Sheila Heti, “Why Go Out?

Why do we go out? Because if what we want more than anything is to attain self-confidence, health, energy, and peace of mind, we should stay in. We could be like little Buddhas, meditating and masturbating and watching TV. And we could imagine ourselves to be brilliant, and kind, and good speakers, and good listeners, and utterly loving – and there would be no way to prove it otherwise.

I’ve re-visited this essay about four times in less than a year and it still sees right through me. I spend a week alone and imagine myself the zen paragon of humankind. Then I head to a bar and speak to one other friend and the illusion crashes, the Matrix glitches: sure I can still re-direct bullets, but they tend to ping straight at loved ones.

Eliese Colette Goldbach, “White Horse”

Eliese wants to tell you a story. She wants to tell you a story, but there are so many things about which she cannot speak. Particle physics, for example. Also, industrial psychology, protein synthesis, polymer science, and the peculiar magic that makes water bugs skate so perfectly on a pond. She wants to tell you a story, but she lacks so many things. Multivariable calculus. Pie making. And there is so much she has forgotten. The conjugation of the verb vouloir, the purpose of a Golgi body, the middle name of her first boyfriend. Eliese does, however, know about horses. She can talk about horses. She knows equitation and conformation and equine disease. For example, Eliese knows that white horses must be bred with care. Sometimes, a white horse is born with a fatal genetic disorder known as lethal white syndrome. A foal with this disorder will appear healthy at birth. It will stand and suckle and sniff its mother’s scent. A new, white life. But deep inside the foal’s gut, something has gone wrong. Its colon has not formed properly. It cannot expel waste. These foals always die—either naturally and painfully over the course of a few days, or through euthanasia. A white, perfect body splayed dead on the straw. The violence of a harbored, hidden waste.

This is one that I’m not going to expound upon. It’s a story we’ve heard before but is new and deserving of our attention every time. It’s more-than-okay when a story other than my own conveys a “shut up and listen, for a rare shining moment, shut the fuck up, dude.”

“The Bad Glazier” by Charles Baudelaire

One morning I got up feeling sullen, sad, disconcerted, and fatigued by idleness, with what seemed to be a desire to do some grand and radiant deed! And then I opened my window, alas!

The first person I noticed on looking out my window was a glazier, a glass-seller, the sharp discordance of his cries drifting up to me through the stale and heavy Parisian smog. It’s not possible for me to say why I was filled with such a sudden and tyrannical hatred for this poor man.

“Hey, hey!” I cried, motioning for him to come up. Not without pleasure did I reflect that my room was on the sixth floor and that he would climb those flights with difficulty, lest his fragile goods be damaged.
At last he appeared. With great curiosity I examined all of his panes and finally said: “What? You have no colored glass? No pinks, no reds, no blues, no magical panes? No panes of the gods? Impudent creature! You sell your wares to the poor, and yet you have no panes that are able to make life beautiful!” And I abruptly pushed him, groaning and stumbling, out to the stairs.

I then went out on my balcony and grabbed a small flowerpot; when the man reappeared at the door I let my engine of war fall right on the back of his pack, the reverberations from the impact sending him reeling. Falling on his back he managed to break all of his poor, portable merchandise with a crash akin to lightning striking a crystal palace!

And intoxicated by madness I screamed furiously: “Make life beautiful! Make life beautiful!”

Though such capricious endeavors are not without peril, and one must often pay dearly for them, what does an eternity of damnation compare with an infinity of pleasure in a single second?

A friend sent me this one. I told her I identified with the last line, she told me it makes sense, as she had re-read it and felt Baudelaire was bipolar. And then I gave it a second pass and found myself laughing openly by the end. He wakes up bummed and is driven to wreck a rando’s shit, at which he’s tremendously successful and his conclusion is: yup, it ruled.

Virginia Woolf, “The Death of The Moth”

It was useless to try to do anything. One could only watch the extraordinary efforts made by those tiny legs against an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen, have submerged an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing, I knew, had any chance against death. Nevertheless after a pause of exhaustion the legs fluttered again. It was superb this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at last in righting himself.

The body relaxed, and instantly grew stiff. The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder. Just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so death was now as strange. The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.

I first read this essay in 2011. It made no impression on me then, but upon re-reading just now I found myself laughing–in awe of the moth, same as Woolf. Facing down the thanatotic city-swallower, and righting himself with dignity. “O yes!” Would that we could all do the same!

Along similar lines, I’m so pleased that I’m different from my 21 year-old self. We don’t often get guarantees, but revisiting art allows us moments like this.

Sherman Alexie, “War Dances”

“Shit,” I said. “I have cancer.”

