One of the things that makes Settlers Of Catan a great board game is, you’re never “out.” You never get fully eliminated before the game itself is over, so even if you have zero chance of winning you can still hang out in the game and be a headache for the person who has a ninety percent chance of winning.
I wish life was like that. That no one ever died, that instead of dying you just became not-really-a-factor, but you could still hang out and crack jokes and, more importantly, mess with some asshole who’s still kicking.
I was checking out at Trader Joe’s. I was wearing my Google t-shirt.
The older check-out lady said, “Wasn’t Google on the Internet yesterday?”
"… It’s always on the Internet," I said, maybe too affronted for someone that has no personal or financial stake in Google.
"No, not Google,” she said. “What was it? They had a billion dollars or something?”
"Twitter," I said. "Twitter had their IPO yesterday."
"That’s it," she said. "They went on the Internet yesterday."
I didn’t correct her again. We all knew what we meant. And at some point during this exchange, two people clarifying for each other who exactly has billions of dollars and why, I had the following thought:
At the end of my Freshman year of high school our theatre teacher announced the plays we’d be doing the upcoming year. It was so exciting. I read all the shows and narrowed down which roles would permit me maximum triumph.
Over the summer, the principal fired our teacher for letting us play laser tag in the auditorium. His replacement then scheduled a different, shorter slate of plays.
The principal’s name was Dr. Mosher.
That fucker still owes me a Brighton Beach Memoirs and I intend to collect.
In third grade I attended a newly built elementary school.
The student body got to vote on our mascot. Designs had been submitted by the students themselves. This was Arizona, so a lot of the mascots were desert-themed. I remember there was a cactus. Somebody wanted us to be the Estrellas.
And then there was a shark.
The shark wore sunglasses, and his name was Finn McCool.
I yelp, and look up. It’s Nina, who disappeared seven days ago.
She’s sitting perched at the edge of the window-mounted flower box, facing out into the night. You couldn’t get up there without a ladder, but I don’t see one.
I push the window open.
“Hey,” she says.
“Hi,” I say. “Are you okay?”
“Totally,” she says.
“Do you want food or, like, a blanket—”
“Liz,” she says, “it’s cool. This isn’t a distress thing, and I’m not coming back, I just thought I would come say ‘hi.’”
“Hi!” I say again, like clip-art of a happy person.
Then I start crying.
“No, don’t, I’m fine,” she says. “I’m so fine, I’m better than fine!”
“Okay,” I say. Then I stop crying. I make myself.
“I have seen such creepy shit in the last little while,” she says, “but nothing as creepy as the fact that you can just stop crying on a dime like that.”
“Can I put that on a college application? Like under special skills,” I say. “That’s got to be some kind of achievement, right? ‘One time I creeped out a witch.’”
“Sounds like you could get an essay out of that,” she says, “but if there’s one thing I’ve never worried about, it’s your ability to get an essay out of something.”
There are many, many things Nina always seemed not to be worried about. She projected an emotional wall of not-worried-about-it ten feet high, and behind the wall were the kind of worries that apparently can drive you to exchange your life in human society for one I cannot even begin to understand.
“Aren’t you cold out there?” I say, thinking that by “out there” I mean “sitting outside my window in the middle of the night in early November,” but realizing I actually mean “the world.”
“No,” she says, “but thanks for asking.”
There’s a golf course across the street from our school, and next to it there’s a walled-in bunch of above-ground pipes and meters that probably do something like regulate the golf course’s sprinkler system or the water level of its man-made lake. There’s this alley between one of the walls and some fenced-in power lines where kids from our school go to smoke. I went out there with her a few times between finishing our food and the lunch bell ringing.
At first it was cool, and I didn’t smoke, just got a buzz from the totally acceptable amount of risk involved in leaving school grounds during the day despite not being Seniors. The kids were mostly older and pretty nice, and they liked the same music as Nina. I stopped going with her once I realized it wasn’t just for the companionship of cool kids who agreed with her about what was bullshit, she had a chemical need to go out there and smoke. Once she started having her own cigarettes. I thought not going would be a good way to get her to stop, but it wasn’t. And not long after I stopped, this guy who didn’t go to our school started hanging out back there.
