Stuff I Haven’t Done


This winter, I didn’t do much besides sleep. I did go to work, Walgreens, and occasionally church, and I’ve gotten myself severely hooked on this game.  (I recommend changing the size. 50×20 is a lot more fun and still fits on the screen if you zoom out to 80%) But that’s about it. If I think about it, I can come up with a pretty long list of valid excuses, several of which have been medically verified. The point, though, is that I really need to get myself doing Stuff again.

By now, we’re well into springtime, regardless of whether we’re going by the solar calendar, social conventions, or the weather. (On second thought, let’s not bring the weather into this. The weather is far too fickle to be given any kind of authority over people.) To be honest, I think that the season only has a slight impact on my productivity, but we’re going to pretend otherwise because that allows me to believe that I’ll soon have my life totally under control. It’ll be all good by summer at the absolute latest, right?

As a side note, I don’t understand why it’s considered negative or pessimistic to say you’re having a bad day. (Or week, year, semester, or any other unit of time) It seems to me that it shows optimism when someone says they’re having a bad day, because the implication is that the next day is likely to be better. Either the problem(s) at hand is/are minor and will quickly be resolved, or the situation will look better from the fresh perspective of a new day. Someone who’s being pessimistic and negative will think otherwise and expect current problems to stick around or to have ongoing repercussions. That attitude and expectation would not be accurately represented by talking about time in concrete terms.

But I digress. The semantics are irrelevant to my announcement that I intend to do Stuff.

At this point, I’m not committing to great feats of Thing-doing. I’m talking about relatively little Stuff. For example, I did a Thing last Monday. I came home from work, ate food, and read part of a book. (If you don’t see how that qualifies as a Thing, you can consider yourself lucky that you don’t fully comprehend the level of Not-Doing-Stuff that I have achieved) I’ve been regularly doing a Thing I like to call “Getting Into My Bed Before Falling Asleep Instead of Just Sleeping on the Living Room Floor”. (Okay, that’s not true, I’ve actually been calling it “Going to Real-Person Bed”, which doesn’t really make any sense now that I see it written out) At this point, I’m hoping to move onto bigger and better Things like establishing a consistent morning routine, regularly vacuuming the cat hair from my carpeting, and spending most of my free time in ways that are somewhat meaningful to me, like reading and writing. Notice how realistic I’m being here. I think I deserve some credit for setting realistic goals because I hate realistic goals. I much prefer unrealistic goals.

The main reason that I’m writing all of this is to avoid the generic blog post that basically just says, “I haven’t been blogging in a long time, but I think I want to get back to it.” So instead, I’m offering this brief ramble in which I vaguely overshare what’s been going on in my life. (Do I get extra credit for the double oxymoron?) But the sentiment is essentially the same. All of that was basically a lead-up to me saying that I hope I’ll be posting more stuff soon.

Long, long ago, the last time I posted something on this blog, it was supposed to be the first of a three-or-four part series. That’s still technically the plan, but the other parts aren’t coming for a while. It’s not that I was having a particularly hard time writing Part Two, or that I didn’t know what it should say. In fact, my draft in progress is quite long. It just isn’t very interesting. And right now, I’m not going to put time and effort into writing anything boring.

2 AM

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Night blogging“2 AM isn’t a place, it’s an emotion,” a night blogger once said on tumblr. And then others replied and pointed out that 2 AM isn’t a place at all, and yet others added, “That’s because it’s an emotion.” I was not that particular night blogger, nor do I know him/her personally, so I cannot say whether the use of the word “place” instead of “time” was a mistake or a philosophical statement or a decision based upon the aesthetic sound of the sentence. But I do know that the statement as it stands is true. 2 AM isn’t a place. It’s an emotion.

It is considered typical to sleep at night and to be awake during the day. 2 AM is not a time for typical people; it is a time for people who have odd schedules, whether by choice or because they genuinely like it better that way. 2 AM is a time when there are few sound waves in the air, but a great many metaphorical sound waves over the internet. 2 AM is full of ramblings that are either ridiculous or profound, and sometimes both. At least online, 2 AM belongs to the night bloggers and the overworked students, two groups of people who are (or at least should be) notorious for blending extreme genius and utter nonsense in one pithy remark.

