I wish Colin Jost’s memoir had made me want to punch him in the face…

because then at least it would have made me feel.

[Context: Colin Jost hosts the “Weekend Update” feature on Saturday Night Live, was a former head writer on that same show, is currently engaged to Scarlett Johannson, and recently published a memoir entitled “A Very Punchable Face.”]

Our society tends to idolize the successful. That’s glaringly obvious, not profound, so here’s the importance: what do you mean when you say “successful”? Because looking at his life from the outside, one could accurately say ” Colin Jost is successful” in the standard American way. But dear lord, does he have an inner life at all, let alone a rich one?

You’re not supposed to speculate about someone’s inner life based on observed behavior (thanks, Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert)), but a memoir typically dives into the psyche of the author, articulates what it’s like to be them, and helps you come out the other side with some sort of emotional connection. No, not every memoir does that. Some are just stories of amusing anecdotes that the author has strung together for want of an additional platform to be heard… And that’s the problem.

Here: let me give you an example:

  • Let’s say you were dating Time’s Sexiest Woman Alive 2006 & 2013 (the first woman ever to win the award twice).
  • And Jimmy Buffett once saved you from drowning.
  • And your mother was a firefighter on the ground when the second tower collapsed on 9/11.

And you strung those stories together. Shouldn’t it have emotional appeal?

It’s like the only emotionality I felt in the whole book was that one specific section about 9/11, because it was sufficiently gory and scary and intense and Big to overcome any blockers that Colin had put up… not because it had any human emotion whatsoever.

I teared up during that section for the denotative facts, despite Colin’s method of telling it, not because of it. I’ve overheard conversations on the street that have turned my head with more emotionally-evocative lines. It’s like Colin wrote the equivalent of a Michael Bay anecdote when he should have written a Woody Allen (i.e. something that Feels).

I don’t mean to insult Colin Jost; he seems like a nice person (and may different priorities than me), but to my taste, niceness only gets you so far. I’d rather someone were an authentic, direct, honest asshole than a pretentious nice dude (Colin’s form of “nice” seems like the one frequently found in the Catholic church, and one which I’m not even sure it’s accurate to call “nice” because it’s closer to “polite” and this politeness very frequently actually leads to the opposite of being “nice” or “kind”, such as when he’s about to drown but doesn’t want to disturb another group’s nearby surfing trip so he covers up the fact that he’s nearly drowning, and what if he actually drowned? wouldn’t that be like the least nice thing to do—to demolish someone’s family surfing trip with the sight of your bloated corpse? (a true reference from the book; the family on the surfing trip was Jimmy Buffett’s.)).

I’m deeply saddened to have read a book that includes a memoir about “Parisian teens throwing tomatoes at me, then I throw a bicycle over the fence that surrounds the Musée d’Orsay, and then I hide from the French cops in my hotel room with Scarlett Johansson” (paraphrase) and have the whole thing read precisely as emotionally bland as that summary that I just wrote in this here sentence. Go read that sentence again, then read the relevant section (the antepenultimate chapter, “Tomato, Potato”), and I’ll be damned if this two-bit summary doesn’t have about the same amount of emotional depth, of human connection, of evocative, stomach-pulling impact as the original. And that’s sad. That’s sad. That’s really, really sad. It’s sad in the sort of way I can’t share in this review because it’s the sort of sad that you feel when you look at an old person who’s drunk their life away and ask “what if you had learned to cope properly when you were young?”. It’s sad in the sort of way that it’s sad that such a large section of now and future human populations will never, ever, ever look to the heavens and see the Milky Way or stars. It’s sad in a profoundly sad way that parallels my sadness at my inability to communicate directly to you just how sad this sadness is, and how it reminds me that we, as individual humans who do not share experiences, are at our cores forever alone.

Listen:

We can train a person to do repeated, fancy tricks at expert levels to satisfy specific societal needs. And that’s nice. Sure. It’s a pretty cool skill. But it also feels fundamentally disrespectful of what it is to be human. It misses out on really existing in this universe, a universe that has been thusfar insufficiently explored. It ignores what it feels like to have someone lack agency because they’re so scared they can’t look inwardly at themselves to see the fetters that bind.

