How inspirational quotes work on Facebook
I write the tweets. And sometimes those tweets take more than 140 characters to say. Whether or not they’re then still tweets is a philosophical conundrum for the ages.
[I write the books. This is a chapter from a book what I writed with my brain. It’s called “The Heroic Art of Losing.” It’s quite good.]
I don’t do Valentine’s Day.
Or crack, for that matter. Or jazz-dancing. Or the ancient art of Japanese marbling. I don’t do a lot of things.
But I really don’t do Valentine’s Day.
I do other things. Trigonometry, for example. I’m a master of trigonometry. Seriously, you got a trigonometry problem, you come to me. I’ve got skills. Triangular skills.
I don’t do Easter, Halloween or New Year’s Eve either, for those of you keeping score. And I’d happily avoid Christmas, too, if I could get away with it.
But you didn’t start reading this thing to learn about holidays that I would and wouldn’t snuggle with. You started reading after being sidetracked while searching for bizarre porn fetishes on the internet. Futanari, bukkake, scat stuff — Whatever you’re into. No need to deny it. I’m not here to judge.
I’m here to talk about Valentine’s Day.
And how I don’t like it. How I think it makes people feel bad about themselves. How I think it makes people who already feel bad about themselves feel even worse about themselves. And how that’s really pretty twisted.
And this isn’t coming from some heartfelt, personal sorrow. Because February 14th makes no odds to me. I’ve got no axe to grind. I don’t care what the date is. I’m just looking out for the disaffected people who don’t have rambling, essayistic books, in which to vent. I’m a man of the people, you see.
A lot of people say that’s one of the greatest things about me.
I believe it was 1990s one-hit wonder and Eurodance numpty Haddaway who asked the question “What is love?” and while I suspect it may not have been one to which he was seeking a response, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. And what better time to do so than the day after Valentine’s Day?
Apart from, like, Valentine’s Day itself, of course. But that’s neither here nor there. Stop nit-picking.
And just between ourselves, I also suspect Haddaway may not have been the first person to ask that question, either. Call it a hunch.
So, I’m not saying I’ve never tried Valentine’s Day. I have. I’m not dismissing something I haven’t tried. I’m not like the kind of people who complain about controversial films and TV shows they’ve never seen. I’m all about open-mindedness.
A lot of people say that’s one of the greatest things about me.
So, let’s go back a couple of years. And let’s bear in mind that, in all my time on this planet, there’s been precisely one girl with whom I gave serious consideration to sharing the remainder of my existence.
Gorgeous, modest, intelligent and sarcastic as all hell, I could talk to her for days and not get bored. And she was right into me, too. I could tell because she didn’t make excuses to leave whenever I started going on about something odd, as is my wont — Like how come the idea of “individually distinct footwear” has never taken off as a fashion statement and is instead derided as “odd shoes” — and laughed, instead of looking terrified, when I told her about a joke I wrote that had the term “child pornographer” as its punchline.
What? It’s just language. Don’t fear it. Embrace it. We’re all friends here.
“Job Titles That Could Be Considered Less Embarrassing Than ‘Estate Agent’,” for those of you who care. And what the hell — For those of you in need of material, too. You can have that one for free. Don’t say I never give you anything. I’m a generous, generous man.
A lot of people say that’s one of the greatest things about me.
So, she’s into me, I’m into her. We’re all set. Buy yourself a hat, mum, the black sheep is the black sheep no longer. Get the champagne in, dad… looks like the family name is going to live on after all. Except, one slight problem. She’s engaged.
Has been for over a year. Lives with her fiancé. Has done for two years.
I’d never met him. Never wanted to. All I knew was that he wasn’t as good as me. An egotistical, baseless and unquantifiable claim, I admit, but this was no time to be rational. He was rubbish in comparison to me. So what if he had money and success? I could quote Descartes to her. And Yeats. Could probably look up some Wordsworth and Socrates stuff too if I felt it’d impress her. Philosophy and poetry — What girl wouldn’t want an all-action go-getter like me?
Okay, technically, the only Descartes line I can quote is “Cogito ergo sum” but it still counts. And frankly, I felt sure it was precisely one Descartes quote more than her fiancée was capable of reciting. We’ll call that a hunch, too.
So, on Valentine’s Day, I got a text:
“Hey Mike. Havent heard from u in a while wanna meet up 2moro?”
