Noun

Neurotica: (n.)

Sordid tales of sexual anxiety, misfortune, and embarrassment.

///

Okay. I’ve got an idea for you. Hold on to your butts. This one’s a doozy of a humdinger.

Open-mic… stick with me… Therapy Night.

Once a month – maybe twice – I’ll post up at some dingy bar or event space, and encourage society’s broken and bereft, demented and depressed to share their insides with strangers.

Five minutes. Open mic. Have a drink and tell me about your dad.

I’m convinced it would slay.

But then, I’m big on catharsis. Doubly-so if it’s public.

Triple if it’s pubic.

In full candor – it’s not my idea. It was a throwaway gag in a teeerrriibllee (see: wooonnndeeerrfulll) romantic comedy from the late 90s/early ’00s about a neurotic dweeb who falls in love with his best friend. It’s called “Let it Snow” and I’ve seen it probably five thousand times because my mother raised me to be a doily.

It was the maudlin opus of the implausibly named Kipp Marcus – who I’m 98% sure composed his own Wikipedia page. Bernadette Peters plays his mother and is, in accordance with every conceivable law of existence, absolutely perfect.

A then-unknown Stephen Colbert plays a minor but brilliant role. Seriously. Find this movie. Watch the whole thing. Twice. You’ll be better for it.

Extra knowledge, no charge: I adore shitty romantic comedies. Especially the vein of schmaltzy, meet-cute pap that flourished from the mid-90s to the early 00s. I consider it the height of the depth of American binnable pop culture. If you’re looking for a map to the labyrinth of my heart… look no further than what played on HBO at four in the afternoon, circa 2002.

Anyway. Back to Open Mic Therapy Night.

Here’s the thing – it scratches a bunch of my itches.

For one, I think it makes for great theater. Bad news makes always makes for the best stories. Any success I’ve had at storytelling (and I’ve had a bit) has owed to two simple and conjoined precepts:

  1. When you’re being ugly, you’re being honest. And honesty is what makes people lean forward, listen, and care.
  2. There is nothing more boring than someone else’s good news.

So as a form of public theater and entertainment… I think it’s a peach.

But I also think there’s something potentially healing about it.

There’s something cleansing about getting on stage and being as ugly and honest and raw as you can to a room of boozy silhouettes. Everyone gathered to swim in each other’s uglies… not celebrating our accomplishments – to dance, or sing, or tell jokes, or strip and wiggle… but our failures. The things we’re ashamed and afraid of.

Failed in love? Let’s hear it.

Got some warped sexual urges? Spill em.

Hate your kid? That’s okay, too.

Feel sometimes that the whole world is a crushing black nothing, and that we’re all just kicking around, waiting for something tragic and awful to happen if merely to confirm that you’re not crazy for feeling that way in the first place? The mic is yours.

I just love it. Everyone there, together… listening. Nodding and mm-hmm-ing. Judging. Celebrating. Commiserating. And ultimately, applauding.

It’s the ultimate catharsis.

It’s Jungian karaoke.

Guh. Sign me up.

Standard
Noun

Drivebye: (n.)

A rapid and indiscriminate farewell made while exiting.

///

You’re tired.

Your feet hurt.

You’ve partied enough.

You don’t even remember why you came to this party.

And there’s an uncomfortably good chance you were responsible for the toilet overflowing.

Time for a hasty exit. Are you actually going to shake everyone’s hand? Hug everyone you said hi to?

No way. Huggin’s for chumps.

Bye!Solong!hugandkiss!talksoon!Loveyou!Takecare!Gottago!NahI’mtired!Goodtoseeyoutoo!SayhitoBarnoldforme!HahaIknowBarnoldissuchagreatname!NoI’dlovetostay!Yeahlunchsoundsgreat!

Door.

Car.

Home.

Netflix.

Standard
Noun

Generalismo: (n.)

One who speaks with absolute authority, while being the authority on absolutely nothing.

///

As a member of the human race with eyeballs, ears, and a functioning neocortex, I’ve developed many reasons for loathing Donald Trump. With any luck, if you’re reading this, you’ve got a few of your own. Just in case you want to borrow some, here are a few of mine. Ya know… just for kicks:

He’s a greasy flimflam man who’s conned, corrupted, and bilked thousands of people out of their money. He’s a low rent panic merchant, sowing fear and hate with abandon. He’s a hysterical, thin-skinned reactionary. A misogynistic twerp. A crooked huckster. An exultant failure. A wrath-brimmed bully. A gaudy dilettante. He’s a bigot. A brute. A sleaze. An ass. A fool.

