Somebody asked me what I was doing here.
I gave that somebody an answer but confess I don’t feel I got an answer myself. Sure, I am here. Yes, I am doing something. But what am I doing here?
Squatting, I guess.
Or maybe writing an interminable list of suicide letters. If I keep on doing this, like many a writer did, it’s the surest thing to keep me alive for a while.
But isn’t that squatting as well?
It is crucial, or so we are told, that we undertake things. In English, such undertaking can earn you the title of entrepreneur. It’s such a tongue-twistingly ugly word that it’s reserved for the successful few. Anybody can be an undertaker, but entrepreneurs, real entrepreneurs, are few and far between. It’s, by the way, characteristic of ugly nouns for ugly elite concepts to attract ‘real’ as adjective and contaminate it with the need for italicization. I confess I’m annoyed with the concept (which says little because I equally confess that I’m annoyed at being annoyed).
In my native Dutch language, the noun corresponding to ‘to undertake’ is not taken by the specific undertaking which is to take dead people to their underground destination. So we’re all supposed to undertake, ondernemen, and become true undertakers, ondernemers (for ‘true’, see ‘real’ above). As is adequately demonstrated by the time it takes me to come to the point, I ain’t no undertaker. Oddly enough this is also supported by the fact that the only corpse I plan to be associated with is my own whilst – in proverbial Dutch and The Apprentice – entrepreneurs have to handle corpses with the same ease as undertakers do.
Which brings me to why I’m no undertaker. Continue reading
I confess that against my (and the doctor’s) better judgment, I went out for work yesterday. The result was that I achieved nothing significant and extended my illness over the week-end. So now I am alone and, for the first time in many months, writing to the few who happen to wander into this page.
Hello! You’re not the only ones to feel fucked over by the present life!
I confess making that remark mainly to get your attention. Not that I particularly want it, but it seems to be the honest thing to do. I at least have to try to get your attention. I’m not in fact fucked over. Far from it. It often feels that way just because I’m unable to cope with the absence of real bad luck in my life.
Let’s just all confess to it: we try too much. The drive for success is like a butt plug making us feel uneasy all of the time. Not that I know how a butt plug feels like; as I told you, I’m not in fact fucked over. Still, there’s an anal metaphor here. Society drills us to want to pick up the soap and the only break-through that is ever achieved that way … I’ll definitely say more. Continue reading
If there’s an -ist that applies to me it’s pensivist. Maybe I should go cold turkey on thinking. I confess that the strategy of doing it moderately doesn’t feel like the winning strategy. And what is a strategy if it is not winning. Isn’t it all about winning? It is. It is. It is. Therefore I am. Whether I like it or not. Nobody asked me. Except myself. Precisely nobody, that is.
I’m reading Finnegans Wake. I confess to ambivalence about it. It’s great but makes me feel little. What is the point?, is that the point? It is a snake; it is; it is; it is. But I was bitten long before. Now I’m just rattled. Ha. The beauty of it is: it is self-contained. I read it without trying to understand.
But let me think about the eternal recurrence of the eternal recurrence. I hate it but confess to loving those who seem to love it, or, at least, who love those who love those who seem to love it. The thing is that those who seem to love it are those who break the cycle and, methinks, Finnegans Wake breaks the cycle.
I confess I feel somewhat different. I further confess that I am different from people who are really different in not being really – perceptibly – different. If I would do my life over, I would not be be bothered to do anything different except what I will do from now onwards. What I did was all fine; what I’m going to do just doesn’t cut it. I confess I’ll continue to live in the future where I know the right thing to do is to live in the past.
What I’m going to do is to think about writing a treatise on the word ‘that’. What I’m not going to do is just that. I confess that I admire this thing called language. Mainly because it isn’t anyone’s to call ‘That’s mine!’ (or ‘ours’ for that matter because ‘ours’ is the chicken shit way of saying ‘mine’).
Language starts with ‘that’. That’s what I think at least and I confess I’d like to convince you of it.
I confess I made some decisions in the past year which seemed – to me – pretty heroic. Maybe they were the reason why I followed with interest the discovery of Miguel de Cervantes’ remains. I left a highly paid job to chase a – maybe forever – unpaid dream. I further confess that, 9 months into the chase, I’m left wondering whether I’m up to it. It’s not about the money: I have a beautiful wife which brings in the dough and, after 22 years of loyal service, I negotiated a fine settlement which bought me 2 years of relative safety.
