Strange Things That Interest Me

abnormal psychology

I’m not sure why I am fascinated by folks whose brains don’t function within the realm of what psychologists would call “normal,” unless it’s a concern I might be one of their number. As Wikipedia puts it, “Abnormal psychology is the scientific study of abnormal behavior in order to describe, predict, explain, and change abnormal patterns of functioning. Abnormal psychology in clinical psychology studies the nature of psychopathology, its causes, and its treatments. Of course, the definition of what constitutes ‘abnormal’ has varied across time and across cultures.”

I don’t understand, intellectually, what would motivate people to do things like become serial killers or con-men. I don’t understand a lot about abnormal psych, but I find it fascinating. What makes these people tick? How do you spot a sociopath? How do you deal with a narcissicist? What is OCD? Why otherwise would I read stuff by Freud, Jung, Maslow, et al, if I didn’t have to? I read a mess of True Crime books and used to watch Monk, too.

alternate universes

Once again, Wikipedia helps me nutshell it so I don’t rabbit on for yonks. “Alternate universes are known, collectively, as a multiverse. A multiverse (or meta-universe) is the hypothetical set of multiple possible universes (including our universe) that together comprise all of physical reality. The different universes within a multiverse are sometimes called parallel universes. The structure of the multiverse, the nature of each universe within it and the relationship between the various constituent universes, depend on the specific multiverse hypothesis considered.

Multiverses have been hypothesized in cosmologyphysicsphilosophytheology, and fiction, particularly in science fiction and fantasy. The specific term “multiverse,” which was coined by William James, was popularized by science fiction author Michael Moorcock. In these contexts, parallel universes are also called “alternate universes,” “quantum universes,” “parallel worlds,” “alternate realities,” “alternate timelines,” etc.

The possibility of many universes raises various scientific, philosophical, and theological questions.”

Imagine, if you will, that every action or inaction you choose branches off into infinite directions, each defined by an alternate choice you could have taken. It’s a popular conceit in sci-fi and fiction, be it Dr Who or Star Trek or fantasy universes or even dark alternate futures. Any time you read a short story like Ray Bradbury’s “The Sound Of Thunder” or a sci-fi show that asks what would happen if you had the chance to go back and assassinate Hitler before World War Two, you are thinking about alternate universes, the what ifs that might have happened in this particular personal reality. (Getting into what is real and what defines existing and whether perception can be trusted would take a novel to type out and digressions into philosophy, so suffice it to say I know that opens a can of worms right there.)

Maybe in an alternate universe, my döppelganger has made nothing but right choices in life. It could be possible.

enjoying aunt-hood not motherhood

This is not intended to disparage anyone who is a parent and happy about it. Kids are neat and all. I have just never had an urge to procreate. Occasionally I used to think about who I’d leave my nifty stuff to, but now that I have nieces, I am assuming they’ll enjoy some of my cool stuff when they are old enough to figure out who I am and that I even have some cool stuff.

I didn’t like baby dolls. I am not particularly interested in infants. I babysat on and off for more than 18 years and put in my time, I suppose. Kids like me. I like most kids. Never once have I thought that I wished some nice kid was MY kid. I don’t pine to be pregnant. I don’t feel like I am going to be missing out on anything if I choose not to spawn.

Being an auntie is nice. You get to spoil the little ones and then give them back. No worrying about braces or bad habits or bad behavior. No whining or being asked “Why?” four million times. No jam on the ceiling. No diaper rash. No lack of sleep for three years straight.

Kids are cool, but I don’t want one. Borrowing one once in a while is all I need.

tarot

I’ve been reading tarot since I was eleven years old. I have almost 130 tarot (or tarot-like) decks. It may be total woo, but I’ve apparently given good readings more often than not. Of course, I haven’t read any tarot cards in about 12 years, but the tarot decks don’t have to be used to be interesting. Tarot card art is often beautiful.

Years ago I spent a couple of months on AIM or IRC, can’t recall which, and offered, in my profile, to read tarot for anyone for free, but they were not to tell me anything but their screenname: no gender, no age, no question, no location, nothing. They just were to send me a message saying that they wanted a reading, and to either think of a question or prepare for a general reading, but not to tell me what the question was.

I read for about 100 people and supposedly hit the nail on the head 99 times, getting the general topic of the question correct and hitting details that had resonance with the querents. The oddball was asking if she should ditch her husband to run off and have an affair with another married man that she’d met while they were both dropping their kids off at some daycare. This information came out after “the cards” said “No, no, a thousand times no, bad idea, whatever is on your mind, don’t do it” about ten different ways. She was not happy with not being given carte blanche to commit adultery and make dumb decisions, so she decided that the reading was bad.

What can you do?

How do the cards work? Well, assuming they actually do “work”, I have no idea. Maybe the symbols help your subconscious reveal cues you managed to pick up without being aware of them. Maybe it’s like astrology, and every general sun sign description sounds accurate, roughly, partially, because the descriptions are generally vague. Who knows? But if people want their cards read, I can apparently do a decent job.

tea

My favourite is Dr Chang’s Long Life Tea, Original Mongolian Blend, which I can’t find here in Savannah or online, and which I had a hell of a time finding in Atlanta. Also, last time I got a stye (probably from stress), a wet tea bag helped the swelling go down after nothing else worked for a month. I was prepared to go to my grave with a lump on my lower eyelid, but it improved.

It’s better for you than coffee or soda pop. There are thousands of choices. You can grab a glass of iced stuff, or make an entire ritual out of it and serve nice little sandwiches and scones with jam and clotted cream or lemon curd.  You can drink healthy tea or tea that energizes, or tea that flushes out your system, or tea that relaxes, or tea that helps with long-term depression, or tea that just perks your mood up. You can drink tea alone or in a group. It’s good hot or iced.

Tea is nice.

urban exploration

I don’t get much of a chance to do this these days, but this can be a number of different things, and doesn’t have to involve trespassing (though it often does). If you have a friend who likes to take pictures, urban exploration can involve sneaking onto the grounds of an old millworks that is scheduled to be demolished and taking pictures in as many places as possible to take advantage of a soon-to-be-lost resource.

It can mean starting at Point A and then following whatever whim, based on whatever rules, to end up at another, unknown point. If you do it as a group, everyone gets a turn having their whims indulged. You may end up taking a horse-drawn carriage tour, or trying to sneak into some glass elevators, or onto balconies at hotels.

You might look over walls and around corners you’d normally ignore. You might eat at a chicken and waffles place or some ethnic restaurant you’d never normally choose because it was there and you decided you were hungry. You might stumble upon a party or happening or art exhibit. You might find some public art you only ever drove past before. You might befriend a stray cat. You might make new friends. You could end up drinking martinis high above the city skyline in a revolving restaurant. You may end up singing the blues in a karaoke bar. You might be cheerfully heckled by a drag queen in a gay bar, or befriend a homeless guy who sells incense to make a living. You might find a cartoon retrospective being shown. You could discover that you like reggae music when you wind up in a hole in the wall bar. The goal is to be open to possibilities, and to recruit similar-minded friends who are up for some unstructured amusement. Not every choice is going to be superlative, but part of the game is to vote to stay or move on every so often, be it a half hour or an hour or whatever the group chose. You can split up, even, but that’s not as much fun.

It’s making do with the urge to wander when woods and mountains are not on hand to clamber over. Some people do indulge in a type of urban spelunking and rappelling, but my insurance isn’t that great, so I stick to more simple exploring. You can’t be easily embarrassed or lazy or careless enough get caught doing something illegal (akin to double parking, mind, no actual naughtiness like white slavery or heroin rings required), that’s no fun!

 

About Myers-Briggs Personality Typing

Myers-Briggs personality typing might well be bunk, but it has been extremely interesting and oddly relevant bunk, and the corporate world is obsessed with it, so I find it interesting. Since people choose their own responses when being tested, you at the very worst have an idea of how they see themselves and how they want the world to see them, and that is not useless information.

At least it isn’t complete bullshit, like Scientology’s “Sucker Detector” tests, which they sometimes call “I.Q.,” “Stress,” or “Personality” tests, which ask very personal questions so the cult members testing you can “find your ruin” (your emotional triggers) and squeeze some bucks out of you or maybe even convince you to join the cult, and which are based on L. Ron Hubbard’s whackadoodle crap.

The Sixteen Types
ISTJ     ISFJ     INFJ     INTJ
ISTP     ISFP     INFP     INTP
ESTP     ESFP     ENFP     ENTP
ESTJ     ESFJ     ENFJ     ENTJ

The MB Type Indicator measures four bi-polar factors, Introversion/Extraversion, Thinking/Feeling, Intuition/Sensing, and Judging/Perceiving, but these names don’t exactly mean what we commonly understand when saying somebody is “extraverted” or “introverted”. Have a look at their meaning below.

As a test result you will get a 4 letter personality type and you can then read up on the description of this specific type as well as typical careers, how it relates to family/relationships and get suggestions for personal growth. And there are even tests for assessing children’s types.

EXTRAVERTED (E) vs. INTROVERTED (I): How we get our energy.

Those who prefer Introversion draw their primary energy from the inner world of information, thoughts, ideas, and other reflections. When circumstances require an excessive amount of attention spent in the “outside” world, those preferring Introversion find the need to retreat to a more private setting as if to recharge their drained batteries.

Those who prefer Extraversion are drawn to the outside world as their elemental source of energy. Rarely, if ever, do extraverted preference people feel their energy batteries are “drained” by excessive amounts of interaction with the outside world. They must engage the things, people, places and activities going on in the outside world for their life force.

I do tend to be a ‘flexible’ INTJ, but I think it is a defense mechanism. Our society as a whole rewards extraverted behaviors and praises extraverted celebrities. Being shy or less than socially adept is seen as a failure of personality.

I can exhibit E traits, but it wears me out. Case in point: I had some roommates, guys who were in a band (thus probably more E than not, though this is not an ironclad rule) and were friends who were used to seeing me in social mode and who enjoyed attending my house parties. In other words, they saw me when I was in a fit state to be out and about and socializing, and pushing myself to act like an E. When they moved in with me, they discovered that I still had E moments, and would be up for going out and being a social butterfly during those moments, but my default setting is I, and, as an introvert, I need a lot of solitude and downtime. Life was not one big circus at the house, and I think they were disappointed.

To make matters worse, I was in a depressive funk at the time, dealing with employment dissatisfaction and money concerns, and a certifiably batshit crazy landlady (it was my turn to be the Go-Between for the house, and I was not pleased to receive calls from her every day about stupid crap that was Someone Else’s Problem in the first place), and a few other irksome life events that normally would be background noise but had achieved Serious Issue status by virtue of being lumped in with everything else going on at the time that was weighing on my mind.

I’d come home and beeline to my room, where the colours were soothing, I had books and candles and joss sticks on hand, and music to play that I enjoyed, and NO TELEVISION AT ALL. They, being E types, were soon feeling neglected and lonely. As an I type, I rarely feel lonely. I entertain myself in solitude very well, and NEED to be alone to recharge my inner resources. The crappier a day at work I had dealt with, the more down time I needed. By the time I had spent sufficient time alone to be sociable, they were out and about or in bed asleep. Being E types, they seemed to take my need to be alone very personally.

My I type roommate, on the other hand, was completely at synch with my need to be alone, and since she had the same need, we got along beautifully. We’d nod hello and occasionally have long chats about Life, the Universe and Everything, and occasionally team up and go out into the world and pretend to be more E than we actually are.

