Out of sheer laziness I recently decided to start a Twitter account (@PeterWelle). For eight and a half years, I’ve been trying to write funny posts on this blog, and while I intend to continue, it doesn’t always come easy to me these days. The main issue I wrestle with is finding time to commit to writing anything worthwhile – something written with the richness and aggressive awfulness I find so important to give the world. I’ve got two kids to raise and two jobs to work and two cats to forget to feed. Where does blogging fit into my life?
This Twitter account will be dedicated solely to carefully documenting the strange and unnatural throughts that regularly pass through my head. This way I can quickly fire them out without much work, rather than building a 300-word essay around them like I would if I were blogging. In my first week of tweeting, there ended up being around 50 such efforts (you can read them for yourself or click the link on my blogroll to the right, if you’re dumb).
Long story short, this isn’t the end of the JLP. I’ll still post whenever possible because I like writing and my wife can’t handle my elevated level of weirdness when I haven’t blogged in a while. If you like the JLP, then follow me on Twitter, or better yet, follow me in real life, listening in on my mumbled self-talk and a series lectures delivered in the bathrooms of the Metrodome where I expound on the topic of rabbits.
Do you know what the best part is about having two cats?
No, it’s not all the extra feces another cat produces, nor is it the pattern of one cat peeing on the floor when they decide they don’t like how the other cat has used the litter box. It isn’t the way they woke me up at 5:30 this morning, forcing me out of bed and into my blogging harness. It isn’t the way they contribute absolutely nothing to the human experience, either.
Also, it isn’t the way that they sometimes grind on each other even though their genitals have been disengaged.
Want to know what it is? It’s the fantasy that they might somehow kill each other while my family sleeps and then somehow eat their own remains so that there are no messy consequences left for me to deal with. Wouldn’t that be amazing? It would almost be worth living with two arrogant, idiotic cats that demand attention and insist on waking us up in the middle of the night every night for five years to experience something like that. It would be like M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hands, but in reverse.
Now is not the time to get into the specifics of which cat would initiate the killing cycle or how they would manage a mutual fall down our stairwell but still have enough energy and enmity remaining to go through the disgusting process of eating each other to death. I lay all those details out in an elaborate Power Point presentation I insist on delivering to my wife every night before bed.
Aside from that, there’s really nothing enjoyable about owning two cats. They don’t even fetch as much money on the black market as you’d think they would, given the number of disgraced scientists looking to conduct unethical cat-exploding experiments I imagine there are out there.
Thanks for checking in. I hope you found reading my thoughts to be an enriching experience. Come back next week when I share my opinions on the economy.
Hey gang! Today is my 34th birthday, a good occasion to take stock of things in a clinical, dispassionate manner. As I usually do on this blog, I will now set aside all hyperbole to communicate as accurately and reasonably as possible.
Thus far, my summer has been one of inane pleasantries and falseness. My nights have been filled with desperate longing while my days have been weighed down with hazy tedium. My children arise each morning at the unmerciful hour of 5:30 and I stay up at night reading a book that I despise until my mind can no longer sustain even this meager consciousness.
As unwelcome as a bloated, maggot-infested rabbit carcass tossed on a doorstep, my birthday has arrived. Now 34, I’ve entered the no man’s land of the mid-30s, an age marked by weight gain and an increased enthusiasm for classic rock radio. To celebrate this impending surrender to banality, my wife and I went out to a restaurant, ate some bread pudding for dessert, and submitted ourselves to the void.
And so another year has been notched off on the bloodied leather belt of life. I find myself burdened with unrelenting responsibilities and no closer to achieving my childhood dream of becoming Kirby Puckett’s best friend. Like the debris at the bottom of a box of shredded wheat, my once-fertile ambitions have been crushed into sugary dust. Alone in my desperation, my hopes unfulfilled, I am left searching for comfort in my loving family and generous faith community and enriching career, like a three-legged rottweiler with a post-graduate degree.
Well, now that I’ve hit rock bottom, I guess there’s nothing left to do but to go on a walk with my wife and hold her hand and talk about our life together, like some kind of stupid idiot.
