressively in the discussions. This, in part, is the point of the activity. I grab a seat, huddle down, and make notes while I listen. This guy has to die. Nope, she stays. She dies. This man is a flirt! I hate him, let him see the flood! She’s an alcoholic, she’ll be all bugged out. This guy looks like an asshole, I say he dies.
Naturally I am reminded of the first and only time I ever picked a lobster in a seafood restaurant. I am fairly certain it was in Maine, but my brain might be making up that detail. So just know that other than the time a bag of live crabs staged an escape in my mom’s kitchen, this was my only interaction with live decapod crustaceans.
I am in at the Paratrooper Pub with a friend on official business. He’s a professor at the university and we often get together to discuss ideas, compare tidbits, and gripe from our different corners of its hallowed halls. (read: gossip)
As most people can elongate their imagination to comprehend, the discussions at times become heated. Not that we are annoyed with each other, but rather the motivation and justification behind a particular element, policy, or memorandum can be a bit difficult to grasp.
It’s while discussing an exceptionally baffling directive that my friend surprises me. The discussion has gained steam in the form of aggravation and annoyance. When things reach a head and something really unpleasant is about to be said, my friend softens his tone and in a silly manner exclaims: “I am glad that happened!”
I am confused mostly because I expected the continuance of the vituperative tone we usually take, and epithets such as “fucking bollocks!” or “This is fucking crazy!” or any other colorful vulgarity we employ. But it hasn’t, my friend has defused it with his off-catching declaration, and then further instills that tone by lightening up the mood and changing topic to something more pleasant.
As I follow along with my friend’s redirection of the conversation, I try to figure out what happened. My friend is a bit younger than me, but he is rather level-headed and wiser than his years might suggest. I think he has come to the conclusion at a relatively young age not to let the small stuff get to him. And this is his way of doing that.
Like many of you who have made it into your forties, I am far mellower now than I once was. My late teens and twenties are a mishmash of embarrassing memories revolving around me being very stupid out loud. For one, I was far more sure of my opinions, so completely sure of every aspect of them, except why I held them and where the justification for my support resided. Perhaps in tandem, I used to get way more worked up over things undeserving of my attentive anger. Rounding out this trifecta of critical thinking and moderate intelligence, I used to fling the word “hate” around with the same carefree attitude with which monkeys treat their poop.
Like most people, my Facebook wall and profile is a complete and total lie. I mean, yes, I am a teacher at a university and I did attend the university of Pittsburgh. Those pictures of me are mostly accurate as well, but perhaps my sardonic mugging for the camera is hiding a little oh-man-not-again frustration with the point and click happy post-it-all generation or a great ton of get-the-fuck-out-of-my-face-with-that-motherfucking-thing if it’s my sister behind the zoom lens of the phone.
But, like most of you, I’m really dying inside. Come on, people, let’s just admit it’s one big lie. The extent of the lie is varying. We all know people whose real life is similar to their Facebook life only in regards to where they went to high school. Otherwise it’s a complete and utter sack of lies.
Most of us are just guilty of portraying their happy sides of life on Facebook. Here’s the joyous couple at the beach that bickered for a five hour flight on the way there. Here’s the gushy teary-eyed preschool teacher who makes gushy teary-eyed comments about getting hugged by a preschooler that makes everyone feel gushy and go teary-eyed. At least they do on Facebook (thank you emoticon hieroglyphs). No doubt most of them interrupt their partner (who in the most meta way is in the corner of the room looking at his/her phone and thinking or about to say the exact same thing) to say: “This girl with her sappy posts about these fucking kids. She hates that job!”
There’s the anniversary gushing of one spouse about another spouse made possible by the fact that Spouse the Former has been able to channel enough polite, pleasant, or essentially non-rancid feelings towards Spouse the Latter by not spending a full minute in the same room as them for the four months before their anniversary.
Nobody’s laughing. A moment ago, I was laughing, but even I’ve stopped. So now, nobody’s laughing.
The faces of the ten young people facing me and the screen we’re all (now) suffering through show pain. That kind of pain that comes when someone wants you to find something funny and you Just. Do. Not. It presents itself in winces. I am facing those faces, so I get to enjoy interpreting and obsessing over those winces.
