Trumped Up

Today, a study in trump. First, because our president’s trip to Europe and meeting with Putin is trending #1 right now. And second, and more interestingly (one hopes—this “one” especially), because the word itself, without the still-waiting-for-him-to-be-presidential association, is curious in its own way. The first known use of trump, supposedly an alteration of “triumph,” occurred in 1529, according to Merriam-Webster, in conjunction with “sense 1A”: “any of various cards and usually all the cards of a suit designated by chance or by an auction or declaration that if legally played will win over a card that is not of that suit.” Phew. That’s more than a mouthful.

Time to wakey wakey!

The name “Trump” also has a history outside of our president. For example, it belongs to a Marvel comic book character. His street name is Carlton Sanders and his claim to fame or infame (or is it famy and infamy?), as it were, is being “a heist man who uses stage magic to commit crimes.” Hmm. On a side note, there is a new Marvel villain named MODAAK, which stands for “Mental Organism Designed as America’s King.” Guess who he looks like. Hmmmmm.

Then there is the humor magazine named Trump, edited by Mad Magazine‘s Harvey Kurtzman and published by Playboy founder and bunny-scourge Hugh Hefner. It folded after only two issues. Hmm again. Let’s see. What else? There’s the Trump Islands—small, barren, forlorn, cold, somewhere off the barren, forlorn, frigid coast of Antarctica. Hmm thricely. And the slang meaning of trump: noisy flatulence. Hmm quatroly.

And finally, there’s “the last trump,” a phrase from 1 Corinthians 15, which goes like this:

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

The passage seems obtusenetrable [impenetrably obtuse] until you figure out (this took me awhile) that “corrupt” in this context does not mean someone “perverted into a state of moral weakness or wickedness” but rather the archaic “tainted by decomposition or rotting” and that “corruptible” means capable of decomposing rather than capable of being perverted. So, put simply, “the last trump” can be characterized as the final wake-up call for humans, which, when you think about it, may also be the case for “the last (fingers-crossed) Trump.” Let’s just hope we all don’t sleep through it.

Illustration: The Last Trump, illumination by Facundus, 1047. Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España. Public Domain.

Let Slip the Rubs of Lore

The friendly folks at my website host Bluehost thoughtfully send out messages every so often to help me get more “traffic” on RatBlurt using the tools they provide. A recent tip relates to search engine optimization (SEO), the goal being to get your site to come up on the first results page of a Google search. One way to begin optimizing is to include terms that are “trending” in your content. My hosts recommended checking out Google Trends to see what’s “hot” there. Okay. I can do that.

What? You don’t love us anymore?

Today, the #1 terms trending right now are Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, History, and the Marshall Islands. (See what I did there? By naming these terms, I’ve put them in my content and so, one hopes, increased my SEO status. We’ll see.) These trending phrases relate to stories wondering whether Amelia could have survived her airplane crash near Howland Island in the Pacific back in 1937. If you’re not familiar, Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan were attempting to circumnavigate the globe when their plane disappeared while trying to find and land on the airstrip on Howland. They and the plane were never found. Some of the stories responsible for the trend are as follows:

These stories were the “trend” one hour past, so at least at this moment they’re fresh and hot. I’ll let you use the links above to join in and see what the fuss is all about, if you so desire.

I’m more interested here and now about the idea of “trending.” The term is like and not like it’s sibling “trendy,” which means “very fashionable” (unlike) and “faddish” (like). A fad is “a pursuit or interest followed, usually widely but briefly and capriciously with exaggerated zeal and devotion.” The relevant “trending” definition has more gravitas: “to generate or attract a lot [wow, they use “a lot” in the dictionary?] of interest or attention especially online and in social media.” Okay, let’s go back to fad, which is a fard [fab word] in its breviridicutas [having the quality of being markedly limited in length while imparting pseudo-high seriousness]. Wikipedia goes into a bit more detail about what a fad entails, describing it as “a collective behavior that develops within a culture, generation, or social group and which impulse is followed enthusiastically by a group of people for a finite period of time.”

