Weird Al-lection

I think we’ve probably all (And by “all” I mean the very small percentage of people who actually listen to Weird Al, filtered through the even smaller percentage of people who are still willing to think about the election) seen Weird Al Yankovic’s song about the debates. If not, here it is:

 

This is, of course, excellent. But I am prejudiced: not only can I talk about politics forever, but I have been a dedicated Weird Al fan for his entire career: my dad played me “Yoda” when I was about 9, and I bought “Weird Al In 3-D” soon thereafter. I have been a fan of his longer than any other band, any other musician, any other genre. I know pretty much all of his songs, most of them by heart.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that as I listened to this, I realized that it wasn’t the only Weird Al song that was appropriate for this election.

In fact, Weird Al has created the theme song for the whole thing. I mean, all of it. Every candidate — and for some of them, two or three.

So, in honor of a man I do honestly consider a musical genius, who can do anything at all, from reggae to heavy metal to rap to country, and in hopes of adding a wee bit of levity to our long national nightmare (Which will end soon! Only a week! Don’t forget to vote!), I hereby present The Weird Al-lection.

 

Starting with the Republicans:

Governor Jeb Bush: For the third Bush to run for President, who based all of his policies on “Well my brother did this, so I think it’s a good idea,” and his appeal on, “Hey, aren’t a lot of you folks white men? So am I!” This is the only song:

 

 

 

Dr. Ben Carson: Sometimes it’s too obvious. Though I like how absurd the lyrics are, and if you imagine this parody of a surgeon actually doing this job on you, that’s pretty much how I feel about Carson being president.

 

Governor Chris Christie: Now, this seems like a cheap shot; but actually, the connection to the New Jersey governor is more about the attitude in these lyrics: “Just watch your mouth, or I’ll sit on you.//If you see me comin’ your way, better give me plenty space; If I tell you that I’m hungry, then won’t you feed my face!”

 

Senator Ted Cruz: This one bothers me because this is one of my favorite songs, and Cruz is one of my least favorite organisms. But it’s perfect.

 

Carly Fiorina: 1. It’s about computers, like Ms. Fiorina; 2. it’s a parody of a song about money, also like Ms. Fiorina; 3. While the song is a good parody, it is vastly annoying. Like Ms. Fiorina.

 

Governor Mike Huckabee: I know he wasn’t in the race long, but Governor Huckabee’s mixture of devout Christianity and political incompetence makes me think this would be the result of his election. Rick Santorum can share this song.

 

Governor John Kasich: Since his pitch seemed to be, “Well, you can’t vote for Jeb Bush any more, so how’s about me? I can swing Ohio!” he gets this:

 

Senator Rand Paul: My impressions of Senator Paul: he is a strange derivative version of his father. He is frequently angry for very little reason. He is extremely white. There are actually some things about him that I like, but overall, I can’t stand the guy. Which is how I feel about polka. I’m sorry, Mr. Yankovic; I find them amusing when you do them, but — it’s just such a terrible musical form!

For Senator Paul: The Angry White Boy Polka.

 

Governor Rick Perry: For the man who can’t count to three:

 

Senator Marco Rubio: Again, this seems like a cheap shot — and a racist one, at that — but I thought this fit because Senator Rubio tried to take advantage of his heritage while also trying to appeal to all the honkies in the GOP; that reminds me of someone who speaks only food Spanish. Hence this song. Plus the original is all about trying to be smooth, which Rubio tries but can’t pull off; and the singer, Gerardo, is only appealing on the surface. Like Rubio.

 

Governor Scott Walker: The man is nothing but a front for corporations. He is an empty suit stuffed with dark money. So, he gets to have another of my favorite Al songs — one that says a lot about our culture, while saying nothing at all. Like Governor Walker.

(I’m adding a second song because Gov. Walker’s treatment of teachers in Wisconsin makes him pretty much The Most Hated Man On My List. Other than the Big T, that is.)

(By the way: if you’ve never seen this first video, it is brilliant, as is the song, if you’ve ever worked in a corporate environment.)

 

Finally, in honor of the forgotten candidates, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, Jim Gilmore, and George Pataki, none of whom anyone can remember, because nobody cared about their incredibly short runs for the Big Chair, I present my favorite completely absurd Weird Al songs. Because these people, like these songs, make no sense whatsoever.

(The video for this one also makes no sense.)

 

 

Now we finally get to the Dems.

 

Governor Lincoln Chafee: The guy’s so cool. And so utterly not.

 

Governor Martin O’Malley: You know, I don’t have much to say about Governor O’Malley. He seems like a pretty reasonable centrist Democratic candidate. I think this just wasn’t his year. Maybe that means it won’t ever be his year. So, he gets this one:

 

Senator Bernie Sanders: Such a mensch. Just listen to the first ten seconds, and you’ll see why this song. But the rest of it fits, too.

 

Senator Jim Webb: Senator Webb strikes me as being pretty much the guy who yells at kids to get off his lawn, if his lawn was a national debate stage.

