Interesting

No one uses this word correctly. I’m to blame as well, and I’m here to change my dirty fuzzy ways.

If you’re at permanent theater camp, like I am, you see a lot of bad art. Or at least you see a lot of art that you really don’t like. Sometimes you hate it. Sometimes it makes you want to tear your hair out and run out the door and scream WHY DO I DO THEATER I HATE IT SO at all the little nineteen-year-olds who have a “dream roles” bucket list that they keep under their pillows.

But you sit and wait for the piece to end, and then the teacher says, “Let’s give feedback,” and you stab yourself in the thigh with your ballpoint pen and say, “It was really interesting.”

“What I found interesting…”

“What interested me…”

“The most interesting choice…”

And then you go home and take a shower and scrub yourself like Meryl in Silkwood, trying to get the euphemism residue out of your nooks and crannies.

In Silkwood, Meryl works at an unsafe nuclear power plant, guys. Get on it. It’s a true, sad story. You might find it interesting.

Anyway, you may not be at permanent theater camp, but I’m sure the interesting bug bites you somewhere. Documentaries are almost always interesting. So are news articles, at least the ones that aren’t “terrible.” “Did you read about – ? “I did, I did. Just terrible.” “Yeah. Just terrible.” Of course, terrible turns interesting if you give it enough time.

“Interesting” helps when your friend reads his poetry to you. Or tells you his thoughts about Herman Cain.

“Interesting condition” was a euphemism for “pregnant” in the 18th century. Because the baby is growing at a measurable rate, perhaps? Imagine the 18th century locker rooms: “I’d like to compound her interest.”

But that’s all wrong. Let’s chuck the euphemism and be honest. First of all, our use of the word is wrong in an etymological sense. Etymonline.com tells us that interest’s economic definition is older than its more emotional sense. When you have an interest in something, you have a “legal claim or right; concern.”

If something interests you, it should be as though you then hold a stake in it. Waiting for Superman interested you if it made you get up off your ass and do something about the state of education – even if it was just a small thing. If it did not do that, you were not interested.

The word comes from combining “inter” and “est,” so it literally means “between-being.” That just feels active to me. It’s pushing you into a between place. It’s pushing you off the couch, out of the movie theater seat and out the door into the world. Where you end up depends on you. It’s no coincidence that the phrase is “to excite interest.” Excite! Activate! Something of interest “is of importance,” and “makes a difference.”

Secondly, it’s wrong in a moral sense. I was spurred to write this entry by reading Leo Tolstoy’s What to Do? He describes the taking of the Moscow census, and how it will produce all these data about living conditions: it will show many poor people there are, how many diseased, what conditions they live in, etc. And Tolstoy goes crazy because he knows everyone is going to read the results and say, “Oh, how interesting,” and go on their way. Finding something interesting lets us off the hook from really delivering judgment, or really initiating change.

Here it comes, once and for all:

I hate his writing. I would never buy it. He should stop doing it.

Also, I only went to that movie because my girlfriend made me. It made me sad but I have other things to worry about.

Because who doesn’t have other things to worry about? We all do. We all only have so much interest to give. I understand that. You have to figure out what’s really interesting to you, what really causes you to be-between, to get up and get in the middle of things. Maybe it’s not education. Maybe it’s finding out that Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire because he was tired of the abuse he took from the cops. Maybe it’s reading Nicholas Kristof’s piece about sexworker children chained to their beds. There’s bound to be something that INTERESTS you, truly, that makes you look around and say, “why are all of these people not ripping off their clothes and running down the street screaming STOP STOP STOP drop everything until we fix this!”

I mean maybe it’s fantasy baseball. Make that work for you, too.

Occupy Your Interest! Set up pup tents and live democratically with it. Share the interest. Be moved by the interest of others. And if you can’t figure out how to make your interest active, if you can’t figure out how to change the world in one fell swoop, start with the man in the mirror, as Michael would have you do. And if you get antsy, find an interest that you can work on in your own backyard.

And when you hear someone else abusing the word, ask them, “Really? What did it make you be between?” This will make you all kinds of friends.