Animals

My friend Mike split his time alternating between living with each of his two parents and basically doing whatever the hell he wanted. He had a large room in the townhouse his mother shared with his stepfather. They made good money and spoiled him rotten. His biological father — who lived in a trailer as an apparent result of the divorce — didn’t spare any expenses when it came to entertaining his son, either.

I looked up to Mike, not realizing at the time that mostly what I envied was all his stuff. His dad even got him a BB gun. As a result would come what was probably my first attempt at injuring another living creature and most certainly my first successful vandalism. This was around second grade, maybe.

We were hanging out in the little wooded area surrounding Mike’s dad’s trailer, throwing rocks and firing BBs at birds and squirrels. From what I remember, we didn’t hit a single one with anything from our arsenal, no matter how sincere our efforts. Perhaps it was this frustration that led me to draw a bead on the bulb of a streetlight and nail it on my first try.

Boy, was Mike’s dad pissed. I was shocked at how loud the popping glass had been, to say nothing of my surprise at having hit the damn thing at a more significant distance than any of the critters we’d missed had been. Had it been Mike that blew up the light post, he would’ve gotten way more than a stern talking to and a disapproving glare. It wasn’t my age that had saved me, but my lack of blood relation.

In hindsight, I find myself infinitely glad we’d missed all those animals. But it would be the first of many attempts I made to injure smaller beings throughout my youth, some of which I succeeded at.

Fast forward to somewhere around late elementary or early middle school, when I can recall what was probably my first real instance of hurting an animal. Bicycling around with my friend Red, bored and mischievous, we sought mostly harmless and obnoxious brands of trouble. We would move stuff from people’s yards onto their neighbor’s back porch. Prank calls were made from the community center’s clubhouse phone. Old light bulbs were left in the road for drivers to run over and be frightened by the gunshot-like report.

“Kick it!” Red said. A cat was eyeing us warily, and rightly so, from between some cars in the parking lot. He was a chubby thing, but he looked thoughtful and wily. Eventually we coaxed it nearer and Red whispered, “Punt it.” I didn’t punt it, but I did manage to catch it with my toe. Though I’d like to say that it wasn’t a hard kick, I’m sure it was harder than I remember it. The cat let out a meowlp and skittered away, clearly much more startled than actually hurt. Lucky for him, there was a reason I was third string on the football team and didn’t make it onto the soccer team at all. We sat out around the neighborhood looking for further feline victims but finding none who would get near us. Word gets around, apparently.

Another few years further on and I’m sitting on the couch with my mother’s rotten little cocker spaniel. I had a dog of my own at this point, one of the same breed, and she was the bomb. But this dog, my mother’s dog, was an obnoxious little twit. Sure, she was cute, but if ever the term “utterly worthless” could be applied to an animal, it would be this one.

Still, I never hurt her. Not directly. I was in high school now, more understanding of animals than I’d been previously. However, I’d be wrong to not admit that I did intentionally scare the poor thing on more than one occasion. And she, being the brat that she was, would cry out and urinate a puddle the size of the great lakes every time. Anyone who’s owned a cocker knows that they have the bladders of twelve year old girls on cross-country road trips.

Perhaps the worst of all was my sister’s cat. I don’t mean that the cat was bad — she wasn’t. I mean that I was bad to her. Probably worse than I’d been to any animal. This had been before we had dogs or before I eventually got my own cat. The first major pet (beyond hamsters or fish or whatnot) our family had was this sweet little kitten named Freya.

I was not nice to Freya.

At first I was fascinated. She was tiny and bouncy and did this thing when you were playing with her where she’d rear up with an arched back but fall over due to her underdeveloped kitty coordination. I’d play with her and pet her sometimes; mostly though, I annoyed her. I would chase her around the house, cornering her and making her spit and hiss at me. Sometimes I’d use a stuffed animal as an additional prop as these seemed to frighten her more. When I held her sometimes, I’d bend her tail to make her howl.

Let’s jump forward still again to adulthood, where a series of events brings the family back into one house again, living under one roof together once more. My feisty little cat Levi roaming the home, owning it. My sister Liz’s other cat, Abraxus, prowling around all fat and confused and skittish, generally embodying the very definition of “neurotic.” Then quiet and meek, walking with the softest whisper pawsteps in the world, is old Freya.

Now, I’d lived with her and the other two cats for a couple years in college when my sister and I shared an apartment. When I was around Freya again at my mother’s place after college, her familiar presence never caused me any concern or initiated any reflection. It had been years since I’d truly been mean to an animal. In fact, I would have even said that I mostly liked animals by this point. Having a wonderful dog for awhile first introduced me to that joy, and later getting my own cat (who still lives with me to this day) further cultivated what was really only a budding sense of compassion.

Yet I wouldn’t say I’d really “gotten it” yet. My sister’s ferret had passed away soon after she (and the ferret, and the two cats, and her five hairless rats) moved back in with Mom and I. From my bed I was annoyed by the sounds of what I initially thought was someone arguing on a cell phone, when in fact I soon found out it was the sucking sobs of my sister. The ferret had died and Liz was balled up on the bathroom floor clutching it to her, its small tubular body wrapped in a towel.

