Words, in their many manifestations

Defining times

Did anyone else notice the classified that ran in last week’s Budapest Times, the one entitled ‘Looking for?’ Or am I the only one, apart from the editors, who reads the paper, cover to cover, ads and all? In it, a person (gender not given) currently living in Germany (nationality not stated) is looking for someone (again, gender preference not noted) who is over 45 and wants to share a future, to travel around Europe (I wonder what’s wrong with the rest of the world and if it’s off limits for a reason) and see the world (oh, no, it’s just that the world in this instance is limited to Europe).

Ask and you shall receive

As I’m a firm believer in putting the ask out there, in challenging the universe to deliver, I commend this person for being so bold and for taking that step forward. I sincerely hope it works out and that they get the answer they’re looking for, in whatever form or fashion it takes.

What got me thinking though was the sentence ‘My financial relations are very good; so I have no economic sorrows’. It isn’t strange how we define ourselves, and even stranger how we define others. That this would be the one thing the writer thought important to highlight says so much about their perceived notion of the world and what they believe potential applicants might expect. I can’t quite imagine ever introducing myself as such: Hello, my name is Mary. I’m financially solvent.

The gift of the gab

Some of you might know that I front the speech slam Gift of the Gab [shameless plug: final is Thursday, 14th March, at New Orleans on Lovag utca www.speechslam.com]. Each month, five contestants all give a five-minute prepared speech on a topic of their choice followed by a three-minute impromptu on a topic chosen by the audience. My job is to keep the audience engaged as the judges, randomly chosen, decide their scores.

Ideally, my blathering will in some way connect to what the speaker has just spoken about – and as I’ve just heard the speech for the first time, too, it involves some quick thinking to come up with a relevant yarn. For the most part, my stories all have a kernel of truth which I embellish with the intention of amusing those who have come to support the cause.

The 100 or so people in the room know me by name; some of them I know to varying degrees, some I don’t know at all. But each of them forms an opinion of me, based on what I say. I’ve had people sympathise with me about my weight; commiserate with me about my single status; and offer hugs when I’ve spoken about being an emotional wreck. It would seem that everything I say is taken literally – and, truth be told, that’s no one’s fault but my own. What I say, the stories I tell, define me. For those listening I become that person. Nietzsche is on record as saying that ‘All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.’ Perhaps he has something there.

A life without issue

Some weeks ago, I noticed a spate of headlines that confounded me: grandfather describes crash that killed boy riding tricycle; NYC mother killed in Turkey; father of four found guilty of assault. That these subjects were defined by their children got me thinking. Does being a grandfather make you a better witness? Does being an NYC mother make your death more awful? Does being the father of four kids make you prone to assault? Where’s the connection here?

Were I to do something newsworthy, I wonder what the headline would read? Perhaps ‘Childless woman’s mint sauce recipe makes millions.’ I doubt it.

Who are we, really?

I have spent the greater part of my life being my parents’ daughter, my brother’s sister, so-and-so’s girlfriend, or someone else’s friend. My character has been compartmentalised with similar abandon – you know Mary… she talks a lot, she’s not at all backward about coming forward, she’s very particular about her punctuation. It seems as if we’re all destined to have such strap lines attached to us, strap lines which depend in large part on other people’s perceptions of what we do.

Who? Her? She’s a drinker. She plays around. She’s got no sense of humour. Who? Him? He’s neurotic. He’s needy. He’s mad in the head. We throw out these one-liners, which are, in effect, a knee-jerk reaction to some part of the person we’ve seen; rarely the whole person, just some part that we’ve been exposed to. We react viscerally to something in them that strikes a chord in us. And, as Jung so rightly pointed out, ‘Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.’

I know. I’ve found myself doing it lately when asked if I know someone… I can’t just stop at a simple yes. I have to qualify it by offering my tuppence ha’penny worth of insight into their character. It’s a dangerous practice, though, because it’s nothing more than my opinion – and sometimes, opinions are best kept to ourselves.

First published in the Budapest Times 22 February 2013

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