 

Now for the big ones: those actual nominees who will be getting our votes in a few days. Please understand this post is not intended to endorse any particular candidate; please vote your conscience, wherever that leads you. Just please vote.

Don’t vote for Trump.

 

 

Dr. Jill Stein: I particularly like this one, because Dr.  Stein seems reasonable and logical and appealing at first — but the longer you listen to her, the less rational she seems. Let’s just cancel college debt? Anti-vaxxers have a point? Here you go, Doctor:

 

Governor Gary Johnson:  Mr. “What’s Aleppo?” gets two, one just because he was the governor of New Mexico.

 

Hillary Clinton: First, for all the promises she’s made, particularly the ones she’s made in exchange for a check:

And then, just because one song about mail is not enough for Hillary Clinton (Best thing about this is that the gist of this song is that people keep sending the same crap around the internet, and that people believe complete bullshit without any evidence. Perfect.):

 

Donald Trump: This is the way Mr. Trump actually lives. No exaggeration. It’s beautiful. Bigly beautiful.

And this is how we all feel about him.

 

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The Not-So-Great Pyramid

I need to be delicate with this one.

I have a thing I want to talk about, and I intend to be critical of that thing. But there are people involved, people I know (at least tangentially) and I don’t want to criticize them. Well, I do, but not terribly harshly; they are a product of our society. It’s our society I want to talk about. But there may be some people caught in the crossfire.

But then, I doubt they read my blog. So let’s just have at it.

I have recently had several encounters with pyramid schemes. Mostly through Facebook and Twitter posts, comments from the sorts of friends I feel I need to qualify as Facebook friends — my wife’s cousin, people associated with people I know but who have never met myself, or those I have met but am not necessarily friendly with. And at least one former student whom I would count as a friend even in a non-electronic sense.

I have no doubt there are others that I do not see, either because I do not see their posts, or because they do not post about this when they fall victim to it. I’m sure there are several. Because while pyramid schemes and get-rich-quick scams are as old as money, as old as sloth, as old as impatience — and that’s pretty goddamn old — I think there are more of them, now. I think we are seeing something of a perfect storm of influences and trends in our society that has thrown a great feast before this particular monster’s maw, and it is chuckling while it digs fatly into the mounds of fresh meat, chewing and swallowing and then crapping out greater quantities even than it takes in: because this beast expands, you see, and covers everything it touches with filth.

All right, that’s probably overstating it. But I like the image. I’m picturing a grossly fat Sphinx, its jowls dripping with blood, and it brings its head down and opens wide, and people — like my Facebook friends — just walk right in. And behind it? A Great Pyramid of shit.

Anyway, enough of the metaphors. A pyramid scheme is when a company sells a terrible product of some kind, generally water filters or kitchen knives or vacation condo timeshares, but it employs a particular trick: this company’s major profits do not come from customers; rather the profits come from new employees. Either the new employees need to pay for “training,” or “licensing,” or both; or the new employees need to purchase the goods they then have to resell. Or all of the above. It’s called a pyramid scheme for two reasons (at least it should be two reasons): because the flowchart has to expand with each level — the shmuck who starts the company has to find at least two suckers to pay him, and then they have to turn around and find two new suckers to recoup their losses, because the best way to make a profit at this company is to bring in new hires, and then those four suckers have to find eight, and so on down as far as it can go, and generally speaking, each level profits from all of the levels below it, so even if the guys in Level 3 do manage to get rich quick, they aren’t as rich as the people above them. That’s the first reason, the real reason. The other reason, the should-be-true reason, is because the pyramids were built by slave labor for the narcissistic pleasure of exactly one guy: the Pharaoh. For everyone else involved — and we’re talking tens of thousands of people — the Pyramids were nothing but shit, formed into blocks and stuck together with blood and sweat.

Yeah, there’s an image. Maybe I can use that on the poster for my Self-Actualization seminar.

Pyramid schemes are not illegal because their claims are true: if you can get two new people to come work for the company, you will get a bonus, and you will earn a piece of their income if they make any, just as part of your income gets kicked up to the people who brought you in; and if you spend $500 on crappy products that, in theory, you can sell for $5000, then you will make a tremendous profit. Never mind that the people above you already made their profit, because you spent $500 buying crap that isn’t worth $50. They don’t say that the crap almost certainly won’t sell — who the hell needs a water filter other than the one you have in the fridge already? Who buys a $500 knife set from a traveling salesman when you can buy everything at Costco, or online? — but then, they don’t need to; as long as they aren’t actively lying, they aren’t committing fraud, and if you’re foolish enough to think that paying out $500 to buy water filters that you have to sell door-to-door is a better way to earn money than working for minimum wage, then caveat emptor. Or rather, caveat venditor: let the salesman beware.

No, wait — I was right the first time. These people are buyers. They are consumers. They are at the bottom level of this pyramid of crap, with the weight of all that came before pressing them down into the mud.

