Ruminations on Kafka


Reading a great story is similar to eating a delicious sandwich. One great sentence, like a delicious slice of salami, can be all it takes to satisfy. When we taste the relationship fresh, crisp cuts of lettuce have with the other ingredients, we taste the demands the sandwich maker made on their product before delivering it to us. Those of us, who never worked in the industry, don’t know the symbiotic relationship these ingredients should have with one another, but we know it when we taste it. Those of us who worked in the industry, and have some familiarity with the art of making a great sandwich, know that even the perfect symbiosis of the freshest, most delicious ingredients don’t matter if the sandwich artist doesn’t have great bread. The quality of the bread is the great divide between an average sandwich and a delicious one.

The consensus on author Franz Kafka is that he didn’t write great sentences. His prose was characterized by a Stanley Corngold as “luminous plainness”. I understand the ambiguity of that description, but while I concede that there are very few, there are some great lines. Anytime we read a great story, like Metamorphosis, our inclination is to add some “could’ve been, should’ve been” lines. Every time we think we found one, it just doesn’t quite fit. In the course of those efforts, Kafka’s style is unveiled, his economy of words, and the meticulous choreography of his story.

I would love to see some early drafts of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, just to see what he added and deleted in the course of editing. Did he have great sentences in the first draft only to realize they damaged the otherwise “luminous plainness” feel of the story? Did Gregor Samsa’s family have greater, more comedic reactions to Gregor transformation into an Ungeziefer ‘a beast unfit for sacrifice’? Did he vie for some greater entertainment in the story, or did he have a religious passion for the mundane feel for the story? My guess is that in the early drafts of this story, Kafka had to battle with an egotistical need to add something more to Metamorphosis to make it more. Did he initially have one of the characters make an incredibly insightful comment about humanity that illuminated for us how insightful Kafka was? Most authors cannot avoid the conceit of informing their readers how smart the writer is/was, and they do so by making indoctrinating their characters smarter, more intelligent, and brilliant. Were the characters funnier, more charming, more compassionate, more wonderful, or more something that every author wants their authors to think of them in those initial drafts? My guess is that Kafka probably had hundreds of versions before it reached final form, and that the final form we know today is an exhibition of the ego-less restraint he employed.

Great writers work through their strengths and weaknesses in pieces no one will ever see. Some of them learn that their path to a great story hinges on great sentences. Others find that devotion to ideas and style pays greater dividends. Some might suggest this is an author finding their voice. They do so in the course of reading others, trying to duplicate them, and eventually realizing what they’re greater strengths and weaknesses are.

I might be wrong, but I don’t think any reader will finish Metamorphosis with a “Holy Crud!” reaction. The reader might start the story in that vein, but Kafka diminishes the shock of a human transforming into an Ungeziefer with a level of choreographed reality the reader might find mundane. Thus, when we finish the story, it sits on a shelf in our mind like a preserved meat, until we process and digest it, in the manner we will a great sandwich. It might take a while, it might take an incident, but at some point concept of the story will hit us, and we’ll realize what a unique, and uniquely crafted story it was.

Whenever we read a great story, like Metamorphosis, we seek a reference point, a doorway into the mind of the author. Most great stories are about us, in some tangential manner. Some stories are so foreign to our experience that we cannot find a reference point, because we can’t possibly find ourselves in such a ludicrous story. The brilliance of Kafka is that his writing relies on an axis of narcissism and objectivity. Is it narcissist to believe that every story is about us, or is it narcissist to believe that none of them are? How do we define a great story? How does a great story define us? Do we know someone for whom the author speaks, and do we wish they would read Kafka to understand themselves a little better? How would they do that, what do we hope they might understand, and are our answers to those questions autobiographical?

To paraphrase author David Foster Wallace, readers should imagine a door when they approach a Kafka work. We seek a doorway into Kafka’s mind so that we can understand his works a little better. We seek a reference point, a point of entry. When we think we’ve found the doorway, we start “pounding and pounding, not just wanting admission but needing it, we don’t know what it is but we can feel it, this total desperation to enter, pounding and pushing and kicking, etc. That, finally, the door opens … and it opens outward: we’ve been inside what we wanted all along.” 

One of the primary duties of every writer is to elicit emotion in the reader. How well they do this defines them. For one writer, it might be about the sentences, and for another it might be the idea that story is sacred. Some stories elicit instantaneous reactions, and some require some slow roasting. Some people don’t want to think too much. They want instant stories that provide a clear path from clear A to Z that culminate in an exciting conclusion. Millions of these books move from writer to reader, and the readers love them. Some of us prefer stories, like the ones Franz Kafka wrote, that reach in and fiddle with some different switches embedded deep in our psyche.

Kafka was an impersonal writer who chose to ground his greatest fantastical tale in reality. Prior to Kafka, and since him, most writers felt a need to form the basis for the fantastical with the fantastical. It just doesn’t seem realistic that something so uncommon should happen in a common home of common people. Kafka doesn’t fight against commonality in the manner some will by suggesting that the common can become uncommon. He chose to wrap his ingredients of “luminous plainness” in a bread of ideas and style.  

The Death of the Novel


“There’s nothing to say that hasn’t been said before,” Terence in the second century B.C.

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” –Andre Gide

“The idea that everything has already been said has already been said.”

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, someone needs to artistically slaughter the traditional novel, the novelly novel, out in the street for all to see. That which was once so important to us, is now dead. Writers will keep writing novels, and readers will keep reading them, but the era of the novel, as a cultural touchstone, has been on artificial life support for some time now waiting for someone to pull the plug, so we can reframe the real and rebirth it. Some young, ambitious kat needs to step up to the plate and destroy the art form in such a glorious way that its readers know there’s no turning back.

We pick up a book now, in our local bookstore, and the back jacket makes it feel so real, so vibrant and so cutting edge. Then we see it, the dreaded words “a novel” on the cover. We used to think that all it would take is one exciting, “I just can’t put it down” novel to reignite our passion for the novel, but we’ve read too many paint by numbers’ narrative conventions to believe that will happen. We’ve read too many authors depict wonderful and beautiful landscapes, in captivating wordscapes to want to go through it all again. We’ve read too many authors sort through romanticized sentiments in relatable conversations with side characters to give us a sense that they’re all a lot more like me than I ever considered possible. We’ve read too many authors deploy shadowing techniques to display how clever their main character is by showing us how dumb her side characters are. We put that novel back on the shelf, because we now know that in the author’s attempt to wow us with their artistry, they will attempt to please all of the people all of the time.

