Thursday, December 1, 2016

"I Need To Go Back For A Second"

An optional “read” unless you are interested in how even professional writers mess up.

I hate it, but sometimes it happens.

I come up with a blog post idea.  I write it.  And in the process, it turns out entirely different than I intended it to, not “different”, where you abandon your original concept for an unscheduled leap into the imaginative “unknown” but so different – and disreputable – you need to write a subsequent post explaining how you, unforgivably, went wrong.

Is that too dramatic?  Sorry.  It’s a tricky thing, modulating inner embarrassment and chagrin.   

I wrote a post recently entitled, “How Not To Be Helpful On Thanksgiving.”  A phrase I learned living in England seems to apply to the effort:  It was too clever by half. 

Possibly more than half.

Allow me to elucidate.

I began by establishing the premise of the post…

No.  I began with a sincere inspiration and almost immediately abandoned it.  Now back to fully delineating my mistake.

I began by establishing the premise of the post, comparing my recent experience with the experience of an acquaintance – my bodywork specialist – who once explained to me that way he learned to revive his patients’ ailing muscularity was by doing the exact opposite of his intention as a teenaged “gangbanger” where he attempted to cripple his adversaries and make them his “bitches.”  (Yikes!  Where did that come from?)

His explanation, though simplistic and/or disingenuous and/or totally apocryphal, seemed, to me, an informing – and colorful – template for a personal anecdote.

You pick a conceptual groove to write in, like choosing a particular lane to drive in.  If you don’t, it’s chaos, and in the second example, “bumper cars.”  I committed myself to this particular option, and away I went.

With my post’s premise analogically – wow, that is actually a word! – in place, I went on to provide an accumulated litany of ways not to be helpful on Thanksgiving, suggesting that since people who are unhelpful on Thanksgiving are unaware  they are unhelpful on Thanksgiving, faced with a tangible – and strangely resonant – list of “unhelpfulnesses”, they will acknowledge the error of their ways and resolve thenceforth to behave the opposite.   

Like my bodywork specialist, get it?  (Oh, the genius of it all!)

I soon realized that a lengthy litany of terrible behavior – with the lurking suspicion that I was speaking from experience – would reveal the writer in a less than laudatory manner.  Once again, however, my ubiquitous “cleverness” resuscitated the undertaking.  (I originally wrote, “saved the day” but I am way too clever for that hackneyed cliche.)  (What happened to my “accent egue”?)

My salvaging strategy was that along with every inclusion on the list of “How Not To Be Helpful On Thanksgiving”, I appended a rationalization – some might adjudge a ridiculous rationalization – for how that gesture of unhelpfulness was, in reality, a positive contribution.  Which, though undercutting my stated intention of providing a litany of “No-no’s”, in theory at least, elevated the fun.

For example, I wrote:

“When asked to slip out to the supermarket for some forgotten ingredient, always ask, ‘Do we really need that?’  They will thank you when your services are suddenly needed at home and you’re not off on some ridiculous wild goose chase.”

As the justifications emerged for every “unhelpfulness”, I was astonished by how frighteningly easily they came to mind.  Though I consider myself an honest and forthright human being, I am apparently a “natural” at laughable excuses.  

In the name of “elevating the fun”, I was simultaneously countering my literary premise.  Why would you do the opposite of a litany of unhelpful behaviors I now assert are – counter-intuitively – helpful? 

Here’s the thing.  A decent writer can make virtually anything at least minimally palatable.  A neat trick, you might say.  For the most part.  Unless in the course of making it “palatable” your original intention becomes a collateral casualty of the imperative to entertain.  I mean, nobody said you had to be interesting.  But is it really necessary to spell that out?

What I originally wanted to say was that I woke up Thanksgiving morning with an honest determination to be helpful – being proactive rather than awaiting instructions, a reliable upbeat, cheerful and enthusiastic “team player”. 

Most importantly, any impulse to criticize, complain, predict negative outcomes or offer better ideas, “better” only because they were mine – “Rule of Thumb” – welcome silence over passive-aggressive sabotage. 

Throughout the entire Thanksgiving celebration, I did that… I’d say, eighty-two percent of the time, an impressive achievement, considering my dubious track record.  The fact that nobody noticed was irrelevant.  I had turned over a new leaf.  And the consequences were liberating.

Lacking the storytelling ability to turn this private epiphany into “acceptable material”, I did not bother to try, opting instead for innocuous silliness.    

Okay.  Now it’s on record.

A man rejects “substance” in the name of “crowd-pleasing entertainment”…

The least they can do is come clean.

1 comment:

JED said...

I really enjoyed your "How Not To Be Helpful On Thanksgiving - A User's Manual" post. What I liked the most about it was how it fit with so many situations besides Thanksgiving Day. For instance, I think we've all had to face someone who sees themselves as the most efficient person in the world:

"When nosing around the “Command Center”, offer a superior alternative for accomplishing whatever task they are engaged in. Then casually wander away, knowing you have saved precious time, upgrading their efficiency."

While I nodded in agreement that, "Yes, those people sure are a pain." I was also sad that I've done it myself. Maybe it's the engineer in me but for some reason, I often think it is my job to solve other people's problems - whether they've asked me for help or not. We all have our good days and our bad days. We all "do the opposite" one day and then turn around and do it as you wrote it.

I really like how you get us thinking - with a twist of humor.