Category Archives: New Word

The Bathrobe Rule

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The Bathrobe Rule:
Some things need only to be seen once.

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Only after writing this to encompass a variety of situations did the overwhelming interpretation occur to me. A given movie: once. A particular place: once. A neighbor taking the garbage out in the assumed cover of darkness while wearing a deficient bathrobe: once

 

The Etiquette Practicality Exception

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I still see many posts about manners and etiquette. One of them that invariably makes the lists: “Always use a person’s last name until you know them well enough or they say it is okay to use another.”

Pure manure.

One big problem with etiquette is that it’s based on past customs and behavior. Additionally, across cultures, countries, and societies, etiquette demands vary wildly.

It’s hard for some people to imagine, but there are quite a few people whose entire legal name consists of one name. Also, it is no social faux pas to have trouble attempting to remember or pronounce many of the world’s names. We should stop beating up on one another when no malice was intended, even as we botch names in our daily lives. Some names are akin to a mouthful of consonants and live crickets.

The ongoing attempt to insist that there is a single method of etiquette and politeness is absurd and almost bigoted. If you live inside a regimented or closed society, perhaps it is possible to assume that there might be one infallible way to ensure you’re behaving according to a particular imaginary list of societal demands. Otherwise, it’s a rodeo out there in the world.

Using a person’s last name requires you to know whether they’re married, male or female, and a couple of other variables. (Unless you’re a barbarian and saunter around calling people strictly by their last names, such as “Johnson!” or “Gonzalez.”) Ms., Mrs. ma’am, and Mr. are not the simple labels they once were.

Whether the older generation agrees or not, we’re changing the way we use titles and pronouns – and in ways they never imagined. It’s presumptuous to assume we know the other person’s pronoun or marital status. As I rapidly approach dinosaur status myself, I find myself needing to learn new manners and ways to extract my foot from my mouth. I strive to stop thinking that I ‘know’ the rules that are emerging in life. I don’t, precisely because the rules are a moving target.

We’re all equal. Using a person’s first name does not reveal a lack of respect or an overdeveloped sense of familiarity with the other person. It does, however, demonstrate that we are capable of unilaterally agreeing that a person’s name is, in fact, the label with which they identify. If the person in question wishes to be called an alternate name, they should politely say so. It would also help if people stopped using names as vanity devices or as ammunition in conversations. It’s worth noting that it’s bad form to call someone by a different name or label after they’ve asked you to use another one in their regard.

If we are introduced to someone as ‘Mark Hemmington,’ the only other argument to be made is that we should address them by their full name. That’s a bit unwieldy. Why not insist on using their entire legal name, even if it an absurd array of three, four, or five names? I’m one of the smart ones. I have two names, both spelled phonetically, and only have a surname from necessity. My name is the same in public, on my birth certificate, and on my identification. I don’t use nicknames, titles, or further naming devices to confound those around me. Some people indeed use some rather base nicknames in my regard; that’s another issue.

I don’t mean disrespect if I fail to use an expected title. It’s more comfortable as a society to accept a default of no harm or ill will intended.

I don’t kneel to royalty and don’t consider a senator or president to be anything other than an elected employee we collectively chose to do a job as our representative. Judges are legal experts, not demi-gods of virtue. Police aren’t officers; they are public servants whose dangerous and complicated jobs give them the authority and responsibility to keep us safe. Anyone in those professions who angrily demand conformity or obedience in regards to their title needs to remember humility as a virtue.

I have learned to distrust anyone with a reverence for titles.

I don’t call my personal physician “Doctor.” Financial transactions don’t require an element of inequality. I’m thankful that doctors are well-trained and able to help me. I’m paying for that service – and it is their job. Until the day we call all occupations by their respective vocational title, I think it’s objectionable to anyone to demand the title before their name. Carpenter Joe. Plumber Jim. Teacher Jill. All trained professionals. We need doctors desperately, but we also need people to pick up our trash, fix our vehicles, and keep us from drowning in sink water.

As always, I don’t expect my arguments to be perfect. I don’t defend these ideas with a fiery passion. I do, however, know there’s a strong element of truth running through the points I’ve made in this post.

As a person with a peculiar name and an aversion to bending a knee to titles, I watch in keen observation as society struggles with our out-dated naming conventions.

The Poppaty Prerogative

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Pictures of people, please and thank you.

“We are who, remembering when.”

