On New Years’ Eve, in the last minutes of 2015, I decided to make 2016 the year of not correcting people over stupid crap that, in the end, doesn’t matter at all. The idea from this came from a friend’s Facebook post that she was going to do that same thing, and the notion sounded interesting, but of course I didn’t see a way to apply it directly to my own behavior until Christmas dinner, 2015.
One of my guests, who knows why??, brought up the birth of Christ, and was talking about when it was, why we use the B.C. and A.D. designations for the years before and after his life. “So if B.C. means ‘before Christ,'” another said, attempting to add to the conversation. “Then A.D. would mean ‘after death.'”
“NO!” two people at the table exclaimed, leaning away from the table, roiling in their own smugness. “That’s not what it means,” one said. “Yeah, it’s not,” the other said. “Lots of people THINK that’s what it means but that’s not what it means.”
“Oh. Okay,” the person who had made the incorrect assumption about the abbreviation said, crestfallen. “What does it mean?”
The two naysayers blinked stupidly. There was a really long pause. “I’m not sure what it means,” one of them finally said. “But it doesn’t mean that.”
Ah. Okay then.
It was a moment that made me feel so stupid, so belittled, merely for not knowing something that nobody else at the table knew, either. Nobody reached for their phones because the whole exchange felt so tense, we all just wanted it to be over. It was a no-win situation, and how could it be otherwise when there’s someone at the table saying NO YOU’RE WRONG BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S RIGHT.
In a lot of ways, I feel like that Christmas Day conversation of 2015 set the tone for 2016. I was trying really hard not to tell people they were just wrong because I said so, when they recited incorrect tidbits about the dates of TV shows, the names of characters, worshiped Joe Biden as if he never did anything wrong or weird, you know–people stuff.
Last week, I went to a dinner where I only barely knew one of the people at the table, and ended up sitting across from a woman I’ve never met, and next to a woman I’ve met once, at my wedding. Her first question to me was: how was married life? Meh, fine, I guess, pretty much like unmarried life, except that now people ask me that question all the time.
The lady across from me tossed her white-blonde mane over her bare shoulders, she was wearing one of those peasant shirts that were in when I was a kid on the cusp of junior high, the kind that bunch around your shoulders and have two baggy pirate sleeves, so it looks like you’ve tied a striped fabric sack around yourself. I had one when I was in fifth grade, but I wasn’t allowed to wear it that way. My mom made me pull the off-the-shoulder parts over my shoulders and look like A TOTAL FUCKING IDIOT AT BRITTNEY’S POOL PARTY but I digress.
So Stripey Pirate smiled and nodded and tilted her head and tossed her pony hair and then both women giddily explained to me that there are three questions people ask you when you are dating someone, and they are: when are you going to get married, when are you going to have a bayyyybeeee, and then when are you going to have a SECOND baaayyyybeeee!!! They cackled and rolled their eyes and put on a really great show of pretending like they weren’t using this false incredulity as a front for the fact that they were about to ask me one of these questions. Which they did, “So when are you guys gonna have baayyyyybeeeeeeesssssssssssss,” then they told me a whole bunch of terrible birth stories, complete with gory details about destruction of womens’ bodies and descriptions of just how much a birth squicked out all the men in the room, and isn’t that so hilarious? And I did the thing where I pretend I’m a robot and my operating system allows me to form the appropriate answers to pacify humans and de-escalate uncomfortable situations while my internal processor scans the long, long, looooong list of other things about me that I think are a thousand times more interesting for people to know about.
So while Robo-Me took over and defended myself against the onslaught of insanely personal questions about my body and my choices, I used the time to update my internal database with a thought that occurred to me. Stripey Pirate, in between tiny bites of salad and wistful remarks about the hostess’s hair (“I want her haiiiiirrrrrr”), mentioned that being a Republican was not a bad thing, that she was a proud Republican, because “I work hard for my money and I don’t wanna have to give it to other people who don’t.”
This, along with the pregnancy questions, confirmed for me that this is how most people go through life. They find a sound bite or a clip of an opinion or a pattern of behavior and latch onto it, forever repeating that pattern and saying that thing that had become tattooed in their brains, ignoring the entire world of possibilities that lay all around them, ripe for the taking. I imagined a giant green tree growing over the dinner table in the crowded restaurant, its fruit hanging low, almost obstructing the diners’ views of each other’s faces, each juicy piece a new opinion, and unconsidered thought, a direction to take that had not yet been taken.
Imagine if someone handed you a script and said, “In order to be a certain type of lady, you have to say these things about pregnancy to other women. Then you have to have white-blonde hair and eat very tiny amounts of food.” Or if they said “In order to be a Republican, you have to say things about your money.” Sometimes I’m so bored with the way everyday conversation goes, I get the urge to shout “BANANA!” just to mix everything up. It’s just so fucking BORING. And it makes me endlessly grateful that I’ve been blessed with the capacity to think about things besides money, hair, and infants.
What I see in this country today is a whole lot of exploitation of the things that frighten people: being poor, being alone in your life decisions, being forgotten. I have to wonder if this isn’t why stupid people like Stripey Pirate settle on those convenient sound bites. Keep your money! Encourage everyone else to have babies, too, whether they want them or not, whether you know them or not! Stay beautiful. These are the things you have to do to be a person.
Stripey Pirate’s husband made several jokes about beating her. He looked down his nose at the plates of duck confit, the Asian chicken salad, and the craft cocktails littering the table, expressed disdain for anything that was not “meat and potatoes.” Stripey Pirate tossed her beautiful hair and gazed down at her phone, at a photo of someone’s children on Facebook. “I didn’t vote because I don’t care,” he said, and Stripey Pirate smiled, nodded, and thought of nothing.