I confess it’s entirely about (not) being needed.
I realized I wasn’t blogging anymore, a practice I maintained for years regardless of time pressure. I hate being busy. I confess I felt busy for 9 months without ‘having’ to do anything. So, Puck Ip!, here I go again.
So the guy asks: “Why do you speak of this grand vision of changing the education system?”
Damn, why indeed?
This is the fallacy:
“If this tradition was good for the parents then it will be good for the kids as well.”
There’s not a lot more to conservatism and – as much hatred this fallacy deserves – it is also by far the best conservatism has to offer. Because, at least, it looks like it might make sense as some kid of a default rule. “Why change something that isn’t broken?”, is the most offered conservative response to, well, anything. And it should give pause (including the middle and all that) because what we share is valuable because it is what binds us. It should not be changed just because somebody feels like it, that’s dictatorial. The fact is that change is the one tradition that binds every single culture together. So, in conserving, conservatism degenerates so quickly in dictatorial behavior precisely because conservatism strives to abolish the very change that makes us uniquely capable to cope with the unexpected. It’s no coincidence that the outer edges of conservatism are plagued with convictions such as creationism. As it isn’t coincidence that the outer edges of revolutionary progressives are plagued with totalitarians. And that the next generations of those revolutionary people quickly converge to conserve (showing how evolutionarily stable conservatism is).
So I confess to not merely hating conservatism.
Still, it is a fallacy so let’s inspect in some detail the fallacy of conservative conflation:
I confess some things should be as they were. Traditions provide comfort. I confess that this confession is provoked by a day struggling to be – I think this is a sufficiently universal term for it – independent. After today it strikes me that being (an?) independent involves being dependent, a lot, on the ability to chase practical and administrative things.
Gathering all of my courage (and a bunch of paperwork prepared by my accountant) I traveled to the court. Well, the office of the clerk of some court. The building was the same as the one in which criminals are convicted. The people were nice. I handed over the paperwork expecting this or that stamp as a permanent testimony of me having faced the administrative music. Fat chance. A nice lady told me that my nice accountant – whom I hold no grudge – forgot a not so unimportant detail: to establish a partnership there has to be more than one partner.
Now I need to ask my partner to become my partner, my accountant to adapt the paperwork such that my partner is described as my partner & return to the court’s clerks to stamp me and my partner into partner-hood. If my partner in life is allowed by her boss to become my partner in business.
I confess after that doing the grocery shopping felt like the pinnacle of efficiency and effectivity combined (I see that the word “effectivity” gets a red wavy underlining from wordpress thesaurus. WordPress thesaurus should definitely be mandatory in corporate circles).
To remain on the topic of dependency, I further confess I’m on twitter now.
I confess I put my life on hold for the last 12 months chasing a ghost. It took me more than a month just to start to remember how life was. Was it worth it? I confess I have no idea. Am I done chasing ghosts? I confess my best answer is: time will tell.
The piles of books which have amassed to the left and right of me do suggest I kept on reading though. I confess I want to boast about that.
To my left, pile n°1: Kripke, Naming & Necessity; Bolaño, Amberes, El Tercer Reich & Estrella Distante; Zweig, Schachnovelle.
Across older piles lying open on pp. 150-151 for reasons I confess I forgot entirely: Gadamar, Elogio de la teoría. Which brings me to the piles to my right featuring more Gadamer, On Education, Poetry And History as well as Wer bin Ich und wer bist Du. The latter sits on top of Fitch, Saul Kripke and Peinado, Futbolistas de izquierdas. Further down in that pile: Gass, Middle C and the almost most recent one: Piketty, Le capital au XXIe siècle.
To my left, pile n° 2: Jaeger, Paideia: los ideales de la cultura griega & Aristoteles; Grundlegung einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung.
I confess all this name dropping leaves me feeling I really have something to confess about. I am unsure however whether it is arrogance or lack of reading quality/quantity (certainly as far as fiction goes). In order not to have to dwell on that issue I’ll just mention what I’m reading now (& only talk about that one below the fold): Steven Johnson, Everything Bad is Good for You. As you can tell from the Capital letters in the title I’m turning to vulgarized science from time to time (I blame Dawkins for that) but I’m not addicted to it, yet (I might add now I’m at it that I quit smoking if, I confess, without quitting nicotine given I just have put an “e-” before my cigarettes).
