Thursday, February 26, 2015

Living in the Shadows

I see a lot of beauty in the darkness. Evening feels close and deep. Literature feeds on tragedy. Humor fawns on dark linings.

I say to my students, “You don’t get to be bored by someone else’s tragedy.” I think I can add, “You don’t get to look away.”

I’ve had a lot of sweet teenagers in my classes who look at me with great sad eyes and ask me why we can’t read stories with happy endings. Because, young ones, would we care?

There are certainly great stories that end in marriage (Thank you, Shakespeare) and freed slaves (Thank you, Twain), but even then there are great, unhappy questions: What happens to Jacques? Is Tom really free?

There’s a damaging side effect, of course—I’m sarcastic, cynical, critical. Sometimes I’ll be witness to others’ inspiration, some words that are the kind of catchy that’s quotable and immediately indexed on cat posters. My eyes arch and roll right over the crowd. I sometimes wish I could be easily inspired, rather than playing Negative Nancy.

I’ve learned when to veil it, but it changes my sarcasm sensor. For my job I have to play nice often enough, and sometimes I have my super genuine, be receptive and interested in everything, and I mean, EVERYTHING someone has to say all day long. And then I’ll suddenly be too na├»ve to hear a sarcastic comment when it smacks me in the face.

This week I was almost getting cavities from all the nice I had to play for the last three days. At one point someone said to me, “I’ve got a personal chef.” I said, “Oh really?” She said, “Yes, he works at Zippy’s.”

My brain couldn’t take it in. I immediately said, “Whoa, that’s cool” in my most earnest voice. I got the whole table to laugh at me before I realized my idiocy. When I’m playing extra nice with my class, I get lax on the grading. When I turn off my critical sensor I end up watching dumb shows.

So am I going to be smart and mean or sweet and dopey? Mr. Hyde is probably plotting the good doctor’s demise. 

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