After learning about trends and fads, I’m seeing another SEO opportunity for RatBlurt here. Start a fad, wait for it to catch on, ride the wave while it’s happening, and then when it starts to peter out, start another fad. According to Bart Loews on Quora post, starting a fad is easy: 1) start doing something, 2) make it look cool and effortless, and 3) if the stars align, people will copy you and you’ve got yourself a fad. No harm in trying this out, right? So here goes. This fad will involve “Rubberballheads” or “Rubs” for short. These figures are like Madballs only different. I will begin the trend by taking pictures of the Rub shown in the picture here in oddball places and situations and then describe how and why it came to be there. If you want to join this fad, please send me your photos of similar figures and stories for guest appearances on RatBlurt. Note that I may edit these for content and length. Thanks!

And now, heeeeeeeeeere’s Rubberlina [story to be told later, maybe tomorrow]:

Pet Rock Photo Credit: Owner of Pet Rock Net – http://i179.photobucket.com/albums/w298/OzeFroze/DSCF0165.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7549364.

The Sneeze Test of Veracity

After reading (or more correctly attempting to read and understand) Mark Humphries’ essay on how the brain learns causality (“Did I Do That?“), I shook my head in wonder. (Mentally that is. If I shake my head in wonder physically, I tend to forget immediately the previously current object of my attention. Imagine my brain as one of those metal drums filled with lottery balls waiting to be drawn. Shaking my head is equivalent to grabbing the drum handle and taking them for a quick, chaotic spin. They never end up in the same place.)

Now. Where was I? Oh, the wonder comes from how the brain (well, some brains) learn. In the case of causality, it involves a sudden burst of dopamine that signals that something surprising just happened, a calcium tag left behind in a neuron to record the series of events leading to the surprise, and then, very simply put, another burst of dopamine that connects Dot A to Dot B to Dot C to identify what caused the surprise, be it you or someone or something else.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

The idea of causality itself is just as wondrous. It’s something that exists only in our minds, that is, “it is the regular sequence of events that the mind connects from habit, innate disposition, or experience or that it correlates on the basis of scientifically elaborated theories.” More simply, causality is the relation between cause and effect that we learn through observation and experience. Some species of animals learn causality by mimicry. As Humphries writes, “Blue tits can learn to open milk-bottle tops by observing other blue tits doing it.” Humans do that, too, but have the added advantage of language. We can record how things happen and why and so learning can take place without us “being bound to painstaking observations of local, personal chains of events.”

The concept of causality also helps us figure out what to do when we want to accomplish change. Humphries explains:

The learning of causality is based on the idea that we carry around a predictive model of the world in our brain. But if we do, then we likely also carry around the inverse model—of how to change the world. We need to be able to say, “I want outcome Y,” and then use the inverse model to look up “action X” that gets us that outcome.

This (cause) leads me to think (effect) that we humans basically have two views of causality: 1) “I did that,” and 2) “I didn’t do that.” The “I did that” statement does three things. On one hand, depending on inflection, it recognizes or appeals for recognition of, in most cases, a noteworthy or desirable accomplishment, stakes a claim to an accomplishment, or proclaims astonishment at an accomplishment. On the other, it accepts or admits responsibility for an action or outcome, usually one less noteworthy or desirable. The “I didn’t do that” statement does the opposite. Both claims come in warranted and unwarranted varieties. We sometimes take credit or accept responsibility for things we do or don’t do, even though the calcium-tagged neuron recording of events in our brain tells us otherwise.

This thought (another cause) leads me to think (another effect) that one great obstacle to a better, happier, more peaceful life for everyone is our inability to discern when someone is telling the truth, something that has become painfully evident in the last year or so. While some people trained in the minutiae of human expression can supposedly do this with ease (see Lie to Me), most of use cannot except in the most egregious cases (no names need be dropped here). Wouldn’t it be great (or would it?) if our dopamine cause-and-effect process included a built-in lie revealer. Say, if you said you did something when you didn’t, you would immediately sneeze three times. This might become known as the sternutagraph effect [sternutation (sneeze) + polygraph].

I’m also thinking something else. (I know. This is a lot of cognition all at once for me. I will need a nap soon.) I’m thinking that if we think hard enough about the need for a sternutagraph effect (yet another cause), it will cause our brain neurons to, as Picard might say, make it so (yet another effect). We’ll have to see if that happens. For now, though, I note that I am prone to frequent fits of sneezing. Please don’t take these the wrong way. They are, at least for now anyway and sort of like this post itself, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Isn’t This Moronic?