Another interesting note about my I friends is that we were typically the ones to sit down and have those extremely satisfying discussions that are difficult to artificially arrange, but so delicious when they just happen. We’d sit on the porch or in each other’s rooms and resolve the world’s problems, one little problem at a time, and discuss books and philosophy and relationships and Deep Thoughts and, yes, our Feelings, which remained a mysterious and troublesome Enigma even after the longest chats.

A popular misconception is that being a T means you can’t experiences depths of emotion like an F type. In truth, we T types feel things and experience emotions just as strongly, but we don’t typically become enslaved to them. When my feelings are engaged, my mind still wants to know why I feel that way, and what prompted it, and whether it is useful for me to act on those feelings, and whether those feelings make sense. If I feel a strong emotion and it doesn’t make sense, or, for example, if I realize I love someone who is in some way “wrong” for me, I spend a lot of time analyzing the situation. I write out “pro” and “con” lists. I investigate, hoping to convince myself that it is possibly a smart act to give into my feelings. I weigh my options all the time. Shrinks and body workers (reiki / acupuncture / acupressure practitioners, for example) call this “being in your head” and smart ones don’t frame this as a bad thing. (Less wise ones may try to shape you into an Extraverted Feeler, assuming that extraversion and feelings are the key to spiritual happiness.)

In truth, there are times when being an Introverted Thinker is more difficult, and these times usually involve cases where you are involved with other people and emotions are involved. Introverted Thinkers in love, especially those that rank high in both categories, are not the types to blurt out declarations of passion, or to spontaneously rip off their clothes with people they don’t know very well. Passion comes after the Introverted Thinker has decided that the object of love or lust is worthy, and/or safe. and/or likely to be healthy to be around. This type of guarded-ness means that Introverted Thinkers may be attracted to others, and like them, but they don’t let those feelings of affection or lust determine their behavior. Typically. Making an effort to emulate Extravert Feeler behavior, even if it has been rationalized and determined to be worth giving a try, is likely to be labeled a mistake. Also, the Introvert Thinker doesn’t even have the luxury of blaming someone else, because, if they are honest, they know their poor decisions are no one’s fault but their own.

An Introverted Thinker can and will learn from mistakes others have made, and will make mistakes of their own, typically when it comes to trying to be more acceptable to a society that values Extraverted Feeler behaviors and personalities, but they rarely make the same mistake more than once. At worst, they will compound a poor decision that has some benefit to it by continuing to associate with a person they know is flawed in a serious way, reasoning that the mistake has already been made, so why not eke out what little “positivity” and enjoyment you can, given that the damage or fallout associated with the mistake is going to have to be dealt with anyway? As an example, an extraverted feeler may decide to have a one-night stand kind of affair with an acquaintance, and it is likely the decision was not thought about much in advance (act in haste, repent at leisure?), and there will be little analysis or deep critical thought given to the decision beforehand. They may even claim that they drank too much, or “it just happened” or any of a number of other excuses. An introverted thinker may make the same decision, but doesn’t have the luxury of blaming alcohol or the absence of a little voice saying “this is probably a bad idea” because Thinkers typically listen to that annoying voice All The Damn Time. An extraverted feeler might or might not repeat the behavior on any given night, and it will depend on how they feel, and what other people around them think about it. An introverted thinker will probably not repeat the same choice, but, again, if they do, it’s going to be done with the same running commentary in the brain chiding that it is still a bad plan. As far as feelings go, they are pretty pragmatic. If the person is likable enough, that may be good enough. What their peers think (or have to say about it) is not really an issue. Unless they are also intuitive, they may not even pick up on what peers who don’t talk about it know or think about the situation, anyway.

Introverts don’t typically “need” other people, or suffer from enforced solitude. Introverted Feelers might feel pangs of loneliness and openly bemoan their “shyness” or social awkwardness, but Introverted Thinkers typically won’t. An ideal partner for a high-scoring Intuitive Thinker type is another intuitive Thinker, because they will both want and need solitude, or, at best, congenial silence, and are less likely to take it personally or feel hurt. An Extraverted Feeler will feel frustrated that the Introverted Thinker needs to be left alone, doesn’t want to discuss every little thing, and doesn’t typically behave in a very emotionally demonstrative manner naturally.I’ve had relationships with all kinds, and Extraverted Feelers are typically fun friends, in small doses, while Introverted Feelers are typically needy and hard (for me) to relate to. Despite that, I have had long relationships with Introverted Feelers, but they succeeded only because I dissected my feelings via analysis before the relationship got serious, and had decided that my feelings were appropriate and demonstrations of my feelings were safe and welcomed. Even then, I was at a loss when moodiness made rules change in mid-stream, or behaviors based on pure feeling appeared to be random and illogical. I had to learn to speak F language, and yet I couldn’t learn to “just feel” and omit the thinking process beforehand.I don’t think MB types are supposed to mean “you’re this, thus not that and never that” but rather that they mean “you typically approach things from this angle first.” In other words, I can and do Feeling things just as intensely as an F does, but my approach to everything means I run all new input and information through that good ol’ T filter first.

Extraverts Introverts
Expressive Quiet
Outgoing Shy
Energized by action, people, things Energized by ideas, feelings, impressions
Speak before they think Think before they speak
Share personal information easily Reluctant to share personal information
Prefer to be in the company of others Prefer to be left alone
Distracted easily Can concentrate well
Have a lot of friends Small, close group of friends
Uninhibited Inhibited
Like working in teams Would rather work alone
Approachable, open with strangers Stand off-ish, keeps to themselves
Like meeting new people Prefer a small group of people they already know
Develop ideas through discussion Ideas come from thinking alone
Manager, salesperson, customer service rep. Librarian, mechanic, legal secretary
Party animal, social butterfly Wallflower

SENSING (S) vs. INTUITION (N): How we take in information.

Those who prefer Sensing favor clear, tangible data and information that fits in well with their direct here-and-now experience.

In contrast, those who prefer Intuition are drawn to information that is more abstract, conceptual, big-picture, and represents imaginative possibilities for the future.

Here, I vacillate between S and N behaviors. I am usually an N, but, especially when at work or dealing with a specific situation, I can operate as an S. My iNtuitive personality means that I pick up on information that has no apparent factual / externally sense-able basis, so I can make deductive leaps in logic that are correct more often than not, but I also am very attuned to S issues and must have S-related environmental factors “just so” or I am not as happy as I can possibly be. Right now, I am pretty perpetually miserable at my current home, because it needs so much work to make it comfortable. The data I am getting via my senses is mostly unpleasant, so it is forcing me further into my N self and typical modes of action. And so on.

S/N is not specifically about sensual input versus non-sensory information retrieval, though it often seems that way. My first step upon moving into a new place is to create a sensory oasis that uses the five senses to soothe rather than energize. An F type might like a red bedroom, for instance, and not be effected by the bright, energetic colour, but it would subtly impose itself on me and grate. Likewise, i may be surrounded by clutter or order, depending on how much free time I have had available to me, but if it is a controlled clutter (i.e., disorder, not filth), I can shut it out. I need a “pod of calm” or a little oasis I can retreat to, and if I have that, I am a much more effective human being in other areas of my life.

Certain decisions require S information, and others require N information. When debating a point, or writing a paper, you need S information. When dealing with interpersonal relationships, or appraising impressions of people or places, N information can be far more relevant. What is not said or demonstrated in a concrete manner can be just as revealing as information laid out in a clear S-type manner.

Sensors iNtuitives
Focused on the physical world Focused on the mental or spiritual world
Live by their five senses Use a “sixth sense”, “hunch”, and “gut feeling”
Concrete Abstract
Interested in “what is” Interested in “what can be”
Realistic Idealistic
Practical Imaginative
Understands details, particulars Understands meaning, generalities
Only see the obvious Look beyond the surface
Down to earth Head in clouds, deep
Use words literally Use metaphors, analogies, hidden meanings
Live in the present Live in the future
Needs evidence and facts Speculative and theoretical
Traditional and simple Original and complex
Banker, police, athlete, surgeon, pilot, cashier Artist, scientist, poet, mystic, social reformer, philosopher
Sees the trees instead of forest Sees the forest instead of trees


THINKING (T) vs. FEELING (F): How we make decisions and come to judgements.

Those who prefer Thinking have a natural preference for making decisions in an objective, logical, and analytical manner with an emphasis on tasks and results to be accomplished.

Those whose preference is for Feeling make their decisions in a somewhat global, visceral, harmony and value-oriented way, paying particular attention to the impact of decisions and actions on other people.

Thinkers Feelers
Value truth Value harmony
Use logic in making decisions Use personal feelings in making decisions
Notice wrong reasoning Notice when people need support
Driven by their rational mind Live by their passionate heart
Honest in speaking their mind Will hide the truth so the other person won’t be hurt
Firm with people Gentle with people
Uses justice in dealing with others Uses mercy with others
Can be labeled “cold, hard, heartless” Labeled “bleeding heart, softy, weak”
Impersonal with others Take things personally
Objective Subjective
Critical Empathetic
Prefers a logical, impersonal atmosphere Prefers a warm, friendly atmosphere
Thick-skinned Thin-skinned
Engineer, scientist, manager, computer programmer Therapist, nurse, teacher, artist, clergy
Uses feelings to serve their logic Uses logic to serve their feelings

I have learned a lot of F behaviors, perhaps because I am an artistic type. I tend to be kind and outer-directed when I deal with others one on one. I am the person many of my friends come to when they have problems, and am typically empathetic with others. In fact, a lot of the F behaviors above are typical behaviors of mine, but the clincher, and why I come up as a strong T in test after test, is that I always think about how I feel and reflect before I react.

I’m just as likely to tear up like an F when I am watching an emotionally-manipulative drama or reading an emotionally-wrenching passage in a book,  but  these feelings seldom take me by surprise.  On the rare occasions they do, my first reaction is to start analyzing why  I’m feeling emotional, not to indulge the emotion by “going with the flow.”

It thus makes sense that I typically get emotionally affected when watching people being selfless, or being kind to others for no particular reason or personal gain, or reacting with positive behaviors in the face of trauma. Example: I saw one of those low-budget “tits and explosions” filler programs so beloved by channels like FOX, with a title similar to “Moment of IMPACT! 4” or some such, and was troubled but not emotionally engaged by all the wrecks and devastating accidents. What engaged my feelings were scenes where two strangers, after a near miss thanks to black ice on a highway, where one car actually drove right over the other one, both exited their cars and instinctively gave each other a reassuring embrace rather than screaming at each other and arguing. Or a scene where rescue workers risked their own lives to comfort, and then save, a woman trapped in a car dangling off a bridge, and succeeded in getting her out safely. Similar situations, where two people involved in a minor fender bender experienced road rage and began beating the tar out of each other or shooting guns at each other did not engage me at all, beyond feeling disgust for all parties involved. When humans go beyond what they “have to do” for their jobs, be it to comfort another human being in distress, or when strangers are moved to express empathy and solidarity when they have been badly scared, rather than lashing out with machismo and violence, I find that emotionally touching.

I value human life, even if I dislike how the vast majority of humanity behave. I will be almost as distressed if, for instance, a Nazi is executed, justifiably, for war crimes, as I will be if an innocent person is gunned down  accidentally in a drive-by. I can intellectualize this type of program, and, in fact, am fascinated by forensics shows and police/detective procedural shows, and, to a lesser extent, hospital procedural shows, programs about history, programs about medical mysteries, shows about parapsychology, anything that discusses a problem to be resolved, tracks the process of solution or theory discovery and involves analysis. In short, I hate soap operas (set in hospitals or not) with a burning passion, but love “House, M.D.”