“Well,” my doctor said, “these kinds of tumors are usually noncancerous. And they grow very slowly, so in six months or so, we’ll do another MRI. Don’t worry. You’re going to be okay.”

“What about my hearing?” I asked.

“We don’t know what might be causing the hearing loss, but you should start a course of Prednisone, the steroid, just to go with the odds. Your deafness might lessen if left alone, but we’ve had success with the steroids in bringing back hearing. There are side effects, like insomnia, weight gain, night sweats, and depression.”

“Oh, boy,” I said. “Those side effects might make up most of my personality already. Will the ‘roids also make me quick to pass judgment? And I’ve always wish I had a dozen more skin tags and moles.”

The doctor chuckled. “You’re a funny man.”

I wanted to throw my phone into a wall but I said good-bye instead and glared at the tumorless people and their pretty tumorless heads.

I’d never read anything by Alexie until this essay and, I gotta say, I think I’d cope with a diagnosis somewhat similarly. Looking forward to learning how else we might align.

The Difference Between Shibes and Rape

Anonymous asked: something I don’t understand about people who say rape jokes normalize rape and make them feel it’s okay, they clearly don’t feel this way about other stuff. Like the popular shiba inu on tumblr that will “bash ur fukin head i swear on me mum” does that normalize violence and make people think it’s okay to bash people’s heads in? OF COURSE NOT

If rape was normalized it wouldn’t be the subject of dark humor. There aren’t very many jokes based on taking out the trash or cleaning the dishes and other normal day to day chores. The reason dark humor like rape jokes elicits the reaction that it does is exactly because the subject of the joke is not normal. It’s absurd, it’s shocking, it’s offensive and it forces a gut reaction. If rape ever became normal then it would cease to be the subject of jokes.

-Morgan

This was an ask response on a tumblr titled “Gender Egalitarians,” run by a guy, Morgan, and a girl, Liv. Directed there from a friend’s reblog, I found that they pick and choose the worst strawmen from the feminist movement under the guise of equality and, what a surprise, really frustrate me. I then hit this post, which concerns my two favorite topics (jokes and shibes) so I figure it’s my best chance to not flail around like a fool in my reply.

Even though Morgan is under the impression that dark humor works because it offends, I’m not going to rehash the difference between offensive and harmful. I’ll link it instead. I’d rather talk about why it’s ridiculous to compare this picture:

image

to rape jokes. It’s not as straightforward as it seems, and even shibe cannot blind me from the truth of the matter.

I went to an open mic down the block from me last week, to watch and take in the atmosphere before I make my grand debut a couple decades from now. Out of the twenty people I saw storm the stage, maybe four of them could get real laughs from the crowd, and nobody killed it for their entire 180 seconds. I was shocked at the wasted stage time (and like, even a little offended bc i’m an artist), but took the opportunity to figure out why so many comics were in trouble. Obviously none of them rehearsed enough since avoiding work is the whole reason people assume the comedian mantle, but I found another consistency: from the multiple comediennes who related catcall stories to the guy who stammered about how stoned he was and then abandoned his set with a third of his time remaining, nobody was convincing me of anything.

Watching American: The Bill Hicks Story the next day only hammered it home. Hicks is my favorite comedian. My love is always focused on a different quality whenever I binge on him, and this time I paid attention to his sales pitch. The sort of shit he successfully pushes on his audience is amazing. This is a guy who would plead for ad-men in the room to kill themselves and then, not one to be outdone by himself, plead for everyone in the world to kill themselves. If the mind is a house, his was three stories of dark, unfinished basement, but the power of the mic and the stage and his presentation of his ideas always kept the audience on board. That second video isn’t even a joke, it’s him exploding at a heckler, and there are still real belly-laughs underneath his throat-ripping screams. The kind of laughs you get with you, not at you.

It’s not because his intense hatred stirs up “a gut reaction.” If dark humor only needed to “shock,” the Kings of Comedy would be literal gibbering street-preachers rather than figurative ones. Instead, the true talent of Hicks came from the vast gulf between how venomous he could be during his dark, black, midnight comedy and, despite that, how he managed to appeal to all of us, keeping us feeling something like happiness (his guiding love for humanity winds through all of his material, but I’ll admit that taken piecemeal like above it’s hard to tell).

The vast majority of (good) comedy begins when the comedian shares an unorthodox opinion. The fun for the audience comes from watching the comedian justify and rationalize this opinion— “oh boy, how’s he gonna get outta this one?” This can be as violent as Hicks suggesting ad-men chomp a Glock or as chill as Jerry Seinfeld telling you that handkerchiefs are ridiculous (btw “There aren’t very many jokes based on taking out the trash or cleaning the dishes and other normal day to day chores?” uhhh the entire genre of observational comedy would like to introduce itself to you). So, like, in a weird way, we all go into comedy shows looking to be convinced. It’s ingrained in the medium.