At 2 AM, the internet is the only way to express the thoughts that run through the mind of the fatigued and overly creative mind of the night blogger. At 2 AM, the real world doesn’t exist, and the internet is all there is. At 2 AM, a blinking cursor on a computer screen or a page full of densely packed words offer greater possibilities than anything that a night blogger ever gets to see in the daytime. Thoughts don’t count for much if they can’t be formed into letters and words, and they count for nothing at all if they are formed into spoken words that are forever gone as soon as the sound waves fade into the oblivion of the motionless air which fills the place that we call Real Life. But on the internet, a fleeting random thought can be preserved in visible form so that fellow night bloggers or tomorrow’s day bloggers can see it and be duly amused by its absurdity or impressed by its profoundness or confused by its randomness.

I myself am not known for the kind of posts that show up around 2 AM, although I am occasionally responsible for a nonsensical insight that may or may not be worthy of remembering. One of the more recent of these (although it occurred well before 2 AM) is the concept that real life is nothing more than a frame narrative for everything that one reads or writes. This may perhaps be more true of my life than most people’s lives, especially this semester, since I am taking a class that involves reading five to seven YA novels a week, which is rather a lot of fiction reading when you’re a full-time student who also has a job and also feels compelled to find some time and mental effort for other reading and writing in addition to schoolwork. But the fact remains that many people, especially among the demographic that is most likely to be on tumblr in the middle of the night, spend much of their time and conscious thought on fiction, whether in the form of novels or television or other mediums. And I would argue that many types of nonfiction should also be taken into consideration in this matter, because non-fictional narrative prose often resonates in a reader or viewer’s mind in the same way that fiction does. It seems to me that it is no exaggeration to say that our lives are largely dominated by stories that are not our own.

As any avid reader or writer knows, the frame narrative is never the important or interesting part. The good bits of the story are always saved for the innermost tale. The frame narrative is simple and straight-forward and sometimes quite dull. If Real Life is a frame narrative, it sadly does a good job of following this standard. Some people claim that the enjoyment of fiction is a form of escapism, and I think that this is entirely true, but not quite in the way that they mean. An avid reader is not completely ignoring his or her own life. An avid reader is using the fictional lives of others to justify the fact that his or her own life is too empty and simple and straight-forward and dull to have much of any significance unless it is simply a framework for which other stories can be metaphors.

 But 2 AM is when the frame narrative of reality goes on hiatus. Typical people use this opportunity to sleep. They spend many hours lying perfectly still and resting their minds so that they can wake up in the morning and spend the next day of their real lives doing all of the real-life things that they think make their real lives important. But those of us who are awake at 2 AM, whether because of homework or because we like 2 AM, experience a view of the world that normal people miss. There comes a time of night when reality pauses itself and its place can be taken by fiction or by rambling words of incoherent wisdom typed on a computer screen by a fatigued night blogger who didn’t even necessarily mean it the way it sounded.

2 AM isn’t a place, it’s an emotion, and like other emotions, it is exhausting and incapacitating if it is felt too strongly, too frequently, or for too long a period of time. I myself would prefer to be asleep at 2 AM if my life allowed for that to be an achievable goal. But when I am awake at 2 AM, it occurs to me that people don’t know what they’re talking about when they spout cliches about living life to the fullest. Living life to the fullest doesn’t mean going out and doing crazy, exciting things. If that’s the way you’re looking at it, you’re forcing yourself to choose between craziness and normality. Living life to the fullest means taking advantage of the wondrous opportunities offered by books and the internet to experience excitement even while your own real life is filled with the mundaneness of not being the sort of person who goes out and does crazy, exciting things.

2 AM is where you can have it both ways. 2 AM is where it’s crazy and exciting just to be conscious and to have the wonderful ability to preserve your conscious thoughts in written form or to experience other people’s written thoughts without being interrupted by reality. 2 AM is where the frame narrative meets the cooler inner story because there isn’t any need to keep the two completely separate. 2 AM is where things don’t need to make sense because sense isn’t the most important thing around here.

Come to think of it, maybe 2 AM is a place after all.