Colin Jost’s memoir made me first and foremost sad: sad for Catholics, sad for people who grow up to hate their emotions/feelings/explorations of self, sad for people taught to trust some external force instead of their instincts, and sad for myself because I’m sure there are areas of myself I have insufficiently explored due to some of that good ol’ inter-generational trauma. Jost’s memoir isn’t even intending to be a sad book; that’s the sad part: it’s meant to make you laugh.  

There’s a point in my stomach—to the left and below my sternum—where my Emotional Authenticity lives (no joke). There’s no special sauce or divinity or whatnot to that place; it’s simply a spot that helps me feel myself. When I notice that spot, I connect with some aspect that’s much closer to Oneness or Honesty or God or Accuracy or Freedom or Truth than I usually feel. And that specific spot is where I happen to feel it. And I found that spot after going to PTSD therapy for a few months, then finding a specific shamanistic ritual, and then spending hours and hours and hours and hours over years and years feeling Lonely and Grieving and Crying In The Shower (and the like). And that, my friends, is what we call The Work. It’s The Work of being human, of stripping away what we think is true and getting closer to what’s actually, truly, truly true. It’s learning about Me and You and Reality and What Exists and Where We Are and Where We’re Going and all sorts of other capital activities. That’s My Quest and I’m damn proud of it. And I’m glad different people are on different quests but I still can’t in good conscience read a book like Colin’s—even one where he implies he likes his life—without thinking “I don’t think you know what Life is.”.

An alternate option: maybe Colin is right. Maybe the Right Job is the one where he laughs every day for fifteen years. Where he fritters away the time in a way that feels satisfying but that (to me, at least) seems sad. Maybe the Right Choice for Colin is having a plurality of his memoir-worthy adult stories start with “I was really drunk…” (paraphrase) and end with the moral “sometimes I do stupid things and am clearly still traumatized by my upbringing, family history/background, (former) religion, etc.” (again, paraphrase, but this moral it’s the basic message of like every story, from the time he almost drowned because he was to unwilling to admit he had gotten himself in a spot of trouble while surfing; to the time when he broke his hand because he was unwilling to admit his own physical inability to punch with proper form; to the time he shit his pants; to the time he was too unwilling to cause a fuss when hosting the Emmy’s and therefore hosted what by all accounts (including his own) was a boring and poorly-done Emmy’s (entitled “Worst Emmys Ever”)). My only respite (glint of hope?) from these morals is that he’s consistently seeing problems in his former behavior and improving them, which is the point and I’m glad he’s doing it, but he’s also missing the point: the point of all these morals is not the denotative ‘I made this mistake; look at me’ learning he seems to think it is (and which would prompt some growth), but the underlying principles and structures of behavior/thinking that create the same mistakes over and over and over again. Colin, if you’re reading this: no amount of funny story or chuckle of ‘Oh, I’m always like that’ will actually arrive you at the necessary honest self-viewing for you to heal and grow into a bigger, more satisfying and more accurate life. Look at Dennis Rodman and Jim Carrey as examples. Or Patton Oswalt or Dave Chappelle. It’s the difference between living a life and killing time, and I don’t know if you know you’ve been killing time.

There’s a sadness in the heart of many most comedians, myself included. I just analyze it. I poke it. I approach it and really, truly try to understand it. I use it to ask how society works and why I—and the world—am the way I am. I wonder what happened to me and dive in when I’m afraid. (Except when I don’t dive in because I’m afraid… which we all do from time to time, and The Work seeks to minimize.). There’s a Scientific Method that’s respectable from pretty much everybody in this capacity and it seems like Colin Jost has just never done it. He’s worked and worked and worked to achieve the things he wanted, but can he articulate why? What’s the point of having a national desk in front of millions of people if you don’t have a purpose to achieve with it? If there’s no point, why do it at all? For a Harvard dude, he’s shockingly surface-level. Compare him to Conan, another fellow SNL writer and Harvard Lampooner, and you see night and day. Conan cares about Comedy itself, about Making People Laugh, about Entertainment (all Big Things)… Colin cared about getting a job, then about getting on SNL, and then about hosting Weekend Update (a bigger, better–his dream job)…  that’s the difference: If you care for The Art, you’ll find ways to achieve it; if you care for your job, you’ll always fall flat. (This comparison is unfortunately a tad reductionist; these are my impressions from reading Colin’s memoir and listening to a huge amount of Conan’s podcast; I believe they’re accurate, but necessarily lacking nuance (because I, unfortunately, can’t observe their inner life).)

