Saturday, April 25, 2009

Of Sentimentality and Smugitude, or Why I Haven't Written About the Bat Mitzvah

On the day after the bat mitzvah, at some point in our daylong houseful of brunchers, who became lunchers, and then late afternoon snackers, my step-nephew picked up a copy of Anna Karenina, which was being used to prop up a sign for the arts-and-crafts store next to the dining room table, and remarked upon what a great first line it has.

I thought, for most of the week, that this was why I felt unable to write about M's bat mitzvah. The weekend of M's bat mitzvah was pretty much straight-out joy, occasionally to the point of bliss, and, you know, the happy thing just isn't particularly interesting. Then there's the fact of the Anna Karenina comment itself: I love my step-nephew a lot, but, you know, to remark upon the first line of Anna Karenina? We're not talking originality; in fact, we're pretty much in the realm of sentimentality.

To write about how meaningful it is to honor an adolescent, just at the moment when they are capable of so much, yet so often so annoying (don't worry, M, you're not that annoying); to revel in the spirit of conciliation that pervaded the event (remember those kids who were M's friends and then turned mean? they're nice again); to kvell over the music, and the weeping grandparents, and the loving, supportive friends...oh my god, could we be any more sentimental?

Then again, I realized, perhaps on Thursday, I'm all about the sentimental! (Speaking of which, last night we finally watched the movie version of Ballet Shoes, with Emma Watson, and it is thoroughly delightful, in all its hardboiled sentimentality, and quite close to the book--it does conjure up a romance unnecessary to literature, but clearly essential to film, albeit in quite a reasonable way, but it lets both Pauline and Posy be as bratty as they really are, and it's a wonderful portrait of sisters.) Noel Streatfeild aside, Susan Warner? Harriet Beecher Stowe? High School Musical 3? Bring it on! (But please leave the Hannah Montana movie behind.)

Still, it is one thing to revel in the consumption of sentiment; to produce it, when attempting to document true feeling, is quite another.

Yesterday, however, I realized that there was something much worse than sentimentality at stake . Yesterday, I had several encounters, in person, print, and pixel, with what can only be characterized as smugitude, because smugness simply isn't sufficiently weighty to be the appropriate nominal form of smug. You know smug: when people are convinced that they are the best, and are unabashedly proud of it, to the point that they can magnanimously praise others, so those others can illustrate, yet again, their own bestness. Smugitude is thoroughly revolting, and smugitude, like sentimentality, is something to which I fear I may have my own revolting tendencies. But where one can embrace sentimentality, on grounds of kitsch, or even roots of true feeling (see: cliches, which become so because they work so well), there is simply no excuse for smugitude. And to write arias of joy over the bliss that was M's bat mitzvah? So potentially close to smug, that I just can't go there.

So, you'll have to take my word for it: from the flowers coming into bloom the day before; to M and her friend A, whose bat mitzvah was the afternoon of M's, leading the Friday night service together; to the rabbi's insightful Friday night sermon; to all of us beautiful in our bat mitzvah dresses; to M's impeccable service-leading, Torah-reading, haftarah-reading, AND dvar-producing; to E falling off her chair in the middle of the service and sending the whole room into gales of laughter; to delicious food; to loud music; to socializing adults, dancing tweens, and adorable five-year-old girls in party dresses; to the end of the party when M's posse and my high school friends rocked out on the dance floor; to Chinese food in sweatpants with hilarious out-of-town was a smug and sentimental event of joy and bliss, the likes of which I wish for everyone, in whatever form it comes to you.


Anonymous said...

I love this post. Smugitude is NOT what you have. You are just simply, purely happy. And so was I. The Bat Mitzvah weekend was so joyful on so many levels that I can't really speak about it. It is a feeling that is impossible to express in language (even for a writer like you). I find I can barely describe it at all to my friends who weren't there. I just cannot express the enormity of my feelings without doing/feeling that kvell/brag thing either. How can you explain the Opa in tears of joy without getting bogged down in his history, the gramma passing the talis, the amazing array of friends from the past and the blended family finally blending?

Kelly said...

I love you. You always make me think about life in a way I haven't, which makes me feel whatever it is I'm feeling so much more deeply. Sounds like a truly gorgeous weekend in every way. oxxooxxo

the word verification: brutti

which I read as: brutal beauty

Dawn said...

Nothing smug about it -- am so happy that it was all it ought to be. Now are you ready to do it all again in a few years???