Yesterday I got together for lunch with an old friend I hadn’t seen for five years. Our time together was beautiful, like bacon grease flowing down the Rocky Mountains.
Though the years may have thickened our midsections and shriveled our genitals, the bonds of friendship have remained strong, like a transcontinental railroad of emotions, built by Chinese immigrants and shiftless Irish layabouts. The burgers we ate were the golden railroad spikes that sealed our union, and the succulent beef juices that dribbled down our chins were like the joyful tears of Union Pacific stockholders when the graft-laden government contracts for the rail line were finalized.
My old friend and I regaled one another with tales of our lives from the past few years. Stories of marriage, children, and cat-loathing bandied back and forth, punctuated by hearty smiles and immediately-regretted winks. Our conversation sped wildly but wove a beautiful, geometrically precise story, like a spirograph of friendship. Assuming that the other customers at the restaurant were listening on as we spun our stories, I loudly shouted for everybody to leave us alone. So chastened, they returned to their meals and we to our apple-cheeked conviviality.
At the end of our time together, I took my old friend’s hand in mine and shook it firmly, a long-practiced Western custom. With evenly maintained eye contact and slightly moistened lips, we bid each other farewell and wished one another luck in our future endeavors (for him, impending fatherhood; for me, eating a large block of cheese).
Then, of course, since I don’t know how to quit while I’m ahead, I went to Dairy Queen by myself and ate three Blizzards, thus dooming myself to a long evening on the can.
Distend your jaws, my serpent children, and swallow whole this new offering from Rock TV!
The original pitch for this project was that it would be a short, simple, self-deprecating video. The pastors would rebuke Rock TV for our recent output, we assure them that we’ve got the message, and then proceed to deliver an inexplicable, dark video that alienates all. The writers seemed to like the general idea, and to my recollection, spent much of the first two meetings going over various ideas for the alienating portion of the video that didn’t make it into the final cut. After we were able to get a little meat on the bones and knock out a draft that was starting to look interesting, I contacted Jeromy Darling (one of the founders of our ministry) to see if he’d be interested in playing himself as one of the leaders at the Rock. At this point, the video changed quite a bit.
Jeromy wrote me an email with a dozen great, bizarre joke ideas that made him look like an arrogant weirdo that were quickly incorporated in the script. Furthermore, when we arrived at the shoot, Jeromy kept the strange ideas coming (the best example of this was the bit where he insists we drink the camel’s milk concoction). It was all twisted and hilarious, but the run time for that meeting scene eventually stretched to the 4 minute mark. This is obviously too long, but the editing team liked it all so much we just decided to roll with it and include 90% of the stuff we shot.
As for the two videos-within-the-video, I’m supremely fond of both. The Banana Reads Minds, the dark “art film” was shot mostly without my involvement. Melissa Johnson did an awesome job capturing the awful strangeness of such films and creating something as close to being Kubrickian as we’ve ever done. (Incidentally, that’s my son Oliver running past the screen at the end). The other short film, “Applied Proverbs”, made me laugh hysterically as I edited it alone in my basement on a Saturday night. It was not me at my most sophisticated, but there’s just something about that moment where the guy riding that huge dumpster gets his head smashed by the overhang – how exactly was that intended to end up?
In short, there’s a bunch of gags and bits that I love in this one. The flaws, as I see them, are that it goes on a little too long and it doesn’t really have a point. If there is a point, it’s that nobody seems to know how to really make a video that truly works (which is more or less true).
-While we were shooting, I couldn’t get through Jeromy saying “It’s awful” with a straight face. There’s just something so off-putting about it that I can’t get over.
-Blaming my co-leader Ryan Pickett for the ministry’s recent weirdness was a bit of an in-joke, but it got a big laugh at the Rock. Ryan’s more popular than we thought, I guess.
-There was initially more stuff going on between Will (playing a dim junior partner) and myself (the beleaguered veteran), but much of it was dropped in the later drafts of the script and in editing as the video became more about us being put upon by these really strange guys.
