Speed Essay: The Lost Art of Audience

Happy Thursday, y’all.

Question: When approaching a public restroom, be it at a restaurant or even at work, do you knock first? (For best results, be honest with yourself.)

Not trying to paint myself as the star of my own show here, but I have the habit of knocking no matter what (for motivation, see past experiences 1 and 2).

Also, at the top, originally, I planned this as a poor man’s essay, but I feel a loosely-structured rant coming on, so bear with me.

I think it stems back to my high school drama teacher (that’s right nerds, theater or bust), and her emphasis on our behavior as an audience member above most everything else. Sure, we learned tricks to remember our lines, how to take and even deliver stage direction, how to emote and express our characters’ stories, but what was always emphasized was how we minded our manners when we weren’t on stage.

You might think it’s as easy as, “Sit down, be quiet, and be attentive,” and a lot of it really does come down to those three little tenets. But there’s more to it than that, there’s a consideration that comes with applying those three rules. Stage performance isn’t like a TV show, wherein the interaction is one-way. You’re not supposed to say anything and the actors’ questions (if there are any) are rhetorical, true, but it’s kind of a two-way street.

If you’ve never been to a stand-up comedy show – first off, holy shit, you owe it to yourself not to be a humorless turd, but secondly – go to one. It’s a perfect parallel to what I’m trying to get to. There’s an interaction and a tacit social contract between the performer and the audience that roughly states, “I agree to be a part of this interaction, to remain quiet, attentive, and understanding of its context; but in being attentive, I know when and how to be considerate of the performer, giving my energy to the reactions being requested by the performer at given times.”

Now, that was a lot, but the TL;DR is: When they make a joke, I’ll laugh, because if I don’t, that ruins the flow and makes shit awkward.

If a stage performance of any kind is treated as a one-way interaction, it suddenly becomes bland and just…the air gets thick. Can you imagine going to a stage play and nobody claps? No one applauds? No one laughs at jokes?

Ew.

But the opposite is just as bad. To disregard the performer and be on your phone, speak to those next to you, get up and leave on your own time, or worst of all, interject yourself into the performance by heckling or answering rhetorical questions – God! (Sorry, getting heated – cooling jets in 3…2…1…)

The point is this: I think the same instinct or lack of restraint that leads to one behaving like the above-mentioned (completely hypothetical) butt-hole (even though we’ve all been witness to at least one) comes from the same place as approaching a bathroom and just trying the handle.

I don’t know. I might be off-base here, but to me trying the handle without knocking (whether it’s locked or not) is an extension of the thought: “The bathroom is locked,” rather than, “Ah, someone else is in there,” and there’s difference, albeit a fine one.

I think it comes from a lack of basic consideration (just objectively, not lecturing you – I’m not your mom) and is from a thought that focuses on “me and my needs” rather than one’s place amid others. From there, it’s a short jump to calling it a matter of empathy.

People like to think of themselves as good listeners, right? But that doesn’t mean just being quiet while the other person talks and/or occasionally nodding and going “Mmhm.” Just like being considerate of an actor on stage, it’s a matter of being receptive and then empathetic to who you’re listening to.

Final point and then I’ll let you go (Jesus, what am I doing? You can leave at any time, this is an in-person conversation where I can hold you hostage).

I don’t think I’m the only one on here who’s heard of Jocko Willink, but I discovered a trick while listening to an old clip of his. It kind of follows the same criticism of, “There’s no such thing as true altruism, because the good thing is being done to satisfy one’s own desire to be good; not for good’s own sake,” but what I did was this: As he spoke each word, I echoed it in my head as though I was the one saying it. But I found that by doing this, I could put myself in the place of the speaker waaaaaay more and could kind of feel where the advice was coming from. Sure, it sounds goofy and kind of like, “Well, I suddenly like what he’s saying a lot more if I’m the one saying it,” but for real, give it a try.

All of this even applies when critiquing someone else’s work of art, statement, film, book, what have you. Much like we saw with the season finale of Game of Thrones (Christ, don’t get me started), before you go on crying, “They got lazy!” or “So-and-So totally lost touch with [their own] characters,” maybe put yourself in the place of the creator; and though you might have done it differently, it goes a million miles to accept the thought process at work.

To wrap up, be it as an audience member at a performance, listening to a friend vent about something or other, or even knocking on an occupied bathroom’s door, they all come from a central skill set that I think we can all agree sort of seems to suffer at large.

So…just…be a good audience member (in life).

S’all for now. Rant’s over. Thanks for swinging by. Catch you Tuesday.

Today’s Hors-d’oeuvres (#foodforthought)

Happy Tuesday, everybody.

First off, if you’re having trouble (like I did) with the title today, that’s apparently how you spell the little munchies you have before dinner or in between courses (plain speak: “orderves”).

Second, I’m out there husslin’, so for today, you’re at a fancy dinner party. It’s a big ol’ Great Gatsby mansion with a courtyard, a fountain, waiters n’ shit. I’m the guy who walks up holding a tray and a towel over my arm (I assume for some reason) and offers you little worldly food items. Let’s say I have a curly string mustache, too.