“People are gonna say, oh, she got seduced by that guy and wanted to become a monster, like Twilight or something, but I’m not even attracted to him. There’s nothing less sexy than a guy who’s actually a thousand spiders.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he’s literally a thousand spiders inside of a human skin.”
One time my friend Chelsea told me about a friend she and another friend of mine named Chelsea had and this friend was named Punk-As-Fuck Jess.
I don’t remember the conversation that followed too well but I think I asked if Jess was a boy or a girl
(Jess was a girl)
and I think I asked what exactly Jess had done to earn the title of ‘Punk-As-Fuck’
(If you knew Jess, you would just know, I was told)
and I think I asked if Jess had christened herself that or if someone else had done it
(And here again “Punk-As-Fuck Jess” was treated as something self-evident, something no one, not P.A.F. Jess or anyone else, would have to stick on her. Her innate Punk-As-Fuckness had just been revealed over time the way the tide washes away sand to reveal a great big punk-as-fuck rock that has been there since the days where lava was the rule, not the exception.)
So I never met her. And I never heard any tales of her exploits, her Punk-As-Fuckness in motion.
But every so often I think about her. I just thought about her tonight.
And is that, in the final accounting, the essence of Punk-As-Fuck Jess? The ability to burrow deep into the mind of someone she never knew, as deep into my being as being punk-as-fuck is in hers? Or is that just good marketing? Or is punk just good marketing?
Is it punk to disappear as quick as you came into being, or is it punk to stick around?
I don’t know. For Jess I’ll bet punk-as-fuckness manifested itself in some form of cool self-mutilation of the physical and/or emotional sort and great taste in music (“Great taste” meaning so many good choices interspersed with a few sublimely bad choices) and great taste in people (Again, meaning so many good choices interspersed with a few sublimely bad choices) and I’ll bet she had a haircut then that your cousin has now. (This was thirteen years ago, and at the Speed Of Cool, it takes thirteen years for the light emanated by white-hot people like Punk-As-Fuck Jess to reach the dark cold outer reaches where your cousin lives.)
Or maybe she was Punk-As-Fuck for reasons you had to be present to fathom, ones that cannot be recounted later using such tools of the Establishment as words. And I wasn’t present, because if I’ve ever been anything-As-Fuck, it’s Removed-As-Fuck.
Even if I had been there, her Punk-As-Fuckness probably would’ve just read to me as anxiety-inducing wild-carditude. It’s doubtful I could’ve enjoyed it in the moment, and if she was anything, I bet you she was in the moment.
And people like me, if there’s ever a moment we’re in, it’s never the one on the clock.
But here she is in my memory, somebody I never met, and she’s probably out there somewhere,
Punk-As-Fuck or Married-As-Fuck or Rich-As-Fuck or Crazy-As-Fuck or Fat-As-Fuck or Happy-As-Fuck
There’s no reason she couldn’t be some or all of them and still be Punk-As-Fuck.
I don’t know what punk is, really, but I know it’s not mutually exclusive.
There’s a scene at the end of the SOPRANOS episode “Where’s Johnny,” where Tony is tearfully asking his (at this point fully senile) Uncle Junior if he ever really loved him. Junior, probably slightly less tuned out then he’s pretending, absentmindedly remarks on a nature documentary on TV:
"Here’s that coyote."
I often think of that line. THE SOPRANOS touched on so many of the ineffable, difficult parts of being human most popular entertainment would (kinda understandably) rather not deal with. Tony is touching on the dead part of his uncle’s soul that maybe always has been dead. Tony has a spot like that in his soul, and one of the primary investigations of the show is, has that spot grown to become Tony’s soul? Has it always been the entire thing, and is all the humanity we, the audience, have clung to in our protagonist despite his deeply awful deeds, is that all a grand narcissistic dance, solar flares sent up from a planet made entirely of pure selfishness that our empathy tricks us into thinking look pretty?
