I've been thinking lately about the alternate title of Birdman, which is The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. And I've also been pondering how much easier life would be if only ignorance could be my most defining characteristic.
During the years in which I prayed faithfully for cooperative hair, I should have been chanting instead for rampant unawareness and the ability to embrace the art of not knowing. I should have cultivated the kind of mindset that never once entertained consequences or that focused itself on having consideration for others.
I should have never learned to care about the act of decency.
I should have never wasted the time I could have spent getting tan by trying to analyze my own actions in order to understand where I became complicit in my own pain. I should have willfully ignored the motivations of the people around me.
Don’t get me wrong – I know very well the benefits of living a life governed by wisdom and the desire to be ever-evolving, but I have found myself almost wishing that I could force myself to stop caring about growing, to cease wading into the murky, shark-filled waters in an effort to learn the hard lessons so I can swim differently in the future.
How great would it be to just float every once in a while?
How amazing would it feel to sometimes just let yourself drown?
I asked a new group of students this question just a few days ago: Which movie has the most accurate portrayal of adolescence and what about that representation strikes you as truthful? My first clue that something was amiss came when a quarter of the class couldn’t even come up with a movie title. The second issue was the manner in which those who could name a movie responded to the question.
“I think Mean Girls is honest,” one girl said, and I agreed with her, because if there’s one benefit to not being ignorant, it’s knowing without question that Tina Fey is one of the most hilarious and brutally honest writers out there.
“What about the portrayal of those characters is honest?” I asked her. “Give me a specific example.”
“The way the characters are,” was her response.
There was a beat of silence during which I considered lunging across the room to shake the kid, walking out the door of my classroom never to return, and trying to formulate a somewhat encouraging but probing response to someone I’d met for the first time just two days prior.
“You get that you didn’t answer my question, right?” I said to her. “You realize that all you’ve told me is that there are characters and that there is a way they act, but you haven’t explained how they are at all. Can you give me a specific moment from the movie where a character behaved in a way you found truthful?”
I breathed long yoga breaths as I waited for her response – which was silence.
I don’t know this kid yet, but my bet is that she’s probably not fully an idiot. My guess is that she just doesn’t have any sort of desire to push herself to figure out her emotions or her thoughts and that she’s surrounded by people who are much the same way. Several years ago, I would have found the whole thing quite sad. Now I can’t help but think that there’s not a shot in hell that this girl doesn’t sleep far more soundly than I do.
How great would it be to live in a surface kind of world? Sure, I’d miss out on the layered subtextual terrain of life and I wouldn’t appreciate things quite as ferociously, but maybe I’d be able to watch a movie all the way through without thinking something like, that framing choice is so indicative of his lack of dominance in this scene! In a life ruled by the calmness that comes with analytical ignorance, movies would become something of pure escapism while serving nicely as background noise.
Life in general would strike me as less complicated.
I could blame every questionable action that others heave my way on jealousy, just like the kids on The Real World do.
I’d never once ponder the hidden motivations behind someone’s cruelty.
I would save so much time if I didn’t care about looking for the truth. And I could spend that time bouncing on my trampoline, blissfully unaware of the stakes of my decisions and that which I can control and that which I will never be able to control. But if I embraced the vacancy of ignorance, perhaps I would not mind the lack of control that can sometimes fester inside of me, leading to the kind of sentiment that stings and singes those protective and fluffy internal layers I’ve worked for decades to cultivate.
I don’t want those layers to harden, but when you are not joyfully ignorant, you have to release the softness within sometimes. You have to feel the pain that occurs when things that were once viewed as clean begin to tarnish and rust.
I’ve been giving it some thought, my best friend said to me recently. You’re tougher than you’ve been acting lately. You’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever known and yet you’ve been allowing yourself to succumb to having a weak skin and it’s not like you.
She’s right, of course – about both things. I am incredibly tough. But I have also allowed myself to be impacted by interactions that in the past I would have just laughed at loudly. It’s probably shocked me more than it’s shocked her, those reactions, but it’s hard to have your mind pounded into looking at things you simply have no desire to see.
This blogging in general is confounding everything. On the one hand, I’ve never felt more in touch with my surroundings and more engaged with my world. I see things differently. I’m more aware of life’s nuances and the colors within people and where I can locate the humor in a scenario because, when you write, you learn to observe things in a keener and clearer manner. And there’s also something fascinating about the genuine difficulty inherent in finding an idea and figuring out how to start talking about it in a way that will eventually feel relatable and engaging and truthful – and the swell of pride I feel when I pull off something I think actually turned out well has been life-altering.
