Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why Not Kill Yourself?

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterward. These are games; one must first answer.

-Albert Camus

I've long paraphrased this statement by saying:
"Camus' only question for philosophy is: why not kill yourself?"
He poses and answers this question in The Myth of Sisyphus.

Monday, April 28, 2008

You are what you pretend to be

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.

-Kurt Vonnegut

During yesterday's book club for Mother Night I realized how much I enjoy this line by Kurt Vonnegut. The book is a fictional account of an American playwright in Germany during World War II. He's a member of the Nazi party. But he's a spy. But his radio show successfully promotes the Nazis. That's only one of the myriad of masks in the novel.

Vonnegut died last year. I was shocked by this distasteful obituary on FOX News. I want to punch that voice in the face. It seems like something out of a Vonnegut novel: a news station has become so absurd that it is impossible to undermine with satire. It's terrifying for me to think that the empty-eyed anchors at FOX News aren't aware that their slogan, "fair and balanced", is a punchline.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Advice for Litterbugs

I used to work as a "maintenance man". Janitor. In a recreation center. We all know that littering is for losers but when I was working I didn't care. Sweeping was something to do to pass the time. But I will say this: if you're going to litter, drop it in the middle of the floor.

Don't be hiding it under a vending machine or stuffing it behind a plant. You're littering, you're already an asshat, let everyone see it. Don't make the cleaning staff do extra work. Simply drop your litter in the middle of the floor where it can be easily swept.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Unfair World - Dad and Grapefruits

My dad is a great person. He's generally quiet, a performer at the dinner table, an exceptional problem solver, and an extraordinary doer of good deeds. If I picked one food that I knew my dad liked it would be grapefruits. It's also the only food that he is not allowed to have because of his medication. It's too acidic and may cause a fatal reaction.

What the hell?

I know that life is not fair. That the concept of people"getting what they deserve" is a trick to make people follow rules. I think this massive violation of what is fair in the cosmos proves that there is no moral order in the universe.

Oh, to the people who claim "everything happens for a reason" I say:

You are sad and afraid and annoy me. Does your ability to rationalize what is unfair not terrify you? Are you willing to accept me punching your face for reasons you don't understand but insist are there? Perhaps I should not press too hard since you are clearly a frail, weak creature not built for thinking. If your God has some reason why my dad can't eat his beloved grapefruits then I dismiss your petty deity as lightly as a character in a child's story. Come back when you develop a belief system which doesn't coddle you in its bosom when you catch a glimpse of the cold indifference of chance.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A or B Communication

We offer children A or B.
That's how they will communicate with the world. They will learn to become A or a B.
What we don't tell them is that the more you practice one style, the less you can relate to the other.

A: consensus, community
A according to A: Communication is an opportunity to show support by relating. Share personal stories so that no one feels alone in their struggles. There's no need to dominate others, we can make decisions together. It's embarrassing to appear inferior or superior. Interrupting to finish someone's sentence is a show of camaraderie. It's easier to communicate in private than perform in public. Fighting is to be avoided.
From B's perspective: A's are too needy and weak. They are too dependent on others. They're manipulative because they only drop hints even when they know what they want -I don't get it.
Want to hurt an A? Threaten their connections to others.

B: competitive, hierarchical
B according to B: Communication is an opportunity to prove your worth. If you're going to take the stage make sure you have something funny or informative to say. It feels good to talk at length and teach someone about something you're an expert on. It's embarrassing to be corrected. Interrupting to win an argument is fair game. Fighting is a fun game.
From A's perspective: B's are too aggressive. I don't understand the obsession with the confrontational tone. They bully each other and then they're best friends -I don't get it.
Want to hurt a B? Threaten their independence.

It's amazing how difficult it is for someone operating in one framework to relate to the other. It seems designed for disaster. A and B are more commonly referred to as:
A = feminine
B = masculine

What's you split?
No one perfects any one style -you probably notice that you have traits from both styles. Offhand, I would say I'm a 70-30 split in favour of B. -but my understanding of A is more of an academic level than experiential. I'll never fully relate.

This entry is largely based on the ideas in You Just Don't Understand by sociolinguist/genius Deborah Tannen (I highly recommended). I hope I did them justice. I don't like when the world is broken up into "men" and "women" but I thought Tannen's approach was reasonable. We continue to treat children differently by encouraging boys to act masculine and girls to act feminine so these categories do have some meaning. I found this book articulate -it put words to observations that I had yet to voice.

I think my favourite part of my reading experience is that I detect a low level bias that is pro-women. Many of her literary examples, for instance, come from female writers. I also feel that she is more willing to criticize the masculine style of communication and defend the feminine style (which she points out is often misunderstood by stereotypical characterizations). I liked the presence of her bias in the book. It became a steady, subtle background noise -I imagine much like the masculine voice that secretly resonates behind most of our culture.

Concerning My Perfect Belly Button

Unlike your ugly, weird belly button, mine is beautiful, inspiring, and the delight of the party. It's the kind of belly button you would put on a perfect doll if you got your act together and made one. But I suspect you're too hung up on your grotesque be-bu.

I wasn't proud of my beautiful belly button until now. Before, it was simply something I was born with. Now, I've discovered, it's a clear product of ancient Italian witchcraft.