It had been sick for a few days, ill perhaps from the move. Afraid, maybe homesick or something. When it died I’d been expecting waterworks from my sibling. I had not, however, expected her to stay up all night in such obvious overwhelming pain, crying out intelligible semi-sentences and stroking the quiet furry body. My heart went out to her. The thing sure had stunk all the way up to the limits of tolerance during its lifetime, but even I myself was rather fond of the little thing.

Nonetheless, I was irritated over the coming days as Liz slept little and carried around the dead ferret like a sacred object. There were whispered grumblings amongst two thirds of the three of us in the house that the critter corpse needed to go, and fast. I was sad about the thing dying and all, but I mean, seriously. At that point I just didn’t, or wouldn’t, understand.

Then one day at my mother’s, I found myself alone in the house. It was late in the evening. Mom was on a business-related trip, and my sister was visiting her boyfriend two states away. I was unemployed and generally in a funk. The evening was spent with a drink in my hand and my eyes alternating between the television and the sight of Levi and Abraxus having one of their little lover’s quarrels on the living room floor. From directly beside me a heard a little inquisitive honk. There sat Freya, looking up at me.

Lazily I reached over and patted her little head without really looking at her, much like I’d done many times since I’d stopped being openly cruel to animals. Purrs began to roll out of her and she began to pit-pat my thigh with her paws. The correct term for this behavior is “milk treading,” but I like my friend Kelly’s term: “making biscuits.” I looked down at her and smiled sleepily. She made her soft little honking meow again.

Then oh my god. My eyes exploded. This surge of twitching unhappiness washed over me and I was crying. The boy kitties stopped fighting and looked at me from their paused battle stances. Freya ceased her biscuit-making and watched me plainly. It wasn’t the drink; I hadn’t had much. Nor was it loneliness or anything like that. My vocal chords tried to make words, but even if they knew English none of the cats would’ve understood me.

I’m so sorry, Freya. I’m sorry. So very sorry. I’m so sorry.

I just kept saying it over and over again. I was on the couch for hours petting that old docile furball. She had a brain the size of a walnut, so I’m sure she wouldn’t understand why I was apologizing. Most likely she didn’t even remember any of the times I was mean to her, beyond of course just basic learned survival behaviors through repetition. But I’d stopped being openly mean so long ago that for years she’d been nothing but nice to me.

I couldn’t help thinking about the people who’d seriously wronged me. Some of them I’d forgiven, some not. None of them are allowed to cuddle with me, though — that much is for certain. But Freya cuddled with me, and actually now that I thought about it had always been fairly assertive about doing so. Even when I’d recently be mean or would be so again soon. She didn’t start being nice gradually — she always was. You goofy old cat, I thought. I love you.

Another jump forward and I’m actually kind of surprised to find myself sitting in — and volunteering regularly at — the local animal shelter. There’s a behemoth of a feline in my lap. He’s a stray, nameless, so some of us volunteers entertain ourselves with potential monikers. Titan? Ox? Seriously, this cat is enormous. He looks like Photoshopped reality, proportions all exaggerated in comic fashion. The great beast is draped over my legs, thinking himself a tiny little kitten while his purrs rattle my bones like the roar of a riding mower. I call him Basketball Head because his cranium is so large and perfectly round.

During kitten season, the easiest way to move a single litter from one cage to another is by sticking them all to your shirt like Velcro. Fop fop fop fop fop. They grip easily and impulsively with their little thumbtack claws and hold on while letting out these squeaky little inexperienced mews.

I clean the cages, wiping feces and occasional hairballs from the walls and floor. Inevitably I get a chuckle out of other volunteers for the ease of which they see me cleaning the higher cages thanks to my height, not unlike the strangers who always ask me apologetically if I can reach something on a top shelf for them in the grocery store.
So much to learn. I pick up a copy of the classic Animal Liberation but leave it sitting on my shelf, not sure if I can handle it yet. Education comes anyway, in other ways. No-kill shelters, it turns out, can actually be worse than normal ones in ways too numerous and depressing for me to really spell out without choking up. Breeders and puppy farms, once so innocent in my mind, I now have a hard time thinking about — much less articulating. There are special events, fundraisers I attend. As talkative as I’ve become in my day-to-day life, I find myself oddly quiet during any volunteering I do for the shelter. Really, I couldn’t explain why. The words just aren’t there.

Other things are there, though. There are ticks on some cats, which we pick off and discard. Sometimes we use thick, elbow-length gloves or a net to handle particularly rowdy cats. My heart aches for every single one that passes through. Some are inevitabilities for adoption; others are inevitabilities down the opposite path. I try not to think about it. Any of it. To be honest I couldn’t tell you what particularly led me to don the maroon shirt of this particular shelter. Penance, maybe? Yet it feels nothing at all like punishment. It feels like I’m giving my soul a hearty, home-cooked meal every time I’m there.

How then do I pay reparations for my past misdeeds? It feels wrong for penance to feel this good. Guilt is supposed to be sour and oppressive, not enlightening. Right?