As far as being thin- or thick-skinned, I am highly sensitive to what people I care about say and think about me, because I value their opinions and value staying in their good graces. On the other hand, I am completely unaffected by the opinions of strangers, especially those online. When involved in any kind of discussion or argument online, I stay analytical and logical and non-involved, and ad hominem attack or appeals to feelings over logic leave me completely unmoved. When someone has an issue with me, I want to know the truth about it, what they really think, I don’t want to be fobbed off with “it’s not you, it’s me” or to be placated. Not knowing WHY or WHAT will drive me crazy faster than almost anything, and since I don’t react punitively to criticism, it frustrates me more that someone would hold back what they really think (if it involves me in some way) than it would if they shared a criticism, be it valid or invalid or somewhere in between. And that is pure J behavior.

Likewise, I am concerned about real people I know with real problems, especially if they tend to be stoic about them, and pretty much dismissive of any tales of woe and physical infirmity and drama online, especially if these tales of woe are intended to ward off justified criticism or to win sympathy from an online audience or to duck out of having to back up an assertion with logic and facts. In other words, it is a bummer that your dog died and you feel sad about it, but what does that have to do with the political / ethical / religious debate you were eagerly participating in until you got trumped by someone more articulate and/or with factual information that refuted your claim(s)? Isn’t it funny your dog died right as you were being thumped by better debaters?

Thinkers and feelers tend to approach controversial subjects in vastly different ways. If the topic of abortion comes up, the thinker will consider the big picture dispassionately, and probably conclude that the root of the debate is personal autonomy, and who controls your body and your decisions. The feeler will probably rely more heavily on religious faith, which is in itself a feeling rather than thinking position, or express sympathy for the microscopic cluster of cells at the heart of the debate by personifying it as an actual baby with a personality and wants and desires of its own. Thinkers will debate the rights of individuals to make their own decisions, even wrong decisions, when their personal rights or bodies are concerned. Feelers will debate theology and “slippery slopes” and use emotional language to make their points. Thinkers will be more concerned with what is correct and right, feelers will jump in and complain that thinkers are being cold and mean. Thinkers tend to abstract issues, feelers personify. A Thinker is less likely to take disagreement personally, and shrugs off abrasive comments as irrelevant, whereas a Feeler takes disagreement to heart and hears “you’re bad in some way” when told that they might be incorrect about something.

I may, like a Feeler, prefer a calm and friendly atmosphere, but it is because I am also an Introvert. At a workplace, a friendly atmosphere tends to keep people quiet and focused on their work or personal issues. A combative or impersonal atmosphere eventually requires interacting with people more often, because impersonal atmospheres irk Feelers, who are in the majority, and thus the people you end up having to interact with might also be emotionally impassioned or angry and less open to reason. A Feeler likes the chumminess, and feels a kinship with everyone by default. A Thinker likes the peace and quiet, has no interest in group activities like office birthday parties and team-building exercises and group projects, and greatly prefers the lack of distraction an impersonal workplace atmosphere has when trying to do his or her work.

On the surface, my interest in music and the arts seems non-Thinker. In practice, my art has to mean something and to serve a purpose or have a story behind it. My interest in music is more stereotypically “male” because I don’t care what the musicians look like or if it is popular, or if I will get some Cool Points for being into what someone else likes. I appreciate thoughtful lyrics and technical proficiency. I prefer certain genres because I find the people who also like those genres to be congenial and interesting. Musical groups with annoying fanbases will eventually turn me away, even if I start off appreciating the musical group for their artistry and skill.

JUDGING (J) vs. PERCEIVING (P): How we relate to the outer or external world.

Those who prefer Judging rely upon either their T or F preference to manage their outer life. This typically leads to a style oriented towards closure, organization, planning, or in some fashion managing the things and or people found in the external environment. The drive is to order the outside world. While some people employ an assertive manner, others “ordering touch” – with respect to people – may be light.

Those who prefer Perceiving rely upon either their S or N preference to run their outer life. This typically results in an open, adaptable, flexible style of relating to the things and people found in the outside world. The drive is to experience the outside world rather than order it; in general lack of closure is easily tolerated.

Judger Perceiver
Decisive, and makes decisions quickly Adapts to situations, and gathers more information before deciding
Makes life firm and controlled Makes life flexible and relaxed
Easier to finish projects Prefers to start projects
Organized Disorganized
More serious More carefree
Routinized and predictable Spontaneous and unpredictable
Uses schedules and timetables as a guide Does whatever comes up
Dislikes surprises and needs advanced warnings Enjoys surprises and spontaneous happenings
Needs issues settled Doesn’t like anything unalteratable
Hard-working Leisurely
Can be too close-minded Can be too open-minded and fickle
Gets things done as soon as possible Procrastinates
Can be overly responsible Can be irresponsible
“Goes down with the ship” “Changes horses in midstream”

I tend to flip-flop between J and P, but my default state is J. Like Ps, I can procrastinate, be “too” open-minded, “too” willing to alter an opinion or belief if someone gives me more data to consider, and I prefer to be flexible with my schedule and open to better ideas. I take my time coming to decisions. However, like Js, I work extremely hard, I’m loyal once I think all the facts are in, I don’t value a lot of spontaneity and surprise (though I make exceptions when in a relationship and a partner is trying to do something to please me), and my typical behavior is fairly predictable. If I say I am going to do something, I do it (which is why I resist making promises I am not certain I can keep, and why I can be stubborn once I am pushed to take a stand or decision). I’m easy-going, like most Ps, and can adapt to changes, but, like most Js, I don’t particularly LIKE or thrive upon change. I am definitely more of a serious J than a carefree P. Add the Thinking and Introverted qualities, and you get the classic Worrywart! I even worry when things are going “too well.” My mother is more of a worrywart than I will ever be, but I can’t deny my nature, and only so much of my worrywart tendencies can be blamed on learned behavior, because my brother goes through life like the “world owes me a living” grasshopper among the hyper-diligent workaholic ants, only experiencing fleeting twinges of worry on rare occasions, and never about hypotheticals or possibilities, only about specific and expected situations he knows about in advance. Unlike the grasshopper, however, who pays for not worrying about the consequences of his actions, my brother, who is also an Extraverted Feeler, has his personality style reinforced and understood and accepted by society in general. A Judging Thinker is more likely to blame him or herself when things go on, a Perceiving Feeler is more likely to try to find someone, anyone else to blame their messes on. This isn’t a universal mindset, just a more typical one. A Perceiving Feeler will make excuses for personal failures, and not see that their disorganized, free-wheeling approach may have contributed to the issue. A Judging Thinker might do so as well, but, at the end of the day, they are also likely to beat themselves up for overlooking something or making a mistake or rushing to decide before they had all the facts in hand. It is likely that any excuse-making is done to get out of having to interact with other people, if they are also Introverted. Or they may perceive that the small sin of making an excuse is worth an indulgence when compared to the larger hassle of having to direct some energy towards placating angry people, instead of focusing that energy on fixing and atoning for the problem somehow.

Example of Thinker Judger behaviors: moving from one household to another is incredibly stressful for me, and I tend to handle the problem in a very Thinking Judging manner, by doing research online, comparing properties, and worrying about adapting to a new neighborhood. I don’t enjoy the research part much, preferring to sit down and do my research work in one or two extended sessions rather than in more easily-handled and shorter chunks of time. I tend to “know” what I want, and be fussy about having to compromise on those wants, which sometimes feel more like needs than wants. I tend to take on more of the research angle if I am not the only involved party, drawing up charts and pros and cons and arranging for us to tour properties.

Just like some astrology systems, which talk of “evolved” and “unevolved” expressions of sun sign traits, I suspect that all MB personalities have positive and negative personality aspects. For instance, an “evolved” Libran (according to astrology buffs) loves beautiful things, is concerned about his or her appearance, is a gourmet, is romantic and happiest when coupled up with a partner, and appreciates fair play even when it doesn’t benefit him or her, but an “unevolved” Libran will take this to the extreme and be materialistic, vain, gluttonous, fickle / prone to cheat on partners because they fear they may not have the “best” one, obsessed with justice and not interested in mercy. An “evolved” MB personality type most likely shows some balance and comprehension of how people with opposing traits “tick,” and has learned how to compensate for the perceived weaknesses of his or her personality type. An “unevolved” MB personality is likely more inner-directed, and thus not obliged to worry about how he or she is perceived, and not inclined to think about how his or her personality type both benefits and impedes them when dealing with others.

Like I said, personality and psychology interest me. I find systems and theories fascinating. Do I think Myers-Briggs has all the answers, and that it can be used alone as a determination of whether or not two people will definitely get along well or not? No, I think that people are far more complex than that. However, since it is a self-selected process, it is probably more revealing than, say, “what’s your sign?”

Socially-Influenced Versus Self-Imposed Dichotomies

Interesting article on the “us and them” false dichotomies we face each day.

People Who Drive Silver or Blue Cars Should NOT Read This

by Brian W. Vaszily, for www.SixWise.com

People who drive silver or blue cars or trucks should definitely not read this column because they won’t get it anyway. That’s just how they are.

But if you drive any other color car or truck — especially a red one like I do — you’ll get what I am about to tell you, and you’ll quickly see how this secret knowledge can help you avoid getting duped in many areas of your life.

So for all the non-silver and non-blue car and truck drivers out there, you should know that one of the most powerful ways marketers get you to try things, think things, do things, and buy things you never really intended to is through what is called “granfalloon tactics.”

A “granfalloon” — a term coined by author Kurt Vonnegut in his novel Cat’s Cradle — is a group of two or more people who feel a bond because they share some circumstance that, beneath it all, has little to no real significance. Vonnegut’s shorter definition is “a proud and meaningless association of human beings.”

So, for example, they may feel kinship simply because their first and last names start with the same letters, or they were born in the same state, or they use the same brand of cell phone service… or they drive the same color cars and trucks.

Like the rest of us, you have probably been in many granfalloons — whether long-term or momentarily, you have felt a bond with others just because they shared something with you that, upon even a bit of reflection, you’d realize is actually quite insignificant and doesn’t make for a real connection.

Perhaps one of the most immediately recognizable examples (unless you believe strongly in astrology) is the excited bond you feel with someone when you learn they share your birthday. Wow, cool! But … so what.

Point is, because humans are social beings, it is natural to bond, even if the points that connect you are arbitrary or flat-out worthless and the bond is only fleeting.

As with all the most effective marketing tricks, granfalloon tactics prey on this fundamental human need. They manipulate you into feeling part of a group — centered of course around their product, service, political party, or idea — in order to obtain your allegiance and your money.Are You a “Wheel Watcher”? A “Dittohead”? A “Chevy” or a “Ford Man”?

The most infamous example of a successful use of granfalloon tactics is probably Nazi Germany, where Adolph Hitler and his Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Gobbels created a rabidly cohesive “us” among Germany’s “Aryan” citizens by repeatedly blaming all of Germany’s problems on a “them” — the Jews.

W’s Rule!

The social psychologist Henri Tajfel once conducted a simple experiment that demonstrates the power of granfalloon tactics: He brought a group of subjects into his lab and randomly, based only on a coin toss, assigned each subject to be labeled an X or a W. Each member of both groups was then asked to make a variety of assumptions about each of the other subjects. Though they were all total strangers, each person made much more positive assumptions about those within their group than about those in the other group.

