Have you ever done that thing where you imagine a conversation with someone? Maybe there’s this one annoying thing they do all the time and you think about how you’d yell at them about it, if only you got the chance. Maybe they’ve royally messed up and made you angry and you plan exactly how you’d tell them off. You go over and over the scenario, store up your back catalogue of witty one-liners and prepare yourself, because one day – one day – you are going to say exactly what you’ve always wanted to say. One day, you will have this conversation.
I’m fairly confident this is something you do, because there’s a word for it: jouska (pronounced jowska for those of you who, like me, are a cool kid who likes to drop pretentious words into conversation). According to The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (which is, perhaps, my new favourite website) a jouska is a hypothetical conversation “which serves as a kind of psychological batting cage where you can connect more deeply with people than in the small ball of everyday life, which is a frustratingly cautious game of change-up pitches, sacrifice bunts, and intentional walks.” The Germans call it “kopfkino” – literally, “head cinema” – where you play out an entire scenario in your mind.
So this hypothetical conversation is your batting cage so you can practise your game; a movie in which you control the actors, the script and the action. The problem is, however, that the big game never turns out the way it went in training, and life is certainly not a movie. You may start with your perfect opening line but the other person never got a copy of the script, and so they improvise. That suddenly sends the whole conversation in another direction, and your carefully planned jouska is ruined.
And this, perhaps, is why we never get past jouska stage. We have the same conversation, over and over, but we know on some level that it won’t go to plan so we never have the conversation in real life. We add more scenarios. We run through our head cinema and change the setting, the props, the dialogue, to prepare for anything that may come our way, but still we know that real life won’t follow the plan. Deep down, we know that this conversation isn’t really going to happen.
I’ve had a lot of jouskas in my time. Heck, I’ve had a lot of them this week. I’ve worked out my razor-sharp insights, my perfect metaphors and – my favourite part – my devastating closing lines. Oh, if you could hear the conversations I come up with in my head, you’d be calling up Shonda Rhimes right now and telling her she needs me on her writing team (actually, if anyone does know Shonda Rhimes and fancies doing that anyway, I would really love to work on Grey’s Anatomy). But something stops me having the conversation every time. Mostly it’s knowing that it won’t actually turn out the way I want it to – and what’s the point in playing if you can’t win – but maybe there’s something else holding me back.
In real life, conversations have consequences. You don’t throw out your witty last line, walk off stage-right, end scene and fade to black. You have to see that person again, and again. You might be able to give them a right telling off, get that gripe off your chest, but once it’s off your chest it’s out there in the open and you can’t take it back. And so we hold these conversations in our heads and keep them there so that we can keep having them, consequence-free. We can go over it and over it and work ourselves into a lather. We can make the initial problem bigger. We can get even more annoyed with the person – why haven’t they changed yet? I keep telling them to…in my head…
The problem with jouskas is that they seem like a solution, but they aren’t. They make you feel like you’re in control of the situation, but they’re only preparing you for a conversation that you’ll never have. They make you believe you’re just working through your feelings, but you’re only compounding them. And they make you think that you’re finding a way to fix the problem, when in reality the big, dramatic scene you’re playing out often isn’t what the situation requires at all.
I’ve recently been buying a lot of tickets to the head cinema. I’ve been planning brutally honest conversations, trying to hypothetically verbalise how much I’ve been hurt and – if I’m being brutally honest right now – trying to hurt that person all the more. And then I said to myself, “Ok, so let’s think of a jouska which starts off with this person approaching me and apologising. How would I respond then?” And I couldn’t do it. Try as I might to imagine a healthy, constructive conversation to repair what had been broken, my brain kept dragging me back into drama. We tell ourselves these hypothetical conversations are good, that the person will change once they know what we really think of them, but I wasn’t preparing for a conversation at all; I was gathering my weapons, I was getting ready for a brawl.
Too often we leave things unsaid. Too often we let problems fester for months, even years, without ever bringing them out in the open and trying to fix them. We just take a trip to the head cinema. We just replay the drama over and over and then wonder why the problem never went away. Perhaps it’s time to gently – and I mean gently – say, “Do you know that you sometimes act this way, and it hurts people?” Or, “I’m finding it hard to be around you right now and I don’t want to feel that way – can we talk about that?”
So have your conversation with this person, but actually have it – and do it well. Other people won’t know what they’re doing unless we shine a light on it, but we need to make sure that it is light we’re shining – life-giving, friendship-restoring light – and not just a spotlight for the world to see that we’re right and they’re wrong. Because dramatic conversations don’t solve problems – sassy one-liners and throwing a drink in someone’s face may seem satisfying, but these are not the tools you need to repair what has been broken. Lay the jouska to rest, leave the scene directing to the real cinema directors, and just do what you’ve needed to do all along – just talk to each other.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti Magazine