[lit-ideas] Hereabouts

  • From: David Ritchie <profdritchie@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 14 Jun 2015 13:17:53 -0700

"So what?" At one time in my youth this was a challenge to authority. "Yes,"
these two words said, "I've listened to you and I've absorbed (though not
necessarily agreed with) everything you've told me about how the world is
structured. So now, when you make a claim that seems somehow hollow or false,
I am inviting you to elaborate, to show me where in your scheme these words

Either that, or we were just venting anger.

Our kids never used this particular retort. I can't remember if they ever
used, "You're not the boss of me," but those who did indicated a complete
change of mind when it comes to sass. No longer were the Future accepting a
fundamental premise that authority has it more or less right and that the
problem lies not in fate and stars and all that guff, but reason and reasoning.
We were the Enlightenment kids; these new ones, who say, "You're not the boss
of me," believe in outcomes and managerial structure. It's a misunderstanding
in re. who reports to whom.

And now what? I listened carefully at the library the other day. A father was
disciplining his high-voiced boy because the child was being slow and overly
deliberate about which free sticker to choose as a reward for checking a book
out. "This is unacceptable," said the Dad, which was both a mouthful and an
earful. I could tell the man hadn't conjured this wording out of thin air,
that it was his standard mode of address, up with current fashion. The kid was
fluent in this lingo and so set about exploring the possibility of finding
common ground. Might he take more than one sticker? Are superheroes and
animals equally valued out there in the world of commerce and adults? What
would be the consequence of choosing a green one over a red one? Could the Dad
be more clear about what constituted a deal-breaker? Might there be some kind
of kickback included with the agreed settlement?

It was the Dad who got angry, "That's not appropriate." A part of me wanted
the kid to come back with, "So what?"

On the first night of the play a good number of British friends showed, some of
whom had never been to Readers Theatre. There are two forms of readers
theatre. In one, actors deliver more or less a radio show, sometimes with the
stage directions read out loud, to aid imagination. In the form I'm more
familiar with, the actors move about the stage as they would in any other
version of the play. It's just that they have scripts in their hands while
they act. At our performance on Friday evening, my friend from Brighton was
his usual enthusiastic self, offering to sign on as my literary agent and
suggesting our ticket prices were shocking...ly low. Afterwards he said that
when the actors came on with scripts in hand he thought, "David will be
furious; they haven't learned their lines!" Within five minutes, he said, he
forgot about the scripts and really got into the play. "They're good!" he said
gesturing towards the cast. I didn't say, "Don't sound so astonished."

Before the first performance, to settle nerves I went out to enjoy the light on
the trees. The chickens gathered round. Instead of demanding food, they coo'd
quietly and wandered to and fro, within throwing distance should bread be on
the menu, but respectfully, like people at a funeral reception wondering
whether there might be whisky coming. I rewarded them with pineapple carcass,
which only Cheddar ate.

On both nights everything on-stage went well. Off-stage, one of the actors had
a medical emergency and there was a chance I might have to step in and say the
lines. Ah, life's little thrills.

A game some of us play is imagining what the world would be if all the evidence
we had was ads. In the front section of the "New York Times," women are of
course slender and wander around in their underwear. Far more strange, one
might argue, is an implied obsession that men have with telling time; today's
paper has nine ads for men's watches. But I hate not knowing what time it is;
I have clocks in most rooms. And, unlike my students, I own a watch. Cost me
thirty bucks. Strap's real leather.

This week's lesson is that sabotage means to kick things in with your French
clogs or sabots. Now you know.

David Ritchie,
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