Experiments in Writing (#1)

I am reading a book about writing, and the author wants me to sit in front of my computer for hours even if I have no ideas. I get the gist, but it is so not me. But she’s very cool so I want to give it a try. I figure I’ll try half an hour and see what happens. I thought I might document the experience.

10:41 PM– Here we go. I am resisting turning on music. I am thinking about writing. And documenting that thought. Hatbox Louie successfully queried a magazine for a freelance piece. It’s really good. She is a great writer. Hmm. Writing. I’d love a grapefruit.

10:45 PM– So far so good. No panic. Precious little existential angst. I live in a mostly refinished 80’s era house in an Ohio suburb with a For Sale sign on the lawn. Surprising. I think I am better at being given a topic and writing about it. How do you decide what to write about from the infinite possibilities. I guess you give yourself a topic.

10:50 PM– Let’s see. The world is in a shambles. In my darkest moments, I am flooded with very apocalyptic visions. It is as if the producers of made-for-TV movies are writing the world’s script: Islamic hordes running rampant, floods and tsunamis, near-fascists eroding our already shaky democracy, catastrophic climate change. I’m not saying the end is near, but one must admit it’s feeling a bit apocalyptish.

10:56 PM– Has anyone noticed that mostly when people mention Him, they talk about Jesus Christ, but then when people want to get real hardcore the say Christ Jesus? Like how can we put a bit more intensity into it? Switch it around. It works though. It does seem more fiery. Christ Jesus.

11:01 PM– The internet is full of litter. Whenever you search something in Google, there are all these crappy pages with sparse info all filled with ads. It’s garbage. It’s interesting how even in a virtual world, humans tend to create litter and garbage.

11:06 PM– Why is it that no one I know my age can afford his or her childhood home? Isn’t that contrary to the American dream? I guess it’s that I’m from Washington, DC, and most of the people I know are from similarly overpriced cities, but really. It’s a bit strange. Something is awry. I know not what.

11:11 PM– Whew. That wasn’t too bad. But I haven’t exactly set the literary world aflame. I took the Andy Rooney approach. Is that guy an ass? He’s got the country’s ear on a serious news show and he’s rooting around in his desk drawer: “I’ve been going through my desk drawer here and it’s really quite remarkable. I’ve counted nearly seven hundred paper clips. And look here. This pencil has been sharpened so many times it’s unusable.” Dude, it’s time to pack it in. He’s like the original boring teenage blogger—what I had for lunch, who’s like sooo weird. I don’t know.

Experimental results. Actually I think it was quite helpful. Maybe tomorrow I’ll try an hour. Don’t worry, this was a once off experiment. I’m not Andy Rooney. Christ Jesus!

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Ohioan Separatist Extremists Hijack Suburban Fixer-Upper! Please Help!

We received an email with this grainy image, and thought it was a joke.

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Time revealed that we had indeed been the target of an extremist cell, and our fixer-upper had been hijacked. These Buckeye freaks want to secede from The Union and set up a new nation state right here between Indiana and Pennsylvania. They want to call it Ohighough. They are angry and dangerous, and they hold the misperception that we hold some sway with the federal government. We received a second email shortly after the first, with this disturbing image and a list of demands.

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Do-it-yourself fools! You will use your considerable influence with the Ohio legislature, Condawhatever Rice, Stone Phillips, and Jared the Subway-used-to-be-fat-and-is-now-just-slack-skinned-and-un-charismatic dude to enact this list of demands. You have 2 days or we will sand this money sink into powder!

1. We can’t take the green! We need to pave over the last 20% of Ohio with strip after strip of glorious parking and shopping. We are tired of these Mom-and-Pop stores hanging on in the downtowns amid the closed up shops. Wal-Mart. More Wal-mart. Kills the annoying family businesses, 40 acres of parking helping to eradicate the blinding Devil’s green of unpaved earth, and just for good measure, you stand a good chance of being sexually assaulted in the parking lot. We are unsympathetic–you dressed provacatively.

2. Enough with the family farms. Call ConAgra and run the remaining few out. We hate that folksy, get-up-at-5, hayseed crap.

3. Our recon team has reported a disturbing increase in hybrid cars here. I believe 6 was the number. We demand a Hummer in every garage. We will succeed.

4. Unacceptable! Only 142 Ohioans have become casualties in Iraq. Unacceptable. We will not rest until every young person in this state has been fed into that meatgrinder of cleansing violence.

And so you see, we need your help. Anyone who can help meet these demands in any way should act. If only to hold together our Nation Under God. We need you. For the love of money, help us!