Slavery too was (and in some parts of the world still is) heavily bolstered by granfalloon tactics, as is racism in general — “we are different and superior because of the color of our skin or our ethnic background, whereas they are inferior because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background.”

Entire populations and generations, in other words, have been duped by the power of granfalloon tactics — resulting in extreme devastation — which makes your awareness of their increasing use in our commercial society even more critical.

Today, though much of the mass media rhetoric is about “unity” and “globalism” and breaking dividing lines, the evil marketing geniuses of the world are feverishly using granfalloon tactics to take things the other way… to push you and your children into bonding with and therefore defining yourself by the brands you choose (brands of products and services, but also brands of politics, religion, music, and more)… to push you into multiple little compartments.

Are you Mac or PC?

Are you Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Cingular or Nextel?

Drink Pepsi or Coke… or do you choose to “Be a Pepper” by drinking Dr. Pepper?

Pro or anti Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie?

Al Franken or a “Dittohead” — a label Rush Limbaugh applied to all his radio show listeners?

Are you hip-hop, country, alt rock, adult contemporary, or polka?

Do you watch Wheel of Fortune routinely, making you a “Wheel Watcher” according to their successful TV ads?

Drive a silver or blue car or truck, or a red, black, white or green one?

The reason dictators and other marketers push people into granfalloons, as you have probably gathered (no matter what color car or truck you drive), is that it is far easier to control people when they are compartmentalized, and far more profitable, too.

If I, as a marketer, can get you to feel a sense of belonging and pride at listening to my radio show versus another, or eating my brand of peanut butter versus another (“Choosy mothers choose Jif!”), or driving my company’s brand of truck versus another, I can easily create a sense of us versus them in you.

I can then easily make you look down your nose at them, and even despise them, simply because (no matter how insignificant a circumstance your group is based on) they are not a part of your group.

This, in turn, makes it even easier to keep you coming back to the group I control for more, more, more… including to spend more. (Which makes it still easier for me to make you look down on them even more, and so on and so forth.)

Perhaps the most classic example of granfalloon tactics in the commercial world is the macho designation of being either a “Chevy Man” or a “Ford Man” that the two automotive companies were happy to foster. For decades — and in many parts of the U.S. still — a key aspect of many men’s self-definition was the brand of truck they drove: Ford or Chevy.

It didn’t matter if you shared views on nearly everything else, if you were a Chevy Man you were obligated to drive Chevys for the rest of your life, and if you were a Ford Man you were obligated to drive Fords for the rest of your life, and you were both obligated to beat the crap out of the other if you ever encountered him in a bar. (This may be why Toyota is about to become the world’s largest auto company — the Ford and Chevy men eliminated one another.)

If You Drive a Silver or Blue Vehicle I Hope You Did Read This Column Despite Its Title

Upon reading this far, maybe you are thinking, “I get what Brian is saying here, but I personally won’t be conned by these ‘grand balloon’ tactics or whatever they’re called.”

Don’t assume that! Big mistake! PLEASE remember the First Real Rule of Marketing — the key secret of those who seek to control your beliefs and habits in order to take your money, your votes, your time or whatever else it is they desire from you — is that nobody believes they can be manipulated by marketers all that much. But that’s the key reason why marketers can manipulate them so much.

For example, you were likely drawn to read this column in the first place because of the exclusionary nature of its title. If you drive anything besides a silver or blue car or truck — and especially if you drive a red one — you may have initially experienced a feeling of smugness or at least mild satisfaction that you were in the “in” group that would “get” this column. You were among us.

Meanwhile, if you drive a silver or blue car or truck, you may have felt alarmed and even offended that you were being excluded in such a manner. Even if only to a mild degree, you felt “out,” you were among the them. Maybe you even wanted to punch me (I really hope you don’t want to anymore.)

Point is, you were drawn to this column about granfalloon tactics through an (admittedly mediocre) granfalloon tactic. Sorry I did that. But the purpose was to make you aware of how insidious these tactics can be. They are potent, they can be hard to spot, and because of these two factors they have been very successful for commercial marketers and their use is on the rise.

So to help you remain vigilant of them in order to avoid the influence of their granfalloon tactics, here’s my key advice:

Define who you are. Pull out a piece of paper and write down what really makes you who you are. Routinely revisit and update your self-definition. Don’t ever let them (and this is a real them) define you for you.

You are not the brand of car you drive. You are not the label on your shirt. You are not the political party you vote for, the stores you shop at, nor the type of house you live in. You can adore sports and hate Gatorade, you can love God and not be a member of their church, and choosy mothers don’t necessarily choose Jif.

You are the stuff of your deeply held beliefs, the stuff of the accomplishments you worked hard for, the stuff of whatever you and you alone define as truly important.

Knowing what that is, and knowing it well, is your best defense against their greedy attempts to drive you into granfalloons. And if you drive a red car like I do, that’s especially true for you.

Fascinating. FWIW, I have owned red, white, and blue cars. (Yes, I understand that this is not the point of the article.)

Are you Mac or PC?
I’ve used both. I still do, though I now only use PCs at home.

Drink Pepsi or Coke… or do you choose to “Be a Pepper” by drinking Dr. Pepper?
I have all three brands in my fridge right now. Typically I do prefer Coke products if they are “leaded” and Pepsi or Dr Pepper products if they are “unleaded” (regular / diet).

Pro or anti Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie?
I don’t have any opinion, I ignore that stuff. Like, are they still dating? No? Yes? This is important to me…WHY? Honestly, I don’t give a crap.

Al Franken or a “Dittohead” — a label Rush Limbaugh applied to all his radio show listeners? 

I don’t find Franken’s books to be as funny or well-written as I’d like, and prefer Molly Ivins or Jon Stewart for snark.

Are you hip-hop, country, alt rock, adult contemporary, or polka? None of the above.

Do you watch Wheel of Fortune routinely, making you a “Wheel Watcher” according to their successful TV ads?
Is THAT what that meant? I was baffled.

Drive a silver or blue car or truck, or a red, black, white or green one?
No, yes, car, yes, no, yes, no. Shrug. Have also owned two Chevys and a Ford.

None of these things define me, which makes sense. They probably shouldn’t define you, either.

I seem to have some resistance to outer-imposed granfalloons, but am not above creating some of my own (are you my Myers-Briggs type or not? do you like Britpop or not?).

I find the whole thing to be food for thought.


Life Tips: How Not To Mess Yours Up

A friend linked me to this old LifeHacker article–I think it has some interesting tips, some of which are very Tao.

Feeling, but not being ruled by, your emotions is one of the basic tenets.

10 simple ways to save yourself from messing up your life

  1. Stop taking so much notice of how you feel. How you feel is how you feel. It’ll pass soon. What you’re thinking is what you’re thinking. It’ll go too. Tell yourself that whatever you feel, you feel; whatever you think, you think. Since you can’t stop yourself thinking, or prevent emotions from arising in your mind, it makes no sense to be proud or ashamed of either. You didn’t cause them. Only your actions are directly under your control. They’re the only proper cause of pleasure or shame.
  2. Let go of worrying. It often makes things worse. The more you think about something bad, the more likely it is to happen. When you’re hair-trigger primed to notice the first sign of trouble, you’ll surely find something close enough to convince yourself it’s come.
  3. Ease up on the internal life commentary. If you want to be happy, stop telling yourself you’re miserable. People are always telling themselves how they feel, what they’re thinking, what others feel about them, what this or that event really means. Most of it’s imagination. The rest is equal parts lies and misunderstandings. You have only the most limited understanding of what others feel about you. Usually they’re no better informed on the subject; and they care about it far less than you do. You have no way of knowing what this or that event really means. Whatever you tell yourself will be make-believe.
  4. Take no notice of your inner critic. Judging yourself is pointless. Judging others is half-witted. Whatever you achieve, someone else will always do better. However bad you are, others are worse. Since you can tell neither what’s best nor what’s worst, how can you place yourself correctly between them? Judging others is foolish since you cannot know all the facts, cannot create a reliable or objective scale, have no means of knowing whether your criteria match anyone else’s, and cannot have more than a limited and extremely partial view of the other person. Who cares about your opinion anyway?
  5. Give up on feeling guilty. Guilt changes nothing. It may make you feel you’re accepting responsibility, but it can’t produce anything new in your life. If you feel guilty about something you’ve done, either do something to put it right or accept you screwed up and try not to do so again. Then let it go. If you’re feeling guilty about what someone else did, see a psychiatrist. That’s insane.
  6. Stop being concerned what the rest of the world says about you. Nasty people can’t make you mad. Nice people can’t make you happy. Events or people are simply events or people. They can’t make you anything. You have to do that for yourself. Whatever emotions arise in you as a result of external events, they’re powerless until you pick them up and decide to act on them. Besides, most people are far too busy thinking about themselves (and worry what you are are thinking and saying about them) to be concerned about you.
  7. Stop keeping score. Numbers are just numbers. They don’t have mystical powers. Because something is expressed as a number, a ratio or any other numerical pattern doesn’t mean it’s true. Plenty of lovingly calculated business indicators are irrelevant, gibberish, nonsensical, or just plain wrong. If you don’t understand it, or it’s telling you something bizarre, ignore it. There’s nothing scientific about relying on false data. Nor anything useful about charting your life by numbers that were silly in the first place.
  8. Don’t be concerned that your life and career aren’t working out the way you planned. The closer you stick to any plan, the quicker you’ll go wrong. The world changes constantly. However carefully you analyzed the situation when you made the plan, if it’s more than a few days old, things will already be different. After a month, they’ll be very different. After a year, virtually nothing will be the same as it was when you started. Planning is only useful as a discipline to force people to think carefully about what they know and what they don’t. Once you start, throw the plan away and keep your eyes on reality.
  9. Don’t let others use you to avoid being responsible for their own decisions. To hold yourself responsible for someone else’s success and happiness demeans them and proves you’ve lost the plot. It’s their life. They have to live it. You can’t do it for them; nor can you stop them from messing it up if they’re determined to do so. The job of a supervisor is to help and supervise. Only control-freaks and some others with a less serious mental disability fail to understand this.
  10. Don’t worry about about your personality. You don’t really have one. Personality, like ego, is a concept invented by your mind. It doesn’t exist in the real world. Personality is a word for the general impression that you give through your words and actions. If your personality isn’t likeable today, don’t worry. You can always change it, so long as you allow yourself to do so. What fixes someone’s personality in one place is a determined effort on their part—usually through continually telling themselves they’re this or that kind of person and acting on what they say. If you don’t like the way you are, make yourself different. You’re the only person who’s standing in your way.

He keeps calling me a VooDoo Queen, and I don’t know WHY.

Who do you voo doo?

The ceremony begins with a Roman Catholic prayer. Then three drummers begin to play syncopated rhythms. The attendees begin to dance around a tree in the center of the yard, moving faster and harder with the rising pulse of the beat. The priest draws sacred symbols in the dust with cornmeal, and rum is poured on the ground to honor the spirits. One woman falls to the ground, convulsing for a moment before she is helped back to her feet. She resumes the dance, moving differently now, and continues dancing for hours. It is perhaps no longer she who is dancing: She is in a trance, apparently possessed by Erzuli, the great mother spirit. It is an honor to be entered and “ridden” by a Loa, or spirit.

     

Spooky tools for voodoo ghouls:
I Got My Mojo Workin’!

You might think you were in Haiti, where such rituals are commonplace: Voodoo is the dominant religion. But no.

