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Punintentional: The Obtuseness That is My Life

When people tell me I’m funny, I tell them that I’m not. I tell them that I am the least funny person they will ever meet in their lives.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s moments like these that I feel like I’m a few steps behind the world.

This time last week, at Shabbat dinner, the topic of conversation was nails. Someone (Carly, maybe?) had gotten a manicure before Shabbat, and people were talking about crazy manicures and nail designs. I mentioned a friend of mine from college who painted a different design on her nails every week, according to the zodiac or something. Somebody mentioned how that was commitment, and I was like…

“Yeah, she must have had a lot of time on her hands.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

People laugh, and about two minutes pass before I understand what I just said.

I realized that I’ve done this from time to time. Back in high school, we watched the movie version of The Crucible after reading it in English class. The ending of the movie is much different than the ending of the play. After we watched it, we discussed it, and my first thought?

“I didn’t like this ending. It kinda leaves you hanging.”

I think a full five minutes passed before I got that one.

The third story is one that’s a bit more contextual, so apologies in advance if you don’t get it.

So, in my sophomore year of high school, we put on Les Miserables. Yes, that one. At our Orthodox Jewish high school. It goes without saying that it was pretty terrible, but we had a few great rehearsal moments. One time, early in the rehearsal process, we were all sitting around chatting during a break, and someone remarked on the lack of “Lovely Ladies” and the characters in that number, and people suddenly started asking questions like “where are the lovely ladies?” And some idiot said, “Do we have a Pimp?”

Without blinking, my drama teacher goes:

“No. Not anymore.”

For a split-second she looked up and around, and then laughed. Fortunately, I think she was making a joke.

I hope she was making a joke.

I have Diane to thank for this post. Thanks, Diane!

Also, hooray for being a five-continent day, all but Africa.

 

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Tongue-Tied

One of the things I love most about going to class is participating in discussions. Since I live alone, there are only so many times I can rehash the same conversations over and over in my head, like why I should or should not sweep the floor today, or if I made the right decision about this or that in my life. So, going to class and participating in discussions is one way to hear other currents of information and contribute words of my own, words that may mean something to someone, or not. I’ve never been called out for lack of participation, and I do my best to keep my thoughts limited and on topic.

It’s rare that I have a moment like I did today.

So there I was, just sitting in class, listening in and taking notes on a discussion about societal values, symbolism, and political ideology. Even though I didn’t quite understand every word of every reading we had to do, hearing them spoken aloud helped me get a better perspective on things. This topic was one I had been unsure about, but a thought came to me as we discussed different levels of societies and the socially constructed methodology.

I raise my hand. (Even though since there are only seven students and one professor, most people just start talking, I still raise my hand, because I guess I like rules, or I’m bad at breaking old habits).

The professor calls on me, and all eyes turn toward me.

My brain says: Where did the carefully crafted thought I just had disappear to? I know it’s somewhere…and yes, it had to do with…

“The values of society can sometimes be as cut-and-dry as visual symbols, like…”

Like what?

“Like…Boy Scouts. And Girl Scouts.”

Okay, Jacob, good, keep going.

::silence::

Come on, you can do it.

“Whenever they complete a task that coalesces with a positive attribute of the fundamentals of their organization, they get a badge, and I guess that these badges are a way of exposing the values behind the organization and society of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.”

Keep going, you’re almost there!

“So, my point is, it can be as simple as a merit badge that shows the values of a society that values ethics, and children.”

Okay, wrap it up.

“They promote their own cause by presenting boys and girls with badges, that they wear across their chest, on their, um, clothing, shirt, vest, that thing, wraps around your neck, shoulder, shirt, vest, thing, so that it can be easily seen and understood by outsiders…”

????

“…the core values of their organization, which causes a sense of pride, validating their sense of community-mindedness, to their community, and their importance within their own society, as well as to outsiders, with the badges they wear, across, their shirts, vest, chest, the thing that wraps around…”

…..

::silence::

What? Where am I? Who am I? What am I saying? What is…what? I should just stop talking, this is dumb…

“I should just stop talking, this is dumb…wait…oh my God, I’m sorry…” ::bites lip awkwardly::

At this point, the professor jumped in, and said something like “oh yes, no, yes, that’s a good example, that proves your point, you did a good job with that…” and we moved on, with me still kind of staring into nowhere.