But these companies are absurd. They’re absurd: I remember a student back twelve, thirteen years ago got into one of the water filter ones, and tried to sell me; I had bought cookies from students before, and boxes of fruit for the holidays, so I said I’d look at his catalog — but the freaking things started at $300. And needed to be installed. Okay, first, I rent my house, so there’s no way I’m donating a high-quality (I assume from the price. Right? Makes sense, right? Who’d charge that much for a piece of crap?) permanent water filter to my landlord; and secondly, have you not heard of Brita? I never bought anything. But he got a real job at a restaurant, and I tipped him when I ate there; honestly, he probably made more off of that than he would have from the water filter — though I’m sure the level above him was disappointed in both of us.

So why are there so many? Why am I seeing more and more of these?

Partly it’s because we live in a capitalist society. There have always been snake-oil salesmen. There have always been people who take advantage of others. Read Huck Finn and think about the Duke and the King, how they exploit both Huck and Jim, and each other, shamelessly from their first arrival on the raft until they finally get tarred and feathered — and when he sees that final justice, Huck feels sorry for them, and wishes he could help them. So this is nothing new.

But there are new elements. I think part of it is the Great Recession, especially when it was brought about largely by the last string of get-rich-quickers, the home loan industry. Ten, fifteen years ago, these people who now sell products for these companies probably worked for Joe Don Bob’s Big Home Howdy Howdy Mortgage Ranch Yee-Haw! Ltd. Same principle: pay the company for your “training,” and then work on commission, which in theory allows you to get rich, but actually makes those above you rich, and you only make money if you find people even more foolish than you were for taking the job in the first place; in 2004, that was people who believed they could get a home loan for a house they could not in any way afford, because they’d just flip it before the balloon payment came due. And it worked, at first — because there was the next group of suckers looking to get in on the action, and who were willing to buy the flipped houses, because they were going to flip those puppies, too.

Except for one thing: at some point, you run out of suckers. And since each new level is the new base of the pyramid, when the new level isn’t large enough or strong enough, the whole structure collapses. Though I’m not sure how the metaphor works that way: I guess if you imagine the whole pile of shi- I mean stone — being lifted up on thin struts, propped up by sticks and old rebar, so they can slide new stones in underneath before they jack those up along with everything atop them, until finally the jacks fail and it all comes down like the world’s worst game of Jenga — yeah, that works.

So we have an economically depressed society, one in which college is now too expensive for people to want to go at all, even if they know what they want to study and don’t need to get rich quick; one in which traditional sources of employment have almost entirely vanished, and everyone who lost their jobs in the collapse has had to jerry-rig a half-dozen different incomes — they teach an extension class, and sell beaded pillows on Etsy, and do aromatherapy consults, and throw Tupperware lingerie parties, and also, sell some water filters and timeshares (20% off if you buy both!). And since all of those people are college graduates, it makes education seem even less useful, even less worth the cost. Which just makes the problem worse: because that means that there are more and more people without education, so they aren’t perceptive enough to understand why this sweet new deal being offered them is too good to be true, and they can’t find a good job anyway, without a degree — so why not?

Enter the people I know who have bought into these schemes. They are all high school graduates, but none of them are college graduates. (To show that I know college is not a panacea nor always vital for success, one of the people who got hit up to join a pyramid scheme laughed at the whole thing, and he doesn’t have a college degree, either. What he has is a decent paying job he likes, and a clear and perceptive intelligence, so the get-rich-quick spiel bounced right off and slunk away into the gutter to find someone more desperate.) And here is the part that actually makes me angry, and was the impetus for this particular blog: those people, the ones who take these jobs, they work hard at those jobs. Harder than I do at mine, without a doubt — longer hours, certainly. They are proud of this, and their loved ones are proud of them for it. Hell, it’s even turned into memes:

 

Again, this is nothing new; the country was founded on that Puritan work ethic, which teaches that our role in life is to work, until we die and go to Hell. (Thanks, Puritans! Jesus, why couldn’t we have been founded by Taoists? Or Transcendentalists? Or free love hippies, or something? Why did it have to be freaking Puritans?)

And here’s my problem. If you’re that willing to work hard, if you understand that real effort is the only thing that brings success: THEN WHY THE HELL DIDN’T YOU WORK HARD IN SCHOOL?

Why wouldn’t you put your effort into something that is genuinely valuable, and not just because you make money from it, but in every way that something can be valuable? Education makes you a better person, living a better life, in a better world. Why did you pass that up in favor of cold-calling every phone number on a list to ask strangers if they want to buy your product — a product you don’t even really understand, if it’s, say, a timeshare, and which, I don’t doubt, your involvement with stops at, “You’re interested? Great, let me transfer you to my supervisor, who is actually a trained and licensed real estate broker, because he’s higher up the pyramid; but at least by transferring you, I made five bucks. Just fifty more buyers, and I’ll pay for my training certificate!”

