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I hate lists. They are evil, tyrannical, “Type A” instruments of oppression, dogma and stultification.
I love lists. They’re liberating. And they’re a helluva lot easier than actually organizing my thoughts.
I have much more to say about lists, about their corrupting, insidious evil and their glorious, divine grace.
For now, I want you to know that I’m going to employ them liberally (yes, “liberally”–bwahahaha–and I mean that in nearly every possible sense, especially the ones that make you most uncomfortable). I hate them, but I’m going to use them. We often use the things we hate, don’t we? I do. Judge me if you must.
The truth is that I don’t necessarily hate lists. I hate the way that lists are often employed, what so often seems to be implied by them. Maybe what I hate most about lists is merely my perception of what people mean by them. It may be that I hate an idea of Lists, an imagined evil List-ness. No matter. Even if merely imagined, it’s real.
To distinguish my lists from the evil ones (and from the “evil one”), I present to you a random assortment of characteristics not so much defining but casting an ambiguous net of semantic approximation in the vicinity of Joel’s Bastard Lists. Yes, my lists are bastards. You need to know who and how they are, lest you confuse them with their wicked step siblings and find yourselves, as is human habit, controlled by their sinister insinuations. Yes, even my beautiful little bastards insinuate. They insinuate sinisterly. Don’t hate them; it’s not their fault. I’m telling you now so that you can know and not bend to their illusory (and, in fact–in my case at least–entirely unintended) but nevertheless consequential web of control.
Joel’s bastard lists are (unless otherwise clearly indicated–and sometimes contrary to clearest explicit indication) . . .
- random, ambiguous, approximate;
- irregular, asymmetric, mismatched, periodically perpendicular, potentially hazardous;
- redundant, overlapping, sometimes superfluous, frequently gratuitous;
- by no means exclusive
- rarely authoritative;
- not meant to be limiting, constricting, binding, controlling, containing or contained;
- mostly unstructured;
- only loosely affiliated with any system or dogma, even my own;
- inconsistently (and perhaps most often simply not at all) prioritized;
- only occasionally sequential, even when ostentatiously numbered;
- often painfully amended so as to be odd–and, ideally, prime–both in the number of their constituent elements and otherwise. . .
Whereas evil lists define and circumscribe, my lists mean to set you free–to begin and not end, to disrupt and not merely to order, the thoughts and feelings you might have about the subject whose qualities or whose members or whose whatever other thingies they sort of haphazardly, only-superficially-numerically enumerate.
I have some saddish stuff to say–not necessarily immediately, but eventually, and not continually, but at least occasionally.
And you will perhaps feel the urge to, in those timeless words of Mr. T., “pity da fool.”
Please don’t. Or please, at least, don’t feel any obligation to do so.
I’ve come up with literally (the literal “literally”, not the figurative “literally”) dozens of arguments against your pity (and may share some later), but for now I’m going to share just a few and, I hope, concisely.
It’s not that I’m opposed to pity per se. Pity, in its purest form is truly divine. Indeed–and especially within the last 18 months–I’ve gladly given and received it, a lot. And to those who have been the source of what I’ve received: thank you, deeply and sincerely.
And maybe that’s part of my aversion. I’ve received so much and I’m not sure I’m worthy of any more–certainly not any more than anyone else. Yeah, just the thought of it makes me feel guilty.
Pity can also be a bit oppressive. In some sense it implies a response of further sadness. It can be a sick cycle, really. You pity, the one pitied is further immersed in sadness, provoking more pity and so on; and if we’re not careful, we all end up depressed and suicidal. Well, okay, it’s maybe not so bad; it can be, but, thankfully, someone usually eventually gets the point and jumps the loop (which, unfortunately, still sounds like a euphemism for offing oneself). And I do hasten to clarify that the proper response isn’t to carefully tiptoe around the sadness. The pitied know they are sad and your careful avoidance only accentuates what a mess they’re in. As best you can–for what it’s worth, IMO, take it or leave it, et al.–don’t shower the pitiable with obligatory pity but don’t pretend there’s nothing wrong or that it can’t be talked about; just be and be honest. I know that’s not easy, but it’s worth it.
Yaknow, come to think of it, that’s my main point. I want to probe this stuff, walk through it, unpack it. I want to dig into it like it’s a clearance rack of genuinely underpriced, actually valuable stuff (we all have stuff that matters to us; pick yours–it need not be material stuff–and the metaphor will work). Not the crap that’s usually–brightly and hopefully, in large, friendly uppercase letters on a field of obnoxious orange–emblazened with that invitation. There’s something good amidst the crap, buried perhaps, but still present.