My sister is pregnant and my mother is in high gear. She was telling a tale of the old world of raising babies and how a "problem" with Baby Me was resolved. Turns out there was some anxiety over my belly button when I was born. It was an outie and the doctor's suspected this meant that Baby Me could develop a hernia. It might become a giant swollen outie and crush the city or some shit. "We'll have to wait and see" Dr. Jealous-of-my-Be-Bu said. This might need an operation.

My great grandmother hearing this bullshit was all like "fuck that noise, I got the solution right here, bam!" (paraphrase). Her solution? She took a silver dollar and put it in a little velvet pouch and set it on my belly button. For six weeks!!! That did the trick. The next time the Doctor looked at my be-bu they wept with joy and started a religion.

So, sorry your belly button is lacking. I can't relate. Mine is mystical.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Best Names

Of all the names that I have heard these are the ones that stand out to me. In retrospect I find the criteria is:
roll off my tongue + obscurity (+ conversation piece)
Most of them are from the world of professional sports -I realize I know the names of more sports players than people in my life.

Taurian Fontenette (AKA Mr. 720. AKA The Air up there)
Plays for And1. He's famous for performing a 720 dunk during a game. The video of it is excellent. My favourite part is that soon after he dunks a kid does an intense re-enactment on the ground. I find the names emerging from the black community in the USA to be the most creative. They make new names or change traditional spelling, e.g: Vonnessa. Perhaps because I'm used to classic white-Christian names (Michael, Matthew, John, etc). I remember the two main characters in the book There Are No Children Here. It was about Lafayette and Pharoah Rivers growing up in Chicago.

Saku Koivu
Finnish Hockey player for the Montreal Canadians. I could say this name all day long. The Finns do names right
(Teemu Selanne, Teppo Numinen).

God Shammgod
I remember seeing him play college basketball. He was drafted by Washington but didn't make the regular rotation.

Ted Starr

The name of a student I taught a couple of years ago. He was a rock star/hockey captain/all-around nice guy with a Team Canada temper during sports. He also had good sense of humour. The name was a perfect fit.

Chauncey Billups
My friend declared this the greatest name in sports history. The Toronto Raptors used to have him but they traded him to Detroit and watched him win a championship.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I had a great phone call with Simon who is still in Australia. He's finally going to do some stand up and we were talking about his set. I was surprised that he had chosen a "one-liner" style (because I laugh most often when he tells story). He sent me a list of one-liners so we could discuss them. It's neat to talk jokes with someone who appreciates the nuances of subtle wording and predicting the audience's response. It's inspired me to create some material in the same style to see what he thinks of my make-em-laughs.

As I think about never meeting you, my Great Great Grand, I realize that this journal has gone on for a long time without me proving how funny I am. Humour is an enormous part of my life -reaching into history, future and present personality.

I have to get writing these jokes right now. But in my next post I'll breakdown what I consider to be my comedy skills.
-Visions of reactions
-My style
I'll also write about what I think can be trained and what develops accidentally.

Maybe this will lead to a larger series of posts about my strengths and weaknesses. You can tell me if they carry down through DNA. I would say they don't -I'm completely Nurture over Nature. I think everything comes from upbringing and there is no natural talent. But I'm dead, right? You're free to think what you will.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Clean Hands

When you finish washing your hands resist the urge to use paper towel. Don't bother using the electric heater either. Simply shake them for a bit and then dry them on your pants. Or your shirt. Or your hair. Don't worry, it's not gross, you just cleaned them.

Step back and observe yourself. Picture yourself as an animal. Try and forget your name. Listen for our culture's cooing. Can you hear it?

"Hello friend, create some waste. Look how convenient it is."

Can you resist it?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

They hate being alone.

You'd see it if you watched us from above. If you received the globe in a glass to sit on your shelf. We'd be interesting for a week, maybe less. You'd say: "I get it, they hate being alone." Sure, at first glance we looked quite dynamic: we're different heights, we have lots of different rules about how to eat and some of us ride other animals. But on a rainy day, if you stared at us long enough you'd realize it's billions of variations on the same theme. They hate being alone.

Even their stories, which are allowed to be anything, are about loneliness. There's this one story about these people that rob a bank and they're being hunted by an old friend-turned-bounty-hunter. Also, they all ride animals. Anyway, there's a big shootout where they kill the Mexican army and everyone is dead except the old friend-turned-bounty-hunter who got there late and feels very lonely. I know you could have predicted that.

They dream about loneliness encoded in images like live snake bracelets and hopping across the ocean on the rooftops of lilypad cars. You watched us at night and exclaimed: "don't they take a break?" You'd torture us with a magnifying glass -anything to save us from our monotonous lives.

The history of their species haunts them: survival by working together. The curse of the community. Courting each other's acceptance, risking rejection. Second-guessing a thousand accidental gestures. She touched my arm, his laughter stopped abruptly, she didn't blink, he asked me to repeat myself -what did it all mean? They hold the antidote for each other but they all suspect it's poison. A hilarious premise, a tired joke they continue to tell.

They try to accumulate love points without risking their own stash. In their darkest hour they lie, bully, intimidate, manipulate, demonize. No one really dislikes anyone else. But they try. they try to create undertows to draw their sweethearts closer by pushing others away. They hate being alone that much. They'll tear their friends apart in order to feel that they're touching someone. It was exciting the first time you saw it. Now, it's exhausting. It makes you want to shake the globe and yell at us. That's what thunder is, children. Someone is bored with us and is shaking the globe.