Did you know that in some societies it’s considered impolite to ask someone what they do for a living: it’s looked on as a backdoor way of asking how much money they make or of sussing out their social status. Rude! But here in the US, “What do you do?” is a perfectly acceptable question, as harmless and as common as “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “Paper or plastic?”
“So, what do you do?” You probably get asked that question all the time.
And for most people the response is pretty straightforward. “I’m a teacher.” “I sell cars.” “I’m in retail.” “I own my own business.”
But I always dreaded the question. Especially when it came up in conversation with my husband’s colleagues or business associates, all of whom were accomplished professionals with equally-accomplished spouses. Because my response to their simple question was never well-received.
[January 29, 2020: While watching the sham of an Impeachment Trial today, I was reminded of this post which I originally wrote in 2016, shortly after the election. Sadly, I realized that we are now living in my nightmare scenario.]
I’ve been told that a good way to help with anxiety is to identify in detail the thing you are most concerned will happen. This is the Worst-Case Scenario approach, and the theory is that sometimes specifically identifying what we fear can help us realize that our anxiety may be unfounded. So I challenged myself to name the thing that I am most afraid of regarding a Trump Presidency.
I get a knot in the pit of my stomach when I listen to the current occupant of the White House. The rambling incoherence is bad enough, but I really get dispirited from the taunting and the belittling and the name calling. And from the way his loyal followers and trusted advisers stand behind him and give him encouragement. It’s so ugly. So familiar. It evokes such visceral images of high school that I can practically feel the acne erupting.
If you mentally superimpose an image of a school cafeteria behind him when he speaks, Trump’s behavior becomes crystal clear: The school bully, emboldened by his minions standing behind him. They snigger when he mocks the kid with the disability. The pretty girlfriend at his side smiles her bloodless smile when he calls the smart girl names. They all laugh when he cracks a joke at someone else’s expense. They whoop and encourage him.
Around them, the other kids stand uncomfortably, looking down at their shoes, not wanting to say anything, because then the attacks will surely be turned on them. Better to stay quiet and safe. Out of the line of fire.
The bully isn’t the popular kid. No one actually likes him. But there will always be those kids who are broken enough inside that they’re willing to latch onto him. Sad, lonely, unhappy people who find a sense of belonging with other sad, lonely, unhappy people. They like the security that comes from being part of his crowd. And the bully draws his power from the ugliness that they feed back to him, like some perverse super-villain. Without them, his power would vanish.
This year I’m participating in the Shakespeare 2020 Project, wherein members are challenged to read Shakespeare’s entire canon in one year. All 37 plays, 154 sonnets, plus poems, books and even a few things that he may not have actually written. So far, it’s going pretty well, but it’s early days yet.
Part of the fun of this experience (adventure?) (boondoggle?) is the distraction of discovering so many Shakespeare-related resources, recordings, productions, quotes, household products, t-shirts, and of course memes.
One quote in particular has stuck with me:
Isn’t that the truth.
In fact, when I mentioned to one of my friends that I would be spending (wasting?) (investing?) my entire year reading Shakespeare and that she might want to join me, she answered with an emphatic no! and went on to explain that she had been forced to study Shakespeare in high school and that it was such a bad experience — and it had made her feel like such a failure — that she has not and will never read anything he’d written ever again. Certainly, it’s fair to say, no love of literature was created there.
I’m not a natural born story teller. I wish I was. I envy people who can take an ordinary event and spin it into a hilarious or dramatic tale.
But I can’t do that.
The world I see is more like an ever-unfolding documentary than a blockbuster movie: I mentally record events as unadorned facts, so when I re-tell them it’s generally without the color that might make them even mildly entertaining anecdotes. As you can imagine, I’m not the life of the party.
The concept of judgment has been on my mind a lot lately. Why are people so reluctant to judge? Why do we assume that we shouldn’t be judged by others? Why do we condemn people who judge? And why do we reject our responsibility to examine the words and actions of our elected leaders and to form opinions about their character?
Coincidentally, judging came up just yesterday in a conversation with my friend “Cynthia.” Cynthia supports the president (yes, it is still possible to have friends on the other side of the political spectrum), and our conversation was in the context of his idiotic rambling speech about wind. She defended him, once again — this time by saying that not everyone has the gift of oration and after all, aren’t we all misunderstood from time to time? She went on to say that in spite of all she’s seen and heard from him, she didn’t and couldn’t know what’s in his mind or in his heart. And then: “Who am I to judge?“