During his candidacy alone, he:

Cheerfully advocated for torture; the construction of a border wall with no sane explanation how to fund it; he suggested our military should murder families simply under suspicion of their being related to terrorists; blithely stated that abortion should be criminalized; he’s mocked the disabled; banned journalists; he somehow remains in thrall to the misapprehension that dousing an object in gold renders it a veneer of elegance. Drunk on a cocktail of wrath, vanity, and good ol’fashioned racism he prolonged a fight with the parents of a soldier who died in service for his country; he actually called Hillary Clinton the devil, and kicked a crying baby out of one of his rallies. 

Class act, this guy.

Donald Trump is a man who stands in cross-armed opposition to the most basic civic virtues of this country. And grins.

He is a pauper of the soul.

Nothing about this is shocking. We all know about it. Because he’s been this way for as long as he’s been famous. And he’s been famous, I’m sorry to say, for my entire time on this planet.

But still… there’s something about Donald Trump that I loathe beyond all else. It rivals his vulgarity, his combativeness, his classless narcissism.

It’s his vagueness.

His sniveling, abject vagueness… and the cowardice that’s behind it.

Donald Trump has turned vagueness into the most devastating weapon of our age. Forget about the hats – vagueness was the brand of his entire campaign. And now that he won, it continues to be the grease with which he lubricates his bullshit machine.

It’s how he’s soared to such infamy… on the oily wings of sloganeering, bullshit, and innuendo.

Vagueness. It’s the sludge that’s toxified our discourse, threatened our civic order, and advanced his own personal agenda. It’s the act of a spineless, soulless twerp without purpose or conviction… and if we had even a sip of the quick spirit of our founders we’d have driven him and his nest of zealots, cranks, creeps, nazis, and goalongs into the sea with the rest of the bottom-feeders.

When Donald Trump speaks, facts evaporate. They are rendered irrelevant. Utterly. We need only know that with Trump, we’ll get the “best” of whatever’s there to offer. The very best. Better than you could ever believe. Many people say it’s the best. Many very, very smart people.

We joke about this.

Even America’s would’ve-been VP, and youth group talent show moderator, Tim Kaine has joked about this. We need not know the details of Trump’s plans. It’ll all be great. The best. Believe me.

Think of pretty much any Trump statement. He justifies every bizarre, racist, myopic, or invented truth by claiming to have heard them from, “plenty of people” or, “something I read” or, “people [who] tell me.”

When asked who he’d nominate to the Supreme Court, Trump responded: “really great legal scholars.”

When asked about his plan to cut corporate taxes in the face of our country’s $19 trillion dollar deficit, Trump said: “That’s right. We’re gonna grow the economy so much…”

In an interview with Scott Pelley, Trump mentioned how we need to “get back” jobs from Mexico, China, and Japan. “Everybody’s taking our jobs,” Trump explained. When asked how he would get these jobs back, Trump responded, confidently: “You get em back.”

Want to know about his economic team? “I have the smartest people on Wall Street lined up already.”

How will he finance civic improvements and his general attempt to “make America great again”? “We’re going to absolutely be able to pay for it. My economy will expand so rapidly– we’re going to take jobs back from other countries. And we will be able to pay for it.”

When challenged by NJ Senator (future president and captain of my soul) Cory Booker, Trump insisted: “I know more about Cory Booker than he knows about himself.”

Do you hear the innuendo? Do you see the circular logic? The bullshit. Can you smell it?There is no detail here. Not a jot. Not a comma. There’s no thinking. There’s no plan. No consideration. No dedication. No belief. There’s nary the flicker of a fucking neuron.

His every sentence is the rank exhaust of a mind unburdened by thought, consideration, or expertise.

He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And what’s worse… he doesn’t care.

Donald Trump knows about, cares about, and understands nothing. Nothing. He’s an idiot. And were this a different time, a different country, and I suppose were human beings not the dullards they seem so dead set to be… this would be an issue. But he wears his idiocy with gaudy confidence. Absolute, unquestioned, ironclad, fulminating confidence.

And this is what makes him so powerful.

Consider how cowardly this is. The cruelest cowardice. The kind of cowardice that, during wartime, would get you fucking shot. Trump uses this rhetorical vagueness to elide. To slither. To slime his way away from any responsibility for what he says or does. He’s turned the entire country on its head. He’s fomented racial, cultural, and religious fury. He’s urged violence at his rallies. He’s raging, insisting we tear the whole system down around us… yet is bereft of any plausible reason as to why, or any suggestion for what’s to be built after the rubble is swept away.