But my strengths are not in writing fiction and so the slice-of-life pieces I choose to drop into the world feel personal because they are. So when I get a critical comment, sometimes it feels like someone with rabies just bit me hard before they had their wisdom teeth removed. If you want to criticize my writing style, have at it. I’m confident in my ability to write, but that doesn’t mean that my style or my tone or the way that I construct sentences will appeal to everyone. Hunter S. Thompson was a genius. So was Faulkner. But I don’t always love their work because I find the tempo of their writing to sometimes be halting or draggy. That said, I would never do either of these things upon having such a reaction:
1. I would never make a blanket statement about their lack of talent after reading a page or two of their work.
2. I would never log onto some website to tell them that their writing blows. I’d instead choose for them to be blissfully ignorant about how I feel because how I feel should not affect them personally unless they are writing about me. After all, neither one of them – including Thompson, who I could actually see doing this – ever showed up in my bedroom one morning and told me that I would not be able to live my life or see the people I loved if I didn’t start each day by reading a chapter of their work. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to read it and the whole equation strikes me as more than fair.
But when a comment is not about the writing and it becomes personal and it’s said in a manner that is seethingly vicious, it’s hard not to be taken aback. I’m not forcing anyone to read my work. I haven’t hypnotized anyone into being psychologically compelled to scroll through these pages before they get to eat a meal.
It’s funny: I write some very critical pieces on a few reality television participants, but I would never even think of tweeting them a link to those pieces or email them a post where I verbally eviscerate them. My goal would never be to direct their attention to criticism. I mean, I suppose if they’re foolish enough to have a Google alert on themselves, they will end up reading all kinds of vicious commentary, but I made a choice not to have a Google alert on myself because I don’t need to know certain things. The last person I Googled was Harper Lee – crazy about her new manuscript! – but I would never research someone I know because that’s not research; that’s stalking.
I think back sometimes to the days when it all seemed simple, when my full heart was in teaching and I only went online to read the news and to shop. I thought I was fulfilled then, but something changed – seismically so – and that life is not enough for me anymore. I want to embrace and fight to grow my talent. I want to put thoughts into the world that people can read or choose not to read. But I don’t want to be confronted by the reality that some people are just plain malicious and go out of their way to be personally insulting. And I don’t want to acknowledge that the longer and more frequently that I do this, the experiences that stun me silent for a minute will occur more and more often.
I find myself waging a bloody internal battle about whether or not I should continue to write and I kind of wish that I were fighting that battle with weapons so at least one side of the battlefield would be slain and the choice could be made for me.
See, the blissful kind of ignorance I wish I could snort or swallow can’t really exist in the world of someone who writes and then publishes her work to the masses. I can’t even grab at that ignorance because it’s like a vapor that disintegrates as soon as it comes into contact with something true.
Nell, you are my blogger GOD, someone wrote as a comment recently in response to a recap I wrote about Vanderpump Rules. It was a piece that made me burst out laughing while I was writing it – always a good sign – and I was up until one in the morning finishing it. After I write, my brain is wound up and I feel jumpy from the adrenaline I needed to fight to get a piece exactly as I wanted it, so I can’t fall asleep for a while after I press “Save” on my computer. I ended up at work early the next morning after not nearly enough sleep, and when I saw the comment, I really smiled and felt very pleased that someone responded to THE WORDS. He didn’t write that I am personally his God – I prefer Goddess, but immortality is nice any way you linguistically slice it – but that he liked the way the words were framed and that he thought the piece was funny. And if someone had written that he did not find the piece funny, that would be okay too. But if someone decides to read the piece and then launch an anonymous missile that deals with who I am as a PERSON, well, it’s the kind of experience that shrieks of feelings that can best be verbalized as I really don’t fucking need this in my life.
I was never the kind of girl who grew up dying to one day have children. I do want to have one some day, but that just became a realized desire in the last couple of years. And I didn’t spend my early twenties thinking about what my wedding would be like; all I really let swirl through my head when I fantasized about the big day was the cake and my dress. I guess that there’s a part of me that never veered towards the most traditional paths, and I have to be really honest when I say that I regret that I wasn’t born differently.
I wish what I wanted was more conventional. I wish the world I lived in was one in which I could exist each day feeling like I was engulfed in emotional safety. I wish that I could always rise and float above the assholes. I wish I could watch a reality television show and get fully lost in it instead of thinking about the evident continuity issues and the role of the producers in the onscreen action. I wish that the thoughts I had were not often about whether or not I’ve used the word “depleted” too frequently in my recent writing.
I guess what it comes down to is that I wish I didn’t need to understand that which moves me and I wish that I could be ignored by those who don’t care for me. Ignorance, I think, has gotten a bad rap over the years, at least when you qualify it as having little or no awareness. Awareness hurts. Awareness never leaves you. Awareness cannot be avoided when you are forced to look, no matter how often you have tried to avert your glance.
Awareness? I wish I had none. Because then I could dance with ignorance and not even realize that I was out of time with the music.