Just watching the show

What if you thought about experiencing your life as “watching a show?” I get that feeling sometimes. If you live long enough, you get to see the same emphases and the same discoveries happen over and over. When you first fall in love, it’s a completely engrossing event; you don’t “observe it” in the sense I mean. [1] But you do observe the “falling in love” events of your friends. And, if you live in a stable multigenerational family or a stable multigenerational neighborhood, you get to see it again in your friends’ children as well as in your own children. And then again in the grandchildren.

You just don’t see it the same way. Seeing “it” previously has had an effect on the way you see it. That observation is so commonsensical it hardly needs to be made.

show 2But what if you get tired of seeing that particular show? Well, in a live theater production, you get up and leave. If you are watching a movie in a theater, you get up and leave. If you are watching a movie at home, you just turn it off. If you are watching a TV channel, you shift over to another channel.  And that works.

Unless all the channels are the same. And if you’ve seen a lot of shows on TV and it gets to seem that they tell the same stories over and over agains with only minor changes like the names of the principals and the locations of the settings, it might come to seem like all the channels are the same. The remote is no longer a solution.

At this point, you might be getting a little exasperated with the “show” metaphor and, forgetting what the metaphor is for, you might say, “Well, why don’t you just turn the TV off and go outside?” If watching TV is your problem, then turning it off and going outside is a really good solution. But if “watching the show” is a master metaphor (one of two I have in mind) for living your life, then “going outside” is an existential choice and you might now want to be so casual about it.

So you “go outside” and watch Little  League Baseball games or gossip with your neighbors or argue politics your friends. And it all gets to feel like the “watching the show” experience. Everyone says the things they always say. The menu repeats over and over. Your trips to the coast to see the ocean are just like the last dozen such trips and although we know the ocean is changing rapidly, it doesn’t look like it is changing rapidly

You could kill yourself, of course. [2] That is the real life analog to getting up and leaving the theater or turning off the TV or changing the channel. Or you can treat it as a mind drug rather than as entertainment. Or as “a diversion,” as they used to say. Just what it was one was being diverted from was always less clear.  Without some kind of intention action, those are pretty much your options.

So, for the purposes of today’s argument, I’m going to skip over the things you might do to make the show more interesting. I want to pause long enough to say that every show, no matter how trite it is, uses categories that are not trite. The most stereotyped characters you can imagine laboring through the most threadbare plot you can imagine are still using categories—courage, virtue, creativity, risk, triumph, sloth— that offer many innovative possibilities. Invest yourself in better uses of the categories than the play is using, See where it takes you.

Running the snack bar

This the alternative to “watching the show,” that  I would like to work with today. I havebored 4 phrased in on the low and tacky side of the possible descriptions. If it were a classy sort of production, you could come out at intermission and buy wine and nuts or coffee and a cookie or something. Below are some much jazzier possibilities at the Met in New York City.

I am thinking of “running the snack bar,” however fancy it might be, as a kind of commitment you would take on. I want to stack up value on this second metaphor, being, very possibly, more kind to it that I was to the “watching the show” metaphor.

  • Maybe you really like running the snack bar. You like the ordering and the selling and the customers.
  • Maybe you make a lot of money running the snack bar and it balances out what would otherwise be an inadequate family income.
  • Maybe you need the money for a life-saving operation for your mother. See what I mean about piling on for this metaphor?
  • Maybe you are filling in for your daughter who was supposed to be at the snack bar and has just fallen ill and who will lose her job if the manager finds out she missed the evening?
  • How about all of them together?

This is not a show you are going to get tired of watching. This is something you are “doing” in a way that most “watching the show” is not. [3] Beyond just the doing, it might be something you like doing. And it might be something you really need to do. It might be an act of compassion toward, say, your daughter.

And running the snack bar might not just be doing, rather than doing nothing, and it might not just be remunerative, but it might also be really important. It might be, for instance, serving other people in an important way. [4] That might matter for a very long time. It might not be much different from serving your neighbors or serving your friends.  The picture below was taken at the Metropolitan Opera…uh…”snack bar” at intermission.

bored 1In serving, as I am considering it here, you don’t just sell the product and take the money, you assess who is buying the product and where possible, you meet the person who is separated from you only by the mechanics of the transaction. And “serving” in that sense isn’t all that different from teaching, where you need to know who you are teaching and how each person learns and what will distract or defeat them. And you do what you can to reach through those difficulties and reach to the person and nurture their interest. And “serving” in that sense isn’t all that different from serving patients if you are a talented and caring doctor who understands that he or she is not just “curing diseases” but “treating persons.”

This is all “snack bar” stuff. It’s active and it might be necessary and it might, additionally, be a service you are proud to provide. And if any or all of these conditions obtain, it is not in the least like “watching the show” and hoping against hope that it is nearly over.

[1] Unless, of course, you do it several times yourself. I have done it three times myself, at roughly the ages of 20, 40, and 70, and I can tell you that the similarities are overwhelming. At the same time, you understand what is going on and maybe even a little about just why it feels so incredibly good.
[2] The elderly make up 12% of the population in a recent survey, but 18% of the suicides.
[3] It could be. You can be active in your investment in the performance of the show and a lot of people learn to do that. It’s just outside the metaphorical choices I am trying to arrange.
[4] There are two baristas who are usually at my Starbucks when I go for coffee in the morning and who have no idea what they do for me. Yeah, they sell me the coffee, but they pay attention to who I am and they feed me little scraps of who they are and those build up over time. I got a tattoo last week from an artist that one of the baristas recommended to me. “He’s really good,” she said. “You can count on his work.”

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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