A joke normalizes its subject by casting a light of acceptability on it. If you use rape as one of your convincing justifications, you’re suggesting, to some degree, no matter how infinitesimal, that rape is okay. It’s something that came to your mind in the development of the joke. Even in a joke, it is a solution. An audience member needs a solution to his obsessive lust or a solution for her dry spell, and, some time later, when he/she is trying to come up with one, the comic’s voice might turn up. The voice could be a whisper or a scream, it could be one of many or a monologue, but all the voices are inadvertent contributions by what we know as rape culture, and eventually the voices might get loud enough to be heard: “it is a solution, we’ve been saying that all along.” Not to mention that a comedian holds more power to sway opinion than nearly everyone else in the world, lending their words a lot more gravity. (as long as they don’t suck)

Compared to the Shibe (which is also not a living, breathing orator and is, in fact, a dogge), a comedian should be held a lot more responsible for the normalizing affect of his words.

But here’s the blow-your-mind plot twist: the Shiba picture actually does normalize violence. It’s not overt, since it frames the aggressor as a silly lil shibe, but it’s far from satirical and it suggests that violence can be entertaining. Same as Tom and Jerry, American Gladiators, Yeezus and The Lord of the Rings. And there are people out there who care about the damage of violence culture on the same level as rape culture: if I had photoshopped out the “fookin” and brought a printed copy of that shibe to my Quaker middle school to hang it on my locker, I would possibly have been sent home for the day while they figured out a suitable week-long punishment, minimum. All because of the violent sentiment of the message. Hell, they had a blanket rule of “No Touching” just in case someone’s bullying was disguised as play.

Are you thinking to yourself “that’s fucking crazy?” Good. Because that’s exactly what people think of you when you take the necessary measures to fight violence. That’s how normalized violence is. Quakers look fucking insane for a zero-tolerance violence policy because everyone else’s lives are 100% tolerant toward violence! We live in a world where bullying can possibly be indistinguishable from child’s play because violence has pervaded everything, kids’ games and interactions included. (heh “fight violence”)

(“Who could ever have trouble telling bullying and playing apart?” Imagine a bully slinging an arm over his younger, shorter victim’s shoulder, and giving a shit-eating grin as he explains to the teacher “we were just messing around, teach. Isn’t that right, Jacob?” He pulls Jacob in closer with mock camaraderie, demonstrating his strength and intimidating the younger kid before he vouches for his own antagonist. Then they go back to “play” and hopefully the teacher keeps a closer eye on the bully. That’s the sorta shit I’m talking about. I’ve worked with children of all ages for over a decade, so please trust me.)

So the shibe doesn’t really normalize violence because violence has been normalized. The shibe does maintain the status quo, which isn’t good, but you have to pick your battles. I vote for people who support global nuclear disarmament, but I don’t bring up my support in discussions about international relations because I won’t be taken seriously: nukes are the norm. Feminists, in challenging rape culture, are pushing back at something that isn’t quite entrenched and actually finding success. (I like to imagine the public being like “ugh fine we’ll finally stop being flippant about rape, you can have that one, whatever”) Which is wonderful, because imagine a dystopian timeline where humanity is as infatuated with rape as it is with violence. Summer blockbusters. Video games. Ads on Spike TV. I shudder.

That’s the danger of normalization. We, as people, all of us, somehow, maybe through a Facebook poll that I missed, decided that the physical expression of evil was more integral to our lives than peace. If we’re capable of that, why, there’s nothing we can’t normalize!

I think violence (and, namely, war and soldiers) will be comedy’s last idol to topple. But that’s another essay for another night to waste.

On the morning of April 21, 1995, my elder brother, Worth (short for Ellsworth), put his mouth to a microphone in a garage in Lexington, Kentucky, and in the strict sense of having been “shocked to death,” was electrocuted … Worth had been about to lead them through the first verse, had just leaned forward to sing the opening lines—”Is it all over? I’m scanning the paper / For someone to replace her”—when a surge of electricity arced through his body, magnetizing the mike to his chest like a tiny but obstinate missile, searing the first string and fret into his palm, and stopping his heart. He fell backward and crashed, already dying.

“Feet In Smoke,” excerpted from John Jeremiah Sullivan’s essay collection Pulphead, which I’m currently reading.

Worth goes on to reconstruct his mind after his near-death experience, and Sullivan reports it with a highly-invested eye, one that doesn’t want to miss a step. The reader thanks him for this, as every essay in the book benefits from his Sherlock Holmes-ian attention. Read the rest of this piece here.