I think I quietly said something to myself like “ugh, that was terrible, that made no sense…”

At which point the girl next to me overheard me, patted me on the shoulder, and said in a small voice, “No, you’re good, that was good, you’re okay.”

Oy vey. That’s all I have to say.

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How Do You Pronounce Your Name, In Your Country?

Today, I hosted the sixth and final film in this year’s Madison Israeli Film Festival. It was a Sunday matinee showing of the 2012 film Foreign Letters by Israeli Filmmaker Ela Thier.

A still from the film

The film takes place in the USA in 1982 and centers around Ellie, a young girl who has recently emigrated from Israel to America with her family. She struggles, but is curious to learn about this strange new place called America where supermarkets give away bags for free and schools have libraries and cafeterias. While at school, she befriends Thuy, a girl who has moved from Vietnam to America with her family several years prior, due to the war. The girls have an unlikely friendship but bond over being outsiders in an America that is predominantly white and English-speaking. Their close friendship is tested by Ellie’s self-proclaimed “boyfriends,” Thuy’s shy and protective nature, and ultimately, betrayal, when Ellie spills one of Thuy’s secrets. But the film ends on a happy note, when Ellie makes a sacrifice in order to win her friend back.

After the film, I gave a short speech and invited some students from our school’s Vietnamese Student Association to the front of the room, where they talked about their lives and their different connections with their own Vietnamese culture and heritage. The two members of the group who were born in Vietnam (including one who just arrived in America this past year for school) wore spectacular Vietnamese outfits called ao dai just like Ellie and Thuy wear in the film when they are dancing together on the rooftop of Thuy’s apartment building. They gave a really solid presentation about Vietnamese culture and traditions, connecting it to things that we saw in the movie, such as Vietnamese clothing, food, and family values.

We had a small crowd, of only about 40 people, but I think any more than that would’ve been overwhelming. After their presentation, they took questions from the audience. All in all, it was a really fun event and I got more than a few compliments from people who attended and those who worked at Hillel.

From the moment I read the description of the movie, I had to see it, and after the first time I saw it, I knew I wanted to see it again and that I wanted to be the host for this one (there were six students on the film committee, each of us hosted a different night) because I love films that have a happy ending but still an urban, gritty atmosphere. Life is awkward sometimes and watching Foreign Letters again helped me feel like even though I’m an awkward person, I’m not alone. I also feel like this film really shied away from stereotypes, and showed a slice of life, something real. The Jewish/Israeli perspective was spot on, and I hope that the Vietnamese perspective was shown accurately, which I think it was. This film is definitely among my all-time favorites.

And of course, there’s the background soundtrack, featuring the fabulous vocals of Chava Alberstein. Watch the trailer here:

Oh, and welcome to my newest country, Latvia (laipni lūdzam!). Maybe I’ll get my first blog hit from Vietnam?

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Strategies for Talking with the Socially Awkward (Written By A Socially Awkward Person)

Awkwardness is alive and well in all levels of conversation, especially in 2013, when we can rely on text messages and emails to do our talking for us. The face-to-face is becoming rarer, and as we move towards an age of total social isolation, talking with people can be rough. I’d say about 75% of people out there would describe themselves as “socially awkward.” I am in that 75%. There’s no denying it; I am so socially awkward, most of it stemming from a childhood of limited social interactions with people (especially those my own age). Where I feel socially capable, however, is talking to the similarly socially awkward person, with hopes of decreasing or completely negating the mutually felt so-called social awkwardness. I had a conversation today with someone who is undoubtedly as socially awkward as I, or even more, and it went off beautifully, in part by employing these strategies:

1. Open with a fun greeting. Regardless of your mood, smile and say “Hey there!” or “How goes it?” or “Howdy!” Something to briefly catch the person off guard, showing you put some forethought into your greeting and are, dare I say, excited to meet/see the person.

2. Ask about the person, avoiding questions that leave room for a one-word answer. I personally love “How ya doin’?,” and saying it in a peppy manner is all the better, but opening the conversation with a prompting question rather than a…regular question…helps you glide right into actual person conversation. If you haven’t talked to the person in a really long time or are meeting them for the first time, sometimes you gotta reach a little bit. Saying “How’ve things been going?” or “Tell me about yourself!” works – something that’s inviting and lets them know that you want to continue the conversation, and are focused on them. “If you have talked to the person recently, you can ask them a question relating to something that happened in the interim since the last time you talked. For example, “How was your weekend?” or “What’s new in your life?” or “How’d your visit to the abortion clinic go?” Not the last one, but you get the point.

