I did it this morning. I threw away the “Smith Family Reunion: We’ve Come This Far by Faith” T-shirt, which I wore for years despite not being a Smith and not having any faith. Into the bathroom garbage also went an “I’m Cuckoo For Cocoa Puffs” T-shirt, which I wore as some kind of ironic comment on corporate marketing to toddlers. Old, holey, too-small, rock T-shirts of concerts I never attended—gone. Even my beloved baseball cap that read “Gooseberry Pie” found its way into the pile of discarded floss.

 –or–

A Book Review Masquerading as a Memoir, or Vice-Versa, Depending on One’s Point of View and Opinion of Absurd Clothing, plus Praise to James Bernard Frost for Giving a Voice to Aging Punk Rockers. 

If ever you should have an epiphany— and I think you know what I’m talking about— latch onto it, no matter how large or small the epiphany, and try your best to make it happen. You might make a fool of yourself, but better to make fool of  yourself than to spend your life jealous of the fools. 

Bartholomew Flynn, A Very Minor Prophet

Muumuu House (est. 2008) is a publisher of poetry, fiction, Twitter selections, Gmail chats online and in print.

On December 13, 2011, I received an email from Daniel Cooper that began:

Would you be interested in doing a piece for HTMLGiant on helping ‘Daniel Cooper’ become a Muumuu minimalist?  I’m new to the ‘scene’ but have years of experience in ‘being depressed’ and writing. I also have a new sense of being ‘ironically detached’ from my ’emotional vulnerability’ and a ‘real’ desire to make friends with people with ‘similar interests.’

He went on to explain why he chose to email me as opposed to other Muumuu House affiliates, a general idea for how he would begin to create his internet presence, and other things.

I responded:

Daniel,

I don’t feel interested in doing this, sorry.

My advice in terms of writing or [anything] is to ‘simply’ do you.

I don’t think there’s a ‘formula’ to becoming friends with [any Muumuu house affiliated author you mentioned].

I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading my things and things by other Muumuu House bros.

Good luck,

– Jordan

 

He sent another email, then I sent another email, then he sent an email asking me if I’d consider writing the piece for $25.

I said yes.

This is what I wrote to him:

Dear Daniel,

Life is different than a math equation because in life there isn’t a specific, consistent method of achieving an answer or desired outcome to a perceived problem. One wakes up, does whatever s/he does, then sleeps, usually convincing him/herself that there’s an inherent reason for it all.

There isn’t.

Life is similar to a math equation – can literally be viewed as a math equation from a certain perspective – because a math equation is ‘simply’ a math equation. A math equation isn’t sad, happy, boring, fun, or [anything except a math equation]. Some people enjoy trying to answer a math equation. Some people don’t. Some people don’t care. But no matter how one may or may not view math equations, a math equation is still ‘simply’ a math equation. Life is ‘simply’ life.

That’s it.

People say things like ‘Life is what you make it’ but that’s not what I mean either. Life isn’t what you make it because you don’t ‘make’ anything. Even the contexts of your ever-changing, inconsistent perceptions and actions have been created by everything that’s happened before that moment.

Anything anyone ever does is a result of everything everyone’s done beforehand.

Forever.

The moment a child is born s/he is filled with ‘input’ and his/her ‘output’ for the rest of his/her life can only consist of variations of what has already been or is being ‘input’ into him/her. The important thing to recognize is that the ‘input’ isn’t up to you so your thoughts/emotions/actions can never technically be ‘up to you’ (though understanding certain ‘input’ in the context of other ‘input’ can and will create different thought processes, etc).

But no matter what, the input still can’t care about you. It created you; is constantly creating you.

With this understanding – that your existence has very little to do with anything in general and that Oh Well you can’t control it anyway – the next step could be to accept your existence as a human being, then do what you want to do while you’re alive, if you want to be alive. Everything except for you and what you choose to care about doesn’t really matter that much because, as we’ve already established, your life is only a small piece of something gigantic and unforgiving that literally can’t know how to care about anything. Life and Input can’t think.