If you’re willing to spend five, ten, twenty years building your business empire, why the hell wouldn’t you start with four years of college — studying, oh, I don’t know, maybe BUSINESS? Or even two years of trade school, so that you can have a good-paying job of some kind while you plan your entrepreneurial masterpiece? Maybe you can even base said magnum opus on something valuable, some genuine skill you acquired, instead of some bullshit like scammy real estate?

Maybe if these people had paid attention when the class read Huck Finn, they’d know that the We-Buy-Homes-Cheap company is the Duke and those water filter people are the King. So why didn’t they read the book?

Because they couldn’t see the value in something that genuinely has it: but they think they see value in a pyramid made of shit. I guess because the pyramid is tall.

There’s also this: our society has always believed that physical labor is harder, and therefore more Puritannically admirable, than mental labor. It isn’t necessarily enviable, because people who don’t have to spend eighteen hours a day digging fence post holes don’t want to switch to doing that, but we have always admired the people who can do it. We admire people who have three full-time jobs, even if their combined income is a fraction of our own. Those people work hard. And God bless ’em for it. Salt of the Earth. At least they’re not taking charity, right, Puritans?

You know, I’ve never had a serious physical labor job, like digging ditches or picking fruit. But I have done physical labor — I was a janitor and maintenance flunky for five years in college — and I have done home improvement type stuff, for hours at a stretch, out in the hot sun. So I understand how brutal physical labor can be.

I’ve also taught high school English for sixteen years, and in the process, I’ve written four novels and several hundred blogs and book reviews. So I understand mental labor, too. And while a full day of hard work in the hot sun leaves me completely drained and empty and torn, like the plastic wrapper after you take it off the Twinkie, that exhaustion is nothing compared to what it feels like to spend eight hours grading essays on June 15th when grades are due at 4pm. That kind of tired is the kind of tired where you don’t get brain-dead, and you don’t want to just sleep for days; you’re so tired you get angry. You don’t want to sleep, you want to punch things, starting with your own brain for getting you into this mess. It’s a whole different kind of tired, because it’s a whole different kind of hard.

So my point is: if we admire laborious hard work so much, why the hell don’t we admire those who put in the genuine effort to study, and really study hard, and learn? Why do we think it’s better to put in eight hours at an office — or in a ditch — than it is to put in eight hours at a library? Imagine how much better off we all would be, if the people who work so hard to sell shit, and pile up shit for their bosses to sit on top of while they, the hard workers, squelch around underneath, suffering and dying while they just keep adding more shit, like Giles Corey in The Crucible calling for “More weight!” if he then put the stones on his own chest until he died — imagine if all of those people who work for these ridiculous goddamn companies (And the biggest pyramid scheme of all, by the way, is the United States military — but that’s a topic for another day) could actually produce their own original ideas. Imagine where we would be then.

If you actually put in the effort to read all of this, that is.

Those of you who have half a dozen water filters in boxes behind your couch? I know you didn’t.

Book Review: Too Many Curses

Too Many Curses
by A. Lee Martinez

 

This book was a surprise for me. I’ve read three or four by Martinez before, and he writes a pretty good wacky/funny fantasy. I expected this one to be the same.

And there are some elements of wacky/funny fantasy in here: it is the story of an evil wizard, one who spends his long life seeking more power for himself, which he then uses mainly to unleash his cruel vengeance on anyone who irritates him. His victims then live in his castle, transformed into mice, into decapitated animated skeletons, into nothing but an echo.Some of the curses are loony and silly and fun, and so are some of the characters living with those curses — a hero turned into a fruit bat, the wizard’s mother transformed into a clinging ivy plant while his brother occupies a small jar, reduced to nothing but a few body parts floating in goo, a banshee that can only materialize to give dire warnings, so she stretches the meaning of the word “dire” in order to materialize as often as possible, whereupon she moans hideously, “Yooooouuu’ll stub your TOOOOOOEEEEEE!” And so on.

But the main character is the very opposite of wacky. She is serious, and she is a genuinely good protagonist — both for the story, and as a person. Nessy the Kobold takes care of the evil wizard’s castle; that is her task, and she does it well. When things go wrong with the wizard, it is up to her to take care of things, simply because there is nobody else who can. Fortunately, Nessy is good at taking care of things, and she does the best she can with her limited abilities.

It’s a good story. There are some nice twists. I was a little disappointed with the revelation of what’s behind The Door That Must Not Be Opened, but the secret of the castle itself, and of Tiama the Scarred, and the final fate of the wizards in the story, was most satisfying. I loved Sir Thedeus (He’s the fruit bat), and the monster under Nessy’s bed who just wants her to read him stories every night. And I really did love Nessy, both as a character and as a protagonist; I agree with the message she presents to the reader, which is basically the same message from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: heroes may be small, but it is the small, good things that we do which make all the difference in the world.

Good book. Recommended.