It’s not so much a clearance sale, but more like an unwanted shopping spree. You didn’t buy it–at least you didn’t mean to. But they took your money–took more than your money, took most of what mattered or made any sense or had any value, at least most everything that you could hold and call, however imprecisely, your own. However unwillingly, you’ve paid the price. And, now goddamnit, you’re going to get something out of the exchange (though even calling it an “exchange” is the kind of affront that makes you want to throw up and punch somebody simultaneously–which would be a neat trick and, I imagine, potentially both satisfying and uniquely effective).
So now the price has been paid and all that’s left is to pick through the cheap baubles and find something worth salvaging. And what I’d really like, if you don’t mind my asking, is someone at my elbow to say, “Yes, Joel, that’s a keeper” or “Please, no. You don’t want that worthless sh**; just let it go.” This is a blog. Blogging is about open expression and dialog. Let’s dialog.
And here’s the other thing. I’m sometimes sad, but I’ve no interest in being morose and I will in one moment weep but even in the apparently same instant laugh–perhaps, you might think, inappropriately. I want to have fun and be amused and, frankly, whether you like it or not, I’m going to. I also want to be ruthless with the truth, want to beat it to a bloody pulp if I have to, and if either of us is tentative or inhibited, that kinda gets in the way. My point: if you want to laugh, please do; if you want to confront my intellectual dishonesty or sloppiness, please do. Don’t worry that the protocol of pity forbids it.
Well, that’s probably plenty of mixed metaphors for now (I have more and will pull them out later, lest you feel it is not).
I’m asking you not to pity or at least not to excessively express pity. More precisely what I’m asking is that you feel no need to pity. It is a favor; I don’t deny it. And you may deem me unworthy of such a favor and presumptuous to request it. But, there, I asked.
More transparently, I confess to you that this whole business of pity and obligations and expectations ends up functioning as Resistance. I will say more of Resistance but for now know that it is essentially this: not writing. Which brings us back to the beginning: I have some things to say–some things I feel I should and must say. Perhaps my request will deflect a few distractions. If nothing else, this public declaration is cathartic and helps me step around them. Come up they will, but I said I didn’t want them, so, no offense, I’m stepping past them. In truth, I’m still quite open to pity; I’d just rather not be bogged down by it here (ha: blogged down), if that makes any sense . . . and even if it doesn’t.
In homage to his T-ness, with an obtuse allusion to Adobe, I’m considering marking the most ostensibly pitiable posts with the category “PDF,” yaknow, so you’ll be warned. And I admit, I think it mildly clever. Very mildly. Almost unnoticeably. Don’t pity that I’m cleverness challenged; that’ll really piss me off.
I’m going to try to do more linking to other people’s blogs instead of jamming them with my comments. It seems better in lots of ways. So here I go.
A conversation I had yesterday and two blogs I’m reading have today reminded me of a couple of core convictions. By the way, these blogs are excellent, so I encourage you to explore beyond the posts I cite.
Brett talks, in the cited post, about Truth, and June about Grammar, but my takeaway from both is that the world is a beautiful place and we’re never quite capable of capturing either its beauty or its horror strictly with rules and formulae and such–which is not to say that we shouldn’t still try.
A commenter on June’s blog, a teacher, points out the paradox of grammar: that one first learns its rules, then how to bend them. I’ve decided, after several (not an enormous number, but more than a few) years on the planet that that’s one of life’s most important themes. I can think of no field in which it does not apply. At every point of revelation, some “truth” we’d been taught to get to that point is exploded by another or simply dissolves in its own insubstantiality.
That doesn’t mean it all dissolves, that there’s nothing substantial or absolute, but mostly perhaps that our plight is one of perpetual misunderstanding, of partial glimpses, of hints and guesses and approximations. And, really, that stuff itself (both our own concoctions and the world and order that exist to varying degrees independent of us–material and otherwise) is more or less, if not flimsy, at least shifting. Moreover, in a way that perhaps transcends or precedes (experientially) the universe’s shiftiness, there is perhaps a necessity that we learn lies or half truths on the way to understanding.
I do believe in absolutes, in Truth. I’ve experienced a bit of it. But it doesn’t come in a pill or a package. Of course, even that’s a lie. Truth is quite capable of sneaking up in a capsule or neatly wrapped container–but eventually, it’s gonna bust out. We learn lies on the way to truth because so much of learning is the acquisition of definitions, definitions are boxes, and gloriously, thankfully, Reality won’t fit in any box, no matter how elaborate and vast we might make it.
God, the world and we ourselves are fundamentally fraught with Mystery–Hallelujah!
Yes, that’s frustrating. Yes, I am continually aggravated by certain things I never quite comprehend but still somehow feel that I must. But there is greatness in surprise and hope and beauty that doesn’t sit nicely in my head or my heart but is always ever tugging at the seams.