You’re in Savannah, Georgia. It’s a somewhat hidden lifestyle in the Low Country, one that is especially secreted away from non-African-American citizens.

And you’re me.

I live in Savannah, and often drove past a little stripmall-type business on my way to and from home. It’s probably three or four blocks from my front door. It’s located next to consignment stores, a brass buffer, a musician’s equipment store, a cake decorator, a Wendy’s. It does not stand out, and it takes effort to patronize this store, as hours are irregular–at the whim of the store keeper, primarily–and the road it faces is frequently clotted with what passes for a traffic jam here in lazy, tiny Savannah.

It’s Midterms time again, and was heading home and it popped into my head that maybe I should try to spot the botanica. Maybe I could check it out. I decided to pull off and spend a little time browsing. I assumed it would be a place with books, candles, maybe some tarot decks, maybe some Oriental tchotchkes and crystals. You know, New Age-y. It will probably smell good and have windchimes and maybe a cat or two. They probably sell tea. Maybe I could offer to work there.


“I put a SPELL on you…
beCAUSE you’re MIIIIIIIINE!”
— Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Am I qualified? Well, no, but there’s a kid I talk to online, and he insists, for reasons of his own, to greet me as a VooDoo Princess. It’s this, and other quirks, that make me think he’s afflicted with 12-ness, but he means no harm. At any rate, if I wanted to do that voodoo to you, this town is as nice a place as any to get going with that stuff. So, okay, the first step is to visit a supply store. Can’t bake a cake without flour, and can’t be a big shot VooDoo Queenie without getting major mojo ingredients.

First of all, even looking for it and knowing it was there and going at a slower-than-normal clip, I passed right by it and had to turn around. It’s that much under the radar. When I pulled into the parking lot, a bleached blonde fat redneck woman boggled openly at me when she realized that I was heading towards the botanica. I had time enough to think to myself that this was a bizarre reaction from a total stranger before I opened the door to the store. Then I got it…sort of. I was an invader. The proprietress did not often get Caucasian chicks wandering into her establishment. It was a hardcore voodoo shop.

Fortunately, I find all kinds of new experiences fascinating, and I was willing to stay and explore and chat with the shopkeeper, and perhaps to learn something new. She was bored and I was hot and in no hurry to get home to wash my breakfast dishes.

Most of the store was taken up with candles and oils and incense, as expected, but there were certain differences between a botanica and your average New Agey store. First of all, don’t expect it to be polished and Yuppified. (And don’t drink the tea you can get there unless you’re sure you know what it has in it.) Most of the products were homemade locally. There is no discomfort with what outsiders would consider “black”, or dark, magick. Casting a love spell is a big no-no in most “white”, or healing / ‘good’, magick, as is attempting to control the will of other people in any other fashion. Not so in a botanica, where you can buy candles shaped like nude women and men (for use in sex and love spells, of course!), as well as various herbs and roots and powders and candles and oils, all intended to force someone else to bend to your preferences. We might judge that. Voodoo practitioners don’t. In fact, they probably reason that someone else is out there working a mojo on you already, so why not work your own personal mojo and get your requests listened to by the Loa too?

Again, it’s all somewhat alien to Caucasians, and that’s not a big surprise. It’s not our history, it’s not our culture. It’s not our place to horn in on what we do not have the background to deal with. Further, the tradition has many names and many different practices. The tradition in Louisiana is different from the tradition in Haiti, which is again different from the Gullah-based tradtion here in the Low Country.

In recent years, there has been a little more demystification of voodoo. Book lovers have gotten a glimpse from time to time, but only a glimpse. Fans of cyberpunk author William Gibson are aware of his interest in the Loa. It would seem that there are no two things more distinct than the primal, mystic, organic world of Haitian Voodoo (or voudoun), and the detached, mechanical world of the high-tech future. Yet Gibson parlayed off the success of his first SF ‘cyberpunk’ blockbuster Neuromancer to write a more complex novel, Count Zero, in which these two worlds are rapidly colliding. Gibson apparently felt there was an instinctive linkage between Haitian Voudoun and the urban hyperreality of his fictional Sprawl. As a fan of jazz and other urban music, Gibson instinctively found the religion for his new urban dystopia. The essential struggle in the book is between a Voudoun / cyber sect and the Yakuza, the Japanese gangster conglomerate. It is a battle between two traditions: one of power, corruption, and influence and the other of passion, magic, and sensuality. There are scholarly papers being written about how belief in the loa and belief in the possibility of the Internet–as a vastly interconnected System / Sprawl / Matrix–eventually developing a rudimentary artificial intelligence or awareness might tie together to explain a third popular meme, that of the Ghost in The Machine. (If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I urge you to explore it on your own, as I am long-winded enough without digressing off into THIS particular subtopic!)

Other bibliophiles discovered Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. Berendt’s book introduced readers to Minerva, voodoo priestess, and the powerful and infamous (but currently deceased!) Dr Buzzard, of St. Helen’s Island, the courtroom specialist, who used power, unknown tongues and the Evil Eye, to cause hostile witnesses to seize up in the middle of crucial testimony and fall–frothing and twitching–to the courtroom floor. “Root doctors” command respect, fear and healthy fees for their services. And even though Dr Buzzard is now dead, believers still petition him for favours, lucky numbers, support in their causes. He’s still a big man in the voodoo community. Death has not cramped his style one iota.

At a voodoo ceremony, believers gather outdoors to make contact with the Loa, any of a pantheon of spirits who have various functions running the universe, much like Greek gods. Each of the spirits has a distinct identity. Some are loving and good, while others are capricious or demanding. Haitians believe that the Loa most often express their displeasure by making people sick. There is also a responsibility to care for beloved and deified family spirits and to honor a chief god, Bondieu. During the ceremony, participants ask the spirits for advice or help with problems. It’s said that more than half the requests are for health.

My new shopkeeper friend would dispute this. Or maybe she just read me well, and realized my impecunious state at present. As I noted, I’m pretty much a jobless ne’er-do-well at present, though I’d rather not be. Her clients buy come-to-me oils and money candles and prosperity incense sticks. They empty their already slender wallets, hoping to receive an insight so they can choose the correct three-digit Quik-Pik lottery number.

In the West voodoo has been portrayed in zombie movies and popular books as dark and evil, a cult of devil worship dominated by black magic, human sacrifice, and pin-stuck voodoo dolls—-none of which exist in the voodoo practices that originated in Benin. This isn’t the whole story. In Haiti, voodoo began as an underground activity. During the 1700s, thousands of West African slaves were shipped to Haiti to work on French plantations. The slaves were baptized as Roman Catholics upon their arrival in the West Indies. Their traditional African religious practices were viewed as a threat to the colonial system and were forbidden. Practitioners were imprisoned, whipped, or hung. The slaves continued to practice in secret while attending masses. What emerged was a religion that the colonialists thought was Catholicism—-but they were outfoxed.

It was easy to meld the two faiths, because there are many similarities between Roman Catholicism and voodoo. Both venerate a supreme being and believe in the existence of invisible evil spirits or demons and in an afterlife. Many of the Loa resemble Christian saints, endowed with similar responsibilities or attributes. For example, Legba, an old man, is said to open the gates between Earth and the world of the Loa, much like St. Peter traditionally throws wide the gates to Heaven. But there are differences. Westerners tend to believe in free will and personal choice. Not so in voodoo. The Loa are believed to determine our lives to an astonishing degree and they are always present in great numbers: there might be two people in a room, but there are also twenty Loa. Participation in voodoo ritual reaffirms one’s relationships with ancestors, personal history, community relationships—-and the cosmos. There’s another important difference: anthropologists estimate that voodoo’s roots in Benin—-formerly Dahomey—-West Africa may go back 6,000 years (an estimated 60 million people practice voodoo worldwide). Compare the longevity of these beliefs to Christianity, which has been with us for only a little over TWO thousand years.

Savannah has an active voodoo subculture here, though naturally it is not as widespread, commonplace or accepted as it is in Haiti, and yet the customs arrived here and persist for the same reasons: slavery and tradition. Isolated on coastal plantations, the slaves created a lingua franca–a common tongue. We call it Gullah. Maybe after Angola. Maybe from the West African Gola River. Nobody knows. Gullah slaves may have been stripped of everything but their names but they came from oral cultures. They had no books, no saved scrolls that could be torn away and flung overboard. They remembered what was sacred. In Cuba, they call the magic Santeria. In Belize, obeah. In Haiti, voudoun. In New Orleans, voodoo. Folklorists call it hoodoo, conjuration, rootwork. But the Gullah do not call it anything. Perhaps it is too fearsome for utterance. Certainly, casual talk is a faux pas of cosmic proportions. Nonbelievers are ashamed of their forebears’ credulity. Belivers are afraid of spiritual retribution. Even if they do not have a name for the tradition itself, the do have a name for the sorcerers who practice it. The Gullah call them root doctors, a literal translation from the west African Fon, which pegged tribal medical doctors as workers with roots.

Our voodoo folks down here are mostly root workers.

While I was in the store, a customer came in with five children. One child is also clearly not a relation but a babysittee. He’s blonde and even paler than I am. The other children are siblings and other babysittees. And they are incredibly well-behaved. Perhaps the babysitter has impressed upon them that running amok in a root worker’s shop and attracting exasperated attention is a bad idea.

She pretty much ignored me and started telling her troubles to the shopkeeper. She used to have good luck, but now it has turned against her. Precious Jesus alone knows why. She needs something powerful to fix her luck. She needs money, and money just fall out of her hands and bills come. She has the bad luck, the juju. Someone or something has fixed agin her, and she needs to turn it back around.

You get the idea.

She’s a bubbly older lady, and she makes me smile with her animated gestures and her lengthy, heartfelt speechifying. I say something to the effect that if the shopkeeper can’t fix it, there’s no help in this world, and they both favour me with a big grin. I then butt out and just continue to browse.

After the babysitter purchases her candles and powders and oils, the shopkeeper and I continue to chat as I browse, taking note of the differences between the botanica and a typical New Age store. You can buy “rum” at a botanica. (I wouldn’t wish to presume as to its alcohol content or taste, but the spirits probably are happy with it.) There are buckeyes and other roots, fenugeek and other herbs, bayberry candles for money-attraction and other candles, gold glitter dust and other powders to sprinkle, burn, wear or mix into various concoctions. It’s interesting.

I do have to say that there is a slightly dark feeling to some of this stuff, but that’s more due to my background and belief system than any inherent evil lodged in, say, a baggie of lavender buds or a bath oil with food colouring and herbs in it. A hammer can help you put things together by helping you nail things together, and it can help you dismantle things by helping you pry nails out. Peanut butter can improve a jelly sandwich or kill someone with legume allergies. You get the idea. It’s how you use the tools, not the tools themselves.

I left without buying anything (I had no money to buy anything even if there was something I wanted), though I had inspected her (seven) decks of tarot cards. I owned about 2/3 of the types she was offering, which is an indication to me that this isn’t where I need to be browsing for tarot decks anyway. Which means it is also not a place that would be interested in hiring me to do tarot readings. (The shopkeeper also noted that two customers per day means business is booming.) But finding stores with tarot decks I don’t have (and still want) is getting more challenging.

Yeah, I’m a tarot deck collector and a reader and have read since I was ten or eleven years old. I started collecting decks shortly after college. I have almost 70 decks of cards of various types, 55-60 of which are strictly tarot and the remainder of which are still divination decks of some type or another (like the one based on Jungian psychology, one based on Osho Zen, et cetera).