Stuff I Would Have Said

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It’s been a while since I’ve had time for any blogging, since life tends to get in the way of such things. I would say that I’m going to be posting fairly frequently in the next few weeks, but I actually don’t know if I can commit to that. However, this is the last week of the semester, so there’s at least a good chance that I’ll have more time on my hands for the next three to four weeks. Unfortunately, over the past month, I’ve missed a lot of events and occasions that I would have liked to have observed and acknowledged on my blog. For that reason, I’m using this blog post to list a few of the things I would have written about if I had written stuff.

NaNoWriMoNaNoWriMo: This November, I participated in NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) and wrote a 50,000 word story in thirty days. This is, in fact, part of the reason that I only wrote two blog posts in the entire month of November. Between school and work, I really didn’t have much time for that novel, and there were an awful lot of days that I didn’t get to write at all. I ended up having to write more than 10,000 words all in the last day, so I’m kind of proud of myself for finishing. With that being said, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to basically rewrite the entire thing in the editing process. My finished product is not remotely ready to be read. There are a few parts that sound like a plot summary written out in full sentences rather than like actual written work. When I finish editing and rewriting it, I’m guessing that it’s going to be significantly longer than it is now. Also, I regret that I never found the time to participate in any of the events associated with NaNoWriMo; I did all of the writing during homework breaks and in the middle of the night. But all in all, it was a good experience and I definitely intend to do it again next year. Who knows, maybe then I’ll have my schedule under control and it’ll be easier to dedicate time each day to writing.

Da Vinci CodeThe Da Vinci Code: For a good deal of this autumn, I have been reading The Da Vinci Code. I forget when exactly it was that I finished it, but it was definitely sometime in November. It was my intention to write a blog post about it, because I can think of a lot to say about the novel. In fact, I think I might still write a blog post about it in the near future, even though it’s now been a little while since I finished it.

snowSnow: This is my first winter up north since the winter of 2002-2003, and so I’ve gotten in the habit of thinking of snow as something unusual. In Alabama (where I went to college) and central Arkansas (where I lived before college) it only snows a couple times a year, and when it does, it’s a pretty big deal. In fact, it’s highly surprising that this is the second year in a row that it’s snowed in December in Arkansas. Here in northeastern Illinois, there have already been a couple small snowfalls, and yesterday, it snowed a couple inches. I will presumably be seeing a lot more snow in the next three or four months, but for right now, it still seems noteworthy and blogworthy that I’m seeing snow at all. If I had been posting stuff on a regular basis last month, I probably would have already blogged about snow several times.

JFKThe fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination: Actually, I hadn’t decided what I would have said about John F. Kennedy’s death if I had had time to write a blog post that day. But I would have wanted to write something. I went through a phase when I was probably about eight or nine in which I read everything I could find on John F. Kennedy’s death and the various theories associated with it. It is technically not completely certain who the killer was or whether it was a conspiracy. Even though it is fairly well established that it was almost certainly Lee Harvey Oswald and that he was most likely acting alone, I was intrigued that there was an element of mystery at all, and I had it in my head that I could solve the crime simply by reading a lot about the topic. Admittedly, I was not unbiased. I wanted to believe that it was an elaborate conspiracy that didn’t involve Lee Harvey Oswald at all, just because it would have been fun to disprove the commonly accepted theory. Obviously, I never did find enough evidence to prove anything, but that was really my first taste of research. (If you don’t count simply looking something up in an encyclopedia or dictionary) I never really lost interest in the topic, even though it has been several years now since I’ve taken the time to read anything at all about it. The event itself may have happened decades before I was born, but I still have personal memories concerning it.

Doctor WhoThe fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who: The day after Kennedy’s assassination, the British TV show Doctor Who made its debut. Consequently, the day after the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, the British TV show Doctor Who had its fiftieth anniversary special. This was the most exciting thing to happen to me since I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness last June. That movie had been out for a while before I finally got to see it, but I only had to wait one day before the new Doctor Who episode was available on Amazon. It was awesome. In fact, it was well worth giving up the internet for a day and a half to avoid spoilers.

The beginning of Advent: This year, the first day of the new church year conveniently happened to fall on the first day of the calendar month, which only happens one seventh of the time, so that was pretty cool. I wrote this blog post for the beginning of Advent last year. If I had actually written something for the beginning of Advent this year too, it probably would have been pretty similar to this, so I suppose it’s okay to just post a link to the old post instead of writing something new.

