Monday, 4 August 2008

‘So, What Are You Doing Now?’ And Other Annoying Questions (…From People Who You Have Not Seen in Awhile!)

‘So, what are you doing now?’ the seemingly innocuous question wormed its way into my consciousness long after the first day of the Culinary Arts Exposition, held at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel on Sunday August 3, 2008. I had had the good fortune, earlier, of a member of my choir inviting me to the event. I jumped at the opportunity to see and learn some more about Jamaican cuisines, as well as to sample some of the goodies which were on display over the course of the two day event. Of course, I would have to figure out how to do that in between blogging, doing the laundry and finding something to eat on an otherwise lazy Sunday afternoon.

Still, I would gladly have reverted to blogging and trying to figure out how to increase the passage of traffic through this website. After all, I must have made about a dozen entries in the last week and still no comments…at the site! Ok, so I am stressing and loosing focus!

Back to the earlier question and the fairly longish title. This entry is not a rant. It is a discussion about how people ask difficult, often very perplexing questions, specifically people from whom you have become (very) distant and who you have not seen in awhile. As a result, it seeks to open up of a space for critiquing the elasticized boundaries of intimacy which often occasions our new configurations of ‘friendship’ currently.

As a matter of fact, let me make my position clear – I also ask these annoying questions, at times. However, I try only asking them of people with whom I am fairly close and who I think will appreciate the value of my reasons for asking after their welfare. Whenever this happens, I tell myself that I am very much prepared to engage in, if necessary, a long and soulful conversation about navigating the pitfalls as well as the joys of choosing to live within the borders of our urban jungles which we call home, et cetera.

In that regard, the reference above to ‘difficult questions’ is aimed, not so much at suggesting an inability to answer the question, as posed, more like a preference not to. Why? Such questions are often, without a context, very off-putting if not altogether intrusive. They presume a level of intimacy which often conflicts with the reality of the relationship established between you and your current interlocutor. Take the one in today’s title, for instance. It is never welcomed, especially when you are trying to chill out at the Jamaica Pegasus, while enjoying the sights and sounds of ‘Emanci-pendence’ (Emancipation and Independence all rolled into one! see earlier post!) celebrations.

Implicit in such questions is a competitive comparison intended to evaluate the worth of your life into tablet sized inflexions of time. Reductionist and usually offensive in their presumptuousness, they are often super inquisitive. Such questions deny the texture and complexity of an otherwise untamed and riotous existence lived fully out on the edge. They overlook all dimensions to see instead a flattened out surface meant to be consumed within milliseconds of time.

Forget the beauty of a life lived in Technicolor and Dolby Stereo. Forget sincerity, even! Your responses must be instantly formatted to conform to a few five seconds sound bytes related mostly to your personal advancements but especially your professional credentials, ‘since we last saw each other’!

Then, there are the even more vapid and vacuous attempts to commiserate by said perpetrators; that is, if you choose not to answer directly or not at all, as the case might be. In those instances, you cannot roll your eyes and sigh long-sufferingly. That might even seem disrespectful. Instead, you are required to play along and sound almost as if in tacit agreement with the implied eulogizing of your presumed ‘failed existence’.

There are also those even bigger moments which bring together people you have not seen in quite awhile, for various reasons. Though slightly different, in some ways, these are often intended to give little more than a detailed account of your movements and accomplishments in the course of the last whichever number of years! They usually circulate around dinner tables, coffee bars, et cetera. Marriage, children, lovers, (additional) degrees, jobs, cars and houses and not, necessarily, in that order become the hallmarks of this kind of conversation…

And, that is only the beginning! Here, you smile politely and stuff as much food into your mouth as possible hoping to dodge these vulgar displays of ‘accomplishments’ so conveniently entered into, presumably, in the interests of ‘information sharing’ – an update, as it were, on where we are now! (Developing a drinking habit, or running off to the bathroom never to return, don’t seem like such a bad idea, after all!)

Still, the meaningless exchanges of ‘critical information’ continue! Your turn is next! The next ‘life’ to be dissected under the probing microscope of ‘concerned peers’ in their near professional ‘empathy’ about your seeming inability to match strides with their over achieving quest to find out ‘what have you been up to, recently?’