When I rewatched the episode about a year ago, I read it like Junior was naming that nameless deadness all of us have inside of us to one degree or another, that we can stifle or cultivate or justify, depending on what kind of person we want to be or have been made into: What are you gonna do, kid? That’s just the coyote.
I think about that line now, when I stumble upon the queasy and inexplicable inside myself, or inside of others: “Here’s that coyote.”
James Gandolfini, by all accounts a generous man, and clearly a great artist, is dead.
Specifically how technology is accordion-ing our perception and experience of time, how the pace of everything seems to be accelerating maddeningly, or accelerating perfectly, if you’re a technology-is-always-the-solution gadget-blogger type.
And starting this essay by talking about how we’re all talking about something instead of just talking about that something when I don’t even really want to talk about the conversation around that thing, I just want to talk about the thing itself and how it relates to my favorite Prince song, is one of the many ways we all try and run up the flag of “Look, I get it, and I’m not one to go around NOT getting it.”
It is a way to say “I AM AWARE THAT THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THIS THING, GOD FORBID I BE JUST ANOTHER PERSON TALKING ABOUT IT, ALLOW ME TO DEMARCATE MY SAVVY, ALLOW ME TO PARTICIPATE AT JUST A SLIGHT, FIVE-FOOT-ABOVE-THE-FRAY REMOVE.” Just like so many things me and people like me do every day, it is another barrage in the arms race of proving how much we fucking get it.
How to participate in this arms race without it dampening our we experience of media, news, life, and each other, I have no idea. I don’t know how you can engage in any form of cynicism without it becoming very real dirt on the windshield through which you view the world. And I say this as somebody that pretty much can’t reach inside myself without feeling the very comforting contours of trusty weapons like The Ironic Distance, The Self-Aware Caveat, The Pre-Apology For Sentiment. I don’t know how I assembled this arsenal, exactly, but just like a lot of hardened gunslingers I find it extremely difficult to resolve my problems without these guns now. They have always been there, and unless I work to take them apart, they will always be there. And what happens if I disarm and I come across somebody that still has them and knows how to use them? I’ll get killed, right?
This is the way I say things on the Internet. This is the way I say things in real life, too. You probably do as well. A lot of, “I know this topic has been done to death.” “I know everybody’s talking about this, but…” For some reason, nothing feels more ancient than the thing everybody was talking about this morning.
Everything can feel instantaneously exhausted and exhausting. Or maybe not, depending on what your mileage with all this kinda stuff is. I expect my experience with all of it is pretty typical. I find Twitter alternately enriching and tiring. I find Facebook mostly just the latter but I think I’m getting better at using it for what it wants to be used for, which is playing mindless hyper-addictive games against people I had an improv class with six years ago. I will often use “Tumblr” as unfair shorthand for “someone with a lot of style and no substance,” but if I’m honest, just like anything else, it boils down to how you use it, and it if you want to use Tumblr to be a fountain of really interesting, beautiful things it can be that just as easily as it can be a soulless fashion carousel.
But taken in total, in a million tabs and windows I can’t help but keep open all the time, this stuff, for me, pretty often results in what I’ll go ahead and call the Long Afternoon Of The Soul, a feeling of strung-out-on-info-ness, and not even INFO per se (that makes me sound all cool and cyberpunk-y, like I’m mainlining 600 terabytes of raw data a second, but I can SEE THE PATTERN, MAAAAAN) but strung out on what would, taken by themselves, be wonderful little bleeps and bloops of human-ness (expressions of love and joy and humor and anger and hypocrisy, and yes, pictures of cats) but taken together during this Long Afternoon, leave me feeling kinda cranky and draggy and sad all the time.
“Dude,” you might say. “Just, like, get up and go for a walk.” And you would not be wrong.
And again, your mileage may vary with this stuff. Maybe you can bang around our Internet’s finest content aggregators for five hours on a random Tuesday and get up feeling fresh and alert and not loaded down with a sort of small-yippy-puppy-coming-out-of-sedation-after-a-nine-hour-flight-in-a-freezing-cargo-hold kinda feeling. And good for you. Like so many other ways other people seem to experience the world, I am endlessly jealous of you and wish you could teach me how to feel it the way you do.
