"Someone sent me a link to a YouTube video of Justin Bieber sitting in on drums on a late-night show on television," the Martian anthropologist said to me.
I brightened. "Oh yeah? I saw that, too."
(I loved the way she spoke our idioms. Sitting in. She said it in exactly the way a human might react to tasting something profoundly delicious. Her whole body, down to the ends of both tails, gave a little shudder of pleasure.)
"After I watched it, I scrolled down to the comments."
I sagged a little. "Oh."
She noticed, of course. "Do you not think the people who comment on such things are representative of humankind?"
I sighed. "Sadly, I think they are all too representative."
She was quiet for several seconds. It was impossible to tell what she was thinking. Then she said, "The first comment read, 'He could have played drums in a metal band but instead chooses to be a faggot.'
This word, faggot, is not meant to declare that he is in some way like a bundle of sticks, but rather meant in the derogatory sense?"
"Very much in the derogatory sense," I replied.
"Can you explain why?" she asked.
I sighed again. "Because the person writing the comment doesn't like Justin Bieber, I guess."
"And so spends time watching a video of him and then publicly disparaging him?"
"This is very strange behavior."
"Yes, it is."
She was quiet for another couple of seconds. Then she said, "Through my research, I have come to understand that the adjective modifying band is not meant literally. It doesn't mean that Justin Bieber would literally play drums with musicians made from iron or steel. So in this context, what exactly does metal mean?"
I said it before and I meant it: it's just not worth the hassle. He'll have stronger opinions than any sane person should about the way words are spelled. He'll unabashedly use phrases like "the madness of English orthography." Give a writer a little space, and he'll write a story about the madness of English orthography, and then some kind of weirdly self-referential follow-up. This is the kind of stuff that's rattling around in his head. Trust me on this. Save yourself the pain and the heartache.
I was talking with the Martian anthropologist. She had asked me to explain some of the features of our written language. I was explaining about the alphabet.
"The alphabet represents the base sounds of language with a manageable number of symbols, which get combined into patterns to express the building blocks of spoken language. I guess you'd call it a means of transcribing the phonetics of language into an efficient written form. Visually, you only need to remember a small handful of symbols, and everything derives from there."
"Ah, yes," she said. "We have something similar. Only …" she hesitated. "We have a couple of senses for which humans have no analogue, and we encode those senses as well into what you'd understand as written language."
"Wow," I said.
She performed a complex flexion of musculature around her upper mouth, along with a quiet, keening note from the lower. I'd come to recognize this compound gesture as her species' version of a smile.
"Your alphabet seems like a very efficient system," she said.
"Well, there are some issues," I said, and I wrote down and pronounced the following words:
She was silent for a very long time. Finally, she spoke.
"I think I am finally coming to understand," she said, "how it is that humans so regularly commit atrocities against each other."
The schedule they sent us told us to arrive by 7:30am. The first entry read, "7:30-9:45: Conference Center, Evergreen Room: H.R. paperwork, uniform sizing and scavenger hunt."
Scavenger hunt? I thought. Really?
The lady from H.R. kept things moving. She had glasses and a big voice. She directed her deputies well. They ran the paperwork session like a smooth machine. Forms to fill out. Copies of our IDs. Blood draw. Many things to sign.
They fitted us for our uniforms. It's not like I wasn't expecting it, having seen photos, but there was still something about the plush antlers and the blinking lights that I found disconcerting.
"Has everyone completed their paperwork?" she asked. The tables in the Evergreen Room were circular, and she was standing just behind me. There were two pretty girls and a heavyset man at the table with me. Around the room, more tables, many other people. A few nods here and there, but no one spoke. Paperwork complete.
"Excellent," she said. "Now is the time for the scavenging hunt."
I turned around in my chair. "Don't you mean scavenger?" I asked.
"Scavenging," she affirmed, her voice growing louder and more shrill. "You are to bring me a squirrel carcass, any sort of dead bird, and a smashed roadkill raccoon."
In my peripheral vision, I saw heads turning, people silently asking through flickering eye contact: Did I just hear what I thought I heard?
"Umm," I said.
She held her right hand up, index finger extended. "Bring them to me, my vultures," she cried. "You are proud, proud vultures!"
There are many, many things to express gratitude about this year, but here on Thanksgiving itself let me give deepest thanks for this:
After many years of struggling with benumbing depression, I am profoundly grateful to now be able to experience my life with pleasure, thrill and joy. It's amazing what learning to feel can do for you.
I have had zombie nightmares for years, since long before zombies became so embedded in popular culture. I dream lucidly sometimes, but never once while in a zombie dream, and so the terror and horror are always profound and unquestioned, and I'll bet if you're practicing gratitude this week (and you should), you have not taken a moment to be thankful that the zombie apocalypse is not actually real.
I can't really remember a time when I wasn't disgusted by Black Friday, but it was in 2013 that I realized that the whole run-up to Black Friday was making me kind of crazy. I felt something like a sickening buzz and I felt constantly on edge. I would tell people about how I was feeling, and they would invariably say, "Just don't pay attention," which isn't bad advice, but it missed the point. "That's the thing," I would tell them. "I can't not pay attention. I feel it. It's everywhere."
That's a pretty bold assertion. The first times it came out of my mouth, it startled me enough that I had to ask, Is that true? Because if it was, it implied a different relationship with the world than I'd ever allowed myself to consider before. Could I really feel the energy of was essentially floating in the air around me? The more I examined it, the more inescapable the conclusion became: I could feel the crazy energy society was bathing itself in and it was making me feeling crazy, too.
A door opened up for me via that realization, and eventually I had no choice but to walk through.