In honor, I’m assuming, of the twentieth anniversary of the debut of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the publishing website Reedsy posted an article on June 27 featuring a cartoon where Dumbledore gravely tells the young wizlet, “Harry, the results are in. You are a HORCRUX.” The article, titled “Learn What Irony (Really) Is and How to Use It,” explains that most of us know what irony is when we see it “but few of us can articulate it without relying on half-remembered lyrics from the 1995 Alanis Morissette song ‘Ironic.'” As the reason for their exploration of incongruity, the authors assert that “it’s critical for writers to understand irony.”

To begin, they unironically define the concept as “a storytelling tool used to create contrast between how seem things seem and how they really are beneath the surface.” Next, they helpfully explain the differences between dramatic irony, situational irony, and verbal irony and provide a “How Well Do You Know Irony?” quiz at the end. This “Perfecting Your Craft” article is long, but I learned from it (don’t be so shocked) all the while enjoying the fun examples thrown in from Friends, Touch of Evil, and The Hobbit, to name three.

No need for me to go into the writerly details here (I heard that big sigh of relief!) because, sadly, despite what Carly Simon tells me, somebody does it better (well, when I think about it, which I try not to, nearly everyone does it better). Instead I will bore down a little into the origin of the word. In ancient Greek (“eironeia”) and Latin (“ironia”), irony means “feigned ignorance” or “dissimulation.” Breaking down the first combination, we get “to simulate the quality or state of being ignorant falsely.” In its harshest interpretation, being ignorant is—and I love this phrase—being “destitute of knowledge.” The word “dissimulation” has a different bent. It means “the act of dissembling” or “the fact of being dissembled.” The verb dissembling is “to hide under a false appearance” or “conceal with intent to deceive.”

This all points to another type of irony not mentioned in the Reedsy piece. Let’s call it “polirony” [pah `lie rah knee]. The term is useful today (and would have been dating back to the birth of democracy undoubtedly) because most politicians learn one cardinal rule early: it is certain death to ever say or write what they really think or mean. Almost to a man and woman, they are “polironists” and this, believe it or not, may throw some better light on understanding our president and perhaps (this is a big perhaps!) have greater sympathy for and/or empathy with him. Think of Donald J. Trump as the world’s penultimate polironist. Since, in that role, he will never say what he really thinks or means, all his tweets become snippets of hidden communication that need to be deciphered.

Rest assured. We won’t have to do this ourselves (as if we [I!] could). Once the news media learns of this, they will create whole new departments and hire former CIA codebreakers to give us the real scoop on DJT tweets. MSNBC, for example, will rush to replace “Deadline: White House” with “The Tweet, the Whole Tweet, and Nothing but the Tweet.” I hope they do this soon. I’m really looking forward to it.

Photo Credit: A stop sign ironically defaced with a plea not to deface stop signs. By Scheinwerfermann – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17282660.

Kicking the Bucket List

I probably don’t have to explain the concept of a bucket list to you. But just in case you somehow haven’t seen the movie or run across the term previously, a bucket list is plain and simply if a little awkwardly described by Merriam-Webster as “a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.” Advocates of bucket lists offer many reasons for having one. Take, for example, this advice from life coach Celestine Chua (“Call me Celes, please.”) on her Personal Excellence website:

If you don’t live your days by personal goals and plans, chances are you spend most of your time caught up in a flurry of day-to-day activities. Ever felt that your days are passing you by without any tangible output to speak of? What did you accomplish in the past 3 months? What are your upcoming goals for the next 3 months? Look at the things you did and the things you’re planning to do next — Do they mean anything to you if you are to die today?

Celes then provides 101 suggestions to get you on your bucket list way. These can be lumped in two broad categories: achievements such as learning a language and losing weight and experiences such as seeing the world and bungie jumping. She also provides, very helpfully, resources to help you realize each bucket goal.

