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What you need to know about clueyness, a weird kind of sad.

It's like conjunctional empathy, and it happens to all of us.

What you need to know about clueyness, a weird kind of sad.

This post was originally published on Wait But Why.

I have a new word for you: cluey. Let me explain.


My father once told me a mundane little anecdote from his youth. It involved his father — my late grandfather — and one of the happiest and most loving people I’ve ever known.

One weekend day, my grandfather went to the store and brought a new board game home for the family: Clue.

He excitedly asked my father and his sister (who were 7 and 9 at the time) if they wanted to play. They did. They joined him at the kitchen table as he opened up the game, read the instructions, explained to them how to play, divided up the cards, and put all the pieces where they go.

Just as they were about to start, the doorbell rang. It was the neighbor kids, who said they were on their way outside to play some outdoor game they all used to play. Without a second thought, my dad and aunt jumped up from their seats and left with their friends.

A few hours later, they came back to the house. The game had been put back in the closet.

At the time, my dad didn’t think much of it — pretty normal day in their lives. But later on, he found himself remembering that day, and he always felt bad about it. He pictured his father sitting there at the table, now alone, with all the cards and pieces laid out. He pictured him waiting for a little while before accepting that it wasn’t gonna happen, then collecting all the pieces and cards he had laid out, putting them back in the box, and putting the box back in the closet.

Pretty random story for my dad to tell me, right? The reason he did was because it was part of a conversation where I was trying to articulate a certain thing I suffer from.

I feel incredibly bad for certain people in certain situations — situations in which the person I feel bad for was probably barely affected by what happened.

It’s an odd feeling of intense heartbreaking compassion for people who didn’t actually go through anything especially bad.

When I explained this, my dad said, “I know what you’re talking about,” and offered up the Clue story. Devastating. My grandfather had been excited about playing, and he was being such a good, loving dad, and he ended up let down and disappointed. He sat there all by himself with the game board, and finally, he put all the cards and pieces back in the box because no, the game wasn’t happening anymore because his kids would rather play with their friends than him.

My grandfather fought in World War II. He probably lost friends. He probably shot people. He might have been shot himself, who knows. But the image of him quietly putting all the Clue pieces back in the box? That’s not fucking OK. And now, thanks to my dad sharing this memory, I live every day haunted by this image:

All images here used with permission from Wait But Why.

It’s not just my dad doing this to me.

Tell me how I’m supposed to handle this fucking story, where the grandfather made 12 burgers for six grandkids and only one showed up.

Full Clue situation. And the story includes the clueyest picture I’ve ever seen:

As I read the story, I started picturing this nice fucking man buying all the ingredients in the grocery store, in a good mood with anticipation for the night, then coming home and making each of the 12 patties by hand — maybe even adding carefully-thought-out spices into them — toasting the buns and timing everything to be done at just the right time. He even made homemade ice cream. Clue up the dick. It continues, if you imagine what happened at the end of the night. Either he wrapped up eight uneaten burgers, one by one, and put them in the fridge, ensuring that he’s later reminded of the rejection each time he heats one up to eat it, or even worse, he just threw them in the trash.

And then there’s this story of an 89-year-old grandmother, who got dressed nicely and put her paintings up for display at an art showing, and guess what? No one fucking came. Then, according to one of her grandchildren, she packed up her paintings and drove home, feeling “foolish.” You know what that is? It’s cluey as hell. Especially the word foolish, in particular. I really don’t need this in my life.

Movies know all about clueyness and use it to their advantage.

Remember that super cluey old man neighbor in "Home Alone"? Who was so nice and lonely and misunderstood? The writers literally invented him to inflict clueyness on the audience so they could then release the burden of that clueyness at the end by showing him in happy reunion with his family. Cheapest trick in the book.

Clueyness doesn’t only apply to old people. One time, about five years ago, I was in a bad mood and in a rush when I hastily walked out of my apartment building. A FedEx man was standing outside the building with his cart of packages, and he wanted to get in so he could leave the packages on top of the communal mailbox (I assume the package recipient wasn’t home, so he had had no luck being buzzed in). As I walked out, he reached for the door as it closed behind me, but it shut before he could grab it. After the door relocked, he let out a frustrated exhale, and then he turned to me and asked, “Can you please open the door so I can drop these off?” I was already 10 steps away though and late, so I said, “Sorry I can’t right now” and turned back toward where I was going. Before I did, I briefly saw his reaction to my refusal to help. He had the face on of a nice person who the world had been mean to all day. The snapshot of that dejected face he made bothered me more and more throughout the day, and now it’s five years later, and I still think about it.

If someone asks me what my biggest regret is, I have to lie because how weird would it be if I answered, “The FedEx man incident. I’m a monster.”

Clueyness is a strange phenomenon.

My grandfather probably forgot about the Clue incident an hour after it happened. The FedEx man probably forgot about what I did to him five minutes later. I got cluey about a dog the other day, when he was super excited to play and I was busy and nudged him away with my foot, and he looked at me confused and taken aback and then went to the side of the room and laid down. The weight of my heartache in these cases outweighs the actual tragedy like 10,000:1.

But knowing that it’s totally irrational doesn’t make clueyness any less excruciating —something I’m reminded of every time my night is ruined by post-Uber-ride-when-the-friendly-driver-tried-to-start-a-conversation-and-I-wasn’t-in-the-mood-so-I-gave-curt-answers-until-he-finally-got-the-hint-and-then-felt-embarrassed-and-stopped guilt.

I’m just destined for a life of feeling cluey about things. But at least I can take solace in a little headline I came across:

Sad Papaw No Longer Sad: Thousands Wait in Line for Burgers at His Cookout

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

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John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

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Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

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"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

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Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

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"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

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Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

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"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

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