Day 194: A word from our sponsors.

Originally scheduled for Wednesday, July 13.

The Book was — ostensibly, anyway — sponsored by Stockham Management Consultants, Inc. I’m not sure what to do with that, having so recently badmouthed life coaches.

I’m ambivalent about sponsorship. Not the part where money is given by one party (usually a corporation) to another party — hell, I’d love a corporate sponsor — but the part where only certain such givings of money count as ‘sponsorship’.

Racecar drivers are covered in corporate logos (well, their cars and uniforms are, anyway); we know who the sponsors are. There are images of politicians similarly covered in logos; this is clever, and useful if it gets people thinking about politicians as more indebted to their corporate sponsors than to their constituents. Its usefulness is limited, though, because it reinforces the belief that sponsorship is unidirectional.

Or, rather, the idea of sponsorship itself reinforces the belief that economic transactions are somehow simple and straightforward; furthermore, the sponsoring of things by corporations works to justify and naturalize the consolidation of money and power in the hands of corporations and a certain elite class of individuals.

Obviously, though, the money used to sponsor things comes from somewhere, and at least some of it comes from us, the majority of Americans who are not ridiculously wealthy. Most corporations sponsor a NASCAR team; lots of folk buy things from corporations; therefore, lots of folk sponsor NASCAR teams — and then pay for the privilege of watching them race, if you’re into that kind of thing —— but even that is an excessively simplified account of the flow of the monies involved. I’m not an economist, though, so it’ll have to do.

I think the point I’m driving at is this: the practice of sponsorship allows average consumers to ignore the socio-political implications of their spending. Corporations have enough money to be sponsors — enough money, that is, for the deployment of it to ‘mean something’ — whereas the average consumer never deploys ‘mean something’ money.

Except that every cent counts. All money ‘means something’. And people are starting to realize it: look at Kickstarter, TopatoCo, etsy — and a bunch of other sites I don’t know — that are designed to bypass ‘the way business is done’ and connect producers and consumers more directly, so that money spent ‘means more’. The emphasis on buying locally comes from the same place.

It’s so easy, though, to ‘buy locally’ or ‘support the artist’ and then feel smug and self-righteous, like one has done one’s duty, and like one doesn’t have to think about what one is supporting when one fills up one’s SUV with 93 octane gas and then drives it half a mile to sit in a drive-thru and buy coffee at a corporately-owned coffeeshop.

Real responsibility — fiscal and otherwise — requires thought, work, compromise, and sacrifice, and people don’t like to have to do those things on a daily basis, as a way of life — because easy is, well, easier.


Day 155: Confess to a priest.

Man, I haven’t been to confession in … hmmm … well, it’s been over a decade.

I was raised Roman Catholic, and confession is sort of their thing. I know I went at least once, before First Communion — a requirement — and my guess is that I was also required to go before Confirmation. It’s possible that I went a third time, voluntarily, but I don’t remember.

Halfway through high school, I started going to a more-or-less Anglican church. I went to confession there a few times, and it was, on the whole, a less-than-helpful experience. I haven’t ever gone back.

I don’t like confession. I dislike it because it’s about one thing, and one thing only: power. The priest has all of it, and the confessor none. The priest hears, judges, prescribes penance; the confessor does (or not) the penance assigned. One commands, the other obeys.

This is a cynical view, I know, and I realize that not all — maybe not even most — particular instances of confession do not embody this power differential. It’s always present, though, in the structure of the sacrament. The confessional derives its power from guilt, shame, and fear, which work to make the confessor more abject and powerless and the priest — the structure — therefore more powerful.

Confession is not for the confessor; it exists to reinforce the structure. That’s why it doesn’t work. I, at least — and I’m betting I’m far from alone in this — always confessed the same thing at confession, and no amount of post-confession Hail Marys did anything to help me quit doing the thing in question (urinating on squirrels, if you must know). If I were to indulge my cynicism, I’d say that confession is like a drug dealer running a rehab clinic: you’re not going to come out clean, because that would be bad for business. They want you to stay hooked. (As an aside: you should all read PKD‘s novel A Scanner Darkly, and/or see the film.)

