Day 236: Test the butterfly effect.

Originally scheduled for August 24.

“Chase a butterfly away from its flight pattern to disrupt meteorological systems worldwide.”

I saw no butterflies today. If I had, and I’d chased them from their flight patterns, would it have actually changed anything, or was I always going to have chased them, and so the real change would have been to not chase them away, except that path wasn’t and never was open to me?

…no, nevermind, I’m not going there this evening.

This is why we have narratives, right? To make sense of all the impossibly small and unknowable factors that make up big, complex, world- or life-changing events? I and my two of my friends and colleagues read Clarissa over the summer — and I promise I’ll write at least one last post about it at some point — and at least one of the things going on in that novel is an attempt (or parallel attempts) to figure out what happened, what thing or things propelled the paragon of virtue into the power of a libertine who eventually raped her, and how those things (and which of the things?) lead to her death. (And thus I reduce 1,500 pages of densely-printed text to one long and cumbersome sentence.)

We need narratives: nothing makes sense without them. At the same time, narratives make sense of things by ruthlessly trimming away all sorts of things that might or might not be important, and by loading down the things that are left with all the scraps and shavings of importance that the ruthless trimming left behind.

Anybody remember Day 43? (I didn’t, really.) An exercise in trimming, which is what this post needs, despite being barely 300 words long — all of it a digression, digressing from nothing in particular. My thoughts are the butterflies, and I’m chasing them around, fueled by bleary-eyed tiredness and bourbon, and it would defeat the point of this day’s task to edit, to revise — choosing one word instead of another, over and over, is what got me here instead of wherever it was I thought I was going when I started out.

Well, there you go. Time for bed.


Day 204: Be completely serious.

Originally scheduled for Saturday, July 23.

I am always serious. I am, as they say, all business.

That is a thing that they say, people, and they say it with good reason.

Once upon a time, children, I went on a road trip, from north Texas to Idaho. I went with two friends — whose names won’t be mentioned — and we drove straight through, without stopping, in three-hour shifts. It was a good time, after a certain fashion.

Somewhere in western Montana or southeastern Idaho, we stopped at a gas station. Inside the gas station, there was a casino — a small one, obviously. My friends wanted to play the slots; I said no, and not just no but hell no. It was, for the record, sometime after midnight.

That was the first strike, as it were. Our stay in Idaho — we were there to check out Diedrich Manufacturing, makers of fine coffee roasters, because we were in our early twenties and going through our let’s open a coffeeshop phase — I say, our stay was uneventful. Enjoyable, even.

On the way home, though, somewhere in the middle of the country — it all looks the same after you’ve driven through it enough — we pulled off the highway and into some field for some reason that is still unknown to me. I was asleep at the time, in the backseat, and woke up to find us in the middle of a goddamn field, with a goddamn horse nibbling on the hood of the car.

Apparently, I said Why are we in a field, and why are there horses?!

Since then, well, everyone has known that I’m all business. Always.

Day 193: Spend as much time as possible in the sun.

I tried, really I did. And it was sunny in the early afternoon, and I was outside, at least some — but then it got cloudy and rained all day.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a lizard. Lizard loved the sun — this is as nature intended, as Lizard, being a lizard, was an ectotherm, and Sun gave Lizard warmth. Sun gave warmth to many things, and Lizard especially loved large rocks, which held the warmth Sun had given them long into the cool of twilight.

One day, as Lizard was basking in the afternoon sun, the sky filled with clouds. Lizard was troubled; clouds blocked the warmth of the sun, and Lizard relied on that warmth. As a cool rain began to fall, Lizard retreated to his nest under the ground. It was warm enough in Lizard’s nest, but the warmth of the dirt was far inferior — in Lizard’s opinion, anyway — to the vibrant and powerful warmth that Sun provided.

It rained all evening, and into the night. Lizard slept fitfully, and awoke at dawn, to find the sky still filled with clouds and the rain still falling.

