On humor (and bad medical advice).

On humor (and bad medical advice).

Back when she lived in town with us, Auntie Ferret would often accompany me to the public library to work.  We would sit in the linoleum tiled area near the magazines.  I would type.  She would draw.

Of course, the process of creating artwork, at least in every field I know about, seems to involve several-fold more time spent taking in new information, researching, appreciating at other people’s work, etc., than time actually spent creating.  In my case, the timing usually breaks down to about two hours per day spent typing, six hours spent reading.  Auntie Ferret, because hers is a more time-intensive craft, probably spends equal time drawing and reading.

All well and good.  The problem, from the perspective of someone sitting near her to work, is that Auntie Ferret is a very effulgent reader.  Which can be distracting.  She occasionally saunters to the magazine rack to scoop up another armful of bodybuilding magazines, then chortles with gusto as she read them.  And then, of course, she reads the passage aloud.

CaptureA typical conversation between us:

FC: Huh.  Yeah.  That’s pretty horrible.  But I should get back to work.

AF: Okay, okay… but wait!  Wait, listen to this.  On ViperPRO, I was so vasculated I thought I’d EXPLODE!

An hour might pass and I’d get nothing done.  Whereas the time qualified as research for her.  Her webcomic features a hearty dose of meat-head satire.

Eventually I learned my lesson.  No, not to sit somewhere else, although I imagine that’s what a more timid ferretwrangler might do.  Instead I realized that I should incorporate her research into my own work.

***********************

THIS SHIT SAVED MY LOVE LIFE

There’s lots of dating advice out there.  Tips on what stereo system to buy, which records to play, what wine to drink, which celebrity cologne smells like you.  Lifting guides for omnivores and for vegans and for the gluten-free, for those who augment their training stacks with GHB and those who wanna stick with anabolic steroids alone.  And detailed instructions for how to act — secret secrets of the world’s best pickup artists! — although until they invent a hieroglyphic language that women can’t read, publication inevitably weakens those once-secret strategies.

I read the guides.  Seemed like a lot of common sense.  Maintain eye contact.  Ply her with drinks.  Initiate unwanted touching.  Belittle her relentlessly.  Act like the abusive ex-boyfriend you’d someday like to be.  But, let’s face it, some of us are sensitive dudes.  When there’s an opportunity for a killer neg, we compliment our interlocutor on her witty banter.  Then wreck the moment when we ask before lunging in for a snog.

Does this sound like you?  Striking out cause you don’t have that flirtatious take-no-prisoners attitude?  Are you thinking to yourself, sensitive dudes would enjoy the occasional sexual encounter, too?

Well, I am here for you, man.  I was in that situation.  But I fixed it.  This shit worked for me, and I swear it can work for you.

You need to eat more cat feces.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stalkerr/134280257Not for the fun of it, mind you.  You need to eat cat feces to increase your exposure to Toxoplasma gondii.  It’s a microscopic parasite that evolved to control mammalian behavior.

Maybe that sounds bad.  Parasitic mind control?  That’s some freaky shit, right?  But, let me ask you: do you wanna get laid, or not?

See, there’s mind control like Frank Sinatra zonked by a playing card and realizing it’s time to blow somebody’s brains out, and then there’s mind control like toxo.  What’s it do?  It makes you bolder.  More confident.  It boosts testosterone.  Makes you happier, by helping you synthesize dopamine.  Ever wonder why those gel-heads always duck to the back and snort coke before they make a move?  Dopamine.  But with toxo, you won’t need blow.

Dudes with toxoplasmosis are taller that dudes without.  They’re consistently rated more attractive on Tinder-style image-only surveys.  Ingest enough of this parasite to get cysts throughout your brain and you’ll be a handsome, aggressive, risk-taking sex machine.  And, get this: toxo makes you smarter, too!

(Note: to date, intellectual enhancement has been observed only in females infected with Toxoplasma gondii.  In males, the opposite effect is seen.  Toxo invariably makes males into slower, dumber studmuffins.  But, you’re still with me, right?  What good is your brain if you’re sitting up alone at night, staring at a computer screen, not getting laid?)

