Things are happening in the world, important things that get written up about in papers, newsworthy enough to print on paper. In today’s The Globe And Mail, for instance, there is an article about Qatar’s politico-economic maneuverings, the Japanese auto industry, Joe Bodalai, SNL writing and Kids in the Hall producer who is now dead, Prince Philip’s post surgical convalescence. It’s all there on the front page or at least pointing to sections inside the paper. These are the sort of things that people who still buy and read newspapers consider, or no, people who make newspapers, worthy of the front page. The nearest I would get that kind of journalistic real estate would be, if I’m lucky, as the Globe’s Arts section guest writer.
Don’t get me wrong: I understand that big things are happening in the world, that countries are acting like shits and people are dead or dying. But when I wake up in the morning, I watch for new signs of aging when I apply makeup and try not to lift my eyebrows while brushing on mascara because it creates lines on my forehead; I think about what appetizers I want to make for the New Year’s Eve cocktail party that I want to throw for my family; I wonder if I can handle taking the dog to the dog park alone because she can be such a bitch to get back on the leash; I wish I would stop getting interrupted while I’m writing this for my blog that only a few people know about and fewer people read. My concerns are in the midlands of the middle class countryside.
Sometimes, when my boyfriend comes home bushed after his sixteen hour or more stint at the hospital, looking consumptive, eyes glittering with exhaustion, telling me stories about his day, I think my life and preoccupations are trite. My life is frivolous. I say: “My life is frivolous. I don’t do anything important to anyone other than myself.” He tries to disagree. “What do I do? I throw dinner parties, write about outfits for my new thigh high stockings, reconstruct my history with alcohol in what I hope is a witty way. I wonder what’s going to happen with that intern in the Miami Dade PD; he’s clearly obsessed with Dexter. What do you think, honey?”
And that’s how I like it. All the things, almost all the things, that I love and enjoy, the stuff that preoccupies my mind, are thoroughly un-newsworthy, utterly irrelevant to the world at large. This blog, for instance, will never be serious and often times un-prim and improper. It won’t offer healthy recipes for health’s sake. Peppered with curse words because that’s how I talk, the language will alienate some readers and sometimes make me sound rebellious and dumb and sophomoric; I write about cocktails and wine, about abusing cocktails and wine. Brunch parties, dinner parties, birthday parties, New Year’s Eve parties, just-because parties, review of books that may or may not enter the canon, restaurants that may or may not exist in a year’s time, television shows, and random thoughts that are all equally irrelevant in the “big scheme of things” will get blogged about. While big, influential things are happening in politics, arts, academia, finance, and even sports, my life goes irrelevantly on.
My concerns are in the midlands of the middle class countryside…. And that’s how I like it. All the things, almost all the things, that I love and enjoy, the stuff that preoccupies my mind, are thoroughly un-newsworthy, utterly irrelevant to the world at large.
If you think irrelevance is or ought to be a source of secret shame, regret, or a catalyst for self examination and subsequent improvement, then let me offer this alterative interpretation. To be relevant means one or a combination of the following: you work your ass off to help people in general or “make the world a better place” and succeed to brilliant results or fail in flaming disaster, in both cases you neglect people in specific, namely, those people you love, perhaps even starve a dog to death by default, but in either case you become politically relevant; you are caught in a natural disaster or a manmade fuck up from, like say, a car accident, a war, or the collapse of a poorly constructed bridge because the foreman took a cut of the fees and used sub-par quality cement, and you become, sadly, relevant; you decide to take a shortcut and use sub-par quality cement while overseeing the construction of a bridge so that you can pocket the left-over cash and this all comes out in a civil suit and you become notoriously relevant; you are a dictator with a bloody career that ends in assassination and, thus, become historically relevant.