Do I believe it is actually telling someone’s fortune to read their cards? No, not really. I think the subconscious reacts to the symbols and uses them to translate what your intuition has already picked up on from your client.

On the other hand, I can’t really explain how this worked: I did conduct an experiment a few years ago. I offered to read tarot cards for people over AOL Instant Messenger. This is something that I have charged up to $30 for, though I’m still cheaper than most tarot readers, as I spend close to an hour or more with each querent. Readings go for $20-25 for fifteen minutes in Atlanta, LAs Vegas and New Orleans. What a bargain. And, being poor, I can’t afford to do hour-long readings for free these days. An hour spent noodling around on AIM is an hour I should be spending working on my websites or job-hunting, you know?

Anyway, I read for a few dozen folks, and I knew nothing about them except their “handle”. I said I didn’t want to know whether they were male or female, how old they were, where they lived, or even what their question might be. And out of all those blind readings, only ONE person said that I was inaccurate, but her question had been “should I have an affair with another married parent I run into while picking up my child at daycare”, or so she revealed when we discussed her reading afterwards, and the cards had said no, no, no, a thousand times no, don’t do it, all signs point to no, are you fucking insane, this is a bad plan, perhaps an illuminated billboard saying “NO!!!” would help, no, no and no…and she kept rephrasing the question to me again and again, hoping for a yes to justify her desire to give into her loin-flamage stirred by her libido. And I couldn’t give it, not based on what the cards were saying.

What happened? She probably fucked him. She wasn’t going to hear that it was a bad idea. Do I care? Not really. I gave the advice that was sought, but to care too much would be to inject my own opinions and morals into the reading. I don’t think married people should ignore problems in their marriage and seek booty from other married people that they aren’t getting at home. But that’s just me. Also, people who have a polyamorous and mutually-agreed-upon situation should know that I am not talking about them.

Voodoo practitioners probably wouldn’t have told her it was a bad idea, though I don’t know that for sure. I assume that only based on the plethora of products available to help the customer go after whatever booty object they desired. There were no warning labels, if you know what I mean.

I’ve been to New Orleans and I have what my former roommates and I dubbed a “poodoo doll”, a poppet in a coffin made for tourists to buy as a curiosity. The poppet looks like Mr. Hanky (from South Park), hence the nickname. Hey, I’m sure I could hex someone into a fierce bout of constipation if I concentrated hard enough.

I’ll probably talk about tarot and Qabbalah (what little I understand of it, of course!), and Taoist philosophy and travels hither and yon and so forth in future blogs, but, for now, I have rattled on long enough. Also, I got a check today from CafePress and I intend to treat myself to actual food. And maybe a pack of clove cigarettes. Yeah! So I’m off like a prom queen’s dress. Chat with you later.

Our Panel Of Experts: Advice For The Lovelorn And More

The Panel were contacted and asked to convene in the Star Chamber here at Der Haus of Eclecstacy, and after consuming five boxes of baked cheese cracker snacks, four cartons of Sampoerna cigarettes, half a key lime pie, four thin-crust chicken and bacon BBQ pizzas, a can of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli, three eggs, two half gallons of Breyer’s ice cream (chocolate mint and french vanilla), a bottle of Godiva liqueur, one and a half bottles of Kahlua, some Jamaican rum that had been imported to the US in 1945, two bottles of Absolut vanilla vodka, a bottle of Stoli, 144 beers of various types, a quart of cheap scotch, some box wine, some bumwine, and some cinnamon-flavoured mouthwash, they all took long naps carefully considered the Topics Du Jour.

Dear Panel:

I would like to hear the blog’s Panel of Experts’ thoughts on this. What techniques are best for holding men’s attentions? And is any man who has to be ego-boosted and coddled to that degree really worth having?

From: cyanidefish

* * *

During the 1960s, I think, people forgot what emotions were supposed to be. And I don’t think they’ve ever remembered. Employees make the best dates. You don’t have to pick them up and they’re always tax-deductible. I had a lot of dates but I decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows.

When I got my first television set, I stopped caring so much about having close relationships. I’m the type who’d be happy not going anywhere as long as I was sure I knew exactly what was happening at the places I wasn’t going to. I’m the type who’d like to sit home and watch every party that I’m invited to on a monitor in my bedroom.

People need to be made more aware of the need to work at learning how to live because life is so quick and sometimes it goes away too quickly. Sex is more exciting on the screen and between the pages than between the sheets. The most exciting thing is not doing it. If you fall in love with someone and never do it, it’s much more exciting. The most exciting love attractions are between two opposites that never meet.

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.

I think that being interesting is interesting. My Superstars are either beauties or talkers. Edie was a beauty, gee! But I always liked my talkers best.

Love,


Andy

* * *

You know you’ve made it when you’ve been moulded in miniature plastic. But you know what children do with Barbie dolls – it’s a bit scary, actually. You can tell a lot about a woman if you ask her what games she used to play with me.

Ken doesn’t seem to need much coddling. He’s perfectly comfortable with all my high-profile, high-powered careers. Of course, after a few decades, I discovered he was holding me back. I think a good partner grows as much intellectually and emotionally and spiritually as you do, when you are in a relationship.

It’s not so much about looks. Neither of us is anatomically correct, you know.

XOXO,

Babs

* * *

When it comes to Couture Chaos, this Tacky Terror should take a bow – looks like an over-the-hill Lolita.

What?

What?!

Stylishly yours,

Mister B.

* * *

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.

When I think about relationships, I might repeat to myself slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound – if I could remember any of the damn things.

I require three things in a man: he must be handsome, ruthless and stupid. The best way to keep a man at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant–and let the air out of the tires. Four be the things I’d have been better without: love, curiosity, freckles and doubt. Take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves: you can apply that to relationships, too. In the boudoir, brevity is the soul of lingerie.

In life, everything comes and goes in cycles. Why, every year, back come Spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants. You may lose in love on occasion, but your time will come.

This would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone: Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgment. Sometimes one can overthink things. Men are silly things to feel angst about. Like crosstown busses, another one comes along if you wait long enough.

Have a martini, darling.

Cheers,

Dot

* * *

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use. Nothing is less important than which fork you use. Etiquette is the science of living. It embraces everything. It is ethics. It is honor. Manners are made up of trivialities of deportment which can be easily learned if one does not happen to know them; manner is personality—the outward manifestation of one’s innate character and attitude toward life…. Etiquette must, if it is to be of more than trifling use, include ethics as well as manners. Certainly what one is, is of far greater importance than what one appears to be.

There are certain things a lady can do to be more mannerly, however. The attributes of a great lady may still be found in the rule of the four S’s: Sincerity, Simplicity, Sympathy and Serenity. The joy of joys is the person of light but unmalicious humor. She must not swing her arms as though they were dangling ropes; she must not switch herself this way and that; she must not shout; and she must not, while wearing her bridal veil, smoke a cigarette. Be yourself. The most vulgar slang is scarcely worse than the attempted elegance which those unused to good society imagine to be the evidence of cultivation.

A single woman must endure the rapt attention of everyone around her, all will wish to know her business. The pretty young woman living alone, must literally follow Cinderella’s habits. The magpie never leaves her window sill and the jackal sits on the doormat, and the news of her every going out and coming in, of every one whom she receives, when they come, how long they stay and at what hour they go, is spread broadcast.

Training a man is exactly like training a puppy; a little heedless inattention and it is out of hand immediately; the great thing is not to let it acquire bad habits that must afterward be broken. Anyone can be taught to be beautifully behaved with no effort greater than quiet patience and perseverance, whereas to break bad habits once they are acquired is a Herculean task. Ego-boosting? Whereas one believes that this must cut both ways, a little praise is not only merest justice but is beyond the purse of no one.

Selflessness, or unconsciousness of self, is not so much unselfishness as it is the mental ability to extinguish all thought of one’s self—-exactly as one turns out the light.

Being devoted to one’s love is not coddling; coddling is akin to spoiling, and spoiling is a grave mistake. There is a quality of protectiveness in a man’s expression as it falls on his betrothed, as though she were so lovely a breath might break her; and in the eyes of a girl whose love is really deep, there is always evidence of that most beautiful look of championship, as though she thought: “No one else can possibly know how wonderful he is!” Appreciating one’s partner is never unmannerly or inappropriate.

Respectfully yours,

Emily Post (Miss)

* * *

I see myself as an intelligent, sensitive human, with the soul of a clown which forces me to blow it at the most important moments.

A true friend is someone who lets you have total freedom to be yourself-and especially to feel. Or, not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at the moment is fine with them. The same applies to a partner. Your partner should also be your friend, man. Friends can help each other. That’s what real love amounts to–letting a person be what she or he really is. Love cannot save you from your own fate, however.

We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.

Blake said that the body was the soul’s prison unless the five senses are fully developed and open. He considered the senses the ‘windows of the soul.’ When sex involves all the senses intensely, it can be like a mystical experence, man! I believe in a long, prolonged derangement of the senses to attain the unknown. Yeah! I think the highest and lowest points are the important ones. Anything else is just…in between. I want the freedom to try everything. Our pale reasoning hides the infinite from us. Drugs are a bet with your mind. It’s like gambling somehow. You go out for a night of drinking and you don’t know where you’re going to end up the next day. It could work out well or it could be disastrous. It’s like the throw of the dice. Where’s your will to be weird? Of course, I’m probably not one to talk about the benefits of drugs and shit.

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.

This is the strangest life I’ve ever known.

Oh yeah, a righteous chick loves you when you get fat and hairy and can’t fit into your leather pants anymore. Your old man should love you, too, despite your exterior flaws. Love the mind, the spirit, not the container. But don’t totally, like, neglect the container. Destruction of the container affects the beautiful things within.

Peace,

The Lizard King

* * *

O HAI. LET ME SHO U MY ADVICES. MY ADVICES, LET ME SHO U THEM.

MANS WHO WANT TAKING MOAR THAN GIVING IS BAD MANS. I ARE CAT, I LIKE TAKE THINGS, BUT I GIVE LUV BACK. IS FAIR.

TEKNEEK FOR ATTRACT MANS: SHO MANS UR BUTT! HOLD IT UP HIGH! PUT IT IN MANS FACE. MAKE PURR. RUB U HED ON MANS. MEW SWEETLEE. IT ARE ALWAYS WERKING.

IF MANS IS BAD, U SKRATCHEZ MANS. OR PEE ON MANS PILLO. THAT TEACHEZ MANS NOT TO BEING BAD MANS.

IM IN UR BLOG, BEIN’ ALL SMRT.

MIAO,

MEEZERS

* * *

My heart is a gypsy–continuously searching for a home, fighting within itself, wondering whether it is weak or even right for that matter to be searching in the first place. Loneliness is what it feels like. Other women think I’m a slut. They just want to be like me. They’re seeing the glamour icon but don’t realize…there are more facets to me besides spreading my legs.

When I am asked my advice about someone’s relationship problems, I always look at both sides and totally understand their fears of the unknown…and Whenever there is any type of “adult” stigma surrounding the fear, the worst is always assumed. I, like, hate that shit. Human sexuality has a specific nature, We are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome, if we work with our biology rather than against it.

Feminism? Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition!

Who says porn queens can’t be cosmically correct? Let there be pleasure and ecstasy on earth and let it begin with me.