Conan still has, to this day, Howard Stern’s favorite interview because it’s one in which Conan speaks about his depression, questions how his comedy functions in relation to his depression, and voices his worries about whether medicating himself would make him less funny. Colin can’t do that… at least I think he can’t, because a memoir is itself like the most emotionally evocative art form (short of nude self-portrait), and Colin 100% completely missed the emotional mark. (If he can do that, it makes me concerned why he didn’t here: he would have had to decide that actually honestly opening up in our current age of technology and social movements would be worse—far worse—than just publishing a memoir that is the emotional equivalent of eating popcorn. But I don’t think that was Colin’s intent: throughout the book I’m continually berated by the perception that he does really truly keep trying to do Big things; he wants to do Important things that Matter, etc., and that leads me to the conclusion that if he knew how to be emotionally open he would, because he’d see the connection between “great memoir” and “emotional connection” that’s so patently obvious). I’m reminded of David Foster Wallace’s review “How Tracy Austin broke my heart” for the similarities in what Jost’s memoir implies about the state of both himself and our current world:

It’s really, truly, profoundly sad that someone who our society dubs “successful” can have such a vapid existence. Is this really the best of our generation? A top comedian—the one hosting SNL Weekend Update and head writing for what is still our nation’s (the world’s?) biggest comedy broadcast—completely lacks in internal substance. That’s. Really. Sad. It implies that the vapidity of everyday life has infested comedy, which is itself sad, and then that sadness globs onto comedy itself, so we’re left with comedy now becoming sad, which is sad turtles all the sad way sad down, which is even sadder than the sad fact that me sad-reading this sad guy’s sad memoir about his “comedy” life where he “comedy” stars on a “successful” show and then “successfully” becomes “successfully” engaged to “successful” Scarlett Johansson is not successful nor comedy at all but just another terrible and heartbreaking example of how growing up Catholic traumatizes someone.

But it’s not exactly precisely that, because Conan O’Brien also grew up Catholic, and look how he turned out… Still traumatized, yes, but so much more self-aware (and so much more  emotionally vulnerable). So what it is it? Is it the family stifling? Is it the lack of real, intense world challenges (because the worst that Colin ever had to go through is some time spent unsure how he’ll pay rent in New York City? Is it instead that he has actually suffered in real ways (which is probably, statistically true, if only based on his age and the existence of his 9/11 story) and simply lacks the self-examination and Work to articulate them well and/or feels a terrible, crippling fear that honestly sharing real stories with readers (instead of, say, “the time I pooped my pants” (real story; paraphrased title)) will somehow be bad for his life/career, not good?

While the unexamined life may still be worth living, the inauthentic or dishonest or inaccurate or lying life is worse than nothing because we’re social animals and life is a team sport. Whether you’re a cog in your own wheel or you’re a cog in someone else’s or you’re just some tiny ant carrying a boulder up a Great Big Cosmic Hill every day so you can let it roll down again to repeat your Quest, you’ve got to look at the world and say what it is because if you don’t, how will we know? (And also because the truth you seek is probably parallel to one you’re withholding from others.)

There’s one great moment of self-awareness in this book that jumps out as insightful and clever and aware (and which moment on retrospect is really just an average level of awareness, but its being surrounded by non-awareness makes it seem more aware, much like how one would observe a diamond to be shinier if said diamond were surrounded by horse poop). (Not that the book is horse poop; the book is merely awareness horse poop.):

