#30. Not being sarcastic

Wow. That was great. This week’s change was a blast. I really think I got something out of it. Learned so much about myself. I’m totally transformed and I think you’re going to be transfixed reading about how fascinating it was. I just wish it wasn’t over! Okay. That was a bit predictable. See what I did there? I wrote sarcastically about how I spent seven days trying not to be sarcastic. No one’s even paying me to be this clever. I do it for free. Actually, what I’m really doing is stalling. And babbling. Partly because I just don’t feel much like writing anything lately, and partly because I don’t want to write about this week’s change, specifically.

Why? Well, it turns out it’s just not that interesting – which, looking back, I should have seen coming. For some reason I now cannot fathom, I thought – erroneously, it turned out – that it would be exciting to see if I could go a week without being sarcastic. Oh, the pitfalls I imagined! Oh, the zany missteps and mishaps I could relay to my readers! Oh, the people who know me who will fall over themselves wondering what strange spell has been cast on me!

Nah. Really, I could sum it up in a sentence: I pretty much succeeded at not being sarcastic for a week, and it wasn’t all that hard. The end.

As has been the case with previous ill-conceived changes, this one was predicated on a faulty premise: the idea that I am still the ruthlessly sarcastic young adult I once was, virtually incapable of sincere, direct communication. The real surprise, for me, was discovering that I’m not nearly as sarcastic as I was back in the day. Those who know me today should take a moment to let that settle in before trying to conceive how I must have been before.

A little background, perhaps? I was raised in house full of highly intelligent, highly verbal sorts who relished being able to zing and wither using just words as our weapons. Naturally, sarcasm was a relished tool and while I did not excel at much, I excelled at this. I took to it like a fish to water, like white to rice, like a Tea Party-er to idiocy.

In retrospect, I find that sarcasm is what some teenagers substitute for humor and maturity. When you’re insecure or otherwise unequipped to traffic in direct communication, sarcasm is a handy tool for getting in your jabs in a way that makes you appear clever and momentarily more sophisticated than you are. The teenage blend of know-it-all-ness and the drive for social superiority makes for a ripe ground in which sarcasm can bloom. So it went for me. I had friends and what we did for fun was get together and say sarcastic things to one another, then laugh at how witty we were. Such good times!

In college, I learned that some people were raised in nice, literal households and had absolutely no understanding of sarcasm. I loved, loved, loved that sarcasm could allow me to have a totally separate conversation with people than the one they thought we were having. It was fascinating and manipulative and entertaining, all at the same time. It became synonymous with me: Julia = sarcastic. And I was proud as hell. I’d arrived!

But sarcasm – at least as a primary mode of communication – is both flawed and tiresome. As everyone knows, so much of it is tone, and back in the day I was all tone. (One of my favorite Kids in the Hall sketches is the one where Dave Foley plays a guy whose tone is sarcastic, even when he’s trying not to be.) I’m still a lot of tone to handle, which can be a tricky thing in our digital age, when tone is lost in emails, texts and tweets. One runs the risk of being completely misunderstood and/or looking like an idiot. There’s no sarcasm font, no punctuation to denote your intention. (Although I did read that some Ethiopian languages have a specific exclamation mark to denote sarcasm. Way to go, Ethiopians!)

But back to me, right? I do love sarcasm. I respond to sarcasm. And I’m tired of sarcasm. Or, it turns out, what I’m tired of is thinking of myself as an excessively sarcastic person. So I tried to go seven days without it. And? And I think I did. Mostly. I mean, sort of. I mean, I think so. In other words: when I remembered I was supposed to not be being sarcastic, it turned out that I didn’t have any inclination to do. I was like a hunter waiting for a buck that never showed. And if I was sarcastic without realizing it then, uh, oops...

I’m going to guess then that if there’s something for me to take away from this week’s “change,” it’s that I don’t always need to change as much as I think I do. In some areas, it seems the change that needs to happen is in the gap in perception between how I see myself and how I really am. I don’t think our old ideas of ourselves leave easily or quietly.  In other words – and feel free to disagree – I may not be as big of an ass as I used to be.

Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t want a life without sarcasm. That doesn’t seem a change for the better by any stretch of the imagination. What I don’t want is to be defined by my sarcasm anymore – or at least, not above any other trait. I’m heading for 40 and it’s no longer admirable or desirable to have that be one’s “thing.”  Unless I’m in complete denial, it turns out that it’s not my “thing” anymore.

And if I am just in denial then, by all means, please tell me because I’d just love to spend more time writing about this topic.