Can’t relate, you say? Let’s think smaller states of relevance: you are unemployed and apply for welfare and therefore statistically relevant; you have a drinking problem and like to drive while engaged with this problem, which has resulted in several DUI charges, the last of which ends in a 5 year suspension of license, which really puts a kink in your life “plans” since you have to drive to deliver those pizzas, which used to bring in the money to pay for the booze, and so now you apply for welfare to pay for the booze and therefore census-ly relevant; you owe the government a lot of money which you borrowed to go to graduated school, twice, from which the Master’s in creative writing and PhD in philosophy has left you unemployable, thus, relevant in a similar way to hemorrhoids or a financial ball-and-chain to your family, say, is relevant. So, you see, relevance often comes at a price that neither I nor a lot of people I know are willing to pay.
Whether relevant in a big way or a less big way, the key ingredient to Relevance is being noticed by others. Most of the time, it’s for being a shit. Or having shit kicked out of you. But even in those more infrequent moment when the attention is for being a benefactor or a star achiever, I have to wonder at the price those people paid to climb so high in the hierarchy of human achievement in order to garner notice, for people to point and say, “Hey! I see you!”
Irrelevance on the other hand requires relative political freedom (so you have to, if you can, choose where you live or just get damn lucky), decent health, being not too skinny or too fat, clinical sanity and emotional stability, employment, internet access, a Facebook account preferably with friends on the list that you keep in touch with in ways other than through likes and wall posts, a Smartphone is helpful to this end, and without an addiction to illegal substances or prescription drugs. Some people call this being normal or independent or grown up.
I call it the Virtue of Irrelevance.
This New Year, my resolution is to be more irrelevant than ever. It’s not easy being irrelevant: you have to take care of your shit and live fairly decently. It’s the “taking care of your shit” that sucks a lot of the fun out of the virtue. But it gives me access to my favorite value: Fun.
Fun—despite the popular and wishful belief propagated by beer commercials that epic parties can spring spontaneously from a single cooler of beer—requires planning and well timed execution that favors the high-stamina, fiscally responsible, emotionally stable, strong multi-tasker. As my best friend’s mother, Margaret, once said, “Having fun is hard work.”
(I don’t think Margaret ever intended for me to take her words quite so to heart. Perhaps if she’d known my near religious worship of fun, she wouldn’t have provided me with the bourgeois justification, namely, hard work, which gave my primary motivation in life a permissive moral glow. When faced with a decision, some people ask, “Is it safe? Is the price right? Is there enough time? Is it okay to swallow? Will it be hard? Is this something I can tell my uncle Bob about without worrying it’ll get back to my mother?” All reasonable considerations. The only question that really matters to me when deciding to do or not do something is, “Is it fun?” It so happens that I find a lot of things fun, which works out nicely.)
The Value of Fun and the Virtue of Irrelevance come as a pair. When you value fun, when you’re having fun rather, the experience is an end in itself, not a means to some end beyond it. There is almost never a “greater good” after it nor will it often “make the world a better place”. There’s no looking ahead to where the fun will lead nor asking what the fun is for. Fun is for fun. (Or as my boyfriend likes to frequently observe, “It is what it is.” I bristle a bit at this phrase because of the whiff of nihilism I detect, but it is true up to the point.) When you practice the Virtue of Irrelevance you’ve got the means–psychologically, physically, and financially–to make fun possible. And fun is relative to the individual experience and thus by definition localized, small, relatively irrelevant; it’s always going to be the show happening outside the back door of the largest theatres where Relevance plays inside and on stage.
Fine by me. I could never stand the burden of Relevance and I don’t see the point of anything unless it’s fun or has the promise of fun. So my New Year’s Resolution or Revelation is to be more irrelevant than ever. I’m doing well but I know I could do better.
So, Happy New Year to you. I hope 2012 is filled with many un-newsworthy utterly irrelevant successes and many more moments of fun.
Post Script. I asked a bunch of friends and family what their New Year’s resolutions were. And when I think about it and think about yours and not too hard, I think you’ll agree: we all just want to be Irrelevant.
Or in the words of Cyndi Lauper, “Girls [and boys] just wanna have fuh-un.”