the destroyer > the vent > Steven M. Brown
REJECT INTERESTING PEOPLE
Boris has me going to another party tonight, something international with a Venezuelan DJ. I don't want to go, but earlier I could see he had anticipated my curmudgeonly pose and prepared an answer: "I don't need negative friends." The last thing I need is to feel more alone in Germany, so I said yes.
I mentioned the party casually on the phone while talking to my parents. They said, in rapid succession, "Have fun." I wanted to say it will be loaded with interesting people being interested in one another and all kinds of interesting things, and that I'll try to be engaged but will eventually become discouraged and sit by wondering why I don't get it, why I am not fascinated at the plain fact that someone is from Cambodia, for example. I want to scream and kill when people discuss accents or the eccentricities of learning foreign languages. Really, it is the least expansive conversation one could have with another human being. In these circles, it is perfectly normal, even desirable to say things like, "I just think it's so interesting that you're interested in that too," all the while the whole scene is liberally buttered with what Breyten Breytenbach called "the gray putty of internationalese." Sometimes I wonder how Boris stays so positive about the parties, the people, when I know he secretly agrees with me. But then I remember his other option is returning to Russia.
When I talk with my mom I think she knows I grow increasingly alienated and exhausted by the interesting international scene, its allegedly vibrant citizenry. My end of our conversations has unaccountably become a form-fill deal that goes like this: insert pleasant falsehood here.
My father smokes and nods off in their den, long ago sated by his own adventures and culture-numb from decades of international sales. I nod in a similar way when my mother tells me about some incredibly interesting recipe she saw on television and had to try, though I know it turned out tasting of the caution she brought to all the exotic ingredients. I want to say, "You wield oven-fried chicken like a righteous sword. Stick with what you know." But I don't.
I squirt mayonnaise on a mound of canned chunk-light tuna and mash it up while waiting for Boris. If I do go out to this party there is a modest chance I will be surprised by its guests. There is a 100 percent chance, however, someone will say, "Oh, how interesting that an American and a Russian can be friends," like one girl did last weekend. It will be at this point, right when I am about to snap and set about slashing people in the brain with crotchety, sourpussed skepticism, that Boris will look over with a sudden lowering of his head that tenderly admits, Yes, I see your point.
We live in the former East Germany. I never imagined coming here, but after being accepted to graduate studies, I got on a plane. The reason I stayed is this: after getting the master's degree, I couldn't afford a ticket home. I got a job at a school library. Hence, all the time to dislike people who, with thoughtless regularity, use "interesting" and only "interesting" to describe a world I am told we share but which, by the sound of it, lacks forceful emotions and adjectives.
Personally, I do not find the world "interesting": I find it crushingly depressing and overwhelmingly beautiful to a point of ecstatic longing to be kept within its ether, even as I am still inside it with every wart and whisker and without remainder, to paraphrase Marilynne Robinson. I suspect we all do find living to be "the sensation of having to endure an exquisitely refreshing pain," though we all talk about it differently (Yukio Mishima, Spring Snow).
My disdain comes from the state where specificity of meaning, or even primary emotion, is marginalized if not sacrificed completely out of misguided politeness or political correctness, ignorance, or laziness. It's not that people are speechless, it's that they are speaking without saying anything. Indeed, since the coining of iconic B movie villains tenting fingers and muttering "Interesting" with wild indulgence, one of its primary uses has been obfuscation.
In the arts, my field of relative expertise, the whole experiment that is communication, even the rote endeavor to describe simple events, is disrespected by reliance on "interesting." Interesting: "arousing curiosity" (Merriam-webster.com); something that meets at least a minimum notice-ability requirement without fascinating or angering or doing anything at all.
Crucially, as inert as the word "interesting" may seem to us at first, it is not a neutral word, not by any means. By saying "I think such-and-such a painting is interesting" an observer establishes the terms at a bare, impoverished minimum of critical engagement. If, for example, you found a film "interesting" and yet your friend found it terrible, "terrible" comes to sound extreme. In the perverse opposite, to follow sharp insight with "interesting" can make its wielder sound discriminating, even wise.
"Interesting" is one of those rare adjectives we actually hear as a noun, like "dead." It is dead. It is absolute, total, needing no further discussion; it describes nothing alive or ongoing. Whatever unique and prescient observations are paved over by "interesting," whether unspeakably impolite or morally debased, pejorative or just plain bitchy, I would rather hear them than that ugly and stupid word.
Of my coworkers, one is a fellow American who can afford to travel during school holidays. He describes his trips with surprising consistency: "Tallinn is just so interesting..." like he just can't believe it. If you press him on particulars he recites information sounding suspiciously suitable to travel guides. Then there's this: "I'll swing up and do Auschwitz," he said of a coming trip to Poland. If the verb do didn't say everything I needed to know, then the following did: "It should be pretty interesting." I am sure to see him at the party.
We don't know what we are about to experience, Boris or I, as we stride like scoundrels down the street, the air alive with early winter and coal smoke. I feel pretty good. I feel even better when he loosens up after realizing I feel good: "Plant growth and children are durable curiosities," he says, touching on still incoherent findings gathered while lost earlier this evening in a particularly disorienting Wiki-loop. "I started with trying to find out about..." but he cannot recall. His crazed eyes tell me we are equally lost; they give me the feeling that we are never apart. It is as if he had been there mashing my canned tuna like medicine while asking me about my recent hallucinations of a passionate social life and overall purpose.
"What is all this about interesting? Who's this traveler you're crowing about? Have you lost your mind? There are hundreds of people out there doing hilarious impressions of angels! Let us go be among them."
I smile. We near the whelp and wallop of the party. I will dance, not speak about anything to anyone for once, my mouth shut, with bodies in motion all around me. If someone finds my friendship with Boris interesting, I will ignore them. Or maybe I will tell them how lucky I am.