Visualise Whirled Peas

Tracey Barnett ©December 2009

It was when she said, “You deserve this” that my antenna first went up. Strange. I was lying on the floor of my gym class with 40 others, like flattened Flounders, during the last five minutes of class devoted to relaxation.

I’m no idiot. If I am going to compromise humanity’s inevitable progression into thigh waddle with my Body-Pretzel-Yoda class, as I call it, might as well get a lie-down at the end. Tragically, this is my idea of a good time.

That’s just when it throws me. Alien utterances start coming out of the mouth of my instructor. Disconcerting phrases like, “This is your time. Let everything else go. You are the most important thing in the room right now. Just breathe.” I drift away to thoughts of Kung Fu’s Master murmuring my favourite bumper sticker, “Think Whirled Peas”. On bad days, it’s Austin Powers.

What’s so extraordinary about these simple, tiny, throwaway revelations is that to my ears, they’re revelations. This is not good.

I’m a journalist. People aren’t supposed to say nice things to you. Someone tells me I’m having a good hair day and I’ll offer to carry their next baby if I find out they don’t actually need to borrow $40 bucks. Its like I’ve entered The Matrix, a different space-time continuum where sarcasm and cynicism wrapped in snark isn’t used as an actual currency.

How friggin’ terrifying. How foreign. How much does it cost?

Lots, apparently, because we never seem to be able to afford it. We will spend literally years of our life in the same office, club, even the same home, as another Neanderthal we really care about. Yet as soon as they walk away, having said a killer one-liner you particularly admired, you turn to another mate and say, “God, I love that guy. Where’s his Nobel?” He never gets to hear a word of it until you tell his story at his wake. How dumb are we?

Why is it perfectly okay to tell each other you’re pond scum, but awkward as hell to say one piddly sentence of personal regard out loud to someone you still enjoy seeing daily after two or twenty years?

Our priorities are wacked. We separate out a big hunk of our humanity like its radioactive, as if the expression of just simple admiration will give off some toxic, sludgy, self-help book glow.

We’re such wimps, we contain spoken kindness in little boxes, confined to where its safe, like salary reviews, wedding toasts, or when they wheel you into surgery.

What a cheat. Why does expressing regard feel so much less natural than distain? Maybe God is Bart Simpson after all. Someone must have decided that snark trumps sentiment, truly the dirtiest word of our times. Just rent “It’s a Wonderful Life” and tell me what Darwinian forces have devolved us away from an unshaven Jimmy Stewart exclaiming, “ZuZu’s pedals! By God, it’s ZuZu’s pedals!”

The fat irony is, in the same decade that saw an unprecedented tsunami of new communication with emails, texts and tweets, something strangely parallel has evolved. The spoken word delivered in person seems to have earned more weight. Face time feels more precious because it exists less. Many of us spend 90 percent more of our working day staring into the face of a screen than a person.

So, this is what I wonder. I wonder when the last time was you looked—yes, really looked—at the person you live with for longer than a glance. I wonder if you’ve actually told a colleague what you liked about them, though you’ve thought it to yourself for years. I wonder why we don’t teach our children that parroting ‘I love you’ at the end of a phone conversation isn’t a synonym for ‘good-bye’. The phrase deserves its respect, its true weight.

No, I haven’t been drinking or listening to an endless loop of Andre Bocelli. Yes, this is really going on a newspaper’s editorial page because that’s where it deserves to be. You will forget every column I’ve ever written this year on bad wars and sucky politics. But if you see me in the grocery store some day, tell me what happened when you did this:

After you finish this column, get up, clench your buttocks, go over to the person who deserves this, look at their face for a few seconds. Wait until they get good and creeped out, and just begin.

Before they try to find a concealed weapon or run for your meds, take maybe two minutes [which is a long time] to tell them very specifically what you like/love about them. No sarcasm. No jokes. Just two minutes of your time.

If you can’t do this, ask yourself what’s stopping you—and change it.

Just breathe, you hapless Flounders, and ‘Think Whirled Peas.’

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