A shelter worker casually drums on the floor of one of the cages and I, curious, look in. Old, but still kitten-sized, a slightly spaced-out looking critter stares blankly around the cage. “He’s blind,” she tells me. “And deaf.”
But he can feel the drumming on the cage. His hair is thick and matted. It twitches itchily as he hops up with unexpected spryness, walking through his darkness to locate the finger taps. We both reach out and scratch and caress him. I can feel scabs beneath his woven fur; see fleas running for asylum away from my fingers. His purr sounds hoarse through a crusted, dry snout. Even so ravaged, he’s still beautiful.

I lift him very gently, noticing somehow his slight wince and realizing most of his body is probably in pain. Yet he doesn’t battle me. I sit him into the holding cage nearby so I can clean his. As soon as the holding cage door is closed, I hear it: tap tap slide tap tap slide tap slide. I peek in again and he’s walking in little limping circles for no apparent reason. It makes me uneasy.

Quickly, but as thoroughly as possible, I clean his cage. Tap tap slide tap tap slide. Washed and dried floor mat, blanket, clean litter box, fresh food and water. Tap slide. As I open the holding cage door to take him out he pauses, straining to find one of his still functioning senses with which to detect my presence. Before my finger really even touches him he’s pushing against it, rubbing and purring again, his circular pacing stopped.

He’d just been looking for a hand to touch him.

So I do, petting him for as long as I can, pouring as much love into the little guy as I can muster without falling apart in the middle of my duties. Eventually he tires and settles back into the same corner of his cage he’d been in when I first saw him. He briefly makes biscuits in the corner, and I’m hoping he notices the extra blanket I stacked in there. Not sure if he does or even can really.

Later, when I’m walking out to my car, I can’t shake the little guy from my mind. I think about the dark circles I’ve walked in my life, and how much less I genuinely deserved a loving hand to reach for me, and how much more often I got it than he probably did, and how wrong that really is.

23. May 2013 by Greg
Categories: Stories | Leave a comment

Yes, We Did

I wrote this story in 2008 before Obama had won the election — before he’d even picked a running mate, in fact. (Hence the reference to VP Booker.) And obviously well before the killing of bin Laden. I was a big fan of Obama in those early days, but even so it was hard to deny the high pedestal on which many supporters placed him. This story is a play on that pedestal, imagining a year into Obama’s presidency. So it’s definitely a bit dated, but I wanted to preserve it here for posterity. (Bonus points if you can guess the superhero reference.)

“My fellow Americans, today I sit before you a humbled man.”

Who knew that 44, only 48, could look so old? President Obama was gaunt, almost stricken-looking. His cheekbones strained against the ever-thinning skin of his face and stripes of gray slithered across his temples.

“I promised you change, I swore to deliver you hope. I have not kept my promises; I have not delivered what I owe you.”

The minute hand of the clock had yet to budge, and already America’s collective jaw was on the floor. Not since Lyndon Johnson’s unexpected withdrawal from the ’68 election had a presidential speech truly caught the country off guard. I was merely a boy, but I knew from my parents’ faces that I was living through a momentous event then, just like now.

“I am disappointed in myself, and I accept, understand, and agree with all criticism that has flowed steadily my way even since before my nomination as the Democratic Party’s nominee.”

Even now, as I write this in retrospect, I find myself pausing repeatedly and lingering surprise. I credit the President with saving my daughter’s life. My world was in shambles. I had lost my job unexpectedly; the [redacted] plant in which I worked had folded up and laid everyone off. We found out about it through a press release… that had only been passed along to the New York media some [redacted] miles away… two days after we’d shown up for work one day to find the doors locked and the lights off.

The whole enterprise had evaporated. And following it into the sky were our benefits and pensions.

“I have absolutely no excuses with which to defend myself, nor would I try to do so given the failure of my service to you thus far.”

When he passed through my town during the primary season, I was in jail. DUI. Again. The week prior it was a fight. Both events occurring for the same reasons, under similar circumstances. There was nothing here. Nobody even had the money to leave. Even had I not been in jail, I would not have been watching some negro fella tell me how he was going to magically get me a job and health insurance for my sick daughter.

“I can only ask for your forgiveness, and for it to be born out of mercy, not out of explanation, as there is none. At least, no explanation that is reasonable under the circumstances.”

But he did it. My whole town got more than a shot in the arm — it got a kick in the pants. And my daughter was able to get that [redacted] transplant she’d needed. I regretted my DUI, but even more than that I regretted letting myself sink so far that I didn’t get to see the son of future history grace my town.

“Given these harsh but completely true failures…”

Anyway, enough about me. At about this point in President Obama’s press conference, there was not a living American soul detached from our commander-in-chief’s tired gaze. Nobody was in the bathroom; bladders were full but had to wait. No one had risen for snacks, or if they had they were frozen in mid-gait.

The country’s ever-more-withered old-guard media already had their best men and women composing the juicy story that would dominate many upcoming news cycles: President Barack Obama resigns!

Just as many were writing retractions, as the headline was on the world wide web before the ellipses had completed its breath of confirmation. Still more were already weaving the follow-up story. The fingers of a thousand editors poised over two thousand buttons.

“…I have decided to take this opportunity to announce a highly classified program — at least, up until this point it was — intended to accomplish the wholesale arrest, indictment, prosecution, and punishment of previously immune major criminals within our borders.”