Book Review: The Martian

The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir

This was a fun book. A hell of a lot of fun. This is fairly unique because it’s quite definitely hard science fiction: set in the near future where we have made more advanced spacecraft, but nothing outside of our abilities, and used them to start a manned exploration program to Mars, this is the story of an astronaut who gets left behind accidentally. There is a storm on the surface of Mars, and he is hit by falling debris when the storm blows over parts of the mission’s base camp; his heart monitor is destroyed and he is thrown far out into the dust storm, so the rest of his crew think he is dead; they look for him, but have to leave in a hurry before the storm destroys their liftoff craft and strands them all on the surface to die.

So this guy, who happens to be the mission’s botanist and mechanical engineer, is not in fact killed, and he wakes up to realize they have left him behind. The book is then his attempts first to survive, and then to contact Earth so they can help him survive, until the next Mars mission lands in three years or so.

I know, I know, most people have seen the movie with Matt Damon; I haven’t, so the book was brand new for me, and therefore very exciting. I am normally not excited by hard science fiction, by talk about machines and rockets and physics and acceleration and mass and interstellar travel and such; but I have also found that most authors of hard science fiction tend to lean on science more than on storytelling or character development. (There are hundreds of sci-fi authors I have not read, so I’m sure there are plenty that do it well. No offense meant.)

Andy Weir doesn’t do that, however. He does have some very hard science: he is himself an astrophysicist who has worked for the space program; there are several characters who focus quite a bit on the math and the physics and the probabilities. But the main character is a joker, who doesn’t take anything too seriously; clearly it is something that is necessary to help him survive the ordeal — just the thought that he has been left behind on an alien planet, where he will have to be alone for years, without enough food or water or the means to save himself, would be enough to break anyone but an eternal optimist, so it makes sense that he is exactly that — and it makes his narration so much more fun to read than most sci-fi characters that I’ve hit upon. And though there are more serious scientist-characters at NASA, and some of them do take themselves too seriously, the book does not; it shows disagreements that lead up to insults sometimes, and several of the characters are described — often by themselves — as being bad with people. It makes them more human, and the science more palatable.

The last factor that made this interesting is the theme: it isn’t about the need for space exploration, or the value of science, or the future of mankind in the universe; all those things come up, but really, the book is about this: what is the value of one human life? If you could save a life, what would you do, what would you spend, what would you give up to do it? That is an interesting question, and this book provides an interesting answer. I hope it’s the same one that all of us would give.

Highly recommended. Dunno if it’s better than the movie, but it’s a damn good book.

The Soul of an Octopus: Book Review

The Soul of an Octopus
by Sy Montgomery
I got this one for my wife, for two reasons: first because we both read and loved Montgomery’s book The Good Good Pig, and second because she loves octopuses. (By the way: Montgomery makes this clear in the first pages, that the correct plural is not “octopi;” the word “octopus” is from the Greek, which doesn’t pluralize -us ending words with -i. That’s a Latin plural. The correct English plural is octopuses. The correct Greek plural, used only by painfully awkward British nerds, is “octopodes.” But we’re not talking about that. Watch this if you want more word-nerdery.) How much does she love octopuses? You tell me.

(Oh yeah — she also likes doll heads. This book isn’t about that, though.)
So I got her the book, she read it, loved it. And I put it on my To Be Read shelf so I could read it, too. And now I have. And here’s what I found out:

I don’t love octopuses.

I don’t know why. I have something of a fear of the ocean, as I am afraid of drowning; I didn’t much like reading about the octopus’s strength, how one could easily pull a human into its tank, how one two-inch sucker could lift and hold 20 pounds or so, and the average octopus has about 1600 suckers. I admit I don’t really like slime, and there is quite a bit of slime involved with octopuses. I don’t much like the idea of being tasted, and the octopus’s entire skin is a sensitive tasting/smelling organ. So there was quite a bit of creepiness in the book for me, which tended to reduce the enchantment of it, an enchantment that is obviously shared by my wife, and by the author, and by the other people who go through this octopus journey with Montgomery, mostly biologists and volunteers at the New England Aquarium, where Montgomery met and made friends with several octopuses over several years.

Now: I do find cephalopods fascinating. I am amazed by their intelligence and by their multifarious abilities — octopuses can camouflage, can change shape and color and texture in less than a second; they have these remarkable arms with remarkable suckers; they can squirt ink; they can squirt water as either a weapon or as a means of locomotion; their bite is venomous. They can squeeze through any space that can fit their beak, the only hard thing in their bodies. Octopuses are badass and incredibly interesting because of it. So in terms of the science aspect of this popular science memoir, it was great; Montgomery writes well, and obviously knows her stuff, and the information was interesting. The parts about the idea of consciousness, and how an octopus may have an intelligence no less than our own, but totally different from our own, were fascinating to me. (I want to write a story now about an ancient octopus civilization at the bottom of the ocean. Except Lovecraft beat me to it. Hey — maybe he’s why I don’t like octopuses.)

But when Montgomery waxes rhapsodic about the softness of an octopus’s head, or the peace and beauty of time spent communing with an octopus while its tentacles wrap around your arms — nope. Gave me the shivers.

