May 28, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 22

Dr. Wes

Like the fiber I should get more of in my diet, stories are good for you. They add bulk to your life

By Dr. Wes Browning

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Like most people I’m no good at public behavior but do it anyway. If I didn’t ever act out in public I would always only act out in private, and I’m no good at that either.

I’ve been reminded recently that my lovely Anitra “I Sing The Songs That Make The Old Man Cry” Freeman is a member of the Seattle Raging Grannies — women of well-established grace who publicly sing-the-body-electric can opener. They sing political parodies of old standards and new standards wherever invited, and sing them at public hearings and other places where they are not invited. They are a model of excellent public behavior.

Behaving publicly has not always been easy for me. Clinically diagnosed as 95 percent introvert and 5 percent Everybody Go Away, when I was younger cats I encountered would try to draw me out of my shell.

It wasn’t that I was shy. It was that I strongly preferred my own company as a matter of taste, like someone who prefers Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese Doritos™ and to fruit or vegetables or other actual foodstuffs. By the way, I also like them with a side of meat product, what I call the poor man’s pâté.

Only gradually over the years did I begin to discover the value of public behavior, that behaving publicly is not always the monumental waste of precious existence within the universe that I had always considered it to be.

The first big clue I had that public behavior was worth anything was the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, more precisely watching the events that led to it. Those events consisted of a long string of public behavior of this and that nature, what you may call politicking, which rubbed a lot of people the wrong way a lot of the time. A lot of people who agreed in principle with the politicking nevertheless expressed the view that it wouldn’t accomplish anything, then just before my 15th birthday this law was signed. Other examples followed in the coming years, proving that the one positive change was not a fluke. Politicking, at least, is worth something.

The second big clue came about during the ’80s, when I was forced to relate to humans while being a cab driver. I learned so many amazing things about humans from that experience. For example, they tend to tip more if you talk to them. And the things humans will say when there’s only a cab driver hearing them are just weird. It’s like people think they’re talking to a dog, anything goes. So that was also an incentive to talk to them, I thought. Let’s hear what freakiness this one is going to dish up, I thought.

But what was most interesting was something I learned about myself. I remembered all those conversations in extraordinary detail. I could relate them to friends for weeks, and I can still remember that period well and hundreds of trips and hundreds of passengers. It made me realize that a life is made of stories and stories are a pretty good thing. Stories are like the fiber I should get more of in my diet.

They give your life bulk.

So what I’m saying is, we all need some public behavior now and then so that we can fill up our lives with the stories we create between us. Then, what we learn and remember of each other will help keep us, one and all, from being full of ourselves.

All the above is a feeble attempt to justify the fact that Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week a movie called “Two Raging Grannies” will be showing at SIFF (search online for details), and (I’m told) Anitra and I are briefly in it, behaving publicly, with only good intentions.

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