Saturday, 19 February 2011

Awkward social conventions

There are so many.

Others include (but are not limited to) gym class, buying tampons at the store, airplanes, restaurants, Glenn Beck, reading in public, and the educational system.

You're walking along and you see someone you know. You have to say something, you can't just walk past and completely ignore them. And so you say, "Hello."

My friend and I were discussing this during our lunch break at work this past week, and she said mentioned how, when you ask someone, "How are you?" 99% of the time you get a short, usually positive answer.

And this is true. It's just one of many awkward social conventions that we live by day to day, and really never question. What if we weren't really feeling that well, or were licking our wounds from a fight with our significant other, or tried out for the tennis team and didn't make the cut? What do we say then?

I have taken some advice that I'd gotten a few years ago, when I was grieving the loss of a dear friend. I had to go into work the day after I found out, and you wouldn't believe how many times the question came up: How are you? And this question, determined necessary by whatever powers that be, had to keep coming up, from complete strangers.

And so I would just be dumbfounded, not having any clue how to answer that question.

And sometimes, if you do know the person who has commenced this socially obligatory small talk, you might say, "I've had better days." (The advice I got a few years ago.) That passes the ball back to them, and then they're in a position in which they must decide whether they want the long version or the short version. That's assuming that you want to talk about it at all.

Case in point.

Chuck Palahniuk.

Written because of his co-workers' reactions to his black eye.

I love this book. I also love the movie. This book was written because Chuck came into work one Monday with his face all smashed up - black eye all swollen up, the lot. And his co-workers' reactions were, well, surprising. They did not look at him. Nobody ever asked him why his face was all messed up. He was shocked by this. Even more than the punch in the face that got him the black eye in the first place. He could not believe that, if you don't look all right on the outside, people just don't want to know about it. They said hello, but they did not ask him how he was. They didn't ask how his weekend went. (His camping weekend went bad and resulted in a fight.) They turned away from him and he never explained the cause of the black eye, because nobody asked.

And so he realized that, for the majority of guys out there, they have no outlet to really get their thoughts and feelings out, and talk about their troubles. He noticed that in libraries and book stores you'll find books like The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and books about quilting circles, which enhances, encourages and celebrates unity among women, but there are no such books for men. Men, it seemed, just did not want to unload their problems on other men. Or at all.

That sparked an idea and Fight Club was born. Our unnamed main character suffers from insomnia (stress and jet lag from traveling for his job) and feels he has no control over his life. His only release: fighting. Not only did this book become a cult symbol for anti-corporate culture and finding who you are in the grand scheme of things, it is also an epic journey that you can jump into and escape those things that are bothering you, to help you cope with this crazy thing called life.

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