4 More Things You Love to Discuss that No One Cares About
About nine months ago, I wrote about things everyone loves to discuss (that no one actually wants to hear about). Since then, I've noticed and been told several great additions, enough to warrant this sequel. Just a few more things we all need to shut the hell up about.
To be clear, my utopia isn't a world where everyone shuts up about everything. I certainly don't want to give off the impression that all personal stories are bad. Some are great. Stories about terrible jobs or bad dates are almost always terrific (when I was 17, I went on a double date that was going so poorly, I took out my wallet, pretended it was a cell phone, faked an emergency phone call and left the date before it was through. I drove away so fast that I got pulled over for speeding. Truth Fact). But these aren't the interesting stories. These are the "storyteller has completely lost objectivity" stories.
Before getting into it, I'd like to preface this column by saying that, with the exception of #4, I am guilty of talking too much about every single one of these topics because I, just like you, would do well to entertain the prospect of shutting the hell up, a lot more often.
In your mind:
You don't normally buy into the whole "supernatural" thing, but you are, without a doubt, positive that your apartment is haunted. The spirit of a long-dead human has unfinished business and is now confined to your apartment, bound by otherworldly forces, until its business can be completed and it can finally move on. This ghost, plagued by infinite torture, manifests itself by making noises while you're trying to sleep, moving your stuff around when you're not looking and other various bits of vague, spooky business.
You don't know why, but you feel responsible for this ghost, like you need to somehow help it advance to the other side. Further, you feel even more responsible to tell everyone about it. Also, you're probably a chick.
I mean no judgment, there. I'm just pointing it out, because every single person who has ever tried to convince me that their house, apartment, car or workplace was haunted has, without exception, been a woman. Just a weird thing I noticed, chicks hate ghosts.
In everyone else's mind:
Ghosts aren't real. Ghosts aren't real. Ghosts aren't real. Hey, real quick, are ghosts real? No, man, they're not.
Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm just getting older, and crankier. Maybe the fun of ghost stories is just imagining that they could be real and maybe that part of my imagination has died. Maybe I'm losing all of the magic that used to be in my heart, and that's what's keeping me from embracing the fantasy of ghost stories, of really letting go and believing in something based purely on faith. Or maybe ghosts aren't real and ghosts aren't real, and "No," because ghosts aren't real.
Every ghost story I've heard sounds almost exactly like this: "I never thought ghosts existed, but then my boyfriend and I moved to this new apartment, and at night, I swear, I heard someone walking around. But there wasn't anyone there! And in the morning, I'm pretty sure our trashcan was out of place, slightly. Anyway, we're probably going to have to move, now." Or "I was hanging out with my sister when the lights flicked off for NO REASON and I swear, I mean, I swear I felt something move through me. Like, I felt it. Boom: Ghosted." No one dies, or changes or has sex, and nothing explodes, nothing in our observable reality changes in any kind of fundamental way, and no lessons are learned. Those are bad stories, but people assume that the fact that they believe their ghost was real is enough to make up for an otherwise boring story about background noises.
It's because ghosts aren't real that ghost stories are always boring. As the listener, you know that the story you're hearing isn't actually about ghosts. Whatever sound the storyteller heard is just the house settling. It's OK that the lights flickered on and off in her house, because that's a thing that lights do, occasionally. The ghost that she felt move through her body was either a cold breeze or her own nerves, playing tricks.
When you remove the supernatural aspect, it's just a story about someone's imagination, except not the exciting parts of an imagination. If people told ghost stories just as an excuse to tell an interesting story, I'd like to think I'd be on board, because I like interesting stories. But no "real" ghost story that I've ever heard has ever been interesting; the thesis of every ghost story is "there was a ghost this one time," and never "there was a ghost that did a WICKED FLIP ON A MOTORCYCLE!"
Off The Cuff Insults You've Made
In your mind:
You were out at a party last night, and someone mocked you, and you came right back instantly with a wicked zinger that really put him in his place. The rest of the party instantly froze in awe of your inimitable joke craftsmanship. Your joke was so sharp and biting, your delivery so effortless, it must have been pre-planned, but of course it couldn't have been. That's the beauty. Your quip was perfect, quick and deadly, like a shark, and it rendered your trash-talking opponent speechless, like a shark that only eats tongues. He stood there, red-faced and stammering, bewildered by both the speed of your attack and the intensity with which it burned. Guys like him will conjure up some good comeback hours later, once they've had time to think on it. But not you. You're a quick-drawing comedic sniper letting out headshots from 50 miles away in the blink of an eye. A King of the Party was crowned that night, and his name was You.
In everyone else's mind:
It's not that night anymore, and we refuse to acknowledge your authority as king.
Coming up with a sweet comeback off the top of your head is the quintessential Had-To-Be-There moment. Inventing the perfect and appropriate quip can feel like magic sometimes. It's like being in the "zone" in baseball, where you see the pitch in slow motion and you know just what to do to hit a home run and make it look effortless in front of a crowd of people that you know will be absolutely awestruck. You feel like some kind of adlibbing savant, a joke machine programmed only for swift destruction.
The problem is that no one can really grasp how impressive your speed was when you retell the story later. It doesn't even need to be a comeback that you're describing; you'll have the same problem telling really any story about a funny, spontaneous joke. With those jokes, it's all about timing. The people around to hear the birth of the joke will love you forever, but you're starting a story with "So this one time, I told this joke at this party and it KILLED because of how quick it was, here let me tell you," which is time-cancer, (comedically speaking).
