Be Like Me

No, actually. I think you should be like you, more than you should be like me.

Ever realize, when people talk to you, they would rather be talking to themselves? Whether they are smarter than me or less so, the dominant standard for ‘shouldness’ is that I should adapt to how they see the world.


I don’t want to. I like the way I see things. I think everyone’s life would be better if they saw the world like me. Don’t you agree?

Or would it? If we all see things exactly the same, aren’t some of us redundant?

I have known some seriously smart people in my life. Their ability to grasp concepts in a moment that I must struggle with, is humbling. Yet some of those ‘geniuses’ spend their lives barely keeping menial jobs.

Not that productivity is the standard for a person’s worth.

Some people are smart but barely able to function on a daily basis. So is what makes them so smart, the ability to get others to tie their shoes for them? Thanks but no thanks.

The standard is also not the ability to talk circles around another. That soon becomes a form of circus act. The entertainment value of talking down to those less gifted is quickly depleted.

When teaching Special Education students in Middle School, I learned the greatest barrier to their learning was learned helplessness. They were convinced they couldn’t learn. Yet they learned that it was easier not to try, than to try and fail.

However, incremental failing is how most of us learn.

Give these kids a video game and most of them could beat me at it. But they considered themselves stupid because ‘anyone can play video games’. Anyone but their teacher.

A huge part of the problem is the medium in which most of us communicate – words, and the concrete value many of us place on abstract concepts.

For instance, can you grasp ‘smart’? Or ‘not smart’? How do they feel? Which one has more heft? Is a person bright because they have been enlightened?

So many words are metaphors of metaphors that if looked at too closely, a word’s meaning simply evaporates from too intense a gaze. Words are useful tools but don’t try to fix a car with one.

For all their subtle beauty, words seem to hold us back more often than not. As the avalanche of words grows, actual communication diminishes. I sometimes wonder how communication takes place at all.

Can one truly understand anyone else? Some speakers remind me of sleepwalkers groping blindly with phantom dreams. Who cares about transmitting information? Is there an app for that?

People used to worship objects. More and more, they idolize the words representing those objects. The word is not the thing.

The notes on the page of sheet music are not the music we hear, but are actually coarse symbols of that which cannot be contained or described. And there is a quality in the playing that cannot be noted. Only enjoyed.

Words, like musical notes, can only point to the glowing, ineffable variety that abounds before us .

I half suspect the animal kingdom, sensing how effectively words distance us from direct experience, abandoned words to us, less advanced humans. Animals seem to get along pretty well without our self-proclaimed ‘higher reasoning abilities’. If they spoke to us, I suspect they would tell us to stop meddling.

We humans are so good at making distinctions that we fail to embrace the whole. Then time and again we end up with the proverbial, dissected frog and deny that it could ever have jumped.

After all, who directs a flock of birds in their spontaneous, wheeling arpeggio of flight? Let me see the memo.

Our generation, so adoring of its own incessant verbiage, forgot the concept of ‘less is more’.

During WWII, my future father-in-law, wrote his bride daily while stationed in Europe. Knowing his letters would be read by others, he used encoded messages, within his text, to keep her informed of his whereabouts. Both efficient and effective, he layered his words with multiple meanings.

If economy of expression is a mark of this elusive intelligence, I accept that this long essay disqualifies me.

Nowadays, our so called ‘social media’ leaches the ‘social’ from our lives. As the output of words increases, meaning is diminished proportionately. And personal distance is also increased.

One small advance, Twitter, restricts the length of our innumerable empty declarations to 140 characters. Huzzah!

Emoticons, our new hieroglyphic mode of expression, confound me. My attempts look more like the curse words found in the comic strips than the coy expression I intended. #(:-!%!

Texting allows us to transform what would be a ten second verbal exchange into a multi-layered series of confusions, misfires and murk. Add ‘auto-correct’ to that and we are one, tipped domino away from the collapse of Western civilization.

Ultimately, it isn’t the word count, but the meaning and emotion evoked that counts.

Words can wound or open our eyes to the sublime. Who would think mere vibrations in space, something as pliable as words, could pierce a heart so deeply? Please explain exactly how that works (in 25 words, or less).

In college I had the opportunity to attend two concerts by the musical genius/trickster, John Cage. His most famous work 4’33” consists of a single musician or group, not playing their instruments for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The ‘piece’ (such as it is) consists of the ambient sounds made by the audience, but any ‘musical’ sound is forbidden.

I never had the pleasure of witnessing a performance of 4’33”. (I just discovered there is an app allowing me to ‘play’ this piece by myself! Some might consider that self abuse.)

The first concert consisted of selections of Henry Thoreau’s writing, cut up into words and phrases and reassembled randomly to be read aloud. This reduced the words to mere sounds and sapped any coherent meaning from them. It was a real toe tapper.

Then, I saw a concert of a pianist playing Cage’s ‘Star Maps’ (the score was created by superimposing star maps on a musical scale), which was stark and coldly beautiful.

After the ‘Star Map’ concert, Cage accepted questions from the audience. After answering several cerebral questions from people ‘in on the game’, Cage called upon me.

Attempting to add to the absurdity, I asked him, why don’t avant-garde composers write music that is ‘happy’?

Pressed for clarification I added, if all sound can be considered ‘music’, why not write music that evokes positive emotions rather than leaving one feeling alienated and depressed? (Whatever that means…)

He mumbled something about his belief that such music is ‘happy’. That he closed the questioning down at that point, surprised me. Many in the audience were audibly disgusted at my jejune question.

My understanding was, the whole enterprise was a playful exploration of how our minds attach meaning to random sounds. Yet my question was treated as too insipid to be considered. Considering the context, why was my ‘meaningless’ question worth less than anyone else’s?

How could one silly question so easily puncture the hot air balloon of their elevated discourse?

2 thoughts on “Be Like Me

  1. I just posted my response. From: Storyography To: Sent: Friday, December 4, 2015 10:46 AM Subject: [New post] Be Like Me #yiv6080738670 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv6080738670 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv6080738670 a.yiv6080738670primaryactionlink:link, #yiv6080738670 a.yiv6080738670primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv6080738670 a.yiv6080738670primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv6080738670 a.yiv6080738670primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv6080738670 | Storyography posted: “No, actually. I think you should be like you, more than you should be like me.Ever realize, when people talk to you, they would rather be talking to themselves? Whether they are smarter than me or less so, the dominant standard for ‘shouldness’ is that ” | |


  2. Ahhhhhh … the power of words. To define. To communicate. To avoid communication. To inspire laughter, tears. To thrill. To terrify. To open or to close minds and hearts. As ever, you capture your subject with subtlety, humor and deep wisdom. Thought-provoking and so much fun all at the same time. That is your unique stamp. I love this one. But, then, I love all of them.


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