Ironic table talk (R)

“So, have you noticed that irony is super trendy now?” I dealt Phase 10 cards to Amy and my two kids. “‘The Ironic Generation.’ I keep hearing that. What does that even mean? That people want to live off the grid, yet they can’t survive without Facebook and Twitter?”

Amy fanned and arranged the cards in her hand. “It’s a hipster thing.”

What's cool?  Not being cool.  on C.A.P.S.Love“What’s a hipster?” Our son’s big eyes looked up at me.

“Well,” I said, “Every generation – do you know what a generation is?”

“Yeah, it’s like a thousand years or something.”

“Not quite,” Amy and I laughed. “It’s a group of people of a certain age,” I told him. “Like, you and all your friends are your generation. Daddy and me and Amy and all of our friends are our generation.”

He discarded. “Okaaay.”

“Each generation has a group of, I don’t know,” Rebels? Outsiders? “A subculture that kind of defines the generation. In the 20s it was flappers.” I played a card and looked across the table at Amy. “When were beatniks?”

“Beatniks were in the 60s,” she said. “And hippies were the 60s and 70s.”

“Punk was the 80s. And now,” I said, “it’s hipsters.” I peered over my cards at our son to see if he understood. He did not.

“There were tons of hipsters in the Twin Cities,” I told him. “They think they’re really cool. Like, they were cool before cool was cool.” He had no idea what I was talking about. He’s nine.

I played a card and asked my friend, “Do you know how the hipster burned his tongue?”

She raised an eyebrow, waiting for my answer.

“He ate pizza before it was cool.” I giggled hysterically. Our son rolled his eyes.

Amy was more useful to him, describing the hipster look – the skinny jeans, the PBR tee shirts. “And then there are the older hipsters, like Ira Glass and my husband, with the glasses, and the beard, like my husband has,” she said. She moved some cards around in her hand. “Although he had the glasses and the beard before they were a thing.”*

I giggled again, thinking she was making fun of herself, saying that her husband had adopted the hipster look before it was cool. I looked up from my cards to acknowledge her cleverness, but she wasn’t smiling about it. She was laying down her sets, getting ready to go out.

“So, back to irony,” I said. “I’ve always loved irony, but I never know how to explain it. If somebody asked me to define irony, I could give an example, but I couldn’t define it.” I laid down my sets of four and discarded. Amy looked thoughtful, turning her eyes up as if she could look into her brain, rifle through files, and find a definition for ironic.

Only Hipsters know Irony by J David Ramsey on jdavidramsey.com

“Only Hipsters Know Irony,” writing and “art” by J. David Ramsey

“But the irony I know is not anything like that Alanis Morissette song,” I said. “‘It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.’ What the hell is that? That’s not ironic. That’s just annoying. Ironic has some sort of, I don’t know,” I gestured toward my heart. “Mystical quality.”

Amy’s eyebrows shot up and she grinned. “Let’s look it up!”

I gave her the dictionary, and she riffled pages while I shuffled cards. Her face turned scowly.

“What the hell?” She said. “Listen to this:

Ironic. 1. Characterized by or constituting irony. 2. Given to the use of irony.

“That doesn’t tell you anything,” she said. “It uses irony in the definition!”

My son arranged his new cards. “It’s your turn Amy.”

“Oh, sorry,” she said, then smiled and stroked the book. “I have this dictionary now, you see,” and she played a card.

“Well, look up irony then,” I said.

She followed the words with her long finger.

Irony. 1.a. The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning.

I had had a couple of whiskey sours at this point. “What? That confuses me,” I said, and took another sip. “This is an example of irony to me. I have this friend whose mom was a super fructavore – she loved fruits and veggies and ate them all the time. They were her snacks, her desserts, always a component in her meals. Tons of fiber, you know?  Well, she died from colon cancer.” I laid down a card. “That’s ironic.”

“Okay, listen, though. Here’s the third definition of ironic”:

3.  Poignantly contrary to what was expected or intended.

“Poignant! That’s going in my Lexicon.” I jumped up to get my Moleskine. “Poignant is one of my favorite words. It’s like irony – it has this mystical quality,” and I gestured toward my innards again. “It makes me feel.”

