He Says I Talk Too Much—Clark Humphrey
Doctor: I have a big problem when it comes to talking about, or even thinking about, my relationship with my father.
He regularly scolds me for various assorted reasons.
But mostly he scolds me about the way I talk.
He yells statements such as, “You kids think you’ve got ALL the time in the WORLD. But let me tell you something. You DON’T! I know that’s not something long and convoluted like you kids all seem to like, but it gets the point across. Which I wish you’d do. Preferably TODAY!”
He usually goes on to insist that he’s a busy man who can’t be held back by twerps like me who can’t say anything without making a three act play out of it.
He still says these things, even though he’s been retired for three years, and actually does have all the time he needs to do most anything.
I do understand where he’s coming from. At least mentally.
He had come of age during the first online generation.
I’d learned long ago that the information aesthetic of that era was all about speed; speed and excitement.
The feature films of those years were often extremely loud and frenetic, and often depicted violent homicides and explosions several times per minute.
Dance music recordings were classified by the number of beats per minute they contained; the more being presumably the better.
People who could afford it, particularly males, prided themselves in owning motor vehicles that were capable of being driven much faster than the legal limit.
These obsessions paralleled, and were perhaps even rooted, in the novelty of online communication itself.
Over the span of barely a decade, this entire digital realm appeared. As it grew, it quickly subsumed every previous method of art, entertainment, commerce, information, and even conversation.
With both people’s home and work lives dominated by these machines and the connections among them, people naturally came to feel that the various messages and media distributed by this medium should be as lightning-fast as the medium itself.
The text messages people exchanged in lieu of telephone conversations were often written in an informal shorthand, complete with an entire glossary’s worth of abbreviations and acronyms.
One popular messaging platform even limited the length of all messages posted to it to 140 characters. (Not even 140 words!)
As I explained previously, doctor, I understand my father is from a different time. A time when locution and the argumentative arts mattered far less, and when life moved at a more relentless rhythm.
He, however, has made few if any attempts to understand me.
He does not understand that, while society’s surface seemed enthralled to making everything faster, shorter, and more superficial, the children who had grown up knowing nothing but that world would come to turn it completely around.
Children such as myself.
While the adults of the Internet era felt compelled toward living at an ever accelerating pace, I treated the all-encompassing digital environment as a given, as that which had always been.
And it was an environment in which words were the chief currency. Not images, still or moving; not music or sound. Words. Written words, predominantly.
As a child, doctor, I saw my father’s private world as a cold place. And it was not just because he ignored me for long stretches of time, what little time he had at home, in favor of these allegedly “grownup” activities.
I really did find his games, his videos, and his chat sites to be infinitely less appealing than the “children’s” culture which I was expected to eventually outgrow.
I continued to like the calm, soothing music my mother had pre-programmed onto my MP3 machine.
I continued to like the ever-longer, more complex book series my peers and I had discovered; from such recent hits as “The Windfarm Chronicles” to such established classics as “Spells of the Empresses.” To us, a story wasn’t really a story unless it featured at least one hundred named characters.
I was not the only child to develop these tastes. Not by a long shot.
From out of my father’s faster-faster milieu emerged what many claim to be a new golden age of literature, long-form nonfiction, forensics, and the persuasive arts—a claim to which I agree.
Now I readily admit, to you and to my father, that our society is just as divided as it has ever been—by politics, ethnicity, and economic caste.
And we certainly haven’t solved the problems of war, hunger, environmental degradation, civil rights or social justice.
But we can certainly discuss these problems all day long, and with extreme lucidity.
My father insists he doesn’t care about any of that. He simply, constantly, requests adamantly that I “get to the fucking point already,” and that I thereafter “shut the fuck up.”
I still find it odd, doctor, that a man who seemed to have hated his life when he was working, when he had to make approximately one hundred instant decisions each day, would not wish to embrace a more deliberate, more thoughtful approach to life.
Instead, he continues to live as he always had.
He mostly lives in his home office, with three 2D computer screens in front of him and a dedicated video screen on the far wall. When he’s not pulsating a hair-trigger finger on the video screen’s remote control, he’s darting his eyes between the various computer screens.
He exchanges very brief text messages and loads up short video clips to play, one after the other, with no coherent sense of curation behind their selection. The messages he exchanges with old friends, as far as I’ve been allowed to see them, concern either the destinies (including the deaths) of mutual friends and nostalgia for the entertainments of old.
He has played me clips of these productions; films and games brimming with noise and violence. I always walked away from these screenings, failing to understand what their whole point was.
I did find one genre from my father’s time that I learned to enjoy.
I admit that I had first watched the old “cable TV” dramatic series due to their frequent revelations of nude women. But these weren’t just what my father still calls mere “T and A.” Many of them were full characters, who made decisions that impacted the course of the stories for good or ill.
During my pubescent years I fell in love with at least fifty of these fictitious ladies. If any one of these had entered my life as a real person, I would have proposed marriage to her on the spot.
And the stories told in these series often had complexity and layers. Not as much complexity or as many layers as the books some of them were based on, but still something worth stopping for after I’d fast-forwarded past the scenes of gunfire.
I watched several of these with my father, over a period of two or three years, until their novelty wore off on me and I went back to my favorite book series.
My withdrawal from those viewing sessions, I now realize, broke the last common interest we had.
I fear losing any common ground of conversation with my father. I must do something.
Doctor, several close friends have told me that you are one of this country’s greatest linguists. They claim you are the veritable Henry Higgins of the mid-21st century.
Because if I can speak in the way he does, perhaps I can learn to empathize with the way he thinks.
Can you teach me how to talk fast, plain, and rude?