The universe doesn’t care about you or me or anyone because the universe can’t care.

In emails we exchanged, I recommended that you ‘do you,’ to which you said:

Re: ‘doing me’ I usually can only write — or want to write — out of a place that is very upset and angry and I usually use that negativity to justify writing mean, or upsetting, or manipulative, or jerkish stuff.  I’m actually ‘also’ working on writing ‘not me.’  Actually the advice you gave, and I guess I’m doing it.

If you only want to write ‘out of a place that is very upset and angry,’ I would recommend ‘simply’ writing ‘from that place’ or realizing that you don’t actually want to write out of that place, but from another place, then do what [you] need to do to get to/write from that place.

‘Doing you’ (being a person, enduring life) means thinking about what you want or don’t want then getting it or ridding yourself of it.

To me, that is the common thread among writers like Tao Lin, Noah Cicero, Sam Pink, Brandon Scott Gorrell, Megan Boyle, Mallory Whitten, etc. We’re not all the same and we don’t all write in the same ‘minimalist’ style all the time. I think we all ‘do [us]’ or are striving to ‘do [us],’ even if we don’t understand what ‘[us]’ is.

That might be the reason why I started writing in the first place – to explore Input and Output and to fill life with something that feels like something other than that.

I don’t know.

– Jordan

There are any number of reasons to refuse friendship to someone.

They range from the practical to the personal and will certainly vary by individual.  Here are some examples:

Lying, cheating, stealing, murdering, cursing, getting too drunk, not getting drunk enough, being obnoxious, being dull, being too smart, being too stupid, being heartless, being homeless, farting in public, flirting in public, grabbing your ass, grabbing other people’s asses, being a junkie, being a jerk, getting you in trouble, getting other people in trouble, being unpopular with your girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/father/friends, running with shady characters, running with the Rainbow Family of Living Light, being too dangerous, playing too safe, breaking your shit, taking your shit, giving you shit, talking shit, involvement in domestic spying for a barbaric totalitarian communist regime…

The list goes on.

For me, personally, most of these are not reasons, categorically, to not be friends with someone. Some are.  I do my best to be flexible, but I try to steer clear of any murderers or potential murderers who aren’t state-sanctioned, for example.

I’ll be friends with an army sniper, but I probably wouldn’t want to be friends with Jeffrey Dahmer.

Maybe that’s hypocrisy.

Or maybe it’s just a strict anti-cannibalism or anti-dead-person policy.

The following story struck me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that literature, as a scene, does not usually involve high international drama and espionage of this obvious a nature:

Nobel Prize winner Herta Mueller recently went public with the revelation that the real-life inspiration for Atemschaukel, her latest anti-totalitarian novel about a homosexual man who is held captive in a Soviet gulag, turned out to be, in fact, an informant for the totalitarians.

No one was so shocked as Mueller.  Apparently she had no idea.  He was a man with whom she had become dear friends as they worked closely during her time writing the fictionalized account of his story.

From what I can tell, this man–his name was Oskar Pastior (he died in 2006)–had been granted some kind of amnesty when he defected–or was seized–to the west.

From what little I’ve read, it’s not clear whether or not he was in fact a communist sympathizer or whether he had no choice but to do what he did, but he is listed as a Securitate informant in dossiers and other corroborating documents.

“Over the years [Mueller] has clashed with Romania’s post-communist intellectuals with her remorseless campaign against former Securitate informers, demanding that writers and theatre people who were on the police payroll be unmasked and punished.”

DAMN.

This means that Oskar, at some point, was watching his friend–in whom he had confided the details of, potentially, the most difficult time in his life and who was writing a book about him and his heroic ordeal–call for his public revelation, humiliation, and eventual punishment (of what type, I don’t know).

Or, not his, really, since she didn’t know he was one of them.  She was calling for these things, but she thought she was doing it, in part, in his defense and for restoration of justice to people like him (including herself).

