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Commit to the Bit
The inside jokes that keep on giving.
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Thank you so, so much for your support. Now, on with the essay…
After my daughter scanned me in with what looked to be a remote control stolen from our family room, my husband slung my bag over his shoulder and led me up the stairs with a stream of small talk. He had adopted a stooped jockey posture, legs crouched and arms outstretched like cricket antennae. He placed the bag on the bed and muttered in a pronounced Cockney accent, “You need anything else, Mum?” Meanwhile, my daughter—an ever-attentive (micromanaging) concierge—watched from the door and hissed in her poshest French accent, “What about the tip? You always tip the bellhop at this hotel!”
This exchange is part of an extended bit that we’ve reenacted countless times. It started when my daughter decided to let me sleep in her room for the night, which entailed a whole routine of “checking in,” home spa treatments, and a complimentary bedtime story (tip appreciated, of course). When it’s time to play hotel, we all know our parts.
We’ve always played well together, the three of us. My daughter is naturally imaginative, my husband is great at impersonations, and me—well, I’m just along for the ride. I usually throw in a conflict or a nemesis to keep things interesting (fiction writer impulse). When we play store, she adopts a curmudgeonly and suspicious shopkeeper persona, while my husband becomes a belligerent Scot whose sole purpose in life is to buy a tiara for himself. After she was assigned the role of Lyin’ Lenny—a sly pirate with a penchant for obfuscation—in a school play, our house rang with “Argh”s and “matey”s until we found ourselves accidentally slipping into piratese out in public.
Once, watching us act out a complicated scene from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (the Disney version; not the Hugo one), a relative commented in a bemused tone, “Well, you certainly get into it, don’t you?” At first, I felt a little embarrassed. We were sort of extra when it came to playing together. Maybe there wasn’t a need to grab an actual apple from the fridge every time we reenacted Snow White or tie each other up with jump ropes while playing prisoner games. Maybe the falling, choking death scenes were a little dramatic.
But then I thought—well, life is short and there’s a lot of drudgery in it. Why not make it a little more fun by committing to the bits?
When I think of the moments that have nestled closest to my heart, they’re the ones involving extended bits with friends and lovers. On the heels of the Pussycat Dolls phenomenon, a group of friends and I started telling our classmates we were in a band called Japanese Ostriches. But we never played instruments together at all; the fun was in the pretending. Another friend and I created a fake cultural alliance that would judge celebrities on their claim to Asian identity; it was a tongue-in-cheek reaction to the ways we felt excluded from our heritage as “Americanized” teenagers. In one of our first apartments together, my husband and I spun an elaborate fantasy about the innocent pie shop across the street being a secret den of iniquity and botched mob deals. Even now, when we pass the (still-operational!) pie shop, we exchange sly looks with each other.
In theater, a bit part refers to a role with limited lines, but in popular parlance, bits refer to the jocular, improvisational banter that revolves around a conceit or fictional scenario. Sketch comedy and sitcoms are rife with such bits. Arrested Development is a show of bits: the chicken dance and “never nude” Tobias, to name my favorites. What bits have in common is a suspension of belief, a willingness to be naive. And their recurrence—a callback of memory and experience—creates a kind of fictive history that launches us into a shared experience. It’s an offshoot of the inside joke: intimate, delightful, and sacred.
The bit requires an investment from all parties that could, in a less trusting relationship, make everyone feel a little foolish. When you choose to participate fully in a bit—no matter how briefly—you’re making an implicit agreement to be playful. And what’s playfulness in an adult but a form of vulnerability? We’re showing our cards of the imagination. Letting people see our inner weird. There are few greater gifts we can show than that of intimacy.
I was trying to write about a bit I was doing with a friend over text messages: something involving a senator and pajamas. But it didn’t hold up. Bits are like that sometimes: They become much less funny under the microscope of explanation. Because the point of the bit isn’t always public entertainment. It’s about the nonsense magic that happens when silliness and creativity combine in spontaneous ways. Bits are mostly meant to be ephemeral, like fireflies whose light eventually dies when trapped for too long.
I’ll be honest: watching my husband and daughter with their bits makes me fall even more in love with my family. Aside from the delight of cataloging their wide range of very specific accents, I get to see them open themselves up to one another. There’s such a sense of security in that trust; no matter what appropriate masks we don in the world, we can always be free to be you and me at home.
I don’t think she’ll remember the Scottish tiara seeker or Lyin’ Lenny when she’s an adult. In fact, I can see her sometimes beginning to feel embarrassed if we break out into an accent around her friends. And that’s okay. We may have to contain the bits a little more with context, but I don’t think they’ll go away anytime soon. Long live the nonsense and the play, the “extra” moments, the sparkling ones when we find our cache of foolish imagination.
My Year of Selfies (Cup of Jo): looking into the landscape of a face
Chasing Chè Ba Màu With My Mother (Simply Recipes): a silly escapade in a new city with my mother
Community Board by Tara Conklin: In the aftermath of her sudden separation from her husband, Darcy moves back to her childhood home, expecting to be coddled by her loving parents. What she finds is an empty house and a town she no longer fully recognizes. This laugh-out-loud book has it all: pathos, humor, a meddling community that brandishes their weird on a public internet forum. I enjoyed Conklin’s smart and often-insightful prose.
Hula by Jasmin Iolani Hakes: I’ve never quite read a book like Hakes’s! In this novel set in Hilo, Hawaii, young Hi’i comes of age among the mysteries of her family. She doesn’t look like many in her community with her white skin and European features, yet she feels deeply tied to the kingdom of Hawaii, especially through the dance of hula, a sacred practice that tells the stories of the past. In her quest to win the Miss Aloha Hula competition, she grapples with her personal ambition, her mother’s buried secrets, and the possible erasure of a community she loves. Hakes’s prose transports readers to a Hawaii that is hidden, but never forgotten.
Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson: Told through the perspective of three sets of siblings (and in-laws!), this comedy of manners traces the ins and outs of a wealthy family in New York as they grapple with their privilege in a changing world. The events rotate in and out of their childhood home on Pineapple Street. I enjoyed this and flew through it quickly!
The Night Flowers by Sara Herchenroether: This is a dark literary thriller (please, please check the content warnings on this) in which a detective and a librarian combine forces to solve a gruesome, decades-old crime. These determined women comb through old files, interview evasive suspects, and examine tangled family trees to parse the truth out of the Jane Doe cold case. The writing is transcendent, and I found myself invested in the inner lives of the characters. The Night Flowers has been described as haunting and that’s exactly the right word for this book.
“My Beautiful Mom” (The Cut): a gorgeous piece by Samantha Leach about the complicated beauty inheritance she got from her mother.
“I Got My Name From Connie Chung. So Did They” (New York Times): a touching ode to an icon that meant so much to many Asian Americans.
“Notes from Prince Harry’s Ghostwriter” (New Yorker): Loved this intimate and revealing insider look at an industry so few of us get access to.
“Dingus of the Week: Prom Dads” (Lyz Lenz’s newsletter): I would link to everything Lyz writes, honestly! She’s so honest and compelling, and in this issue, she touches on the misogyny that’s always troubled me about the “prom dad.”
Honestly? The Scandoval on Vanderpump Rules. My email is always open to discussion on reality TV.
Also, Queen Charlotte on Netflix. I watched a couple of episodes in real time with a friend, gossiping over text about George and Charlotte, and it felt so cozy. Fully recommend watching shows “together.”
Gua Sha nighttime rituals. I know it probably doesn’t make a visual difference, but it’s super comforting, along with a jade roller I had no idea I needed.
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