More than two million previously raised eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

“One of my failures as your president was being seduced by the powers that my predecessor had accumulated over eight years of building a political arsenal. Could I pocket a dagger as my weapon of choice when a battle axe leaned against my hip from the very day of my swearing in? I could not. I had not the fortitude for regression.”

His language was always very good, but like many a well-spoken man sometimes people glazed over for lack of understanding.

“I handled some of these political weapons, trained with them, experimented. I did discard some: those that could not be wielded to benefit you, my countrymen. Others I found were of questionable origin but luminous destination. In the right hands, of course.”

Like even the best showman, he was having an occasion of losing the audience. We had no idea what he was talking about. Fortunately…

“Of especially surprising power was the former president’s warrantless wiretapping program.”

More than two million furrowed brows flattened to receive the slap of two million plus palms. Was this really going where we thought?

“With information and analysis being distributed and enacted strictly on a need-to-know basis, myself and a surprisingly small crowd of others have been monitoring a very large number of our fellow Americans. We have pushed the boundary no further than the line left by President Bush, except in the area of prolificacy.”

Allow me to spare you a few minutes of the speech. What he meant is that they monitored more — way more — people than the previous man in the White House.

“White-collar criminals, cores of corporate sleaze, even your own public servants — virtually no class was left immune. Members of my own political party were also included in this monitoring. Friends of mine, and family.”

Then the kicker.

“Most members of the previous administration have already been incarcerated a fortnight prior. And those only under the more conservative use of these sweeping executive powers used by the characters themselves: they were only monitored for their interactions with players in the game of terrorism. Oil chess and the like. If there is one point that is debated as regards my speech this evening, I do sincerely hope that nobody is surprised on at least that point.”

It continued; President Obama looking somehow defeated in the face of his accomplishments.

“You may also recall a month long ‘vacation’ in November 2009, for which I received much criticism. Inaccessible to the media, unclear on my location, my disappearance was unprecedented as the leader of the greatest nation on Earth. Even Vice President Booker, governing as he did in my stead, was overheard to mutter that the whole mysterious situation was ‘absurd.’ I have no quarrel with him on this point as there is no shield against bald truth. To he and everyone else I must make special note to apologize for the absence.”

He sighed deeply.

“Had I been able to disclose my plans without also designating all onlookers as Schrödinger’s theoretical experimenter and I the cat in the box, and therefore destroying my experiment, I would have. I ached over my inability to be honest with you for that month, but as the experiment is now over without the need for outside observation, I can now reveal to you the results.”

Dramatic pause. Mine, not his. He’d just kept right on talking, in fact — as if remarking sadly on the weather.

“Osama bin Laden is dead. Roughly two days before my return, he was killed in the Country of the Hills in Pakistan. I personally tracked him with no weapons on my person, less than 20 people having been aware of the mission, less than five aware that it was I at the center of it. As the trail grew warmer, I found myself captured. Having educated myself on various Arabian dialects and the Indo-Iranian languages of the region, I feigned ignorance and so gained great knowledge. The terrorists spoke openly and particularly, and it was often remarked by them all that the haggard man they had captured did, in fact, resemble myself. But the notion was ridiculous and so therefore was the debate, until their leader soon joined them.

“His searching gaze over my dirty face gave them all pause. I never heard him speak, but as he left the room I knew he soon would be, though not to me. I had precious little time. I must spare you the details — I pray you will forgive me for this. Please just rest assured that it was the man himself, and that it was I, your shamed leader, who delivered the killing blow.”

At this point, I need not record for future historians all the various flavors, colors, scents, and echoes of shock. The speech has been well dissected in the years since, and will continue to be debated for a long time to come. Was his humility fake? Were there lies; was it all just acting? How much or how little were others involved in assisting in these accomplishments? Was President Obama really such a prominent mind and an involved hand in the execution of these events? Or was he just a face?

His speech continued well beyond that which I mentioned here, of course. Past the blast of the flabbergasting wiretap sting and bin Laden ding, there were balanced stacks of successes and failures. It was not all reality worthy of fantasy, for sure. Some portions of his speech were brief ruminations on talking points we all knew well already: semi-socialized healthcare; assertively improved race and class relations, despite stubborn resistance still being experienced from elder names of the black community; the never-ending but wholly unsubstantiated claim that he is secretly a Muslim; a shrinking, however slowly, national debt; and of course the constant fears of what had become a practically weekly attempt on his life.

President Obama’s eyes slid shut. He sucked in a deep, rattling breath and held it. The air released slowly between lips that had become ever more chapped during his marathon 3-hour address. Hearts and bladders both were fit to burst. Stomachs growled and minds reeled. Just look at all he’s done, so many thought. And look at his misery at having not done more still. There could surely be no further surprises for him to spring on us, and yet still we waited for something more.

At the edge of the screen, just barely within view of the camera, a bright red phone began to ring and glow. President Obama opened his eyes and lowered his gaze toward his desk. He blinked hard and stood, walking with heavy but determined feet towards the phone. His hand found the receiver, the receiver found his ear… silence for everyone at home as he listened. Our greatest President nodded solemnly and placed the handset back down.

Obama bent tentatively down to a drawer on his side of the Resolute desk. He pulled forth a magnificent blue cape, gazed at it, and spun it around his back to clasp on his mighty shoulders. And that’s when we all remembered: Barack Obama was, in fact, the Sentry. A hero with the power of a thousand exploding suns. The cape in place, our President straightened his tie and bowed his head at the camera.

