“BUTT TOMB” leaves a lot to the imagination.
I don’t like surveys or quizes or personality tests and stuff like that; I’m suspicious of machines that ask too many questions. What are they plotting? Well they’ll get nothing from me. Sometimes, though, I feel tempted to give computers small amounts of information in exchange for entertainment, which they will use to eventually destroy me, or perhaps place ads for me on google or facebook.
Morally, I find personality tests questionable. They want to put me in a box, even though they don’t know me. Like Astrology, I think they’re best used as entertainment and not as life advice, because you never know what they could be planning.
This is why I enjoy Shindan. Mostly, Shindan is silly. It is a fortune telling machine, but rather than base its prophecies on something silly like your blood type or the day you were born or your personality, it is based on the the alphanumeric characters used to compose your name. Capitalization matters, so you can always fudge it if you don’t like the answer. Or just use your Twitter name. Shindan means “diagnose,” about as much as it means anything else.
With Shindan, you can make your own Shindans. There is a great deal of creative writing potential in here, and the combinations are very evocative. Where do you find joke stones in a butt tomb? Is alcoholism a serious character flaw, or is it a monster with an extremely inappropriate name?
Make Shindans for Love. Make Shindans for upcoming wars. Make Shindans that generate crimes of the future. Make Shindans for your literary discipline or field of study. Make them!
To be honest, I am terrified of putting words down on paper, not just because they never look right or never feel right, but because they never look true to me. I don’t think I’ve written a true sentence in my life. Maybe sometimes an honest sentence, maybe a sincere sentence (by accident) but I don’t know if I ever have written a sentence that was true the way that Tim O’Brien or Kelly Link or Hemingway feel true. I can put my finger down just about anywhere in one of their books (and many others) and find a sentence that is absolutely, 100% true.
I, on the other hand, write just like the crap I make fun of.
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I declare that the dire news about nonfiction will not stop until I am killed or Seth Marlin deactivates my account.
I have in previous installments of this semi-regular feature suggested a few existential reasons why nonfiction writers might lie. Now it’s time to talk about the material ones, and one in particular, swiftly rising above the others: public speaking.
Let’s set the stage: in mid-August, Niall Ferguson, Scottish-born historian and professor of history at Harvard, wrote a cover story for Newsweek that many critics have found less than entirely factual , to the point where it has raised serious questions about the credentials of the renowned historian. The network of journalists print still calls “the blogosphere” tore him apart, but throughout the takedowns was the unsettled question of why exactly someone so respected would write such a lazy takedown of the president.
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I’m worried about the state of lying in America. It’s not that Americans are bad liars, or that their lies don’t make them sound awesome enough, or that when they implode, the lies aren’t a fascinating enough train wreck to watch, it’s what they’re lying about that’s weirding me out.
Take Kip Litton http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/08/06/120806fa_fact_singer a dentist from Michigan whose capacity for lying is both adept and bizarrely purposed. Litton lied mostly about marathons; the way he fooled the system is still unknown. Most marathon runners run with a chip that verifies when they pass by certain checkpoints along the race, and Litton managed to hit them all, yet managed to never appear in a single picture in proper racing attire, while somehow generating bizarre times that could have only come by running the race faster at the end than the beginning, a phenomenally rare occurrence.
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So about a month ago somebody lied in nonfiction again. That’s not a big deal, writers are all liars anyway, but it was how Jonah Lehrer lied that was the funny part, the weird part, the incoming existential crisis part, and it was that he made up a quote from Bob Dylan. More accurately, he doctored them like ransom letters, cutting and pasting until he was able to get Dylan to say things that he could have said but weren’t what he actually said, nor were they what he really meant. This has devastated his career (it’s not his first lie—he’s been slapped on the wrist for plagiarizing from his own blog before) because let’s face it, he lied, but this somehow goes beyond the extended exaggeration of James Frey, precisely because the lie is so small and so specific.
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I have problems watching the Olympics with the sound on, though the same could be said for most television. It’s not the sheer frequency of the commercials that I mind, it’s that—and keep in mind this is coming from someone who has problems knowing when to shut up—the sheer amount of time NBC employees have to fill talking about the olympics vastly outnumbers the number of interesting things it is possible to say about the Olympics. Watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics reminds me a bit of an awkward family gathering with relatives who share vastly different political affiliations but who are too polite and midwestern to broach them and, desperate to maintain familial connection, continuously describe the things immediately in front of them in the most inoffensive way possible.
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Whenever I’ve taken a terrible job, it’s always been worse than I imagined, and then, quickly, not as bad as I thought it would be. There’s this brief moment—well, like a week or so—when I’ve got a headset jammed against my face trying to convince a woman screaming about Sarah Palin being the handmaid from The Handmaid’s Tale to give me her money, or while I’m hitting copy and paste on the yellow pages for eight hours, or when I’m ordering cable for a Walmart that doesn’t exist yet, and I’m wondering to myself “is this something that human beings are actually expected to do?” And a week later I realize they can, and get used to it, and the dizzying, surreal terribleness of it fades to the background, this abstract thing I could choose to think about or not depending on my feelings.
Once I reached that state I had the opportunity to look at my jobs from the inside, and it is something I recommend to anyone curious as to how the human race functions as a species. Terrible jobs are an opportunity to be a stagehand in someone else’s life, in many/possibly all other lives in America if not the world. Some, like the telemarketer, involve becoming part of someone else’s life in a way they have no intention of letting you become, but it’s an important role in the way the country functions and, hey, I got to see what the life of the most hated job in the world is actually like, which is, in most cases: a lot worse on my end than it is on theirs. This isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross, we’re competing over five dollar bonuses, not cars and steak knives.
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Back before I could drink, my best friend and I would wander around Barnes and Noble and laugh at the cover art on NYT bestsellers and fantasy novels like The [Proper Noun] [Noun] by Robert Lundum or Ravaged Gently by a Highlander by Forence Tuckington, their vaguely attractive live action models superimposed over photographic scenery and drowning in dozens of photoshop filters. If we were impressed enough by a particularly disastrous cover we might read the praise on the back or open up its first page, and if the cover was bad enough it would guarantee that the prose would match.
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When I write about video games sooner or later I’m probably going to have to use the words “intellectual property,” usually shortened to IP for extra jargonality. In video games, we usually grumble about the lack of new IP because someone is making the ten millionth Star Wars game ( they are making that game because we don’t actually buy new IPs). Often we also try to understand what makes an IP worth something. Sometimes we worry if a company is devaluing their IP; sometimes we worry that referring to an IP as an IP devalues their IP. When I think of “IP” I think of a box of Twinkies, because I don’t even like them and they kind of weird me out and I try not to think about them if possible. IP sounds like something that you buy in packages and you get excited about selling to someone, but it doesn’t make me think of art. It also makes me think about shareholders. Read more »
When I try to convince you that Twitter is totally like this, thing, man, and you’re feeling incredulous, but maybe not so incredulous that you don’t give it a try, the first question you’ll probably have is what you’re supposed to do with a Twitter account once you have it. Twitter wants you to follow celebrities and products, and though they may be right, they are likely not accurate in their specific choices. None of that crap matters, though, because there’s only one Twitter account you have to follow, and it’s @Horse_Ebooks. As a chain of data and code, calling Horse ebooks gifted at comedy would not be particularly accurate, though it is a bit galling to see a machine do on accident what human beings have a lot of trouble doing on purpose. It’s still twice more likely to make you laugh than a celebrity parody accounts, and is easily ten times as existential.
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