Last night my beautiful wife treated me to a ticket to hear Douglas Coupland read. Coupland is this year’s Massey Lectures presenter. Resolutely being himself he turned the typical 5 part lecture into a story, a book really, that is presented in 5 hours that, ala 24, happens in real time. (Depending on how fast you read…Coupland noted last night.) The evening was entertaining on many levels, frustrating on a few others and packed full of insights. Coupland was himself, or at least thoroughly the public self he’s previously been willing to reveal in interviews and writing. He’s clearly a contemplator, understatement, who seemingly spends even more time thinking about things both weird and wonderful than I do.
The book and topic for the evening was, “Player One: What is to Become of Us”. I don’t have my own copy yet. One of my major victories last night was not buying a copy there and getting it signed by Coupland. I’ve been making changes lately in an effort to be healthier and forgoing my “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” policy is part of the change. Normally I would have bought the book, gotten it autographed and then told the elusive Donna how much less she has to spend on groceries, gas, etc. It’s amazing how much better a little applied self-discipline can make a relationship. But now that I’ve heard the 3rd hour/chapter I will have to get the book eventually. The story involves a quartet of strangers, some stranger than others, who are holed up in an airport hotel lounge while the rest of the world apparently goes wonky. $900 a barrel oil prices, toxic clouds, a sniper, white mice and a blind date are also involved in ways that the 3rd hour/chapter did not fully reveal.
After the reading, Coupland had a conversation with Paul Kennedy, a CBC radio personality who hosts Ideas. I’ve listened to Ideas often and in my head had developed a mental picture of Paul Kennedy based on his voice. Clearly I am not gifted in this area. He looked way more like my Uncle John than he did the faux image that’s now been crumpled up and tossed in the recycle bin in my brain. Don’t get me wrong, looking like my Uncle John isn’t a bad thing just not what I was expecting. During the conversation there was a brilliant line that I should have written down. Of course I didn’t. But Coupland, talking about his choice to do his lecture as story, pointed out that story has the ability to convey a whole lot of things in a short amount of time. And that made me think of Jesus and the Kingdom stories and it made me think of the talking/teaching/preaching stuff I do for my full-time gig.
Then it was Q&A time. This turned out to be a bust as they – whatever powers that be but NOT Coupland himself – cut it off after a couple questions. Bed time and all that I suppose. But both questions got replies from Coupland more interesting than the questions themselves. The first question was about the characters in the story we’d just heard. The young man with the British accent asked if Coupland thought that everyone was flawed or missing something like the characters in the story or wasn’t it possible for a person to be whole, well-rounded, complete? Coupland, after getting the question clarified due to a poor sound set up, smiled and said, basically, that we’re all messed up, we’ve all got problems and went on to expand on the idea in the context of society and culture and story.
It reminded me of a friend of mine who challenged me a while ago about something I said about all of us being dysfunctional. “Surely,” he said, “some of us are functional. Don’t you think some of us are?” And I imagine that, like the young man last night with his British accent, he was hoping or expecting that I’d agree and say something like, “well, certainly you are and maybe a few others…” But as Coupland pointed out last night, age and time create a perspective for us that youth obscures. The longer you live the more you realize we’re all, at the very least, slightly wonky. I’ve been a lot of places, met a lot of people and thanks to the internet and mass media I’ve observed even more. I’ve met religious people, spiritual people, intellectual people, simple people, complicated people, poor people and rich people, free people and oppressed people, gay people, straight people, young people and old people and the simple truth, the consistent truth is that we’re all flawed and we’re all missing bits. This is part of being human. But the older you get, again as Coupland pointed out, you can learn to enjoy this reality rather than pretend or fix or cover. With age comes a willingness to embrace these flaws and dysfunctions or perhaps more accurately, to embrace each other despite these flaws and dysfunctions.
But what about the really big things, like say, you discover that your flat mate is into cannibalism? Clearly there are some “flaws” that have to be addressed, or, as in this case, you’ll never get any sleep. But in general it means being committed to relationship – not because love is blind – but because love, real love, sees and stays despite. Being healthier means making a choice and giving each other freedom to make our own choices without fear of immediate disconnection from our friends. I was listening to someone a while back, completely under the influence, giving a room full of AAers tips on how to stay sober. Some time ago I had a friend, friend A, telling me how unhealthy it was that another friend, um friend B, was giving so much time to someone (friend c?) who clearly needed professional help (ie. people paid to care and medicate). Some time before that I was getting almost weekly calls from friend A who was “about to lose it” and take off for another part of the world, bags packed, and I was trying to talk them down from the ledge. It’s easy, for a moment, to forget about where we’ve been and even, perhaps ignore where we are.
Sadly, we despise the weak. Not the really, really weak. We like those. We raise money for them, send them to Disneyland for one last hurrah, hold a benefit, we make them a celebrity of sorts. The weak we despise tend to be the ones we actually have to deal with on a daily basis. I have, apparently, a genetic pre-disposition to high blood pressure. It’s in my DNA. One of my many flaws. The sudden explosion of that pressure one night in June triggered anxiety attacks and a general anxiety disorder. Another flaw. I sometimes pick my nose. Sometimes I overtalk when I’m excited about something and verbally cut people off with my own observations. Sometimes I’m so socially awkward that I’ll forget to say things like “hello” or “how are you” or “excuse me”. I bite my nails. Flawed, flawed, flawed. But loved. And ever so slowly being made healthier by the love of those who know my stuff and still let me hang out with them.
After last night I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy hanging out with Doug Coupland.