I’ve been putting off writing this column until the last minute—almost until I am physically unable to write it. (That would be an excellent method of avoidance, but I know it won’t work two months in a row.) I am beset by thoughts that do not cease swarming in my brain because I do not shout them from my porch at passers-by or post them vehemently on Facebook. I hold them close until they turn toxic—yet the relief of passing out does not come. They are unpopular notions among those enlightened persons I am privileged to call my friends. However, some people I know seem to share them.
I refrain from uttering what I feel to be true and incontrovertible not because I dread open scorn, obloquy, or even what some refer to as “cancellation.” From where I sit, cancellation, like death, begins to look like a sabbatical. I was “cancelled” in my own hometown a quarter-century ago. I could not stop saying what I thought. The upshot was that my Rabelaisian wisecracks no longer had an audience. I had ripped out my filter and stomped on it publicly. Persona non Grata status followed. I will forever be known to those of a certain age here as “that guy who used to write those letters to the editor.”
Now that I am the editor, I fear to dislodge that which infects me with bellyaches—which are getting worse. No, it’s that I’ve gotten used to this gig, and the positive feedback attendant thereunto. I am poised on the brink of blurting, but my hesitation is, as Bunthorne put it, “born of a morbid love of admiration.”
Banished from human company (for which I suspect myself to be unsuitable), I know I’d just wind up irritating the woodchucks and squirrels. But I sense that what I would most miss those others who see those positive qualities that I can’t find in myself. Most of my life has been a case of the exact opposite. Therefore, I never allow myself to feel at peace with my own soul, knowing that someone will swoop in and tell me what’s wrong with me. I confess that it’s always a relief when somebody does so. It bestirs me from any danger of complacency. It’s what the Buddhists call a satori and I used to call Aunt Betty.
It’s time to sharpen your pencils, all you would-be surrogate Aunt Bettys out there. I’m about to say some stuff. I expect your disdainful comments before the next issue. For example, “I used to like reading your paper, but you said so-and-so and think such-and-such and I just can’t deal with you anymore.” Extra points if you don’t copy that exact wording, but you get the idea.
Okay. First unpopular opinion: I absolutely loved reading Dr. Seuss’ On Beyond Zebra as a child and don’t consider that it made me any more antisocial than I otherwise would have been. Moreover, I can revisit it pushing the age of 59 and still find it delightful. It doesn’t make me want to view any ethnic groups with condescension, let alone do them violence. The one image in the book—of the “Nazzim of Bazzim”—which might possibly be problematic to somebody somewhere occasions in me merely the word “Huh?” But now I feel like I’m committing a punishable microaggression by not regretting having loved it. Someone will send a meme to chasten me.
Second unpopular opinion: children’s cartoons were actually made for adults. They were offered as diverting short subjects in a full theatrical showing of features, newsreels, two-reel comedies, and coming attractions. We showed them to children because airing the vast archives of old animations was cheaper than creating new Saturday morning programming—and kids loved them, including those old Popeye cartoons where he beat everybody up. (Betty Boop cartoons were definitely not for children. Your dad loved them. I’d send him a meme but there’s no broadband in Heaven.)
Third unpopular opinion: it’s not necessary to take on and validate as objectively true everyone’s subjective reality. This is a subtle one, and it’s essential. In fact, it’s such a biggie that I will not even offer concrete examples of it. It’s when folie à deux becomes a moveable feast. The best I can offer in my imperfect empathy, when confronted with the particularly prickly subjective reality of another, is politeness. I have more than enough empathy for most people, but there are places that it will not venture. I instead offer my kindest regards, and follow the trail of breadcrumbs back out of the forest.
I divulge all these reflections not just fearful that they will diminish me in your kind esteem, but with the palpable dread that some people may agree with them—and assume I’m of their party. If it’s a characteristic of your party to wrestle with your soul—and frequently lose, then maybe. That’s a party that I can get behind, since that’s what I spend an inordinate amount of time doing. I won’t join a party where people chant slogans, no matter what the slogans are. And I am wary of Big Tents.
However, I look forward to your castigations and your attempts to enlighten me by telling me what I already know. Some of you may surprise me with hitherto undreamt-of paths to awareness and spurs to empathy with people whose skin I’d much rather not inhabit.
The best responses (if any) to this exhalation of unfashionable mental detritus will appear as letters in the May issue. Rabelaisian wisecracks need not apply.