11 July 2008

birthday post

Last night, summer beer, delicious bbq... It was one of those occasional, unanticipated grand evenings of perfect indulgence. I am reminded of the sentence Geoff often repeats when he's having just such an experience: I have reached maximum sufficiency; any more would be a superfluent abundity. I don't know if he "got" that from somewhere, or if he composed it himself (I should ask!); but the level of drunkenness required to trigger its recitation (and to appreciate it) raises mirthful doubts of whether any abundance could ever truly be superfluous.

As I'm prone to do in the throes of such satiety, I lingered too long. People begged off at or near the typical Thursday witching hour of 10pm, and I was left in Craig's living room virtually alone, with Craig and Andy wanting to play video games. I must make note to myself that this is always a good time to leave -- I have some level of psychic resistance to social video gaming, which I'm not yet willing to either explore or overcome. It may help me to bear in mind how much this mental block resembles, in practice, my father's resistance to any technological development, and how elderly he seems as a result -- but whatever! If I'm just simple, well, "'tis a gift to be simple", so nyah, nyah, nyah and shut up!

Anyway, while Andy took a piss, Craig helped set me up a "mii", a video avatar, on Wii Bowling, after that was determined to be the only game suitable for a party of three -- another hint that it's time to leave at this point: I'm pretty sure these two would rather be engaged in a first-person shooter escapade. When it came time to actually pay attention to the process, my feelings of carefree abandon started to attach a lot more weight to the "I-don't-care" end of the Happiness Equation, the other variables for which are slipping my mind*. Minimal effort and focus on entering my name into the system resulted in my inadvertently making a mii named Damp -- which crystallized my attitude about the whole venture, yet paradoxically brought me as much cheer as I anticipate a Wii is ever likely to do. I was further delighted to find, when Andy came back from the toilet, that the mii he'd already created for himself on some previous night, is named Stank! So, it was Damp and Stank, rocking the lanes on league night!

It's more fun to say, than to actually play. Or it was last night, for me anyway. We weren't more than a few frames in before I started reflecting on how much more I'd enjoy biking home drunk. Sure, you'll say (after you appreciate the little rhyme scheme I just accidentally accomplished in the last few lines), it's foolish, and I guess a little dangerous, but it's usually something that happens late at night when the traffic is light, and God!, it just feels great (it feels right! Okay, I admit: now, I'm trying to make this rhyme. I'll stop, I swear) gliding down the panhandle, skirting sprinklers, weaving through the "wiggle" (the zig-zag downhill route home from the park), serpentining the breadth of quiet side streets... Especially on a warm summer night like last night! If you're already intoxicated, it's just that much more intoxicating!

So, I split after the first game, and rode off into the night, my mind spinning on the evening's camaraderie and stupefied by how little sense I'm able to make of any of it. Which is to say: at a certain point in the evening, I'd made a decision that I didn't need to grasp any of what was going on or being talked about, and I got myself just loaded enough to lose that grasp. Part of what I think appeals to me about letting go like that, is that I also lose some sense of how to respond. I'm no longer sure of what I mean in anything I'm saying. Or maybe I'm just more conscious of how divorced anything I say can be from what I mean? Anyway, in these times, when I eventually find myself alone, cruising through the park, with no one else's meaning to parse but my own, my thoughts typically drift to irony; and I try to make succinct sense of it by composing simple nursery rhymes (as you've seen I can tend toward) and pithy aphorisms.

I wish I'd put more effort into writing this stuff down, 'cause obviously, when I'm loaded, all the phrases seem loaded, too, as though, if I push them in the right direction, I could glean a lifetime of fascination from their pertinences! Of course, in the sober light of day, if I can't remember whatever I was on about (or, often, even if I can), it must have been as dull and tiresome as any drunken rambling, right? Yeah, well... I'll try to write what all I can remember, and leave it to someone else to tell me what's what.

