Thursday, June 11

Limits of Enjoyment

How does our enjoyment or approach to experiencing something affect others? Kate and I went to a Weepies concert recently. If you don't know the Weepies (or I suppose even if you do know them), they are a married couple who make what Spotify calls "folk-pop" music. Probably "The World Spins Madly On" is their best known song. I'm pretty sure it was a background song on Gray's Anatomy ( "Painting by Chagall" is one of my favorites. Six players at this concert, including a drummer. So the music was slightly upbeat, once in a while what you might call light rock and roll. They are not AC-DC or the Grateful Dead. They aren't the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra either.

We saw them at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, where the Prairie Home Companion is often performed. Seated right behind us was a middle-aged guy named Fred (his pre-show monologue enabled me to know his name and much more information about him, and about the Weepies, singers like the Weepies, early albums by Deb Tannen [aka Mrs. Weepie], and a variety of other topics). He was completely jazzed to see the Weepies in person. Probably his favorite group, or at least it appeared that way. He was just excited. When his date went to the rest room after the opening act I whispered to Kate, "He'll find someone else to talk to while she is gone." And so he did, bubbling over with information and opinions. When a song started he could hardly contain himself. He had to yell "Whooo!!!!!!" or "Yesssssssssss!!" at the start of each song. At least for me, these were not "Whooo!!!!" songs. He was so excited that he took a photo from our balcony seats during an early song. He had already informed his date that he didn't take very good photos with his iPhone. I could see the truth of that statement when a minute into the second song a flash went off, startling both Kate and me and confirming at least one reason his photos weren't much good - since the flash ensured that he had a photo consisting of mostly a flare which was my bald spot and perhaps some definition on the others in my row. None of the flash reached the stage until it was too late. Just a guy enjoying the concert in his own way. And the concert clearly meant more to him than it did to me.

In the row in front of us at the same concert were a couple that had a Jack Spratt quality. She was short and sort of squat. He was rangy. But his most remarkable quality was his hair, which rose in a tufted mountain over his scalp what must conservatively been six inches. For the warmup act Ms. Spratt sat in front of me, and Jack sat in front of the woman to my right. After the break they rightfully changed seats, in deference to the shorter woman on my right. Ms. Spratt was careful to inquire of both of us if we could see (I could with a small adjustment of my seating position - my neighbor really couldn't). Ms. Spratt even said that they considered bringing a swimming cap to deal with the problem. But I really appreciated her effort to minimize Mr. Spratt's impact on his fellow concert goers.

Life is full of examples like these. Two of our neighbors at the cabin are "motor" guys. They are happiest on a mower or an ATV or driving a backhoe or revving up the Jet-Ski. I'm happiest watching birds or reading or staring into space - and their enjoyment affects mine.

And it goes both ways. My cabin habits are quieter (and therefore to my eye less intrusive). But I don't hesitate to wander onto their property when watching a bird or throwing a bocce ball. I don't think that's offensive but they might just be too nice to say anything.

Also, I humbly admit that I like to think of jokes in the run of a conversation. And I also must admit that once they are floating around my brain I have a nearly compulsive need to "share" them. I know I have interrupted and deflected many a serious conversation and not a few business meetings to share something I thought was funny, often when someone was making a serious point. I'm just another excited guy enjoying myself and doing what I love. Reacting to a situation in a way that feels natural and right. But it does affect other's ability to make their point. To say what they want to say. To accomplish what needs to be accomplished. To enjoy the conversation.

So what is "the answer"? Like most things, there isn't "an answer." People get enjoyment in different ways. Some have fun in a noisy way, others quietly. Some love a little controversy and argument to spice things up. Others hate that. I know I should do better at respecting the situation and the needs of others. Perhaps next time I will apologize after making a joke at an inappropriate time. But I will probably still make the joke.