Another person recently discovered the agony of finding out that the opportunity to take pictures with their departed friend has expired forever. He has only a few photos of his times with his friend. Because he’s not proud of his appearance, his ability to drop his guard and allow spontaneous capture of his image dwindled to insignificance. Even on the last trip they shared, no pictures document their overlapping joy. His memory still thrives, to be sure, but just as the recollection of a song cannot accurately measure the depth of beauty of hearing the melody, a memory pales alongside the vivid undeniability of a picture to amplify it. It explains why we can so spontaneously burst into tears or feel the literal swell of our heart when we see the presence of people who have mattered to us.

In the specific and linear moments of our lives, we easily overlook the magic and sublime nature of being alive. As time propels us, we look back and can’t help but to focus our eyes on the apparent wonder of what we didn’t appreciate when it was another backdrop in our present moment. It’s our curse. We find it impossible to perceive the zen essence of an otherwise dull moment.

As Andy from “The Office” said, “…I wish there was a way to know you’re in ‘the good old days’ before you’ve actually left them. Someone should write a song about that…”

The moments which tend to echo and call our name tend to be ordinary while we’re living them.

As people begin the ritual of finding new places to experience their lives, so many choose to photograph the static locales and places in their paths. In our data-filled lives, we have so many sources to find beautiful pictures of every single place on the globe. We can virtually drive down the streets of our favorite places without leaving the computer. We can take in the detail of any painting as it hangs on the gallery wall, no matter where that wall might be. There is both truth and beauty in such pictures. To those who say, “Aha! But those aren’t real,” I would point out that memories are only real to those who lived them. Pictures remain a testament for everyone.

We are, however, a world of people. We’ll remember places more for the moods they evoke. People grant us our identity, while places serve as our stage.

We are who, remembering when, imperfectly.

The Confetti Corruption

 

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“…life can be a handful of confetti. Or dirt…”
 
I see a version of this frequently on the internet. Until I see you put dirt on your cake, you need a better comparison. Not everything is a matter of perspective and comparing lives or circumstances is folly. You can clean your glasses fifteen times, change your attitude, or renew – but it won’t change the reality of your obstacles and challenges. Through is often the only route, one bitter clod of dirt at a time.
-The Confetti Corruption

Extrospectacle

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You trace the lines left by others, your own path superimposed on those of the people whose lives and inscrutable motivations might as well have been birthed on an alien planet. You might know them but not in the profound way that you wish were possible. Age confirms the suspicion that almost everyone navigates life by the seat of their ill-fitted pants and that no singular truth prevents you from missteps made a million times by our predecessors. And you wonder why the impolite and persistent dissatisfaction doesn’t abate, not entirely, and never when you’re alone with your thoughts.

‘Samesies’ Now Sanctioned For Diplomatic Use

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Enough time has passed for the word “samesies” to transition from light-hearted slang signifying agreement to an official word.

I’m not asking for your agreement.

I’m making the word official in the same way that every other English word has achieved acceptance: because someone says so, usually after a bunch of people insist on using it as a real world.

As President of the American Nuanced Unific Society (A.N.U.S., for short), my pronouncement carries real weight.

If ‘covfefe’ and ‘nambia’ can be used as words, I can’t imagine listening to any objections to “samesies,” which is both adorable and comprehensible to anyone hearing it. It’s vital that we incorporate words that the average older person might be able to interpret.

The next time someone orders something, instead of saying, “I’ll have that, too,” try saying, “Samesies!” Very soon, you’ll see world leaders at a conference table, signing some treaty or agreement, the kind that old people love signing. The Prime Minister will stand, somber face on display, and sign the parchment “samesies” – and everyone will applaud.

X’s Humor Relativity Perspective

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This post is going to hit you over the head. It’s personal and genuine. Weirdly enough, it’s about humor. If you read it to the end, the turn it takes will probably bother you, much like a Twilight Zone episode using electric shocks as language.

More than ever, I find myself in awe with people who appoint themselves as gatekeepers for humor and appropriateness. Personally, I can’t get my foot out of my mouth long enough to start gatekeeping other people’s humor.

