All things weird and wonderful, 43

8 08 2014

We humans are a strange lot, given all too often to the unwonderful.

Scott Eric Kaufman, who writes for both Lawyers, Guns & Money and Raw Story (as well as his own blog, Acephalous), happens to attract the kind of folks who engage him in all kinds of weird and some kinds of wonderful conversations (see, for example, here, here, here, here. here, here, and here—and there are more, including the one where he asks for it.)

The following (setup: he’s buying a bunch of tuna for his elderly finicky cat) is one which he says “may be the greatest conversation I’ve ever had“:

POLITE DRUNK MAN: You don’t eat all them cans, now?

SEK: Wasn’t planning on it.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: TV say they full of Menicillin.

SEK: Mercury?

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Menicillin, bad for the children, real bad.

SEK: I promise not to share it with any kids.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Menicillin’s terrible, make ‘em have miscarriages.

SEK: The kids?

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Ain’t even get a chance to be kids, they born miscarried, or with arms.

SEK: I’ll keep that in mind.

POLITE DRUNK MAN: Dead babies with arms, that’s what Menicillin do. Best watch out.

SEK: I will, promise.

This. . . well, this is weird wonder gold.





Why don’t you kill me?

19 06 2011

I am so tired of being a loser.

C. and I were at the end of our leisurely Red Hook/Gowanus ride and finishing our equally leisurely conversation in—yes—a leisurely manner. We had been discussing her novel* and her job and taking classes and the trail detoured into my life.

Which is when I burst out the above statement, along with complaints about being an underachieving dilettante and not extending myself or diving into anything which would  pull something out of me or committing myself, really, to anything.

And it’s so goddamned irritating, I ranted, that I make the same diagnosis over and over and over and still, here I am, grumpy and underachieving and uncommitted.

No, I’m not going to continue the rant, here; besides, you’ve heard it all before: I was stuck for twenty years between suicide and living and now I’m stuck in the not-knowing of living blah blah.

C. suggested that I just get out there and try different things, volunteer, anything to get myself moving and maybe, just maybe, involved. Sound advice, certainly, and nothing I haven’t told myself in previous go-arounds.

But it did occur to me, after we finally split, that I’ve got a real issue with trying to hoard time, so much so it interferes with the just-get-out-there approach: I don’t want to commit because what if I can’t follow through? I don’t want to be inconstant, so better not to be anything at all. What if I run out of time?

Nonsense, I know, at least in prosaic terms. I live in time and can no more grab hold of it than a fish can water. I can control my movements in time, but time itself? Nuh-uh.

Whether I can do anything with this elementary law of physics remains to be seen.

And there’s a flip side: Even as I am a physics-al being, I also know what it likes to live absent time. I’m not talking here of being ‘in the moment’ (although that’s nice when it happens, rare tho’ it is), but when I’m so involved in an activity that I have no consciousness of time.

Which brings me back to the beginning, and writing. C. mentioned that I seemed to be in a fictional frame of mind (oh, the meanings in that observation. . !), and I mentioned a story I had been turning over. I have characters, I said, but not much beyond that; I need to let this sit a bit, see what happens.

But then I noted that in between novel 1 and 2, I started another story, one which I might never get back to, and maybe this story is like that one: the one which prepares me for the next one.

And right then, I thought, Well, I’m not a loser dilettante when I’m writing; I just write.

Thus, that leisurely bike ride and leisurely conversation popped something loose: Start writing again, and the writing will come. Sketching out that story for C. helped me to see that that’s maybe all it will ever be, and that’s okay. Commit to the writing itself, just, just remember that I can commit to the work itself.