Of course, not every cat has toxo.  If you adopt a dud, you’re wasting your time.  Masticating those slimy colon-prints for nothing.  Which, right, here’s something else you should know: cranberry juice.  Nothing else washes out the taste.  Even cranberry juice doesn’t work that well.

Eat a few scoops of feces from some defective no-parasite cat, let me tell you, you’re gonna be pissed.

That’s why my little brother and I are starting this company where we’ll ship you fresh excrement from known toxoplasma-bearing felines.  Each turd guaranteed >100 cyst-forming-units or your money back!, that’s what the packaging will say.  We’re not open for business yet — FDA approval is such a bitch that we might give up on it altogether and market our product as a nutritional supplement — but we’ve already registered the domain name www.toxrocks.com.

Check us out.  Like our shit on Facebook.  And if you can’t wait till our little operation is up and running, go find yourself a parasite-riddled cat and start gobbling that shit up.  Which is advice I’m willing to give gratis, cause I care about my fellow man.

*************

Doling out terrible medical advice isn’t necessarily funny… what if people actually follow your advice?  But my thinking is, the world’s full of medical advice a good deal more harmful than this.  And that’s all given sincerely.  At the playground one day, a mother nodded approvingly at my daughter’s bare feet and told me, “It’s good you’re letting her get rid of some of those excess electrons.”

I was puzzled.  Later I found out that some people believe that wearing shoes all the time makes them build up an appreciable electric charge.

Or the bodybuilding magazines.

Capture

Interspersed with articles like a dude recounting the time he tackled his brown-skinned buddy on New Year’s because the buddy was counting down in a foreign language and so dude thought he was a terrorist (hilarious, bro!) are advertisements for all variety of untested chemicals.  Or there’s the self-generated schemes, like the claim, “I’ve got a pitbull and he’s f___in’ ripped.  And I figured, he looks like that on dogfood?  So that’s all I eat now, too.”

Um, I’m gonna go stand over there now, thank you.

Plus, I think it makes a difference whom bad advice is targeted toward.  I’m not a huge fan of machismo bodybuilding culture.  And I don’t know if you’ve seen many modern dating guides (a la Neil Strauss’s The Game, or the sort of thing that won’t be funded through Kickstarter ever again), but I think it’s reasonable to suggest to readers of such guides that they oughta eat more cat feces.

Excerpts from some other book: our heroic annelid makes a daring escape.

Image from Soil-Net.com at Cranfield University, UK, 2015.
Image from Soil-Net.com at Cranfield University, UK, 2015.

We were in Louisville over the weekend, visiting a pregnant friend.  She had given us many baby clothes before the birth of our daughter; we were returning them.  Her son is now nearly three years old, so we spent part of the afternoon standing in the yard watching him dig with a plastic shovel.  He found a worm, triumphantly showed it to us, then moved it to a safe spot near their sprouting peas.

That’s when my friend and I started talking about worms.

“Moles are their worst enemies,” she told me.  “They hunt worms and store them in their burrows.  But moles have to keep the worms fresh.  If they kill them, worms dry up.  So moles bite off their heads, which means they can’t dig out to escape.”

I grimaced slightly while slurping my pink strawberry smoothie through a straw.

“That doesn’t kill them.  And, actually, if you wait long enough, the worms can regenerate their heads.”

“Huh,” I said, nodding.  “So it’s a race?”

“Guess where this dirt goes, mommy.”

“In the pile?”

“Yes!  In the pile!”  And another plastic shovel’s worth of dirt was added to the small mound he’d made beside their flower bed.

I went on, imagining this could be the seed of a compelling suspense or horror story.  “Because once the mole leaves, the worm would be racing, frantically trying to regrow its head so that it could escape.  Seems way more intense than all those movies where a tied-up hostage is struggling with the ropes.”

“And this dirt?”

“In the pile?”

“It goes in the pile!”

“Except, wait… worms can think, right?” I asked her.  I wasn’t sure, being unaware, for instance, of Charles Darwin’s 1881 study to test whether worms could solve small puzzles, like choosing which objects could best be used to plug a burrow.  And the question felt important; it’d be hard to write a compelling story when working with the drab emotional palette and unreflective inner life of a jellyfish.  Jellyfish, see, have no brains.

