Ross Gay, Pink Floyd, and the Beauty of a Misunderstanding

I would not describe myself as Ross Gay’s #1 fan. I like short, easily-digestible essays as much as the next person, and his unique brand of optimism is undoubtedly infectious, but I find that his work too often focuses on only the joyful end of the emotional spectrum for it to be of deep interest to me. I promise I’m not a bitter person—my preferred vessel for experiencing joy is just usually relative to the author’s ability to contrast it against hardship. (Yes, I am fun at parties, why do you ask?)

Nevertheless, I couldn’t deny the smile on my face when I first experienced “Reading Palms.” In this essay, Gay highlights and romanticizes a small-scale communication breakdown at airport security. Throughout the piece, Gay presents the inherent awkwardness (and intimacy) of the relationship between the TSA and the air-traveling public as the stage for an interaction that is both charming and quintessentially human. The misunderstanding—mistaking poetry for divination—comes across as funny and honest, and for this reader, is just the kind of story to brighten one’s day a little.

But this essay also calls something else to mind—another piece of media that I quite enjoy by a creator that I generally don’t. “Have a Cigar,” a very-good song by a very-overrated rock band (sorry y’all, but Pink Floyd really doesn’t hold up), is a beautiful, surreal tune with one of my favorite lyrical turns of phrase in rock music. After a verse outlining how the band is phenomenal and destined for success, the speaker asks, “oh by the way, which one’s Pink?” And with that, a common misreading of the band’s name, we can see that despite all flattery and encouragement, the speaker doesn’t actually understand what Pink Floyd is all about. There’s a disconnect; they live on different worlds, and the industry is incapable of understanding their music.

However, I prefer Ross Gay’s reading of the misunderstanding, for it is here that we can see that there can be beauty in miscommunication, not merely the deception and anti-establishment echoes that we hear from our classic rock music.

4 Responses to Ross Gay, Pink Floyd, and the Beauty of a Misunderstanding

  1. baxleype January 26, 2023 at 7:29 pm #

    Adam, it’s refreshing how you’re so eternally optimistic. But in all seriousness, I like what you wrote here. You’re picking up on how misunderstandings are much more than that––they show different worldviews, causing a disconnect. What does an academic poet have in common with an airport security guard? Not much. Nevertheless, they can share in the funny moment. Each takes away a different sort of “joke,” but they both leave happy. How is that for your pessimism?

  2. Zoee Reale January 26, 2023 at 7:34 pm #

    Adam, I liked that you were able to find some joy in one of the delights. I also love the Pink Floyd connection, super cool!

    • Taylor January 26, 2023 at 7:52 pm #

      Adam, overall this post really gets at the heart of what I think is also a very fun and very human delight in certain miscommunication and double meanings. Just as you said, the beauty in miscommunication can sometimes been one of those silly little human things that we can all laugh about and relate to in some way.

  3. Prof VZ January 29, 2023 at 7:08 pm #

    I would say his reflection on Joy (bringing in Smith) is heavy, as is the early delight reflection on the idiom “whole in the head.” “Negreeting” also takes as its baseline the violence against black bodies as a core reality in American life. I think what strikes me here is the ability to draw in a certain critical self-consciousness even when maintaining an almost un-real level of delight taking. All that said, I appreciate the general reflection how balance and what might balance delight.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes

Skip to toolbar