INSOMNIACAL BRIEFINGThe Midnight Rambler
Sept. 29 - It's coming up on two o'clock in the morning. I'm watching over Molli, who lies asleep in her stroller behind me as I write, because she seems to have come down with her first bug. Some kind of stomach thing. No fever or anything serious, just a lot of fatigue and an astonishing geyser of vomit all over us earlier in the evening. Frankly, if it wasn't for the fatigue she'd been exhibiting all day I think we would have chalked it up to a simple case of random projectile vomiting—something we have in fact dealt with once before. (On August 5: if nothing else, my compulsive blogging may at least prove useful as a medical history for Molli).
I've already done most of what I can do with the broad swath of time before me. My neurons have slowed down, now, and I'm a little too punchy and distracted to do any serious work, so I've decided to burn some of these midnight hours away on a pointless bloggish ramble. If you're in the mood, here we go. If you're not, I'll see you tomorrow—unless I need sleep, in which case I'll catch you on Friday.
* * *
I just got up to get a fresh cup of joe. When I peeked in on Molli as I came back to my chair I caught her smiling in her sleep. She's fine, I told myself, and I even believed me. But there's still no way I can sleep. Not yet.
* * *
Blogging is a new medium, but the bloggish-cum-almanac is an entirely unique medium. I can prove it: Googling "blog and almanac" produces zero results, and Googling "bloggish and almanac" produces just one—and you're there.
I don't mention that because I think it's particularly special, but because as long as we're slogging through this ramble with no particular place to go, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on some of the difficult editorial decisions I have to make in preparing this particular piece of internet flotsam. (If jetsam is debris in the air and flotsam is debris in the sea, shouldn't debris on the internet be netsam?)
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Greg, Moron, the concept of 'editorial decisions' requires the concept of editing, which isn't something readily apparent on your blog and almanac." And you have a point. But I'm not talking about the kind of editing where someone with clunky glasses and a fat red pencil tells me which words I've misspelled and which facts I've misstrewn. I'm talking about basic editorial decisions about content.
A couple of things drive the content on this site. First there is date-appropriate material of an historical or literary nature, such as Cervantes's birthday today. Secondly there are significant events or experiences in (or near) my own life, such as, say, the ongoing saga with Molli's name, or a friend's bachelor party, or the decapitation of a local icon. Thirdly, there are my moods. And they are legion.
Subjects in the first category are determined by nothing more significant than the date and my willingness to do a little research and mess it all up. Subjects in the third category are, by definition, determined by sheer whim. So it's only the second category that poses any actual difficulties.
The difficulties are obvious, and pretty well documented all over the blogosphere. What can one safely divulge of one's own life to the entire human race, and what should one keep one's mouth shut about? There's no answer. Some people blog openly and graphically about their sexual habits. Some people have photoblogs of toilets. Some people confine themselves to the political, or the sporting, or the cultural. Some people talk about the assholes they work or go to school with. Some people talk about their own families. And within each topic or specialty, there are dozens of subtopics or subspecialties. And with every entry, every blogger has to ask themselves the same questions: will this get me fired? Divorced? Disowned? Disinherited? Sued? Or what?
I worry about those things constantly, so maybe it's time to drop the fig leaf of "things other bloggers worry about" and cut to the chase: for all the details of my personal life that you get by perusing my blog, there's so much more I could tell you. I like to consider my reticence the consequence of a healthy respect for propriety, but I suppose it's mere cowardice.
Toward the end of April I grappled openly with this problem in terms of how it would affect my coverage of Studieskolen. My cover had been blown, and I didn't want to walk into class one day and be mugged by a furious classmate appalled at having been compared to, say, a brick of cheese. And yet there have been certain classmates I would very much have liked to have compared to bricks of cheese.
But that's just Studieskolen. There's also the question of family, friends, employment, and so on. By the time I get through all the filters I've imposed on myself ("must... not... expose... family... to ridicule..."), all the good stuff has been consigned to the bloggish room floor. Discretion may be the better part of valor, but it's dullsville on a blog.
* * *
What the hell am I trying to say? Good question. (Cups of coffee since first setting to work on this: one. Checks on Molli: about forty. Status of Molli: fine. Status of self: deteriorating. Speaking of self in third person not a good sign. Checks on Molli: about forty-one.)
* * *
Long-time readers by now have a pretty good sense of my politics. Newer readers may not. I'm what used to be called a "classical liberal," which is sort of like "conservative" these days, except it's philosophically conservative in a sense that a lot of today's conservative partisans seem to find appalling. It's also philosophically liberal in a way that a lot of today's liberal partisans find appalling. I have hardcore Republican friends who think a little too much nonsense rubbed off on me during all those years in the theatre, and I have hardcore liberal friends who think I've got some kind of latent fascist thing going on.
(It's coming up on three in the morning and Molli's doing just fine, but I just checked up on Trine and found her half-awake in bed watching television.)