But he certainly must have known that had he told her the truth, she would have probably ended their friendship, certainly would not have finished the book (or at least not as planned), and may, potentially, have publicly outed him and destroyed whatever life he’d made for himself since leaving the world of political intrigue and espionage.

Or wouldn’t she have?  After all, what kind of friend would do that?  What kind of monstrous person would offer up her own friend for filleting at the hands of the post-communist public?  How blind must you be to basic interpersonal loyalties and friendship to serve up some one you care about, ostensibly, in the service of state and other relative strangers?

I mention Herta first only because the next consideration is much more obvious:  Were Oskar alive, we could–and should–ask him a series of nearly identical questions surrounding his time as an informant.

And I was thinking about it, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, sort out who was guilty of wrong-doing in that friendship scenario or if both were or if anyone was guilty at all.

What a clusterfuck.

Poor Herta for not being able to confront Oskar.  Poor Oskar, who will never have the chance to explain himself to Herta.

And it suggests a mundane question in fairly dramatic fashion:  To what extent do or should one’s political inclinations or political behaviors, past or present, affect whether or not we choose to be friends with them, interact with them, date them, or consider their experiences and their general presence valuable?  At what point do beliefs and behaviors nullify relationships?

We ask these types of questions with regard to people’s overall past and habits in a very general way, but I don’t hear people talk about them much in a political way.

This question is constantly at the fore of my mind.  I live, basically, in a liberal world.  Because of where I work, because I like to write, because I have what are likely academic ambitions, I am mostly surrounded by leftward-leaning people.

I don’t consider myself a victim by any means.  I interact with the people I interact with by choice and, I think, to my benefit.  This isn’t a complaint lodged against liberalism in the arts, and I don’t consider myself persecuted.

Nevertheless, it is something that I am aware of.  Just all of the time.  Whether or not and when it is advisable to reveal my political leanings, what the consequences might be, etc.

About 16 months ago, a meta-analysis published in the Psychological Bulletin noted that people actively seek out information that agrees with them.  That is to say, they don’t necessarily fail to be exposed to different points of view just because they’re surrounded by like-minded people or because the information available is necessarily skewed.  People are not passive in maintaining and honing their views; they actively go looking for information and perspectives that allow them to go on “living the lives they’re living.”

And it appears to be true for liberals and conservatives alike.

The consensus seems to be that on items of political import, morality, and values, 70% of the time, most people will choose to hear views that agree with them.

Those most likely to seek out opposing views tend to be a) the most confident in their own views and/or b) in need of awareness of opposing views in order to defend against objections to public declarations of their own views (politicians, media personalities, etc.).

In turn, the people least likely to seek opposing viewpoints tend to also be the least confident in their own views.

None of this is altogether shocking.

But more to the point of Herta and Oskar, I have noticed–though few people are willing to state it explicitly–that there is at least some indication that a political lean may be, for many, among the friendship deal-breakers listed above.  That is, people actively search for and/or exclude others from their social circles based on whether or not those people agree with them, just like they seek out agreeable news stories and other types of information resources.  Strictly from my perspective, such sentiments appear to be on the rise.  Or they appear to be more firmly and less self-critically held.

If my impressions are correct–if they are true at all–I’m sure they’re true straight across the political spectrum.  Basic political behaviors, if not the politics themselves, tend to be fairly uniform across humanity, whether people care to admit it or not.

The conundrum is complex:  At what point do a person’s politics and ideology reveal in them some other, fundamental, deal-breaking character flaw?  On the other hand, at what point does a person’s exclusion of others from their sphere of awareness based on politics and ideology reveal in them a fundamental, deal-breaking character flaw?

Where is the line, exactly, between the personal and political, and what are the implications?

For example:  How has the value of a fictional account of Oskar’s story changed, given Herta’s revelation?  How has the value of his real-life story changed because of it?  And most importantly, is their friendship–Oskar’s death notwithstanding–invalidated?

On the topic, Herta hasn’t said much except that she felt slapped in the face and that she is now in a period of mourning.  This suggests to me that she has left or lost something some way or another, but only Herta can say what.