-Will asking me if I’ve ever tried Big Red gum is the exact kind of line that I love. Nobody else really cares for it, but since I get the final edit, it’s in there.
I recently had the pleasure of reading historian Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West & the Rest. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Ferguson is an acclaimed Scottish financial historian who now teaches at Harvard and seems to have a cottage industry of hosting documentary series for the BBC. His book (like Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage & Culture) seeks to explain the so-called Great Divergence in wealth, power, and standard of living that catapulted Western civilizations beyond the rest of the world over the past 500 years, particularly China and the Muslim world. He points to a set of six cultural institutions or concepts mastered by the West to explain its preeminence: competition, science, property (a baseline for rule of law and democracy), medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic. As an analogy and a hook, he characterizes these as “killer apps” the West has developed that non-Western societies can download (as has been the case in many parts of the Far East) and that Western societies themselves can delete.
The book reads quickly, filled with unexpected left turns and tantalizing tangents. It’s like being led by the hand by a brilliant instructor who doesn’t quite have enough time to get in all the fun stuff he’d like to impart. Along the way toward making his argument, Ferguson covers topics like the popularization of blue jeans, the French Revolution (it was Rousseau’s fault!), the divergence between North and South America, and why Gandhi was full of crap. At times, this approach can be a little too clever. There were moments during the “Medicine” chapter where I had to remind myself what the topic of that section was as Ferguson was going on about late-period colonialism in Africa. Such complaints are slight, however. This book made a deep impression on me, and it has quickly been incorporated into my high school world history class syllabus.
This talk by Ferguson to a TED conference gives a good overview of the style and arguments of the book. It starts a bit slow, but quickly becomes compelling – the power of these ideas is remarkable.
Some scattered tidbits from the text that I enjoyed and will defend to my death:
-To me, the most tantalizing and potent chapter of the book was his examination of the killer app of competition. In it, he contrasts the fabulously successful, monolithic state of Ming China and the famous pre-Columbian world explorations of Zheng He with the petty, squabbling states of 15th century Europe. From there, he traces how the dynamic of competition (between states, between companies, between religious groups, etc.) benefitted Europe’s development step by step, while the lack of any such competition in China led to it becoming what Adam Smith called “a stationary state”. While competition certainly made European explorers, merchants and missionaries more ruthless and cutthroat, it also made them far more successful, influential, and in the end benefitted far more people.
-One of the books interesting asides has Ferguson compare the West’s relative luck in leisure drugs. In the 16th & 17th centuries, already increasingly industrious Europeans were introduced to stimulants like tobacco and caffiene. Meanwhile, China began its struggles with the engorged lethargy and whispy mustaches of the opium dens. In unrelated news, Niall Ferguson loves meth.
-Near the end of the book, Ferguson muses on the end of the West’s preeminence that we appear to be living through. He questions whether we as Westerners are still able to recognize the power and superiority of the institutions we have inherited. Too many Westerners today shrug this away and forget that, as he writes, “no civilization has done a better job of finding and educating the geniuses that lurk in the far right-hand tail of the distribution of talent in any human society.” (324) He ends the book with a call for a reaffirmation of our Western heritage.
-Other, less herlded Western innovations: corn dogs and kissing with tongue.
-Ferguson dedicates his book to his wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the famous Somali-Dutch activist and critic of Islam who, he says, “understands better than anyone I know what Western civilization really means.” Unconfirmed, unspoken, and untraceable reports as of the time of this posting, however, indicate that Ferguson actually wanted to dedicate the book to me but his wife wouldn’t let him.
-Whereas Chinese society was built on Confucianism and Islamic societies built on the Qur’an, Western society is built on texts by Isaac Newton, John Locke, Adam Smith, Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare and the ideas therein. Ferguson also tosses in the speeches of Lincoln and Churchill for good measure, along with the King James Bible. He pointedly questions whether our schools emphasize these enough for our students to understand the forces that have driven the last 500 years.
-My lone addition to that list of Western civilization’s defining works: Metallica’s Ride the Lightning.