Eventually, everyone’s sense of humor will land them in hot water with friends, in-laws, pastors, politicians, the Girl Scouts, and strangers. You can’t control another person’s reaction. My sense of humor is darker than average. It’s a claim I make from truth rather than an idle part of my story. If someone is not addressing me or a person specifically, I interpret it differently than I do other humor.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a new rule named “Hanlon’s Disposable Razor.” It preaches that we all stop assuming we know the intent of humor, especially if from someone who generally isn’t guilty of malicious behavior – and no actual harm results from it. The term ‘actual harm’ is subject to context, as is every single human experience, so don’t start quibbling over semantics or issues unaddressed by this post.

Since then, my social media filled with examples of people failing to realize that they can’t read the minds or hearts of others. “Well, that’s not funny!” seems to be taken as a blanket justification for anger in response to something that someone finds a bit uncomfortable. Adam Sandler’s last ten movies weren’t funny, either, but plenty of people disagree. “You can’t joke about some things,” is another typical gatekeeping statement. It’s rare that the person making such a statement has a smile on his or her face when they say it. Or matching socks, now that I think about it.

I’m not advocating that we run willy-nilly over people’s feelings under the guise of humor. Quite the opposite. Likewise, 7-8 billion people surround you, all with differing takes on life. It’s impossible to avoid all possible topics of contention. Elevating all humor to the level of spiteful is a fool’s errand. As you know, nincompoops are always employed.

Mother’s Day, April Fools’ Day pranks, Avengers spoilers (as if the movie wasn’t terrible enough), euthanasia, illness, falling and breaking one’s arm: all of these can be funny in the right context. They are not amusing to the people currently embroiled in any pain associated with the topics, however. Humor is universally told from the point of view of an imaginary third person. We don’t laugh or joke with the intent of hurting anyone. Not if we’re reasonable, I mean. If we accidentally say or do something without realizing that it’s causing specific pain, it’s not a reason to lash out in righteous anger. Mistakes are going to happen. Compounding the innocent error with anger serves no one.

On two occasions since I posted my new rule, people attacked me for not showing the required gravitas to an issue or for the sin of laughing at a horrible post even as I cringed that someone had posted it. I did what any reasonable person would do: I printed a picture of that person’s face, laminated it, and taped it to a urinal at the bus station. (That last comment was humorous. FYI.)

Now, I’m going to get personal and provide an example that will erase any doubt that all of us sometimes pull back from humor that we find to be misplaced. The difference is that I avoid objections to ‘third person’ humor, generalized humor, or humor that references shared experiences. I have to be personal because it’s not only the only way I know how to write but because it strikes directly to the point I’m making.

The humor we allow ourselves and in others is a direct measure of our depth and appreciation for our error-prone lives.

It is not the content per se that brings problems; instead, it is the motivation of the person creating the humor. Most people don’t require much study. We’re stupid more than we are malignant.

There’s a popular meme of a white cat near a woman lying dead on the floor. It’s comprised of three panels, each with the cat approaching the deceased woman, meowing for attention at her side, and finally, sitting on her hip. “Your cat’s reaction to finding you dead on the floor,” or something similar usually serves as title or footnote to the pictures.

There’s a problem with the meme if you look at it from the vantage point of unintended humor. What many people don’t know is that cats tend to stay near the body of their deceased owner, exactly as pictured in the meme. Many people have their own stories relating to this tendency.

As thick-skinned as I am, if you don’t know this about me, I was in the exact situation pictured. My wife died late one Sunday night, the night before Labor Day, years ago. She lay in another room for hours before I woke up for work. Our white cat, Quito, stayed with her for most of the night. I found him with her the next morning when I went into the kitchen.

Now, imagine the pain that came from that situation.

It’s such a specific scenario that it seems unlikely that it would ever be the subject of one particular meme.

However, it is.

It’s not a general observation or bit of humor: it describes precisely one of the most significant traumas I’ve experienced in my entire life.

The meme or ones similar to it come up on my social media and the internet with a higher frequency than you’d imagine. It’s not ever going to be likely that anyone posts such content with the intent of trying to barb me.

I could, of course, lash out at people, as if they are responsible for my biography. I could casually mention my past, which would needlessly traumatize the person sharing the meme as a joke.

Alternatively, I could get a sharp jab and then move along.

In general, take the short jab and then move along. Not always, of course, because sometimes people do misbehave and troll their fellow human beings with ill intent.

But not most of the time. Move along.

If I can overlook a cat meme accidentally mocking this substantial trauma in my life, you can overlook jokes about pregnancy on April Fools’ Day, funny anecdotes about cancer, or insensitive humor scattered throughout your social media.