If you, like my wife, love the octopuses, then get this book and read and enjoy it. If you find octopuses interesting and they don’t make you feel all squirmy, then go ahead and read it; you’ll learn a lot. (There is also a lot of information about fish, about aquariums, about raising sea cratures, about keeping them in captivity, and about scuba diving. Oh — and about octopus sex.) If eight-legged sucker-wielding boneless deep-sea creatures make your eyes wide and your mouth small, then go read The Good Good Pig.

Take Your Time

If I could pick the time I would live in, I would go back a hundred years, and live then. I would be born in 1874, and would now be in 1916. That would be my time.

I decided this a while ago, when I realized that all of my professional aspirations would have served me just as well in the early 20th century, if not better than now. As a schoolteacher then, I wouldn’t have been paid much better than now; but I would have gotten more respect, I think. And I could have paddled my students when they made me mad. More importantly, being a professional writer was, I think, easier then, as there were more people who read, and thus more room for people who wrote. I would be happy continuing on with teaching if I could also have my work published and purchased and read, and I think that would have been simpler back then. There’s also nothing that would have stopped me from owning a shop that sold books and coffee in 1916.

But there are other factors that keep adding to this. I’m healthy, so I don’t care much about the loss of modern medicine; I hate driving fast and I’m not a fan of flying – but I love trains and I would love to take a ship to Europe or the Caribbean. I actually like wearing suits, especially with vests, and hats; though I admit the nonexistence of air conditioning would be tough. I don’t use the telephone very much; I prefer letters. I’ve actually tried to get people to join a written correspondence with me, but nobody keeps it up.

Nobody has time.

I would like to have time.

That’s the main thing, actually. I mean, sure, I like writing on a computer. I like video games. I enjoy having reliable electric power, and recorded music, and broadcast television, and things made out of plastic. Knowing what I know about politics and history, I would not want to live through the World Wars or the Great Depression or the epidemics of influenza and typhoid and smallpox. Though I do wish that the wackiest political candidate now was Teddy Roosevelt, with all his crazy ideas about national parks and the value of exercise. I could not imagine my life without my wife, and if I were alive a century ago, she would not be; if she were, her life would be far more miserable, as a woman without equal rights, or the opportunity to get into art school and do what she loves (though knowing my wife, she would have found a way even back then to be an artist). And of course, she probably would have died in childbirth, as most women did, and I would give anything up to be sure that didn’t happen, including living today in this loud, fast, illiterate world.

But if we can step away from that reality – and since we are talking about traveling in time, we’d better – and just talk about the general shape of life, then yes, an argument could be made for the late 19th/ early 20th century over the 20th/21th. (A note: my word processing program didn’t recognize “21st” as a designation requiring the letters be turned into superscript; but “21th” was no problem. Technology.) And it’s largely because of time and speed. Here – I’ll try to keep it short, so it doesn’t take too much of your time.

I like to take my time. I like moving slowly, and being thorough. Even in the video games I enjoy, I prefer the ability to wander around and explore, the opportunity to re-do a task until I get it right, the power to decide when I go on to the next challenge; I prefer long strategy games and life simulation games because of that. I love puzzles. I like reading books more than short stories, though I enjoy reading an entire newspaper or magazine. I prefer walking or riding my bike over driving. I like the opportunity to think while I am doing other things, and so I like activities that I can pause to consider. It’s the biggest problem my students have with me as a teacher: we take forever to get through a piece of literature, because I’m constantly stopping them to talk about what we just read. They want to get through stuff, and I want to understand every little bit of it.

But that’s also what makes me a good teacher. And it’s what makes me a good writer, and a good reader/reviewer: I take my time. I think about things as I go. I don’t write a lot of drafts for most of my work, but it’s because I think about everything I’m going to say before I say it, and then while I’m writing it. I’ve been thinking about the general shape of this piece for a couple of weeks now, though it has morphed from a screed about Harambe memes, to a rant about Twitter, to this. Which I have started, stopped, and restarted once already.

I can go fast. And I can see the appeal of it. I’ve mowed a lawn using both a push mower and a motorized one, and the push mower is far more annoying; I was only able to do it because I could have music piped directly into my ears through an MP3 player or a radio with headphones. I love being able to write these pieces and then put them instantly in front of a potentially world-wide audience. I do like microwaves and hot water heaters and instant coffee machines.

But generally speaking, the appeal of going fast is to have more time for other things; and if those things are made to go fast as well, then life becomes one frantic screaming headlong tumbling rush. We turn into Alice falling down the rabbit hole: out of control, no idea which way is up or how much time is actually passing, and we never touch the sides, nor reach bottom. We get lost in the chaos, without anything to hold onto. There has to be something that we take slowly, something that we enjoy spending as much time as possible doing; then there is a reason to get through the rest of the day quickly, in order to spend more time doing that one slow thing. The problem with our modern world is that we seem to not have that slow thing, most of us: most of my students, children of their time, simply spend many many hours doing quick things: they scroll through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram; they text and chat and IM constantly; they play videogames all day long, frequently hopping between two or three different games at the same time, playing simultaneously on the computer and on the phone; they spend hours watching videos, everything from full-length movies to six-second Vines. While they are scrolling and chatting and playing games. They spend so much time doing things quickly that everything feels rushed, everything feels late, everything is done at the last minute and under high pressure. They don’t even take the time to sleep.

