On following others:
School is following others. Culture instills following others. Corporations, countries, and organizations require following others. Following others is not for the individual. It’s for the safety of the herd.
On freedom and the individual:
I need the freedom to express. I need the freedom to explore. I need the freedom to create. These are only taught by the world’s best teachers. Learn to learn from yourself or risk living someone else’s version of your life.
SECTION 0. MY FIRST DISPUTE WITH THE TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
In 2006, the TSA banned liquids. Being a clever, pedantic, and thirsty child, I arrived to the airport with a bottle of ice.
“You can’t bring that through security,” the agent explained.
I asked why.
She said, “It’s a liquid.” With a shit-eating grin, I replied, “But it’s ice.”
“I know,” she answered. “Ice is a liquid.”
SECTION 1: THE MOUTH
- Saliva is under-appreciated.
- Drool is disgusting.
- Spit should be avoided at all costs.
- The saliva of a lover requires further research, currently accepting applications.
SECTION 2: COMMON APPLICATIONS OF WATER
- The water that makes up 80% of my body: Great.
- 80% of your body: Passable.
- 80% of Donald Trump’s body: No comment.
- Water-based lube: good.
- Tears: Bad, unless they’re being used as water-based lube.
- Water is great for fish, camels, and rainforests, necessary for farmers, and hit-and-miss with New Orleans.
- Showers are good, baths are great, and hot tubs are excellent.
- The four differences between a bath and a hot tub are friends, chlorine, jets, and clothing. Realization: Friends and jets must be fabulous, because chlorine is awful and clothing is the worst.
SECTION 3: LOCATIONS WHERE ONE MIGHT FIND WATER
- Cup: good.
- Bottle: fine.
- Pool: excellent.
- Syringe: concerning.
- Computer: oh no.
- Bed: your fault.
- My van: bad rust.
- The statue of liberty: somehow delightful rust.
SECTION 4: LINGUISTIC ANALYSIS
- SUBSECTION 1: FICTIONAL ETYMOLOGY
- “Water” derives from the Latin “Wah-tah-ré,” meaning gift of the gods.
- SUBSECTION 2: SYLLABLES
- Wat: the Thai word for temple
- Er: the sound often heard during the search for a hard-to-find word.
- SUBSECTION 3: CURIOUS INSIGHT
- Food, air, sun, earth, touch, love, mom, dad. Why is the word “water” two syllables when all other life necessities can be described in one?
- SUBSECTION 4: WORDPLAY
- Water you doing? Water you talking about? Water you looking at?
- Too far:
- Water you want her, the waiter, to wither while we a-waiter to order?
SECTION 5: TRAITS
- Warm water: good for bathing.
- Cold water: good for drinking and borscht. Otherwise to be avoided.
- Hot water: Excellent for cooking.
- Also means “trouble,” as in the phrase, “While exchanging saliva, Carol and I overheard the deafening footfalls of Principal Jerickson’s rotund personage and knew we were in hot water.”
SECTION 6: ENDING
- Some say the world will end in fire, others in ice. I say the world already ended in a flood… or at least that’s what the Salt Lake City billboards taught me.
Special thanks to Brine Waves, a Salt Lake City writing group that invited me to their gathering this week, themed “water.”
Did you like this piece? Hate it? Throw a comment below so I can know what to write in the future.
There’s a Jewish summer camp for adults. That sounds so fun. I get a scholarship because I volunteer with a Jewish youth group. The scholarship required an application. One question asked about my favorite Jewish teaching. This is what I wrote:
As a child in Hebrew school, I was the troublemaker. The kid who wouldn’t sit still, whose desk was separated from others by a distance just longer than his arms. Only on one day did I stop making trouble:
I had been scooting around the classroom on my belly when my teacher scratched the side of his nose, our signal for “You’re goofing off, Julian. Stop it.” I ignored it. He signaled for a second time. I ignored it again, because “What’s he gonna do?” Then, he began the story of The Golden Calf. I stopped scooting. I knew this one was going to matter the moment he began. See, The Golden Calf is about worship. It’s about how easy it is to make things sacred. It goes something like this:
“Once upon a time God gave Laws. The first one was “I’m God and that’s it.” Then, Moses, God’s go-between leaves his people alone for TEN MINUTES and they make this statue of a cow, made out of gold. And they were dancing and praying, saying it was their God. Moses got pissed and smashed it.”
Now, why does this matter? What can you learn?
- You’re going to worship. A man locked in prison worships the sunrise he sees through the bars. Deprived of all your senses, you’ll still worship. Consciously choose what you worship, because you’ll act like it’s all that matters.
- Physical objects are easily broken, so don’t make them into Gods. This one sounds obvious, but actually drove human history for a while. Did you know one reason Jews were successful was that they didn’t have physical Gods? If your God was a lump of wood or a rock or a statue, invaders could storm in, steal it, and subjugate your people easily… because they literally have your God! But the Jewish God wasn’t represented in idols. Also probably a good analogy for life: if you worship material goods (or money, say), you’ll be crushed whenever they’re broken. Worship ideals, however, like Honesty, Truth, Love, or Honor, and you’ll be much more resolute.
- It’s easy to build Gods, even accidentally. A friend gifted me an obsidian stone a few months ago. I jokingly began referring to it as “Birdbrain, creator of the universe.” After a while, I noticed I started treating the rock with more respect. I began keeping it safe. Watch out for what you worship, because it’s easy to worship the wrong things. In this case, a stone. Stones are easy to stop worshipping. Hedonism? Codependence? Those are tough worships to drop.
Making the self suffer is a cornerstone of many successful philosophies:
I was prompted to consider this strategy by Conan O’Brien on his podcast with Stephen Colbert. Both Catholics, they described intentionally putting themselves through strife. “I did hairshirt behavior,” Colbert says (34:37).
Conan (36:27): “This is pain… where any normal person would tell you, any therapist would say, ‘This suffering is unnecessary. You achieved nothing with this suffering.”… I put myself through a lot of torture. And here’s the crazy thing: what happens when you do that and then magical things start to happen for you? You can’t see me because it’s a podcast, but Stephen just pointed his finger at me as if to say, ‘You nailed it.’”
Stephen, a few lines later: “It works.”
Conan: “What I hate, I hate… I hate thait it fucking works.”
Stephen: “And the magical thinking magically thinks that magical thinking worked.”
Conan: “It’s the biggest fight I’ve had over the last five years with therapists and friends.” … “Therapists have said, ‘You don’t need the suffering.’ and I 80% believe them and I’m 20% like, ‘what the fuck do you know?'”
Is making yourself suffer a strategy for improving? Does it work? Comments greatly appreciated.
On Monday I go in for Jaw Surgery. If I die, I want my tombstone to read, “Died doing what he loves.”
I’ve never seen a footnote on a tombstone. Nor ellipses. I’m updating the medium. The joke makes it more palatable.
I joke because I’m afraid. I’m afraid because it’s frightening. I’ve never been closer to death than I will be on Monday.
I’ve always mused on death. I wrote my first auto-obituary at 13. The same way some people use the largesse of space to decrease their anxiety; I use death to accept depression. When I wake up late enough that I feel grumpy, the phrase “death and taxes” echoes in my mind. It reminds me of two crucial elements – timeliness and humor. One makes today matter and the other makes life worth living.
I’m spending tomorrow and Sunday advising a local high school youth group, and Saturday with my dad. If I die, let it be known I went out doing what I loved.
 Self improvement.