Our complaint might not be with the novel alone, but the novel used to be our favorite form of expression. The novel allows its author the sort of in-depth analysis of the human mind for which no other art form has the patience. The novel permits us to live, breathe, and be the character. In the more visual mediums, we might arrive at more immediate entertainment, but they fail to capture the intimacy of a great book. For most of my life, there was nothing better than a great book, and I was always reading one. As I write this, I haven’t read a novel in five years, and that was some light fare compared to my unusual favorites. 

Perhaps we’ve read too many novels at this point, but we can spot an author’s agenda a mile away, and most of us don’t want to know what the author’s agenda is. On the off chance that we enjoy it in some manner, her cloaked positions will strike us as derivative and redundant, and we will spend the breadth of the novel thinking we could’ve written it better. Typically, her main characters will be remarkable faultless, and her bad guys bumbling fools. She will engage in tired tropes, such as children being smarter than adults are, and everyone else knowing more about “the industry” than the CEO who spent 25 years in it. Bad guys gotta be bad and good girls, gotta be good. It’s so tired now that we need some new author to have the audacity to shake it up and teach us something different about ourselves.

In the same way Sam Raimi and the Coen Brother’s “Shaky Cam” killed the typical horror movie, essays, philosophical tracts, and the internet ruined the novel. The novel no longer feels as real or as relevant as it once did. It no longer feels substantial, engaging and cutting edge. It could be as simple as short form vs. long form, but we don’t think so. We think it has more to do with our hunger for some version of an author punching reality into our jugular.

The novel died right after we said, “The novel is not dead!” The writer who pines for a best-seller list might say such things, but does an artist who uses the novel as an expressive art form? After reading a novel, we should charge its author as an accessory to its murder. The reader should despise them for violating the conventions they hold dear. The writer should exhaust the reader’s anger until the reader grows to love them. “I see what you’re doing now, but it took me a while sheesh!” should be the first words that come out of her mouth when she’s done being so irritated with the writer that she put the book down numerous times (in absolute frustration) before she finally finished it.

“Don’t insult the reader,” the writing magazines advise. “Pay attention to your reader.”

Those of us who come from a punk rock school of writing think the modern writer should learn all of the novel’s conventions for the sole purpose of violating them more creatively, and we think they should know them so well that they boldly change them in an atypical fashion. If you think you know what this means, invert that thought, and give that a try. Insult the reader, we say, anger them, and make them despise us for writing what we wrote. We need to confuse, confound, and control the reader’s mind, until they come back begging for more. Could one book do all this? It would have to be an incredible book. I’m more inclined to believe it might take a movement, similar to what punk rock and grunge did for hard rock. 

“I did this for me,” we should tell those writing magazines. “By giving you me, I’ll give you you,” as author David Shields would say.

Even if our subject matter is pleasing, we should write in a way that makes the reader uncomfortable. As boring as most novels are, some earn our hard-earned money. Some offend our sensibilities so much that we find them thrilling. We’re on the edge of our seat wondering how this book is going to offend us next. We finish the book on a spiritual high, only to learn that our compadres have their thumbs adamantly pointed down. “I found it so repugnant that it made me feel uncomfortable,” they said. “Me too!” we say from a 180-degree different standpoint.

Your job, as a writer, is to take us to uncomfortable places. Tap into some uncomfortable places in our psyche and force us to explain them. “I’m not a bad guy.” You’re not, but you could be, if I placed you in such an uncomfortable position that you thought about it. “But I enjoy laughing, and I enjoy it when some beautiful text makes me feel wonderful about myself.” Is wonderful what you’re feeling, or is it publicity? How loud do you shout it out? What’s the difference between charity and publicity? That’s it, right in the jugular. Does it hurt? It’s supposed to hurt. A great writer shouldn’t address what we want. They should address need. Novel writers did that at one time. They’re a dying breed now.

We enjoy labeling eras. How about we label this era the era of same same? This is an era of “if it works, try, try, and try it again.” It’s a little narcissist to list the authors who killed the novel as an art form, but let’s just say that they might’ve been there for a rebirth, but they never did anything to help it mature. This sentiment might lead some to consider us jealous that other writers succeeded beyond us. We can assure you this is not the case, as we want some great author to mess the mainstream up with a hyper-real novel that shakes up our whole world. Yet, it’s impossible to defeat that charge, so let’s focus on an analogous comparison.

I loved the authors in question for a time, as much as I once loved Metallica. I loved the Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All albums. I don’t listen to their other albums, but I have no problem with them trying to make a buck on subsequent albums. I just don’t buy them. Other people were angry that Metallica didn’t close up shop after Justice. Why? Let people buy their other albums, let Metallica get rich. We don’t have to listen to their other albums. We have nothing against a guy trying to make a buck in any other field, but art is special. An artist has an added responsibility to the art form that made them rich. After an artist creates their masterpiece, they need to dabble in the art form to expand it and enrich it. To my mind, the great artist creates a masterpiece, and then they spend the rest of their life trying to destroy it. They should appreciate the masterpiece for everything it was, and they should never insult those who loved it and made them what they are, but they should feel a personal vendetta to top the masterpiece. They might never again create another masterpiece, but they should do whatever they can to create the uniquely spectacular after the fact.

The authors in question often come out with a book a year that duplicates the formula of the masterpiece. How many great books does one author have in them? They write one great book, sign a huge advance for another, and in their desire to make that publisher happy, they create the derivative and redundant, and everyone is happy and no one is. “It’s not as good as his masterpiece,” we say. “How many sequels are?” they reply, laughing all the way to the bank, trotting upon the art form as they escape. The question the reader asks themselves is do we want the author to destroy their masterpiece in their next outing, or do we want to remember them as they were, in the manner of the great athlete.

“Punk rock died when the first punk said, “Punk’s not dead.””