I would rather sleep. I would rather wait for things – give me a book, or a piece of paper and a pen, and I can wait forever. And in terms of doing things quickly to get to other things, I’d rather not do those things at all. My goal in life is not to accomplish everything when I am young so that I may have a long quiet time at the end of my life; my goal is to avoid or eliminate all of the things I don’t want to do, so I can spend all of my life doing things I want. I haven’t been able to do that yet. But I’m still working on it. I think I’m making progress. Slowly.

I’m not very good at going fast. So I do have a Twitter account, and I do Twit (If it was Tweeter, then the verb would be Tweet; but it’s Twitter. Hence.), and I enjoy it; but not enough. I only Twit once a day or so, most days, and so I don’t get a lot of followers. The same goes for this blog: I can’t find a subject worth talking about at length every day, and I don’t like posting short quick things, and so I don’t get a lot of followers. But that’s okay: because I would rather have readers. I would rather post something at length once a week or so, that a dozen or so people actually read, than post a new sentence every hour and have ten thousand people scroll past it and smile when they do. I’d rather have comments than likes. I’d rather have people come back to read more of my writing than have a post of mine go viral. Don’t get me wrong, I like the likes, and I’m grateful that there are people who think me interesting enough to actually follow on this blog or on Twitter; but if I could trade all of that for some published work, or a weekly column, even if it was in a small newspaper or magazine, I would do it in a heartbeat.

There: that’s something I would do quickly.

I had an interesting week on Twitter, which was part of the impetus for this blog. I live-Twitted several cracks about the debate between Clinton and Trump on Monday night, and that was fun. I do have some followers, mostly my students, and they get a huge kick out of me being on Twitter – which is an ego boost, I will readily admit. Though it sort of freaks me out that the response can sometimes be instantaneous: I have one student that, when she likes or retwits my twits, she does it within a minute of my posting it. It makes me nervous: because sometimes the speed of something like Twitter leads to bad judgment, or truly terrible typos and Freudian slips and malapropisms that may never be lived down. As we learned from the 3am version of Mr. Trump this past week, as well. I’ve been badly burned by my rapid writing, because the posts that nearly got me stripped of my license to teach in Oregon were done without much forethought, in the heat of the moment, and that ended up badly; too, the actual report that led to my blogs being discovered came from a Facebook post. So social media makes me nervous. I like the ability to write what I want to say, and then step back and think about whether it is a good idea to say it or not; there’s a blog post about Hillary Clinton sitting on my computer, where it will stay, because writing it got me too annoyed and I turned much too insulting. But there are no drafts for Twitter. I post things, and I have deleted things after I posted them; but if they already got retwitted, then it’s too late.

Then on Wednesday, one of my favorite authors, Christopher Moore, twitted a Trump joke: “Yo daddy so orange, they push his face in the dough to make jack-o-lantern cookies.” And I quickly twitted back “Yo daddy so orange they use his dandruff to make Tang.” I was ecstatic when I saw Mr. Moore liked and retwitted my post. For a moment I thought it might go viral, or that I’d get a whole swath of new followers; but really, the excitement was that Christopher Moore, whose writing and especially whose humor I have tremendous respect for, liked my joke. That was nice. So on Friday, when I saw one of my favorite comedians, Patton Oswalt, twitting back and forth with several other people about the Alt-Right version of Star Wars – jokes about the Sand People being illegal immigrants and Han Solo not being a real hero because he was captured, and so on – I thought of a good one, and I twitted it to Mr. Oswalt. Hoping for the same response.

But I didn’t get it, because, it turns out, someone else had twitted the same joke (Darth Vader: “You know, if Leia wasn’t my daughter, I’d probably date her”) ten minutes before I did. That person got hundreds of likes and retwits; I got none.

That’s too fast. In ten minutes, my joke went from funny and appreciated, to derivative and ignored. In other words, to make that joke and be successful at it, I would have had to be ten minutes faster – most easily accomplished by obsessively following Twitter feeds and looking at trends and hashtags. But that is not something I want to do. I don’t want to spend hours jumping from thought to thought to thought, cudgeling my brain into coming up with something funny or interesting, in less than 140 characters (Because you have to leave room for the hashtag!), faster than other people can come up with it. If I was already famous then I would have an instant audience and I could twit things at my leisure that they might appreciate; but then I run the risk of twitting idiocy and having all of my followers instantly know about it and spread it all over the twitterverse. Like Mr. Trump. Or Jaden Smith.

I would rather take my time. I would rather think of something original to say, or create a new perspective on an old problem, than follow trends. Particularly because: had I been the one who came up with the joke ten minutes earlier, and gotten the likes and retwits, I would have been forgotten ten minutes later, when the next person thought of the next funny joke. I don’t want to be that fast, and I don’t want to be forgotten that soon.

