SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
May 18, 2008

Lectures to Myself

 

I was sitting at the kitchen table smoking like a fiend and giving myself a lecture.

            It wasn’t one of those “You did a bad thing and here’s why you’re a very bad person” lectures. I’ve been hearing those my whole life, and don’t think I care to hear any more.

            No, I mean a real lecture-lecture. The title of today’s was “Why Those People Who Waste So Much Time Writing Long, Arduous Online Essays About How Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Ripped Off Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen Are Stupid and Wrong.” Since I’ve been on a Wagner kick this past week, yesterday’s lecture was entitled, “How Wagner Transformed Opera Into an Art Form For the Common Man In Spite of the Fact That He was a Cruel and Arrogant Son of a Bitch.”

            It’s pretty pathetic, I know, but I give myself lectures like that on an almost daily basis. When I’m sitting here, when I’m walking to the store, whenever I have a few spare minutes. I pick a small subject and try to analyze it within a broader socio-historical context.

            Yeah, I think “pathetic” fits it pretty well.

            I do this for two primary reasons. First, it’s a way of keeping the brain in shape, making sure I can still remember all this pointless crap. It’s supposed to help stave off early onset dementia. Second and most important, I give myself lectures because I find it so very difficult to talk to other people. They wouldn’t care about this crap anyway, so I tell it to myself. Before meeting someone for a few beers, or dinner, or an interview, I rehearse and rehearse and rehearse what I think I’m going to say. I practice conversations in my head. Days on end I rehearse, even for the simplest things. But in the end, it’s inevitably for naught. Things never turn out the way I hope they will—I’m never nearly as sharp or clever or insightful when other people are around. Plus, I tend to mumble, and my timing’s bad. But when I’m alone, my god I’m one clever bastard. I’ve given myself off-the-cuff lectures on Celine’s image compared to his biography, on the early career of Orson Welles, on the growth of the surveillance culture from 1787 to the present. Everything from Nietzsche to why Steve McQueen was a big poophead. Things, in short, that would never—or perhaps should never—come up in conversation at a bar. (At least none of the bars I go to).

            Sometimes in the middle of these lectures I consider taking another stab at teaching. I know plenty of teachers, and they all seem to enjoy it. My sister’s been teaching for almost thirty years now, and I have a couple of good friends who are Humanities professors. Hell, I even taught a few Humanities courses myself some twenty years ago. It wasn’t that bad, for the most part. Why not inflict these lectures on a semi-captive and paying audience?

            Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for the students) it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be happening any time soon. Over the past two years I’ve sent out all sorts of resumes and inquiries, and let’s just say the response has been a bit less than enthusiastic.

            The reasons I’ve been given for the rejections have generally fallen under one of three categories. They tell me I’m either too lowbrow, too blind, or too “dark.”

            Now, okay, fine, the first two I can accept (though they’ve never heard my Wagner lectures—if they want snooty I can give ‘em snooty)—but what in the hell is this “too dark” crap? I’ve been hearing that all my life and I still don’t get it. Christ, look around—the planet has cancer, we’re mired in a pointless war, we’re facing an election that will improve nothing no matter how it turns out, the economy’s in ruins, the culture is a bubbleheaded wasteland, the educational system is beyond broken—and I’m the one who’s too dark?

            Personally, I’ve always considered myself a fairly lighthearted fellow—a veritable breath of fresh air in otherwise gloomy times. If anything, in fact, I wish I were a lot darker than I am. I mean, it’s not like I’m out there stomping on baby chicks or moaning about how we’re all going to die—no matter now much I’d enjoy doing both. No sir, I’m smiling my way through the pain.

            Some years back, I was commissioned to write a collection of fairy tales. More specifically, I was asked to write “a collection of really dark fairy tales aimed at adults.” So that’s what I did, and I had a good time doing it—though again I didn’t think they were nearly dark enough in the end.

            But when I turned them in, I was informed they were “too dark” and “too mean.” Well what the fuck did they want?

            And now that same damned excuse is being used once again to prevent me from warping the Young Minds of Today. Apparently our nation’s universities have become warehouses full of sunbeams and rainbows and butterflies, preparing students to enter a world where men and women of all races and creeds live together in harmony, and remain deeply concerned about those issues that might affect the least little one of God’s creatures.

            Has the whole world gone all sensitive and sissy while I wasn’t paying attention?

            (Okay, that’s a stupid question.)

            If being a realist is too “dark” for students—it might wound their delicate psyches, after all—then I seriously dread the future.

            Of course I dread the future anyway, but that’s beside the point.

            I’m rambling. I apologize. All of this has been fairly beside the point. That’s the way things tend to go with these lectures, too. I’ll be going on about the history of our concepts of Hell, and the next thing you know, I’ll be onto the evils of horticulture (it’s almost always the evils or horticulture, for some reason).

            The point to all this being, I guess, that I sit in my apartment and give myself long boring lectures about boring subjects that nobody gives a good goddamn about. And you know, maybe that’s how it should stay.

            I’m not so sure, thinking about it, that I much want to go into a classroom every day and try to get through to a roomful of those dead-eyed, spiritually crippled spoiled little zombie morons, all of them too busy reprogramming their goddamn cell phones to pay attention. They wouldn’t get my jokes anyway.

            Well, that settles that, then. Which means it’s time to start planning tomorrow’s lecture.

 

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