3. Focus on them, but not too much. I was seated at my conversation today, and I found that leaning forward and nodding my head was way more effective then sitting back and shrinking from the conversation. Also, because the chair was comfortable, and I didn’t sleep well last night, the sitting-back position was more likely to put me to sleep, so I adjusted myself periodically. Don’t always worry about sitting up straight, and if you need to adjust, don’t question yourself, just do it. Eye contact is important, but looking too intensely may scare him/her, so it’s okay to look down or to the side for a second. I was teaching a class once, and a guy in the front row was half-smiling and nodding and making eye contact with me, so as I was looking around the room doing the teaching thing, I kept coming back to him, and it made me feel a little bit special inside knowing that as awkward as I am, someone cared enough to listen to me. Either that, or he was a really convincing actor.

4. Listen until the end of the tape. If you remember cassette tapes, at the very end of the song, there’d be a tiny bit of empty hissing before the tape snapped and you had to rewind it. (God I feel so old.) Let his/her speech run its course, and then a few seconds longer, as if you’re waiting for the hiss or you’re on a three-second broadcast delay. (Better metaphor.) Don’t chomp at the bit with the next thing you’re going to say, even if you already know what it is – dial it back, son. Don’t make them feel like you’re controlling things; let him/her know that you’ve processed them for a second before opening your yap. Buuut…don’t wait too long, and create the Awkward Silence of Death (see number 6).

5. Be animated while you talk, but again, not too much. Nothing is scarier than a monotone, because most socially awkward people like myself get scared easily. Using your hands to gesture is fine. I’d suggest giving yourself some room lest you hit him/her in the nose. Act excited to be there, like “I’ve been so looking forward to this, and you, conversation partner, are just the bee’s knees, and I’d rather be nowhere else right now.” If you’re not, fake it, damn it. Don’t obscure your feelings; try putting your heart on your sleeve for a moment. Be vulnerable for a moment or two. Allow him/her to see your inner monologue and how what he/she is saying is directly influencing your processing of thought. Give them that power – for now – and then you’ll be like “ha ha, I am the puppet master of social interactions!” But don’t say that out loud.

6. Awkward Silence of Death. So many people have told me that silence is good in a conversation, but unless it’s with someone you’re really close to, it’s not. Keep silence at 3-4 seconds, max. Keep the conversation going, or you may let your guard down or allow them to retreat back into doubting their own social skills. I’ve been interviewed a lot of times, and the ones with awkward silences are the worst. Keep it light, and say something to bring your minds back into the conversation.

7. Know when to switch topics, and when to cut bait. Don’t EVER say “let’s change the topic…” that implies that you are either uninterested or insulted by what he/she is currently telling you. Try “In other news…” or “just apropos…” or if you’re feeling irreverent, “And now, for something completely different…” And when you switch the topic, don’t come out of left field, it might leave your awkward person tongue-tied. Ending conversations is tough…if you have somewhere to be, or something to do, or you run out of things to talk about and fall into the trap of “so…yeah… [trails off into nothingnowherenadaland]” make a move and a cheery exit, maybe even with a flourish, making your conversation partner look forward to the time when the two of you can be socially awkward together again.

Above all, keep it positive, light, upbeat, and breezy…the more you pretend that you’re a socialite, the better it works! But you’re obviously in possession of more intelligence than your average socialite (whoops, almost typed socialist) so you got it made in the shade.

If you’re talking to a person who thinks they’re not socially awkward, then either a) these strategies will not work for you, or b) it is likely that he/she is, in fact, more socially awkward than you.

This was a weird post, but if you’ve learned nothing, know this:

Social interactions are only as terrifying as you make them. Most people don’t have two heads, one speaking to you and one judging you. If you are in a conversation with a person with two heads, run and get your camera because you’re obviously going to want a selfie. If you are in a conversation with a zombie, just skip to number 7, cut bait with a cheery exit and a flourish, and then just run away because otherwise they will eat your brains.