I confess it was not my plan to write that many words before I got to this pink book by (the maybe venerable) Steven Johnson and the Flynn effect.
“You are a special kind of jerk,” she said. “Not only did you try to steal my parking spot, but when I tried to go ahead and give it to you, you went and parked somewhere else.”
“I wasn’t trying to steal your parking spot. I needed to move because nobody else in the parking lot could move if I didn’t.”
Now to me and anybody in earshot, “You try to do something nice for somebody! What a jerk!”
“Look, I wasn’t trying to steal your parking spot. I’m not a jerk, and it was just a misunderstanding. I think we should just put it behind us and move on with our days.” I looked to the Dunkin Donuts cashier who was watching this unfold, a bit slackjawed, while handing me my receipt. “Thanks. Have a good one.”
This was literally a new me. Not two weeks before, I had sat with my wife and our friends on New Year’s Eve and said I was going to move beyond being mean. I didn’t want anybody who didn’t deserve it to regret having run into me or (over)hearing something I said.
In this situation, the old me probably would’ve scanned my brain for a stinging insult. I would’ve wanted to find something that would find its way under her skin and nuzzle in for the rest of the day. If I came up short of such a zinger, I would’ve let my failure to “win” the confrontation bug me for the rest of the day.
“What the hell was that all about,” my wife asked when we got outside. We were just popping in for a donut and coffee before going our separate ways to work. Having arrived at DD first, she was unaware of anything having happened in the parking lot.
“I had to kind of pull in front of her to free up a jam in the parking lot. I knew whoever was in the truck would think I was trying to steal their spot, but I had to move. There was a car behind me turning left into the parking lot and they were hung out in the middle of the road.”
“Well you handled that a lot better than I would’ve. She didn’t even yell at me and I want to go back in there and call her a bitch.”
I couldn’t believe how good I felt. In the past, I had welcomed the chance to get upset. I would engage because I welcomed the anger, the chance at indignation. I would downplay the fact that I knew from the other person’s perspective it did look like I was being a jerk. I would retell the story at work and act like I was feeding off its energy when in all honesty, it would feed off me.
When I had made the decision to try to avoid saying offensive things or making offensive jokes, I was nervous about it. I crack jokes. Lots of jokes. In a social setting, it’s what I’m most comfortable bringing to the exchange and making people laugh is one of my favorite things. But in the course of a night, many jokes are at somebody’s expense. Maybe somebody at the bar I suspect is a douche, somebody on TV who made an easy target or somebody in a newspaper article who came off looking bad.
I never touched on the great taboos, but there are still plenty of ways to be very mean without too much fear of being called out. It was evident when I’d let a joke fly and see a hitch in somebody’s reaction. Maybe it hit on a problem they used to have. Maybe it made fun of something that affected somebody close to them. They usually wouldn’t say anything, but I’d catch their “look” and regret the ill-advised joke the rest of the night.
After this happened enough times, I just grew tired of trying to figure out what was OK to joke about and what wasn’t. Cheap laughs weren’t worth knowing you were responsible for “that look”. After having spent years trying to argue this joke or that joke wasn’t offensive, I realized when I defended jokes I wasn’t really making an argument about the joke. I was trying to convince myself I’m not the kind of person who’d laugh at offensive jokes. That’s an ugly light to shine on yourself and I wanted to get out from under it. Still, would I be able to fill the void where these types of jokes used to come out?
This was the surprising part. There was no void. It seems when I sincerely wanted to avoid saying hurtful things, the part of my brain that supplied them withered on the vine. Actually, I’m hoping it moved on to better pursuits. Every once in a while a joke will pop into my head and I try to make sure that’s where it stays. I’m sure some still slip through a filter that has blind spots. But for the most part, it’s not a flood of material I have to carefully sort through as I had originally feared.
Another surprise has been how much of a relief it is to come across everybody you meet and not size them up for potential material. It’s no longer “Look at this guy.” It’s just “there goes a guy”. What I feared would be limiting and restrictive has in fact been remarkably liberating. So in the end I have to agree with the woman at Dunkin Donuts. It takes a special kind of jerk to clutch so tightly, for the better part of thirty-eight years, to hurtful behavior that benefited noone and was likely most harmful to myself. Maybe I would’ve been more accurate to say, “I’m not the jerk you think I am.”