“They do, I think,” she told me.  “But I don’t think they’re very cephalated.”

“Oh,” I said, thinking the idea of an in-between state, brain-bearing yet decentrilized-decision-making, sounded perfectly reasonable.  After all, that organizational scheme has led to considerable success for terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, if “success” means propagation despite environmental adversity, so why not believe that evolution could’ve stumbled into the same schema employed biologically?  “But then, what would the worm feel?”

“Worm!  Where is my worm?”

“You set it over there, honey?”

He scampered over to the peas and peered.  No worm, apparently, was found.

“Worm went away!”

“That’s what they do.  They dig.  Now the worm is underground.”

“Underground,” he mused.  And set a dirt-flecked hand upon his chin, philosophically.

At the time I worried that an uncephalated worm (i.e. cognitive function was never fully localized to the head, as opposed to our decephalated hero post encounter with the nemesis mole) would make a lousy protagonist.  Being a brain-in-head-type fellow, I am somewhat biased toward the emotional experiences of my own kind.  Now, though, I’m not so sure.  Because head-centered cognition might well result in a worse, emotionally flattened story; the most dramatic action occurs while our protagonist’s head is missing, after all.

And I’m still concerned about my original question, what would a worm feel?  If I’m going through all the bother of writing a story, I’d like for people to enjoy it.  And I’ve seen many reviews that criticize human male writers, say, for attempting to inhabit the inner voice of a woman in fiction, or an iphone.  Although those perspectives both seem easier to project myself into than that of a worm.  The life of an iPhone seems so similar to my own.  Talk to people; look up facts; draw maps; listen to snippets of music and try to guess the song; spend aggravatingly long periods of time thinking, thinking, thinking, with no apparent progress visible from the outside.  Or perhaps that last one is not what you think of when you contemplate such devices, but my younger brother has one and he also has a tendency toward dropping things, and of forgetting things in his pants’ pockets when he puts them in the wash (you may have read previously his très bourgeois tragicomedy, “Another Bagful of Rice”).  His phone spends as much time as I do staring idly into space, unresponsive.

But, a worm?  How would I write a worm?


NOTES:

Some of the information above as relayed by the narrator and his friend is not true.  Earthworms will not, for instance, regrow their heads.  An earthworm can regenerate some fraction of the lower half of its body, but not the top half.  It’s possible that the narrator’s friend was thinking of planaria, from which a fraction of tail can in fact be used to create an entire regenerated animal, and in which the nervous system has a concentrated mass of neurons in the head that seems brain-like, but doesn’t seem to have a true central nervous system.

Her slight error does not invalidate the story, however; according to A. C. Evans’ article “The Identity of Earthworms Stored by Moles,” it would seem that our heroic earthworm might not require a whole new head.  To quote Evans regarding the potential status of our hero, “The earthworms could not burrow their way out of the holes because the anterior three to five segments had been bitten off or at least mutilated.”

The worms whose heads were bitten off?  They are doomed.  They will not regenerate their heads and will eventually be eaten (unless some larger predator finds the mole, in which case they’ll die fruitlessly… although even then they’ll still be eaten, I suppose, as long as you’re willing to use the verb “eat” to describe decomposition effected by bacteria).  But if our hero was simply mutilated, then there is still a chance!  Come on, little buddy!  You can do it!  Escape, escape!

And, in case you’re curious about earthworm cognition, Eileen Crist wrote a lovely article describing Charles Darwin’s experiments; it was published in Bekoff, Allen, and Burghardt’s The Cognitive Animal and is very accessible (I even convinced K to have her high school biology class read it one year) and, to my mind, very fun.  Well worth a read, even if you don’t yet care about worm thoughts.  But you will!  Just you wait.

Excerpts from some other book: Volume 3.

dave46
From Evil Dave Versus Regular Dave, a comic strip I used to draw poorly.  View the archives here.

