Here’s a grammatically correct sentence: James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher. Well, almost correct. You just need to sprinkle some curvy marks… James, while John had had “had had,” had had “had;” “had had” had had a better effect on the teacher. Without the commas and quotes and semicolons, it’s just a skipping needle. A blip in the matrix. Had had had had had nauseam. But throw in those little musical notations and suddenly I’m talking asides, I’m talking conflict, I’m talking the past pluperfect tense! That is, something that was in the past in the past. Suddenly a scene unfolds: James and John in some previous moment, endless rivals for the love of their creative writing professor—which, if they were anywhere in greater Syracuse when this went down, might have been, with any luck, George Saunders—going toe to toe on the pluperfect versus the past pluperfect. And the very sentence, the very sentence purporting to depict their syntactical melee, taking sides… siding with the winner, John. John’s not comfortable merely referring to the past, no. John must turducken a past within a past. Releasing so much meta-lightning that any sentence attempting to describe it will have its spirit summarily broken and be forced to do the same. But not with words, my friends. With sprinkles. It’s so dastardly. You’ve won the battle John, but by God you will not have had won the war. Damn …
When you sit down to learn Japanese Calligraphy, you start like anyone would, by copying a characters. And, like everyone, you flounder and your first character looks terrible. Your teacher waits for you to feel frustrated, as attempt after attempt winds up crumpled on the floor, until they finally lets you in on a little secret… Make the white space look the same and the ink takes care of itself. If you only dwell in the positive space, something very important winds up missing from your composition. Pythagoras once said “limit gives form to the limitless.” The Japanese have a word for this “Ma,” when the space around something helps to define it and give it shape. Here in the west, we have no such word. Empty space? Put an office park in it. But in Japan they have rock gardens and you can stroll around getting hip to the fact that that terrifying word “lack” might not be so terrifying.
The trick to smuggling is to hire a mediocre art director. The well-loved beauty of this prohibition-era truck’s faux-haphazard lumber placement is a dead giveaway. Any driver behind this truck would instantly fall into a reverie over the gorgeous patterning. Too much sacred, not enough profane.
Ducks are wearing wolf masks.
You can never unsee it.
We love you, duck. Just be your beautiful self. There’s no need for this.
You spend all your time and money getting a feature film off the ground. Risk everything. Every relationship. The dream comes true. It hits the theaters. Does well. Careers are launched. But even then, even then, you can still fall prey to the hapless, random absurdity of brutal coincidences…
The Advertisers of Axe Body Spray pursued “insecure men” as a demo. They were ironically too successful, as Axe is now the smell of insecurity.
On April 6, 1967, Doug Hegdahl of the US Navy was blown overboard from the USS Canberra in the Gulf of Tonkin. He swam for several miles before being picked up by Cambodian fishermen, who turned him over to the North Vietnamese army. At the Hanoi Hilton, he decided to play dumb with his interrogators, turning up his bumpkin demeanor and country accent. He pretended to be illiterate, and performed feats of such dimness around the camp that he became known to his captors as “The Incredibly Stupid One,” and was thus free to roam around, harmless as they thought he was. He used his access to memorize the names, capture dates and personal information of 256 fellow inmates, to the tune of Old MacDonald Had a Farm. His information proved crucial when he was released. Socratic Irony is when you pretend to be dimmer than your opponent, so that they reveal themselves. This is one of the more audacious examples in history. E-I-E-I-O motherscratcher!
On my honeymoon in Oaxaca, I met an Australian pharmacist who told me the story of a young couple who came to her in a panic, desperately seeking the morning after pill. It was a regimen of two pills to be taken immediately.
She handed them the pair of pills and said, “take these right now.”
They looked at each other, took a breath, and each took one.
Take a couple hundred thousand ants, chewing a swath through the jungle. They’ll cut a fairly straight line until they get to a stream. Then they’ll chew their way along the stream until they find a crossing. Then they’ll chew their way back to where they left off and continue the straight line.