I kept the text. That’s exactly how it read. I was willing to overlook the dubious punctuation and txt-speak, just this once. And yet, if any of my male friends texted me like that, I’d bring it up the next time I saw them and demand an immediate grammatical improvement. Funny how flexible principles can be.
For the record, she had never texted me to meet up before. Never. This was a groundbreaking moment. And on February 14th of all days.
Why are you texting me on Valentine’s Day? Don’t you have disgustingly expensive restaurants to be ripped off by? Don’t you have tacky novelty soft toys to unwrap? Don’t you have intercourse to be having?
That wasn’t my reply, by the way. I’m not completely fucking mental.
But it would have been better than what I did send.
“Yeah, definitely.” was what I went with. That was my reply. “Yeah, definitely.”
And it’s good. It’s short, which suggests I’m doing something else — possibly even something interesting — at the time of writing. I wasn’t but that’s not the point. It’s also casual. Very, very casual. But simultaneously enthusiastic. The “definitely” shows a lot of enthusiasm on my part. Not a trace of indifference to be found there. But most importantly, it didn’t sound desperate. I was always good at covering up my desperation. I was often desperate but I’d be damned if I was going to show it. And so, using all my skills as a linguist and a communicator, I had crafted the perfect reply.
She had obviously fallen out — and most likely broken up — with the fiancée who wasn’t as good as me and who didn’t quote Descartes, and she had recognised that there was someone better out there. Someone who could quote Descartes to her (even if he desperately hoped he’d never be asked to prove it). Someone called Michael John Andrew Cunningham. There would have to be some contrition, of course. She had, after all, led me a merry dance for the best part of a year and I would need to be compensated for that — Not financially, of course. Male prostitution, while a fascinating subject, was not, I felt, a career to which I would be best suited.
No, a heartfelt apology would be fine, followed by a week or two of obvious and occasionally tearful remorse. Then, we could move on with the rest of our lives. Together. And all-square.
I’m a fair man, if nothing else. A lot of people say that’s one of the greatest things about me.
All I needed to do was send my soon-to-be-legendary “Yeah, definitely” text. I looked at it once more before hitting “Send.” It really was a thing of beauty. Men would talk about the astonishing effectiveness and succinctness of this text for years to come. I felt sure of it. Fathers would tell their sons about it. Young Amazonian tribesmen would hear of it from their tribal elders. “This is how to capture a woman’s heart,” they’ll say. And over time, the story would get embellished and I’d be portrayed as a 6’4”, muscle-bound visionary, who fought wars, stole hearts and represented all that was good about the male species.
Some unconfirmed rumours would also suggest I had massively oversized genitalia, too. And, really, who are we to argue with history? “His name was Michael,” they’ll say to their children, “and maybe one day, son, you might be nearly as great as he was. But you probably won’t.”
I think I’d like that.
And so, with destiny on my side, I hit “Send.” This was going to be great.
Slight problem. It wasn’t sending. I mean, it was trying to send but it wasn’t sending. It went on for ages, attempting to send, but I kept getting the “Sending” message and no subsequent “Message Sent” display.
Not to worry. Just a minor hiccup on my road to greatness. I’ll come back out and send it again. And I did that. Same thing. One more go. Same thing. One last try for luck. Nope. Not a great time for it to happen, admittedly, but I didn’t panic. Heroes don’t panic. Visionaries don’t panic. So, I turned the phone off and switched it on again. It had probably just been cobwebs or something. It was, after all, quite an old phone. This would definitely fix it.
But it didn’t. It was still going no further than the “Sending” screen. I tried it once more. Same thing.
An ordinary man might crack at this point but I think we’d all agree that I’m no ordinary man. I would discard the phone, which had let me down in my time of need, and instead turn to my trusty computer. O2 gave me 300 web texts a month. I’d just use one of those. And that’s exactly what I did. Worked like a dream. Off it went at the first time of asking. Technology + Mikey = Friends for life.
Now basking in the glow of my first step towards certain triumph, I flicked idly through my phone again. It had let me down, yes, but I’m not one to hold a grudge. A lot of people say that’s one of the greatest things about me. I thought I’d clear my inbox ahead of the deluge of “I’m sorry, I made a terrible mistake… you’re the one”-style messages I’d be receiving any minute. “Might as well clear out the Sent folder while I’m at it,” I thought.
You know what’s coming.
“Why are there six ‘Yeah, definitely’ messages in my Sent folder?”
