Sunday, September 25, 2016

Seriously

With the possible exception of telling you to act your age, which people tend not to do any longer, lest you do act your age, the most baffling suggestion you've heard on a repeated basis is the injunction to be serious.

Often, the challenge comes addressed in adverbial form, "Seriously." But the intent is always there--you are not being quite serious enough to suit an occasion, a mood. From some years of teaching in what was once thought of as Adult Education and which has now been revised to the more collegial-sounding Center for Lifelong Learning, you have enough experience to imagine what is meant by behaving at the age you've attained, which in its way relates to seriousness if only because the effects of your age in a numerical sense is some serious business.

Disclosure: For the most part, you do not act your age, not only because you don't have to, rather because you doubt you could maintain composure, much less gravitas, were you to do so.

Being serious is a matter of degree. For most of your recent memory, serious meant something unthinkable and apocalyptic enough to drive away any potential for laughter. That said, one of your biggest problems, through teens and well into middle age, was keeping a straight face, whether you thought the matter at hand was serious or serious enough to be funny. You had to become a writer rather than a performer, if only to keep from losing your appearance of composure.

Truth to tell, there were times when you believed yourself to be in circumstances so dire that you found yourself reasoning that these must be funny times. No; you did not have the experiences of some members of your culture, in which there was oppression by mindless troglodytes of bullying nature. No, you did not exist in circumstances so uncertain that you shook with dread. 

Whatever happened to you and around you often happened because of things you'd initiated or, through purposeful inaction, failed to initiate. There you were, through it all, unable to keep a straight face, unable to convey your sense that the circumstances at hand were dire.

At your present age, nothing seems funnier than being anything beyond the merest degree of serious. By this point, story has become unserious, anything carrying more than a mere hint of seriousness seems either propaganda of some cultural or political sort or an over reliance on religion-based fable.

A thing containing the need for seriousness is intrinsically serious enough; no further exaggeration is necessary. A thing that borders through its exaggeration on silliness loses its ability to disturb as a story or an aspect of reality ought to.

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