I think that’s the impetus behind the Harambe memes. Now, to be clear: while some memes are funny, I generally can’t stand them. They represent the lowest common denominator, which is why they spread so widely and catch on so quickly. Sometimes they’re genuinely funny – like some twits in the twitterverse – and frequently they are cute, because cute is one of the lowest common denominators; but they are always the worst form of the argument, when they are about serious topics, and they are always reductive and simplistic and generally obnoxious to one group or another. My favorite use of memes is in messing with my students: because they don’t expect me, their middle-aged English teacher, to use memes, so when I do, there’s a disconnect that I find more amusing than the meme. But for most meme-people, the humor is unpredictable: it’s impossible to say which meme will catch on and which will not. There are people whose lives online revolve around making memes; some of them are good at following and capitalizing on trends; some are good at making trends; all of them are stuck in an endless cycle of rapidity, catching onto jokes that rise and fall in instants, and the fame that comes with originating the joke following the same arc. A year or two ago it was a frog on a unicycle with the tagline, “Here comes dat boi – Oh shit waddup!”

Then it was another frog – no reason in the meme world – named Pepe, with a depressed look in his half-lidded eyes and his downward curving lips (He has had a recent resurgence when it came to light that Pepe is now popular with those who make vile racist memes, because they dress Pepe up as the minority they wish to denigrate. Yup. Funny stuff.).

 We have also gone through a caveman Spongebob, several images from a video of Shia Lebeouf, far too much of the wrestler John Cena, and recently a strange obsession with Rick Harrison, the star of Pawn Stars.

At one point it was Harambe. The gorilla in the Cleveland zoo who grabbed and held a child who got into his enclosure, and was shot and killed by zookeepers trying to protect the boy. It was a sad story that rapidly caught the attention of the country, particularly online, because it hit so many buttons: children’s safety and violence and the treatment of animals.

Harambe memes caught on partly because the biggest audience for memes is teenagers, and teenagers revel in mocking other people who take things too seriously, which is how the outcry over Harambe was seen – people weren’t concerned with the Syrian refugee crisis, or about the murders of African-Americans committed by police officers, they were concerned with the death of one gorilla – and partly because one meme-creator had an idea: a stupid and crude and absurd idea; and so of course, that’s the one that caught on. The idea? Men flashing their genitals as a tribute to the gorilla. The tagline was “Dicks Out For Harambe.”

Yeah: it’s kind of funny. Put in the right absurd context – a job interview, a political appearance, a Christmas special – the absurd notion is amusing. Because it touches on a taboo that people often find absurd anyway, the issue of public nudity, and also touches on the absurd obsession that most men have with their own genitalia, it got even more traction. And it had its usual run as the most popular meme of the moment. I’m sure whatever meme-maker came up with the line had a sharp uptick in followers or likes or reposts, and I’m sure he or she (Probably he) was gratified and possibly enriched by the increase in ad revenue. The popularity has ended now – thankfully – and I rarely see “dicks out” jokes any more. There was a brief resurgence when another great ape, the gorilla Bantu, died owing to a mistake in a medical procedure, but the slogan “Balls Out for Bantu” was apparently too derivative even for meme-fans, and it never caught on the same way. One of my former students twitted a picture to me, of a poster that some (probably apocryphal) English teacher had on a classroom wall that showed a gorilla’s face and the slogan “Books out for Harambe,” which he said I should put on my wall, but when I told him that there wasn’t enough No in the world (A dick joke AND a meme joke? Oh, sign me up!), another of my students took my side: evidence that the meme is largely dead. When even teenagers don’t think you’re funny any more, there’s no place left for you in the meme world.

But I still see Harambe memes. Now they have changed. Now they are about the gorilla being remembered; now the absurdity is in someone crying over the idea that Harambe’s death will be forgotten. Again, mocking people for taking things too seriously, or at least the wrong things too seriously – but now it is without the lowest common denominator. No dicks in this joke. So this one is less absurd, which makes me question why it is so popular.

So I wonder: how much do people who make memes, who spread memes, worry about the thought of being forgotten? How much of this latest spurt of temporary fame is about this genuine fear? In a world where the attention span covers approximately six seconds or so, where this week’s star is the “Damn, Daniel” guy and next week’s star is Rick Harrison and the “Damn, Daniel” guy is gone from people’s memories forever – what is the point of trying to reach the top? The second you do, you fall right back off, and you probably never make it back up again.

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. (And I realize now that I have gone on longer than I intended; I would apologize, but I’m never actually sorry for using a lot of words) When life is about going as fast as possible, then life, too, goes as fast as possible – which is really damn fast. And that may be exciting, but it also gets us to the end before we know it. And whatever that end is, whether it is obscurity or nothingness or even eternal paradise: it won’t be exciting, and it won’t be fast.

I would rather write than trend. I would rather be read than laughed at. I would rather read and consider than get through things. I would like to take my time.