I took this picture out of the window of the parking garage one day back in late October or early November.

I took this picture out of the window of the parking garage one day back in late October or early November.

School: I’m now only two days away from finishing my first semester of graduate school, and it occurs to me that I have had very little to say about this on my blog. I normally try to avoid writing much about my everyday life or about specific events in my life, but I consider schoolwork and holidays to be two exceptions to that policy. In fact, it would make sense for me to blog about school even more now than I did as an undergraduate student, because I’m no longer studying the kinds of things that almost everyone studies at some point in their educational career. I’m in graduate school, y’all. I’m not saying that there’s anything in particular I want to share about graduate school just now. I’m just saying that it’s a little weird that it’s been an entire semester and I haven’t yet taken the opportunity to write a blog post specifically about the stuff I’m doing in school.

Behold the beauty of my cat.

Behold the beauty of my cat.

My cat: Dude, my cat is so awesome.

Why I Don’t Write in Books

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booksI have heard it said by many professors and classmates that it’s helpful to write in books. At least in the realm of college education, this is considered a normal thing to do, and it seems to me that it’s especially standard practice for English majors. Maybe that’s because English majors are not only trying to commit facts and terminology to memory, but they are also making observations about how ideas are expressed. Word choice, reoccurring themes and motifs, and organization of the material are things that are worthwhile to note, both in literature and in literary criticism. I’m not saying that other fields don’t pay attention to these things, but they certainly don’t focus on them as intensely as literary studies do. There’s a wide variety of things to be noticed and remembered, and it’s convenient to do so by taking a highlighter pen to the relevant passage or by writing specific notes directly into the book.

I myself don’t write in textbooks, though. Throughout four years of college, the closest I got to taking notes a book was taking notes on a sheet of paper that I then folded up and used as a bookmark. There were two classes I took that had workbooks that I did write in, but I would argue that workbooks are a very different matter. They have blank spaces where you are specifically told to write, and you’re supposed to answer a specific question in that space. It’s the things you put in the workbook, not the printed text already in the workbook, that’s important. That just isn’t the same as writing in a book that is complete and functions without any directly tangible interaction from the reader.

That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with writing in books, and I wouldn’t argue that there’s any moral reason not to do so. In fact, students are and should be free to take notes in whatever reasonable way they find helpful. (I specify that it should be reasonable because I can think of a few note-taking methods that I’m not sure should be condoned, such as carving notes into walls or writing them on the faces of sleeping roommates. But as far as I know, neither one of these techniques is common practice.) It is just a personal preference of mine to avoid writing in books. Certainly, anyone should be allowed to write in a book that is their own property, if they so desire.

bookWith that being said, there are three reasons I can think of off the top of my head that I choose not to write in books. The first is that it’s too permanent. If I type something on my computer, I can delete or edit it, whether it’s ten seconds or ten years later. If I write something down on a separate sheet of paper, I can throw it away later or scribble over it or cross out words. I don’t necessarily want to keep every note I took for every paper I wrote because they may not have any significance outside of that assignment. Those ideas have been thought and I don’t necessarily need to have them written out anymore. But if they’re written in a book that I still have and will very likely read again, I’m stuck with them. (Yes, I am such a nerd that I have been known to keep and reread textbooks.) Those notes probably aren’t actually hurting anything, but they clutter up my book, and their lack of insightfulness will annoy me in the future if I wasn’t happy with that paper in the end.

A second reason is that I hate it when my notes are accessible to other people. If they’re written in a book, there’s always a chance that someone else will want to borrow it and will see those notes, and that would be awkward. It seems to me that notes are private and personal things. They don’t reveal secrets, but you created them yourself for yourself, and so they reflect the way you think. Whether you took those notes from class or from a book, you wrote them quickly with the intention of doing something with them later. They are not a finished product that is meant for the eyes of other people who might not be able to understand your note-taking shorthand or the informal rules that govern the way the notes are arranged. (Sometimes, you have to write as small as you can to squeeze something into a predetermined unit of space, and sometimes you just let it overflow to wherever there’s room for it.)

