Thursday, July 18, 2002


I've been reading a great deal of James Lileks lately - namely, his web log, called The Daily Bleat. I have just recently been elucidated on what "Blogging" is: a consistently maintained online journal. No way I will ever achieve that myself. I have too many dead spells where I haven't any interest or ideas of what to write about. Which makes James Lileks' site all the more inspiring and discouraging at the same time - the guy updates his every single weekday with apparently effortless ease. And writes several newspaper columns, and books on arcane aspects of 20th C. American architecture and pop culture.
And it's always interesting, or funny, or apt. One minute he's telling a story about his adored 2 year-old daughter (known to regular readers as Gnat), and the next he's analyzing certain ridiculous aspects of the war on terrorism, and the next he's talking about the latest Star Wars movie. The most wonderful jumble of well-reasoned, well-informed thought on serious matters combined with mundane (but enjoyable) personal revelations on family life.
And he is so well-informed. At one point he referred to some local politicians as "Panglossian" which sounded familiar but I couldn't place the reference. Then Google reminded me - Dr. Pangloss in Candide. Now THAT'S a literary allusion. And he tucks them in like truffles throughout - the most delightful little nuggets of intelligent analogy and classical reference. I literally sit there and bounce up and down in my chair sometimes, I'm just so tickled to see a reference to a historical character or event that I haven't heard since college and my more literary days.
I forgot what it was like to have that sort of context to life - to reference arcane aspects of the French Revolution, or Greek and Roman Mythology, or the 18th C. novel. I miss it a lot. I know it sounds conceited to say that, and I wish it didn't. It's like taking delight in something that you do pretty well, like golf or crossword puzzles. In my line of work a classical allusion is as likely as... as Tantalus getting a drink of water. That's why they are so delightful when they do appear.
I honestly thought I would stay in academia. I read so much, just tons of books growing up, sometimes 1-2 a day. I never enjoyed studying, and was in fact appallingly bad at math, but I did like cultural history and good stories, and I wrote decent papers. I think I knew that I wasn't going on to a higher degree when a history prof told us one day about grad school and the "Book of the Day" club we would be joining if we continued on in history. The stuff I was reading at this point, though chock-full of goodness and exhaustive scholarly fact, was excessively dull and did nothing to endear me to history from the academic sense. 
I did discover soon after the crucial difference between what I liked in history, and what was taught in classes - what I call "cultural" history. What people ate, read, wore, and did. Academia only rarely strayed into those areas, and when it did it was always with a rather surprised sense that this was rather enjoyable, wasn't it? I had read too much historical fiction growing up - I was used to learning historical facts embedded in a narrative.
But I have completely strayed away from the point I wanted to make when I started, which is this: I have no gift for puns. I wanted to set a foundation of how I consider myself to be a semi-intellectual, good at Trivial Pursuit and knowledgeable of obscure vocabulary words... but that I can't make a pun to save my life.
It's like I have pun dyslexia - I rarely recognize them when they appear, and I most certainly could never come up with them on my own. I have managed to squeeze out 1 or 2 with a very great effort, like a small child laboriously writing his name for the very first time and proudly displaying see what I did? In the improv comedy group I belong to now, there are people who can reel them off like a factory conveyor belt, and I just stand there, as confused as if they were speaking to me in Chinese. The only time I truly feel at a loss in conversation is when pun-swapping is taking place. The chunk of the brain that handles the pun-making process is dead, and has been as long as I've been conscious.
I think it is God's way of keeping me humble. If I am thinking that I am particularly clever, then a pun comes along, and when I realize it (a good 60 seconds later, when everyone has already moved on) the sense of self-disgust and "oh how very stupid I am" is quite enervating.

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