Monday, December 16, 2013

6 reasons why you fail at being happy

Pictured: 6 pounds of repressed hatred.
If decades happened like office parties, they'd be full of people you don't really want to mingle with and a vague smell of deviled eggs. Also, they'd have a theme.
If you're to believe what you see on social media, TV and your local bookstore, you'll find this decade's theme rather self evident: happiness.

When the 90s and 00s™©® were dedicated to success (whatever that word means now), happiness, peace of mind and inner balance have climbed up the charts, seemingly holding tight on the top positions.

But then, if happiness is all around, why are you feeling like writing songs about raven feathers softly smothering the cold autumn of your dying heart? Why is that your immediate future looks like a mountain made entirely of bear traps and songs by Justin Timberlake?I've asked myself these questions more than once, for years. Surprisingly enough, for someone whose IQ is slightly higher than your average oyster's, I have found answers.

These answers have helped me do stuff I like, and go through major challenges (read: raging shitstorms) while keeping both my feet on the ground most of the time. I am now writing for a living, in a city ranked among the top 10 best places to live in Asia (15.000 km from my home town), and I started all that with no baggage but an empty purse and clinical depression.

If, all of a sudden, I was sent back in time to face a younger, confused and slightly less handsome version of me, these are the six reasons I would give him before freaking out.

1) You feel obliged to be happy

Ain't peer pressure a bitch?

Your first cigarette, shot of whisky, satanic ritual… might all be rooted in your thinking that if everybody around you does something, it might be the right thing to do. Worse, not doing it might even make you feel abnormal.
Maslow said it before me (duh), being accepted is, like, super important. No, you're not likely to make many friends if you're one of those emo freaks complaining about the strangely beautiful brittleness of human condition.

Nobody escapes The Pyramid.
So there you go, you try showing your best side, all the time, even if you woke up late this morning, only to find out that your pre-commute rush would be devoid of milk, cereal, or hot water, and realized only halfway to your office that today is actually Sunday.
Dealing with the rest of the day will get the best of you, you'll later complain about having to act all the time, wear a smiling mask and deal with some serious frustration.
After all, your 600 Facebook friends are all boasting about how magic their day is, and it would somewhat turn you into a party pooper if you didn't join in. Nobody likes a sad freak, right?

So what?

Express yourself gosh darn it! Nothing is always bright, nothing is always right. That includes you and, news flash, all off the 600 poseurs who posted their daily motivational sunrise picture on your timeline.
Don't let it fool you, they are not posting these messages to share the joy, but because they need to show you they are happy too. Yup, peer pressure works for them, too.
Let it flow, be angry when you feel angry, sad when you feel sad, and glad when you feel glad. Donning the happy costume will only be as useful as your first cigarette.

Pictured: Happy feet.
Most importantly, find your own way of doing so. We're all different, to some extend, and if I delight in hunting baby seals to relieve my stress, you might prefer water painting.
Although, doing so might prove a tad harder than it seems since…

2) You shun negative emotions

It's only logical. Trying to look happy all the time will have you bury everything negative at the bottom of the "Bad" bucket.
Problem: the more you'll want to bury your bad feeling, the quicker they'll surface back, right when you really don't need them.
You'll find yourself irritated all the time, and most importantly, you'll feel wrong about both the feelings you're trying to repress and the ensuing bad mood.
Of course, feeling bad about feeling bad won't make anything better. This circle is so vicious it eats puppies for breakfast. Depressive puppies. And you're next on the menu if you keep it up.

So what?

Start by accepting that you can indeed bear negative emotions every now and then. After all even Superman went through a phase (probably after realizing that not a single movie based on him is even half entertaining).
Then, try changing your perspective. Bad feelings are not there to make your life a living, circular hell; they are signals intended to alert you when something goes wrong.
Pain? Your body is being armed, do something. Sadness? Something is missing. Fill the hole. Anger? Things are escaping your control, either let go or fix it.

You'll realize very soon that seeing negative emotions as pointers to a problem is much more helpful than downright denial, especially if you're looking for solutions.
After all, you drink when you're thirsty, right? (Yes, water.)
With these basics covered, it should be enough to set you happiness as a goal. Or not. Why? Well, exactly because...