I’ve always been a bit of a quote collector and I think we should all be. A few years ago, my girlfriend’s mom gave me one of the best compliments I’ve ever received when I said, “I like to consider wisdom where I find it, no matter the source,” and she replied, “That should be on a pillow or something.”

But that’s what today’s about, a few morsels here and there that resonated, and I’m gonna cross my fingers they do the same with you. Cheers.

#1

“If objects for gratitude and admiration are our desire, do they not present themselves every hour to our eyes? Do we not see a fair creation prepared to receive us the instant we are born – a world furnished to our hands, that cost us nothing? Is it we that light up the sun? Or pour down the rain? Or fill the earth with abundance? Whether we sleep or wake, the vast machinery of the universe goes on.”
-Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

The Take: I would actually recommend reading all of ‘The Age of Reason’ by Paine- well, actually not. Part 1 is terrific. In (very) short, with Part 1 he basically outlines his views on religion at large, the idea of a Creator, existence, and his own personal form of deism (which I personally find beautiful). The above is a good foot in the door for what the rest of Part 1 is about. It doesn’t capture all of the wonderful ways he illustrates it and further fleshes it out, but it’s a pill if that’s all you want. An even more concise if less flavorful way to express what I think Paine tries to get across here is this: “The world is so much bigger than you and majestic beyond reasonable understanding. That alone is reason enough to appreciate life.”
(The second half, called “Part 2”, is basically a constructed essay-form breakdown on how the stories in the Bible don’t, in his view, conform to logical processes or, as the title goes, reason; and personally, I didn’t find I needed that, but if it’s your bag, go for it.)

#2

“Death by violence, death by cold, death by starvation – these are the normal ends of the stately and beautiful creatures of the wilderness. The sentimentalists who prattle about the peaceful life of nature do not understand its utter mercilessness; although all they would have to do would be to look at the birds in the winter woods, or even at the insects on a cold morning or cold evening. Life is hard and cruel for all lower creatures, and for man also, in what the sentimentalists call a ‘state of nature.'”
-Theodore Roosevelt

The Take: I think I feel good including this one here because I’ve noticed it comes up a lot in my fiction (nothing that’s made its way here yet). I hold that it’s a reasonably good theme to include or just understanding to utilize whether it be in fact, fiction, or real life, because it’s true. Life isn’t easy within civilization sometimes, much less without it. It can be a terrific reminder the next time you think you live in a shithole or boo-hoo about how nothing ever happens in your town. Just watch one episode of “Naked and Afraid” and you’ll realize even that’s wilderness survival set to Easy Mode.
[WOOP WOOP! WARNING! POLITICAL MOMENT AHEAD! 3…2…1…]
And whether you have a stance on hunting, you yourself are a hunter (I’m not), a vegan, vegetarian, or anything else, before you forsake friendships in arguments over these things: hunting isn’t the problem. Is trophy hunting pretty dicky? Yeah, absolutely. But an ethical hunter killing for food that isn’t wasted, while it isn’t utterly natural, it isn’t outside the norm; as it’s an unfortunate fact that that deer or elk wasn’t going to live happily ever after. So the next time you come across a headline that aims to criticize some aspect of hunting, do a liiiittle bit of homework before biting the hook.
[-jets powering down…cooling…cooling…cool-]
If I haven’t lost you yet, on a literary note, taking an understanding that nature in its raw form is exactly what Teddy calls it – “merciless” – and is still beautiful into writing can help bridge some schisms over seemingly conflicting themes. I hope I’ll be able to share some of my own works that attempt the same here one day.

#3

“You’re never gonna get the same things as other people. It’s never gonna be equal. It’s not gonna happen in your life so you just learn that now, okay?
Listen. The only time you should look into your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”

-Louis C.K.

The Take: I think I first encountered this one while scrolling through Facebook yeeeeaaaars back. Originally, in the set he expressed this on, it was while he was discussing being a parent and some of the lessons one dishes out when they find themselves in that position (I also did a super fast google check to make sure he’d been quoted elsewhere too), but it came across as a good bit of personal advice.
It sort of pairs flows from the same perennial, ages-old proverb “Comparison breeds contempt,” and I think it puts a good cap on what we’ve covered. It’s good to expect nothing, yet appreciate everything (saw that on a bumper sticker once, holds up).

Anyway, I think that’s about it. Hope some of this rings with some of y’all.

See ya Thursday (or before, who knows anymore).

PS – I have NEEEEEEWS! Another story of mine, “The Scars of Eliza Gray”, is currently in the works to be featured on the NIGHT LIGHT horror podcast in a few weeks. So stayed tuned, ’cause I’ll be posting updates as I get them and blasting it out there once it’s up! Also keep an eye out and an ear open for the episode where we discuss and give our takes on Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and “Us”! Yaaaaay!