Surely they shouldn’t go in there when they haven’t been sent? I would write to Nokia to inform them of this glitch in their phones. Yes, that’s what I’d do. That would be very helpful of me. As a concerned customer, it was the least I could do… but when you think about it, it was also the most I could do. It was a nice paradox, that, and I always enjoyed a good paradox. People could be fooled into thinking something had been sent that hadn’t been. And these six “Yeah, definitely.” texts most certainly hadn’t been sent. They couldn’t have been sent. No way. Not a chance. That’s not the way phones work. There was nothing to worry about. They definitely hadn’t been sent.
But I knew.
They had all been sent.
Fuck me sideways.
In total, I had sent seven identical texts that had been crafted with the primary purpose of concealing my desperation. Seven. Jesus Christ. Who sends seven identical texts? She must have thought I had the self-control of a teenage boy watching Girls Gone Wild. “He gets one vaguely inviting text and his right hand goes into overdrive,” she must have been thinking. “Fuck this for a game of soldiers.”
She’s married now. Not to me.
A lot of people say that’s one of the greatest things about her.
But let’s go back to Haddaway and see if we can answer the man’s question.
There’s two very different people I want to talk about. One’s called Thomas Aquinas. The other’s called Martin Sheen.
I used to be a Catholic. Not a devout one but a believer nonetheless. Not anymore. I now rest my head on a very different pillow. An infinitely more secular one. So, when I mention a thirteenth century Christian theologian by the name of Thomas Aquinas, you’ll know that he and I would not share a nice glass of Jesus Juice together. Unless he possessed a hitherto undiscovered fascination with bizarre animal facts and a fondness for indie music, I get the distinct impression that he and I just wouldn’t hit it off.
He was a bigot, you see. Thought homosexuality was an abomination. Believed the worst possible sin was not believing in God. Claimed that heretics should be killed. A nasty, hateful, intolerant bigot by any reasonable standards you wish to apply.
That’s Saint Thomas Aquinas, by the way. He was canonised in 1323.
I’m just saying.
Martin Sheen starred in The West Wing and Apocalypse Now, one of my favourite TV shows and one of my favourite films respectively.
I like Martin Sheen.
I’m just saying.
Anyway, between them, I think Aquinas and Sheen provided the basis for a very good answer to Haddaway’s question. An answer as good as anything I’ve heard.
Aquinas defined love as wanting the best for someone; for them to be everything they could possibly be. Regardless of how that affects you. Love, he argued, was the diametric opposite of selfishness. If you want to be with someone only because they make you feel good about yourself, or because they care for you and you feel obliged to return the favour, or because they provide you with companionship and/or sex that you’d otherwise miss, then that’s fine. More power to you. But it’s not love. Not by Thomas Aquinas’ standards.
He was a bigot, though. Unequivocally. So, make of that what you will.
He wrote it in a book called Summa Theologica. It’s probably available right now in your local library. Read it if you want. It’s all in there. But I’d suggest there are better ways of spending your life.
Working on your trigonometry skills, for one.
In a somewhat different setting, Martin Sheen said the following on a late-night British chat show:
“Love is helping [your partner] to become themselves at all costs. And it’s not just about happiness. It’s about joy. It’s about realising with gratitude that the other person has allowed you to experience joy.”
He played the seminal roles of President Bartlet and Captain Willard. So make of that what you will.
Different people, different centuries and very different settings but those answers overlap. Both postulate that love, above all else, is an innate absence of selfishness. That it’s about wanting to help someone more than you want to help yourself. And that it’s not just a willingness to put someone else’s happiness ahead of your own, but a desire to do so.
And I think there’s something beautiful about that.
If you do have a relationship with someone in your life that passes either or both of Aquinas’ or Sheen’s “Love” tests, then the next time February 14th rolls around, I think you need to be aware that you really do have a Valentine.
And, if the police are doing their job, a restraining order. You sicko.
But really, you should probably celebrate it. And not just on February 14th either.
Regardless of what cynics like me think.
And for the record, the girl in the “Seven Texts” story above? It was all about me. Not her. So I fail that test. Completely and utterly. And I’m okay with that.
Because I don’t do Valentine’s Day.
And a lot of people say that’s one of the greatest things about me.
[I write the essays. This is from May 2008. It’s about language. It’s quite good.]
Been a while. I know. Been busy. I thank those of you who’ve enquired when the next blog was coming. I like that people like. I also thank those of you who enquired if I was dead. I’m not, as it happens. I think I’m glad of that. I realise that the gap between each blog has been increasing since we first threw down back in February. I’d apologise but doesn’t an apology contain an intrinsic implication of intended betterment in the future? I think it does. And if it doesn’t, then is it really an apology at all?