This is all well and good. In fact, having a bucket list sounds wonderful in many respects, especially in the way it forces you to think beyond and even escape at times your grindvironment (sometimes characterized as the “same old same old”). But there’s a downside, too. Having a bucket list forces you to be hyperaware of the “die” part of “before I die.” This is equivalent to going to sites like The Death Clock, as I just did, filling in the information, and learning that my personal day of death may well be June 6, 2025, and that I have approximately 250 million seconds left to live (the countdown displays and if you’re really morbid, you can watch it tick, tick, tick down). Another DC site thinks I have even less (1741 days, 4 hours, 24 minutes, 59 seconds, which ticks to zero on April 22, 2022). Here’s hoping they’re both wrong. The upshot, though, is that if you have a long list (101 seems long) and take a “must do” attitude toward each item rather than “be nice to do,” then the bucket list may increase your stress rather than provide ways to relieve it.

Perhaps the saner, less maddening approach to the “Before I Die” imperative is to take one thing at a time. One person trying to help out with this is Candy Chang, an artist who works in public spaces. Candy created her first “Before I Die” mural, I guess you would call it, in New Orleans. It’s basically a giant chalkboard with the title “Before I die” (BID) and then as many “Before I die I want to _________” prompts on it as the area allows. (As in the photo on the left, taken by our friend and epic relocation odyessian Kristian Gallagher in Ashville, North Carolina. Check out her extremely cool website to see where she’s at and what she’s up to.) Chang tell us that BID is “a participatory public art project that invites people to contemplate death, reflect on life, and share their personal aspirations in public.” There are now over 2,000 of these walls in 70 countries, including Iran, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and South Africa. Wherever this wall appears, it reveals “the community’s longings, anxieties, joys, and struggles [and] explores how public space can cultivate self-examination and empathy among neighbors and compassionately prepare us for death and grief. It has also inspired dozens of remixes that offer new ways to engage with the people around us.”

I like the BID idea because the wall only gives you space to write one thing. It’s also a chalkboard, which means once you complete that one thing, you could, theoretically, go back and erase it and enter a new one. If it’s one thing we (I at least) can use in life it’s simplification. This approach also changes the way we (I) view death. I have this idea that the Big D (and I don’t mean divorce) is something like those moments when a phalanx of archers in the endless Tudor/York wars (or name your European historical battle of choice) loose a swarm of arrows high into the air to rain down upon their hapless opponents. If you’re one of the latter, which we all are, you have two choices. You could look up and see the sky darkened with deadly darts (too much?) headed your way and know that one of them probably has your name on it. Or you can choose not to look up and focus instead on what’s immediately ahead of you, say, an incredibly beautiful willow tree or key deer or redhead or orchid or Denny’s Grand Slam or whatever and leave the terminal arrows to fall where and when they may. For me, it’s an easy decision. Put another way, if you don’t look up, the sky can’t fall, right? Right.

(Photo Credit: “Before I Die” wall in Ashville, North Carolina. ©2017, Kristian Gallagher. Used by permission.)

A Frippery Trope

A friend of ours recently noted her brief encounter with a photosirenthic* elk as she crossed the Continental Divide in Wyoming, one that tempted her to risk an unwanted run-in with the highway patrol (see “It’s the elk’s fault“). Her mention of the CD reminded me of the many times I crossed it somewhere around Butte, Montana, on my college-day trips back and forth between Missoula, where I attended the University of Montana, and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, my home town. In Wyoming, Kristian’s divide moment occurred at 6,930 feet. On my trips on I-90, it happened at almost the exact same elevation: 6,329 feet at Homestake Pass. (As a quick aside here, in the 1970s I-90 in Montana was a favorite of truckers and speed-freaks because there was no speed limit during the day and at night it was 80 mph. If you did happen to get pulled over—we did once going 90+—the ticket was $5 and the crime was “wasting a natural resource.” Thank you, Arab Oil Embargo.)