If punk rock wasn’t dead, they should’ve killed it. Those who loved punk rock should’ve planned some bloody, very public, ritual death. Never Mind the Bullocks should’ve been the only punk rock album ever made. One album of absolute anarchy and everything after it mimicked the premise and became commodity. The Sex Pistols were a horrible band, and Never Mind the Bullocks was a horrible album, but those who loved it, loved the definitive punk rock album for what it was. It stood for nothing and something that shouldn’t last. If it does last, it sounds more orchestrated and contrived in every form that follows, thus violating everything for which it stood. Everything you believe in is wrong, and all of that nonsense. The whole motif of that album and the movement it started was that everything is dead.

The novel is dead long live the novel. The truth is dead long live the truth. We should have an artistic labeling process that mirrors the Motion Picture Association of America. An M, signifies the author’s masterpiece, a DR designation informs the reader of the subsequent works from the author that are derivative and redundant, and a US rating informs the reader that the novel in question is not a masterpiece, but it is unique spectacular. Such ratings might help us avoid reading another book by an author, other than their best books. 

Tell the truth, then take it out to the side of the barn and kill it. Don’t try to recreate and recapture. It’s retread. Eat the truth and let it work its way through the digestive system and ask others what they think of it.  

“Jazz as jazz—jazzy jazz—is pretty well finished. The interesting stuff is all happening on the fringes of the form where there are elements of jazz and elements of all sorts of other things as well. Something similar is happening in prose. Although great novels—novelly novels—are still being written, a lot of the most interesting things are happening on the fringes of several forms.” –A review of Reality Hunger on Goodreads.

When we read a great novel by an author, do we seek light entertainment, or entertainment-lite, or do we seek truth when we read a novel? Why then do we read 20 to 30 novels by the same author? How many unique novels does one author have in them? I wasted some of my life doing this once. I spotted the author’s template, and I kept reading. I didn’t violate my rule when I did this. I created the rule. I’d never do it again. I hear a song on the radio I might enjoy, and I flip the station. I’ve heard it too many times. I know every lyric, every beat, pause, bridge, and drum and bass exchange by heart. I change the channel just to avoid redoing what I’ve done a thousand times before. When we spot the template, be done with it. End it now. The author revealed the essence of their truth in that one great book. How many times can they recapture that magic, how many times can we join them before it becomes redundant. They know, and we know, that we enjoy patterns, but how many patterns can we enjoy before we end up chasing our own tail with brainless, puppy like enthusiasm?

“All an author needs is one great book,” Truman Capote.

“Everyone has one great book in them,” Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway tried a novel approach to achieving the unique novel after he wrote a masterpiece. He destroyed his life … numerous times. He divorced, remarried, and drank his way to total destruction to pave a path to a new novel, until he decided to destroy his life in an ultimate manner. We might not want to follow Hemingway’s path of destroying his own happiness to achieving creativity, but someone needs to find ‘the road not taken’ to put an end to everyone chasing their tails in novel form.   

The Young and Stupid Clause


“Everything I did before the age of 25 should be wiped off my personal record.” I say this now, not to void a criminal record, because I didn’t have one, but to suggest that we all agree to expunge from our impressions everything we hear about a person before they turned 26. I’m talking about enhancing the social contracts that we all have with one another. I’m talking about us developing a social contract equivalent to the state’s procedure of expunging our criminal record as a minor, depending on the charges. If we commit an egregious transgression that goes on our permanent record, socially and criminally, but I say we forgive and forget the minor transgressions a person tells us from their life before they turned 26. I propose that we develop a personal, social, and cultural young and stupid clause that states, “Anything and everything we do before the age of 26 is officially off the record. We will not think any less of you, based on what you did before that age, because you were young and stupid at the time.”

We can laugh at one another. We can picture their mini-mes making character-defining decisions, and we can “I just can’t picture you doing that!” one another with some judgment. When the laughter dies, however, I propose that we forget it all under the “but you were young and stupid” umbrella, because we were all young and stupid once, and most of us became old and wise as a result.

We naturally excuse any actions that occur before 18, because that’s when most of us were truly young and truly stupid, but neurologists say, “brain development likely persists until at least the mid-20s – possibly until the 30s.” Based on that news, I say we personally extend that agreed upon consideration we have for one another to all actions that occur before age 26.

I still cringe when I think about how incredibly stupid I was. I’m no award winning intellect now, but I’ve come a long, long way since my 26th birthday. I managed to disprove the state’s idea that a 16-year-old is responsible enough to be behind the wheel, and every weekend thereafter, I proved that a 21-year-old is not old enough, or mature enough to handle alcohol. Thanks to the statements neurologists make on this subject, I cringe a lot less now, and I feel less shame for the things I did before 26, under the umbrella that my brain was far less developed and mature than I thought it was.

Age is a relative concept, as females generally mature quicker than males, and some males mature quicker than others do. When I look back now, I tend to think I’m looking back at another person, and in many ways I am. I am almost completely different than I was then. If 180 degrees is completely different, I might be 170 degrees different.  

When the Mental Health Daily (MHD) website cites the statement from a group of neurologists, it lists a number inhibitors that might further delay to brain development until “possibly the 30s” including alcohol abuse, chronic stress, poor diet, relationship troubles, social isolation, and sleep problems. The 25-30 me might raise my hand to all of the above, as I don’t think I explored the advantages of maturity until I approached my 29th birthday. One other inhibitor they don’t add, but I do, is parental stress. Some of us had parents who mercilessly pounded maturity, responsibility, and overall development into our heads, and we naturally spent our teens and twenties spent rebelling against those edicts.

I still don’t know what I was rebelling against when my dad wasn’t around, but my beacon revolved around the line, “What are you rebelling against?” “Whaddya got?” from the movie The Wild One and the George Costanza line, “You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts.”

“The prefrontal cortex doesn’t have nearly the functional capacity at age 18 as it does at 25,” the MHD website adds, and the writer of the article includes, “Adults over the age of 25 tend to feel less sensitive to the influence of peer pressure and have a much easier time handling it.”

I try to convince myself that I wasn’t as susceptible to peer pressure as I was. “There’s no way I did that,” I tell myself, when I know I did. I know I was young and stupid.