It is not an invalidation of your perspective or feelings for others to joke at the heart or fringes of subjects which overlap with your life’s discomforts, losses, or challenges unless it’s done with malice aforethought or callousness. I hope you don’t have many people in your life that would subject you to such behavior.

I’d rather live in a world in which I sometimes cringe at humor than to reside in one devoid of the richness of human creativity and whimsy.

I ask that you strive to assume that my humor isn’t personalized or weaponized to offend, which is a favor I’ll reciprocate. If there’s doubt, we owe it to one another to further give the benefit of goodwill unless the preponderance of evidence tells us that someone is speaking or acting out of spite.

When someone lashes out at me for a badly-timed or placed joke, I’ll repay their impatience and impoliteness with a reminder that I probably have the upper hand in this argument.

Do unto others – and I certainly do. I welcome all humor, from tripping down the stairs to jokes that would cause many to burst out in tears.

P.S. If you heard 1/50th the nonsense that goes through my head or that I say in private, your head would explode indignantly. The truth is, though, that we both know that you undoubtedly have at least a portion of my dark bent in your own head. That overlap is what gives us hope.

Also, I’m in the picture on this post three different times.

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A Polite Lesson: Losing in 2020

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Donald Trump is likely to be elected again in 2020.

I’m not going to vote for him. Because I live in Arkansas, my vote is irrelevant.

I voted against him twice in 2016: once in the Republican primary and again in the general election. I’m not a Democrat, but I am a liberal. I did more than most liberals to try to stop Trump, as many Democrats took a detour to argue over Bernie and Hillary. I’ll be surprised if they avoid the same mistake this time. The best is indeed the enemy of the good and some voters can’t stop fixating on irrelevant differences.

“Any functioning adult” was already my candidate against Trump.

Most people don’t like Trump but many will vote for him again despite his critical flaws. They believe he’ll advance an economy or agenda that’s favorable to them. Liberals watch in awe as Evangelicals defend and embrace Trump. It’s obvious that most people know that Trump is no man of faith and probably doesn’t care about most of the issues. As a politician, however, he has outmaneuvered almost everyone at every step. Trump’s polling numbers aren’t great, to be sure, but the economy is in his corner. He’s like the crappy job we endure because it pays the bills. We talk about leaving, but everyone knows we’re full of it. The Evangelicals will eventually face the consequences of endorsing a candidate and person like Trump – but it won’t be anytime soon. Movements which start at the extreme implode. (Take note, Democrats.)

A great number of Americans can’t watch the news, can’t talk to their friends and neighbors, and cringe at the idea that Trump has any position of authority. Worse, a trend that I’ve called the Polite Politics Pandemic has infected the minds of most of his detractors. People avoid any mention of politics or life issues on their social media, their conversations, and in general. They mistakenly believe that doing so makes their lives more manageable.

They’re wrong.

Just as it has done in other democracies, silence creates a false impression among your circle that you are either afraid of your opinion and the consequences of expressing it, don’t care, or secretly endorse the things that cause your silence. Over time, we find ourselves watching the boulder tumble faster and faster downhill.

Silence, even politeness with a goal of civility, works in favor of Trump.

Whatever your opinion, it is equally obvious that most Americans will overlook Trump’s onerous flaws and endorse him again. Like the last election, many of those voters will be Democrats.

Trump changed the nature of the Republican party and politics in general. Such a person comes along once a generation. Those who are politely silent are counting on their fellow Americans to push him out. The 2016 election taught us that it’s a fool’s wish to expect others to do the expected thing. If you don’t stand up and stand out now, you’re part of the problem. If you can’t find it in yourself to opine now, during a once-in-a-generation aberration, you never will.

Liberals should note that many of their friends and neighbors who once proudly shouted their enthusiasm for Trump have grown silent. Trump’s continued onslaught of profane and outlandish antics has cooled their support. The moderate in most of us eventually finds us again. Expecting most of them to violate their interests and not vote for him again, however, is lunacy. They’ll turn out in the next election whether you do or not.

I’m guilty of confusing a vote for Trump as an endorsement for some of his cruel policies. I can’t separate his policies and his endorsement. Many voters can, though, and we’re going to need a better way to frame it.

Incumbency and a strong economy invariably favor the candidate for re-election. Arguing about whether he’s qualified or a good person misses the point; it’s irrelevant. Politics has lost its facade. Qualifications will now invariably yield to tribalism and charisma.