I never really thought much about the CD back then or now until Kristian mentioned it. Is it just the high point in the Rockies as you travel east and west? No, it’s so much more than that. The CD, officially the Continental Divide of the Americas (or the Great Divide or the Continental Gulf Divide), extends from the Bering Strait in the Arctic all the way down to the Strait of Magellan, just a long spit, if the wind is right, from Antarctica. Its highest point is Grays Peak in Colorado (14,278 feet) and its lowest is in Nicaragua at the Isthmus of Rivas (47 feet). The divide is a hydrological one, that is, the water drainage basin on the western side flows into the Pacific Ocean and the basin on the eastern side flows, eventually, into the Arctic Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean (some of it via the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea). Quite geopressive [geologically mind-boggling] I would say.

↑↑↑ Aimless Pseudoscience Babble Basin ↑↑↑

————————————————————-

↓↓↓ Shameless Padding Basin ↓↓↓

What’s not nearly as impressive is a movie you’ve never seen (most likely) called, naturally, Continental Divide. This 1981 romcom starred the unlikely pairing of John Belushi and Blair Brown—he a corruption-busting journalist named Ernie Souchak; she Dr. Nell Porter, a scientist doing research on bald eagles. I know, right? Along the never-run-smooth path of true love, Ernie “sprains his back in an accident, is mauled by a mountain lion, and meets an All-American football player who has left civilization and become a mountain man.” Even after they marry at the end, the CD keeps them apart—he returns to his drainage basin (Chicago), she to hers in Wyoming. Although the movie did okay with critics on Rotten Tomatoes (78%), it tanked with viewers (54%), this despite having some having heavy hitters involved like director Michael Apted (Gorky Park, Coal Miner’s Daughter) and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, The Big Chill). Perhaps the tagline explains its failure: “When they met they heard bells. And that was just round one.” Thud. Double thud.

In case you didn’t notice (and in case you’re still with me), another form of continental divide previously undocumented just happened here. It’s where the thought line in a blog entry runs in one direction on one side and in a completely different one on the other and never the twain shall meet and nary a point shall be made. We’ll (I’ll) call this the Hydra-illogical Divide (HIDE) because it has way too many heads and makes absolutely no sense. And that, as someone should have said about four paragraphs earlier, is that.

* photosirenthic adjective \foe toe sigh ‘wren thick
1. Having the quality of luring unwary travelers into trouble by presenting an irresistible photo op at the most inopportune times and/or in the most inopportune places.

Gluteus Terminus

Where were you when you learned your butt could die?” So asks Almie Rose in an Attn: blog post. My answer would be “right here in front of my screen, sitting on it.” The title of Almie’s article explains why she’s asking the question: “If you spend most of your day sitting down, you need to be aware of this weird health risk.” The risk she references is “gluteal amnesia” or “dead butt syndrome” (DBS). If you search for gluteal amnesia, an avalanche of stories and images and videos on DBS leap into existence before your eyes, and if you took time to read or view them all, your butt would be deader than the proverbial doornail.

Ah, what was that thing I do again?

So, what is it? If you sit too long, apparently, your butt muscles (the old gluteus maximus and others) forget how to “activate properly.” “When you get up to stretch,” Almie writes, “this isn’t only in an effort to minimize the risk of blood clots or weight gain, it’s to strengthen your butt’s muscle memory.” DBS can lead to back, hip, and ankle problems—your back especially because the back takes over the work your butt can’t remember how to do.

Who is most likely to suffer DBS? We Americans are because, according to ABC News, we “work more than anyone in the industrialized world” and we probably sit at desks more, sit in cars driving to work more, and sit on the couch binging more than anyone else, too. This is quite an accomplishment. We should get some recognition for it or perhaps even a butt-for prize of some sort. We already have competition, of course, because people have been getting recognized for sitting in various ways for some time now. The record, for instance, for the most people sitting in one chair is 2,067 (right?). There’s also feats that involve crushing the most nuts by sitting, skipping rope while sitting, and the farthest basketball shot made while sitting on the court.

But I digress (again). DBS occurs through a process called reciprocal inhibition. Translated, this means the neurons in your GM forget how to fire their signal to the muscles and thus “move your butt.” Fortunately for us there are ways to prevent this. Maintaining proper posture while you sit helps. Getting up is another (doh!). Getting up and “tucking” your tailbone and “flexing” your glutes five times for ten repetitions is even better, as is doing squats or lunges. FYI, I typed “lunches” there instead of “lunges” initially. My Freudian slip is showing. Although, now that I think about it, to have lunch I would have to activate my glutes, stand up, and move to the kitchen. To better fend off DBS, I could do some butt clenches along the way. This might look, I realize, like someone trying to get to the bathroom before an explosive event of an undesirable nature happens. But what the heck. I’m willing to risk a little embarrassment to avoid my rear end.