Have a think about it and get back to me.
I should probably mention ahead of time that I don’t think this is going to be funny. As I think to myself what it’s going to include, I can’t think of any jokes or humourous lines I’m going to use. Some might show up unannounced along the way but, equally, they might not. Usually, I write these things and then go back and make them funnier. Won’t be doing that this time. I think this one is actually going to be – dare I say it – kind of educational. For that, I can only apologise. I’ll try to ensure it doesn’t feel too much like school. For those of you who read for the jokes, I don’t know if you’re going to like this one. You can skip if you want. I won’t be offended. Much. There are reasons it won’t be funny, though.
It’s partly because I’ve been diverting any mildly amusing material I’ve written recently towards a different literary pursuit, which all readers of this blog will be expected to purchase at some point in the future. Gotta fund the vices somehow, gentle reader. Subscriptions to Bizarre Erotica Magazine don’t come cheap, you know.
And partly because I just feel less like being irreverent, profane, punchline-happy Mike at the moment and maybe a bit more like being serious, scholarly Mike, who knows about things other than football and indie music, and who doesn’t start blogs with jokes about fetish magazines.
On a related note, I can’t help feeling that this detour from irreverence and wildly inappropriate material, had it arrived earlier, might just have saved my radio career. Guess broadcasting’s loss will have to be blog-readers’ gain.
Whether you like it or not.
See, this edition of the Mikeyblog isn’t for the gag-readers, heroic and handsome though they undoubtedly are. This one’s for the language-lovers. The ones who like it when words are put together and come out sounding all pretty and stuff. The ones who aren’t ashamed of having a favourite consonant. The ones who like songs solely because of the way the lyrics in the chorus bounce off each other. The ones who read paragraphs in books over and over again because it feels nice in their head.
It’s for them. But it’s probably even more for me. I do all of those things. Can’t help myself. And maybe I consider this some form of catharsis, I’m not sure.
On page 42 of the March 2008 issue of Buzz Magazine, there’s a joke that doesn’t quite work. It nearly works but it doesn’t. It definitely doesn’t. I know this because I wrote it. It was meant to be about the Virgin Mary’s insistence on appearing on waffles and burnt pieces of toast, which made her too busy to answer any prayers and stuff. Decent concept but I messed up the delivery and the phrasing and only recognised my error after it had been published. It’s mildly amusing now but not funny. You’d read it and smile. You wouldn’t laugh. That this botched comedic effort is now out in the ether infuriates me. It eats away at me.
I hate the idea of something I wrote wrong existing for people to read. I hate that I can never correct it after it’s been published. I hate that it will always be wrong. And, genuinely, I don’t think it’s even an ego thing. It’s not about how it feels to me. It’s more that, in my mind, I’m forcing people to read something that will scratch and gnaw at their brains while they interpret it. It won’t be a smooth, pleasant process, which is kinda what I like about language. I’m fully aware that it doesn’t feel this way to everyone – especially to people with better things to focus on – but I love how it can be effortless and pleasant. How it can feel warm and friendly. How it can feel relaxing. How it can be therapeutic. How it can be more than just functional and practical. How it can be beautiful.
Question for you:
“What does the water feel like to the fishes?”
It’s the question posed in the particularly lovely Chapter 3 of the hit-and-miss Short Short Stories by Dave Eggers.
The chapter is about a page and a quarter long and depicts a conversation between human and fish to try find parallels between what the water feels like to the fishes and what air feels like to us. There’s one line that stands out for me:
“It feels like language, we say, and they are impressed.”
It’s simple, I know. But that speaks to me, loving reader. I think it’s gorgeous. I love how it sounds when I say it out loud. I love the pauses. I love how much movement of the mouth is required to pronounce every syllable and letter of “It feels like language” and I love the idea that we experience air and language in the same way. We don’t touch them, we don’t taste them, we don’t see them. We just experience them. Do we know what they feel like? Kind of, but not really.
I like that line. I like that parallel. I think it’s clever.
Eleven years ago this month, I finished school. It had been an unhappy time. A series of incrementally more miserable years. And in any bad situation, you need to find something that makes it better. Or at least bearable. Even if it’s only by the smallest of fractions. For me, it was English class. English class meant respite.
And it wasn’t even the material we covered that appealed to me. I didn’t especially enjoy Shakespeare and Bronte and I wasn’t nearly mature enough to appreciate poems and stories that offered insights into the human condition. Yeats didn’t speak to me. Wordsworth didn’t speak to me. Kinsella didn’t speak to me.