It’s the moment when Colin says, in a footnote, “I want to make it very clear that this list of notes [requests for changes to upcoming sketches] provided to the SNL staff by NBC censors is not exclusively notes they gave to me because I don’t want people to read this and think I’m racist/sexist/homophobic/[other similar categories] and therefore to ‘cancel’ me.” (paraphrase). That’s it. That’s our big ol’ nugget of self-awareness, and it’s not even self awareness qua self awareness per se; it’s only self-awareness because you read it and think “there’s a guy who sees where he fits with respect to one specific national trend that clearly (and justifiably) frightens him”, but we don’t think, “there’s a guy who knows something about Himself or Society or Profundity or Existence”; it’s merely “this guy sees a thing and is afraid”, which might be the single simplest emotional state for a human an animal of any kind. That’s the only emotion that comes across in this book: Fear. *Sigh*. Fear of authenticity, fear of emotion, fear of society, fear of loss… The big one-two punch, blockbuster ending (the epilogue; the last pages of the book; the final point Colin leaves the reader with…) is Colin saying “Maybe I’ll leave SNL someday because I want to dive deep into one topic instead of staying shallow in many by doing standup/sketches/movies all at once… and maybe I won’t” (paraphrase). Wow. *Sigh Again*. That’s not an ending; that’s a waffle. That’s worse than the fact that your last chapter is “this one time bugs planted eggs in my leg” (paraphrase) instead of, say, something that matters.

Look, kid, Colin, dude: could you please just lock yourself in a room and think? Maybe draw a bath and talk to yourself aloud. Try sitting alone and being uncomfortable. (Not the punish-yourself Catholic Church uncomfortable, but the explore-yourself uncomfortable of recovering from the Catholic Church.) Set aside a day to be just with yourself: no internet, no food, no people, no alcohol. (Fasting helps most people introspect: I’d suggest only drinking water on this Colin-Internal day.) Ask questions. Wait for answers. Ask more questions. Keep wondering. And if you start crying, let yourself cry (because that’s what you seriously, clearly, really need). Feel man, just feel, and grieve for your past. Because reading your book made me so, so sad for the lack of grieving you’ve done. I’ve thought a few times about Steve Martin while writing this review; his memoir Born Standing Up clearly shows self-reflection: there’s one section where he says “I’m going to give you the juicy bits that you want now, because that’s something that has to happen in a memoir” (paraphrase), and then he gives us some juicy bits, and then he says “I’m not going to tell you any more because those are mine” (paraphrase). It’s a beautiful understanding of The Memoir, of its Art and Function and Place and Form, and it clearly shows Steve knows how he wants to go about the world. This is a man who performed to sold out stadia, then dropped it entirely to become a top-billing actor, and then dropped that to, to switch to the… banjo? Because playing the banjo is right for him.

Colin, homie, ol’ buddy ol pal: I don’t get the impression that you know what you want. And knowing what you—yes, you, Colin Jost—want is the single most important question you will ever answer. And not knowing it—not giving it the depth and curiosity it deserves—will leave you and your descendants as hollow shells. You’ll drink on special occasions “because that’s what people do”. You’ll constantly wonder if there’s More. (There is.) You’ll blip into the comedy sphere before fading away, never to Matter because you weren’t relatable, because: To be relatable an audience must connect emotionally with you, and for us to connect with you, you must be available, and to become available, you must first feel your emotions, and then—only then—can you open yourself up to the world. Emotional awareness is nigh step #1 to Seeing The World and Communicating What’s True. (At least it was for me: Emotional Awareness, and, well, duh, Logic. (Also Introspection and Patience and Slowness and speed. And Science and Experiment and…)

I feel drained after writing that bit. This whole review feels really intense, like it’s a Great Big Commentary on more than my feelings about one book: it’s A Great Big Commentary on America and Religion and Isolation and Loneliness and Trust and Censorship and Fear and Shame as seen through American Comedy. Also because Scarlett Johannsen is apparently engaged to Colin Jost (of which interesting details are impressively avoided in a shockingly un-self aware way—so impressively-poorly-avoided that I was curious for a moment whether it was intended as a satire but I don’t think anyone could pull off that level of satire except for, say, Steve Martin if his choice to devote his life to the banjo was itself a big Andy Kaufman-esque practical joke on the world, but I don’t think people actually do that in the world, well except for Andy Kaufman and he’s almost certainly dead) and I find that relationship between ScarJo and ColJo particularly jarring because she was one of the first women I ever swooned for (and therefore the woman after whom I named my highschool tennis rackets), and to see my perception of her (emotionally accessible, malleable, and aware) with my perception of him (basically, like, the opposite…) is like watching clay feet stand on top of feet that I didn’t know were clay because I thought they were just like normal feet but it turns out they’re some sort of leprosied clay, and now both of their pair of deformed, taloned hands try to touch the sky but don’t realize they’re in the middle of a film shoot in the desert that’s actually just a series of bright lights oven-baking clay, and when those lights turn off the pair crumbles to dust.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but damn it Colin, your book makes me sad. I’m sad for you, Colin, and I want to help.

