Teri Orr: In a manner of speaking
Things build up. You hear someone say, "This is literally the worst of night of my life," and you think, well then, you have led a pretty charmed life, honey. No one is chasing you with a weapon, you certainly look well fed, and you have keys to a late-model expensive car to drive back to your comfortable home. I think you mean, figuratively, this might be the worst night of your life. Because what you are saying is simply a matter of speech.
"Actually," the person says, and for emphasis says again, "Actually, I think this is, literally, the worst night in my life."
It is at that point I start to find myself with an irrational — or perhaps a fully rational — desire to toss my beverage in the direction of the conversation. Actual, as in factual, as in an authenticated sense, actually, you might just be having a bad night.
On the common carrier known as Facebook it has become common to see a new self portrait posted and the comments will most often follow with, "Beautiful — inside and out." Does that need to be explained? Isn’t "you are beautiful" powerful enough. How ’bout, "good person good photo?" Or could/should some things be left to nuance and illusion and inference? ‘Cause if I, literally, think about someone being beautiful inside, I have a bad visual of trying to see someone without any skin covering them and all their organs working, which is a beautiful thought perhaps, but I’m not certain I would judge someone beautiful inside if we were, actually, talking about the beauty of internal exposed organs.
"First World problems" has become a kind of hipster catch phrase. As a badge of honor, as if most of us have had experience, firsthand experience, with Third World problems. What we are saying, in a manner of speaking, is this isn’t really a problem at all. An annoyance or inconvenience, or at the most a problem that falls to those who have plenty.
Word usage can tip me over some days if I let it. As a fragile creature, there are days when even a pen clicking can be like a fingernail on a chalk board. You have certainly been in a meeting where you have an incessant pen clicker — one who pushes the top of the pen in and out in a form of nervousness? It becomes like a fly buzzing in the room and I can hear nothing else. Like the mother, now grandmother that I am, I want to, literally, take that pen away from the hands of the fidgeter and actually, factually, make them stop.
When I am distracted by a noise or a movement, I find it hard to concentrate on the conversation happening around me. Ring twisters fall into this category — a group that fascinates me because it is not, as you might think, gender specific. The nervous tick of working one’s ring around and around the finger or up and down as if it were new or uncomfortable or one is trying to decide whether to take it off. I find it difficult to focus on what someone is saying when they are twisting and turning their jewelry.
Years ago I had a friend who was a hair twirler. She could not have a conversation — professional or social — without encircling her finger in one of her curls. She was, as we say, a grown-ass woman, in a high functioning job, sitting in a board room twisting her curls.
This is a restless time of year, not yet the fullness of winter in a ski resort, coming off the bounty of a lush summer of long days matched by long twilights. The days shorten now and the nights fall quickly. Sweaters are needed, and closed-toed shoes, and those somewhat careless days of summer are memory. Fall requires a shifting of patterns, closing windows at night, final harvests from the garden.
Sleep can be fitful and little annoyances magnify. Inside now most of the time, the house seems smaller and there are so many small things that have been ignored … for months, really. And it all seems disjointed — the meal too heavy, the weight of the bedcovers too light. It is familiar, this discomfort that makes one feel out of sync. I try to guard against the cynic inside who struggles to point out each of the irritations, who grumbles at the minor annoyances and inconveniences, who wishes to be drifting instead of focusing.
Falling is an action sometimes outside our conscious level. When I find myself fixating on nervous conversational ticks I wonder why they seem invisible much of the year and sometimes, like now, scream with shrillness. It might just be seasonal. For this week I’ll plan a long walk in the woods to work the literally, actually, pen clicking, hair twirlers out of my transitioning seasonally disordered brain. And with the admission that this is a clearly First World problem, I’ll hope for a walkable Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.