And maybe that’s because they weren’t trying to talk to teenagers, who had no appreciation of the fact that, ultimately, they would get old and die. You try telling a teenager about the grim inevitability of ageing and death and how they should try to appreciate the beautiful things they encounter between now and then and you see what reaction you get. Don’t know what it’ll be but my guess is that it won’t be pretty. Those poems weren’t written for teenagers. And they certainly weren’t written for me. Not then. My brain was utterly impregnable to any kind of culture. It’s just the way I was.
Which, incidentally, may explain why I spent so much time between early 1995 and late 1997 listening to Oasis albums.
On a related note, I won a 3-person phone-in quiz on a local radio station in 1997, believing the prize to be £500. I’m not certain if my “Huh? Oh, for fuck sake” was audible or not when the presenter said the words, “Congratulations, Michael. You’ve won a copy of Be Here Now”.
Insult, injury etc.
Turned out the £500 was for an entirely different competition. Same radio station would spend a not insignificant amount of time firing me on more than one occasion less than a decade later, so I like to think I evened the score.
Anyway. Not saying we shouldn’t teach those poems to kids, just that we shouldn’t expect them to have any kind of real effect. If it happens, that effect will probably take a few years. Certainly did with me. I didn’t get Hopkins and Larkin in 1997. But for some reason, I liked English class an awful lot. It felt like home.
It would be years before I found any appreciation for literature. And longer still before I learned what euphony is.
Apocalyptic. Corrupt. Disrupt. Crypt. Optimistic. Apt. Adept. Inept. Tempt. Intercept. Bankrupt. Exempt.
I could say those words out loud for hours and never get bored. They’re euphonic.
Euphony is kinda the reason I get such kicks out of language. It’s the aesthetically satisfying sounds made by words. Essentially, if a word or sentence sounds nice to your ear, that’s euphony right there. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Snuggle up with euphony. Tell euphony that you’ll never love another construct of the English language again.
Maybe get a room while you’re at it.
For me, it’s the sound of “pt”. I adore the “pt” sound. The “puh-tuh” combination just feels right to me. It feels soothing on my brain. It creates nice moments. And for a mind that struggles to sleep and is continually being distracted and diverted, I appreciate and cherish such moments.
I love all those “pt” words but “apocalyptic” is the one that really does it for me. Wow. What a word. Not just “pt” but a hard “c” sound before and after, too. How could any language invent something so beautiful?
Okay, I’ll move on. Before this starts to sound masturbatory.
Back when I was that uncultured teenager, who didn’t appreciate literature and who knew all the words to “She’s Electric,” I liked French. I studied Irish and German, too, but they didn’t do anything for me. In fact, French didn’t do anything for me either until the day I learned the difference between “les” and “les”.
I realise, of course, that that’s just the same word repeated. Don’t bother investigating if one of the l’s is actually the digit 1 or something mindless. I’ve already taken up too much of your time to do that. They’re identical. But the French language does something kinda lovely with it.
The “les” in “les choses” does not sound the same as the “les” in “les enfants”.
Note to self: Far too many uses of “les” in one sentence. Confusing. Not to mention obnoxious. Work on that.
In the former, the “les” is pronounced “lay” because the first letter of the following word is a consonant. In the latter, it’s pronounced “laze” because of the immediately subsequent vowel.
Why? Euphony. Pure and simple. Because it sounds prettier. Absolutely no other reason.
How could anyone not like a language that does that? How could anyone not want to know more about a language that gives that kind of emphasis and priority to euphony?
Euphony. It’s why I like French. It’s why I like the line about air feeling like language. It’s why I hate that the joke I wrote has been read by people who didn’t deserve that kind of lingual buffeting.
And ultimately, it’s probably why I write in the first place. Because at some point – when I’m not messing up the phrasing and delivery of jokes about Mary and when I’m not writing profane, irreverent gags that no sensible radio station would ever broadcast – I think I might be capable of writing something that sounds nice in someone else’s head.
By accident or design, I might cause a moment of euphony. And honestly, I’m not sure I can think of anything I would rather do with my time.
I don’t know why I like it. I just do. Guess it feels like home. Or English class. One or the other.
Right. I think we’re done here. I’ll probably come back in about a month or so when there’s a slight chance I might have something new to say. The chances of any of it being euphonic, however, are pretty slim.
Love you. Miss you. Mean it.