“Goodnight, and God Bless America.”

With a blur and a bang, he flew out the window of the Oval Office and split the sky in two, aiming to stop the speedily approaching fire meteor from destroying Earth. Everyone took a deep breath. We each smiled softly, nodded, and gazed at one another knowingly. How much faith we’d had, and how safe we now were as a result. Thank you, Golden Guardian of Good. Thank you.

30. April 2013 by Greg
Categories: Short, Stories | Leave a comment

Gladys

My entry for Three-Minute Fiction Round 10. After reading the winner of this one I definitely felt out of my league! Anyway, here’s mine…

Gerald. Hey. It’s Denny. Whew. I’m actually kind of glad you didn’t pick up. Okay, here goes. I borrowed your chicken. Don’t be mad. She’s fine. This won’t be like last time, okay? I know I should’ve asked but you would’ve just said no. But this is important and I needed Gladys for it, okay? This time it’s really going to happen. Look, I was there for you during your divorce, wasn’t I? So please don’t get all riled up like you usually do. We should be back in a few days and it’ll be like she was never gone. We’re staying in four-star hotels during the trip and she has her own bed, so you needn’t worry about anything. It’s all above board. Here, she wants to talk to you. Gladys? Gladys, come on over here. No wait, don’t step on — <dial tone>

 

 

16. April 2013 by Greg
Categories: Contests | Leave a comment

Frequently Asserted Nonsense about boredom

Welcome to the Frequently Asserted Nonsense. It’s like Frequently Asked Questions. Kind of. But pretty much any questions I got asked or comments sent my way about the whole Boredom Experiment were ridiculous on their face and so should be called what they are. Insert various expletives and misspellings throughout these FANs and you’ll get a feel for what every single response I got was like. Few of them are very original. I wrote most of this while the experiment was still underway, so my apologies for the present tense of most of my reactions.

Let’s go with the most common responses first.

“No, I do mean bored!” or “I meant what I said!”

You’re not smart enough to grasp any of what I’m saying anyway, so I’m not even going to bother. Come back if an inkling of what I’m trying to do here comes to you and try again.

“You must not find me boring if you’re retweeting me.”

Oh I find your whiny complaints to be very entertaining. You live in the most amazing world ever, and even if it has its flaws it’s still pretty damn cool. Plus it’s the only life you get. You have so many advantages that countless generations of people before you have never had. There is more entertainment and knowledge at your fingertips than is possible to consume in a thousand lifetimes. And you’re still acting like a little bitch. If you really think about it, that’s pretty damn funny. At very least I have to laugh about it or else I’ll have to succumb to the crushing cynicism of how pathetic this modern generation of people are.

To borrow one of my favorite phrases ever: “You are the result of 4 billion years of evolutionary success. FUCKING ACT LIKE IT.”

Besides, it’s an automatic thing. I’m not retweeting your shtick manually. As a matter of fact, it’s damn near impossible to retweet everyone on twitter who says they’re bored. The first time I tried to do a search through the API, the stream of tweets came in so fast that it crashed my crappy computer. Right now the rate of bored retweets on my twitter account is something like one per minute. But really the number of people who are actually tweeting that they’re bored is something more like several per second.

“Clearly you’re bored if you made this page.”

Your logic perplexes me, but probably again that’s because we have different understandings of what boredom is. From my perspective, I built something that has been enormously entertaining and educational to me by creating this page and writing down my philosophy on the topic. It’s provided me with lots of laughs and a great recurring conversation topic with my friends and other like-minded individuals. I made it out of curiosity and a desire for experimentation. I haven’t been bored for a single moment for years and years now in any situation I’ve been in, much less because of this twitter. You people and your whining and resulting defensive reactions absolutely crack me up and have provided yet another barrier against boredom for me.

“I’m not boring.”

You said you’re bored. That means you’re boring. End of conversation. You’re responsible for your own experience, not anyone else. Take some responsibility you lazy, weak-minded, buck-passing fool. Nobody else on this planet is responsible for your experience but you. Don’t want to be boring anymore? Make a vow to never be bored again and hold yourself to it.

Most people who claim to be something typically aren’t. There are exceptions, but they’re rare. Me, for instance. Just think about how a lot of people describe themselves as funny or often assert that they have a great sense of humor. They usually don’t, right? Funny people don’t have to tell people they’re funny – they just are. Similarly, interesting people don’t have to tell people they’re interesting.

“I’m at [INSERT LOCATION] in [INSERT SITUATION]. I’m stuck doing [ACTIVITY]. That’s why I’m bored.”

No, that’s not why. Your situation and location are irrelevant. You’re bored because you have a weak and/or lazy mind and so can’t conjure a way to engage yourself. You’re also trying to pass the buck and give away the responsibility for your engagement to someone else. The responsibility is yours. Take it.

