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Monday, June 01, 2009

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Forcefields Down

It was just she and I in the waiting room of the optometrist's office. We sat down one seat apart and pulled out our mobile devices, electronic umbilici, connecting us to our children, mothers, mates, friends, colleagues, calendars. The connections we've chosen to nourish.

What if we were stuck here by ourselves, I wondered. Just us, the receptionist, and the Bass Angler spring catalog strewn on the chair between us? Would we make contact? Small talk? It was late in the afternoon. Small talk with strangers costs energy. I was glad not to have to spend any. I checked my email, mapped my son's bike route to a playdate, read Facebook updates.

"Okay, Kyran, come with me." I startled. I am old enough to have grown accustomed to being called by my last name in waiting rooms. It felt too intimate. Fresh, was the word that came to mind, followed by, who are you, the Queen Mother? Get over yourself. But I was cool to him, trying to patch the hole in the wall before it got larger. PLEASE TURN OFF CELL PHONES the sign in the pre-exam room said. Forcefield down.

"You're a writer," he observed cheerfully, looking at my chart. There's about a three minute script that follows this opening statement, and I should get down on my knees every time and praise Jesus, Allah, Shiva and William Randolph Hearst for my lines in it. Today's performance was so lackluster, I should have been sacked on the spot, and an understudy brought out from the supply closet.

"I'm sorry," the assistant said finally, after a series of one-word answers. "I just think that's so interesting."

"No, it's okay," I stammered, totally chagrined. "It really is. It's a great gig." I peeped out through the hole in my wall and smiled, but the pre-exam was over.

"The Doctor will be with you in just a second."


"Is this better? "This?"

Dr. So-and-So didn't mention the writing. Usually this means they don't know/don't care. Sometimes it means they already know everything. From time to time, I encounter a stranger whose end of the conversation is so conspicuously absent of certain standard small talk questions, I know they've probably read the blog.

I doubt Dr. So-and-So has, but I wondered, because his conversation was pointedly political. Bookended by discussion of summer vacation plans, punctuated by refrains of "this better or this," he let me know exactly where he stood on the automobile industry bailout, taxes, Mexico, and government in general. Did he know he was talking to a bleeding heart liberal? Because it sort of sounded like maybe he did.

Earlier today, I posted a twitter update expressing my alarm over extremist elements in this country breeding hatred and violence, prompted by yesterday's murder of a doctor in his church, allegedly as an act of protest against abortion. Depending when you read this, that thought may still be displayed in the sidebar. It's hyperbole to suggest that events leading up to the Rwanda genocide in 1994 are comparable to what's happening here with ultra-conservative broadcasters, record sales of firearms and one, deranged act of violence. You could argue I was spreading a little terror on my own.

The fact is, I don't listen to those radio shows. I don't read those websites. I don't know personally know anyone, pro-life or pro-choice, arms or no arms, who thinks socialists are coming for their guns and that a person who shoots someone like that is anything but unhinged. I don't hang out, online or in the flesh, with any of the people referred to as the "subculture."

I don't like that word, "subculture." It's too close to "subhuman." It's the dehumanizing of others that allows events like Sunday's murder, and genocide, and all of man's cruelty to man, to happen. And our marvelous electronic umbilici that connect us ever more with those we choose, keep us ever more apart from those we don't choose. Make them ever more "other."

Someday soon we won't have to go to an office to have our eyes examined. We won't have to make small talk with strangers in the waiting room, or the assistants, or doctors. We will be buffered even more than we are now from people whose appearance, mannerisms or beliefs make us uncomfortable. We won't have to push through our own pre-occupations to smile and connect with someone we don't know. We won't have to be confronted with the humanity of someone whose politics are threatening to our own values. We won't have to realize that they still love their families and take vacations and crave lobster like we do. There will fewer and fewer occasions for us to stray outside our chosen communities, to question our own certainties, to find what binds "us" to "them." Unless we try.

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Blogger 2 Kids 3 Martinis said...

Wow. You're just so right on.

12:40 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

I can't read this. I'm too busy playing with my new iPhome.

8:34 AM  
Blogger HaikuKelly said...

On being asked about being a writer...

I dislike telling people what I do for a living -- freelance writer. I find most people go blank. I explain it and they seem to not think it's a real job.

The next time I see them, they ask me again what I do. I say freelance writer. We go through the same little dance, and again, it seems no one really believes me.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

I think it must be a thrill to be able to tell others that you are a writer, especially when you consider how hard you had to work to earn that title and how many others are attempting to the do the same.

And you are right about our global Patrick said above, I find myself slipping away to read the latest news on my iphone rather than engage with my neighbor when I'm in a proverbial waiting room.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Christy said...

I usually try to connect on some level with strangers or acquaintances because it's not easy for me and I see it as an opportunity to push pass my own self imposed barriers...I'm not always's almost always easier not to connect.

And I dream of the day I'll be able to call 'writer' my occupation--no matter what the reaction. :)

3:59 PM  
Blogger Jomama said...

Interesting thought. This seeking of community is partly why I have started blogging. But you are right, in that even with this, we are drawn to others like us, and become further and further insulated from the diversity of the world around us.

I used to go to a gas station that was so old you had to go inside to pay with the credit card. I got to know the man who worked the counter, for chit-chat. Not that we socialized, but he knew me as a regular. Now all the pumps allow you to pay right there, even that tenuous connection is lost.

We avoid the uncomfortable and hostile, but also lose the chance to persuade and win hearts and minds. And just connect. Glad I found you through The House of Prince blog at

3:44 AM  

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