Here's one of the weird conundrums I've wanted to talk about for a long time: I honestly think my hardcore conservative friends are more tolerant and open-minded than most of my hardcore liberal friends. This has baffled me for decades, since liberalism is supposed to be nothing if not tolerant. I've wanted to bring it up before on several occassions, but bit my tongue because it seemed like the kind of generalization that would only enrage my liberal friends (and readers) without telling my conservative friends (and readers) anything they didn't already know.
So what the hell.
Way back in the late 80's I was living a kind of double life: I was doing mostly conservative work for a bi-partisan public affairs firm even as I was negotiating my re-entry back into the world of theatre. I worked with some very hardcore professional conservatives by day and hung out with a lot of very hardcore liberal theatre people by night. The conservative professionals were always very interested in the theatre side of my life. They asked endless questions. They came to every theatrical fundraiser or opening I invited them to and enjoyed themselves immensely. The liberal theatre people were incessantly critical of my association with conservatives. They mocked them without even knowing them. They mocked me for wearing ties and enslaving myself to a corporate master. (Much better, by their way of thinking, to enslave oneself as a waiter and make a quarter of the income for the same hours.)
One day I actually got thrown out of a theatre project because I'd had the gumption to challenge the guy in charge of the project, an avowed Marxist director from France, when he amended the U.S. Constitution it with an imaginary and incendiary bit of obvious rancor. (I just browsed my old journals and found his exact line: "The fucking Constitution, the first line, the first words, say that the people are having the right to own and take property! The Constitution tells people they are okay to fuck eachother!") I pointed out as diplomatically as I could that the Constitution didn't contain any explicit of property that I was aware of, and that, even if it did, it was probably more with an eye toward protecting our rights to own property than urging us to screw one another over. He belittled me and called me a liar in front of a whole crew of my liberal theatre friends, and when I asked for a little support—"C'mon, guys, you all know the goddam Constitution, don't you?"—I was met with embarrassed, downcast eyes from all but two of my friends.
The next time I saw him was at a party for an actress friend we were hosting at our apartment. I presented our Marxist friend with copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence (in case he'd confused his documents) and asked him to point out the relevant paragraphs on private property. He waved the papers away contemptuously, then jabbed at them with his fingers saying (according to my journal from the period), "It's in here, property, to fuck eachother, all of it."
"You see," he sniggered to my peers, "the big baby has to go running for his bits of paper." Then he made fun of me for having a dishwasher in my apartment. My liberal theatre friends (with the same two exceptions) found the whole thing hugely amusing.
Later two of them suggested I meet with our Marxist friend privately "to work things out." I didn't see much to work out—he'd talked a lot of crap, I'd called him on it (with appropriate documentation), had even given him a chance to clarify his position, and he'd resorted to calling me names and denigrating my kitchen appliances and vowing never to work with such a monstroulsy deluded capitalist fool as myself.
Despite my better judgment I did have a private meeting with the Marxist director. He was an ass. I tried to reason with him. "We can have different philosophical outlooks and still get along," I offered.
"We cannot," he said. "I cannot work with someone who believes in capitalism."
If you've never had a French Marxist director hiss such a line at you across a table in that iconic little Chinese restaurant on Fountain Boulevard in Hollywood, you've missed a big part of the show biz experience. All the glamor and excitement of an intellectual life in the theatre distilled into its essence.
* * *
That was more than 15 years ago. Much more recently I was having a chat with a liberal friend about the Geneva Conventions. I'd just printed the treaty and read it for the first time in my life. My friend said something about our having violated it in such-and-such a way. I didn't think we had, and I said so. He insisted we had. I offered the printout to him. "Here's the treaty," I said. "Can you show me the part you're describing, 'cause I just read the damn thing and have no idea what you're talking about."
He literally hurled the printout across my living room and said, "That's your problem. You've always got to read things. I know what I know."
Another good example: in preparing to pitch my first book to publishers back in 1999, my agent suggested that if conversation with editors and publishers should turn to my background and experience, I ought to omit my work for a Republican campaign in 1988.
"The publishing industry's mostly pretty liberal," he said. Without a trace of irony he added, "They wouldn't understand."
The awful truth is that more of my "liberal" than "conservative" friends think that way: that feelings invalidate facts. That intuition outweighs reason. That people who don't think like them are inferior.
* * *
No, I don't think all liberals are intolerant Marxists or ideological bigots, but over the twenty-plus years of my adult life I've seen far more intolerance and bigotry among my more liberal friends and colleagues than I have among the more conservative. It's a simple observation. I know it's loaded, and I'm sure I'll be hearing from some of my liberal friends, but there it is.
* * *
Big break from about 3:30 to 4:00. Molli woke up, fussed a little, I gave her about 20ml of camomile tea with sugar, burped her, and put her back down. She's dozing almost blissfully now, but I've had about six cups of coffee, so what the hell. Trine'll be awake soon. Then I'll crash.
