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Abstract Academic: The stirring of the pot

Behold ye, the great and powerful pot-stirrer!

Hide the women, and lock up the children, for the pot-stirrer fears not the weight of his words. He never talks of simple things, like diets, TV and the weather, but his mouth spews forth wretched hurricanes of political and religious discourse, sure to ruffle the feathers of the polite and violate the small-talking norms of the sociable.

Know anybody like this? I sure do.

In fact, I think we all do. Maybe we’re thinking of ourselves. I know I can get like that sometimes.

You see, small talk doesn’t come easily to me. Instead of talking about those oh-my-gosh-he-said-what?! and those-jeans-are-so-ka-YOOT! topics, I find it much more enjoyable to talk about real things, like faith, political motivations and complex basketball statistics.

Many people are not prepared for these conversations. Sometimes, I find myself in the middle of a diatribe on funding for education, slavering and gnawing on my own rhetoric, when I look up and realize, “Oh. This person is uncomfortable. Maybe when they asked me how my student teaching was going, they didn’t really want more than a one-word answer.”

I love the faces people make when conversations move in too deep a direction. There’s the Change-the-Subject Face that my mom makes when my brothers and I are becoming a little too celebratory in our bathroom humor. It usually involves a cocked eyebrow, pursed lips and one really squinty, judgmental eye.

Then there’s the My-Dad-Says-I-Shouldn’t-Agree-With-What-You’re-Saying Face, which is two raised eyebrows, an open-toothed, frozen smile and glassy eyes. Before I was married, I used to see this face a lot on first dates. A lot. I cannot emphasize how often I saw this face.

My favorite is the I’m-Already-Offended-Before-You’ve-Said-Anything-Because-We-Didn’t-Use-Humor-As-A-Coping-Mechanism-In-My-House-Growing-Up-Like-You-Did Face. That one involves two ultra-wide eyes and a tight-lipped mouth that’s frowning in the middle but smiling at the corners (you’re practicing it right now, aren’t you?).

It is a constant exercise in control to not say things I actually think. And when you’re a columnist, it’s even more difficult. You write one thing casually, like, I don’t know, “Guns kill people,” or “Adults with Hacky Sacks are cretins,” or “Kobe Bryant doesn’t care that you hate him,” or “I think that George W. Bush is a Twinkie,” and it’s “goodbye!” to half your reading audience.

(A quick side-note: I do not think President Bush is a Twinkie. Please put away your pitchforks and pocket copies of the Patriot Act.)

Through my experience writing a weekly column, I’ve put together a long list of things I can’t say because people get their knickers all twisted up. Here are a few examples of words and phrases I can’t use again:

1.       Any name of any politician in any party. Except, oddly enough, for Dan Quayle. No one cares about Dan.

2.       “The government.” I think there’s a large group of people out there who hear this word and just picture a bunch of hunched-over, watery-eyed demons sitting in a room in D.C. and asking each other, “Hey, how can we make everyone’s lives worse today?”

3.       “The media.” Again, another lump-descriptor that just refers to anyone who says anything about anyone to a camera or in a newspaper. They’re either too liberal or too conservative. Either way, throw out the paper and lock up your daughters.

4.       “Skateboarders are the brood of Satan.” Don’t ask.

5.       “100-ounce Las Vegas Slurpees with liquor in them are bad for you.” Some people thought I was just being a typical Utahn, knocking people who like to have a drink. Um, hello? Is it really good to imbibe 100 ounces of anything?

6.       “It’s ironic that so many professors have never taken an education class in their lives.” Except for all the professors I currently have or will have in the future, who are all wonderful teachers who don’t still wish they worked in the private sector.

7.       “The only thing less funny than a Dane Cook routine is someone reciting a Dane Cook routine.” I refuse to apologize for this.

8.       “It would be easier to purchase a white Siberian tiger cub on eBay than it would be to park in a ‘W’ parking lot on campus at 9 in the morning.” There are no parking problems at Weber State University. My mistake. Everything is fine.

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