Finally, the third reason that I don’t like to write in books is that I have a sense of respect for books that I feel is violated by adding things to them. Not all books contain great insight and wisdom, but all books are the product of the time, effort, and applied skill of people who felt that the book had some value, and I think that means that every book is valuable in some way. Admittedly, this doesn’t keep me from occasionally storing my books in stacks on the floor. (It’s a perfectly valid storage system in theory, even if it is less traditional and less aesthetically pleasing than the use of bookshelves.) But it does keep me from adding my own words to the pages of a volume that is complete without them. It seems to me that writing notes in a book is like thinking about the Star Wars prequels while watching the original trilogy. Just because they’re about the same things doesn’t mean that they’re of the same quality, and it ought to be remembered that the original work is what ought to be getting the attention.

star wars

Random Ramblings about Sarcasm

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As I was attempting to do my grad school homework and was diligently pondering the conceptual model of FRBR, an irrelevant thought occurred to me, and the thought was this: is sarcasm universal or cultural? Somehow, it seems like a specifically modern-American idea that you can communicate effectively by saying something you don’t mean in an unkind tone of voice.

Mark TwainBut that apparently isn’t really the case; sarcasm makes an appearance in plenty of older and non-American writings. Since Mark Twain was fairly renowned for his sarcasm, I feel that it is necessary to mention him here, even though he doesn’t help me make my point because he was American. To give a second example, even though it’s so obvious that it sadly demonstrates my laziness in writing this blog post, Shakespeare’s plays contain a good deal of sarcasm. And Shakespeare didn’t invent sarcasm either; it seems to have always been around. After remembering that even the ancient Hebrew people were sarcastic, (“Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” Exodus 14:11) I decided to find the first Biblical example of sarcasm. It appears to be Genesis 4:9, when Abel says, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I suppose one could debate whether or not that’s sarcasm, but I think it counts. Anyway, the relevant point here is that it’s fairly obvious that sarcasm has been around for a while and that it isn’t specific to a given culture or to a given worldview.

I suppose that the original question isn’t very specific, because the definition of sarcasm isn’t very straightforward. The most basic description of sarcasm is more or less what I said earlier: saying something you don’t mean in an unkind tone of voice. A fairly obvious example is saying, “Yeah, right” in response to a statement that you don’t believe. Sarcasm often is used to insult someone, by saying something that would otherwise be a compliment for the sake of pointing out that it isn’t accurate. An example would be to say, “Well, that was smart!” when somebody makes a mistake.

Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog sarcasmAccording to this definition, sarcasm is essentially a low form of irony. I would describe irony as a literary or rhetorical device that makes a point or conveys humor by expressing an implied meaning that is directly contrary to the literal surface meaning. (It is perhaps necessary to point out that the words “irony” and “ironic” are used in many different ways, and it is not necessarily the case that only one of these meanings is correct.) As a form of humor, it is generally fairly subtle. I would argue that this is connected to the difference between irony and sarcasm; irony is intelligent because it involves the artful balance of two conflicting meanings, the surface meaning and the intended meaning. When someone makes a sarcastic remark, though, they don’t intend for anyone to even notice that there is a surface meaning. The implied negativity is meant to be conveyed without the literal meaning being acknowledged, and the remark is therefore lacking in the clever little play on language and meaning that is characteristic of irony. Another distinction between sarcasm and irony, which is probably a little more valid because I didn’t just make it up myself, is that sarcasm is directed at a person, while irony addresses a situation. (This is the line drawn by researchers Melanie Glenwright and Penny Pexman, who performed research on children’s ability to distinguish between sarcasm and irony. The abstract can be found here) Basically, according to either of these distinctions, irony is okay and sarcasm is mean.

I defend this distinction based upon the etymology of the word “sarcasm.” It didn’t exist in English until the late 17th century, but it originates from the Greek σαρκασμος, which is the noun-ified version of a verb that literally means “strip off the flesh.” (This information comes from the Online Etymology Dictionary, but I would like to add the fact that the root word is σαρξ, which means flesh, just so that I can show off the fact that I do happen to know some useful information offhand without having to consult the internet for everything.) Evidentially, throughout the evolution of the Greek language and its influence on the Latin language, “sarcasmus” came to refer to sneering mockery. The word worked its way into the English language in the 1600s, and because of its origin, it necessarily carries the connotation of verbal cruelty.

