Sorry, Carrie, this picture is so legit it warrants overuse.by Brendan Cavanagh
On those odd weeks where I struggle to come up with a suitable topic to present to the readers of Classic Brian, or when I have myriad topics to choose from, but stress- or college-induced writer's block impedes my ability to articulate exactly what I'm thinking, I have consulted my close friend, Ms. Carrie McMenamin, for aid. Immediately she pummels me with three or four perfectly adequate ideas, but every time I have either failed to come up with a decently-sized post regarding such ideas, disregarded those I found unsuitable or loosely come up with an original idea found by means of subsequent contemplation of her suggestions. However, this week I have had plenty of time to mull over her thoughts and I've come up with enough material to cover some of her more prominent recommendations.
I would like to begin by discussing the maddeningly prevalent issue of small talk. To paraphrase Carrie's father, "Small talk is like currency; the more there is, the less valuable it becomes." In most situations, making blithe conversation without any intention of becoming embroiled in a serious discussion is perfectly acceptable. When you walk down a street downtown and pass a stranger, it is polite to utter a mere "Hello" or "How 'bout this rain?" Likewise, engaging in casual conversation with a colleague in between assigned tasks or shifts at work is quite common. However, in an educational environment in which you have some sort of connection with students you see nearly every day in the hallways, in class or on the campus, small talk is all-too-often used, and used inappropriately at that. Personally, I don't feel if I see a friend more than two or three times a day that I should have to ask, "How are ya?" every time we cross paths, or feel obliged to engage in the "stop-and-chat-" a pointless, minutes-long affair of banal and uninteresting dialogue. Most people feel that when they are in close proximity to a casual acquaintance or class mate, they are forced to ask, "What's uuuuuup?" with no concern for what's really uuuuuup with that person. If they want to have a short discussion about something that involves the both of us, be it in or out of class, it's cool if they stop me and ask for my input. But too often, there's this mutually awkward, unconscious impression that the two of us need to outrageously acknowledge each other's presence. A simple nod or wave, high five or fist pound is appropriate. Here's the irony: I, too, am guilty of making inane small talk with people I know even the slightest because I am awkward and/or forget my principles when thrust into such a situation.
Now how about those old people? What's that all about? I guess Carrie was a bit preoccupied with death and mortality, so naturally her mind gravitated towards the issue of aging and coming to terms with one's own limited time on Earth, alive that is. I took a walk the other day and observed my surroundings along the street I trod. I witnessed an elderly woman leaning out of her screen door, reaching for her mail. The simple task took her a small while to do, and I simultaneously pitied her and became enthusiastically anxious to enter into the golden years of my life. "Gee, I can't wait to be an old man; that's going to be so cool," I thought at that moment. Immediately the other voice in my head responded, "What the hell are you talking about? You whine every day about how you never enjoy the present while you're immersed in it, and now you want to be feeble and gray and nearer to death only to embrace your status as sage and elder?" The second voice was right, I'm afraid. While it is certainly an accomplishment if one is looked up to for his or her superior breadth of knowledge and experience, there are far too many pitfalls for me to continue to desire to be an old man. In addition to the aforementioned reasons, what if one lives in a society that dismisses the elderly because of their cautiousness, stubbornness or lack of youthful nature, refusing to acknowledge that age changes a person, in good ways and bad? Physically, most old people have to move slowly (which infuriatingly can impair driving). Maybe they are "stubborn" because situations are not the same as what they knew in their youth, or their years of experience are not rewarded with an voice in a situation. And so what if they can't operate an iPhone? They, at least, have retained the qualities that made their generation as successful as it could have been in their day: concrete, face-to-face communication. Alas, although our generation and our kin will succeed in technical advancement that will aid us incalculably, but we will slowly lose our ability to interact socially, and I don't mean as in The Social Network (Facebook).
With old age comes death. Sadly, death's swift embrace touches youths alike, too. Regrettably, a good friend of Carrie's and mine recently met with premature death head-on, when her sister was killed in a vehicular collision on one of Springfield, Illinois' busiest roads. Situations like this tend to evoke the darkest questions from atheists and believers alike: Why do bad things happen? If there is a God, why would he allow such depressing and excruciating tragedies to occur? How can this be part of some intelligent plan for humankind? Robert Frost's heavily anthologized sonnet, "Design," asks, "What had that flower to do with being white, The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?....What but design of darkness to appall?- If design govern in a thing to small." Beneath the macabre whimsicality of a poem presumably dealing with a spider mundanely consuming a moth on a flower, Frost brings up the timeless human inability to explain what governs nature. If there is some sort of divine Creator, specifically with a hand in human affairs, he asks, why would he or she or it allow awful situations to arise? Unfortunately, I nor my earthly brethren can accurately answer this question. Perhaps death is a way of interestingly and perhaps unfairly teaching us to embrace what we have while we have it. In sixth grade Carrie asked her mother why the weather outside was so "ugly," to which her mother responded that we could never enjoy the Sun if it was never cloudy. I think the latter sentiment can be attributed to the abhorrence of death. Although death is not something to sanctify or to embrace, I don't think we could appreciate one another's presence if we were not faced with the threat of losing those we hold dear. Premature deaths especially instill in us the lesson of "seizing the day," or treating one another endearingly as if tomorrow was one's last day.
To cope with life's innumerable suffering, Carrie has a medicinal cure-all. In Champaign, Illinois there exists a musical group named Santah, with whom Carrie is exceedingly familiar with, as she has attended shows and met some members. Anyone who is Facebook friends with Ms. McMenamin has probably been bombarded with notifications indicating a link to Santah's Myspace page or to a list of their tour dates. While her ambitious purposes have caused many, admittedly including myself, to scoff or smirk in humorous indignation, it should be noted that listening to and promoting what is, in actuality, a very talented band is not merely a pastime of Carrie's, but a healthy alternative to wallowing in self-deprecation and unfulfillment. If she hadn't any sort of outlet to invest her happiness and enthusiasm, then what would she do? Sit in her room all day? Sleep for lack of anything better to do? Do HOMEWORK? If we don't find a sort of organization in which to involve ourselves- sports, clubs, music, academics, etc.- then we find ourselves feeling unproductive and isolated from the enjoyment of others. And when there is nothing to do we sit and think. And when I lethargically sit and think for too long, I know I start getting depressed. Get out there! Try out things you have never experienced before! Rather than let myself do homework and Facebook-stalk all day, I uncharacteristically joined a fraternity and wound up vice president of my pledge class. I started Butler University's first film club, a la Max Fisher of Wes Anderson's Rushmore (though I had an unspoken and entirely dumbfounding falling out with my elder collaborator, and now I have no idea if the group exists at all). If I hadn't run cross country and participated in various other sports in junior high and high school, limited though my athletic abilities may be, I would surely have suffered a miserably introverted and friendless adolescence.
I thus conclude my latest in a series of WELL-RECEIVED lists (thanks mainly to my elder family members). I am grateful to Carrie for providing me with a number of pertinent and highly-applicable topics, though I may not have realized it initially. I'm still open to suggestions, but I'll try to dig deeper and find a meaningful topic of my own volition. Though I don't think Classic Brian's readers desire any more Chris Farley references scattered among self-deprecating posts about my inefficacy in attracting women.