okdunn turned 4 today!
…that rats have a sense of humor? I have never been more upset to find out anything in my life. There I was, minding my own business, up at the crack of dawn to do some writing—when suddenly the vast quantity of data in my brain seemed lacking. Classic diversionary tactic: the writer “researches.” Nothing is more appealing, in the face of a blank document, than the accumulation of more information. Nothing feels more right than discovering the Wikipedia page on “Theories of humor.”
There are several theories of humor, according to this Wikipedia page. There is relief theory, otherwise known as the nervous giggle. There is the superiority theory, which is basically Aristotle being an asshole: “…we laugh at inferior or ugly individuals, because we feel a joy at feeling superior to them.” Then there is the incongruity theory, which I guess is the guy from the superiority theory falling on a banana peel but instead of just being some regular schmuck in crocs he’s wearing a top hat, so it’s even funnier that he falls down because fancy guys are supposed to stay standing up. So are their hats.
Then there is the Benign Violation Theory, which “threatens one’s sense of how the world ought to be” but does so in such a way that the threat is not perceived as danger. Some people might relief-theory laugh at being mugged, but this one is more about Will Ferrell’s curly chest hair and American Flag underpants. It disturbs my sense of how the world ought to be, but I feel safe, especially because it is on television and not in my actual field of vision or living room.
What disturbs me in a way that is not funny at all is the idea of rats cackling away in their underground lair. It disturbs me so much that I am distracting myself from my distraction to bring you this news. I guess it is a little funny to think of a bunch of rats in silk top hats and monocles, two images which just floated together in my brain—but the idea of their filthy, furry bodies is just too palpable, especially after living my life in cities with bodies of water in or near them. For example, Albany’s semi-professional hockey team used to be called The River Rats. I guess the idea of adult-sized rats playing hockey is KIND OF funny.
The fireplace drew well in the room and it was warm and pleasant to work. I brought mandarines and roasted chestnuts to the room in paper packets and peeled and ate the small tangerine-like oranges and threw their skins and spat their seeds in the fire when I ate them and roasted chestnuts when I was hungry. I was always hungry with the walking and the cold and the working. Up in the room I had a bottle of kirsch that we had brought back from the mountains and I took a drink of kirsch when I would get toward the end of a story or toward the end of the day’s work. When I was through working for the day I put away the notebook, or the paper, in the drawer of the table and put any mandarines that were left in my pocket. They would freeze if they were left in the room at night.
It was wonderful to walk down the long flights of stairs knowing that I’d had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.
It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; learning, I hoped; and I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself impotent to do it. Going down the stairs when I had worked well, and that needed luck as well as discipline, was a wonderful feeling and I was free then to walk anywhere in Paris.
At first I cannot have even a sheet on me,
anything at all is painful, a plate of
iron laid down on my nerves, I lie there in the
air as if flying rapidly without moving, and
slowly I cool off—hot,
warm, cool, cold, icy, till the
skin all over my body is ice
except at those points our bodies touch like
blooms of fire. Around the door
loose in its frame, and around the transom, the
light from the hall burns in straight lines and
casts up narrow beams on the ceiling, a
figure throwing up its arms for joy.
In the mirror, the angles of the room are calm, it is the
hour when you can see that the angle itself is blessed,
and the dark globes of the chandelier,
suspended in the mirror, are motionless—I can
feel my ovaries deep in my body, I
gaze at the silvery bulbs, maybe I am
looking at my ovaries, it is
clear everything I look at is real
and good. We have come to the end of questions,
you run your palm, warm, large,
dry, back along my face over and
over, over and over, like God
putting the finishing touches on, before
sending me down to be born.
I don’t know how to ski and I don’t like ice skating but when you open the dryer in the middle of the night to get the extra fleece jacket out, when you open it and the whole soft pile of clothes is crackling with static electricity, and in the pitch black of the room you can see it—see how each crackle lights up one infinitesimal glitter at a time throughout that interior metal hemisphere—now that’s something.
"Will this make me famous?"
Everybody makes a big deal about fall, holding onto the last thing that isn’t death: the dying. Autumn’s last hurrah, desperation in shades of orange and ochre. Wet leaves stuck to the sidewalk, cooking in their own sweet mold. That very flavor, captured and canned and spread into a sandy crust, another thing I don’t care for, pumpkin pie. Its wet clay texture, flecks of brown spice dissolving into the loam. Waiting for the oven to eliminate the turkey’s salmonella. The dread of a Sunday evening. No thank you. Give me Monday morning, give me the death itself, give me the decision, give me winter. Give me the certainty of two wool socks, give me the long-term commitment of my down parka. Give me some months without change, let me alternate only between hood-up and hood-down, give me slow molecules, clean air, give me the bright double of sunshine on snow; give me the street at night, weighted with the dark, disturbed only by the traces of glitter falling from the sky.
