inside voices

all around me, everywhere i go these days, people are exhibiting behaviors that are reminiscent of the lessons some of us learned about how to behave or perform ourselves in different contexts. though, truth be told, my immigrant upbringing didn't offer such options; i was told to "be good" no matter what the situation and was left to figure out which behaviors fell into that command, and which would earn me a stern talking-to from either of my parents, an acknowledgement of my transgression from an uncle or aunt, or, on the rare occasion, a look of disapproval from my grandmother. but i digress...

this afternoon, as i was listening to the soothing sounds of metallica's version of "whiskey in the jar" while climbing away on the elliptical machine at the gym, i was prompted to look up from my new yorker when a visual cacophony of gesturing became apparent in my peripheral vision. a young women, whose back faced me, was striding away on her arc trainer and she was approached by another woman whose face bore an earnest yet quizzical expression. i couldn't hear the exchange over james hetfield's dulcet tones crooning repetitions of "musha-rig-dum-a-do-rum-a-da" (or "musha ring dumma do damma da," depending on where you look), so i had to rely on their gestures and my interpretive abilities to make sense of the situation. it went a little something like this:
quizzical woman: motions to the arc trainer, smiles sheepishly, looks down, looks quickly back up, shrugs her shoulders, keeps smiling as she mouths something

strider: turns to face QW, keeps striding (or arc training - im still trying to figure out the new machines!), points to the machine that she is on, motions with her hand toward the doorway that leads to the upper levels, shrugs her shoulders

qw: nods, points in the direction of the doorway, shuffles her feet a bit, smiles and mouths a noticeable "thank you," walks toward the doorway

strider: returns her attention to the in style magazine opened in front of her and pauses on a layout featuring a variety of purses, continues to stride
at the end of this exchange, i found myself annoyed at the young woman who kept on striding. i read her like i read two other young women who i assumed to be freshman given their gym-wear and knowing-while-at-the-same-time-clueless attitudes. in this moment of (forced) observation, i found myself taking sides in the unfolding gym drama. but what if i had it all wrong? suppose the quizzical woman wasn't quizzical at all; instead, she was a nuisance who was trying the patience of a fellow gym patron. and perhaps the young woman in coordinated workout gear geniunely misread the time allotment sheet.

as i read elizabeth kolpert's commentary in the talk of the town section of this week's new yorker, i saw myself in her criticism of the bush administration's false optimism. she writes
"President Bush likes to portray himself as a man of unwavering optimism. ... Of all the many ingenious American things this President is optimistic about, technology is supposedly near the top of the list. ... [T]he technologies he supports are either those whihc were developed in the past - coal mining and oil drilling - or those which lie securely in the future: cars and buses that zip around on hydrogen."
she concludes the piece by noting:
"This is not the record of a technological optimist, of someone who believes in the 'ingenuity of the American people.' This is the record of a pessimist." (p.62) (see more here)
i was reading this commentary as i passively participated in the moment described above and as the moment passed and i resumed reading, i found myself wondering about the lines we draw between our theoretical frameworks and the way we write ourselves into the world. do i not have an optimistic perspective when seeking to understand how young people are making their way in the world - and interested in their innovations, and generally willing to give them the benefit of the doubt? so what was at play this afternoon? does my definition of youth or adolescent stop before college? not include students attending an elite private institution of higher education?

or maybe i just have a healthy skepticism of overly coordinated gym-goers. to whom this may apply, consider this fair warning for any and all theoretical framework transgressions i may commit heretofore...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cool. Strange thoughts, though.