Monday, October 4, 2010

"Things Are Crazy"

[WARNING: Ranting ahead]

I'd like to propose an indefinite moratorium on the following phrase, and all synonymous variations: 

"Things are crazy."

Last week a beloved friend inadvertently woke a sleeping giant when he included this phrase in an email to me. Said friend, who is an adept writer and talker, inspired me to finally compile and present my thoughts on the matter of the above phrase.
Initially I want to address the ambiguity of the phrase "things are crazy." It is a simple enough grammatical structure, a three-word sentence in the indicative mood; the speaker is saying that it is a current reality that things are crazy. But already things (not the "things" of the phrase, though) are becoming vague. Is this an observation of a general condition of existence? Are things always crazy? To remedy this ambiguity, people often modify the core phrase as follows: 
"Things are crazy right now."
"Things are crazy these days."
"Things have been crazy this week."
Here we already are considering some of the synonymic variations I refer to above. So it could be an observation about how these "things are" at a specific point in time, or during a specific period.

But what of these things? What is their nature, beside an apparently volatile mental condition? To alleviate my annoyance at hearing the phrase, I often amuse myself by imagining the "things" in question. When someone tells me that "things are crazy," I pciture his or her living space filled with small creatures, of reptilian or perhaps amphibian type, who are causing havoc. These small things might resemble gremlins or imps, running around the house, knocking things over, spilling liquids, and generally causing a ruckus. Perhaps they have behavioral problems. Possibly they experience hallucinations and hold deluded views of reality. 

You see, not only do I lack knowledge about the nature of the "things," I also don't know in what way they are "crazy." Do they suffer from recognized mental conditions such as sociopathy or schizophrenia? Or are they just plain old fuck-ups and hence projecting their fucked-upness onto the poor human's life? 

More likely than not, the speaker of the phrase "things are crazy" does not intend it to be a statement about monstrous creatures who have intruded into their lives and torment them. He or she probably doesn't even mean to be making a statement about the way of the world, or the human condition. The actual scope of the statement - what the person is really talking about - is usually much more limited. 
"Things are crazy for me."
And I'll give folks the credit they're due - I often do hear or read this particular variation. Though unfortunately the observation far too often remains unqualified by any pronoun. It is often qualified by reference to a location, or a specific situation. 

The family of phrases I'm grouping under the general archetype of "things are crazy" is a favorite utterance of academics: "It's a crazy time of the semester" which leads to common variations like "It's a busy time of semester," "It's a rough time of the semester" - all of which I have heard employed during the first week of classes, right after midterms, or during finals week - basically any time of semester can be a crazy time and can cause those things to get all hot and bothered. 

So let's take stock of the taxonomy we have so far. There's the ur-phrase:
"Things are crazy."

There are the time-specific variations:
"Things are crazy right now."
"Things are crazy today."
"Things have been crazy this week."
"Things have been crazy for months."

Then there are substitutions and variables on "crazy":
"Things are hectic."
"Things have been all over the place."
"Things are busy this week."

Sometimes folks even remove the "things":
"This week has been nuts."

When most people utter the phrase, I hear a strange echo, a kind of veiled sonic afterglow. It usually goes something like this:
"Things have been just crazy the past week." [pause of a few seconds...] I've got a lot going on in my life....
That's the secret message there in italics. When a person tells me "things are crazy" this person is usually also indicating how busy s/he is, how rich his/her life is, how many endeavors/projects/tasks/ongoing-something-or-others s/he has got his/her hand in. (This is an observation that go-getter types, into which category most academics fit, really like to make about themselves.)

But I'd really like to acknowledge that the phrase-type "things are crazy" belongs to the rhetorical category of bullshit - that is, a statement without truth value, one which can be proven neither true nor false. The usefulness of the phrase-type "things are crazy" lies not in its observatory power. No, the power of the phrase lies in its application, and in how it communicates what it does. When we say "things are crazy" (and yes, of course I have used it too...unfortunately), we are exculpating ourselves. A more truthful transformation of the phrase would go something like this: 
"I know I was supposed to do [insert task here]. I'm sorry I haven't done it; I just did not get around to it. I have no excuse, but I'm asking your understanding, since we have all been in this position at some point."
But when we say "things are crazy" we displace our own inability to do the things we should be doing outward and turn our own temporary lack of organization or irresponsibility into an external and general condition of reality. 

So once again I propose an indefinite moratorium on the phrase-type "things are crazy." For my part, I will make a concerted effort to admit openly when I have not been able to look at someone's email/call someone back/get something done when I said I would. I will not talk about those pesky apparitions we call "things." Because let's be honest, 
when aren't things crazy? 

No comments: