In Defense of Effusiveness…

Though I have suffered my fair share of bluesy days, and am no stranger to the existential crisis, I have never (touch wood) experienced a truly debilitating depression. In fact, it was only recently that I came to fully understand what serious depression is, and how inaccurate and unfair it is for me to use that term to describe my bouts of gloominess. True, there have been times when I have passed an entire day in my pajamas, staring blankly at the television through episodes of Sue Thomas FBI, Oprah and Dr. Phil. But for the most part, these periods have been easily remedied by simply going outside, or taking an extra dose of cod-liver oil.

For the most part, however, I am what you would describe as a happy person, though this was not always the case. People who don’t know me well, or know me only in a professional context, often comment on the fact that I am always smiling. This is mostly true these days, because I actually like what I do. But when I was a child, I was not in the least bit smiley, which became a serious point of contention when I joined a dance troupe that put on shows at shopping malls and nursing homes. I was repeatedly berated for not smiling enough, and could often be heard to claim (through tears) that I could not smile, that it was not my fault, that it was not simply a matter of trying harder.

Years later, I got a job at Calgary’s first Seattle-style coffee shop. The Roasterie was the kind of place where there was always a cute girl or two held captive behind the counter, and so available for chit-chatting whether you were an equally cute snowboarding dude – of which, thank goodness, there were many – or one of the weird and/or sad older men who frequented the joint. One of those men called himself Apple Cheek, and spent most of his waking hours trying to convince us that his poetry was as good as cash. Another was named Al, or at least that’s what we called him. In retrospect, he was most likely suffering from schizophrenia, but at the time, we saw him only as a regular, a guy who would come in 7 or 8 times a day and drink his coffee, before heading out to do whatever it was that he did between those visits. He called me Dresden, because he said I looked like a Dresden doll. He also told me I should smile more.

By this time, it was not so much that I couldn’t smile as that the very idea of smiling ran counter to my sense of self. Despite my closeted optimism, as a lovelorn and disenfranchised 20-something liberal arts graduate with an English degree, a brainless minimum wage job, and a 75 dollar a month room in the House of Love – a bungalow in Calgary’s then aging-hippie now heavily-gentrified and over-priced Kensington neighborhood, that functioned as a student flophouse for visiting Saskatchewanites – not smiling was my moral imperative. It was 1991. I was 23. I wore plaid. I listened to Nirvana.

But this was to be a post in praise of effusiveness, so let me get to the point. Earlier, I wrote that I smile often these days because I like what I do, but a more accurate statement might be that I LOVE what I do. To be honest, I have always LOVED things, and sometimes yearn for a superior word to express myself, because I also LOVE my husband, my friends, and my family, and believe that my feelings for them deserve a word that expresses something more significant than, for example, the way that I feel about collard greens – which, incidentally, I LOVE. Woody Allen grappled with this very same dilemma in the movie Annie Hall, settling on the word lurve to convey that which is not covered by love. I LURVE this, or rather, I LOVE it. I LURVE my family.

The problem is that I have long felt a bit silly for being so, well… effusive. When you LOVE things, you are harder hit when these things inevitably fall by the wayside, and often suffer the indignity of being called flaky when you start to see things from a different perspective. Effusiveness also makes it virtually impossible to cultivate an air of too-cool-for-school boredom, a quality that I found deeply attractive as a teenager, and sought, without much success, to emulate. Nico, with her white suit and ice-queen cool was my original role model, and in this I was certainly not alone, but I was equally enamored of more contemporary figures: the first, was Kate Fenner of the long-defunct Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, whose height and gorgeously restrained cool set her apart from the beyond-goofy antics of her onstage cohorts. And then, there was Kim Deal. The coolest of the cool, always with the cigarette, and the amazing voice.

And so I was stuck in a bit of a catch-22. Incapable of playing it cool and not yet comfortable enough in my own skin to embrace my natural effusiveness, seeing it as a sort of intellectual flaw, I tried to keep my exuberance under lock and key, letting it shine only when the introduction of alcohol made it impossible to contain. With my aspirations hovering between cultural critique and cultural production, I saw this effusiveness as a hindrance, for how could I produce a serious and worthy cultural product or commentary without restraint, without skepticism, without distance?

To be honest, I am not entirely sure when things changed, but somewhere in the early-aughts, I realized that I had become much sunnier in disposition. And when I suddenly found myself working as an arts writer, I discovered that I could maintain an effective critical distance and still be exuberant, that there was room for effusiveness in even the most academic of writing. And what is true for writing is even truer for life. And so I can comfortably say that I love my job, and my students. I love the work of many of the artists that I write about. I love to travel, and I love to have people over for dinner. I love John Frusciante, and WFMU, and Roastaroma herbal tea, and my new rubber boots, and playing the drums. And so I raise a glass to effusiveness! Long may it reign!

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