[Actually, though: after a half-decade of suffering through an old PTSD, I found two specific modes of therapy that finally helped. I’d be happy to share them with anyone who wants; reach out anytime: let’s heal the wound world.]

Celebrating My Hekoya Nature

A friend told me today about the Native American archetype of hekoya. He described it as, “When the crowd goes right, the hekoya goes left.”[1]

[1]: (Wikipedia’s further description: The heyókȟa is a kind of sacred clown… [that] symbolizes and portrays many aspects of the sacred beings… [their] satire presents important questions by fooling around. They ask difficult questions, and say things others are too afraid to say. Their behavior poses questions as do Zen koans. By reading between the lines, the audience is able to think about things not usually thought about, or to look at things in a different way.)

In the spirit of the hekoya, I shall now celebrate my oddness. Here are things that I did today [well, yesterday as of posting this] that are completely reasonable and yet most people might find odd. Go, verily, and lead a more satisfying life:

  1. Drove 4hrs with a dear friend who dropped me off and then immediately hightailed her way back, thinking little of the gift. (As she described it, “I have a lot of books [to listen to on the drive]”). 
  2. Moved a bed into a closet and hung blackout curtains so I can sleep at my parents’ place in complete darkness.
  3. Bought a 65” flat-screen TV for my parents’ house, which I will only be in for ~2 months. (Gotta make your space your own!)
  4. Thought that buying a TV was weird (this thinking is perhaps more weirder than the buying… as I have never bought a TV. The only TV I have ever owned was an inherited little 15-inch doohickey installed by the guy who built out my camper van. (He used it, I assume, when he lived in the van. I used it a total of 3 times… ever… and it was… fine.). 

Pics of my new closet-room:

Now go, my children, and be the hekoya you were always meant to be.*

*: Most of you were not meant to be hekoya. Tough titties. It’s fuckin’ great.

Telos as a concept is limited.

Telos as a concept is limited. It is a very good concept, don’t get me wrong–but it’s limited in much the same ways that other philosophies of frequently-lauded dead white me have been limited. It’s by-and-large never been questioned. At least I never read something that questioned it in my study of Aristotle while majoring in Philosophy at Yale, so I can assume that questioning, if it exists, is not part of the basic canon of education. But telos is limited. And it’s very important that it’s limited. And here’s why:

Telos means “the aim of a thing”. The telos of a knife is to cut. The telos of a physician is to heal people (or keep them healthy). That parenthetical is the point. The fact is the telos of a physician is somewhat more complicated than the telos of a knife. A knife is obviously for cutting. But what about two knives put together—scizzors[1]: what are they for? Are they for cutting, too? What about slicing? What about unscrewing a screw when you have a pair of scizzors and a screw that they would fit and no screwdriver? Scizzors have many uses, as does a knife, as does a physician. And most problems are scizzor problems, not knife problems. Here’s why:

There is physics and there is culture. Physics (okay, math) is the root of the universe. It’s what exists and how they interact. (Chemistry, biology, existing metaphysics—these are under that category of “physics” too). Everything else is created by humans. It’s culture. It’s rules we made up. And by gum, most of the time we’re living in that second world. Most of the time—almost every second of every day we’re thinking about a topic that has nothing to do with the limitations of the physical world and everything to do with what that person thinks of us. With whether that person did something unacceptable… not unacceptable physically, but unacceptable socially. See: we made the rules.

We made the rules… and they’re restrictive. Because when you operate from a Telos-centric place, you see solutions to problems. You don’t see existence. You see a physician and you think “a healer”, but you don’t see that she’s also a mother and an exhausted human being and a republican and a dog-lover. You don’t see that she’s made of organ tissue herself that is deteriorating over time and will one day die.[2] You just see a tool with the purpose “to heal”.

