THANKS FOR THE EMPATHY – a long-azzed writing prompt from Cathy M.
It’s just before the big Thanksgiving dinner with your family. Think of the family member to whom you feel closest. Think of why you feel closest to this sister, brother, cousin, father, grandmother, child, etc. Think of what you love about them, feel protective of, have shared with them over time.
I am sorry to inform you this beloved has gone through a substantial metamorphosis–they have adopted a belief system that is the most antithetical to your belief system imaginable. It could be political (Trumpism, socialism, etc.), it could be religious (Evangelical, Satanic, selling essential oils 😉 ) or some other system that is the complete and most vile opposite of what defines you. What’s worse is that change has outwardly manifested itself in the most Kafkaesque way possible – yep, your beloved is now a cockroach (or some other icky thang) and is fully planning on attending the familial feast and sitting next to you. To make matters even more challenging, the neighbors are not going to Florida this year but dropping by your house for dinner!
A few other family members have gotten wind of the surreal situation and are livid. But you are convinced the meal must go on – blasphemous Blattodea or not…at the essence of it all is still a being you love!
-Describe how your loved one has presented him/her/it-self to you on the eve of the dinner. This could be in terms of dialogue, appearance, written communication, etc. and describe any internal conflict.
-Explain how you take care to make sure your loved one has a “place at the table” and participates. They may require assistance. Explain how you address any conflict with others.
-Explain how you introduce your loved one to your horrified neighbors.
Cathy M’s exhaustive prompt above (which I boiled down to “What if your favorite family member changed into something yucky and you had to deal with it for Thanksgiving dinner?” out of sheer laziness) generated some delightful and thoughtful text at Writers’ Night Out last night (11/5/18)
“But Joseph,” I whined through the phone, “everyone’s going to be there.” Silence from the other end of the line. “Even the frickin’ NEIGHBORs are gonna be there.”
“The Klopmanns,” I said.
“Oh christ, that’s rich,” he said, “there’s nobody I’d rather shock.”
“Joseph, please outgrow that epatez les bourgeoises attitude.”
A snort in reply.
“Joe, are you sure…”
“Don’t call me JOE!!!” he screamed into the phone. “How many goddamn times do I have to tell you…”
“So let me get this straight,” I said. “You’re okay with turning into a cockroach, or praying mantis or woolly bear or whatever the hell you’ve turned into, but you can’t deal with being ‘Joe?’ Is that right?
A long silence was finally broken by, “Look, Willy,” in remarkably calm tones, “it’s not as if I were marrying a shiksa, you know? Can you imagine? Oh wait, you don’t have to imagine, do you?”
I hadn’t looked at it that way. But he was right. When I married Mary Margaret, Bubbe and Zayde went apeshit. Aunt Zelda and Uncle Hesh haven’t spoken to me in 30 years. Many other family members have given me the cold shoulder at every frickin’ family event since, even Sheldon’s Bar Mitzvah, where he wore a dress.
“Joseph,” I said finally, “just tell me this: is being a cockroach…”
“Silverfish, actually,” he corrected.
“A silverfish,” I repeated, “so nu, is being a silverfish so much at the core of your being that the family’s opprobrium is nothing to you?”
“Screw ‘em,” he said.
I nodded, somewhat pointlessly given the fact that it was a phone call. “OK,” I said. “That was pretty much the conclusion Mary Margaret and I came to as well. So show up, Joseph, as a silverfish, cockroach, mealy bug, whatever. You’re still my brother Joseph. If they don’t like it…”
“Screw ‘em,” he said.
“You got it,” I said.
“Thanks Bro,” he said, and the line went dead.