Kisses,


Melony


Dear Panel:

I have a sofa. It isn’t an expensive sofa, nor a designer sofa, but I like it. My problem is that my three cats also like it…as a toilet. We can’t figure out which cat is the culprit, and we’re at our wits’ end. We love our cats, but we also like our sofa. We assume that even if we removed the sofa, the new sofa we’d get to replace it would not be immune to being mistaken for a litterpan. Can you help?

(Anonymous)

Dear (Anonymous):

Ah, the game of What Cat Shat On That. We have played that game before. You have my sympathies. There are a few things you can try.

Since removing the cats or the sofa as solutions are both out, your choices are more limited. We thus suggest that you try isolating your cats from the sofa. Place two of them in a room together, shut the door, and let the third roam free. This presumes that you have litterboxes in both the free-range area and the enclosed area. If the first cat does not indulge in Sneak Pewpin, try this arrangement again with the other cats. If three weeks go by and there are no poops on your sofa, that, in and of itself, is a major success. If three weeks go by and no one falls for the Crap Trap, it’s time to reverse your system. Two cats out, one cat in. Eventually one will break down and decorate your sofa. The process of elimination (no pun intended) will help narrow down your list of suspects. Once you identify the Stealth Doodymaker, you can strive to separate Guilty Party from sofa. That should cut down on the spot cleaning and cursing you’ve endured so far.

Another way to deal with the Random Poo-By: cover your sofa with aluminium foil. For some reason, cats dislike the sound it makes when they walk on it. Most cats. They have to walk on it to get into position to let fly the bowels of war, however. So this may stop the annoyance. Of course, you may have a strange cat who enjoys chewing tinfoil. This is a bad thing, and is to be discouraged. Tinfoil is not a food. If you have one of these contrary beasts, covering up your sofa like a leftover is not the solution for you.

There are chemical solutions to your problem, but, like the tinfoil solution, this can be thwarted if you have a Weird Cat. (For some reason, Siamese and Tonkinese tend to be prone to Weird Cat Syndrome, but no particular breeds are immune.) On the off chance that your cat is not weird, head to your local pet supply emporium and request sprays that make your furniture smell unappealing to all but the strangest animals (and hounds–hounds will eat anything).

It goes without saying that any time a cat stops using its litterpan that there may be an underlying physical reason. UTIs tend to lead to Dribbles Of Doom all over your house. Stress can lead to the poo scootin’ boogies all over your furniture. Take your beasts into a vet to rule out a physical ailment first thing, and if our solutions fail to stop the problem, don’t hesitate to write back.

Yours,

Tha Prof

* * *

DERE ANNONYMOUSE:

HAI THAR. IM SRS CAT AN THIS ARE SRS PRUBLIM. HAZ U STOPT GIVEN UR CATZ THE GOOSHY FUDZ? DEY MAY BE ANGERY AT U BECAZ WE WANTZ THE GOOSHY FUDZ.

GIF UR CATZ THE GOOSHY FUDZ.

LUV,

M. Meezers

P.S. HAY, IZ U RILY MOUSE? COM VISIT MEH, K?


Dear Panel:
I am desperate. I like this girl, a LOT. She’s beautiful, and smart, and popular. And, well, I’m not. Not that I’m ugly or anything, or stupid, but I compare myself to her and I feel like I couldn’t possibly stand a chance with her. I’m really, really, shy, but I’ve tried sending her flowers, and writing poems and sticking them in her locker, sending her funny haikus on Twitter, and leaving comments on her Facebook, Tumblr, LiveJournal and MySpace profiles, and she won’t respond to me. What should I do?!

Call me…Ishmael.

Dear “Ishmael”:

Even in this hurry-scurry modern era, the most worthy females of good social standing cannot help but be duly impressed by the niceties of good breeding. If you cultivate a familiarity with the differences between a salad fork and a dinner fork, this is a type of knowledge that should, as they say in the vulgar vernacular, do the trick.

Actually, that is but a wry jest on my part. It is not the juggling of forks that makes one mannerly, but character and honor. You may be frightening the young lady with your tactics. Your wooing is rather persistent, given that you have had little response to spur you on. Perhaps being more reserved in demeanor is the answer.

If this fails, you should attempt to ingratiate yourself with her chaperone. Leave your calling card when visiting if the family is not receiving visitors on that particular day. Work on your bowing; a gentleman knows all the different forms, from the slightest inclination of the head to a nodding acquaintance, to the deepest bow, which includes lowering yourself onto one knee, and which should be reserved only for royalty. It is possible that your poetry lacked a certain refined grace, or that your posies were chosen rashly, without regard for the subtlety and romance a knowledge of the symbolism of flowers would provide.

If all else fails, take up the lute. Ladies do love a musician.

With warm regards,

You may call me…Emily.

* * *

Hey man, why be so uptight?

Chicks love it when you write poetry. “Death makes angels of us all, and gives us wings, where we had shoulders, smooth as raven’s claws.”

They eat that shit up, man.

Also, drugs are good. Make even the most uptight, repressed, middle-class chick into a righteous woman. I should know, right? But, hey, they are illegal. If that harshes your mellow, you can try other things. Tequila can help ease you out of your shyness and let you tell the world that you’re ready and willing to do just about anything.

You will notice the benefits of tequila almost immediately, and with a regimen of regular doses of tequila you can overcome any obstacles that prevent you from living the life you want to live.

Shyness and awkwardness will be a thing of the past, (well, shyness anyway) and you will discover many talents you never knew you had! Stop hiding behind your shyness and start living, with tequila. Tequila may not be right for everyone. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use tequila. However, women who wouldn’t mind nursing or becoming pregnant are encouraged to try it.

Side effects of Tequila may include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration, erotic lustfulness, loss of motor control, loss of clothing, loss of money, loss of virginity, delusions of grandeur, table dancing, headache, dehydration, dry mouth, and a desire to sing Karaoke and play all-night rounds of Strip Poker, Truth Or Dare, and Naked Twister.

Tequila. Leave Shyness Behind.

Emily also has a point about the musician thing. Man, I’m dead, and chicks still make pilgrimages to my tomb, dude.

Peace, love, and leather pants,

Jim


Dear Panel:

I’m a stand-up comedian. I’ve been doing stand-up at the local improv for the last three years; ever since I graduated High School. I use to make some people laugh, but now they mostly look at me like I’m a freakin’ retard. I was thinking about going to improv school, but with my job at McDonald’s, I just can’t afford it. How can I learn how to be funny, for free?

“Shecky”

Dear Shecky:

When John Cleese tired of questions about where he got his jokes from, he resorted to, “I buy them from a little man in Swindon.” The truth is much more prosaic. Jokes are about 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent whittling and crafting – much of it in front of an audience. So, keep practicing!

A professional comic’s routine may be based on true personal experience, but real experience doesn’t tend to come conveniently complete with a punchline. That’s why most comics are outrageous liars. It’s also why pathological observational comics may even begin to provoke ‘hilarious’ denouements by deliberately forgetting their wedding anniversaries or leaving their children in the supermarket. We’ll assume that they did not do these things in actuality, though the “leaving of children in supermarket” thing is comedy gold, and probably a good idea to adopt in real life.

Jerry Seinfeld compares telling a joke to attempting to leap a metaphorical canyon, taking the audience with him. The set-up is the nearside cliff, and the punchline is the far side. If they’re too far apart, the listeners don’t make it to the other side. And if they are too close together, the audience just steps across the gap without experiencing any exhilarating leap. The joke-hearer gets far more pleasure from the joke if he or she has to do a little work. Whether or not Jerry Seinfeld is actually funny is a debate we should address at a different time.

A very cheap and easy way of making people laugh is to throw in some swear words. It’s become something of a tradition among the more iconoclastic comics to write a routine that is ostensibly aimed at depriving taboo words of their power to shock, but which conveniently harnesses the power of shocking words to make us laugh. George Carlin says, ‘Shock is just another form of surprise, and comedy is based on surprise. This is a noisy culture… If you want to be heard, then you have to raise your voice a little bit. If swearing is the only thing going for you, it won’t last long.” This, from the guy who brought us “seven words you can’t say on television.” So don’t fucking swear just to fucking swear.

Timing is everything. Ask anyone who resorts to the “pull out” method of birth control. It can go well, but it’s a tricky procedure. And, if in the hands of an amateur, it can go very badly indeed. Surprise is often worked into a joke through the “pull-back and reveal” technique (which is totally unrelated to the “pull out” method, just to be clear). The joke focuses your attention on a particular angle or detail of the scene, then suddenly pans out to show you the whole, surprising picture. Very often the success of these jokes hinges on the joke-teller’s subtle control of rhythm: a beat here, a breath there. The difference between a funny story and a joke is often verbal economy. It’s not that long, wordy jokes can’t be funny, but if too much is explained, there’s no logical leap for the audience to make, and the paradigm shift which elicits laughter is lost.

If nothing else, learn what words sound funny. Neil Simon had one of his characters explain it thusly: “Fifty-seven years in this business, you learn a few things. You know which words are funny and which words are not funny. Alka-Seltzer is funny. You say Alka-Seltzer, you get a laugh. Words with K in them are funny. Casey Stengel, that’s a funny name. Robert Taylor is not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomato is not funny. Cookie is funny. Cucumber is funny.” Observe:Wombat, kazoo, yoghurt, Port-a-Loo, Sasquatch, pantomine, jelly doughnut. I am a comedy GOD.

Other tips: Pick your moments. It’s easiest to tell a joke when everyone’s relaxed and enjoying themselves. Telling a joke to relieve tension is a high-risk strategy, but potentially hilarious. Besides, there’ll be other funerals. Know where you’re going–the punchline–before you start. Don’t be tempted to over-elaborate. Eddie Izzard makes it look easy, but remember that one man’s surreal flight of fancy is another man’s rambling, incoherent humiliation. Project a demeanour of relaxed confidence–it gives your listener permission to laugh. You can try deadpan, but social joke-telling usually requires the teller to laugh too. Enjoy it. If your entire self-esteem is resting on whether people laugh at your joke, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. On the other hand, you are showing signs of the borderline personality disorder that characterises all the best comedians, so perhaps you should consider telling jokes for a living. Whatever you do, refrain from prop humour. Smashing watermelons is so passé.

By the way, I have been reciting this entire post in the voice of “Uncle Arthur” on Bewitched. People are currently piddling their drawers from Kalamazoo to Palo Alto. Top that, motherfucker.

Toodles!

Uncle Paul

The 30-Second Love Filter: Myth Or Truth?

A while back I read something along the lines of “women know within half a minute whether or not they will ever have a relationship with someone”. For “relationship with” read “have sex with,” as the rest of the article was, if memory serves, far less coy.

I’m starting to wonder if it is true.

First of all, I have to say up front that when I don’t feel attractive, it takes a lot for my libido switch even to be in the “idle” position, never mind “on.” I haven’t felt terribly attractive on a number of levels lately. I’m living in my dead grandmother’s house, which is depressing enough, but it’s also a dump. It was neglected while she was alive because she was legally blind due to macular degeneration and constitutionally ill-disposed towards even minor changes. Now that she’s no longer with us, it’s still neglected because my mother has conflicting attitudes about it. On the one hand, she wants to sell it (for more than twice what it is worth), but isn’t clear on when the selling may happen. On the other, it’s her mom’s old house and she doesn’t want to change anything at all, so it can remain a museum of sorts. I moved a table and sofa around in the den a year after my grandmother died and she took months to accept even this minor change. Then, after all that ruckus about that minor change, she gives away most of the better furniture (including items I’d begged for). Lastly, she is starting to redo her OWN house, so every so often I get crap dumped in the mostly-bare dining room that I don’t have time to deal with. Much of it is my old high school art and yearbooks and crap that I’m not particularly attached to, but I know that she didn’t toss them because she does have a little attachment to them and assumes I do as well. She also has gone on toss-and-purge sprees in the past and thrown out things I actually DO care about, so I’m not willing to just assume that everything in the bags and boxes is expendable or worthless. It probably is, but who knows?

