Lighten the HELL UP! Combatting the Plague of Self-Importance
There is a lot of “stuff” going on in the world and many of us are hiding from our Facebook feeds. This is a scary blog to post (and is actually a repost) but I think maybe people need to hear what I am going to say…again.
LIGHTEN THE HELL UP!
It’s life and none of us are getting out alive.
This blog started when I ran across a post from Yahoo, Is America Starting to Target Thought Crime? In the past two years since I originally posted this, the emotions of our world have hit a boiling point. Remember that violence isn’t the only way to let off steam (though some unimaginative people seem to think it is). The other and preferable?
Too Dangerous to Laugh
First, a little bit of history. In the days when monarchies were all the rage, there was one very powerful position some might not be aware of…the court jester. Every ruler had at least one jester and the jester was allowed to mock, poke fun and joke about those in power without repercussions.
The role of the jester was to offer honesty and perspective. Monarchs knew that being surrounded by too many Yes Men who feared reprisal was unwise and dangerous. The jester’s job was to ground rulers and keep them from getting too full of themselves.
I’ve been blessed to travel more than most people ever will, and not all my destinations were nice places. One thing every police state has in common is that no one has a sense of humor. Even innocent comments can be twisted into something dangerous because one is in a world where everyone is jockeying for even the slightest wedge of importance, even when it means bending the truth. Those closest can become “whistle-blowers” against crimes imagined or real. Hmmm, sounds familiar.
Public Pool Politics
Sadly, I’ve been at the other end of this. I love to laugh and relish in making others smile. Put me in a room and I’ll have them in stitches in less than five minutes. My teaching style has been compared to “If Robin Williams had taught writing.” When I was a kid I studied every comedic act down to the timing and tone of voice.
In 1999 I traveled with my best friend to live in a Palestinian refugee camp. Since my Arabic was less than stellar, it was tough. Syria, like all places, has its beauty. I loved the food and people and believed I’d made some friends.
One day, my guides took me to enjoy some recreation at the women’s pool where the hijab can be set aside to splash around and let loose. Being the only blonde many of these women had ever seen off a television, I was soon surrounded by eager friendly faces asking questions about my home, wanting to know about Texas and if I had a job.
In my broken Arabic I made jokes and got them to laugh. We parted ways and I was happy as a clam. The next day, my hosts warned me that it was too dangerous to return to the pool and to stay away. Apparently, one of the women had spread through the camp that I was talking smack about Assad Sr. (the ruling dictator of the time).
I’d never even mentioned Assad. Yes, I was a naive Westerner but I wasn’t THAT stupid. My last weeks there were pretty scary and I’ve never been so relieved to be on a plane.
One pivotal lesson I took away from this experience is this:
A nation is only as free as its sense of humor.
When innocent remarks, observations or disagreements can be used against us? This is a MAJOR warning we are no longer in a free country. When certain groups are immune from criticism, jest or commentary? Houston, we have a problem.
The PC and EC Divide
I know the original purpose of political correctness was well-intended. I’m sure EC (empathetic correctness) has good intentions as well. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I was a child of the 70s and 80s and often think it was a really golden time to grow up. My best friend from the age of six was an Egyptian Muslim (and we are still friends almost thirty years later).
Our neighborhood gang consisted of Charo (Mexican), Ngyuen (Vietnamese), and Regina (African American), Veenah (Indian), Cathy (Jewish), Elizabeth (Mexican), and Erica (Choctaw)…and none of us were aware of that.
We were friends who karate fought in the yard because Ngyuen was Asian and so he was supposed to be a Kung Fu master, right? Veenah helped with science and Charo taught us soccer, because Indians were smart and Mexicans were good at soccer.
Regina made us laugh because she was black and loud and fun and could Double Dutch so well we were sure she was a cyborg. Erica could decorate our hair with feathers and we could play Navy SEAL Indian Princess. Cathy declined to join us for Vacation Bible School because she was going to Jewish Camp (and we never understood why we couldn’t go to Jewish camp because the Jewish pool was AWESOME).
And all of this is racist and utterly politically incorrect.
We never knew we might offend Charo by asking him to teach us to bounce a soccer ball on our knee. We never realized how we might damage Ngyuen by assuming he’d trained in a Shaolin temple and that we didn’t even have the right country.
I didn’t know I should have been ashamed to play Indian Princess with Erica or that I might hurt Regina by offering to share my slice of summer watermelon. I should have been aware that I might harm Veenah by asking for her help with my science project. In high school, perhaps I shouldn’t have asked my best friend and date to the Senior Prom, Donnie (gay), for fashion advice.
I was blissfully uneducated about how offensive I was.
We just loved each other, grew up loving each other and still love each other. Gihan (my Muslim friend) and I are still good friends and have been since 1981 (when Kristen had no Gaydar and was in love with George Michael *sighs*).
I still talk with Charo on FB and meet ever so often for dinner with other members of our gang. Erica invites me to birthday parties for her children. I was Ngyuen’s prom date when I was a junior and we only lost touch when he joined the Marines. I still go by his father’s house when I’m in the area even though his English hasn’t really improved since 1983…but he still loves me. Donnie and I talk long into the night when he isn’t exploring the world.
Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, Loyal, Friendly, Resilient MUTT
We grew up in an America of Mutts. I’m not saying that everything was roses and unicorn kisses, but we were American and America was stronger because we could blend all these cultures and races together. Children had this strange appreciation that we all bled the same color when we fell off the monkey bars. We cared less about the color of your skin and more about the color of your bike. They have BLUE????