“I’m not telling you to make the world better, because I don’t think that progress is necessarily part of the package. I’m just telling you to live in it. Not just to endure it, not just to suffer it, not just to pass through it, but to live in it. To look at it. To try to get the picture. To live recklessly. To take chances. To make your own work and take pride in it. To seize the moment. And if you ask me why you should bother to do that, I could tell you that the grave’s a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace. Nor do they sing there, or write, or argue, or see the tidal bore on the Amazon, or touch their children. And that’s what there is to do and get it while you can and good luck at it.”
Happy Birthday Joan Didion.
Baby’s First Big Ten Football Game. Third Generation Hawkeye. Three degrees below zero.
Everybody knows Debbie Downer, but have you met Global Jodie? I have. I met her the other night when I was on the phone with my father. “There is never a nice day in Iowa,” I said. “It’s one-hundred-percent inhospitable all of the time.” “Right,” said my father, humoring me. “I’ve got to get off the phone, I’ve got a pot roast on the stove.” He put my mother on the phone. She had a question about leggings. “Is it OK to wear them with a long blouse or not?” ”All pants have stretch now,” I said. “It’s the obesity epidemic. It’s the Lycraization of America! You can’t even buy real jeans anymore.”
Suddenly I was overcome with the memory of a poorly planned camping trip I’d been on in high school. “We don’t need to set up the tent,” we’d agreed. “We can just lay here on the ground and go to sleep.” All night long, a mosquito sang shrill, bloodthirsty dirges in my ear. I recognized that mosquito in myself. It was Global Jodie.
Global Jodie has a hard time telling the difference between what is one event and what is the whole world. Global Jodie takes it personally. Global Jodie knows that people driving cars are all eating hamburgers and ignoring stop signs, and that if she did not wave aggressively at them, they would not only not slow down for the stop sign but not stop at all. They would run her down and leave her splattered corpse all over College Street. Wouldn’t that teach them to pay attention, these young people and their reckless driving and their house parties, football games, and other forms of mindless self-indulgence, but then, everyone is having a better time than Global Jodie is. Global Jodie is at home updating her computer and stoking her inner fire, Global Jodie is making a phone call to a customer service representative, Global Jodie is on hold and the hold music is a choral requiem interrupted at all the climaxes by radio static.
Once you meet Global Jodie, you’ll see her everywhere. She’s on the street corner, handing out a petition. She’s all over Facebook. She loves to stay in my apartment when the heat isn’t working; she will probably come with me to the airport this weekend. But now that I recognize her, hide as she might behind her enormous prescription sunglasses, I think I can probably buy her an overpriced cup of black sludge from the sticky and inefficiently run coffee stand and leave her at the gate.
50. Why Robert McKee Is Wrong About Casablanca
One day, some friends and I snuck in to see the tail end of Robert McKee’s seminar. Robert McKee is the author of Story, a sort of bible for screenwriters, and thousands of people pay lots of money to take his class. We arrived as he was talking about Casablanca, which is the grand finale of the seminar.
McKee says that what’s so beautiful about Casablanca is Rick’s great love for the Ingrid Bergman character. At the end, Rick chooses not to be with her, and McKee talks about this as the greatest illustration of the depth of Rick’s love for her: it is so strong that it will live forever in Rick’s heart, despite the tremendous physical distance that has separated them for years, and despite the fact that he now may never see her again.
I think Robert McKee might be a very bad husband. This seems like the most destructively romantic understanding of love. The idea that love is something magical, almost supernatural, in your heart, that has nothing to do with the day-to-day encounters with a real person—that understanding of love has probably created more unhappiness and ruined more marriages than just about anything.
Love is what happens between people living their lives together, becoming close through contact and actual partnership, and it’s what survives through difficulties and imperfections. An idealized, imagined, faraway person in your heart—that’s not love. That’s a daydream. People often mistake that daydream for love, so either they’re disappointed when love doesn’t measure up to that daydream, or they try to protect that daydream from being sullied by real life.
A man like Rick—a man who chooses to be alone for his whole life out of love for a woman he chooses not to be with—isn’t a man who knows anything about love.
Every thirty or so years, that one with the ring around its head is back in the spot it was when you were born. Try to picture it as it might look in space, rust colored and cream curdled and swirling, bigger across than nine earths. Don’t picture it as a styrofoam ball, crushed and punctured by a soccer cleat in the backseat of your parents’ car; drooping from a wire hanger, attached with dental floss. This is the opposite of that. This is supposed to be bigger than you are, this is supposed to make you bigger. Or nothing. But I am into it: I am trying to be better, not just older. Last night I walked home in the dark and looked up at all the stars and thought: one day I should see a real night sky, and for the first time realized that in my mind, even the Milky Way could stand improving—if only I could moisturize every hangnail, vacuum every last corn chip crumb from my carpet, escape all sources of light pollution—then my life could really begin. But we’re talking about metallic hydrogen, crystalized ammonia, wind speeds of over a thousand miles per hour, he’s coming and he’s bringing his 150 moons and moonlets with him. I’m going to stay right here and use my imagination for something better than wishing myself away.