An argument against revision
And how I scared 30 20-year-olds
Est. Read Time: 7 minutes. Read Time brought to you once again by the Ashburton Energy + Hair Logistics Group, in association with the Bradley Hills Bureau of Corrections.
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Hello, Sternal Journalists!
First up: Show on Friday. La Brea and Melrose-ish. 7:30PM. Twill be a blast. Respond if you want more deets.
Second up: I was on Peter Murphy’s Florida Vs. podcast this week, and got to talk about one of my favorite things: Kensington, MD and its surrounding areas. We talked the Mormon Temple, Caddie, NIH, Peter learned about the D.C. Sniper for the first time ever, and I of course waxed a bunch about Continental’s.
Check out the pod, if only to hear how good at reading ads Peter is, and which soccer player he thinks I look like.
Finally, let’s get to it: I’ll explain more after, but here’s something exactly as I wrote it when I wrote it for the first time:
In the 90s, in this black box theater on Melrose, a failing comedian dressed himself up in old curtains he bought for $3 at a thrift store and painted himself green and black with some paint he got at a hardware store up on Santa Monica and it wasn’t body paint, and so it worked to use the same paint for the sign he made that said, “Whisper me the meaning of life and I’ll tell you it’s a fallacy.”
And for eight hours, he rented the space for $40 and he yelled FALLACY at thirty seven people that day. For half an hour, around 2:15, there was a line. That’s when most of the people came in. There was an acting class next door and they had to try to act while someone yelled next door, and people came even though, or because of, the truth in advertising. People needed a jolt when they got too cocky.
The paint didn’t wash off completely for eleven days.
It’s fiction. Or a poem. I don’t know what form it is, but I mean I made it up. None of it is based in fact, even though I set it in a specific time and place. I wrote it when I was free-writing (journaling, morning-paging as it’s called by other names), which often produces a ton of shit, shit, shit. It’s a lot of re-litigating arguments with loved ones, wondering on the page about how the day will be, or just writing one word repeatedly to fill the space (“blah” and “bullshit” are frequent tools in that latter endeavor).
But sometimes, I write something and think “hey, that’s kinda interesting.” A ton of Sternal Journals have started as the little pockets of “hmm” I find amongst the sprawling fields of “meh” that are my free-writing pages. And this is such a SternJourn.
So that little piece above was exactly preceded these two sentences:
A big room with a monster who you whisper your guess at the meaning of life to, and he just yells FALLACY. And that’s what it’s advertised as, but people still try.
So that was sort of how the idea was dressed when it popped into my head, and then as I wondered what the hell I was talking about, I think I thought of the time Shia Labeouf did a performance art piece where he sat silently in a room and people could to whatever they wanted at or to him.
I thought about all of the stunts and pieces of self-expression that are successful and not successful in a time when everything can be amplified, distributed, or just preserved by social media. And I figured that there must have been a lot of similar—maybe even weirder—stunt-y piece of self-expression than there are now.
Weirder specifically because there was less (I’m theorizing) reward for being weird in the pre-internet world (or at least one of the current big reward channels for being weird—the internet—did not exist).
Because, yes. Today, someone could stand on a corner and have a sign that says, “You tell me the meaning of life and I’ll tell you you’re wrong,” and record it and put it on TikTok. It could blow up and become a meme, and then Vanity Fair could do a think piece about how tell-me-the-meaning-of-life-and-I’ll-tell-you-you’re-wrong-guy is a timely satire of discourse in 2021 blah blah blah bullshit bullshit bullshit.
So being weird today lacks some of the punch—or bravery!—that it did in the 90s and earlier because of just how many opportunities there are for weird to convert into a win. (That being said, I performed “Poop Train” to like thirty 20-year-old music conservatory students tonight, and most of them were angry and scared, so “weird” can very much still not win. Then again, maybe it was the “telling them that I cried for four hours yesterday and reminding them that, ‘to make it as an adult, you have to enjoy the bad times too’” that gave them the willies).
But still! I’m realizing only as I write this that this poem-flash-fiction-thingamabob is actually about weirdness and creativity, and commemorating the space weirdness used to hold and will maybe never hold again.
And upon future revisions, I’ll probably keep that in mind. But! I still believe that every true first draft has a shimmer that gets necessarily lost in the polishing process (can you polish away a shimmer? The metaphor may have broken there).
So this isn’t really an argument against revision (tricked you with the headline, didn’t I?) It’s more of a call to celebrate those germs of ideas, and the way they help us tell us what they’re about.
BUT NEXT WEEK: I’ll talk about—not why revision is important (we all know that), but why and what it means that we’re living in an age of revision. Texts discussed will include:
Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) [duh]
2 Chainz’s T.R.U. REALigion (Anniversary Edition) [not so duh, is it?]
The Ezra Klein Show’s Two Acclaimed Writers on the Art of Revising Your Life
I highly recommend that last one. And speaking of recommendations, let’s pop straight into em!
A very important Dune explainer. Article. If you watched Dune and haven’t read the books (like me!), this is an incredibly helpful and enjoyable explainer that adds a lot of context that wasn’t present in the movie.
The Long Way Home. Song. I love every song from Norah Jones’ sophomore album, but this one is currently on repeat for me, almost exclusively because of the line:
Money’s just something you throw off the back of a train.
Got a headful a’ lighting, and a handful of rain.
cold lasagne hate myself 1999. Stand-up Special. This 2019 show from British comedian James Acaster was released as a special in May. Someone who I recommended it to this weekend said “Is it one of those specials that’s going to make me laugh, but also make me sad?” And yes absolutely it is. I still loved it. Give it 20 minutes! If you don’t like it, turn it off.
Alrighty! That’s it, Sternal Journalists. Much love, as always!
P.S. I spend anywhere between two and twelve hours a week on the Sternal Journal. If you enjoy receiving it (and are RICH) consider becoming a paying subscriber. For just a few bucks a month, you can provide me with a bit more time to come up with fun topics, poems, and interviews; and you with probably a few less typos.