Fourth Meal–The Ad Campaign Between Irresponsible and Pure Evil

Taco Bell. It is hard to even work up the energy to comment on this fat-lubed corporate death purveying denizen of the strip mall. It is such crap. OK. But this new ad campaign: Fourth Meal–The meal between dinner and breakfast–is so heinous and wrong, I just can’t stand it.

I don’t know the exact statistics but isn’t our country fat as hell? I think the percentage of obese Americans approaches about 99.999% in the red states. Trying to manufacture from thin air the idea that force feeding yourself a couple of lard wraps at midnight is OK–that in fact you need four square meals a day, is just the absolute height of irresponsibility.

Now I have no false illusions. Corporations only recognize responsibility to their shareholders and do the right thing or at least the not egregiously wrong thing exclusively for PR or legal reasons. But this is particularly unsubtle, and a public health affront to a country with a childhood obesity crisis.

And of course the children are the real targets. The fourthmeal.com website is all video gamey and adolescent boyish if you press male gender and girlish if you choose that portal. It is that demographic whose long-term habits these wicked chilito slingers would hope to change.

For shame! Shame on Taco Bell. And shame on all of us for allowing our society to be hijacked by immoral corporate fiends who not only would sacrifice the health and welfare of our young people to maximize short-term profit, but don’t even seem to feel the need to be subtle about it.

Fouth meal? How about Dante’s fourth circle of Hell? Feh!

Published in: on February 15, 2007 at 4:55 pm  Comments (19)  

We Just Can’t Seem To Get Along

I listened to an interesting piece on NPR today about stereotyping. It was from a show about the barriers to human cooperation, and argued that the propensity of humans to categorize and stereotype each other hinders progress towards common human goals, but is basic to human nature, and has been shown to begin in infancy.

This to me is a self-evident truth, but is in fact a very controversial idea. The nature-nurture debate is alive and well. Reinvigorated in the 70’s with the publication of E.O. Wilson’s, Sociobiology, it remains highly contentious. Those who believe that there is a basic human nature that conditions our behavior and our relationships with each other are often considered genetic determinists, and champions of the status quo. These ideas are anathema to the political left, and have been attacked systematically for years–famously by Stephan Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin. The countervailing view being that we are born as blank slates and that society’s ills and our inability to get along as a species result from faulty human institutions.

Today, there is a growing and vibrant set of academic fields which are generally lumped together as Evolutionary Psychology. The idea is that our brains evolved into recognizably human form in the Stone Age, and we are thus compelled to meet the cognitive demands of our current situation with the same tools used by our forebears. Evolutionary Psychology seeks to assign meaning for our current behavior, and our current social ills as maladaptive relics of formerly adaptive responses to the environment. They argue that our problems stem from our use of Stone Age brains in a Space Age world.

Many consider Evolutionary Psychology a pseudo-science, and a dangerous reformulation of the same ideas that led to eugenics and Nazis and the rest. There is no question that it is a slippery slope, and it is true that the ranks of those who consider themselves Evolutionary Psychologists are liberally peppered with some very weak-minded, even onerous, individuals.

But to dismiss the entire framework out of hand is a mistake, and threatens our ability to make substantive progress as much as those who would say, we are what we are, there is no point trying to change the world.

There is no doubt that our brains are structured in the shape of our evolutionary past. Without acting strictly in self-interest, one could not survive. Our brains seek out patterns, make generalizations, and find contrasts and distinguishing characteristics wherever possible. That’s just the way it is. Of course we stereotype. Of course we act in our self-interest. To think otherwise, is to misconceive the human condition and human relations. To deny it, for political or any reasons, is to stand firmly in the way of change.

The key is not to deny human nature, but to understand it. That is what some Evolutionary Psychologists are trying to do. The work of Steven Pinker, for example, could hardly be more cogently or eloquently presented.

To survive as a species, we must overcome the dictates of our evolutionary past. We must acknowledge our propensity to act in a way that serves our own over others’ needs. Then we must expand what we believe our needs to be. It can happen: a parent brings a child into their circle of self-interest, and acts on their behalf. We will help friends and even neighbors. But outside a very small circle, it breaks down. We must somehow convince ourselves that we all share the same future.

We want a peaceful, clean, just world. This will never happen until, by some miracle, we realize that we all must have a fair stake for there ever to be peace and prosperity. Sewing misery around the world so we can buy cheap sneakers is already coming back to haunt us. Presumably the CEO of Mcdonald’s has children and grandchildren. Yet the ruination of the planet is somehow for others to worry about.

It seems impossible that humans can truly get along, will ever lose the shortness of sight. But we’ve got to do something. If only to show the schmucks they’re not getting away clean.

Published in: on January 31, 2007 at 3:47 pm  Comments (4)