Years ago I was sitting in a bookstore reading when an older lady glanced at the stack of books I had and decided to strike up a conversation. Initially I was annoyed at being interrupted, but she started telling me an interesting story. It was about this monk who was tortured for his beliefs. His captors locked him inside of a box that was too short to stand up properly in but also too narrow to lay or sit in. Basically he was trapped in a bent, semi-squatting position. In the dark. So what did he do with his time? He scratched poetry on the walls of the box he was trapped in. The lady told me the name of this poet and I wrote it down, but later lost the sheet and have regretted it ever since. (If anyone knows this story and can refresh my memory of the guy’s name, please do get in touch.) How would you react if you were locked in a box? Would you just sigh and say you were bored?

Chances are that you even sent out that tweet about being bored from one of the most amazing technological advantages of our time: a smartphone. You have all that power at your fingertips and you’re going to use it to type “im bored?” Really? Jackass. At very least you could play one of those million or so free smartphone games. Or if you were a really interesting person you could take it a step further and find even better things to do with it. For example, use an app or a website to learn a language. Read an ebook on your phone. If you added up all those times you had to wait in line, tweeted that you’re bored, or took a long dump and used it to learn a handful of words each time, chances are you’d be fluent in a new language pretty damn fast.

But nevermind, you’re lazy and don’t like using your brain. You won’t do that. Forget I said anything.

“Your boring”

The people who are trying to say “You’re boring” but misspell it as “your boring” are actually saying something rather profound that goes along with exactly my philosophy on boredom, though of course they’re a bit too dim to realize it. “Your boring” is possessive, as in “my boring” or “his boring.” And that’s what boredom is — it’s yours. It belongs to you. When you find someone else to be boring, it’s because you are allowing yourself to be bored by them.

“You know what I mean – YOU’RE boring”

I’m not boring to myself, and therefore I don’t consider myself boring in the slightest. That’s my only criteria: if you get bored, you’re boring. I don’t care what other people think and neither should you. On the issue of boredom, you answer only to yourself. So if you’re bored you only have yourself to blame. The sooner you start thinking of it like that the sooner you’ll snap out of your self-imposed mental prison of dullness.

But again, you’re thinking about boredom the wrong way. If you were an interesting person it would be impossible for me to bore you because your mind would be too powerful to succumb to my supposedly boring behavior. So this reaction really just reinforces my perspective that boring people get bored because they’re weak-willed and so easily influenced. You find me boring because you can’t help yourself: my will is stronger than yours and so if I behave in a boring fashion you can’t help but become bored. I rule you. Meanwhile, you can never bore me because I refuse to allow boredom into my brain. I don’t answer to you. I answer to myself.

Now more generally. To all the people who complain about my retweets of their boring behavior, to those who get defensive or threaten me or otherwise try to explain away their boring behavior: you are in denial.

Surely you’ve heard the phrase “The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.” In other words, you’re such a boring person that you can’t even acknowledge that it is indeed your responsibility to make the most of your own experience. You’re so boring that you actually prefer to stay bored because you’re too weak, scared, confused, and/or stupid to do anything about it. That’s why you’re so defensive: because you just got called out for being willfully inadequate for this world. That’s okay if that’s what you really want out of your life. So be angry at me for calling you boring, that’s fine. Hopefully when the anger subsides you’ll be left with a budding thought that you’re responsible for your own experience, and that may eventually help you wake up and take action for yourself instead of blaming everyone else.

There’s this great old literary phrase that has since grown into a cliché – and yet it’s a really great cliché. It goes like this: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Those who protest my accusations at all mostly just prove my point.

Last but definitely not least: Anyone who is genuinely amused and/or gets even an inkling of what I’m trying to do here…

YOU PEOPLE INSPIRE ME. There is hope for you. There is hope for the future within you. I love it. Any of you who gain even an ounce of awareness from what I’ve said. Any of you who disagree wholeheartedly with me but still laugh with sincerity. Any of you people who don’t take yourself too seriously. Hint: if you reacted at all angrily, grouchily, or defensively to me – you’re taking yourself too seriously. Actually, I’d say it’s safe to assume that if you’re reading this at all there’s a good chance you take yourself too seriously. In fact, let’s all just assume we take ourselves too seriously. Laugh more. Stop acting like you’re tough and apathetic and like the world owes you something. It doesn’t. I’ll say it one more time, because it bears repeating as many times as possible: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE.

02. January 2013 by Greg
Categories: Boredom Experiment | Leave a comment

The Boredom Manifesto

(Click here to read the background if you have not already.)

Boredom is your responsibility. It is not imposed on you by outside forces. You own it. Boredom is the favorite state of the mentally weak, lazy, and unimaginative individual. It is a willful state of being. It’s your fault you’re bored because you’re a boring person.
Webster.com defines “boredom” as “the state of being weary and restless through lack of interest.” But there’s an important characteristic missing from this definition: responsibility. That is, whose fault is it that the bored person is bored?
I humbly submit that it is the fault of the bored person. Ergo, the bored person is boring.

You see, boredom is not a function of uncontrollable perception. It is not like being too cold or hungry. If a person is truly cold, they cannot think their way out of it.* They do have some responsibility as well as (usually) the personal agency to fix it by either adjusting the temperature of the space they’re in, putting on warmer clothing, or getting up and moving.

But in an extreme situation, such as a plane crash in desolate tundra where there is no warmer clothing or better location in which to warm up, the individual has no options for correcting their feeling of being too cold. Or imagine a starving prisoner, say. That individual is being denied food by their captors and does not have the option of correcting their hunger on their own.