* * *
I should point out I've been talking about American liberals. I still don't understand European leftism. I honestly don't. But I should point out to my American readers that even a moderate Democrat in American politics would be considered a right-winger in Denmark.
* * *
I don't want to stew over politics any more. I'm angry to have wasted this much time on it already. But I'm beginning to realize I've been leading up to this all along.
Here's what I think. I think political ideology isn't much different from religious faith. Some people take what their parents give them. Some people find it on their own. Some people go along with their friends or lovers. Some people get it out of books or off television.
Just as every religion has its good and bad points, so does every ideology. Just as every individual's religious faith rests, in the end, with their own conscience, so does their ideological faith.
I happen to believe that capitalism is a powerful, liberating, and empowering ideology—but if someone else thinks some kind of economic collectivism could realistically improve life for the majority of human beings, I'm perfectly willing to hear them out and weigh their arguments, and I wouldn't for a moment suggest that their motives were any worse than mine just because they came from a different economic perspective. Anyone who thinks seriously about politics and economics usually does so out of a desire to see the world improved. I'm not a relativist—just because I'm open to other points of view doesn't mean I'm some kind of ideological slut ready to jump into the sack with any new idea that comes along. I have my ideas about the world and people and how we're most likely to get the most out of our own lives without destroying those of other people along the way, but the important thing to me is the goal. If someone could empirically prove that collectivism were more likely than capitalism to engender those conditions, I'd be the first to convert.
* * *
I met a real nice guy recently. An American. We had a few beers and got along great. But at one point he was making a joke about the harm he feared (in jest) he may have inadvertently done to his child. "I mean, is the kid gonna grow up deformed? Brain-damaged? Republican?!"
He'd never asked about my own politics. I'd never given any indication of where I stood on just about anything. (Anyone with ideas even marginally to the right of the American center learns quickly how to do that here.) I'm sure he just assumed I was another liberal. I don't hold the cheap shot against him. (And if he's reading this, I want to reassure him that nothing he said about American politics hasn't been said to me a thousand times before in much more incendiary language.) I just cite it as an example of the kind of thing I hear much more often from my liberal friends then from my conservative friends. Does it mean anything? Is it significant? Do I just have a peculiar circle of friends?
I don't know. You decide. It's quarter past five and Molli is squirming. I'm going to pour the rest of my coffee down the sink, pour a healthy glass of bourbon, take my time with it, and call it a night... as the sun begins to rise.
* * *
I knew she'd be fine. I even told you so.
* * *
Good god... it's well after noon, now, and I never posted this weird ramble. I'm tempted to scrap it and take the day off.
But what the hell.
If you can read Turkish and have twelve million Turkish Lira lying around, sallama klasikler can be yours. (Delivery may be extra, especially outside of Turkey.)
Crazy People Are Excellent
It's Miguel de Cervantes's birthday. Born in 1547, Cervantes is best known as the author of Don Quixote, a cunning satire on mental illness. The work is an epic treatment of the perennial question, "wouldn't the world be better off if we were all batshit crazy?"
The answer from the novel is a qualified yes: the story supports the premise, but its length and lucidity suggest that the author himself was not batshit crazy, which contradicts the premise.
Ever since the publication of Don Quixote, the idea of improving through world through mental illness has taken root in the popular culture of the west. From the good soldier Svjek and Prince Myshkin to Chauncy Gardener, Elwood P. Dowd, and Forrest Gump, western readers and filmgoers have a galaxy of benevolent lunatics to show them the way to a better, purer existence. Grand mal seizures, delirium tremens, and hallucinations are merely the price of admission to their wistful world of blissful ignorance.
The sane and hard-working do not come off nearly so well in film or literature. In fact, sane and hard-working people seldom even appear in film or literature. No one wants to read about them, or spend good money to watch them go about their plodding lives, because most of us are surrounded by sane and hard-working people already and know what they're like—they're just like us, only less so.
Early to bed and early to rise may make a man healthy, and wealthy, and wise, but it won't do a goddam thing for his Nielsens. In fact, if you're healthy, wealthy, wise, and well-rested, you're only going to piss the rest of us off.
Lighten up, slack off, drink up, and spend plenty of quality time with imaginary friends. That's the real road to happiness—or at least our acceptance, without which you have no right to be happy.
* * *
On this date in 1399, Richard II was deposed, which only served him right for having posed in the first place. He was succeeded by Henry IV part I.
On September 29, 1513, Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa (no relation) discovered the Pacific Ocean. How something that covers roughly a third of the earth's surface could have been lost for so long is a question that stumps historians to this day.
Sharing their birthday with Cervantes are Lech Walesa (1943), Madeline Kahn (1942), Jerry Lee Lewis (1935), Gene Autry (1907), and Enrico Fermi (1901).
September 29 is Battle of Boqueron Day in Paraguay. (If you have to ask about Battle of Boqueron Day, you can't afford it.)
© 2004, The Moron's Almanac