Something/Anything… Else!

Hello, it’s me.

The two devices that store and play most of my music are my phone and my car’s sound system. I have both set to play random selections from my entire collection. Lately, for some unknown reason, they’ve both played a lot of songs by Todd Rundgren. (Pretty much everything I listen to is over 40 years old.) I have no problem with this. I don’t think I’m alone in the opinion that Mr. Rundgren is a musical genius. The (brilliant) LP “Something/Anything” is the one that keeps getting played. Which got me to thinking…

I’d like to talk about something/anything other than Covid-19!*

I can’t be the only one who feels this way, yet it’s still all anyone talks about. Including me! Maybe it’s because we can’t think of anything else to talk about. There aren’t that many subjects we cover in most conversations anyway.

Many of those are off limits.

Religion and politics are taboo in the best of times. Now that they’ve merged into an unholy alliance, they’re even less appealing. Besides, the maniacal moron now occupying the White House part time is a one-man pandemic and just as tiresome a topic.

Others are just plain dull.

The weather is a popular, if tedious, conversational crutch. Let’s skip that one, too, for the cliche it is. Your latest purchase or home renovation? Equally banal. And equally unedifying. And maybe just a wee bit vain.

Hey, we can always rely on sports to prompt a lively discussion or argument. How ’bout that? Oh, yeah. There are no sports happening because of the… well, you know.

So what’s left?

One of my favorite fonts of conversational fodder is movies. Most people have a good stockpile of movie experiences and opinions. The same goes for books and TV shows. Those talks can also lead to deeper exchanges. Such as…

One another. Tell me about you. No, not what you own or what you’ve accomplished. You. As the equally brilliant Michael Omartian once sang:

I don’t want to hear about your conquests,
Or your casual affairs.
Each one a great new story…
But who cares.

I want to know about your feelings,
Or the ache in your heart,
The thoughts that make you what you are,
That set you apart.

‘Cause maybe I’ve had them, too.

We avoid those sensitive topics, not wishing to make ourselves vulnerable, but is anything more important? Granted, this is not the stuff of light banter among casual acquaintances. In those cases, the weather will suffice. When sharing with someone closer, though, coronavirus is as sterile a subject as any. Why not go deeper?

For example, let’s talk about God. (That’s different than religion.) The way we conceive of Him might determine what’s inside us better than any other question. As A. W. Tozer once put it:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

What are your dreams, hopes, and plans? What are your fears, failures, and disappointments? Now we’re getting somewhere. Drop that stuff on me and we both might benefit. You get to share your burden and I could find a kindred spirit.

Or we could fall back on R.E.M.’s advice**:

Should we talk about the weather?
Should we talk about the government?

Sure. Something/Anything but Covid-19.

* I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic, but it shouldn’t be all-consuming. To obsess over it is as dangerous to our mental health as the virus is to our physical bodies.

** I’m of the opinion that a post can’t have too many references to quality music.

HTML for real life

When the technical and business worlds collide with real life, the results can be entertaining and instructive, giving insights into both. A couple of very clever guys, Tripp and Tyler, have leveraged this intersection to create (at least) two hysterical videos: A Conference Call in Real Life and Email in Real Life.

Why not push this into other areas? Back in the day when I was a software engineer, I dabbled in HTML. (Just enough to get myself in trouble.) In its simplest form, HTML involves a directive, i.e. an HTML command, that applies to all following text until an end marker, in the form of a slash and the same command, is encountered. For example, I can put text in italics by using the following syntax:

<i>This is in italics.</i>

…would appear on the screen as:

This is in italics.

It’s time to incorporate basic HTML notation in real life. That way, we can tell how to treat certain language and behaviors. Not only would this make intentions obvious to everyone, thus allowing us all to be prepared for what’s coming, it would be a boon for those of us who have trouble picking up both verbal and non-verbal cues.

Here’s a sampling of ideas that would improve our quality of life immediately, were they to be implemented across the board:

  • <whine>They don’t make good movies anymore.</whine>
  • <sarcasm>Oh, yeah, that’s a great idea.</sarcasm>
  • <throwaway>I’m fine. How are you?</throwaway>
  • <lie>No one respects women more than me.</lie> (In reality, no need for an end marker for this guy.)
  • <defensive>As a matter of fact, yes, I am a vegan.</defensive>
  • <flirt>Here, let me fix that strap for you.</flirt>
  • <insult>Your words are like water to a drowning man.</insult>
  • <braindamaged>I have a gun in my house to keep my family safe.</braindamaged>
  • <gossip>It was probably someone else with that woman, but it sure looked like Jim.</gossip>
  • <delusional>Steven Spielberg said he’d read my screenplay.</delusional>
  • <selfpromotion>I wouldn’t say so myself, but some people call me a genius.</selfpromotion>
  • <insincere>Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.</insincere>

You get the idea. Wouldn’t discourse be easier to follow if this notation were used? Which syntax would you like to see implemented?

Boring conversational topics

boringA writer should be a student of conversation. Paying close attention to a variety of verbal exchanges helps us compose quality dialog. A sparkling conversation educates not only writers but all who are involved. A dead conversation simply put its participants to sleep. You wouldn’t put boring lines in your book/movie/story/poem. It’s a good idea to leave them out of real life, too.

Here’s a sampling of topics that cause my head to sag, my shoulders to slump, and my eyes to glaze over.

  1. Pretty much anything about the weather is conversational poison, especially when it regards any forecast more than 24 hours into the future. You might as well discuss possible lottery outcomes. Even worse, talking about how often weather forecasts are wrong… which I think I just did.
  2. Any reference to the supposed fact that Saturday Night Live isn’t funny any more is so much fertilizer. It seems as if everyone has their favorite SNL era. Anything before or after that must be lousy. It’s just a matter of taste and timing.
  3. Please don’t tell me how expensive things are now compared to when you were young, unless you’re prepared to discuss said costs in conjunction with average salaries for the given time period.
  4. So they don’t make good, family movies anymore, right? Well, yes and no. There are actually plenty of family movies. It’s just that, for the most part, no one goes to see them. They’re out there, but they tend to get lost in the shuffle of remakes of reboots of sequels made about comic books or candy bars. When I hear this comment, I like to ask the gripers when the last time was that they went to the theater to support those family movies. That usually leads to a series of grunts and shrugs, mercifully ending a boring exchange. (On the other hand, you can have an interesting discussion about why so many R-rated movies have been made when PG and PG-13 movies have historically earned more at the box office.)
  5. Any description of one’s dreams should be banned by law. I’d prefer a root canal without any painkiller.
  6. The workplace is rife with dull comments, such as, “Working hard or hardly working?” The worst of all is when a person walks into an office and finds someone other than its usual occupant. The typical inane reaction is to say something in the vein of, “Wow, you’ve changed!” This is especially painful when the person in the office is of a different gender than its normal resident. Please refrain.

This next one happened to me recently. It’s probably the reason for the post. At a funeral or other such somber event, it’s almost required that we say to one another, “It’s so great to see you. Too bad it’s under such sad circumstances.”

You say it, I say it. The question is, do I mean it? If it’s that great to see you, why don’t I call you or visit you under better circumstances, such as, say, out of a desire to see you?

I guess that brings me to a meta-observation on bad conversational topics. Maybe anything that is insincere or untrue doesn’t belong in a conversation between people who are anything more than casual acquaintances. Save the subtext for the novels and screenplays.

Which reminds me of a dream I once had… scream