“Mom! It’s your turn!”

“Sorry babe.” I played a card and thought of the example of irony I had just told. “My friend’s mom contracting colon cancer after a lifetime of fruit eating is, well, poignantly contrary to what was expected. That’s a perfect definition! That’s the irony I’m talking about. It’s all about the poignancy.”

“You really need to read the usage examples here,” Amy said, pointing at the entry in the dictionary.

hipster-minnie-275x300I thought about all the young hipsters in the Twin Cities as play went round the the table. I thought about the sad irony that they try desperately to avoid anything mainstream, yet they have become so mainstream they even have a look. Glasses, skinny jeans, fixed gear bicycles. iProducts.

When it was my turn again, I fingered my cards, then hitched up my skinny jeans so I could start the music back up on my iMac. I smirked, “Well, I’ve loved irony for, like, 20 years. Irony spoke to me before it became a ‘thing’.”

And then I laid down my cards and laughed.

Usage Note: The words ironic, irony, and ironically are sometimes used of events and circumstances that might better be described as simply “coincidental” or “improbable,” in that they suggest no particular lessons about human vanity or folly.  Thus 78 percent of the Usage Panel rejects the use of ironically in the sentence In 1969 Susie moved from Ithaca to California where she met her husband-to-be, who, ironically, also came from upstate New York.  By contrast, 73 percent accepted the sentence Ironically, even as the government was fulminating against American policy, American jeans and videocassettes were the hottest items in the stalls of the market, where the incongruity can be seen as an example of human inconsistency. (The American Heritage College Dictionary)

When I was researching this post, I came across some pretty hilarious stuff.  Like the wikiHow article 9 Ways to Be a Hipster.  I also found a fascinating opinion piece in the NY Times: How to Live Without Irony by Christy Wampole.  Both great reads if you are curious about hipster subculture.

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I originally published this post Februrary 26, 2013. When I saw this week’s writing challenge, Oh, The Irony, I couldn’t resist reposting. I don’t know if hipsters are still a thing, so hopefully this isn’t woefully outdated.

Best of Butterfly Mind

Today is the anniversary of my first post, One Last Move, on June 7, 2012 on Butterfly Mind. In that first post, and in many subsequent ones, I wrote about trying to find my way as an at-home mom when our children both went off to elementary school, leaving me alone in quiet, not for minutes but for hours, for the first time in 9 years. I didn’t know if I should pursue a new career, and if so, what would I do? Who would I be? A young friend in Blacksburg commented on one such searching post:

“For your main line of work, I would follow whatever you naturally gravitate toward when you feel the need to be productive.”

How very wise he was. Thank you Phil. You were right. I gravitate towards words when I want to be productive, and I did not see that at the time. When I thumb through old diaries, I realize I’ve gravitated towards writing all along. Every couple of years I express in those private pages my desire to be a writer. A desire that seemed so impractical and unattainable, I never gave it credence. Until this blog. Now, I’m building a writing practice, laying a foundation so that when the kids grow up and move away, I can move forward into a writing career. If that’s still what I want to do ten years from now.

To celebrate my first anniversary, I thought I’d serve up the year’s most popular posts. For those of you who have been around since the beginning, thank you. I am grateful for your support. For those of you who are new here, welcome. Perhaps this run-down will give you an idea of where to start and what to expect on Butterfly Mind. Thanks to all of you for your readership, and enjoy.

Top humor post: Lost Balls

Top memoir post: A Small Thing My Dad Never Knew

Top writing post: Why creative writing matters: new findings on the brain’s reaction to language

Top graph(s): Snow Day Fatigue

Top photo essay: When nature is allowed to be nature

Top book review: Wild: A Book Review in Four Words

and

Top parenting (and most popular overall) post: Dear Diary,

Do you know the “F” word?

One morning, when the kids were 5 and 7, and I was standing at the chopping block cutting crusts off sandwiches, I heard our son say to his little sister, “Do you know the ‘D’ word?”