In these cases there is a tangible point at which an individual no longer has the responsibility/capacity for correcting certain negative feelings. Someone else has taken that responsibility from them, or it has just disappeared into the ether (such as the accidental plane crash scenario).

Many people see boredom in the same way. Their feeling of being entertained by and interested in something is finite, and there is a point where whatever currently possesses their attention will run out. Like the man who loses his jacket and so becomes cold, life will suddenly stop providing adequate entertainment and so the individual becomes bored.

Bullshit.

Boredom is not like cold or hunger. It is not something imposed upon you by outside forces. Boredom is IN YOUR HEAD. Boredom is a state of mind. It is a state of being that you have chosen to occupy. If you want to compare it to cold, it is akin to a wealthy person living in a nice warm house who goes outside in a snowstorm, naked, and lays down in the snow, lamenting aloud, “I’m cold.” It is a person with a cabinet and refrigerator full of fresh, ready-to-eat food that they love, staring at it all and whining, “I’m hungry,” before walking away.

What would you say of such people? How would you describe them? Crazy. Ridiculous. Confused. Lazy. Stupid. Here before them are the remedies to their woes, but they act in opposition to their desires. They expect some sort of sympathy. They think that their suffering is deserving of acknowledgement. Absurd.

Boredom is not deprivation; it is the willful pursuit of becoming bored. It is the state of being a boring person. It is not imposed upon you — it is sought out by you. You must stop thinking about it as something that is forced onto you and instead think of it as something you allow to happen to you, all the while ignoring solutions to your self-imposed problem. You are standing in front of the overflowing cabinets of this amazing life, this big beautiful world, and whining, “I’m hungry,” before walking away.

There is no extreme of existence in which boredom is absolutely impossible to avoid. Believe me, I’ve heard all of the possible scenarios even before I started this little experiment. I’m grounded. I can’t drive (whether because they’re not old enough or because they lost their license) and so cannot go out and find something to entertain myself. I’m sick/bedridden. I’m in a boring class. I work a boring job. I’m waiting on jury duty. I’m in detention/jail and there’s nothing to do. The people around me are boring. There’s nothing good on TV. I’ve beaten all of the video games I own.

But you see, boredom is not located in any of these things. It’s in your head. You own it. It belongs to you. You can either invite it in or dismiss it. When you invite it in, you become bored. When you dismiss it, you don’t. How you choose to dismiss it is up to you. It can be something low-level, such as merely finding another activity to entertain yourself. Oh, the TV went out? Go read a book. This is the most basic cure for boredom: doing something else.

Still, some of you more belligerent types will assert that you can’t do this for some reason or other because of your imagined extreme situation in which someone is forcing boredom upon you. A boring class, for example, with a boring teacher and boring classmates. Basically what you’re telling me is that you’re so lazy and your mind is so weak that you can think of no good way to engage your brain. Can’t help you there. You know yourself better than anyone. You know what you like and what engages you. So tickle that part of yourself. Don’t succumb to mental laziness.

If you’re stuck in a boring situation, fix it instead of acting like a little bitch. Remove yourself from the boring situation. If you can’t do that, find something new to do within the confines that you’re supposedly trapped in. When I had a boring job as a teenager — working in the produce department of a grocery store — I invented games with my coworkers that involved throwing the produce knives at targets made out of the produce boxes. When I was in a boring class I drew, or read something for fun. Reading is still my favorite go-to form of entertainment. Just up and going for a run is a close second. Maybe these suggestions don’t work for you. So go find something that does.

I’m not here to provide suggestions for how you should come out of your boredom because I don’t know you beyond the fact that you’re boring. (Well, and the fact that most of you have utterly ridiculous “I’m so sexy” usernames and profile photos.) Only you know yourself well enough to figure out how to snap out of it. I guarantee you’re not going to find it by tweeting about your boredom.

Interesting people never get bored. Ever. They’re so efficient at making their lives amazing that there isn’t even that in-between period of trying to decide what to do next. The wonderful events of their awesome lives just overlap and bleed together into a steady hum of intrigue. Think you’re an interesting person? The more often you’re bored — and worse, the more often you say it as if it’s anyone else’s fault — the less likely it is that you’re interesting.

One more thing. And this is crucial. A boring person is not someone who bores other people. It is an internal projection created by the person feeling boredom, not an external projection sent outward. Boredom is not tool or weapon to be wielded and swung at other people because the fact of it being a personal mental reaction means that those other people have to assent to becoming bored. Therefore a boring person is someone who allows himself or herself to become bored often. A boring person is BOREDOM’S BITCH. You don’t want to be someone’s bitch, do you? You don’t want to be the slave of so basic of a feeling as boredom, do you? So take ownership. Starting now. Get the hell up and take action. It’s similar to how a strong person who gets dumped by their significant other reacts to the breakup. A weak person will cry, complain, be sad, wallow, etc. A strong person feels the pangs of pain just like the weak person, but the difference is that the strong person refuses to be dragged down by it. Instead they immediately focus on finding happiness again.

It would be very easy to ramble on about this forever, but I’ll stop here while I’m on a high. (Before I bore myself!) Get out there. Do something with your life. Take some responsibility. Stop being so lazy and whiny. This boredom you feel is your own, and it’s your responsibility alone to defeat it.