In my quests to be the popular teacher and make people laugh (and some mishegoss about shaping the great minds of tomorrow) I often use clips of comedians and humorous shows. Each one has a methodological aim and comedic perspectives often convey a concept with clarity, sense, and hilarity.
But not today. Today it’s Blackadder to spoof British social classes. While Rowan Atkinson and Stephen Fry make my abs hurt, they’re obviously not doing it for the students.
On the first viewing I asked them to catch the gist of the problem being addressed. When it got nothing but flat-mouthed crickets, I asked comprehension questions the students stuttered through. I don’t blame them, they are an active, interested, and intelligent group of young people. They just don’t know what to say.
This weekend I kicked up the hornet’s nest by posting a strongly worded political comment on Facebook. As you have no doubt experienced, tempers flared, frustrations boiled over on both sides of the debate, and there was a melee.
While I really enjoy voicing my opinion, I don’t really enjoy pissing people off and even less watching people I like fight and squabble among themselves. I did feel a bit of sheepish regret about that, but not my opinion.
It was in the midst of this feud that a guy I met a handful of times and hadn’t seen in at least a decade attacked me by saying that I had a Hollywood Mindset. He clarified this by suggesting that while I was living a froufrou life overseas, I could keep my mouth shut as regards American affairs. Though it’s nowhere near the first time someone has suggested this, this is the first time someone has come out and said it so unpleasantly.
I disagree with this sentiment and find that most people (including my accuser) both have and voice strong opinions about places that are nowhere near them. I am no different. What really stuck in my head was being labelled the possessor of a Hollywood Mindset.
Though I’ve always had a secret fantasy of accepting an Oscar from George Clooney, I don’t think this is what he meant. I suppose he meant that I am preachy, liberal, and have a nice juicy superiority complex. And so, for the rest of the day I thought about it: Have I gone Hollywood?
I thought about the elements in my life and wondered if it was a teacher thing. Is it the subject of Academic Writing and the Argumentative Essay (with optional recitation) that makes me so smugly Hollywood? Perhaps it stems from the moderate money, the long hours, or the weekend preparation. Oh, maybe it’s an expatriate thing that does it. I mean, there is an extreme arrogance that comes from spending half your life in linguistic confusion and frustration, or from trying to adapt to a culture foreign to yours. I bet that’s part of it.
Every day, my daily routine starts with the process that is starting up my computer. Though one might often thinks of this as a rather simple activity encompassing all of pushing a button and walking away, I find that my computer requires a little more cajoling to get into the mood.
Whether this is because he is three years old, missing the function key, and has had a chewing tobacco spittoon knocked into it twice (same night, by the by), could be points worth mentioning. Nevertheless, I am not taking any chances.
The process: I say good morning, pet him gently, clean his keys of honey, cereal, cat hair, and the gap that used to be the function key, and ask him to beseech upon me interruption-free work and speedy access to those portals of the internet that I’d like to inhabit on this fine day. Then I push his button and make coffee. I have named him Leonard.
I have to admit that part of my gentle treatment of Leonard is a simple hedging of my bets. The horror and thriller genre have long shown us the potential backlash that can occur from treating technology, among other things, badly. Terminator: Rise of the Machines, Maximum Overdrive, Killdozer!, and the terrifying thriller Short Circuit all serve as examples of why one should perhaps treat their inanimate objects with kindness. As more justification is necessary, television took aim as well by broadcasting a show called When Machines Fight Back, which was part of a series centered on the alarming idea that the innocuous things in our life will eventually decide they have had enough and rise up against us. Other examples in the genre are: When Animals Fight Back, When Cars Fight Back, When Selfies Fight Back and, the nightmarish, When Legs Fight Back.
After the shattering news that President Obama and the CIA are watching the daily drama of our lives through you, people in kitchens across America have been casting suspicious glares at their microwaves from behind the safety of the fridge or crouched behind a crock pot. I, however, am not one of them. While I do look at you differently now, I am fully aware that I owe you, the president, and the CIA a big apology. This is for what you have seen, heard, and not seen.