Last but not least, had Oskar been forthcoming with the information from the outset, would there even have been a book?  A friendship?

If an ideology is willful and can be synonymous with a character flaw, then does that mean an ideology IS a willful character flaw, and if so, what then? What might we do with such people?


My feeling is that otherizing–the act of identifying and alleging a dichotomy between “us” and “them” –is at the very heart of how Herta and Oskar ever even found themselves in the predicament they did.  It may, by some leaps (great or small, take your pick), be at the heart of the very existence of the USSR.  Between Herta’s otherizing and Oskar’s participation in Securitate otherizing, the stage was set for a karmic kill-strike of dazzling irony.

Maybe, in a way, they deserved the fate that befell their friendship.  Both of them.  Or maybe neither of them did.  Maybe they were both victims of something well beyond their control.

At any rate, it appears that the two of them, both separately and in their joint war against ‘the other,’ were eachother’s ‘other’ and eachother all along.


This essay used to end here.

I didn’t like it ending here because I didn’t think I’d made my point, but I wasn’t sure what else to say.

Then John Cusack posted a tweet leading to this article. He called it “strong, clear thinking.”

“We have to build that independent left. It has to be so strong and so radical and so militant and so powerful that it becomes irresistible.”

Militant, radical, powerful, irresistible.  “Left” is not the word that worries me here.

And just last week, at the dentist’s office, I picked up a recent issue of Time magazine with a cover story about the Tea Party’s rattling of the conservative establishment (and the political establishment, period).

There’s nothing too fascinating or groundbreaking in the article save one thing, and it is unfortunately treated as minor–a passing thought–by the article’s author:  The suggestion that the solution to extreme, reactionary conservative politics may be for liberals to create their own extreme, reactionary politics with the expressed intent of doing battle with the conservatives of a similarly pissed-off, bloodthirsty, and unthinking sort.

I find this progression troubling.  I find it troubling that some people believe and are increasingly fervent that the answer to extremism and reactionism is more of the same.  Escalation, basically.  A call to balkanization.  I find it wrong-headed and obviously so under almost any circumstances. I think most people–certainly most liberals and conservatives, asked independently of a discourse on politics–would find it wrong-headed as well.

But here we are.


I suspect that there will be no call for radical moderation. I just hope we can all still be friends.


At first I thought you were having a bad day.

Maybe it was your day off, and you were called into work, forced to cancel a much-anticipated afternoon of juggling practice on the mall.

These things happen.  Everyone is entitled to grumpiness from time to time.

But that time became a week, then weeks, and now months.

Every time I leave the parking garage, if I see you in the little booth, I go to you.  Every time, you’ve got your earbuds stuffed in your head, and you snatch my parking ticket out of my hand like it’s $20 and I owe you $50.

“Hi,” I say, every time.  Every time, I smile.

Every time, you do not smile, and you do not look me in the face.  You do not say “Twelve dollars” or “Would you like a receipt?”

You thrust my card back at me like it’s on fire.  I suppose you’d throw it if, by this point, I wasn’t looking at you like you were made of Nazis.  Every time.

Sometimes I smile anyway and say “Thank you!  Have a nice day!” because you’re the kind of person who could use a little sunshine sodomy.

Other times, I say nothing.  I snatch my card back and drive out into freedom.  And you are there.  Stuck there.  In your little booth with your earbuds in your head.

Fine.  Sit there.  You and your laptop.  I hope you get Rickrolled.

Maybe you’re a DJ.  Maybe you’re mixing up some fresh jamz.  Maybe you’re going to a leggings and finger-mustache party later to impress some girl with dirty hair and aviator glasses with your ironic remix of Ace of Base’s iconic 1993 classic, “The Sign.”

Maybe you and your friends will drink pabst into the wee hours of the morning, then retire to your respective dirty, matress-pad-less mattresses to dry-hump in time with the skinny-jeans stylings of pre-sellout KOL.