In fact, many remarks can be classified as sarcasm that actually are literal rather than ironic-ish. I had a couple examples of literal sarcastic quotations at hand, but I took out that paragraph because I thought that the sarcasm of those remarks was debatable. (My favorite was “Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”- Mark Twain) I got them from internet lists of famous sarcastic quotes, so it would appear that, despite my degree of disagreement, they have been thus classified. In each case, they were actually pretty funny, which I guess replaces the ironic-ish nature that is characteristic of most sarcastic dialogue.

Big Bang Theory sarcasm signThis relates to something else I have noticed, which is that sarcasm is very different in writing than in conversation. Because sarcasm can be used as a literary device, it’s more acceptable and less insulting when used in writing. I have noticed that I often post sarcastic things on this blog, and I am okay with that even though I dislike sarcasm in “real life” and try to avoid using it. There’s a big difference between using sarcasm to make a point that you’ve already thought about before you put it where people can see it, and using sarcasm to insult or criticize someone because sarcastic words sprang to your mind more quickly than anything else did. In written or online correspondence, which is the overlap between writing and talking, sarcasm can be very problematic because it is difficult for the reader to identify sarcasm. For this reason, sarcasm should be avoided in a letter or on the internet, unless the context makes the sarcasm extremely obvious. (I am in the habit of putting *sarcasm alert* in front of anything sarcastic that I say on facebook. That probably looks kind of silly to some people, but it’s my opinion that people shouldn’t ever be sarcastic online unless they make it blatantly obvious.)

Essentially, I think that what distinguishes sarcasm as a valid rhetorical tactic from sarcasm as a nasty and uncalled-for habit is whether or not the sarcastic statement was spontaneous. If someone says something sarcastic because they’re frustrated or angry, it’s just an automatic response to negative emotion, and is in no way thoughtful or thought-provoking. Its use is comparable to habitual impulsive cursing. But if someone says something sarcastic after having considered multiple ways of making the same point, they have made an intelligent choice about how best to communicate a certain thought. In that case, sarcasm is not just an empty insult meant to metaphorically tear someone’s flesh; it really is a form of irony that is being used to serve a purpose.

There’s This Book I’m Reading, Episode 5

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Douglas AdamsI read a lot of stuff. Much of it is for school, but when I can find the time, I like to read just for the fun of it, too, and I have always found that pleasure reading is just as intellectual and conveys just as much knowledge and school reading. For example, here is something I have learned through extensive pleasure reading: Douglas Adams was really clever. He was both a skilled writer and an all-around genius who either had extremely varied fields of knowledge or was very talented at using knowledge he didn’t even have. Either way, reading a book by Douglas Adams is both an enjoyable and an intellectual experience.

My familiarity with Douglas Adams’ writing is primarily limited to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. I actually hadn’t read those books until about the time the movie came out, which Google informs me was in 2005. That means that I was fourteen, (well, thirteen and a half; it was in the spring) and I’m almost a little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t already read the books by then. I knew that my father liked them and I seem to recall that he had recommended them to me on more than one occasion, but yet I somehow didn’t read them until there was a movie ready to be watched shortly thereafter. Given the fact that I have always considered myself to be a greater book-lover than movie-lover, I cannot justify the movie-centric priorities that I displayed as a thirteen-and-a-half year old. But this is unimportant, because the point is that I did in fact read the books and I loved them and have since read them many times and continued to love them every time.

Douglas AdamsThis blog post isn’t about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s about another book by Douglas Adams called Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Sadly, it is the only Douglas Adams book I have read apart from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, but it has greatly reinforced and increased my high opinion of Douglas Adams and has reminded me that I must find and read more Douglas Adams books, particularly The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was written in 1987, which was three years after So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, (The fourth Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book) and five years before Mostly Harmless (the fifth and last Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy book). In many ways, most notably the writing style, it is very similar to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, but it is certainly a book worth enjoying, admiring, and discussing in its own right.