I won’t indulge cynicism that far, though. I’ll content myself with pointing out that priests are not counselors; they’re trained to hear you talk about pissing on squirrels, but not to help you not piss on them: which is unfortunate, because people need the latter much more than they need the former.

I eventually got help with my squirrel-pissing problem, and several other things that turned out to be related, because I went to a fucking professional — fucking being an intensifier, and not an indicator of her area of specialization — counselor (therapist, psychiatrist, whatever). It worked, because she knew what she was doing, and because we were equals: the sessions were structured as conversations, and not as depositions.

Of course, I still piss on the occasional squirrel, I just don’t feel bad about it afterward. Make of that what you will.

Day 149: Help resolve an intractable global geopolitical crisis!

The way I see it, most intractable global geopolitical crises have two possible solutions: everyone involved can take Wil’s advice and stop being dicks, or a neutral third party can kill the lot of them. That’s pretty much it, really.

Let’s look at Israel and Palestine: the Israelis could begin by recognizing that Britain and the UN just took away part of Palestine and said it was now Israel, and acknowledging that that’s something that might piss one off; the Palestinians (and the rest of Israel’s Arab neighbors) could in turn acknowledge that the Israelis have some right to live there, and a right to self-governance.

I have no basis for this, but I think a fair number of Israelis and Palestinians already feel this way, and that there’s a relatively small percentage of people in each country who are huge dicks (and who probably have small dicks, because that’s how this sort of thing seems to go). Those people – the dicks, the ones who are fucking things up for everyone else – should be shot. Maybe they should get a chance to reform, but it can be hard to stop being a dick, and most people don’t want to make that effort, so it’s probably easier just to shoot the dicks from the get-go.

This works for all the protests and uprisings happening in the middle east, too. Qaddafi was a dick, and so was Mubarak, and so is al-Assad: if they’d all just quit being dicks, everything would be cool. Those that can’t not be dicks, get shot. Or arrested, and tried, and then shot, if we want to comfort ourselves with the illusion of justice.

There’s a point at which this policy might become problematic, though: it doesn’t scale well. Someone on the bus or the subway talking loudly and obnoxiously on a cell phone is being a dick, definitely, and it would be better for everyone if that person were not being a dick – but murder is not the answer. A box on the ears, maybe? Some stern language? Cat poop in the face? (Everyone carries cat poop with them, right?)

The problem is, there’s money to be made in being a dick. There’s also money – probably more money – to be made convincing other people to be dicks. To wit: Being a dick is easier than not being one, in the sense that it’s more convenient and requires less effort. People who sell things to Americans are able to sell more things, and more useless and poorly designed things, to people who care about convenience and ease more than anything else. We’re a nation of dicks because the Man wants us to be that way.

So: tell the man to go fuck himself. Quit buying shit, get over yourself, and don’t be a dick.

Day 83: Demonstrate the arbitrariness of human timekeeping.

The Book wants me to do this by calling a friend “across an ocean” and disturbing their sleep. There are, however, two problems with this—

—I always find a way to have problems with the tasks, I know, but that’s what makes this fun, so just deal with it—

—the first problem being that I have no friends across any oceans, and the second being that I don’t like to talk on the phone. Fortunately, there’s another way for me to “demonstrate the arbitrariness of human timekeeping” – Daylight Saving Time, which started while it was still winter this year.

I hate Daylight Saving Time. I hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. I hate it with a hatred that precedes reason, though I think there are valid reasons to dislike – though probably not to hate – DST.

I used to decry DST precisely for its arbitrariness, for the casual way in which we decide – or go along with the decision – to ignore solar time and do our own thing. I don’t mind the arbitrariness so much anymore, because our globalized world requires a bit of arbitrariness: clock noon and solar noon are only the same time in a narrow band of longitude in an given time zone, and there’s not really a workable way around that.

The primary reason I hate DST these days is that it’s a completely ineffective solution for the problems it purports to address. It’s like putting a band-aid on some dude’s toe when his wife is having a heart attack, and declaring the problem solved.