Those of us who were lucky enough to survive our stupidity eventually achieve a form of stair-stepping acceptance of how stupid we were that mirrors the stages of grief. These stages are relative, of course, as we all go through these stages in different ways and different times. There’s the “There’s no way I did that,” denial. The “Shut up, there’s no way I did that,” anger directed at people who remind us of how stupid we were, followed by a “Well, if I did that, you did this,” level of denial, and it all culminates in some depressing acceptance, “I know what I did, but I was young and stupid.”

We try to convince ourselves that we were never so stupid that we did things for the sole purpose of impressing our peers. Our thoughts go to a form of confirmation bias that permits us to view such incidents in favorable terms that highlight when we did face peer pressure down during seminal moments in our life, and we conveniently forget those moments when pleasing our peers motivated us to do some pretty stupid things. We also infuse our current, more adult ideas on peer pressure with those of our youth.  

Psychologists say that we conveniently forget horrific, tragic moments for the purpose of attaining quality mental health. Anyone who has relived the horrific details of a tragic moment in their lives, thanks to a powerful drug such as a quality dose of morphine in the hospital, knows how and why the mind selectively remembers for proper mental health. Does the mind selectively selectively “misremember” stupid decisions we made in our youth, so that we can live with the belief that we’ve always made rational decisions? Does this power to forget help us progress toward a final outcome by improving the ego, the self-esteem, and what have you? If that’s the case, why do we remember it one night, staring up at the ceiling at three A.M., during a mean case of insomnia. Is it as simple as we can handle it now, or does it have something to do with this idea that we’ve reached a point, in our progress, where we need to grapple with the stupidity of our youth before we continue to progress. We know we might be reaching here, and over complicating matters, but we don’t understand why we remember how stupid and vulnerable to suggestion we were, at three A.M., after conveniently forgetting about our failures for decades. 

Perhaps it has something to with another clause we should invoke whenever we hear otherwise responsible adults tell tales of utter irresponsibility and outright stupidity from their youth, the “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” clause. Perhaps we need a reminder every once in a while that we should be grateful we weren’t maimed in some mental or physical ways as a result of our stupidity. Perhaps we should be grateful that we’re here to tell these tales with a relatively sound mind and body. If we’re religious, we might want to take a moment to thank God. Regardless who we thank, we should think about the circumstances we survived, and think about how easily they could’ve gone the other way. When we hear about young kids doing stupid things that cost them their lives, we shouldn’t dismiss them solely on the basis that they were stupid. Dismissing someone as stupid allows the purveyor of such a proclamation a pass on everything they did in their youth, without accounting for all the incredibly stupid things they did, and they just happened to survive. We should consider ourselves lucky that we didn’t suffer a similar fate, and we should tell the otherwise responsible adults as much after they’re tale is complete.  

***

I know this is going to be an unpopular statement, but a part of what kept me from ruining my faculties with an exclamation point were the state and local laws. I was not scared of police in the truest sense, but I feared what they might do to me if I did something to deserve it. If a judge asked me if I had a problem with alcohol, I would’ve said no, and I would’ve believed it. If the judge asked me if my family had a history with alcohol. I would’ve said no. Both would’ve been lies, but I would’ve said them out of fear. Why would I lie, under oath, to a judge? Look at me, do you think I’d do well in jail, and I’ve probably added forty pounds in the last twenty-five years.

“Hey, you’ve put on some weight,” a former co-worker once said, after about a decade of separation.

“In the pantheon of greetings,” I joked, “that might’ve been one of the worst I ever heard.”

“No seriously, you look like a man now,” he said. “You used to be so skinny. You looked like a little boy.”

Can you imagine a 21-year-old, 40-lb skinnier me walking past a yard of hooting and hollering inmates? I know, child molesters receive a penalty worse than death in jail, but can you imagine if a grown, legal-aged man with child-like, waifish features walked into cellblock among convicts wrestling to control their daily urges to violate purity? The fear of what could happen if I violated those state and local laws, combined with the fictional depictions of life in prison, kept me in close proximity to the straight and narrow.

I was still so out of control and stupid with non-jailable offenses that I can’t believe I’m writing to you now with something in close proximity to a sound mind. We’ve all witnessed those who whose weight is so out of control that the flap that covers their zipper has been pushed back to expose their zipper. That was me, except my struggle didn’t involve weight. It was testosterone. I had testosterone all but pushing out my pores, and I never sought a proper channel for it. How many young men, 20-25 years-old, have the good sense to channel their energy and testosterone properly?

Now, our voting public, and our state and federal representatives are dissolving and diminishing laws that might otherwise control 20-25 year-old males, who struggle to control their testosterone-fueled dreams of ruining whatever remains of their relatively immature brains. I know I ask you to forgive and forget whatever I did before age 25, but when we’re deciding on ballot measures, it might be better to remember that respect and fear of the law might be one of the primary reasons why we’re here to discuss these matters. Depending on what we did in our youth, the fear of an ultimate authority figure declaring us unfit to walk around with the law-abiding citizens might recede depending on how we vote. 

Ultimately, I was the good kid and the good young man in my group who didn’t want to harm anyone but himself. Even in my small cadre of friends, I was the exception. Punching other people who deserved it, and teaching them whatever lesson they could dream up was part of the party for my friends.   

This leads to a duality some of us have on law enforcement. We don’t want our law enforcement officials wasting their precious time chasing minor offenses minor offenses around, but we don’t want young people damaging themselves any more than we damaged our minds and bodies. Those of us of a certain age no longer think the law constitutes a nefarious plot to criminalize certain behaviors to prevent young people from having a good time, but we no how far we went to have a good time, somewhere just a smidge below what we knew the law allowed. We consider most state and local laws equivalent to a governor on an accelerator to prevent young people from crashing into the walls they erect for themselves. The argument some make is that some laws make no sense anymore, but I would argue that they’re making such a declaration as a fully developed, mature adult, who is no longer as interested in skimming just under the tentative line of lawbreaking. Some argue that one law is just as bad as the other, and in some cases they’re worse, so let’s do away with a number of them, or redefine them. That argument is equivalent to suggesting that we should start our grills with white gas, because it has a flashpoint of 25 degrees, and to really get the flame going, we should add some diesel fuel, because it has a flashpoint of 126 degrees.

Some advocates of such laws worry about the children, but that’s an argument for another day. I worry about the 21-25 year-old youngsters who pursue the idea of doing whatever they want, now that they’re old enough.