He and our daughter slurped cereal at the kitchen table a few feet behind me. I paused imperceptibly, remained facing forward, and wrestled gently with a plastic sandwich bag, taming it into quiet, unrustling submission. Where was he going with this? I tried to remain silent so I could hear our daughter’s response.

“D-U-M?” She said.

I relaxed, smiled to myself, and stuffed the bagged sandwiches into lunch boxes. I pulled the rinsed strawberries towards me from the far corner of the board and patted them dry.

“What about the ’S’ word?” he asked. I stiffened.

“Umm. S-T-U-P-I-D.”

My shoulders softened. How precious that she was spelling the “bad words” out instead of saying them. I sliced berries and pretended I wasn’t listening.

Our son was quiet a moment, probably chewing his mini-wheats. I dared not look lest I give myself away. “What about the ‘H’ word?” he asked.

“H-A-T-E.”

Oh my goodness, be still my heart. Did I teach them this, that “hate” is a bad word? If so, major mom kudos to me. I tucked the strawberries next to the sandwiches and smiled smugly to myself about my parenting skills. Our son asked, just as I was about to zip up a lunch box, “Do you know the ‘F’ word?” I busied myself with wiping the board instead of securing the noisy zipper.

“F-A-T?” our daughter asked.

“Nooooo…”

“F-A-R-T?”

I could feel our son smiling. I chuckled, too. “Nooooo…”

Wait. What could it be if not “fat” or “fart?” Well, obviously you and I know what it could be, but if the kids didn’t know the “D,” “S,” or “H” words, how on earth would they know the “F” word?

“I don’t know,” our daughter said. “What is it?”

“F-U-K,” our 7 year old son said.

Oh my God. He knows. He knows! How does he know this?!

Okay, act casual. I folded my cloth, picked up a lunch box, and took a deep breath.

“Hey baby,” I said, turning my body toward them at last, nonchalantly sealing the lunch box, not freaking out. Not correcting his spelling. “Where did you hear that word?” We don’t say that word around the kids. Maybe he heard it on the bus. There were fifth graders on the bus, and he was only in second grade. The big kids must have talked about it. That’s how he knew it was a bad word. Surely second graders weren’t talking about it. Surely.

His sister lost interest and cleaned up her bowl. He shrugged and said, “I dunno.”

This conversation could go anywhere. Why it’s a bad word, why kids shouldn’t say it, who is offended by it, why some people use it, whether their dad and I ever use it. How much do I say? I decided: as little as possible. “You know not to use that word, right?”

“I know,” he said, and slurped the last spoonful of cereal milk. “I don’t even know what it means.”

Well, that’s good. “Okay, if you have any questions, you can ask me. For now I’ll just tell you it’s a word that is very offensive to a lot of people, and children should not use it, especially since you don’t know what it means.”

“Okay Mom.” He got up and brought his bowl to the sink.

“Here’s your lunch box, buddy.” I kissed him on the top of his head, patted his back, and sent him off to brush his teeth. I collapsed in a kitchen chair and realized the baby years, which I’d thought were awfully trying, were hard in a physically demanding, bone exhausting, I’m-responsible-for-this-baby’s-every-need kind of way. But the elementary school years? Those are hard in a completely different way. They are demanding in an intellectual, emotional, I’m-responsible-for-helping-this-child-navigate-the-weirdness-of-life-and-become-a-decent-human-being kind of way.

With the kids’ births I thought, Now it begins. We navigated sleep deprivation and the endless repetition of diapering, feeding, clothing, cleaning. But after that morning’s dialogue – “Do you know the ‘F’ word?” – and facing the strain of trying to know the right thing to do, to react swiftly and intelligently, to be a responsible adult even when I thought the whole exchange was funny, I knew this stage of parenting was different than simply keeping our kids alive. As I’ve thought with countless turning points that came before (walking, talking) and will come after (puberty, rebelling), that morning after our “F-U-K” conversation, when I realized our kids would one day lose their innocence, I thought, Now this wild ride really begins.