A new thought occurred to me this morning, about the socially generic way we frame questions when encountering each other and each others’ creations. You’re gonna have to bear with me; this might feel abstract, but it’s got my attention. For instance, the questions I get a lot are, what do you do for a living? What genre music do you write? What do you blog about? These are entirely valid, so why do they rankle or feel somehow unanswerable *on the dimension they’ve been asked*? I mean, a one-word answer would probably suffice in every case but that feels almost like active dishonesty, especially when someone is genuinely curious. And I do the same thing, of course — I encounter someone, I’m curious about their basic beingness-in-the-world, I’m at an initial loss as to how to frame any question at all, and so whatever I can think to ask represents, more than anything, this verbally helpless SOS.
Is it just me that feels like the very questions we ask, driven by honest curiosity, are necessarily framed in such a way as to actually repel their own best answers, and then we all have to organize workarounds? A problem matching inquiry to information, like…inherently? Unless that information is really one-dimensional? I know this sounds like some hardcore navel gazing and I apologize; I’m literally experiencing the same problem I’m trying to describe right now. It sort of feels like we’re these sophisticated beings cursed with, at least linguistically, awkward lobster claw appendages with which to attempt assessment of one another. Maybe that was the metaphor driving the film, Edward Scissorhands — I wouldn’t know, I really can’t handle Johnny Depp.
I mean, for years I’ve just assumed something is wrong with me that the proverbial dinner party chit chat feels so challenging, even amongst great, smart people. Like: can we just all agree to carry around a homemade “map of meaning” in our pockets, like a mini version of the complex schematic they always make in crime movies, with all these photos and newspaper articles connected by strings and sprinkled with outstanding question marks, and with big red circles around the important parts, and the dawning realization that it’s all connected and it goes all the way to the top? Yeah — a version of that, and we just trade maps and study them, when we meet a new person, before anyone says anything?
The new thought was, is this only a problem in English, or is it just a shortcoming of language, period? It’s tough to know the pros and cons of your own native tongue, relative to clarifying or obscuring various dimensions of human experience. I’ve heard the English language tends to categorize and sort, as an emphasis, making it good for scientific ideas and concepts requiring precision. Again, I have no way of knowing — it’s the only language I speak. I can read and write Navajo but that’s mostly a relationship with its interesting phonetics; I used to have an expanding Navajo vocabulary in high school and college but it’s been contracting for decades now. So by no means has Navajo influenced my brain enough for me to understand if it would be helpful in way that English isn’t. If anything — is an overreach? — I spoke enough of it to sense that language orients us in the world a lot more than we realize, in terms of what it conceptually emphasizes or doesn’t. I wish I was fluently bilingual so I’d at least have two brain-feelings to compare.
It’s not a big flaming deal — like I said, we all organize workarounds and get to know each other deeply, or reasonably deeply, anyway. It seems more like those little hot spots I’d get on my feet, during long ruck marches in the Army and during Bataan Memorial Death Marches. A new blister forming feels like nothing much until, many miles later, it becomes something quite intolerable, particularly after it bursts. I’ve referenced my preferred introversion, somewhat jokingly, many times before, but honestly it’s not so much an aversion to people as it is an aversion to how inadequate and distorted our social tools are, relative to what somehow feels possible otherwise. Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”, a frankly bizarre fucking book, nevertheless gave us the concept of “grokking,” which meant to immerse one’s self so thoroughly in the contemplation of something that you merged with it and it merged with you.
Ain’t nobody got time for that, of course, so we just ask each other what we do for a living because that’s faster. So this has been like a longstanding blister for me, socially, that is perfectly tolerable. I just wonder, though, why our most developed means of human communication seems notably less effective than dogs sniffing butts or dolphins squeaking at each other.
In airier, fairier social circles than the ones I move in, people have tried to tackle this problem by replacing occupational questions with things like, “So what are you passionate about?” If anything, I’d find that even more off-putting. Passionate about, like…right this minute? Like getting back to the salsa bowl? Or like, the way I’m passionately trying not to be a fuckup in general, and to also leave this party by 8:30? I’d probably want to outrage that person’s sensibilities: “I’m passionate about the blindfolded, timed disassembly and reassembly of the M60 machine gun.” It wouldn’t be a lie! I did a lot of that in my 20’s on the marksmanship team and frankly it was quite enchanting to have the sense of sight removed, but a complicated task to accomplish with your hands and hearing, nevertheless. Of course I’m being silly, but I just imagine that if someone asked me that question, god knows what they’d be predisposed to hearing as an answer. Something about the environment, or children, or poverty, or interpretive dance. It sounds like something a black guy would say in a bar to a white girl he’s casually vetting for last call hookup potential, and it would probably work.
“So what’s your deal?” There’s always that. You know, in fiction and narrative nonfiction — well, poetry too — the ironic principle of specificity is always at play. If you want to suck your audience in, write something incredibly specific. If you want to alienate your audience, write something incredibly general and inclusive. It works backwards of how you’d think. So maybe the best way to be curious about a new person is a thing we tend to do anyway, which is to simply ignore the enormity of the whole problem and find something specific and relatable. Weather, sports, coworkers who are so irritating it’s probably safe territory. I used to find it somewhat appalling that men can know one another for years and never really talk, or not on the level that women achieve within minutes. Now, not so much. I guess talking is like a fiat currency: it’s either backed by gold or it’s not, and you have to take that into account when you’re assigning value to words.