The rain fell without ceasing for six days, and Lizard seldom stirred from his nest, and then not for long. Lizard began to fear that Sun would never again appear, that the rain had quenched its fire, and that all warmth would soon be gone from the world — and then what would Lizard do?

But the rain did stop, in the small hours of the sixth night, and the next day dawned bright and clear. Lizard went out, and rejoiced, and spent the day in the sun. When the afternoon was waning, he sought out his favorite rock, and basked in the warmth that came down from Sun and the warmth that came up from the rock. He drifted between sleeping and waking, and stayed basking on the rock longer than he ought —

— and Owl swooped down on him, and devoured him, and Lizard was no more.

Day 187: Pick up litter today.

Imagine yourself in early 18th century London. You’re a domestic servant in some inn or other, and one of your duties is emptying the chamberpots. Where are you going to empty them? Into the streets, down the centers of which ran open gutters.

In 1710, Jonathan Swift published a poem — titled “A Description of a City Shower” — which describes the “Filth of all Hues and Odours” that rainwater running down a gutter carries with it: “Dung, Guts, and Blood, / Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud, / Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood.”

As filthy as all this is — and it’s definitely filthy, and a paradise for infectious diseases of all sorts — it’s preferable to littering.

Shit, piss, vomit, blood, guts, kitchen scraps, dead animals: all of this is organic, part of the enormous and perpetual process of decay and growth that we call life. Shit in the open sewer is going to be eaten by whatever it is that eats shit, and eventually that shit is going to end up in some sort of plant, which will be eaten by some sort of animal, and at least some of it will — after a long and transformative journey — end up eaten by a human being.

(As an aside: anytime you smile while eating, you have a shit-eating grin on your face.)

Think about the litter you’ve seen recently: what was it? Piles of excrement, dead animals, discarded entrails? Probably not. Rather: beer cans, glass bottles, wrappers of various food-shaped substances, styrofoam, cigarette butts. Diapers. Pieces of tire on the highway. Plastic. Rusted metal. Things that aren’t food for anything.

The fact that we throw away so much that isn’t edible — so much that, being inedible, just accumulates — is only part of the problem with littering. I’m not sure I can go in to the rest of the problem, though, because — at least as I look at it — littering is a synecdoche for everything (or most things, anyway) that are wrong with this country.

Laziness. Apathy. Disrespect. Self-centeredness. Vapidity. Stupidity. Cupidity. A total lack of concern for one’s fellow humans, and — worse — a complete and fundamental failure to realize that there are things on this planet other than human beings that have as much right to live and thrive as we do. People who litter are the same people that kick puppies. People who litter urinate on babies. People who litter are like Stalin or Pol Pot, except worse. People who litter should be forced to eat the shit they throw on the ground, and then they should be forced to eat actual shit.

In all seriousness: I don’t like people who litter. I especially don’t like people who litter deliberately. They are bad people.

And, for the record, I did actually pick up some litter today, in addition to writing this tirade.

Day 183: Sense-less day.

“Go through today with out your sense of smell.”

Let me tell you how well my sense of smell works on a normal day: not well.

Once upon a time, by which I mean last April 1st — and despite the fact that April 1st is a day on which people say things that aren’t true, this story I’m about to unfold for you is entirely true — I went down to campus. It was a Friday, and I taught at noon. I got there early, for some reason I no longer remember, but I was in the office shortly after nine, which means I left the house no later than seven — I have 45-mile drive to the train station, which can take upwards of an hour during rush hour, then a thirty-minute train ride, then a ten-minute walk. If I left the house at seven, the children were probably not yet awake, and I probably didn’t make myself an espresso, because the grinder and the espresso machine are loud, and would have woken them up. Not having had coffee doesn’t excuse explain what happened, but it was certainly a contributing factor.

I wore a pair of Doc Martens, the soles of which look like this (and you really have to click that “this” to understand the rest of the story. I’ll wait).