I think the first time I got all twisted up in my own weak grasp of irony, I actually wasn't on a late night drunken bike ride home--I was already home alone in a bathtub, while my girlfriend at the time had split for a weekend in a motel in Pacifica, a story for another day. And at some point, I thought, apropos of nothing I can recall, "Irony is for suckers who need to keep up appearances". I may have hummed it to a tune at first, or not. Eventually, I pictured it as "4 suckaz who need 2 keep up appearances", because the faux ebonics seemed to fit with the theme. I imagined asking people on film to comment on it, from which I supposed I'd get all sorts of conversations about irony that might lead me (and others?) to a more fruitful understanding. I imagined it being converted somehow to a one man off-off-Broadway play. The only reason I'm able to recount this here is because it was one of the few times I did bother to write about it. Eventually, I painted it on a t-shirt, but I never wear it, because I don't know what it means (and/or because it doesn't look very good, the way I painted it).

But mostly, since then, this has been the sort of thing that transpires atop spinning wheels, inebriated, in the dark, and it usually takes the form of some small phrase that repeats, like a mantra, to the beat of the pedals--or something or other that's making a rhythmic noise on my bike, and probably shouldn't be. The fact that I say it over and over for twenty minutes, or however long I'm riding, has helped me (somewhat) to remember a few that I haven't written before now:
  • Irony is (or "is not"? or "Is irony"? or "Irony's not just"? Okay, so I can't quite recall this one...) the act of implying a deeper meaning without intending any one in particular.
  • Irony's not just saying the opposite of your intent; it's saying the opposite of your intent expecting your intention to be understood.
  • I don't know what I mean.
  • I like to think I look like the kind of guy who'd say the things I'd say.
They're all lacking, here, the embellishment of whatever rhythm and tune I'd squoze them each into on my rides home, and that, of course, is why they, y'know, lack whatever psychological impact they would otherwise be shattering you with right now, I'm sure.

In the moment, I obsess over things like whether "intent" and "intention" are synonymous, or whether it's more true to what I mean to say, for instance, in that last one, "the things I'd say", or "the things I say". I chose "I'd", because that way I still hadn't actually said anything yet. Oh, but I would! You betcha... if, that is, I thought I looked like the kind of guy who would say that.

Anyway, last night's mantra was, "If only I were more self-aware, I'd be less self-conscious", which sounds like it belongs on a refrigerator magnet one could buy at Rainbow Grocery. It sounds like it should be some sort of cliché, but it doesn't pop up so explicitly in a Google search, so I'm guessing both those terms are understood poorly (or non-communally) enough, that... well, whatever it means to me, isn't necessarily what it means to you. Really? I mean, isn't it obvious? I can't explain it. Can I copyright it?

When I got home, Deb showed me the website for the Totoro Forest Project that her co-worker, Yukino, is working on. I thought I should suggest it for a BoingBoing link (update: they didn't post it). She also showed me the menu for Amber India restaurant, where she's taking me for my birthday dinner. It struck me as an amazing read. It must have been composed by a professional menu writer, some kinda literary type. I mean, I dunno: "white meat of organic chicken flavored with the northwest frontier spices"? Maybe that's not the best example... How about "salad of roasted beetroot and fresh coconut tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves"? I don't even like beets, but that shit's evocative! If that doesn't read like poetry, you must not be as hungry as I am! (or as easily impressed?)

Deb went to bed. I enjoyed a lot of the jokes on Letterman--further evidence, were any needed, that I was tweaked--and even got into his Paris Hilton interview for a while before heading to bed myself. I tried to read a little In Defense of Food. I got as far as the line "Complexity is easier to destroy than to create"... Sounds like a good title for a massive riff jam. I laid awake hours quietly humming tunes for guitar line, bass line and words, "If only I were more self-aware, I'd be less self-conscious"...