But I feel alarmed by the way technology seems to impact my experience of time.
And my favorite Prince song is “I Would Die 4 U.”
And among the reasons “I Would Die 4 U” is my favorite Prince song is, “I Would Die 4 U” is the sound of time stopping.
I only vaguely remember when it was that I first heard “I Would Die 4 U”: I would’ve been in my early 20’s and it would’ve been in New York and I would’ve just put Prince’s Greatest Hits on my iPod from the UCB tech booth computer, which was and probably still is a marvelous aggregation of like nine different people’s MP3 libraries. It probably came up on shuffle. And it just sounded so ageless and beautiful and like nothing so much as frozen time.
I know so little about actual musical terminology I cannot begin to try to explain why I think “I Would Die 4 U” sounds like a perfect crystalline standstill, why it sounds so amazingly outside of time, outside of influence, outside of everything, how even though it has component parts you recognize (“There’s Prince… there’s female back-up singers… there’s the guitar… and horns, and that’s a synthesizer, right?”) it feels less like other songs you’ve heard and more like you are being suspended in between galaxies and shot through with rays of infinite knowledge.
I don’t know what it is about Prince over the synth line that pervades the song that makes him sound like a floating holographic head projected out of a crystal that you just stumbled upon in an Antarctic cave.
It doesn’t hurt that said head is declaring that he is somehow EVERYTHING, and yet unlike anything you’ve ever seen or felt or known. It seems like the vogue in rap now is not to compare yourself to something, but just say you ARE that thing, like Big Meech, or Larry Hoover, or Ellen Degeneres, or God. I like to imagine every single one of these I AM declarations as a shadow cast on the wall of Plato’s cave by this, the platonic ideal, Prince’s declaration that he IS a dove, he IS your conscious, he IS love.
And yes, I get all the Christ imagery. I’m not one of our nation’s leading Prince scholars, and for all I know he’s writing directly from Jesus’ POV, and this is just the best-ever Christian rock by leaps and bounds and even more leaps and bounds. But isn’t it more fun to read it like Prince is saying all these things about himself?
Prince is talking to YOU. It is you and Prince. You are having a conversation. It’s incredibly intimate and you feel truly alive and truly present and truly in your body. You feel very yourself and very grounded despite the fact that you and Prince are having this conversation in the eye of a temporal mega-storm at the nexus of infinite timestreams. And Prince is telling you:
He is all things, yet entirely his own thing.
He is all things, but there’s nothing like him.
And he would wink out of existence — and then be nowhere, and yet somehow everywhere, still — and he would do it just for YOU.
Giant Corporations Disclose REAL Top Five Regrets Of People Who Are Dying
You may have seen an article that’s been floating around recently about the top five regrets of people who are dying. I read it and, like you, I was touched.
As a moderately successful author alternative comedian, most of my friends and acquaintances are the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. I mentioned this article to one of these friends, who shall remain nameless but let’s just say he runs a little operation whose name rhymes with “Fie-zer,” and he shared with me a study he and his other CEO buds generously funded out of their own pockets to rebut the findings of this article people have been passing around. He wanted me to share it with you guys because, in his words, “You just put anything on that Internet and it like, goes around, right?”
Anyway, here it is.
I wish I’d had the courage to work more.
People regretted surrendering to the immense societal and familial pressure to work less. “My boss was always pressuring me to take paid maternity leave or otherwise strike a work-life balance,” one woman said. “He once threatened to fire me if I didn’t leave work on a Friday afternoon to see my daughter’s school play. I wish I’d had the guts to say, ‘fire me if you must, but I’m staying right where I am, and producing at optimum efficiency. If you let me go, I can always find another job. Actually, you know what? I’ll find another job even if I’m still at this job. I’ll find several. I deserve to earn less money at more jobs.’ I just wish I’d said that. And honestly? The school play ended up being bad.”
“I want to jump up on the table and scream, ‘Do you know how lucky we are to be doing this? Do you understand that the only way to repay that karmic debt is to make something good, is to make something ambitious, something beautiful, something memorable?’ But I didn’t do that. I just sat there, and I smiled.”— Steven Soderbergh (AKA God), in his State Of Cinema address at the San Francisco International Film Festival, which you can and should read in its entirety here.