This article isn’t about one law, because there are now so many of them with which I now have some concerns. This isn’t about a series of laws devoted to one topic, for it were the advocates of the behavior might pop out of the woodwork to to focus on the topic. They would probably declare me a hypocrite for indulging in the very topic for which I now oppose. I’ll say it for them, I am now a full-fledged hypocrite, and I feel fine. I still feel the pull of my anti-law youth all the time, but I know that certain laws help us define borders. If the themes of the parties I attended in my youth continue to this day, there is a lot of talk of laws. There is a lot of talk about the vague language of such laws, and how they can be exploited. We talked a lot about local, state, and federal laws, so we could know how far to push it. We wanted to live just under that line. We also knew that there was a range of violation that most law enforcement officials weren’t going to waste their time processing. Increase the range, and we increase the level of violation.  

***

As a product of permissive parenting, I could do pretty much whatever I wanted from about 15 on, but when my friends reached the age where they could do whatever they wanted, I went into overdrive.

“Are you going to the bar tonight?”

“Does the pope attend religious services?”

Our definition of being a man involved going out to the bar with the buddies and getting hammered. We didn’t invent this rite of passage. When we were young, we learned of the correlation between being drunk and being manly, don’t spread the word. We were expected to test tolerance levels every week, and we didn’t concern ourselves about failing too much, because we knew there would be a make-up test next weekend, and every weekend thereafter. Our part-time job, if we chose to accept it, and everyone we knew did, was to increase our tolerance level to the point that we might one day be like Sam Nigro in the corner over there.

“Sam can drink a gallon of beer and show no effects,” we whispered to one another, as if he was the warrior Achilles. “I saw him do it over at Pete’s house about a month ago. He drinks MD 20/20 like it’s Kool-Aid.” Sam was our Jabba the Hut. He would just sit on his proverbial pedestal with an aura of invincibility that no one could define, but no one dared challenge. He was also invulnerable to our drunken powers of suggestion, because no matter how many juicy frog drinks he downed, he never had so much as a buzz.    

No one got so hammered that a fight broke out at one of my parties. There was no sex that weekend, and no DUIs. We were all very disappointed. The next time I tried to plan a party I received polite non-committals. There was just something about the atmosphere of my apartment, the climate, or something that just didn’t invite a level of insanity to which we grew accustomed.    

The older, more responsible citizens of various states see no problem with updating and modernizing archaic laws, because they’ve grown out of various stages. They can live their lives responsibly no matter how many temptations they update, modernize, and legalize, but as a byproduct of that they help pass laws that now allow the 21-25 year-old maniacs with testosterone dripping out of their pores, all the freedom they seek. They do make an exception for driving an automobile while intoxicated. Those are the only laws that are much stricter than they were when I was young. So, we’re now allowing our 21-25 male demo to indulge beyond their wildest dreams, and when I say dreams I’m talking literally staying up at night imagining at the ceiling that one day (like Jiminy Cricket sang) all of our dreams can come true. We’re talking about a 22 year-olds indulging beyond capacity and having the good sense not to drive home.

Now that I’m boring, old, and unflinchingly hypocritical, I hope that you’ll join me in helping me ease the decades long cringe I’ve had regarding all of the incredibly stupid things I did to tarnish my good name. Having said that, I don’t think we should help the 20-25 demographic do dumber things by diminishing and dissolving more laws that might destroy them. We tell our old people to update and modernize their thinking, and they do, but the final argument I make on this topic is to ask these modern, old people if they’re making their country, state and locale better by updating laws and choosing modern representatives? Other, older people, who have sowed their wild oats, fear being called old fogies and hypocrites, but I ask them what they would do if these new laws were passed when they were young, destructive, and self-destructive? It’s tough to remember the mindset, but if any sort of anatomical, or financial, destruction did enter my mind at the time, it wasn’t even a tertiary concern. I always thought I knew what I was doing, but now that I’m old and un-apologetically hypocritical, I now know I didn’t. I’ve now gone full circle in acknowledging that I was young and stupid.

Guy no Logical Gibberish


My dad didn’t pronounce words correctly. It embarrassed me so much, when I was younger, that I matured into something of a wordsmith. A wordsmith, in my personal definition of the term, is not necessarily more intelligent than anyone else is. We do not have a better hold on pronunciations than anyone else does, and we don’t have a gift for spelling or proper word usage. A wordsmith is someone who focuses (see obsesses) on such matters. A wordsmith is also so embarrassed by past, present and future mistakes that we make that don’t think we’ll ever live down. Such matters didn’t embarrass my dad at all. He didn’t care about any of it. 

Even though I put more effort into pronouncing words correctly, spelling them correctly, and using them in a proper manner, I still make errors all the time. I mispronounced a famous person’s name one day, and it was so embarrassing to me that I don’t think I’ll ever live it down. It started out as a joke, and it somehow morphed into confusion in my mind, until I said it aloud to two people I sought to impress. I’m sure if I asked those people hear me do it what they thought, they probably wouldn’t even remember it, but it haunts me. I used a word that that we don’t recognize as a word in my formative years, and I used a tense of an adjective that is not considered one of the tenses for that word. I also used the word (“had”) too often, as in “if he had lived to see the day”. I hear professional speakers use incorrect terms and words all the time, and I hear them mispronounce words as often, and I don’t mock them. I’m mortified for them in a manner that constitutes the difference between empathy and sympathy. 

People I knew and loved mocked my lexicon so often, in my youth, that I made it my life’s mission to eradicate errors. (I’ll let you know if I ever accomplish that feat.) I could handle most of the mean-spirited mockery directed at my other, numerous errors, because they meant nothing to me. The mockery directed at my lexicon concerned me, because I knew my dad’s casual disregard for the conventional rules of language, and it embarrassed me as a teenager.

They say that if we spend enough time in another part of the country, we might carry accents, and/or peculiar pronunciations for words that are otherwise indigenous to that area of the country. My dad said the word wash for most of his life, until he traveled to Tennessee. He spent one week there, and for the remaining decades of his life he said, “warsh.” Correcting that proved an insurmountable hurdle for him, as did “eckspecially”. He made up contractions, such as ‘kout’ for lookout and (‘Q’) or “kyou” for thank you. He also made various plural-sounding names singular and vice versa. McDonald’s was McDonald and Burger King was Burger Kinks. Don’t ask me how he arrived at that second (‘K’). He also said intentendo, instead of Nintendo. We could fault his hearing for some of it, but after numerous corrections, the man stubbornly maintained his fault-ridden lexicon. He subconsciously picked up on errors in usage, but he never picked up on my numerous corrections. 