Dr. Shaun MacGregor, adjunct professor of experimental archaeology, knows that he is going to die.  And he has accepted the fact.  Really.  He is old, he is sick, but he knows full well that he has lived a good life, that he has experienced his fair share of the ride.  And so his encroaching death, the end, does not bother him as a thing in and of itself.  Not anymore.  Not since, oh, it must have been a solid eight months after being diagnosed with lung cancer before he was ready to accept it, but he feels okay about it now.  Genuinely okay.  His lungs were removed and he had one of the accordion suction pumps installed in the central cavity of his chest, put him down four hundred thousand sure but he has always known that real quality does not come cheap, but the thing is, despite all the work he has had done to maintain his body, work that despite the university’s generous faculty health care policy has involved considerable personal expense, what Dr. MacGregor feels now is that when the time comes he will simply let the battery run down and not recharge it and that will be the end.

But he is not ready.  Not quite yet.  He knows that he will need at least one more month.  Because even though he has accepted that he is going to die, what he has not and will not accept is that his f—-ng family will just put his body in a box and leave it in the ground to rot.  That does not feel right.  Ungrateful hyperactive nieces and nephews, the lot of whom have made nothing of their lives, two children he has rarely seen, raised almost exclusively by his estranged second wife.    So Dr. MacGregor has been shooting plastifier right into his veins, small doses every couple hours because he needs for it to flow, to spread, not clump and clog and block off his blood, and soon, one more month, maybe two, he will have put enough of it into body that he will be able to shut his eyes and die in peace, knowing that his corpse will persist throughout the ages.

Excerpts from some other book: Volume 2.

I carried the king of hearts around with me from when I was twelve until I was thirty.  It was in the flip-up portrait part of my wallet, where my driver’s license should have been I guess.  I was twelve when my mother took me to the store and I bought that wallet, so there wasn’t a driver’s license to put in.  And at thirty I bought a new one, one not made of leather, because I was attempting to learn how to be gentle and so it felt strange to carry my money and credit cards and whatnot around in a billfold made from skin.

So what’s wrong with a twelve year old kid who puts the king of hearts in his wallet in the first place?  From a cheap and obviously then-unusable deck of cards, if I remember correctly.  What’s wrong with the sixteen year old who keeps carrying it, or the twenty-five year old, or whomever?  Hard to say.  But maybe I should feel glad that I’m not carrying it anymore.  As though at eighteen years that part of me up and emancipated itself, went away.  Goodbye, suicide.  Although we may miss you in this place.

Excerpts from some other book: Volume 1.

My favorite animal is the sutured double camel.  Takes only three camels to make, and they can live for almost two weeks.


Type of guy who says she’s got jugs like an Amazon when he’s not talking asymmetry but rather sheer size of the gazongas.


Sitting in a lecture hall, the course was apparently something called “Physically Accurate Writing.”  Maybe it wasn’t an entire course, maybe it was just a one-off lecture; I couldn’t recall how I had arrived, or why.  Up on the overhead projector were the three rules of physically accurate writing.  The first one made sense to me as the professor was explaining it, although the sense of it eludes me somewhat now, now that I’ve finally sat down to take notes on the course.  Which only goes to show that it’s better to take notes during class than to rush home and attempt to transcribe what you’ve learned afterward.

The first rule was something like, since the time domain isn’t special, and because anything might happen or have happened or be happening somewhere in the universe, it’s not appropriate to have snippets of dialogue act as a microcosm of the entire story.  As I said, this actually seemed to make some semblance of sense when the professor was conveying it, but that’s often true with logically shaky principals: somebody can be up on a stage conveying a thing with charisma, and you’ll sit there and nod along, agreeing, and only later reflect back on it with that whole “Wait a minute…”  There was an explanation given, even, but I’ve lost grasp of the explanation, and then an example of something that was counter-indicated, a passage from some book I didn’t know that was apparently written in a physically inaccurate way.

Rule two I still know the explanation for: because we can write a proof for how large a sphere within R^3 we would need in order to ensure that any event that is occurring here also occurred, to some equivalency of detail, four seconds earlier at another location in the sphere, then there is no reason to include coincidence.  Or maybe the point of the rule was that there was no reason to exclude coincidence.  I followed along with the explanation, but somehow wound up not knowing whether the equivalence was supposed to be conveyed forward or backward.  Apparently I learned nothing.

The lecture hall slipped away before the professor had a chance to convey the third point.  Hopefully it was less important than the first two.