April 12, 2022

Article at Danny Anderson Writes Into The Abyss

On Being Ridiculous

A Laughing Fool. Netherlandish oil painting (possibly Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen) ca. 1500. [Public Domain Image.]
A Laughing Fool. Netherlandish oil painting (possibly Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen) ca. 1500. [Public Domain Image.]

I am ridiculous. To be fair, I think that most other people are too, but those of us who know that depressing fact about ourselves carry a special burden.

I'm probably ridiculous in many ways, some perhaps even beyond my awareness. My hats, t-shirts, and entertainment preferences are likely candidates for my ridiculousness.

Where I mainly feel ridiculous, however, is in my work.

First, the way I define "my work" is ridiculous. I count the labor I perform for money, of course. My teaching and administrative duties are obvious aspects of my work. However, I also consider the writing I do (including this ridiculous thing) as work (even though I almost never get paid to do it). And the podcasting I do (on which I ridiculously lose money) is also "my work." Yes, the silly essays I write about horror films and Kinks albums are work to me at least, and as an even more ridiculous extension of this is the fact that I basically consider movie-watching as a "part of my job." I carry my little blue notebook with me into the flippin' AMC. I am ridiculous and filled with great shame.

But even the nature of my legitimate work is ridiculous, when one looks at it objectively. I'll ask you to think about what I do as an English teacher. While part of my job is arguably practical -- I help students develop communication and analytical skills -- the bulk of my work consists of holding people captive in a course they have to take and trying to make them interested in things they have no interest in.

Let me step back from my argument just a bit. A significant part of me -- most of me, in fact -- thinks that what I do is not ridiculous. Inviting young people to experience "the best that's been thought and said" (in Matthew Arnold's words) has meaning for me and I believe in it.

The overly self-aware part of me often feels like a clown in a spotlight nonetheless.

Take my horror film class, for instance. Students are paying for and receiving college credit -- a cultural signifier of intellectual and moral achievement -- to take deep dives into monster movies. I imagine most people think this is ridiculous and I don't blame them.

I, of course, think of horror films as legitimately important instruments to experience the world in all its complicated glory. I know this makes me ridiculous. And there are students that take the ride with me, but I'm cursed by the sight of those for whom I'm an object of pity or annoyance. "Why can't he just enjoy a movie?" I imagine them saying to their family and friends. Because, dear student, I am ridiculous. Haven't you heard?

It's the knowing how ridiculous I am that makes showing up every day a challenge. If I could only be one of those ridiculous people who works, watches CBS procedurals and never considers their ridiculousness. But I can't. As Ad-Rock proclaims in the Beastie Boys' "Unite," "So what if I'm a ham and cheese on rye? I gots to do my thing and that's no lie."

My ridiculousness whispers its presence gently in to my ear whenever I'm in the company of other people. If Hell is not Other People, Other People can certainly be Hell when one simply doesn't fit in.

A passage from Frankenstein comes to mind:

There is something at work in my soul which I do not understand. I am practically industrious -- painstaking, a workman to execute with perseverance and labour -- but besides this, there is a love for the marvellous, a belief in the marvellous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men, even to the wild sea and unvisited regions I am about to explore.

Yes, I am a fool, I don't simply play one on TV.

And yet, when I can set my embarrassment and self-loathing aside, I think being a fool is the best way to live. I feel things. I think thoughts. Most people don't care about my thoughts or feelings, but they still exist. I still exist. I am a fool. A ridiculous fool. Because I love life, I will foolishly chase it down with my curiosity. I will be proudly, defiantly ridiculous.