We could tell the difference between a joke in love and someone being a racist bigot and Lord help the kid who crossed that line.
We were kids who wanted to roller-skate and who constructed ramps, guns, and swords out of every discarded piece of wood. In the glow of a streetlight everyone was pretty much the same color.
Bullfrogs ran from all of us.
No One’s Laughing Anymore
These days, I find myself less prone to joke or make conversation with others of a different ethnicity or culture because, bluntly, it’s exhausting and I always seem to screw it up. I find myself hedging everything I say, backpedaling, and struggling to remember my proper and approved PC vocabulary.
I once was trying to be polite when I referred to someone as Hispanic…only to be razed for the next half hour how this person was from Argentina and NOT Hispanic and I was a jerk for not knowing this. I referred to someone as African American only to get my tail handed to me that this person was from Jamaica and didn’t like that term and it figured a white girl would be so insensitive.
If someone is mixed race? *breaks down weeping*
When others make comments about me being a racist simply because I’m white and I point out that I actually have probably the most diverse group of friends anyone could ask for…well that’s precisely what a racist would say: “I have black friends.” But *stammering* I do have black, I mean African American I mean…oh, hell I give up.
This Affects ALL of U.S.
This isn’t a phenomena exclusive to “white people,” either. I remember my husband coming home from work distraught. He worked in Corporate America at the time. One of his team members was Mexican (as in her parents immigrated from Mexico and happily embraced the American Dream). Well, on Cinco de Mayo a fellow employee (also Mexican) asked her if she was going out to celebrate with “her people.” She gave him a genuinely confused look and said, “Huh? My people? I’m American.”
The next day she was being written up by Human Resources for being culturally insensitive. Her coworker found her offensive and turned her in. My husband was having to write out her defense. A MEXICAN female was in trouble for not being Mexican enough?
How does this make any SENSE?
The real crisis in the country is we are laughing less and less. Everyone is special and fragile and needs to be handled with care. PC was to make us more sensitive and BOY did it work. Our nation has the skin of a grape. Self-importance is taking over like a malignant cancer. We walk on eggshells to avoid “offending” someone. We no longer can make mistakes. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
For anyone reading this who is a “person of color” please try and talk to a “white” person. They probably aren’t a racist, they’re simply terrified they’ll say something stupid. And then being terrified we will say something stupid…we say something stupid.
So if we do say something stupid, just forgive us.
I AM the Reason for Many Blonde Jokes
As much as I read about theoretical physics, math, politics, economics, I can be…well, an idiot. I drove my Honda for three years and all the while heard this weird whistling that I couldn’t get rid of. One night, I’m in a drive thru line and accidentally hit a button near the steering wheel and discovered my car had a sunroof *head desk*.
I once accidentally drove to MISSOURI.
Kill me now and keep me from breeding.
Just leaving all of this to say we need to laugh more. Because, come on, white people…THIS IS FUNNY!
I mean *sniffs* we do love cheese, but insensitive MUCH? 😛
The world is amazing and fun but we have got to lighten UP. Yes, seek out legitimate injustice and crush it. I’ll be behind you a thousand percent.
But in the meantime….
Maybe we should all go outside and catch lightning bugs and make the longest Slip-And-Slide EVER. I get my lawn bags from Costco, so maybe we could make it reach DC ;).
I love all of you and thank you so much for blessing me with your thoughts and stories. I am a better person every day because of you. And know I was scared to write about this and that should speak volumes in itself.
But, I miss just being a kid. I don’t want to be an adult anymore.
If anyone reading this is an Ecuadorian Hassidic Jew, can we be friends? I don’t have an Ecuadorian Hassidic Jewish friend. Yes, you can dress me up but you can’t take me anywhere 😀 .
What are your thoughts? I love hearing from you, unless you have no sense of humor. Then might I recommend posting on AT&Ts Facebook page…
What are you? I’m a Scandinavian-Scottish-French-Huegenot-Sami-Cherokee. ADD THAT to your diversity portfolio!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of JUNE, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
May’s winner will be announced next time 😀 . I know I said this time but life happens and I am a writer and we lie.
All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.
Again, I am trying something new and offering an open and interactive workshop. Is your first page strong enough to withstand the fire?
June 16th, 7-9 EST. Cost $25
This is an interactive experience similar to a gong show. We will upload the first page and I will “gong” when I would have stopped reading and explain why. We will explore what each writer has done right or even wrong or how the page could be better. This workshop is two hours long and limited seats available so get your spot as soon as you can!
June 17th, 7-9 EST. Cost is $35
Just because we made As in high school or college English does not instantly qualify us to be great novelists. Writing a work that can span anywhere from 60,000 to 120,000+ words requires training. This class is for the person who is either considering writing a novel or who has written a novel(s) and is struggling.
We will cover the essentials of genre, plot, character, dialogue and prose. This class will provide you with the tools necessary to write lean and clean and keep revisions to a minimum.
Character & Plotting (NEW CLASS!)
June 24th, 2015 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST. Cost is $35
All great plots are birthed from character. The core plot problem should be the crucible that eventually reveals a hero in Act III. This means that characterization and plot are inextricably linked. Weak plot, weak character. Blasé character, blasé plot.
This class will teach you how to create dimensional characters and then how to plot from inner demons and flaws. Get inside the heads and hearts of your characters in a way that drives and tightens dramatic tension.
This is an excellent class for anyone who wants to learn how to plot faster and to add layers to their characters.
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.