I am, often, tempted to say, ‘Do you really want to know? Or, are you just asking because you think it is polite; that, by doing so, it shows your concern and compassion for my welfare?’ That, of course, would not do. So, you find whichever ‘polite’ way of ignoring the question, while simultaneously, smiling as understandingly as possible about the unwelcomed inquisition represented by your intrepid panel of interviewers…

(They probably mean well, though they somehow fail to see that questions like these, in a way, presume levels of familiarity, trust and regard that, in the intervening years, might have been completely eroded). In between the struggle to quell the rising tide of a sudden defensiveness, I am reminded of why I chose to make certain decisions and not others and try and relax before, smilingly, trying to search for the right words to deny this round of the intrusion! (I, genuinely, wished I had the magnanimity to ‘turn the other cheek’ so fervently preached in church!)

…I duck out of the Jamaica Pegasus and ensure I return long after the planned departure of my earlier inquisitor. In so doing, giving myself enough room (I hope!) to breathe and refocus on the critical ‘issues of life’, like breathing in the tepid air of the packed room. The anxious onlooker have all come for reasons very much like my own – to see and taste the creative Jamaican cuisine on their holiday evening out...

Having to figure out, how to tell people to piss off, politely, can be a real job of work!


Long said...

Well, I can certainly say that I feel your pain. Frankly, I hate that question just as much as I hate the "where's your family from?" I tend to answer with enough cheek and a half-smile - "how much time do you have?", "nothing much", or "do you really want to know?" - which can either dissuade the nosy ones or elicit a more honest conversation and engagement that won't just be about where I went, who I saw, what I bought. People who know you well enough can intuit where to go from there. Usually, they are able to make a joke and move on to some other topic. The latter kind are the ones that often last throughout the event, and where I can generally say I enjoyed the exchange. I don't know about your relation to those folks you're talking about, but I find that people are caught up in this endless job of comparing the details of others' lives to theirs so they can decide if they ave a story that is "worthy" or can outdo mine. I dislike that kind of competitive socializing and just won't do it. But it also sounds like you may want to work on your comebacks. I'd suggest making up a long list of exorbitant lies on the spot and see how that goes. Yes, Christians do lie and can do it very well, so don't worry. The point is to poke fun at the inquisitors and at yourself.

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...


Trust me! A few choiced bad words may even be a useful attempt at 'sorting them out'! I am not sure what it is with people these days and these comparisons that they seem to always wnat to get into! It is so over the top! But, in those instances, I utter a dozen "Hail Mary's" and pray for forebearance in saying "the right things"! LOL!

...But, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Why hang out with such people if you so intensely dislike them and their probing ways. There is no polite way of saying to someone, piss off, it's none of your damn business. Just say it. There is no virtue in your long suffering. It's just plain hypocrisy. Believe it or not, sincerity does reside in one or two of those innoucous questions as not everyone is busy comparing themselves to others. That's for the insecure among us, which, my friend, you seem to have a healthy dose of, insecurity that is.

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

Thanks for that! Truth? I was really gesturing to a specific instance in which I was invited to be part of a group of people, who I assume, were very much into each other that way. I did not feel sufficiently merged with the 'group think'. In fact, not only did I not feel this way, I made it abundantly clear that I did not like this type of questioning and chose not to answer. The challenge, of course, is that there is the feeling that not answering means that you are afraid to answer. In an effort to keep the peace, you ignore it.

As for the incident yesterday at the Pegasus, I felt that there was no real way of saying that such questions were offensive without seeming overly sensitive,so, again I ignored it. The challenge is, of course, that I found myself thinking about these two incidents quite abit upon going home and decided to place it on the blog to gauge feedback, of course, with the rider that it is not meant to be disrespectful. Which it isn't!

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

As for insecurities, well, I think that we all share in that, at some level, unfortunately. A "healthy dose"? Not so much!

Dani said...

hahaha I'm going to comment first then read and then comment again, how about that! lol

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

By all means, Dani, by all means! LOL!



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