Speaking of word choices, how did we arrive at the word anus to describe an organ? We have to imagine that those in charge of the language used in medical periodicals and biology textbooks continue to use the word for the expressed purpose of being unfunny. Tradition probably guides current choices, tradition and the need for consistency, but there had to be a first. When the subject of origin of a word arrives, as we will discuss later, it can be difficult to impossible to source a word. The best question we can come up with is why do we continue to use this unusual and somewhat cute name for such a repugnant organ?   

How extensive was their search for the ideal, unfunny sounding word? How many voices did they hear, pro and con various other terms before they eliminated all others and ended up with anus? “The search is over, we’ve found the ideal word to describe the organ that sounds professional and doesn’t lead to uncomfortable smirks and giggles. Going forward, we shall all refer to the organ as the anus in doctors’ offices, biology text books, and other professional settings.” No one can blame the collective we, for etymologists say the term predates English. The word anus derives from the Latin word anus, meaning “ring”. The Latin derivative annulus means “Little ring”.

In the search for the ideal term, the first thing they had to do was rule out the other, less professional alternatives. Imagine if your doctor said, “You’re fifty years old now, it’s time to see what’s going on inside your smelly freckle.” If my doctor used such a term, in such a sensitive situation, I wouldn’t care if they were trying to add some levity to an otherwise uncomfortable situation. I would seek another physician.

The term they decided on sounds so unusual and cute that all humans, no matter their age, gender, or background, giggle when they hear it. If we could remove all of the connotations the word has with otherwise repugnant biological functions, we might picture a cute, little bug if we heard the word for the first time. If the word had no connotations to our little ring, imagine if comic book writers used the word to name one of their bad guys. “Join Spider-Man, in next week’s issue, as he takes on the Anus!” There’s something so unusual and cute about the word that I don’t think it would strike fear in the reader, until we learned what her powers were.    

We giggle, because it makes us feel uncomfortable in a way we can’t explain. One explanation might involve the idea that they chose such an unusual, cute term to describe such a repugnant orifice. What better punchline is there than, “… and I ended getting it stuck in my anus.”?

There was never a board of lords assembled to determine what term we should use to refer to the inferior opening of the alimentary canal a term. As stated, the word has roots in Latin, and Old French, but the Indo-European language family that dates back to 4500 BC to 2500 BC influenced those languages. As with other words and terms, we can arrive at the first recorded use of a word, and Wikipedia states that the first recorded use of the word anus dates back to 1650-1660, but there was probably never an official orifice decree that suggested all professionals should start using the word anus in professional settings. Anytime we try to source a word, we encounter its complicated roots through a maze of variations of language based on migrations, and subsequent regional dialects that affect different shifts in pronunciation, morphology, and vocabulary. We then encounter various efforts at reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European roots of the word to arrive at the conclusion that it’s almost impossible to source the origin of some words and terms. The one thing we can agree upon is that the modes of communication were so archaic in 1650-1660 on back that most words achieved staying power places via word of mouth, and that it just sort of caught on after that. Even with all that, the question remains why did one prehistoric person, with some biological knowledge, pass this agreed upon, unusual, and cute-sounding term anus to another, and how did it pass the smell test?  

The continued use of this term probably has more to do with hundreds to thousands of years of tradition, and a certain level of consistency attached to it, as I wrote, but the professionals who continue to use the term whenever they produce a new textbook or periodical of any sort have a choice every time they pass it on. The question they might ask is what’s the best viable alternative? The answer is there probably aren’t any now, the term is too ingrained, but we have to wonder how many alternatives the linguists and lexicographers of yesteryear passed on, before they agreed the word anus should be the preferred choice for those in professional and scientific circles. If they hoped that their final decision might end all of the snickers, giggles, and uncomfortable smiles when the subject comes up, then I think we can all agree that they failed.

“Don’t text me during the game,” I text. “I’m taping it. I don’t want to know if it’s a good game or a bad game. I won’t even check my phone during the game, so save your, “You’re going to love this,” “Don’t bother watching,” or “Get out of your house, there’s a small Cessna heading toward your house.” I don’t know why it bothers me so much when someone texts me about a game I’m taping, but I think it has something to do with a compact I have with the game I’m watching. It seems pointless, to me, to watch an otherwise exciting 7-yard out route, on third and six, when I know the outcome. Thus, when someone texts me some hint about the outcome of the game, it frustrates me so much that I want to coat my naked body and run through the city streets, just to teach humanity a lesson. I know that I couldn’t live with that memory though, so I just avoid my phone during games.

Big Things vs. Little Things. We dream of big things, but we cannot accomplish big things without tending to all the little things that make big things possible. Before writing the Great American Novel, for example, the author has to write. That first page can be tough, but it’s not near as tough as page two. Page one is often the flurry of inspiration that led us to sit down and write. That inspiration probably struck at a relatively boring moment in our life. Page one often ends up gibberish, however, that doesn’t make it past Chekov’s Razor. Page one often ends up being deleted or tossed into the waste paper basket. Page three is often where the book begins, according to Anton Chekov. Page one is important, but it’s not as important as page three, or any of the pages that constitute continuing.  

An important note I heard recently that contradicts that paragraph is, we don’t have to accomplish great things to be great. By taking care of the little things in life, we can still be great. We can be a great father, mother, businessman, and student. I knew a man who accomplished great things in life, but he turned out to be something of a failure as a father. I call it the Larry Bird Complex. There’s an old saying that “those who can’t do it teach” but the flipside proves to be true too. Those who can do it, often cannot teach others how to do it. Larry Bird was a man many consider one of the greatest to play the game, but he wasn’t a very good coach. The man I knew with a Larry Bird Complex had a personal resume so loaded with prestigious accolades that we might have to break the story of his life down to chapters. When they buried him, however, those of us who sat in the second row realized that he couldn’t take his accolades with him. We also realized those who sat in the first row were his legacy, and they were confused adults who lived a life of chaos. Was that his fault? It’s debatable, but he obviously didn’t do enough in his life to relieve them of their pain, and they were/are how the rest of us measured him. A man of great accomplishment enjoys telling people about his great accomplishments, but if he fails to tend to his own yard, that will be his legacy.