Or maybe you are a disaffected metal head and the only salve for the Tantalic torture part-time employment visits upon your darkening soul is to block out unsuspecting 9-5ers with an aural assault of indecipherable, melodramatic lyrics set to music so appalling, Satan himself would not approve it as a recruitment tool.

Maybe you should stop being such a jerk.

I just got off of work, you know.

When you’ve just gotten off of work, do you want some normal giving you dirty looks as you try to drag-foot your way back to your stinky apartment?  I think not.

So why don’t you just knock it off.

One of these days, I’m going to snap.

I’m going to drive up to your little window and just sit there until you say something.  I won’t roll my window down or anything.  I’ll just sit there with earbuds in my ears, staring at my iPhone.

Or maybe I will roll my window down.  Maybe I’ll pretend to hand you my card and snatch it back.

“Wait…wait….wait for it….” I’ll say.

Or maybe I’ll just pay like normal.  Then when I’ve got my card back, I’ll just sit there, staring at you.

Thank you thank you thank you thank you thankyouthankyouthankyouHaveanicedayTHANKS

I’ll just keep saying it.  The little gate will be up and there will be people behind me, honking, and I will just sit there shouting pleasantries at you.

Is this some kind of revolution?  Is this some kind of inter-generational punishment for capitalism and global warming?  Do you labor under the impression that I am “the man?”

You should know this is the shittiest rebellion against the mainstream bourgeoisie I have ever seen in my life.  You’re wearing a fucking Rolex, for Christ’s sake.  That Mac costs almost $3,000.

So because I loathe you, because you are now my mortal enemy, I’m going to tell you how it is.  How it’s going to be for you and your fresh jamz and disaffect.  You and this attitude of yours.  Consider it a prediction.  Consider it a curse.

After you’re finished with your fixie bikes, unshowered girls, drunken sexual experimentation, and drug-fueled ironic dance parties (and you will finish with them, or die or go to jail), you are going to graduate with a middling, unexceptional degree and marry a nice, average girl and have nice, average babies to whom you will give weird, sadistic names in a vain and selfish attempt to retain some reminder of the subversive individual you think you remember you once were–a person who is slipping away from you strand by strand faster than you can say “Walmart’s got a deal on Crocs.”

A person who–you will slowly come to realize–was never real and simply the delusion of a spoiled upbringing mixed with traumatic exposure to political activism and set to simmer  on the medium heat of institutionalized higher education, a boredom & snot culture of self-indulgent esoterica, and, of course, white, middle-class guilt.

You will be forced to spend 45 minutes commuting to–and then from–a mediocre job every day.  Then, every day, you will pull out of a parking ramp in your family-friendly hovercraft at 4:30 in the afternoon, bracing to face the reeking stalemate of rush hour traffic, and find yourself face to face with some apathetic twit who believes himself too important to spare you a friendly “Hello.”

Every.  Single. Day.

That is what will become of you.


Don’t ask me how I know.


Have a nice day.



This summer when I took the train up to Montreal for a conference, I sat next to a scruffy hipster dude in his forties who told me he was from Brooklyn. The whole ride he lamented the lousy hipster kids who had moved into his ‘hood, saying they turned a dirty patch of city space into a slice of Martha Stewart. He told me the real people in every city hate the gentrifiers, but no one knows how to stop them, and he never realized I thought he was one of them, before he started talking.

Let’s get Reality Bites out of the way, shall we? The definition of irony offered to the perplexed Lelaina (Winona Ryder) by the insufferable Troy (Ethan Hawke) is “It’s when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.” Well OK, cheers Troy, but it’s not that simple.

Let me see if I have this straight. A long-trusted Democratic stronghold replaces the face of universal healthcare with a Republican who’s sworn to fight the national healthcare proposal on the basis that it would negatively effect the state’s own 4 year old universal healthcare plan—a plan for which he himself voted? That’s a piece of tragic irony dumb enough to make Jonathan Swift himself jealous. Who needs literature?