Douglas Adams, like great British writers before him, (this is an allusion to Shakespeare, by the way) is remarkable for his skill in characterization. Not only are the characters memorable and interesting, but Douglas Adams is very good at realistically articulating the thoughts of apparently normal characters in ridiculous situations, ridiculous characters in apparently normal situations, and any kind of character in any kind of situation between the two extremes. If I was writing an unreasonably long paper arguing that Douglas Adams’ characterization is just as brilliant as Shakespeare’s, (Oh, why did I not think of that several months ago? That would have been such an awesome English senior seminar paper!) I could take several pages giving textual examples. But I am not writing a paper here and I don’t have a minimum length, but I do have a minimum amount of time to dedicate to this blog post, so I will instead stick to a couple characters in the book I am specifically discussing.

Apparently, there's a movie. I have not seen the movie, but I would like to do so at some point.

Apparently, there’s a movie. I have not seen the movie, but I would like to do so at some point.

Richard and Susan are both pretty normal people. They are talented and notably intelligent people, (Richard works with computers and Susan is a cellist) but they act and think more or less like any other Earth human who has never encountered extra-terrestrial technology or been faced with paradoxes of the space-time continuum. Richard is absent-minded and obsessed with his job; Susan is his girlfriend who wishes he would step away from the computer screen a bit more often. Richard is somewhat in trouble with his boss because he’s behind schedule on certain tasks; Susan is his boss’s sister who is annoyed that her brother leaves long rambling messages on her answering machine telling her to pressure Richard into getting his work done. But somewhere along the line, they get involved in a bizarre course of events that involves a murder and police investigation, a ghost, and inexplicable anomalies in the fabric of space and time, which Richard cannot solve with his computer simulations.

Then there’s Reg, an eccentric and absent-minded professor who reminds me very much of a certain professor I have had, except that Reg is even odder and his conversation is even more convoluted. Like the aforementioned professor, Reg is inherently likable, even though the reader can tell right away that there’s something extremely strange about him. If nothing else, it’s weird that he’s a professor and nobody knows exactly what his field is. The fact that his position is called “the Regius Professorship of Chronology” is a hint, but not a very specific one. Reg’s extreme absent-mindedness, which first appears to be a trait that Douglas Adams uses just for the sake of characterizing Reg according to a stereotype and adding an extra touch of humor, turns out to be part of the plot. That’s another thing about Douglas Adams; many of the most random and silly side-notes of the beginning of the story later turn out to be significant and incredibly brilliant plot twists.

And there’s Dirk Gently himself, a character who cannot be described in any way other than to quote directly from the book itself. When Reg casually mentions Dirk, formally known as Svlad Cjelli, Richard “wondered what had lately become of his former… was friend the word? He seemed more like a succession of extraordinary events than a person. The idea of him actually having friends as such seemed not so much unlikely, more a sort of mismatching of concepts, like the idea of the Suez crisis popping out for a bun.” Richard and Svlad had known each other as undergraduate students, during which time Svlad had spread the rumor that he was psychic by denying it far more vehemently than necessary and then failing to disprove it. This, as Douglas Adams emphasizes, is the best way to make up a convincing story. Now, Dirk Gently is a terribly unsuccessful private detective who believes in the interrelatedness of all things so strongly that he deems it necessary to go sit on a beach in Bermuda while working on a case concerning a missing cat. Dirk Gently is the kind of character who can spout off fascinating theories regarding Schrodinger’s cat that almost make sense in once chapter, admit that he was just saying that to be ridiculous in another chapter, and later yet, say profound and quotable things like, “It is a rare mind indeed that can render the hitherto nonexistent blindingly obvious. The cry ‘I could have thought of that’ is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is that they didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too. This, if I am not mistaken, is the staircase we seek. Shall we ascend?” I left that last bit in there because I like it and intend to use it in regular conversation whenever possible.