Trump does not hold the blame for exploiting the election system or for our system of governance which assumed that rationality and normalcy would be prevailing standards. Some have shouted and barked so often that it’s impossible to alarm the bystanders sufficiently to believe that there is a real problem. I’m not asking anyone to snarl and fight; rather, I’m asking that you start by reminding everyone, even those who only passively see your influence, that the Trump America isn’t one you like.

We can do it without screaming. Screaming won’t work, anyway. If a few people get angry at you for simply enumerating your objections to a Trump America, it’s likely that those people don’t align with you or your life, anyway. Good people don’t banish other good people from their lives for honest expression; they banish them in fear of having to confront their own insecurities.

So many put their hope in the Mueller Repor. The biggest problem was its lack of transparency and immediacy. Simply put, such things must be developed quickly and openly. Whether it’s supposed to work that way sidesteps the fact that our democracy no longer finds value in the laborious process of law. Democrats lost the fight and bystanders mostly think it’s because there wasn’t enough meat on the bone. The average voter dislikes corruption, but most expect politics and politicians to be a little dirty. We’re not going to find a smoking gun in the last election unless someone releases footage of Trump killing someone with his bare hands. Anything less is a distraction.

Policy is not going to sway the middle in the 2020 election. Immigration is not an issue that will work for Democrats. Forget decorum, forget the small annoyances of a particular candidate, and stop shouting. Unless a charismatic third-party candidate enters the race late, the only Democrat who could possibly beat Trump will be the one who is standing in the middle with just enough charisma and intellect to know better than to offend voters who are mostly otherwise detached from politics. Stop focusing on how it ought to be and instead focus on the system that we’re left with.

Trump won’t win by much. Thanks to the electoral college and the tribal nature of national races, he won’t have to. If your family and friends don’t know that you dislike Trump and won’t vote for him, let them know. Don’t try to aggressively change their minds. If your life isn’t a shining example, you’re not going to change anyone’s minds. People will only stop to think about you or your opinion if something about your opinion and life speaks to them in a way that Trump’s charisma cannot.

On a personal note, I learned a hard lesson from FiveThirtyEight in 2016. As the interference of the last election became apparent, I learned more lessons from Facebook and the power of social media, watching in wonder as we discovered that they had been used effectively to sway opinion. I worked hard to embrace the lessons. My vote is almost irrelevant compared to the reach of anonymous and effective opinion. I’ve used it, especially in the last year.

Even if we miraculously get a new president in the next election, we now know that chaos and entropy are the wolves which will always be at the door. Trump or his surrogate is inevitably planning his next move.

Stay silent if you will.

Barring a major disruption, Trump will be elected again in 2020.

Silence will cost you more than your reputation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feng Shui, Tableclothcovercloths, and Kondo-Kookiness

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One of the hacks I often see is a fitted sheet over a table to replace a tablecloth.

Note: a ‘hack’ is an ill-advised method to self-delude oneself into believing that you’ve saved yourself time. We’re all going to live to be 117, stuffed inside houses brimming with goofy and astounding assortments of knick-knacks and paddywhacks. First, though, we’ll need to watch 76 shows dedicated to the pursuit of efficient households, followed by 256 hours of Etsy and internet browsing.

Can I point out that a tablecloth itself is a waste? As are placemats – and the herpes of household annoyances, the drink coaster. If we build things to be used ‘as is’ and make them interesting to begin with, we wouldn’t need additional nonsense. I know what you’re thinking; not having them would dramatically reduce our available choices for holiday gifts. Aunt Bernice needs more redundant layers of protection in order to live a normal, mundane existence.

“I wish I had some more tablecloths and coasters” is not something a rational person ever needs to say, along the same lines as, “These wooden slippers are perfect,” or, if you live in Arkansas, “I think I’ll vote for a Democrat.”

I’m still considering inventing the tableclothcovercloth, which of course is a clothcover for the tablecloth, in order to prevent the first tablecloth from being soiled. Look for it soon at Target and Hoarder’s Paradise.

Instead of putting a fitted sheet over a table, use it to capture and bag the ‘lifestyle hacker’ who wants to put it on a perfectly good table. Drive to the nearest peak and toss him/her from the precipice.

Yell, “Use the tablecloth as a parachute!” as they plummet.

It’s important to be helpful.