And yes, if she’s not a competent physician, she shouldn’t act as a physician. But that’s the point: being a physician is acting. It’s pretending. It’s putting on a role, and that role is your telos.

We use “telos” to communicate the specific solution of a specific problem. But humans and experiences are so much more. We’re vastly complicated organisms wandering around incredibly intricate social structures, and seeing other people as specific teloses is bad. It’s damaging. It’s dangerous. It’s unethical.

I would quote Kant here but I hate Kant because he was generally wrong (at least his most famous things), but there’s a Kant quote here, and a Jesus quote here and a quote that we teach kids that would apply here too. There’s an explanation for some of the cruelty of slavery and why we use the word “dehumanizing” in some of our most terrible ethical contexts. Because people are people, not tools. And animals are animals, not tools, too. So when we treat them as though they have a specific telos, with little regard for the other aspects of them, it’s cruel. And megalomaniacal. And paternalistic. And harmful. You can’t know the utility of another person, nor can you know their utility function (what makes them happy/sad/fulfilled/etc.) And that cruelty/megalomania/paternalism is something we’re seeing manifest in our lives these days. And it’s sad. And painful. And sad. And inaccurate, which is the worst of all of those issues because it’s the inaccuracy that causes all those issues. 

So what do we do? We try to take a wider approach. One of the correct Buddhist teachings (i.e. an accurate statement about the world) is that you’d probably benefit from metacognating. From noticing your thoughts and how they move. From seeing how the world actually *is* more frequently, and seeing the world how you *imagine it to be* less frequently.

So try it. See people as hammers. Notice while you do. Notice what it’s like to see that barista as a coffee-maker. Feel what it feels like. Ask yourself how much you like it and whether it makes the world closer to the sort of world you want to live in.

And then take the other, as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it is grassy and wanting wear… and that will make all the difference.

(Tl;dr: Use telos for objects, don’t use it for people. And when you use it for objects, start with the goal in mind, then see what’s around you. Or better yet, hold your goals very gently as you go enjoyably slowly through the world.)

[1] I spell this word the way it should be spelled.

[2] Proofreader’s comment: “This is why I think everyone of sound mental capacities should do a cadaver lab.”

A Cool Piece of Interactive Art

I saw this piece of interactive art on the streets of SF (you can visit it yourself: it’s on the even side of the 800 block of Duncan – between 814 and 892 Duncan St, San Francisco, CA 94131) & left a note asking the creator if they had thought about vandalism before creating the art. They hollered back with some pics and their musings – you can find those both below!

A Chaotic Neutral Grocery List

A Chaotic Neutral Grocery List

  • Peachy-O’s stuck to the points on an aloe 
  • Hot Wheels cars joined as a bathroom mat
  • Cigarettes before bed, but not after sex
  • Cats in tiny bikinis 
  • Ringing the doorbell instead of calling upon arrival 
  • Toe socks*
  • Thinly veiled criticism 
  • Mr. Pibb instead of Dr. Pepper 
  • Not complimenting another drunk girl in the bathroom 
  • Arguments with your mom but not with your lover
  • “Enjoy your meal!” and responding “you too.” 

*Remind Chaotic Evil to pick up toe shoes

This guest post brought to you by Maggie “Maximal Awesomeness” Harper.

Two Delightful Ditties

I started a writing group. It was awesome. In our first meeting, we completed three 10 minute writing sprints, each followed by responses from peers. Here, my delightful darlings, you may find two of those creations:

Prompt 1: Picture an object from your childhood. Write something involving or inspired by it. 

I’m two years old and in a swing. A duck swing. A goofy, yellow duck swing. My sister stands behind me, pushing. I don’t have a fond memory of this first memory of my life but hey, isn’t that fitting for a constructed memory? See: 

I don’t actually remember being in that swing. I don’t feel my sister standing over me. I don’t feel what it’s like to be bald and big-eyed and have my lips puff out like Alec Baldwin doing a Trump impression. I can’t. It’s not a real memory. It’s a memory of a picture my mother (father?) took. A picture I’ve seen countless times and incorporated so much into my being it’s become what feels like my earliest memory. 

