So last week, I went to perform my comedy/juggling act a local juvenile detention center. At first, I thought it would be immigrant teens separated from their parents at the border. The revolving door quality of the facility makes it difficult to predict who will be in at any given time. All that could be counted on is the age: 14-17 year olds. Not my typical demographic, but I jumped in with both feet anyway, to “give back” to some who may not normally be exposed to the type of entertainment that I do. Hat tip to Alain Nu, the Man Who Knows, for connecting me to the fledgling program.
I spent the last couple weeks teaching at a summer youth circus camp. Some insights into learning theory, comedy theory, childlike thinking, and a touch of scatology.
It’s interesting to watch people suddenly realize the world is bigger than they had previously thought.
The holidays are upon us. I was recently at a holiday party (uninvolved with the “War on Christmas,” I call the party what the host did). At such a party, I noticed a couple of kids sitting in the sun room of my friends’ lovely house, deprived of the electronic devices that distract them so effectively from reality. In other words, in keeping with time-honored tradition, they were bored out of their skulls. The only amusement in the room appeared to be a bowl of mixed nuts, still in the shells.
I remember these types of parties when I was that age. The grown ups may have occasionally addressed us, asking us boring questions about school or hobbies (not the cool stuff like TV or superheroes), but mostly, they wanted to go drink and laugh loudly, talking about stupid grown up stuff like jobs and history and sports and stuff. Our job as kids was to stay out of trouble, don’t fight too much, and eventually we would find ourselves sitting at the kitchen table, in front of a bowl of mixed nuts. We’d crack ’em and eat ’em. It was a great activity since the payoff was greater than say, a sunflower seed (way too labor intensive for the amount of food inside) or peanuts (too quick to shell, therefore too quick to fill up on) but the shells created an activity to keep us occupied: cracking the nut, picking the bits out of shell; spitting out the bits of shell accidentally eaten, sifting through the debris for little tidbits, sweeping the pile aside, repeat process. Pre-shelled nuts are too easy to eat mindlessly and move on. This was a keep-kids-out-of-trouble activity.
I recall every year for a few years, at some point, some grownup, Aunt Irene or Aunt Evelyn would pass by the table, see me and my siblings poking through the nut bowl and they would ask, “Do you know your nuts?” “No,” we would say, and they would lay out the five or six different varieties and tell us the names of each one. This is how I learned how to recognize my nuts.
(Pause for peanut gallery remark to run through your head.)
(Pause to realize a peanut has nothing to do with this story, as it is not a nut. It’s a legume.)
(Ready? OK, allow me to resume with my wholesome Christmas memory.)
I hadn’t thought of this in 30 years or so, when I walk through the sun room, a 13-year old holds up a walnut and says, “what kind of nut is this?” “That’s a walnut –” I say, then ask, “Do you know your nuts?”
So I sat down gave them the tutorial. It was weird; like suddenly I was seen as a grown-up. It was spooky, passing on arcane knowledge that I just take for granted. We covered walnuts and Brazil nuts and pecans and (she knew the hazelnut) and … I held up an almond. “That’s an almond?!” she exclaimed, “Shut up!” (which, though it sounds rude, is merely Teenagerese for “I find what you just said to be somewhat remarkable, and therefore am uncertain of its veracity.” Quite erudite, these teenagers.)
She grabbed one and a nutcracker, hastily cracked it open and said — music to my ears moment — “ooooOOOOOoooohhhh!”
It may not be much, but the opening of her eyes on this one account … who knows; maybe this will get her interested in Botany. Or baking. Or the physics of nutcrackers. Or nutrition. Or maybe she’ll forget it all as soon as she gets plugged back into her computer. Which is kind of how I reacted, 30-something years ago. Now I am older and I know my nuts. What good is it to have that knowledge in my head? Will it get me a better job? No. Will it allow me to live till I’m 150? No. But, at least for one brief moment, it got a 13-year-old girl to tell me to shut up.