Friday, November 9, 2007

Repetition Induces Comfort

So because I spend too much time online and reading magazines, and because sometimes I get desperate and read things that I would not otherwise read, I have now read three separate interviews with A.J. Jacobs who has just published a book about how he spent a year trying to live by biblical precepts despite the fact that he is not a religious person.

I have not read this book; I do not plan to read this book.

I am simply struck by the fact that in every single interview, he gives this exact quote, about the positive effects of wearing all white: "It lifts your mood. It's hard to be in a bad mood when you're walking around looking like you're about to play the semifinals at Wimbledon."

The first time I read it, I thought it was a kind of funny thing to say. By the third time, it kind of got on my nerves. It's funny to bring up Wimbledon; it's not that funny to bring it up in this precise context every time somebody interviews you. Because what's funny is it's got this quirkily spontaneous feeling about it, and when you realize it's just his pre-packaged response it gets a lot less funny. The air goes out of the room.

But I, of course, do the same thing constantly. For a year my main recourse for conversational lulls was to bring up how much better the world would be if law firms hired young lawyers on an NBA draft model. I have a handful of anecdotes that I repeat constantly. And all these things are designed, more or less consciously, to show me at what I consider to be my best. Either in my wit and charm, or by exposing dramatic and interesting aspects of my personality. And road-testing is what helps you decide if these topics/phrases/anecdotes actually put across what you want them to put across. If you get a good reaction once, you feel more comfortable using it again.

But then I also worry that one day I will wake up and be entirely a creature of tics and tropes. No more raw humanity, no more blurting out of sordid revelations. Just a smooth bundle of pre-tested material. It's appealing to the same degree it's troubling: it has certain things in common with my dream of a world in which I always want to hear all the songs on my ipod and in which I wear the same clothing every day.


Noko Marie said...

Ha! I haven't seen any interviews but I've read like three reviews of this book. It sounds so annoying I can hardly believe it -- once it gets hard he just starts compromising, so the whole interesting part becomes sort of nothing.

I hadn't seen that thing about wearing white. What a nut.

Anyway, it's different to repeat your jokes to different people than to repeat them in interviews for the national press, obvs! It's not like he didn't realize he be seen repeating himself.

I do wonder how much of the uplift of wearing white has to do with our associations it has with nice weather and summertime. I can sort of see it on a sunny day but if I think about wearing white on a dark cold Canadian winter evening, getting dirty snow-mush all over the white cuffs, it starts to seem pretty different.

Captain Colossal said...

He also always retells the same anecdote about trying to convince his wife to let him take the hot babysitter as his second wife.

That's a point, about the distinction between your friends and the national media, but I think my irritation stemmed not from the national media thing, but at feeling tricked into thinking it was spontaneous, or just for the occasion or something.

I'm with you about the white. Plus, there's nothing more depressing than slightly grimy white clothes, or sheets, or whatever.