Douglas AdamsThere are many other brilliant things about the book that I don’t have time to describe in any detail, such as the Electric Monk and Richard’s sofa that’s stuck in an impossible place on the stairs. One of the best things about Douglas Adams’ stories is those random details that seem so simple and/or humorous, but required an extreme degree of intelligence and creativity to write. And there are many other wonderfully quotable lines from the book that I don’t have time to quote. Another one of the best things about Douglas Adam’s stories is that they are rife with clever and quotable lines. But I think that the thing I like the absolute most about Douglas Adams is that his writing style is so memorable and even inspiring. Every now and then, I read over something I’ve written and notice a phrase or sentence that sounds a little like Douglas Adams, or even a group of sentences that express a very Douglas-Adams-esque idea. When Douglas Adams’ influence manifests itself in my own writing, those are the times that I am most satisfied with my writing, because he has set the standard to which I aspire. Maybe that’s a little funny, because in some cases, (obviously not the one quoted above) his wording and phrasing is so simple and vernacular and his ideas seem so natural. One reads Douglas Adams and thinks to oneself, “I could have thought of that!” But the fact is that one didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is, too. This, if I am not mistaken, is the staircase we seek. Shall we ascend?

Time Gravity

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I admit that when I start talking about the space-time continuum, most of the time, I’m just randomly inventing stuff. My science-fiction imagination has a much greater scope than my scientific knowledge, and my explanations of hyperspace, perpendicular universes, multi-dimensional time, temporal disequilibrium, and time gravity are very contrived and completely fictitious. That’s not to say that these ideas aren’t fairly developed; these are all concepts that I can and do use in science fiction with consistency and at least the semblance of sense. Science fiction is more like fantasy than science; it works as long as you can make it sound like your invented rules of the universe can be explained scientifically. For the sake of my own writing, therefore, I can claim that time gravity is real. Personally, I think it makes a lot of sense.

There’s one particular story in which time gravity is a very important plot point. It is a story that my sisters and I started years ago, but I still am adding to it and rewriting it. I don’t think it’ll ever be officially finished because that would end the fun. This is not a work that is meant to be finished. In the story, time has been acting in increasingly odd ways, sometimes skipping over days or months at a time, and at other times failing to move forward in a regular and predictable way. Officer Graxy of the Intergalactic Police of the Space Time Continuum is conducting an investigation, but he only discovers minor disturbances, such as irresponsible use of microwave timers. The strange phenomena occurring are clearly related to a much greater disturbance. Professor Johnson and his assistant Richard of the organization known as Scientific Explanations Inc. join forces with Darth Vader, who is searching for his stolen Death Star, and they realize the true cause of the disturbance: the Death Star has been concealed in hyperspace, an alternate set of dimensions in which the roles of time and space are reversed. Hyperspace is relatively empty, and therefore the presence of an object as massive as the Death Star introduces an astronomical source of gravity. (Notice the pun. Astronomical, Death Star. Get it?) This gravity manifests itself in regular space in the form of time gravity. All of the space-time anomalies are solved when the Death Star is returned to regular space.

Why Time Speeds UpAnother use of the idea of time gravity is more relevant to real life. (Or at least, it would be if I could demonstrate that it existed in real life.) I use it to explain why time seems to speed up as you get older. You see, major events in one’s life are sources of time gravity, and the greatest amount of time gravity comes from death or the apocalypse, whichever comes first. Because of this, everyone is pulled towards the future, a phenomenon which we observe as the passing of time. However, the second greatest amount of time gravity is exerted from the event of birth, and for a small child, birth will be a good deal closer than death. Therefore, the time gravity of birth exerts a significant pull also, which decreases as one gets farther and farther away from birth.

Why Christmas Takes So Long to ComeThe following example comes from a conversation that occurred at my house over Christmas break. We were discussing the fact that Christmas seems to come slowly when you’re a little kid, but it comes all too quickly when you’re older. I insisted that this is because little kids are less busy, a fact that is fairly obvious and straightforward, but I couldn’t resist complicating it by drawing a diagram to illustrate my opinion that this is an example of time gravity. The accompanying diagram is not the one that I drew at the time, but it is, to the best of my memory, pretty much the same. As you can see, a little kid only has a few major events occurring in the weeks before Christmas, but an adult is incredibly busy. (These are examples; I do not mean to imply that people’s ages are the only factor determining their pre-Christmas schedule and timeline.) The diagram clearly shows that there is a greater amount of time mass on the adult’s timeline than on the child’s. This obviously draws the adult towards Christmas quickly. The child is also pulled forward towards Christmas, of course, but because of the lesser degree of time gravity, as well as the aforementioned time gravity from birth, the speed is much slower.

It greatly baffled me that my family did not accept this diagram and explanation as a logical and likely explanation of why time works the way it does.