Ripping One Off

After reading my recent blog on why we should rename polka dots to flamenco dots, my wife Kalo brought something very important to my attention: I had neglected to mention Polka-Dot Man (PDM). I pled ignorance, never a good defense but true in this case. If you’re not familiar with PDM, he’s one of Batman’s nemeses or, as one site describes him, “a minor supervillain.” PDM, cover name Abner Krill, was “known for committing grandiose crimes revolving around a bizarre theme of polka dots.” Even cooler (okay, I’m a comic nerd) is the fact that the polka dots on PDM’s supervillain outfit could turn into odd weapons and escape devices, a buzz saw dot, for example, or a one-man flying saucer.

PDMan

PDM was also known as Mister Polka Dot (MPD). Over the issues he appeared in, PDM committed a series of weird robberies. Batman has a eureka moment and connects the dots of these crimes on a map, which form a stick figure. He and Robin go to the head of this figure (a map company) and catch PDM in the act. The Caped Crusader punches PDM out, crowing “Right on the dot! By now, you should be seeing spots before your eyes, Mister Polka Dot!” PDM’s fortunes plummeted after that. He became penniless and an alcoholic. Later, he made a comeback of sorts, joining a band of costumed misfits that included Immortus, Professor Milo, and the Condiment King. He eventually has a terminal encounter with a flying manhole cover and thus ends the brief and not-so-glorious story of Polka Dot Man.

Well, not quite. While he’s not listed as a character in in The LEGO Batman Movie, he does appear in this “trailer” for the Ultimate Batmobile Set. You can undoubtedly buy him to add to your Lego collection, should you feel the need.

While PDM has SVCC (supervillain cool cred), think how much better he might have been as Flamenco Dot Man. Certainly he would continue to plague Batman and Robin with his dastardly deeds, but now he could also torment them with videos of torrid flamenco performances. These would be very stylish, naturally, but they would also contain clues to where FDM’s next crime would take place, much like honey bees impart vital information through their waggle dance. In FDM’s case, the Dynamic Duo would have to puzzle out the meaning of each backswing, dig, heel-and-toe, and stamp.

FDM would also have a cool flamenco name to replace Abner Krill, something like Inigo Montoya (oh, right, that’s taken) or maybe Don Diego de la Vega (rats, also taken). Anyway, you get the idea.

Of course, FDM’s weapons would have to be different, too. Instead of a buzz saw dot, perhaps a razor-sharp tortilla, and instead of the flying saucer maybe a small, levitating stage on which he could perform “on the round” and escape at the same time, his movements controlled by his feverishly flailing boots. And finally, there’s the FDotmobile, the FDotplane, the FDotboat, and, for later in life, the FDotStairRider.

I’m hoping the folks at Marvel and/or Warner Brothers see this post and give me a call. Given the disaster of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman needs a strong comeback vehicle. This might be it: Batman v Flamenco Dot Man: Deadly Dance-off. The critical question to resolve now is whether their final confrontation would take place on So You Think You Can Dance or World of Dance. If you have an opinion on this, please share.

The Secret to Success: Shut Up

I would have to discover this advice right after posting about getting back to work on my novel ZAD. Can I take it back? No. What advice you ask (or might ask)? Euny Hong’s Quartz post titled “Want to Write a Book? Stop Talking about It. Entirely.” In it, she leads off with this Korean saying that her mom cited often: “You have nothing to fear from someone who threatens that he is going to kill you tomorrow.” Then she explains:

The declaration of intention paradoxically reveals the lack of intention.

Why does talking about a big goal, such as writing a book or quitting smoking, sabotage your ability to complete it? Because every time you talk about an unfinished project with someone, you are tricking your brain into thinking you’ve done some of the work. Talking about writing a book gives you the same mental fatigue and satisfaction that you’d get from actually writing for an hour. It’s demotivating.