So, You Want to go Into Business. “My employees think I’m Daddy Warbucks,” an owner/operator of a local franchise said with a laugh. “They don’t understand how thin profit margins are.”

“Most people don’t,” I said. “I don’t for the most part. I’ve never owned my own business. Most of us think that anyone who does is in the money, especially if that business is a franchise. Most of us have no idea of the expenses involved in running a business.”

Most of us know-nothings loosely define profit as the difference between the wholesale and retail prices. We don’t consider the idea that an owner/operator uses that profit to pay employees’ wages, rent, utilities, various forms of marketing, the franchise fee, insurance, repairs, remodeling, various forms of security, and all of the other numerous costs associated with owning a business. Once the small business owner factors these numerous costs in, they still have to pay all of the federal, state, and local taxes and any fees associated with registering and owning a business. Some of us even begrudge the business owners for writing off expenses when it comes time to pay taxes. Yet, if we deprive them of the ability to do that, then they would have little to no profit at all. After paying off all of these expenses, the middle class owner/operators also have to pay off the loan the bank gave them to open the business.

Another element of the equation that should’ve been obvious but wasn’t until I attended a “Welcome to [the franchise]” meeting for potential owners of a nationwide franchise, is that the individual franchisee has to purchase everything from the vowels on the sandwich board, to the floor, to the franchise chairs and napkins from the corporation. If the owner/operator’s franchise runs out of napkins, for instance, the owner/operator cannot simply run to the supermarket to purchase napkins, they have to fill their napkin holders with napkins that have the corporate logo on them. Failure to do so could result in franchise infringements penalties. To ensure individual franchises are adhering to the level of uniformity the franchise, and their customers, expect throughout the chain, the corporation hires what some call secret shoppers. The primary goal of these insects is to prove the value of their employment, so they grade the owner/operator’s franchise on everything from the significant to the seemingly irrelevant. They find things to write in their report, because they fear if they gave the franchise an (‘A+’), “no infringements found” the corporation might not hire them again. The infringements they find could lead to more penalties and other unforeseen costs for the franchisee.

The corporation will also send out trainers who train the owner/operator and the incoming staff on how to do things “the corporate way”, and the franchisee then “helps” pay their salaries.

The corporate advisers, who provided us this “Welcome to [the franchise]” presentation, did not provide an itemized list of the total costs of purchasing and running a franchise. I had to do my own research to find some of them. One look at this list and every potential franchisee should wonder how anyone makes any money in this business. When I emailed some leading questions regarding my findings, to the advisers, they said, “[This corporation] will help you with any costs and expenses,” they wrote using the specific name of the company. “[This corporation] wants to help you open a location in your city, and they will do whatever they have to to help you make it happen.” This was a blanket statement the corporate advisers made throughout their presentation, and it was the theme of most of their answers throughout the “Welcome to [the franchise] presentation”, but they often avoided providing specifics. 

“Profits in food service are so thin that I would seriously advise you consider another business,” a former owner of a mom and pop restaurant advised me. “We obviously didn’t have to pay all the franchise costs you list, and we barely made it month to month. You probably won’t make money for years, and even then you’ll probably want to consider opening two or three different locations if you want to make any real money and each of those franchises will each take their own time to turn a decent profit.”

A franchise owner/operator then wants to pay the person most responsible for opening the location. Themselves. They want money for their time and headaches. “Expect to work at least 60 hours a week,” the mom and pop owner told me. “At least 60 hours. You’re the one responsible for all the hiring and firing, and after a number of incidents, you’ll probably develop a greater tolerance than you predict for misbehavior and poor performance. You will put up with whatever you have to from your employees, to avoid going through the headaches involved in firing an employee, hiring a new one, and training them. Other than all of the headaches and time involved, you’ll eventually view it as an unnecessary expense. Then, you’ll have to fill in for those who call in sick, and when you finally pay yourself for all the hard work you’ve done, before taxes, you should expect to make less, per hour, than you’re making now. Most business owners, like your friend think it’s cute and funny when their employees consider them Daddy Warbucks in the beginning, but when they hear it four or five times, they might accidentally launch into a rant about how wrong they are.”

Some of us celebrate when we see “big business” fail in our neighborhood to the point of closing down. We see their big name as a blight on our community. Some of those franchises are corporate owned, but a number of them are not. We might see it as sticking it to the man when we contribute to their failure, but that failure might be a man or woman who is seeking an alternative way to feed a family of four.    

Why do flies, moths, and other insects want into our home so badly, and they want out just as badly and just as quickly? If it were nothing more than a mistake, why do they bump against the glass trying to get out? Are they just dumb? No, they’re not dumb, some argue. Okay, then why do they immediately fly to the nearest glass trying to get out shortly after getting in?

Light guides most insects at night, and the only light at night that guides them is the moon. Their internal guidance systems lead them to fly according to the light of moon, and our artificial light messes with their internal guidance system. Do they then recognize their faux pas soon after making it? If the moon explains the nighttime insects wanting in our home, how do we explain daylight flies trying to get in? Do they smell our food? When do they recognize their faux pas? Some of them might be attracted by the smell of our trash, but they rarely visit the trashcan. They usually bump to get in and turn around and bump to get out. Do they recognize their error to get in, or are they just dumb beings driven by instinct?

Why do birds only fly so high? We’ve all witnessed a predator fly higher than other birds. Why do they fly so high? Answer, they want achieve a vantage point where they can see their prey. Why don’t other birds fly just as high? Answer, they’re more affected by low levels of oxygen, as they’re not as equipped, as their predators to extract necessary oxygen from the air. The temperature is also cooler at greater heights, and most birds cannot generate enough heat with their muscles to counteract that. These latter two paragraphs describe the mysteries and functions of the every day lives of some of its smallest contributors to our daily life.  