Super-duper proud of this. The great Tasha Robinson interviewed me for the AV Club’s “I Made You A Mixtape” feature. Details the struggle of being a cynical nerd and trying to de-cynicism yourself with the aide of, and sometimes in spite of, music and movies and making out. Features Kanye, Springsteen, Joni Mitchell, Jason Anderson, A New Found Glory, Good Luck, Gin Blossoms, Girlfrendo, Karl Hendricks Trio, Weston, Ne-Yo, The Mountain Goats, Belle & Sebastian, and Jimmy Eat World.
When I was a kid I would stare into a sprinkler whose droplets were catching the light of the sun and pretend that each individual arcing droplet was a leaping dolphin, at that all these dolphins were emanating from some infinite dolphin source, and if certain episodes of certain science-centric public radio shows I’ve listened to are correct, somewhere in the universe this actually exists, this infinite dolphin source.
There’s a whole lot of matter and a whole lot of universe so just mathematically speaking, somewhere matter is combined in a way that produces infinite dolphins, appearing and catching the light and disappearing.
And if I have misinterpreted what I heard on public radio, it wouldn’t be the first time, but I think we can all agree it is harmless to let this particular misinterpretation stand.
(And I wrote this because someone was randomly a dick to me on Twitter and I liked the idea of this post being brought to you by that person the way Sesame Street episodes were brought to you by letters.
And I could’ve written back to that person saying UH ACTUALLY, EMPIRICALLY, I RULE but they would’ve just been getting what they wanted, and I think somewhere in the universe they did get what they want, after all, there’s a lot of matter and some of it will inevitably be formed into assholes with a lot of hate that demands easy electronic distribution and in certain cases those dudes will get what they want. All too often they will. But not tonight. Tonight: infinite dolphins.)
Thanks to disgusting and/or ignorant people like the Steubenville rapists, their enablers, Todd Akin, teems of moronic internet commenters, over 20 senators voting against VAWA, and a tragically tone deaf and clueless media, we are at a specific moment in this country where we’re talking about…
I think for too long myself and a lot of people like me assumed because we thought of rape the very definition of wrong, everyone thought along those same lines, only to discover now, in 2013, that for a lot of the country the subject even being brought up triggers a lot of queasy “now, boys will be boys and girls should reconsider their skirt length” sentiment that results in the perpetrators being viewed as victims and victims finding themselves Hester Prynned at the moment they most need to be listened to and supported.
I am dumb for not having realized the degree to which a lot of people in America think rape is a gray area, or a feminist fiction engineered to vilify boys who just can’t be held responsible for their silly penises do when Jezebels are in the mix. I’m sure everyone who’s ever been raped is already well aware of the echo chamber of judgement our society presents to victims.
Fernie is right: we as a country need to have this discussion now, and not let the conclusion of that discussion be “Did you know girls lie sometimes? And, like, society is very confusing for boys these days!”
We Didn't Do It, But We Did It: Crap Kingdom and the New York Times
So, Crap Kingdom did not make it onto the New York Times Best Seller list this week.
I say “this week,” because: hey. Not to get all The Secret about stuff, but I earnestly believe that if I keep my head down and keep working and keep doing all the things I’m doing, someday it will be. It, or another book. My dream scenario is that my next book (or the book after it, or the book after it) is finally the effort-coalescing smash hit I have been waiting for and that propels my whole back catalog onto the list. I think this is the dream of every artist who feels under-appreciated. It is also (though the details may be different) the dream of anyone who has ever felt undervalued or looked down upon in any walk of life. “THIS ONE DANCE I DO AT THE TALENT SHOW WILL BE SO GREAT EVERYONE WILL SUDDENLY REALIZE I’M BEAUTIFUL AND THEY’LL THINK BACK ON EVERY TIME I TRIPPED IN THE HALLWAY AND REALIZE I WASN’T TRIPPING AT ALL, I WAS PERFORMING BEAUTIFUL MINI-DANCES!” And so on.