I got to the office. I sat down. I started working. I smelled a smell, though I was not sure what it was that I smelled. I ignored it, thinking it was a transient smell. I smelled it again, several minutes later. I began looking for the source of the smell.

You see where this is going, right?

I must have stepped in the dog shit as I was getting into my car — because it’s sidewalks all the way down all the way from the train station to my office — which means it was on my shoe for hours before I finally smelled it.

I repeat: dog shit — dog shit — on my shoe, for hours before I noticed it.

That’s how well my sense of smell works.

Day 176: Belatedly, and not according to plan.

Day 176 was “Free Pet Day” — I was tasked with creating a vague-enough-to-fit-lots-of-animals “lost pet” flyer, posting it around town, and thereby acquiring a pet that someone else lost.

I don’t need another pet: we have two dogs, and soon we’ll have a cat, once it gets big enough to fend off the dogs. So rather than creating a sort-of-convincing flyer, I went with a variation of the Have you seen this dog? / I have now joke. I printed up 20 or so of the flyers, and was going to post them up in a local park that has a walking/running path. I kept putting it off, because it’s hot out all the time, and I could never get up and moving early enough that I wouldn’t break a sweat just walking outside.

And then, yesterday, our dogs ran away.

This isn’t the first time: they escape periodically, run around for a bit, and then come back — and usually we notice they’re gone almost immediately, and go get them. Yesterday, though, even though we knew they’d escaped pretty soon after the fact, they had disappeared by the time we (well, Lorna and the kids) went out looking for them.

They didn’t wander back in a timely manner. We called the pound; no luck. Late in the afternoon, I put up “lost dog” flyers; no calls, yet. We’re hoping that someone took them in, and will see one of the flyers soon, and then we’ll have our dogs back. If they don’t ever come back to us, we’ll just tell ourselves that they found a different good home, and are happy.

And we’ll have a cat, at least.

…stupid fucking dogs.


Day 174: Body hair day.

I’m a moderately hairy guy, somewhere between a male underwear model and Robin Williams.

I’m comfortable with the amount of body hair I have — happy with it, even, even the hair on my feet and toes, though my feet aren’t as hairy (or as hardy) as hobbit feet. Mostly I ignore my hair, because I try to be as low-maintenance (at least with regards to my appearance) as possible. I get a haircut — the same haircut, as it were — every six to eight weeks. I trim my beard every three or four weeks. All the other hairs get left alone.

That’s not entirely true. I trim my nose hairs. I don’t do it for aesthetic reasons, but because longer nose hairs, especially during allergy season, which is all the time when what you’re allergic to is plant life — anyway, long nose hairs accumulate mucus (boogers), which impedes the flow of air. Honestly, I know it’s time to trim the inside of my nose when I have trouble breathing through it. Now you know.

I also trim my ear hairs: I have them in the valley between the tragus and the anti-tragus (and I’m not going to lie, I had to look that up), but I also get them on my goddamned earlobes. I’ve only recently noticed them, and I am not exaggerating at all when I say I had earlobe hairs that were four inches long.

Trimming my ear hairs is — and I can say this honestly — my one act of appearance-related vanity. I mean, I like to look good, and I put a minimum amount of effort into it, but not that much. On an average morning — including the mornings of the days on which I teach, an activity for which I have to look reasonably presentable — my rolling-out-of-bed-to-dressed-and-ready-to-leave time is five minutes, and that’s only because it takes me three minutes to find my shoes. I spend more time making my morning espresso than I do on my appearance, and I’m still the most attractive person in the department (as well as the most humble, as ought to be obvious — and I’m a bit ashamed of myself for making such an passé joke, but I’m going to let it stand).

Where was I? Right, right, body hair. I’m not sure I have anything else to say. Body hair is awesome, let it grow, embrace your inner primate, &c.

Also: don’t do a google image search for “hairy” — or “hairy [noun]” — and that includes “hairy noun,” for fuck’s sake — and yes, I did several a few —— don’t search for “hairy” and expect to get much besides porn.

Now you know.