More hours of daylight leisure time is good, sure: more hours of leisure time, period, is even better. I have only my own experience and anecdotal evidence to support this, but I think that productivity in a lot of industries would go up if the number of hours an individual employee worked went down. I have a feeling that the average cubicle-dweller gets three hours of real work done in a given eight-hour day – less if the day is full of meetings – but that the same worker might get five hours of real work done in a five-hour day.

Such a solution, though, would require radical and fundamental changes to the values that drive our economy, and the first would be removing the economy from its primacy of place in our society: the pursuit of wealth is, I think, far more important to most people than life, liberty, and happiness – or, at least, we are constantly told that we ought to value material accumulation above all else, because material accumulation is what makes everything else (life, love, liberty, happiness) possible.

Another really important change would involve making it possible for more people to work at what they love, because that sort of work isn’t really work, in the sweaty-bitter-toil-and-anguish sort of way: it’s still labor, but a good and joyful sort of labor, even when its difficult. I work much more than 40 hours a week – but very little of it is unpleasant, and most of it is what I would do if I were independently wealthy (that is, read and write all the time).

More vacation time would be good, too: at most places, you’re lucky to get two weeks, and many people are forced to use that time during holidays. When I worked at Starbucks, which is fairly progressive for an American corporation, I had to use half my annually-allotted vacation time if I wanted more than a day off at Christmas (and I usually had to make the request six months in advance, because everyone wants time off at Christmas, and nobody gets any, because everybody else wants to go to fucking Starbucks or Wal-Mart or wherever on their holidays, &c &c – you can probably finish the rant on your own, and if you can’t, maybe you should try working a retail job for a few months).

It may seem that I’ve gotten a little off-track, but really I haven’t. We nonchalantly decide that, for nearly eight months of the year, noon should happen at 11 a.m. – and this nonchalance about time-keeping reveals a much deeper flaw in our attitudes toward time-spending. We – as a society, notwithstanding individual exceptions – we believe that our lives ought to be work and toil and accumulation, but never enjoyment. A moderate amount of work is not just necessary, but its own sort of good; but in work, as in so many things, we have such trouble with moderation.

My advice? Work less, live more, and don’t worry about having a glass of wine at 11 a.m., especially when the clock tells you it’s actually noon.

Day 32: Tonight control your dreams.

Hedgehog. Aeroplane. Midget.

I was supposed to think about these things all day, in an attempt to get them to show up in my dreams tonight.

This morning, while drinking my first cup of coffee, I spent a solid five minutes repeating the words “hedgehog –aeroplane – midget” to myself, very quietly, like a mantra or prayer or incantation. Hedgehog, aeroplane, midget – hedgehog, aeroplane, midget – hedgehog, aeroplane, midget.

Then I went about my day. When I wasn’t being interrupted by children, or making coffee, or wasting time, I was reading Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John (spoiler alert: John dies). The reading didn’t go as quickly as it could have, because I kept misreading words – I was seeing midgets and hedgehogs and aeroplanes on every other line. I couldn’t keep myself from picturing all the characters as short and spiny – and Philip the Bastard was exceptionally spiny:

Ha, midget-sty! how high thy hedgehog tow’rs
When the rich aeroplanes of kings are set on fire!
O, now doth Death line his midgets with hedgehogs,
The spines of hedgehogs are his teeth, his fangs,
And now he feasts in his aeroplane on the flesh of midgets.
…Cry ‘havoc!’ kings, back to the hedgehog’s field,
You equal midgets, fiery kindled aeroplanes!
Let confusion of one midget confirm
The hedgehog’s peace. Till then: blows, blood, and death!

And so on, every chance he gets. Bastard.

I’m not sure if any hedgehogs or aeroplanes or midgets will show up in my dreams – and, if so, whether or not they’ll be speaking in blank verse – but they’ve sure been running through my mind all day. I’ll post a follow-up tomorrow morning – so for now, have good (hedgehog-free) dreams.