 

*The Buddhist-minded among you may disagree with me on this point. The truly enlightened person believes in the possibility of total awareness, dominance, and control over the self and so thinks it’s possible to “think” one’s way out of any state of suffering. Boredom, hunger, cold, et cetera are all conquerable through meditation. I actually agree with you. But think about the audience to whom this is primarily addressed. I’m speaking to people who sincerely think that boredom — perhaps the most basic of conquerable mental states — is the fault of outside forces, not their own responsibility. You can’t throw everything at them at once and expect them to understand. Start small. Help them change what they know and understand for the better. Then move on to the bigger concepts. It’s a matter of degree, with boredom being the lowest possible step that they still haven’t gotten over yet.

11. December 2012 by Greg
Categories: Boredom Experiment | 1 comment

Introduction to The Boredom Experiment

In early 2012, I noticed something. I couldn’t go a day without seeing at least 2-3 of my friends mentioning that they were bored on Facebook or Twitter. And they usually were people that I didn’t think of as the types to get bored. They were interesting people with hobbies and lots of friends and… wait a second. I began to rethink how well I knew them, and I realized that I knew a prior incarnation of their personalities. I knew them in college, or even high school. Now we’re all adults and we have jobs and routines and such. That girl I knew who used to drink any guy under the table with straight up bourbon… she’s got a house in the suburbs full of Pottery Barn furniture, has three kids, and teaches Sunday school. So when I say, “They were interesting people,” I realized that the emphasis is on the word “were.”

I started investigating. I did a search on Twitter for the word “bored” and would get a different full set of results every time I reloaded the search page. Holy crap, there are so many people saying they’re bored. What a waste. What a ridiculous tragedy. Then the gears of my scheming mind started turning. It wasn’t purely mischievous, but there was definitely some element of impishness there. I wanted to poke people. Goad them. But I wasn’t setting out to be a troll by any means. Sometimes enlightenment has to come through confrontation. And often it comes best through confrontation with oneself. Perhaps a reconsidering of one’s own words would bring such enlightenment.

The experiment would be thus: I would create a Twitter account that would automatically retweet anyone who said that they were bored. The difficult logistics of such a broad search quickly made themselves clear. On my first attempt at pulling a live-scrolling search of the word “bored,” the screen filled with rapidly scrolling text just before my computer crashed. I did some quick math in my head, and I realized that there were so many people talking about how bored they were on twitter that it would be impossible to retweet them all with any sort of efficiency or usefulness. I settled on a rate of roughly one per minute.

The account was named @youmeanboring. A background image proclaimed “ONLY BORING PEOPLE GET BORED. YES, THIS MEANS YOU.” The bio for the account further explained, “When people say they’re bored, they really mean they’re boring. Life is short. Take responsibility for your own experience. Only the boring get bored.”

In just over two months of existence (with three periods of being banned due to wieners who couldn’t handle being called out), @youmeanboring retweeted over 36,000 people who stated that they were bored on twitter. The account was fully automatic and I never directly responded to anyone, as the goal was to let people’s own words do the work. The tweets themselves were pretty predictable and repetitive, making the account itself relatively… well, boring. But what made it so very worthwhile were the various responses. The self-shot pictures that often accompanied proclamations of boredom were also hugely entertaining in their remarkable similarity/consistency.

Most of the responses were predictable — of the “fucK u bitch!!!!1“ sort. Many others defended themselves, saying they weren’t boring. Several wanted to fight me and/or warned me against retweeting them ever again. (Naturally I retweeted such statements.) A small handful actually got what I was trying to do.

I wrote up a manifesto of sorts over the course of the experiment. Debated for a long time whether to post it online somewhere, and if so whether I should do so on my own site or somewhere else, anonymously. Then the idea sort of fell to the wayside for a bit. I recently rediscovered this crazy manifesto of mine and relived the hilarity and joy of the whole experiment all over again.

But after a few months away from it, I did see a few things more clearly than I had at the time. Number 1: No matter how much I told myself that I wasn’t trolling, it’s clear in hindsight that I was — at least to some small degree. In my meager defense, though, I really did have a grand point I was trying to make. (More on that in the essay.) Number 2: Since I originally wrote the manifesto with the idea that it would never be seen by another living soul, or if it was it would only be behind the veil of anonymity, I was much more brutal, honest, and cocky than the writing I do that I fully expect to be read any have my real name attached to it.

So I said to myself, I said, “Self — do you not remember the title of your own website? Do you not remember what the whole goal of having a web presence is? You’re supposed to be writing stuff and letting it go. You’re not supposed to be hiding anything or holding back or otherwise sugar coating your words.”

And with that, I decided I’d share this little experiment as well as the ridiculous, rambling manifesto I wrote in response to it. As an extra treat, I’m also going to share some of my favorite tweets from the experiment along with my responses to them.

So here we go. Stay tuned for “one idiot’s thoughts on boredom and the people who embody it.” Warts and all. In the meantime, feel free to browse the 36,000+ tweets and pictures that accompanied them on the @youmeanboring account.

05. December 2012 by Greg
Categories: Boredom Experiment | 1 comment

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