(UPDATE: an entire year has passed, and I don't get irony any more than ever. I was out with the boys on Thursday, as usual, a couple nights back. It's been, what, three years or so, I've been in this routine, but I still feel 2nd tier--and maybe we all do--like there's a "higher committee" for the Thursday night gathering, who sets the rules. Anyway, there are rules that we all at least pretend to adhere to, and for which, infractions lead to punishments of some sort or other. Like, for instance, you can't have a girl show up to meet you, unless she happens to live there. Less punished than ridiculed, would be to miss a Thursday night for sexual reasons. Another line for which crossing results in a rap on the knuckles (or, more precisely, having the group-list emails condensed into a "digest" that you won't receive until the end of the day, which, because so much of Thursday planning happens on Thursday, generally means you miss a week) is saying you'll come, and then not showing up. So, anyway, that's what Ian did this Thursday. The only noise that was made about it, had to do with his having "sand in his vagina", which is understood to be the common cause for any temporary inability to bend to the will of the group. As we were wondering where he might be, Andy voiced the fear that maybe he'd been hit by a car on his bike, and we all started talking about bike accidents. I texted Ian, "Sand? Vagina?", and he wrote back later, to the group, that, sorry, he was feeling sick. Various other sand and vagina emails crossed the wire the next morning, to which I replied:
Yes... the tribunal will surely have to conduct some investigations here: whether it was sand lodged in Ian's vagina, or something Ian lodged in someone else's vagina (i.e., another instance in which Ian "put his dick in" something or other [which, I should note, is what Ian frequently claims to have done in any given plate of food or mug of drink]), it was indubitably genital related. And regardless--the record will show that the sacrosanct phrase "I'm in" was irrevocably and electronically uttered... Actually, I'm kinda curious about the by-laws there: as I was eating my nutritious, lo-carb dinner last night, running late to the event, I wondered briefly if there was a deadline by which I might legitimately send "I'm no longer in", or if that's even permitted once "in" is sent. Regardless, there we were, a gang of grown men, drinking grown men's drinks (with the exception, perhaps, of Dwight), veritably reduced to clucking like a gaggle of mother hens about whether or not Ian might have gotten hit on his bicycle! The ignominy! The defeat of all things masculine and true! I'd shake my head and "tsk", but I'm afraid that may be a remnant of hen, I'm not even sure anymore... how humiliating.
To which Byron, who ultimately is the strictest adherent to, and author of, whatever passes for the aforementioned 'by-laws', responded that, "We may have to set daemonsquire to need approval for all his emails to the group for this one". And this brings us, finally, to the whole reason I'm even including this addendum. I wrote back to the group, "Have I crossed a line? Of course... but wait! It was all irony! Whatever I said, I meant the opposite! Except when I didn't. This is a cry for help! I don't even know what I mean anymore! I need approval!"

But that's not all! I'm bringing it all home here! A few months back, I was in front of the tube, and for some reason, Grease II was on--I don't know if it's relevant. But at some point, I swear, just out of the blue, into my head popped, "I'm so hungry for approval that for fear of disappointing myself, I'll just drop my standards". By the following morning, it had its own tune, which, I'm pretty sure, didn't come from Grease II. In fact, it occurred to me, it was very reminiscent of the tune to which I recalled having hummed, "If only I were more self-aware, I'd be less self-conscious" last year. So, in one of my rare displays of real-time awareness of my own technological capabilities, concurrent with a creative impulse, that very morning, I quickly cobbled together a multitrack recording of myself, without ever leaving the couch, humming and tapping my way through what I now present to you, the theoretically existential blog viewer/listener, my solo recording debut: Complexity is Easier to Destroy than to Create:

It's, like, just... well, two lines of a whole unwritten, terribly depressing song! I think I can hear a little inner, whatsisname, Elliott Smith in there! Sure, only two lines, but if I just say those two lines over and over again... and the title could be a third line! Fill in the rest with massive noisy guitar riff, and... cut, print, done! Hey, now, that was fun! Happy Birthday to me!

[I just wikipedia'd "Elliott Smith", to make sure that's who I was talking about, and noticed that, in the picture atop his page, he's wearing a "Bocephus" shirt that looks an awful lot like the one I convinced a woman on the assembly line at Westvaco to give me, off her back, when I worked there, on a summer job, two decades ago, and still have and wear to this day! Soul brothers, Elliott and I--and Bocephus!]

One final note: last week, we were back in Massachusetts, at Deb's family's cabin on the lake. I bought a copy of Harper's to read, lolling on the dock, and it included this passage from the grant request a couple of Princeton professors tried to forward to Lockheed Martin, to study the uses of irony in national defense. "Excitingly", the proposal concludes, "such systems could be understood as the tangible culmination of a 2,500-year humanistic Western project of making words matter". Their university declined to submit it, but still: I can see that my own efforts to grasp this phenomenon, while crude and rudimentary by Ivy League standards, should serve me well in the coming ironapocalypse!


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