In your mind:
Maybe you wanted to lose weight, or have more energy, or just introduce some discipline in your life. Whatever the reason is, you've recently changed your diet drastically. You eat six small meals a day instead of three large ones. You've cut out gluten, or beef. You've stopped drinking caffeine, or alcohol. You've studied up on diets, you've done the research, you read that book about eating animals (whatever it's called) and it's changed your life. The food you eat now is different from the food you used to eat and, you imagine, everyone is no doubt curious.
In everyone else's mind:
"I also eat certain things, and don't eat other certain things. And check me out, here I am. Not talking about it. Neat, right?"
When you go on a diet, the part of your brain that reminds you that no one cares what you eat dies. Instantly. Before a diet, you would never run down the meals you have, or explain to a room of disinterested people exactly how many calories you're allowed to have in a day, or list off the foods that you can't normally eat (but can every other Sunday, as a reward for your discipline). People who aren't on diets only talk about food when they're either cooking or eating it, and the conversation usually begins and ends with "I am eating this thing currently and am experiencing pleasure in doing so. Ordering it was one of my better decisions."
There's almost always a philosophy to go along with a diet, so the listener is never just hearing a list of foods you won't eat. He's hearing a list of foods you won't eat, and the reasons why you won't eat them, and the impact that this decision has made on your life. Maybe there are moral reasons for not eating certain foods. Or maybe you saw something on the Discovery Channel about digestion that was a real game changer in the bread department. Whatever the reason is, you will explain it to them. You'll explain the science. You'll tell stories about how they treat the farm animals before they slaughter them. You'll talk about how much cleaner your skin is, or how much better your urine smells now that you've finally stopped eating any animal that makes a "cute" noise. And the listener will just patiently nod and wait for you to be done, so he can follow up the conversation by not talking about why he eats what he eats (it tastes good).
There are plenty of times when talking about your diet is completely appropriate. If someone asks you about your diet, for example. Also, if ... Well, I guess I kind of overshot it with "plenty," that's basically the one time it's appropriate.
Your In-Progress Novel/Screenplay/Pilot/Bullshit
[Note: A lot of the folks who read this site are also writers, and they're the exception. A lot of writers do enjoy hearing about and workshopping ideas with other writers. You folks can skip this entry.]
In your mind:
You have ideas. You have ideas, man. The next great American novel? You know what it's going to be about, because you're going to write it, soon, probably. The TV pilot that's going to shift the tone of television and change the game forever? You see it clearly, because it's all in your head already. The screenplay that's going to make everyone fall in love with movies again? You've got the title page done, baby!
Tell them. Tell the world about the thing that you will someday write, even though right now it's just an assortment of ideas and sequences and a few character names. It doesn't matter, just tell people. Tell them! Tell them of the things you will do!
In everyone else's mind:
Hey. Yes. Cool. Shut the fuck up.
You're dealing with ideas. People like things. Most people would be happy to read your in-progress novel, or a few scenes out of your screenplay or the first act of your play. That's actually a fun, worthwhile experience. What isn't a fun, worthwhile experience is hearing about the novel that you're "thinking about writing." Because everyone's thinking about writing a novel, and everyone has "an idea for a sweet movie kickin' around in my head that I just need get on paper." Everyone. Because it's really easy to think about writing a novel, and even easier to talk about writing a novel, and really hard to actually do it. If your novel is as clear as you say it is in your head, then write it down and give it to your friends. Until you've actually produced something, you're just working with vague ideas and half-formed characters, and a few concepts and themes you're planning on someday maybe working into a screenplay. No one wants a movie described to them, they want to go to a movie, or read a script.
And your idea might be incredible. Your outer-space/detective pilot that bends genres and challenges what the medium is even capable of accomplishing could be amazing, or your musical about time travel could be what saves Broadway from financial ruin, but until you actually make something, you're just telling your friends about something that might be awesome, someday. Maybe.
That actually -- it's weird to bring this up, but we're talking about screenplays and stuff -- but that actually reminds me of my novel. It's about- Well, it will be about (I haven't really had a chance to get it down on paper yet, I've been really busy because of, like, the economy, and I just moved recently, and 9/11 and so forth), vampires. Or, no, it's not "about" vampires, but there are vampires in it. And it's not trying to cash in on the vampire craze right now, or anything, I'm only using vampires as the protagonists because there are a lot of parallels among traditional vampires and the protagonists of early Russian literature, and that's sort of part of the inspiration for the whole thing. I needed some way to represent those tragic protagonists in a modern, fantastic setting, and vampires were just the clear choice. But it's not about Russia, it's definitely an American story but with, like, a noir edge, like those Raymond Chandler detective stories, although this novel isn't a detective story. But there IS one detective in it, who happens to be a vampire, and I guess that makes it kind of like Angel, but not really, though I'd be lying if I said that show wasn't an influence, an indirect influence, you know? That character- Well, it's hard to describe him because I haven't actually written him down yet, his name is either Carthyle the Conqueror or Jimmy McClaren, I haven't decided, but he's (going to be) a pretty cool character, I think. I don't know if he's a good guy or a bad guy yet, but I know at one point there's going to be a fire where he is, at his apartment or detective agency or whatever, and I'm not sure how the fire starts, but I know that I want a scene where he turns to the girl he's with at the time and the girl is like. "You can't jump out that window, you'll die" and he'll say, "Death, huh? Well, I been lookin' for a change of pace I suppose," and then he dives out the window (and he's fine).
Anyway I think you'd really like it.
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's Senior Writer (ladies), and he would love to tell you more about his novel, Notes from the Underworld (lady publishers).
For more from Dan, check out Nicolas Cage: A Career In (Baffling) Pictures and Diary of a Confused White Man: Who the Hell is Tyler Perry?.