I feel sad when I think about it. 

It feels like the outside looking in, interposing on me in a nonconsentual way. Like we’re born and we die and in the middle we waffle around, buffetted and muffeted and ruffeted and scuffed by those bigger or stronger or wiser or older or first. Just first. Because first isn’t even a legitimate benefit. First is just first. It’s born at the right time or the right place or to the right sister or parents. And that reminds me of the melencholy in the world and that makes me sad.

I look back to that picture—that swing where I’m dangling form the ceiling, suspended in some ridiculous duck swing and I’m reminded no person is alone. No one is an individual. No being lives in true isolation. 

Still, at least I was supported. 

Prompt 2: Remember a time something made you angry. Like a 6 out of ten. Dial it up to an 8. Now a 9. Now a 4. What would it be like to live life feeling that level of angry in that situation instead?

“What is sanity?” The blue shrimp told me. 

It was tuesday, and tuesday is when the existentialists meet. 

“I don’t know, but he does,” he replied. 

“You can’t reply to yourself,” I told him, “It’s against the rules” and that’s when it 

broke. 

It shattered to tatters as my grey matter splattered. 

What’s it like to be an honest orange? 

How do orangutans pick a hand? 

What’s a perspective and how does it–? 

Can I please have another? or another? Or a hug. 

I don’t find myself flying most of the time. 

I don’t find myself crying most of the time. 

The words come in and I grasp what I can. 

Most tunas escape their captors. All salmon some day die. 

“This got weird”, I want to say, but then you’ll know that I could’ve stopped it, 

and we forgive those that can’t help it while

lighting aflame those that can. 

What is responsibility? 

What is it to be mean? 

Today in Music.

In which I attempt to play the intro to Thunder Road on Harmonica (I do not yet play the harmonica), do a poor, shrill, and off-key impression of Bruce Springsteen, and snuggle quietly with the dog.
(Also, at the end, the song ends rather abrup

Notes to readers:

  • If you have a harmonica in the key of F, play along.

Notes to self:

  • Yes, I always knew I was going to be famous.
  • Yes, I posted these in part to inoculate myself against public mockery and to get comfortable with being emotionally authentic in public.

Jaywalking & You: A Guide

This is not a guide to jaywalking. It’s a humorous story; I lied.

Now that I’ve got your attention, please enjoy this anecdote. ‘Twas written by a dear friend of mine, Archibald Smittens*, who is a real person** who actually exists***.

*: Not his real name.

**: Not true.

***: Censors have attempted to verify this for years. None have, as yet, returned alive.

[Your Humble Editor also feels obligated to preface by saying that the low-fat version of cream cheese DOES NOT taste the same. He does not wish to spread such malicious lies. Anyway, without further ado…]

3 Perspectives on Jaywalking

Perspective 1:

The red hand. Just great.

9:27—three minutes left. The coffee shop’s only what? three, four blocks away? I can still make it…

The woman next to me just quickly skimmed the empty road and then jaywalked. More like a leisurely jay-stroll. What’s she thinking? Back home, no one would ever do that. Ma would’ve killed me. It was either jaysprint or jaysplat.

Still no cars, and that red hand’s still there.

Well, maybe it is time for a jaysprint.

But I’m in a suit; that’d look weird…right?

Middle-aged guy checks his watch, gulps down a half-chewed bite of bagel, and then rushes across the street. Didn’t even look both ways. Actually looked kinda cool doing it.

Well, until he dropped the bagel.

Maybe I should bolt across too. Like one of those guys from the movies.

Oof, curbside puddle. Just great.

Ah a dry patch. Perfect.

Wait.

Who am I kidding. I can’t.

My foot returns to the curb, defeated.

The empty road stares back.

Maybe… Just maybe…

My foot lifts off again.

Maybe just this once…

And the red hand turns into the white man.

Oh well. Right. Left. Empty road.

At least, Ma’d be proud.

Perspective 2:

Damn good bagel today. Think I’m gonna stick with this low fat stuff. Tastes pretty much the same as the regular cream cheese.

Countdown stops. But that stupid hand’s still there.

Chunks getting stuck in my teeth? Gotta check before I walk in the office.