As evidence outside of her own experience, Hong cites the author John Hersey, a TED talk (“Keep Your Goals to Yourself“), and a 2009 psychological study (“When Intentions Go Public“). She also offers this observation:

One of the biggest mistakes people make in life is assuming that intangibles are in greater supply than money. All resources are finite–all of them–including the three traits that separate people who finish books from those who don’t: ambition, stamina, and your ability not to tire of hearing your own ideas.

Faras_Saint_Anne_(detail)

I’m not sure she’s right about this. When I was writing ZAD last summer, trying and succeeding in meeting the goal of producing 50,000 in 30 days, I posted my progress daily on Facebook. But I guess that’s different. I wasn’t talking about writing a book, I was talking about what I had written that day after writing it. The pressure of the deadline kept me going, not what Chris Baty describes as the “effective agents of guilt and terror” better known as your loved ones.

Baty is one of the founders of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In his how-to book No Plot? No Problem, he takes a stance opposite to Hong:

Terror is the amateur novelist’s best friend…. Nothing makes it more difficult to back down from a task than having boasted about it, in great detail, to all of your friends and loved ones. Think about it. Do you really want to be the butt of jokes every time novels are mentioned?

I’m not sure he’s right either. I wasn’t terrified of what people would say if I failed to reach the 50,000-word goal. But then, since I achieved it, I’ll never know (unless I try it again). What I do know is that I’ve just spent an hour or so writing this blog and thus “talking” about revising ZAD instead of revising it. So I guess Hong wins. It’s time, to alter a well-worn phrase, to “shut up and put up.” Good counsel for everyone, right? In fact, maybe we should make this our national motto instead of E pluribus unum. In Latin that would be clausi posuere. Not quite the same majestic ring to it I admit but it might catch on. I’ll start the ball rolling here. Not another word about ZAD until it’s on the bookshelves or Amazon. Either that or I’ll take Hong’s last piece of advice: “If [anyone brings] it up, say you’ve put it aside for the time being, got busy, or just that you don’t want to talk about it because of this thing you read one time on Quartz.”

The Liver Is Evil…

…and must be punished. If you’ve visited Key West and walked the walk (Duval Street in other words), you’ve likely seen a t-shirt in a window with those words emblazoned on it. The implication, of course, is that you should drink yourself into a stupor (many do here, unfortunately) while intoning “bad liver bad liver” repeatedly.

Gray1087-liver

In truth, you should do the opposite. The liver is so not evil. In fact, it does so many things to keep you functioning (alive in other words) that you should be showering it with gifts, lighting candles in its honor, and saying, repeatedly, “if there’s anything you need or want, anything at all, your wish is my command.”

I came to this conclusion after reading Natalie Angier’s article “The Liver: A ‘Blob’ That Runs the Body” in today’s New York Times. She begins by telling us that the Mesopotamians thought our souls and emotions lived in the liver. The Elizabethans purportedly called the king or queen “the liver of state” and thus woe to anyone who was monarch and “lily-livered” at the same time.

Fun stuff aside, Angiers explains that the liver’s to-do list is second only to the brain (and that it can regenerate whereas that slouch the brain cannot). That list comprises over 300 hundred items. Here are a few primary ones:

  1. “Reworking” food into something useful for cells, etc.
  2. Neutralizing harmful substances (such as the agent of punishment noted above)
  3. Generating hormones, clotting factors, enzymes, and immune molecules
  4. Controlling blood chemistry

The liver is so vital to us that if it fails, nothing can take over for it except another liver via transplant. It is our largest organ (no wonder they thought the brain was subservient to it), weighing in at around three-and-a-half pounds. Angiers describes it as looking like a “beached sea lion” nestled in our abdominal cavity. It contains 13 percent of the body’s blood supply at any one time.

If all those things weren’t enough, the liver also keeps time. Well, not really. It just swells around 50 percent after dark as its protein production increases and then shrinks the same amount when the sun comes up and protein destruction occurs.

So the upshot of all this is, again, the liver is not evil, far from it. It should be treated with respect. In fact, Angiers suggests, should anyone every ask you “What am I? Chopped liver?” your response should be “Yes, you are and you should pleased as punch about that.”

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