16 April 2016

I Assail a Phrase, Discuss Teaching (Again), Give Advice About Emotional Problems and Conclude with Pancake Memories

I got another email asking me to review a film. I responded as I’ve done for the past two years by saying that I no longer review movies but good luck. The filmmaker wrote back. His email began with those dreaded words: “no worries.” I hadn’t thought there were any worries. Not even one. I’m baffled by this phenomenon. A colleague once emailed me to ask if I had a particular film on DVD that he could borrow for class the next day. I answered that I was sorry but I didn’t own that film. He took the time to reply, “no worries.” Why would I have thought there were any “worries” at all? Even one worry, let alone multiple “worries”?

Neither my co worker nor the director needed to respond at all. Wasn’t necessary. They asked for something, I told them I couldn’t provide it, end of story. Did either think I was worrying about the situation? Because I wasn’t.

Much more often then people write “no worries” they say it. In exactly the same kind of situations I’ve described above. Where did this phrase come from and how soon can we expect it to go away? It sounds affected, unnatural and worst of all unnecessary. Please everyone, let’s stop.

Actually the next thing I’m going to write about is the mysterious use of the word “actually” at the beginning of some spoken sentences. Actually, it generally precedes a statement about a change in plan. “Actually, today we’re going to meet in another room.” Actually, I could do without this word.

Something else that should sort of go is sort of. I used to work with a person who would sort of left and right. Nothing just was, everything was sort of. “This is sort of designed to help with that problem. It’s sort of a way to fix it. I think we sort of should implement it.” Nothing is gained by using “sort of” ever. Things usually are or aren’t. It’s Tuesday, not sort of Tuesday. It’s cloudy out or sunny out not sort of cloudy or sort of sunny. Of course some people don’t ever or rarely say sort of. For them its kind of. This is kind of the same thing as saying sort of. It’s kind of annoying too.

Recently I had to write a description of myself that included strengths and weaknesses. I wrote that I was “an excellent teacher.” This is wrong. Not that I’m not good it’s just that a teacher should never assign an adjective to their ability save perhaps dedicated. Students decide whether you’e any good or not. I don’t like to hear a lot of praise because it messes with your head. You start to believe it’s true and that can lead to arrogance which can lead to complacency. Teachers can’t afford that. Resting on your laurels is what retirement is for. You have to adjust, innovate and constantly be aware of shifting student and class needs. You’ve got to remember you’re closer to knowing nothing about teaching than you are to knowing everything. I take teaching seriously but not myself. Teaching is fun and I enjoy the hell out of it. Its performance art, it’s a craft, it’s a stand up routine, it’s a seminar, it’s charity. It’s also an escape. No matter what has been going on in my personal life, teaching has always been a sanctuary. One reason you don’t discuss personal woes with students is because they shouldn’t be on your mind during class. You’re there for them.

THIS BLOG POST HAS BEEN INTERRUPTED BY A CRIME! I was in the middle of the final edit of this post when someone tried to break into our dwelling. Oldest daughter actually saw one of the perps try to come in through a window. She made a noise, they ran off and I saw one running by. We called the police who caught two suspects almost immediately. We later ID'd them from the safety of a police car a few blocks from our abode. We gave statements and are now processing this. I may have more on this incident at another time but I would now like to return to the editing of this post so that the whole world can enjoy it -- even you Botswana. 

Imagine you tell someone your leg is broken, it hurts and you're in a cast and on crutches. They reply: Oh, that’s nothing I’ve had that happen a lot of times. Or. You don’t really need a cast or crutches, you’ll be fine. Or. That’s a good thing, you’re just getting insight into life. Or. How do the doctors know? How can they know that’s what it is? Or. You’re just trying to be different. Or. You don’t need a crutch or a cast, just meditate, do some yoga, you’ll be fine. Or. I don’t know what you’re talking about, seems strange to me, are you sure, you’re not making this up?

You’re right. No one in her right mind would respond in any of those ways to you if you broke your leg. But what if your ailment wasn’t physical? What if you were describing a mental or emotional problem? Suddenly everyone is an expert, doctors know nothing, whatever you’ve got is commonplace and your making a big deal out of nothing or its actually a good thing or you’re just trying to be different. A lot of people don’t want to except emotional ailments in others, a lot of people fancy themselves experts on mental problems and their treatment. Many people don’t, for example, believe that depression is a real ailment. They act as though you can just shake it off and you’ll be fine. If someone tells you about some emotional difficulty or recent experience, try this: just listen. You might also offer some kind words of support.

Of course people who suffer from emotional problems often don’t want to discuss them with others. One reason is, of course, the stigma. If you’ve got a kidney disease you’re a victim of bad luck, but if you have an emotional difficulty, you’re fucking nuts. But people also don’t want to talk to about their issues because other people can be so damn insensitive. Its one thing to be ignorant about something, it’s quite another to be unaware of your ignorance and say something stupid.

I was thinking about pancakes the other day. This is not unusual. I probably spend more time thinking about pancakes than is healthy. Anyhoo, I recollected that my dear old grandma used to make me pancakes, upon request. At any time of day. I don’t think I abused the privilege but neither was I shy about taking advantage. This set a bad precedent in my life. No, I haven’t expected women to make me pancakes at my whim (would be nice) but — as my wife has continually pointed out to me — it has given me the notion that women will cook for me and all I’ve got to do is ask. The truth has taken decades to sink in. Can’t blame grandma though, I’m sure it made her happy. She also used to make peanut butter cookies pretty much everyday so there were always some on hand. I further recall her sitting in a chair in her backyard and pitching baseballs to me. She spoiled the hell out of me. It's what grandparents do.

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