Discovering the Relevance of Words
A couple of days ago, I was shocked and saddened by the news that Jodie Sweetin, Full House’s Stephanie Tanner, was filing for divorce from her third husband.
Such sad news.
Though, I must confess, I’ve never met either one of them personally, I have seen several pictures of prominent cleavage online that I found very interesting and, judging by the captions, assume were of her and some dude. They looked so happy in those pictures. The people, I mean.
Of course I’m using the term ‘news’ loosely, both in the sense that more than half of all marriages end in divorce so the dissolution of yet another union shouldn’t really merit reporting, and in the sense that very few people remember or care who Jodie Sweetin is.
I find myself overcome with emotion. I can’t help empathizing with this girl who grew up on my TV screen, irritating millions as part of ABC’s award-winning TGIF lineup. Who will console her, I wonder? I doubt she still has the kind of support system she got from her sitcom family. Her past has been a bit checkered, and I can’t imagine anyone with role models like Uncles Jesse and Joey getting mixed up in drugs. At some point her family fell apart, probably somewhere around the time when ABC cancelled the show and Bob Saget started swearing all the time. My point is that she needs someone right now.
That’s why I’m gonna write this note. I’m here for you, Jodie Sweetin.
I heard from George Zimmerman’s lawyer that it’s usually a good idea to open with a joke, so I might open it with something like this:
So, are you gonna keep the last name, or change it back to Tanner?
Pants Off Dance Off? More like Ring Off Sing Off! (Remember? That show she hosted in the mid-2000’s somewhere deep on basic cable? No?)
While I agree that these are both excellent jokes, I’m not sure they capture the supportive tenor I want from this note. I’m having a little trouble with sincerity here. This is not a new problem.
Love notes*, like pop songs, are often little more than reassembled clichés. As writers, we habitually recoil from that word the way we would from a venomous insect or a metaphor about spiders. We learn from years of peer workshops and witty professors to avoid clichés like the plague. “As a rule,” they’d say, “it isn’t good writing.” To which I would usually respond with a paragraph like this one, sprinkling a cliché into nearly every sentence, because I am a smartass.
Also because, like the Byrds before me, I have seen that everything has a season.
In general, the argument you will hear against cliché is exactly right. Expected metaphors and obvious phrases can lull a reader into a daydream. “Just don’t be boring” should be the first piece of advice to any writer, and clichéd writing is boring writing.
But sometimes a reader is not looking for excitement.
Imagine your first love. Imagine the first time you felt something overwhelming for another person, and now imagine finding a note from that person with your name on it. What would you want to read in that note?
I doubt you’d be looking for an exciting or suspenseful experience. Most likely, you’d be looking for affirmations that this person felt the same way you did, and people in love think almost exclusively in clichés. That’s why you hear people talk about finding that person who… completes their sentences. It isn’t because you have some mystical connection. It’s because you’re both thinking the most obvious thoughts possible. You’re thinking in top 40 radio lyrics.
Let’s slow down before I come off too bitter here, because I’m really not. I love spending my thirties as a single man, attending friend’s weddings and watching the dating pool shrink, waiting for the next round of divorcees to hit the scene. Really, it’s great.
My point is that even the much maligned cliché has its place. People are comforted by that which is familiar to them. A commonly used phrase spoken in conversation or written in a note to another person can serve to assure them that you are feeling the same way they are. Without these common ideas, there would literally be no songs on the radio. Those clichés are the reason you find yourself connecting with the heartbreak on the old country station after a breakup, or feeling the elated loss of control associated with the teeny-bopper idea of love chirped over the synth-beats of the pop station.
Once the dust settles, I think Jodie will be fine. Maybe she can crash over at Candace Cameron’s place, if she doesn’t mind being preached at nightly and pretending that Candace’s brother Kirk isn’t crazy. I’d suggest John Stamos’ house for a crash-pad, but he’d probably try to fuck her, and she really doesn’t need that kind of complication right now.
So, after all the preamble, I’ll keep my note to her short, but sweet.
I’m here for you, Jodie Sweetin.
*Do you guys remember when people called them mash notes? I heard someone say that when I was a kid and instantly imagined it as M*A*S*H notes, thus beginning my complicated emotional relationship with both the song, ‘Suicide is Painless’, and the actor, Alan Alda.