My Favorite Teacher of all time performed a miracle. He led me to believe the subject of Economics might be interesting. He made the subject so interesting that when I left high school, I became an Economics major. In college, I discovered how boring Economics could be in different hands. On the flipside, I considered Shakespeare so boring in high school that I found it difficult to hide my disdain for the material. In college, I found a passionate teacher who made Shakespeare sound like a genius. My takeaway, every subject is one good teacher away from being interesting.

Presumptuous Qualifiers


“If we want to understand the totality of this philosopher’s character, we must know their flaws too,” they say, “because character matters”.

“Why are we questioning her personal character here? We’re talking about her philosophy.“

“She wasn’t kind to her husband. She stepped out on him, and she didn’t treat her children well. Also, she doesn’t agree with you on [some unrelated position].” 

If we planned on dating or marrying the philosopher, an expose on her character might matter a great deal to us. If the only thing we want from this philosopher is her philosophical road map for life, and we could use it to be a better spouse, parent, friend, and person, why does anything else matter? If a couple bullet points from her personal life sways us to question the otherwise useful tenets of her philosophy, then we’re probably do it wrong. 

Those who tells us about her personal flaws want us to dismiss her philosophy. She wrote some brilliant philosophical nuggets that either broke the complex down to simple, understandable nuggets, or she provided some insight into the human condition that was so brilliant we cannot shake it. What if she wrote something that changed how we view a substantial matter in our life? How often has anyone, philosopher or otherwise, achieved that? If we considered those nuggets brilliant, and we could use them to make our life a little better, shouldn’t that be the end of the conversation?

“What if she disagrees with you on [some unrelated position]?” Detractors think that if they can trip us up on some unrelated position, we might dismiss the entire cannon of her philosophical beliefs. Wrongo Bongo! We do not have a litmus test on philosophers. We are only concerned with the information we think we can use. 

Unless detractors are able to disprove her theories, I don’t care to read anything they have to write about her. The detractors can even provide substantial proof that she was a hypocrite in that she didn’t personally follow any of her beliefs, and it won’t matter to me. I’m only concerned with how I can apply her principles to my life. If she decided to violate those principles, that’s on her.

Some detractors don’t even bother trying to refute the message of a philosopher anymore. They just go straight to character assassination. I listened to it, and I factored it into the equation at one time, but they’ve fired this cannon so many times, and in so many ways, that they’ve rendered all cannon fire meaningless. If the detractor was able to hold their fire and only take out certain characters, we might consider their charges. As it stands, everyone is awful, and if everyone is awful, no one is. They give weight to the cliche all humans are flawed.   

Prove or disprove the message, I say, and do it so well that you can convince me that it’s a quality rebuttal. Her philosophical nuggets may prove so influential in my life that a substantial refutation of her philosophy might not sway me, but I will at least appreciate the elements of their approach.

This assassinate the messenger approach might prove more effective if her followers engaged in some form of celebrity worship. I think detractors believe we idolize the messenger in the manner they worship people. They write scathing pieces about her personal life. They explain how that information serves to undermine everything she taught. They seek to expose some personal flaws about her to taint her message. Some of us don’t care. We only seek the message. 

They also seek to insert a qualifier into everyone’s brain when someone discusses the brilliance of her philosophy. “She was brilliant, sure, but wasn’t she a (fill in the blank).” Who gives flying fig leaf?

The progression of the qualifier has reached a point where we place so much emphasis on the faults of the messenger that their message gets lost. If I fell prey to such matters, I would consider that so confusing. “You mean I have to do research on everyone who ever lived, and if they have one flaw I should dismiss them?” I say. “What if they could provide me some valuable insight into matters that otherwise trouble me? What if amid everything she wrote, she provided a nugget that directly applied to that troubling situation? Should I dismiss that nugget of information based on the fact that she was unkind to her children?”    

We obviously enjoy the messenger’s presentation more than others do or we wouldn’t be reading her books, but we never idolized her so much that if someone pointed out a relatively insignificant flaw, we’re going to trash all of her philosophical tenets. “If you thought I was that superficial, then you read me wrong.”

We might find her message informative, entertaining, or some combination of both, but the moment after she dies, the next messenger takes the baton. Dear detractors: It’s not about the messenger it’s the message.

If John Doe develops a brilliant technique on the general, agrarian practices of South Dakota, some detractors might attempt to have his technique dismissed by discussing what he wrote about the Peloponnesian Wars. In their perfect world, if John Doe wants people to take his unique and possibly helpful ideas on agrarian practices seriously, he is now required, personally and professionally, to inform his readers of his views on the Peloponnesian Wars. Why?

Why does anyone care that John Doe married four times, and that he wasn’t very nice to his kids? “Because character matters.” It does matter, in general, but it doesn’t make his ideas on South Dakota agriculture any less brilliant? Those who disagree with John Doe’s ideas, expose his philandering activities in the hope that no one will follow him. If we say that we’re going to follow Doe’s ideas, and someone says, “Are you sure you want to do that? You know he cheated on his second wife don’t you?” Yes, I know all that, but I don’t plan on dating him, marrying him, or having any personal relationships with him. I just think he has great ideas, and I prefer to listen to anyone who has great ideas. “They work,” we say. “Try them.”  

If we haven’t had military service, we cannot comment on anything involving the military without thoroughly informing the public of that qualifier. If we haven’t reared a child, we cannot have a philosophy on raising kids. We must cede the point that if someone poses an idea on agrarian practices in South Dakota without ever stepping foot in the state that person might not know enough to comment, but we shouldn’t dismiss them outright. If their outside-the-box ideas work that’s the end of the conversation. We might need some qualifiers to make informed decisions, but too many people dismiss otherwise great ideas based on a messenger’s personal resume.

If we know nothing about the qualifiers they introduce, we cower. “I didn’t know that,” we say. Okay, now that we do, what are we going to do about it? Digest the information, take the qualifier out, and put it back into the philosophy. Does it make a difference? Does that philosophical nugget still work for us, personally? Did it enrich our life all the way up to the point that we found out that our favorite philosopher was a (fill in the blank)? If so, continue to use that nugget for all that it’s worth. So, the emperor has no clothes now, was she that enjoyable to look at with her clothes on? If we idolized her prior to learning that bit of information, then we were doing it wrong. Drop the superficial idolatry. It doesn’t fit you anymore. Seek substance.