This is the linguistic equivalent of giving a pistol to an eight-year-old.

This is rhetorical terrorism.

And as such, it renders Donald Trump an enemy of this country, its principles, and its people.

He is a traitor to anyone who thinks, or cares, or loves.

Donald Trump is your enemy.

Let us be rid of him.

And soon.

Standard
Noun

Swallop: (n.)

The feeling of being clobbered in the chest by a hasty gulp from a carbonated drink.

///

One day, a few years ago, I’d taken my car in to the garage to have some expensive part re-expensived. After a mere five minutes I’d managed to annoy the mechanic, so when he offered to get me a ride back to my apartment (as it would take the day to re-expensive my car), I panicked and insisted that I could walk.

This was in August. In New Jersey. And the heat and humidity had already reached critical, mouth-like levels. This was also during the long chapter of my life when I refused to wear shorts (an almost Calvinist period of affected self-denial, courtesy of my 20s). So, leaving him my contact information, I trudged out the door and waded my way through a hundreds-degree swamp of blinding sunlight, and choking humidity.

In jeans.

For about four or five miles.

By the time I made it home, I was quite near death. I shambled into my apartment groaning like a madman. I unbuckled my jeans which, being completely soaked-through with sweat, dropped to the floor and pooled around my feet. I needed hydration desperately, so I flung open my refrigerator and grabbed a frigid bottle of seltzer water, which I downed in one sloppy, guzzling swig.

All was slaked and satisfied. All was crisp and cool. And in an instant… regret pierced relief like a knife in the heart.

The carbonation, all jazzed up by its whitewater splashing down my gullet, went full supernova in my esophagus. It felt like I’d swallowed a hot rock, or a fistfull of bees. My eyes watered, my ears rang. I listed about the kitchen like a drunkard, too dazed to be still, too beset to adequately flail. I pounded my hand on the countertop once, twice, the pressure building and building in my chest… as if at any moment a fount of seltzer would burst, Xenomorphically, through my ribcage and redecorate my kitchen in Panebianco Red.

Ready to pop, I reeled back, opened my mouth wide, groaned the guttural groan of the over-seltzered… and I burped. Burped a burp that was more than a burp – it was a kind of birth. A tearing, keening, muscle-knotting display of physiological theater.

A kind of meat opera.

I coughed. I drooled. I dabbed tears from my eyes. And finally I laughed – alone, in my underwear, standing in my kitchen beside an open refrigerator, my pants piled about my ankles, an upended bottle of seltzer glugging its remaining contents onto the floor. And, as ever, my brainless cat standing sentinel, gawping at me in abject befuddlement.

In another few seconds, that moment would be gone. I would wipe my face and pull my pants up… pat my cat on his furry head, and move on with my day. I’d cancel my car-contingent plans. I’d clean my cat’s litter box. I’d make a sandwich, and watch an episode of Frasier (no doubt). I’d return to the ordinary stuff of days that right now I couldn’t possibly recall with any accuracy.

But that episode with the seltzer bottle – that I can’t possibly forget. Moreover, it acts in my memory like a lens – bringing into sharp focus the moments that proceeded and followed it. Amid all the things I’ve forgotten – important and inconsequential alike – this day I remember in vivid detail. Had it not been for that idiot spasm of seltzer-fueled grotesquerie, followed by the absurdity of me in my undies, drooling like a doofus and wiping my face on my forearm… I wouldn’t remember that day at all.

That’s what a moment of foolishness does – it sticks in your memory like a pushpin through a photograph. It holds fast that which time and nature seem so dead-set to take away. And the only cost is a little bit of pride, and the reminder that your body is way more gross than you’d like to admit.

How lucky is that?

Standard
Noun

Hokum’s Razor: (n.)

All things being equal: the most simplistic explanation is the one most likely to be believed.

///

Okay. This is gonna be nuts.

I am going to prove the principle of Hokum’s Razor to you. And weirdly enough, there’s no better example of it than the word itself.

Stick with me, k?

Hokum’s Razor is a verbal riff on two things:

First – the word “hokum” which is a fun way of saying “nonsense.”

And Second – Occam’s Razor – the 14th century philosophical precept which most of us think means something like this:

“All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.”

Here’s the thing: That’s not what Occam’s Razor says.

It’s actually a line from the movie “Contact,” and is a slightly fancified way of putting this generally held scientific principle:

“When there are two competing explanations for an event, the simpler one is more likely.” 

Unfortunately, this principle also is not Occam’s Razor. It’s actually another simplification of an entirely different statement:

“We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”

This… also… is not Occam’s Razor. William of Ockham didn’t write that statement. Isaac Newton did. In his own reinterpretation of Occam’s Razor. Even friggin Newton wanted a chance at rewriting the goddamn thing.

