Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Pick a floor, for the love of Pete.

There's a multiple-question meme going around my friendslist, and like many such memes, it includes the question, "What would you do if we were stuck in an elevator?" I don't know if the people who wrote this were 15-year-olds looking to solicit make-out offers or what*, but I suspect that they have never been stuck in an elevator. I have. Unless you are fortunate enough to be stuck in a large elevator with very few, very well-prepared people**, there are two choices for when you are stuck in an elevator and have done sensible things like attempting to get the elevator unstuck and pressing the emergency call button: converse or endure in silence. Those are what you've got. "I would dance a funny little dance!" No, you wouldn't. It's an elevator. There is not room for your funny little dance. "We could improvise ways to --" Nope. Elevator. I appreciate your attempts at lj whimsy, but honestly? Elevator. Wee tiny box, often with cameras. Converse or endure. If you each packed a book, it's a happy read-y silence. There is unlikely to be room to play cards on the floor even if you packed a deck on your person at all times. Anything more ambitious than that, forget it.

My fiction studio senior year had something like an elevator-stoppage story (fiction) for every four people. A brief survey of the class indicated that I was the only one who had ever actually been stuck in an elevator. But people wanted to throw their characters together randomly and with no escape, so they didn't have to ask questions like "Why are these people talking to each other, anyway?" and "Why don't they just leave?" The random-airplane-seatmates-talk story was even more popular -- something like 50% of the class turned those suckers in. The professor begged them to stop.

The armchair psychologist in me notes that the type of survey meme that asks the elevator question often asks about an even more radical constraint: "What would we do together if I was going to die the next day?" is a really common and, for me, baffling question. These memes often ask about the gift of a sum of money as well. The armchair psychologist in me suspects that the people who write these memes are often feeling plenty constrained already in terms of money, and that the way our culture has gone over the last 80 years means that they are not very constrained socially, and perhaps feeling a little agoraphobic about it. We've gotten rid of a lot of the old obligations. People who lunch with their second cousins are presumed to be doing so out of actual commonality or affection rather than a sense that One Must Spend Time With Family. Most of the old fraternal organizations are dying, because, "Your grandpa and your uncle Bob were part of this group!" is not a reason for most people to join a group. Neighbors don't necessarily know each other socially; on the other hand, you are not often stuck at a horrible stultifying party with neighbors with whom you have nothing in common but house proximity. If you want to see people, if you want to be around people, you have to act, because the cultural default does not give you people, for the same reasons that it is not forcing unwanted people upon you.

I wish the meme writers could enjoy that as a sense of opportunity and a sense of abundance, as a freedom. I wish they would think of it in terms of a gift -- "What would you do if you got $10K suddenly?" maps a lot more closely to "What would you do if we were going to spend the weekend together just hanging out and having fun?" than to questions about being trapped or condemned to death. If you find the idea of having a few hours in an elevator with a friend to catch up or get to know each other appealing, maybe it's time to drop them an e-mail or pick up the phone or arrange to have a cuppa together. Maybe it's time to recognize that human connection doesn't have to be forced on us with no escape, we can choose it.

Or maybe it's just time to write some different questions because some of these have been answered a million times and we're starting to have rote or overthought answers. Your choice.

*My theory is that most question memes were written by 15-year-olds hoping for make-out offers. "Do you think I'm attractive?" If you want to ask this of someone, ask it, don't hide behind it just being one of the standard questions! for a meme you totally didn't write! you just passed it on! it's not your fault! Nobody bought that when you were 15. They're not buying it now.

**Not my situation. scottjames and I were trapped with thirteen of our closest homeroom classmates and our homeroom teacher in an elevator only slightly than my desk. It had a 450# weight limit. Hint: we exceeded that.
Tags: at least you can shop there, full of theories, random questions, social fail
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