I gained weight caring for my grandmother, and while I’m at the national average for my height, I’m used to being about 20 pounds under average, and since I have a very small frame (I can wear size 4 and 3/4 rings on my left hand ring finger, for example), this didn’t mean I was anorexic. Grandmother was a medical anorexic, meaning that there was no psychological hinkiness going on, she just was less and less interested in food and had to be plied with the most fattening food possible. Key Lime pie comes to mind as a big fave. A slice of Key Lime pie probably has 2,500 calories in it, thanks to the massive amounts of sugar needed to make limes sweet and the condensed milk, and that’s if you don’t eat the crust.

Another unpleasant change is the new worry marks I have engraved in my forehead. I haven’t had much to smile about for the past few years, and have had a LOT to worry about (and a lot of constant stress), and my face shows it. I am starting to think that Botox might not be such a horrible idea if it keeps me from looking tired, pained and anxious all the time. Even if I am tired, pained and anxious 90% of the time, I don’t have to have my face shout it out.

So I’m living in a crappy place I’d be ashamed to bring friends over to see, and I feel fat and wrinkly, though recent photographs show that a lot of that is me obsessing over stupid stuff and making unfair comparisons to my former self. It’s not great, but I certainly am not a haggard old piece of shoe leather. (Fat shoes’ leather.)

I daydream sometimes about setting up my next place. This is what I used to enjoy about playing The Sims. Not the game-related play of keeping them from peeing on the floor or incinerating themselves while attempting to boil water…but the cheap architectural CAD the game allowed me to play with. Admittedly, everything was limited to two stories and 45- or 90-degree angle walls at the time, but a number of folks worked overtime on various cheats and dodges and clever innovations that got around the limitations. So I’d make living environments with Oriental furniture, Mod furniture, classic Queen Anne-style furniture, “Victoriana” / Goth furniture (because there was actually a “Goth Family” in the game) and lavish gardens and water features. I’m too busy to play with the game anymore, so all my interior decorating these days goes on in my brain.

As for the clutter I’m dealing with (too much crap, too little space), I went on a minor purge this week and set aside a lot of crap I’ve been holding on to for years…mostly clothes. It’s not coming back in style, no matter how cute it is. I suspect that wearing clothes from the eighties when I was in my twenties was okay because it was assumed to be a fashion choice. Wearing clothes from the eighties and nineties now is going to be interpreted as “out-of-touch older person doesn’t give a crap about looking nice.” Thank goodness over-sized, baggy and tight, extremely-low-rise pants are going out of style, because I couldn’t bring myself to show off my underwear and visually inflate my lower half even for the sake of being stylish. It’s an ugly look. Not that the super-high-rise pants on the runways are much better. Hello, happy medium, anyone? I refuse to buy Mom Jeans just so I don’t have a belt buckle scratching my boobs or half my ass crack on display.

But I digress.

The point is, I am not looking to meet new people. I’m even leery of expanding on the relationships with classmates, because in the back of my mind, I’m already OUTTA HERE. The worst double-edged sword would be to meet the love of my life down here and find out he doesn’t want to leave. So I’m not looking. I don’t buy into “The One” myth, and whereas I have bleak days where I wonder if I am too persnickety to meet Mr Right-For-Me any time soon (meaning, shortly after I leave this town), that frisson of panic doesn’t make me want to start “hunting.”

Fact is, my libido switch is, for the first time in my life, set firmly to “off” and partially that’s because I’m patient to a fault and am apparently putting things on hold until I can escape Savannah. Patient to a fault because I’m taking things in stride and making token efforts to fix stuff that’s bothering me because nothing is more important than getting my degree and getting on with my life. Need shelves? Buy one, not the four I need. Want a pet cat? Must wait. Relocating with an animal is tougher, I already HAVE an animal to focus on, and I prefer my pets to deal with the same vet from day one if possible. Night life? No time. Every week there’s a paper, a project, a website, writing and editing assignments, some household-related headache…I’m already tired and I have no steady income. I can’t afford to splash out on entertainment. I consider it frivolous to buy a book, rather than borrowing a big pile of them from the library.

Last time I discused this, I was in grad school and a lot of this rambling was inspired in part by this man working on his thesis project (supposedly, though I only ever see him surfing the web). He took an inexplicable shine to me (inexplicable because I had never spoken to him before and was always focused on my work and classes). My routine was such that if I was up for a mental break, then I was outside chit-chatting there. If I was inside, I was working, so should be left alone to work.

This man NEVER approached me outside. He came up behind me and scared the hell out of me each time, because I was usually engrossed in my work. He stopped and tried to draw me out for a chat DURING MY CLASSES. He asked personal questions and lobbed undeserved flattering remarks my way that praised personal qualities that I may have, but which he couldn’t have known from merely being on the same floor of a four-story building on a semi-regular basis.

He was also clearly interested in me, and not in a buddy way. I was perplexed, frankly. I looked like hell, I was not sending out any vibes at all, I was all-business and focused on my work more often than not (I tended to chat socially with my professors more than my peers, though there were a half dozen or so people I had classes with several times and I got the impression they liked me and respected my work; I’m still in touch with some of them.)

If he had ever approached me outside when I was talking with friends or having a smoke or whatever, I wouldn’t be so chapped. He never did. He consistently just appeared from behind me, lavished overly friendly attention my way, and took a long time to get a hint. I decided not to stop what I was doing though I was polite…I just kept on working. Even when I did pause to chat, I had never held a personal or deep conversation with him, or one lasting more than five minutes.

I know, however, if I had found him even remotely attractive, I MIGHT have been tempted to be a lot more friendly. That’s where the 30-second relationship filter comes in. I can’t manufacture pheromones and attraction where none exist, and I’ll never be lonely enough to derail my attempts to get out of town as fast as I can. I’m over it all. I want to be done. I have a lot more to learn, but I want to just KNOW it and be looking for a JOB already.

I knew within 30 seconds (or less) that he not only wasn’t anywhere near what I typically like in the opposite sex (which I could tell at first glance), but I also didn’t click with his personality. He seemed to mean well and to be nice enough, but I think that when he inadvertently disrespected my professor by wandering in during a studio hour, when the whole class was busily working on projects, and tried to strike up a conversation…it was uncool and I was pissed off. It may not have been that inadvertent, either. He worked on the same floor constantly and it was fairly obvious when there was a class in session ten feet away from your work station. His need to flirt with me was greater than my need to actually learn something and get the assistance from my professor that I paid $150 an hour per class session for…and $150 is more than I spend on groceries and toiletries a month. It’s more than I MAKE per month. It’s all student loans.

(So much for my mom’s promise to pay for my education if I came down to help with grandmother, incidentally. She went from agreeing to pay for the standard three classes a quarter, which would have had me out of here last April and which she never did, to bitching about paying for one, to not contributing a penny towards my education at all. Which is typical.)

Anyway, it’s illogical to the extreme, perhaps, but I was really put off by a man being pleasant towards me, and annoyed with myself for being annoyed. It wasn’t the interest in me that was the problem, though I certainly am in no mood to be the recipient of someone’s unrequited crush at the moment. I’ve been there before, and I’ve dealt with a good friend’s annoyance when a so-called Nice Guy (secretly a self-absorbed, secretly egomaniacal, socially maladjusted guy with book smarts and a veneer of etiquette) refused to get a hint that she was Not Ever Going To be Interested In Him, Damn It, Get A Fucking Clue. (Later the same guy decided that the perfect time to hit on ME was when I was upset over breaking up with the guy who was, at that point, the love of my life. Hadn’t ever shown interest before, mind, but I was clearly emotionally distraught and in a vulnerable state, and he figured it was worth a try to hit on the crying girl (me), who happened to be VERY CLOSE to the girl he’d annoyed and chased for, what, ten or so years? Smoooooooooth. And, if it isn’t clear, he is NOT so “nice”. And, annoyingly, I then had to deal with not hurting HIS feelings at the same time MY feelings were already shredded by my ex, all because he got rejected for making the world’s worst-timed pass in history and had a huge sulk about it. Because it was all about him.)

So. Sorry. Where was I?

Was my reaction due to the 30-second Love Filter? A knee-jerk response to his rudeness directed towards my professor, me and my classmates for trying to conduct personal chitchat during class time? (More than once! Once or twice, I forgave, but didn’t like. Third time it happened, it was clearly rudeness or obliviousness, neither of which I like.) Was it a reaction based on witnessing and being a victim of clueless (Not-Really-Very-)Nice Guy dumb-assery in the past?

Is it just that I’m unhappy with how I am and not currently motivated enough to fix everything I hate about myself all at once? (I have no free time, gah!)

I don’t know.

I do know that the half-minute filter does seem to work. At least for me. I may warm up to someone as a friend after some time, but if there’s no initial “hey, you’re kinda cute!” [™, Schoolhouse Rock “Interjections” voice actress) reaction, I don’t date them. Even if there’s no pause for reflection and an awareness that I find someone cute, such as when I’m dating someone else and there’s my man and every other male on the planet is just some guy who happens not to be a girl, it’s still true that I won’t ever date someone if I don’t find them attractive. The acid test, even when there’s only one man on the planet, as far as I’m concerned, is if I am asked and realize that yeah, I’d describe so-and-so as cute. There can be Cute Guys I perhaps won’t date due to age differences or other incompatibilities, but there are no Not Cute (To Me) guys that I WILL eventually date.

I won’t even get into the occasional guilt that stems from having very choosy aesthetic tastes when it comes to guys. It’s not that I aim too high; I just sometimes wonder if I’m being too picky and not giving guys a fair shot. (Has that EVER worked for ANYone? REALLY?)

I suppose I’m mostly sad that I see male attention, even if it is unwanted and ill-timed, as being a kvetch-worthy topic. Then again, my life has never revolved around seeking male attention at all costs. *insert shrug here*

How soon do you know when someone’s a potential date-worthy acquaintance? Right away? Weeks? Do you accept dates from people you KNOW you aren’t attracted to? I find that I rarely date even when I am “on the market” because I tend to prefer to get to know people beforehand and they tend to have insurmountable issues (usually not-so picky things, such as “doesn’t like karaoke” or “is bald” (I have a slight Good Male Hair fetish thing going)…BIG issues like “smokes crack on a regular basis” or “has girlfriend” or “sleeps with anything with a pulse regardless of gender, usually while wasted, ergo probably has a scary social disease or three” or “is alcoholic” or “hates cats, kicks dogs, is nasty to little old ladies” or “has nasty passive-aggressive sense of humor”, et cetera) and it’s not worth the job-interview aspect of an Official DATE-Date to put up with it all. Friends? Sure, why not. Potential partners? Don’t think so. ESPECIALLY if they are cute. Hormones are stupid, I don’t need them convincing me that “hey, he only smokes crack every other week, but he’s otherwise a nice young man,” know what I mean? That crack thing, it is a deal breaker.

Apparently disrespecting my professor and scaring the pee out of me while I’m working are also deal breakers, but the 30-second Filter had already vetoed any chance of future Boyfriendness.

Is it just me? Do other people do this?