So… what the hell is Occam’s Razor? Naturally, there are several different statements that scholars say are William of Ockham’s words. And, surprise surprise… they’re all in Latin.

I’m gonna give you my favorite one. Not that I read Latin. I don’t. It’s just the most impressive-sounding one. It it is:

“Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem”

Translated into English, this means – and I’m not kidding:

Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.

Like, really. That’s what it means in English. Don’t complicate shit… As if he knew people were going to spend centuries quoting and misquoting him.

Please join me as I soak in this perfect, bonkers irony.

 

As I was saying…

Do you see how I inadvertently proved my own point? I didn’t do this on purpose – I realized it after the fact.

I could have based the definition to Hokum’s Razor on that statement… on Occam’s actual Razor… but I didn’t. Because that statement (despite its precise language) is actually far more complicated a thought than Contact’s definition – “All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.”

Occam’s Razor is too tough an idea. Too unforgiving. It’s a precept often used by physicists to strip away faff, metaphysical irrelevancies – as strict and as serious as a carpenter’s rasp.

It’s too complicated.

I’m not smart enough to really understand it.

So I chose the simpler one.

And this… I think… is why we’re fucked.

We’re fucked because I’m dumb. And because I’m right.

When faced with a complex set of circumstances… most people will choose to believe whatever’s easiest to understand. Because the vast majority of us just don’t have the time for nuance. True complexity makes us itch. Even the moderately educated, and reasonably intelligent among us (hello!) don’t want to dedicate ourselves to the mastery of a concept.

We’re happy just to fudge it.

And that, I’m sorry to say, is why Donald Trump was destined to be our president.

Because on the one hand we had Hillary Clinton who (despite it all) is a sober-minded, dedicated policy machine. She’s a seasoned states-person, and a strict rationalist who understands and thrives on the complexities of the issues facing this country and the world at large.

And then there’s Donald Trump. He promised to, “Make America Great Again.”

Just as Bush distorted, packaged, and sold the War on Terror… because, “They hate us for our freedom.”

Just as religions elide their inconsistencies… because, “God works in mysterious ways.”

Just as the NRA will continue to obstruct gun restrictions… because, “the only thing to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Because the world is way too much to think about… and questions keep us up at night.

Because ignorance truly is bliss.

Standard
Noun

Horrorism: (n.)

1. Resolute political inaction in response to violence, death, and destruction.

2. A culture growing accustomed to Terrorism.

///

A man walks into a gay bar in Orlando and murders 49 people with a legally-purchased assault rifle.

We have a name for this.

We call it, “terrorism.”

In the days that followed, we responded in our own particular portrayals of grief – each role sickeningly familiar:

Most of us post messages of sorrow and outrage to social media. Many of those messages lead to arguments that lead nowhere. Our leaders confessed their heartache and frustration, while pundits and essayists ferreted out what’s to blame. One by one, our late-night funnymen (and woman!) added their newest statements of sorrowbewilderment, outrage, and solidarity.

The NRA, sniffing blood in the air, responded with their standard position of moral cowardice and reptilian self-interest.

That we’ve become so accustomed to this – the slaughter of our neighbors – and that our systems of government have been either unable or unwilling to muster any substantive action against it… that, I propose, requires its own term.

I call it “horrorism.”

I’ll explain…

Back in college, I had this really great Gothic Lit professor. He was born for the role. As if by mandate of the Greek muse of Irony: he was hollow-cheeked and gaunt, a morbid yet ultimately benevolent weirdo who looked entirely too much like Edgar Allan Poe. He lectured in a dreamy, faraway croak. His office was a book-strewn crypt in the basement of my campus’ oldest and most begargoyled building.

Oh, and his surname was the Italian word for dark.

All of this is true.

I was probably 19 when I took his class. Which, I’m sorry to say, was a while ago. And while most of his lectures have faded over time… one lesson sticks with me: the difference between Terror and Horror.

Now to you or me, terror and horror are pretty interchangeable. Were there some distinction to be drawn, it’d surely be a tedious and pedantic one. We can swap those terms in conversation without any major derailment of understanding. For example: as a borderline arachnophobe, it doesn’t really matter what I call the feeling I have about, say, a spider crawling up my leg – the outcome remains the same: I will rip off my clothes and set the couch on fire.

But there is a distinction to be drawn, though. And while it is predominantly a somewhat fusty, academic distinction… it’s still an important one.