Something else will come; something else always comes.

~~~

*Hey, C. it occurred to me that you could work the slingshot into a joke: Your narrator could pick up a slingshot or having someone hand one to her and she could demur, muttering “Too Clan-of-the-Cave Bear.”

Anyway.





Don’t do this

2 06 2009

Or: how not to argue.

I did a little bit of drinking in high school. I mean, I didn’t drink EVERY day, and I was sober during school hours. And it wasn’t like I was hitting the bars every night—not when I didn’t have a decent fake ID. No, until I turned 18 (when I was only at the bar TWThF and Sat nights), I was forced to drink in cars and on country roads and in barns and friends’ basements and at the beach.

It was all very trying.

Anyway, one night my friends and I were at G.’s sister’s house, drinking and. . . I don’t know, playing cards or drinking games or something, when J. and I got into it.

J. was pro-life. Vehemently so. As was/am I, on the other side.

Why we thought it was a good idea to engage in this particular discussion at this particular time is beyond me. (I think I recall something about alcohol and impaired judgement.)

Anyway, I don’t (surprise!) remember exactly what was said, but I believe it ended with me pounding my fist on the table and shouting and her screaming at me and crying.

Helluva party.

A day or so later, sober, J. and I had a little sit-down and decided that, henceforth, we would not discuss abortion. Ever.

And that held, including the time our senior year when the sociology or world politics class we were taking screened an abortion (I think it was prolife) film. Other students were all ‘Ooo, J. & [yours truly] are really gonna go at it.’ Another teacher left his post to witness the fireworks.

J. looked at me and I looked at her and we both shrugged. Nope, we said. We don’t talk about this anymore.

We were such disappointments.

And that was it. We remained friends and drinking buddies throughout the rest of high school, and while we have long since lost touch with one another, I still remember what a truly good and funny friend she was.

There is an important epilogue to this story: At one point after our blow-out/armistice, I asked her if I could ask her some questions about abortion for a paper I was preparing. I don’t want to debate you, I said, or get into an argument. I just want to know.

She was wary, but she agreed. And in the library, just the two of us, I was able to ask her why she was pro-life, what she thought about the women, and what exceptions, if any, she would allow.

Her views, at least back then, were extreme: No exceptions. But she was calm in explaining her reasons why, and I was calm in my questions of her. There was no argument, and I learned something I wouldn’t have, otherwise.

We had re-established a kind of trust. Each knew where the other stood, and that was it. We could talk about it, carefully, without screaming about it.

So, J., wherever you are, thanks.





Don’t get your back up over this

1 06 2009

I don’t lose arguments.

Arrogant? Maybe. But also true.

I have lost arguments, many, many, arguments. But not anymore.

Why not? I’m not a genius, and I don’t know everything, so it’s not as if I couldn’t lose an argument. And I still get pissed off and lose my mind—which is not so good from the never-lose-argument perspective.

And I still drink.

Nonetheless, there are a number of very good reasons why I no longer lose arguments:

One—and this is the most important reason—I don’t engage in arguments I know I’ll lose.

It is so, so easy to avoid losing arguments if you keep yer yap shut when you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I don’t argue about baseball statistics, the appropriate strike formation for an attack on North Korea, or the best way to skin a rabbit. I don’t argue about the advantages of a V- versus inline-cylinder engine, the success rates of arthroscopic surgery, or what makes a souffle rise or fall.

In other words, I don’t argue about most things, because I don’t know most things.

Two, I always admit when I don’t know something. This is not only the honorable thing to do, but it’s also useful: I don’t hang an entire argument on a questionable piece of information.

So, for example, I might suggest that the reasons that women get abortions early in their pregancies are distinct from the reasons of women who procure later-term abortions. I don’t know this for sure, i.e., I haven’t conducted a survey or read through all the data on abortions, but I’ve done enough reading to render this a plausible argument.

But that’s as far as I’ll go. I won’t say This is a fact or Everybody knows when I don’t know if it’s a fact and it’s not something that everybody would know.

(And I never say Everybody knows. Good lord, talk about an easy way to lose an argument: All one’s interlocutor has to say is I don’t know that and game over.)

Three, I’m ruthless. I’ll nail the other person for trying surreptitiously to change the terms of the argument, using a phrase carelessly, or trying to back away from a statement which has since become problematic.

Four, I don’t cheat. This is the flip side to number three: I don’t put myself in a position where the other person can call me out.

Five, I don’t argue when I’m drunk. Anymore.

Six, I don’t argue when I’m really angry. Anymore.

You’ll note, then, that my overall posture is defensive. I don’t overextend myself and always seek the firm ground, and a large part of my strategy is simply waiting for or baiting the other person (in)to making a mistake.

This strategy, of course, does not necessarilly lead to winning. I do sometimes win arguments, especially when I have a command of the facts that the other person does not or I simply frustrate the other person into a blunder, but more often I simply don’t lose. Draw.

I learned the beauty of the draw in grad school, after losing many many arguments to my friend D. D. was smarter than me, more worldly, already had a master’s upon entering the Ph.D. program, and one of the most competitive people I’d ever met. We’d start a conversation, which would turn into an argument, which would turn into a wipeout.

Then, at some point, I got smarter. I paid attention to how D. argued, how he’d slice away the portions of an argument which were inconvenient to his point of view, change the terms of the debate, or assert matters of fact which were, in fact, contestable.

I say this in admiration. He was smart and competitive and knew that the rules only mattered if you got caught. And I started to catch him, and once I did, I stopped losing to him. I don’t think I ever won an argument, but I could draw him out until we would admit to a mutual, exhausted, halt.

THAT was victory.

This history helps to explain why I love to argue with people who are smarter than me: It makes me sharper and forces me to call on every last scrap of knowledge in order to keep up.

Similarly, the desire to stay sharp goes a long way toward explaining why I keep up with the arguments of whatever ‘other’ side there is to an issue I care about. If they have a good argument I want to know it, so I can learn how to counter it.

(No, it’s not all tactical. I also keep up with ‘other’ sides because ‘my’ side has its own blind spots, and if I truly want to know something, I have to be able to see what I can’t see.)

To state that I don’t lose arguments isn’t to say that I’m never wrong. I’m often wrong—I don’t know most things, after all—and, given that I don’t know most things, am far too free with my words. But these are fragments, shootin’-the-shit briefs with coworkers or friends meant to be toss-offs. Assertions, after all, are not arguments.

Finally, I should reiterate that I don’t, in fact, engage in many arguments. I argue with Jtt. because she’s always ready for a throw-down, and always willing to put her authoritarian views on the line. (Also, every conversation with Jtt. can seem like an argument, even when it’s not. It’s how she is.)

But it’s rare that an opportunity for a truly interesting argument presents itself, one in which all present are sober (enough) and engaged (enough) and informed (enough) to really go tits-out  into battle.

And that’s cool. Once I no longer worried about losing arguments, it was no longer so important to turn every discussion into an argument. Now I can have good, heated, involved, conversations with friends, conversations in which our passions lead us to question and into uncertainty and, perhaps, into discovery.

I like to compete, and to know that I can compete. I also like that there’s more to conversation than competition.