First of all, this apology is for the sheer quantity of times you have had to see me naked. And not just naked, but naked and eating. I can’t be blamed that a bowl of popcorn complements bath time or a post coital lounge. However, to learn that you were forced to watch, some part of you no doubt bent into a rectus of impotent horror, is unbearably regrettable.
Contestant #1 and I gave each other the once over, the way you do when comparing a person in reality to their dating profile pictures. She appeared roughly as she did in her photo, but neglected to add a photo which accentuated her rear end, which could be used to evacuate refugees during a natural disaster. This was no problem for me, as I’ve long agreed with the Czech motto “Holka bez prdele je jak týden bez neděle,” or “a woman without an ass is like a week without a Sunday.”
We arranged to meet in Palackého náměstí, and greeted each other at the statue of František Palacký, father of the nation, and whose likeness in concrete above us resembles Frankenstein’s monster. I gazed wistfully across the square, wondering if it would be rude to run away and hole up at my local pub. I quelled my panic button and we headed to a nearby café.
She was fine. She was fine. She. Was. Fine. We chatted about the innocuous things that you chat about on a first date with a virtual stranger (work sucks, hobbies, of course I cook!). After the basics are done, we struggled to maintain conversational altitude. I think just for something to say, I ordered a second glass of wine and noted the hint of judgment on her face.
Online, she was lovely, funny, witty. I looked forward to reading her emails and I put creative thought into my responses. I wanted to be funny and interesting, and maybe that’s the whole problem: our online interactions were timed, planned, and well-worded.
In person she wasn’t as witty as I had thought she’d be. She was sweet, but it was in that darling way you might imagine a mouse to be if it could order drinks. Despite all that she offered as a potential partner (sense of humor, obvious intelligence) she just didn’t do it for me.
Anyone who has entered the exciting world of online dating can tell you that no matter the sparks that fly in your emails and IMs, and no matter the seemingly high level of compatibility, after about 5 minutes of meeting face to face, you categorize the date as a yes, a we’ll see, a no, or a not if I were starving and you had a can of tuna in your underpants. I didn’t see anything romantic happening between Contestant #1 and I, but what if she didn’t agree. Paranoia took hold of me as did a hypothetical and lengthy breakup process.
I wake up on this bright Sunday morning. I am mildly hungover, the cat has made a bed of my throat. I look at my alarm clock: 8 a.m. Not bad. It’s Sunday, after all. I remember that I set my alarm for 9 a.m. I’ll doze back off under my feline afghan.
When my tablet alarm goes off two milliseconds later, the cat sleeping on my throat is sent into a frenzy of claws and teeth. I turn off the alarm, the tablet clock reads 9 a.m. I realize with dawning horror what’s going on.
There is nothing quite so miserable as getting an hour of your Sunday torn away from you like a beloved limb. And learning that what you thought was 8 o’clock is actually 9 o’clock is an unpleasantness up there with getting garroted awake by a cat.
There has been a lot of debate regarding daylight savings time. Some think it’s an absolute joke, unnecessary, and that people who don’t share these opinions are, in parlance of the Facebook Scholars, “sheep.” Most of the rest of us just grumble when it happens and remind everyone in sight to remember to do something to their clocks.
I could care less. Well, normally I could care less.
Every month or so, the screw that holds together the three pieces that make up the filter on my beloved French press becomes loose, which causes them to disband. The first time this happened I thought my French press was dead and subsequently moped for hours.
Before I could fully despair, my friend Lee put it back together with a very simple procedure which involved spinning the screw to the right and the nut to the left. Astounding.
The second time it happened, I felt prepared. I knew how to fix it. But though I tried, I could not get the screw to tighten. Finally, through pure luck, I got the three parts to stay together as a team.
The third time, I watched a video, which looked as simple as Lee had made it look, but only succeeded in making me feel incredibly dumb. Then, having studied in my father’s school of dealing with things that don’t work immediately, I boiled to a near tantrum of illegal proportions. So many times growing up I saw my dad try to put together something (a ceiling fan, a coat rack, toys) which inevitably propelled him into a fury that would cause the neighbors to fear lives had been lost.
Similarly, I embarked upon a frustration that danced along the treeline of meltdown temper tantrum. I believe that my vision blurred with anger, or extremely dangerously high blood pressure.