Here’s the difference:

Terror comes first.

Terror is dread. It’s what we feel in anticipation of something horrible. In slasher movies, Terror is the coed reaching for the blood-smeared doorknob.

Horror is what she sees once she opens the door. It’s terror, realized. It’s what we’re left to live with once our fears have come to pass.

To paraphrase my Gothic Lit professor: Terror is the smell of a corpse in a dark room. Horror is what you see when you finally turn on the lights.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 23,965 “incidents” (by which they refer to shootings) this year.

141 of those incidents were classified as Mass Shootings.

6,149 people have been killed.

260 were children.

That gun violence of this magnitude can inflict itself on so many people without warning or reason – that it could happen to any one of us at any moment: that’s terror.

That even in the face of such unimaginable violence and sorrow – that this terror has become normalized by the feckless self-interest of our leaders, that we would rather fight about this online than see it changed in the world, that  billion dollar industries in this country thrive on the harm we cause one another, that millions of Americans would hold their desire to own a machine gun above another person’s right to not be murdered by one, that we could witness the murder of children and somehow be unmoved: that’s horror.

If we’re going to have to live with this as our new reality – I think it’s only fitting that we give it a name.

The fear of violence inflicted on us is terrorism.

But our inaction is a violence we inflict upon ourselves.

It’s time we call it what it is.

Standard
Noun

Languidge: (n.)

A dull, listless, and generally uninspired manner of speech or writing.

///

A few years ago, I was in a play. It was a Shakespeare play, and so I was as intolerable as you might expect – bursting around the room in fits of empurpled monologuery.

One evening at rehearsal, the director and I we’re discussing a certain scene I shared with another actor. Now, there are two things that are important to know here:

1. I didn’t understand what was happening in the scene.

2. The other actor and I didn’t like each other.

The other actor didn’t like me because, well, you’d have to ask him. I assume it’s because he thought I was difficult and obnoxious… both of which are fair observations about my personality.

I didn’t like the other actor because (aside from being a dull, tiresome human being) he didn’t bother to actually understand the words he was saying. He didn’t care to know. In truth, he didn’t really even seem to like Shakespeare all that much. He just liked being looked at. He’d have been just as happy standing up and eating a ham sandwich… so long as he was doing it on stage. Now, that’s a totally understandable experience… to get a thrill out of acting and performance (being noticed by other people). But comeon, man. Show a bit of bloody respect for the author – if nothing else, he’s the one who’s allowing you to get on stage in the first place.

Anyway.

So I’m talking with the director… and I’m trying to work out what the hell is going on. And the other actor’s sitting across from us, rolling his eyes and checking his cellphone.

After a minute or two it all clicks, and I realize what the scene is about. “Oh!” I say, “It’s a farce! I get it now!”

And the director claps me on the back and says, “Yes! Exactly,” and we exchange a pleasantry or two and then he walks away to help someone else.

I turn back to my scene partner, apologizing for the delay… and he glares at me and sneers:

“Why do you have to use big words?”

“Excuse me?”

“You. You use big words a lot. ‘Farce’ what’s that about?”

“But… the scene is a farce. Farce is the word you use to describe a farce…”

“It’s a big word.”

“It’s five letters long… how is that a big word?”

“I think you’re just being pompous.”

(and then I said something totally pompous)

“Well, no. I’m not. If you want to be technical… I was being pedantic. NOW I’m being pompous.”

///

Here’s the problem I have with this whole scenario:

Why is using a word… any word… a bad thing? How could that possibly be?

Why is an active and deliberate love of language, and more pointedly the use of a specific word anything other than wonderful? Words are always an opportunity. They can be anything – terse, clear, and simple… or something more florid… a overgrowth of phonemes and beautiful, wondrous syllabary. Words should be understood, studied, poked and prodded… and should always be celebrated. Anything else is a waste.

Or, to put it another way: Why am I pompous just because you don’t understand what I’m saying?

We are blessed to have our language. It’s the greatest invention – almost magical – how it takes even the most complex thought or idea, transmutes it into sound, wafts it through space and time and into your ear where it jangles an armature of impossibly tiny bones which sends crackles of energy through your nerves and into your brain where it’s molded back into an idea – all faster than you can think.

Words are thoughts suspended in glyph and song. They are magic. They are science. And with more words than any other language in the world, English itself is overwrought with bountiful opportunity. Lexicographically fecund one might (I might) say! Why don’t we dive in and swim and frolic and enjoy our language for its every syllable?

Shame on you for using the phrase as blank and odious as “big word” to diminish or deride.

Words are only big to people with small minds.

Standard