Oh wow, now dumbass over here walks across the intersection. No hesitation. No urgency either. The hell’s wrong with her?

No cars out there, but seriously, lady? Can’t wait like two goddamn seconds for this light?

What’s the deal huh? Late or something? What’s the time anyways?

It’s only 9:28. Really? C’mon lady?

9:28!

Shit! Move people, move!

Yeesh. Took ya long enou—

Shit! No time to pick it up.

Perspective 3:

Red.

Right. Left. No cars.

Let’s go.

I’ve always wanted to be Ellen. (A Crowdsourced Poem.)

Poems should have hyperlinks. This poem does.

Poems should give their readers commenting access.

This poem does.

Go. Read. Comment. Be merry.

Get in on the ground floor

because baby, we changin’ literature.

#Digitalism. <-Our new literary movement.

A Step-By-Step Description of How I Edit for Flow

One of my clients was impressed by an edit. We then shared this delightful exchange:

Them: `How did you edit this section to make the article flow better?` 

Me: `I can use any information to prove any point.` 

Them: `That’s scary.` 

Me: `I know. That’s why I don’t work for Philip Morris.`

I then described my process. Here’s that walk-through:

You expressed curiosity about how how I solved the “disjointed” problem. I mused on my approach a bit and can better articulate it in writing here. It’s somewhat of an engineering approach… I think… (I have never done engineering outside of that one time I built a shelf):

  1. What are our aims? What are our problems?
    1. The two sections feel disjointed. We want them to feel connected smoothly.
    2. The comment _______ made has interesting info–let’s find a way to include it. 
  2. Implicit step: What are our requirements? What are our constraints?
    1. We’re constrained by our medium, so “published on the web” (Writing, web formatting (especially headings & subheadings), hyperlinking, bulletpoints, and pics/drawings are the big ones.)
      1. Meta: I don’t think about this so much consciously any more. Not for this medium, at least (for other media, yes!). There was a time, however, when I thought obsessively about “what are the constraints of the written-for-web medium?”, which was super formative in becoming facile with the tools. (The biggest one that people mess up in this medium is headings and subheadings. It’s like a table of contents to guide you while reading! Who doesn’t appreciate an easy-to-use map?)
  3. Structure the content to achieve the goal.
    1. ________’s comment had very interesting info, albeit some of it was framed off-topic-ly. However, everything can be on-topic in one sentence or less. 
      1. This is kinda a cool idea. I think of it as “bridging” because that’s how I was taught: you find a relevant trait of topic A, highlight that piece, bridge to a similar nugget in topic B, and then go to point B. This parallels the way our brains process language: we fire neurons in clusters around each word. So, to go from “Sheep” to “cloud”, one could use “white” or “fluffy”. These are trivial examples, but the concept stays the same: From my dog to Trump could be The Adorable Smidgen -> Chihuahua -> Mexican wall -> Trump. You get better at it over time, finding the shorter (and in the case of logic/business, actually relevant) paths. (That said, in persuasion, you don’t even need relevance! Crazy concept that’s super scary when you think about it…)
    2. In this case, we had a starting point (the paragraph before) and an end to get to (the next section). We also had the content of the middle bit (which I got by breaking ________’s points into their constituent pieces). Now use the technique “bridging” and the thing structures itself! It naturally lends itself to an order… the one that links most logically!
  4. Make the new text as short as possible while still being easily readable.
    1. Good writing is short. Good nonfiction, especially. For me, this comes from a concatenation of “aims” and “medium constraints”–we want to give the reader the most value for their effort/time. It also aligns with standard writer wisdom that “shorter is better” (and, I suppose, the simple economic notion that wasting resources is bad).
    2. The easier an article is to digest, the more readers will value it (i.e. there will be more economic surplus since it took them less time). 

I don’t always think about these pieces consciously. Some are now gut instinct (like “eliminate the maximum number of words”). Others are more well-defined and intentional, like the order in which I do each step in my writing process.

^I hope this is interesting! You expressed curiosity; thought you might find it cool! Feel free to poke if anything interests you. (I’m always a sucker for writing about my process. For some wonderful reason, it’s one way I improve… 🙂