What’s missing isn’t a better set of social skills (or, obviously that could be better but that’s not the point — I went into town with Julie in her ’92 motorhome yesterday and it wouldn’t start, at one point. We were parked at the gas station. I tried the few tricks I know, to no avail. I saw three men walking past and I went up to them and said, “Hey, y’all are males. Wanna see if you can get our engine to start?” Socially it was awkward but honest, and they got our engine to start, so hey) — and what’s missing isn’t a better vocabulary. I’ve heard some writer types say they’re “in love with language” and I couldn’t disagree more. I mean good for them, but to me, language is the thing we helplessly, or even intentionally, Edward Scissorhands each other with, and it irritates me. It allows us to be so dishonest; it doesn’t actually hide our dishonesty because we’re all smarter than that, at the end of the day; but it does prevent us from responding to the reality of a situation because we’re too busy responding to the language of of it, and either “winning” or “losing” on that level, which is totally fucking irrelevant, but we do it anyway.
I hit some kind of personal threshold, around the time of the Trump/Biden debate, where I just can’t anymore. Everyone’s gonna believe what they’re gonna believe and I’m black pilled and I unfriended the last two retards that I was keeping around for the benefit of the doubt’s sake and suddenly I’m hardly even interested in social media. I know that’s what everyone’s feeling right now, not an uncommon reaction at all, but it’s not even fun anymore. It is truly linguistic dishonesty run amok. I mean, all the way amok. We’re doing suicide sprints of amok.
And here I am, enjoying this blog more than ever, but the exact way I enjoy it despite the never-ending problem of *words*, is highlighting for me more than ever that words are stupid, and limited; all we’ve got is our god brain, massively impaired by these awkward lobster claws of words. I don’t like it. But I like my use of it, here at least. I’m in this social situation at camp where I’m constantly amazed by a particular person’s self- and other-bludgeoning use of words and I won’t say too much about it because I like to retain plausible deniability in case my blog ever makes it back to them, lol — that’s actually happened to me before, in years past, and anyway the specifics hardly matter. I’m like, “Hey person, if you could just be prevented from talking, your own life would improve by like 1000%, because every time you open your mouth you just use it to fan the flames of your own angry, shut down woundedness and it’s awful, just awful, to watch.” We could all do better, no doubt, but I’m especially aware that we could all do worse, because I’m seeing it.
That’s totally not my problem, but yes — I’m returned again to the question of why it’s so fun to explore ideas, create new things, but then the doing of that becomes exactly unintelligible in common discourse. Oh well. I guess that’s also totally not my problem. I guess I don’t have any problems, because nothing about anything is really my business. I do like listening to someone’s account of [anything] and looking for a way to feel what that would be about from the experiential inside.
A guy showed me a video on his phone of his friend competing in a tactical pistol shoot, the other night after his shower, and it was super badass for sure. (That’s probably what got marksmanship stuff on my mind.) The judge said “go,” and the friend had to negotiate this whole timed course, putting two bullets in every paper target and one bullet in every metal plinky, in proper order and while ambulating through a sort of mesh mockup of a corridor, with blind corners and straightaways.
He did very well, I could see that, but I immediately noticed there was no magazine change. The guy explained that they use the extra capacity magazines, which is fine, but I said that in my opinion a magazine change should be a part of the match just on principle. In real life that’ll gonna fuck you up, so you might as well build it into the simulation, because it’s a skill in its own right. You know? I just remembered some of our tactical matches with the M60, which actually required us to change gunners, change barrels, and change from bipod to tripod at various moments within the timed match, and I tell ya — that’s where shit would go sideways. I mean not literally, but competitively.
And then we went on to have a splendorous conversation about more gun stuff and precious metals and their market value over the decades and even centuries, and the mindset of wealth acquisition vs worker-beeing, so on and so forth. Neither of us were subject matter experts about anything, but I don’t know if we would have connected that well at all, had I not been able to bring to bear a random ass impression from years ago that magazine changes are tough, in the heat of the moment.
So, you know, there’s always something — some way to connect. It’s inevitable to compare our human lives to the animal world, and how we don’t do any animal things at all except with our significant others — I’m not just referencing sexuality, I mean also taking naps together, touching one another in passing or in earnest, sharing food, literally smelling each other, bathing or grooming each other, all that — and so of course language is what we’re left with, otherwise. A shoe that perpetually doesn’t quite fit — tending towards introversion keeps my hot spots from blister bursting, in any case. I don’t personally think we can usher in any new age or golden age or better age without updating, meaningfully, the ways we communicate with one another. I mean, we’re all asking why the world can’t be a better place and meanwhile we pin it down, exactly where it is, with our verbal thumbtacks. Which is all we’ve got. We just go around asking each other what we do for a living. What a shit show! It’s pretty hilarious, if you stand back and squint your eyes.