It is a cliché dream and I get that yet I am fully in its thrall.
That said, I’m sad. I do believe there’s a difference between “getting your hopes up” and “being excited by the possibility something.” I didn’t used to think that. I used to very willfully try to assume that nothing good would happen, thinking that if something good happened, it would be a neat surprise, but if nothing happened, or something bad happened, who cares? All that happened is what I expected to happen. Look how smart I am.
After a few cool things happened in my life and were greeted with very little fanfare by my insides, I realized something gamblers and businessmen know implicitly: in order to win anything, you have to wager something. If you want to be thrilled when something cool happens, you have to have hoped it was going to happen.
Basically: “Exciting” is a more marketable way of saying “full of potential heartbreak.”
So I was excited by the possibility that this could happen, and I worked really really hard to try and get it to happen. I try very hard not to be like a high school yearbook staff, where I say “we worked really hard on this” like it somehow inures me from criticism when I’ve misspelled someone’s name. I believe hard work should be a given. Hard work does not mean you deserve something. I scream this at the TV most weeks during “Shark Tank.” I have worked hard and I will continue to work hard and when it’s finally been enough work for it to happen, it will happen.
Interesting thing about getting bad news (and an interesting thing about getting good news): it happens. And then you are still alive. After the moment you get the bad news, there is a next moment. And a next moment and a next moment and a next moment.
And then you go get something to eat.
So the bad news is it’s not on this week’s Best Sellers list. The good news is, it is out there, and people seem to like it, and once it’s out, it stays out, and people can get it, and people can find it. And I still sold quite a lot of books. And every time someone tweets a picture of their copy of the book at me, I think: “This rules.”
Crap Kingdom Publication Day Thoughts OR: Kanye West Vs. Nickelback
My book Crap Kingdom is available today, in stores, online, and on your eReader.
I am trying very hard to follow my girlfriend’s instructions, to resist my innate desire to douse what should be unadulterated pride and joy with self-doubt and self-loathing. Self-doubt and self-loathing are Nickleback on the modern-rock radio station in my mind. They are always on. But today I am trying very hard to drown them out.
I think I just realized I’ve been using the words “trying very hard” a lot lately. Usually in the context of “I’m trying very hard to get on the New York Times Best Sellers list.” Because I am.
I have been told by my very wise editor to temper my expectations regarding the Best Sellers list. They have this “secret sauce” they use to compute the list, and books that are in both paperback and hardcover have a natural advantage because there’s just more copies of them out there, and just like anything else, if you’re already on the list, you have an advantage over everything that isn’t on the list when it comes to, y’know, being on the list.
These warnings, well-reasoned and backed up by a lot of facts, and followed by assertions that the book is by no means a failure if it doesn’t make it on the list its first week, or ever, are like catnip to my self-doubt and self-loathing. Or, if we want to extend the Nickelback metaphor, they’re like, I dunno, Coors Light. (That seems like Nickelback fuel, right?) My self-doubt goes, yup! See? The game is fixed! The only people that can do it are the people who’ve already done it. And when somebody new does do it, it won’t be you, because you’re you. Other people are the total package, and you are a cobbled-together mess, and anyone who looks at you for longer than five seconds knows, with certainty, that you are not the real deal.
But I have other feelings that are almost always running through my head in parallel to Nickelback, thoughts I will go ahead and christen my internal Kanye West. At times like these, greeted either with frothing, unreasonable commenter-hate or completely reasonable well-intentioned and frankly dead-on advice to keep my expectations realistic so I don’t set myself up for unnecessary disappointment, my internal Kanye says, “But why CAN’T I do it? What if accepting even this totally reasonable tempering of expectations narrows the fuel line of my ambition even the slightest bit and THAT’S what results in me not making it across the finish line?”
Which is in many ways every bit as unhealthy as listening to my internal Nickelback all the time.
The Watermelons Were Illuminati Lies And He Was Smashing Them
It’s not a public library if a dude who looks like Gallagher isn’t kneeling in front of his laptop burning CDs while his eyes dart around the room, trying to stay one step ahead of The Adjustment Bureau.