Interview one of them along the way and he’ll just say he’s keeping the ass of the ant in front of him in relatively the same place. But take all of them together, and they’re thinking fairly clearly with one brain. Acting together, they can bring the mountain to Muhammed. Even though they don’t realize it.
(Hat tip to Alan Fletcher. )
One cold and dreary Sunday afternoon in Scotland in 1740, David Hume trudged across a bleak and windy heath to his favorite public house. As he walked, he imagined the warmth of the fire he knew would be crackling on the hearth, the greeting of the blokes he knew would be sitting along the bar, and could almost taste the suds at the top of the creamy stout. He arrived, greeted the blokes, took his first sip of stout by the aforementioned and predictable fire and thought, “ahhh, this is that authentic and meaningful, total 1740’s Scotish pub experience.” But something bugged him. The taste of the stout, the pop of the logs, the laughter of the blokes… his suddenly realized his brain was running these sensations on separate tracks like some sort of pre-industrial ProTools session… but it was the chord they played inside him that convinced him they had any meaning. And then it struck him… he was the chord they played. There was no David Hume sitting in that pub, there was only a bundle of sensations and experiences traveling simultaneously through the same noodle. And so, faced with the sheer terror of having no self, he dutifully got shitfaced.
If everything is weird, then nothing is weird. And everything is weird. You? What you think is normal? That’s some weird shit. And if that’s weird, what else is weird? Fucking, everything. So nothing is weird. So everything is its own version of normal. So judgment is a pretty weak reaction. Don’t be weak. Be weird.
But, you wonder, what about studies? Studies that have shown things? Don’t they point to some form of normalcy? I have bad news. Actually I have bad news and worse news. The bad news is: normalcy isn’t a word. It was made up as part of a campaign slogan for Woodrow Wilson. The worse news is: “studies” that show things about “us” are almost entirely performed on very weird populations: Wealthy Educated Industrialized Rich Democracies.
As such, judgment of weirdness is inherently flawed. So shine on you deranged diamond.
The older I get, the clearer it becomes that everything… everything is economics. So it should probably have come as no surprise that the oldest known identity we have on record is that of a man who live 5,000 years ago, in 3200 BC Mesopotamia, whose name was Kushim, and whose profession was as an accountant.
He did well in math, had perhaps a healthy dose of skepticism, and so when the time came he hung out a shingle. His name appears on a receipt tablet for barley.
Ancient Roman gladiators had product endorsement deals. Ancient Greece had mortgages and college and restaurants. Temporally, we really are just specks.
Last June, Koko the gorilla — who could communicate through sign language — died at 46. In her time, she told Mister Rogers she loved him, she jammed with Flea, she had a tickle session with Robin Williams (and grew morose for days upon learning of his death), and she kept a pet kitten she named All Ball.
According to Koko, this kitten was known to fly into fits of rage, and she once reluctantly implicated All Ball in the crime of having ripped a sink out of a wall.
“Equipoise” is a balance of forces and interest. For dancers, outfielders and cats of prey, it is the state between stillness and motion. It’s when you’re ready to pounce, you’re sprung, you’ve stopped just for a second but your momentum may tip your body weight onward.
In the town of Mahabalipuram, there rests on an incline a 250 ton granite boulder named Krishna’s Butterball. For at least 1200 years, it has paused briefly (in geological terms), to collect itself before continuing its choreo-tone poem performance down the hill.
In 1908, the local British administrator was so unnerved by its equipoise, and so emboldened by a colonizer’s arrogance, that he hired seven elephants to yank it from its place. He failed. It’s still catching its breath today.
Trudging the vast hellscape of made up product words meant to sound like the solution to the problem created by the company selling you the solution— which are at best a portmanteau like Pinterest and ‘broccoli’ (a man-made hybrid of brussel sprouts and cauliflower), and at worst gadflies of meaning, like Abilify and Instagram — it can be hard to know exactly what this thing is you’re expected to insert into your head.
As corporations massage the lexicon into an oblivion of monetizable syllables, it’s sometimes hard not to just take nonsense sounds at face value.
Like Spap Oop or, my favorite, Spunow.