Embarrassment — a legacy?

A number of years ago, a local classic rock radio station advised, “Turn the volume up and sing along loudly. Embarrass your kids.”

It’s probably in the nature of the job for parents occasionally to do or say something that their offspring find embarrassing. Some may do so more often than others. Usually, it is unintentional. Sometimes the purpose may not be to embarrass the son or daughter, but there’s no thought given to avoiding the embarrassment. I’ve been on both sides of this, as you likely have also.

Sometimes the embarrassment is delayed.

There were two times etched in my memory in which I was laughed at — to the point of mild embarrassment — for doing something I had learned from my parents.
They fixed fried eggs sunny-side up. They cooked them in bacon grease. To get the top sufficiently done before the bottom overcooked, they used the frying pan spatula to splash the hot grease up on the egg. It was a rapid, continuing motion for a few moments.

I was using this method, as I always did, one morning at their house. A visiting member of the extended family observed and said bemusedly, “You’re going to beat that egg to death.” Now, aside from the fact that I was not touching the egg at all, I was blindsided by a critique of my following what seemed a perfectly good way to get my eggs just so.

When my father stirred sugar into his coffee or tea, he rapidly moved the spoon back and forth, making a not-unpleasant ringing sound as the spoon rhythmically hit the sides of the cup or glass. I adopted this same method, it never occurring to me to stir any other way. Until . . . .

Late in my college years, I was about to enjoy a glass of iced tea with a couple of other people. I put in some sugar and stirred as I always had. I had never noticed any reaction from anyone up to that point. This time, however, a peer smirked as he watched (and listened).

After those two incidences, I never again fried an egg or sweetened a beverage using those methods. There have been times when I’ve repeated something my parents said or did something I learned from them that caused me embarrassment, and I’d wished they’d set a different example. Yet, in these instances, I didn’t, and still don’t blame my parents, from whom I picked up the techniques, for my embarrassment in these situations. My resentment is reserved for those who chose to react as they did.

Things can go, without saying

One of my favorite poems begins, “Because of all that goes/ without saying. . . .” The writer was one of my mentors in college, Charles David Wright. We discussed the poem, “The Goodnight,” one day in a poetry-writing seminar he taught.

He explained that “goes without saying” doesn’t just mean “needless to say.” His concern in this poem is the danger that some things can go away if not said for too long — i.e., if taken for granted.

He refers specifically to feelings between life partners. As I recall, he told us he came home from a meeting late one night and wrote this as a note to his wife, leaving it on the refrigerator for her to see first thing in the morning.

The point is also applicable to other relationships as well. Over time, without affirmation, neglected bonds can wither. Without saying they can go.

Here’s the whole poem, from the collection Early Rising, University of North Carolina Press, 1968.


My like-dislike relationship with social media

Facebook is the only social medium in which I participate, unless you count group texts. I suspect that many of these thoughts, though, might apply to other forms of social media. Most do apply to group texts, as well as communication (or attempted communication) in general.

There are things I like about Facebook: being in touch with long-time friends; photos of kids, grandkids, nature, meals; inspirational posts; genuinely educational posts. I also appreciate being able to vent.

Here I want to vent about comments I don’t like to see on Facebook, whether in response to one of my posts or those of others, as well as to others’ responses. These comments fall into two categories: non sequiturs and trolling.

A common cause of a non sequitur is that the person responding didn’t really read the post (or previous comments) first. In this category are those comments that miss the point of the post. The commenter may pick up on a minor element or even a phrase not on-point and change the focus of the conversation. At the extreme are those who hijack the post, making it about them or their own agenda.

While there are “professional” trolls intruding on almost all public pages, I’m bothered more by trolling by friends. Some individuals enjoy playing “gotcha” and engaging in trash talk. At some point, though, “kidding” can become annoying, if not hurtful, because of intensity or frequency. Closely related: making the conversation into a competition and seeking to one-up the poster or another commenter.

Trolling also can include value judgments of another’s personal likes/dislikes, “witty” comments that get only halfway there, feeling a need to explain an implied joke, dedication to “yes-but” responses and proclivity for putting a negative spin on a positive post.