3) You see happiness as goal

To paraphrase Rain Wilson in the arguably bad movie "Super",
"I kind of think happiness is overrated. People spend their whole lives chasing it because it's the most important thing in the world."
This quote kind of sums it up.

See, happiness is much more comparable to a drug high than a week long beach holiday. When you're happy, your brain releases a cartload of feel good hormones (serotonin, dopamine, why, even endorphin) which will make you feel like your life is finally complete, that tomorrow will welcome a new dawn of glitters and skyfalling gold coins…

Until the next morning shows you no more than a big ball of flaming gas hovering in the sky.
That moment always feels wrong. You should be in a good mood all the time, and every tomorrow should be as great as you expect it to be.
Only, that's not likely to happen.

This asshole will ruin your day.
The release of these mood boosting hormones you're so badly craving for is temporary and if we need them to be fully functional in society, we can't expect them as anything but as… a byproduct.
If you're only expecting your future to be brighter on the pretense that it HAS TO BE SO, you're in for a huge disappointment and, most likely, you're under the influence of the oh so nasty impact bias

So how?

You don't feel good just because. You feel good thanks to something. Whether your goal is to save the world, get filthy rich or stop working and smoke pot for the rest of your life, reaching it will trigger the bliss, until you get bored of it and find a new one.

Hopping from target to target, be it as mundane as having a killer breakfast or as life changing as having your twelfth pair of twins, will make you feel alive and keep you looking forward rather than brooding about [insert anything that could have been better "if only"].

There is a difference, though, between having goals and being "caught in the rat race", and it might very well be that...

4) You're racing for achievements

And you might not even see it, even as you're reading these lines. Why? Achievement is a good thing! It helps us go forward, grow into better persons, have better lives and we're conditioned to chase that dragon since our first graded tests, or even before (see what I did here?)
'Worst', 'worse', 'better', 'best'… these words are bad enough when they start defining our relationship to the 'outside world', and more often than not, they are hiding behind their big bully of a cousin: 'more'.
As in "running after more, better things, always"

To illustrate the dangers of this combination, let's take the totally (not) inoffensive example of casual mobile games (tell me you saw this one coming).

Sometimes around 2009, the Evil Consortium of Evil Game Developers let out an evil memo stating that if games could serve their players a lot of little rewards for not effort cost at all, they'd tap into our instinctive attraction toward "better" and "more" at once, and make us pay for it.
Achievement unlocked: Farmville was born.

Now ask yourself how you feel when you're advancing in this non-game and its ilk (Candy Crush, I'm pointing at you, with an angry Oompa Loompa armed and ready to use).
Ask yourself, then, whether the feeling you get is par with how better you life has become since you've started playing.

You'll be inclined to think three things:
  • It feels good, so why should you care?
  • Holy shit I've lost so much time on this!
  • Bloody murder, I've lost so much time on so many stuff that don't make me feel twice as good and don't improve my life half as much!

On one hand, you'll quickly realize that you don't need high achievements to feel good, but on the other hand, you'll freak out thinking of how your time could have been spent on more rewarding things, that can actually change the way you see life for longer than the interval between two harvests.

FarmVille is the mind-killer. FarmVIlle is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my FarmVille. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where FarmVIlle  has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

It's really a matter of balance between feeling good and doing well. A balance heavily thrown off by tons of 'more' and 'better'.

So what?

Realizing that you only have 24 hours a day and so many days in your life could be a good start. Piling up more targets than you can run after won't help. Running after targets you can walk after won't help either.
I'm not saying you should stop being ambitious, or stop learning things. But the day you find yourself drowning in a sea of cortisol (or booze, or both), wondering how to keep up with work, friends, private life, yoga, fundraisers, office parties, man hunts, Facebook games and baking contests… may be the day you need to figure out what's really working for you.
Which could be trickier than you think since, very probably...

5) You're living up to someone else's standards

A car big enough to fit a whole circus, a house big enough to fit a circus, it's cousins and their pets, a TV flatter and bigger than [mom joke goes here] and the last set of deluxe raisin coring set as seen on the shopping channel… you've got everything you need. Or not.

"We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like"
I didn't say that. Chuck Palahniuk made Tyler Durden say it in "Fight Club" (book and movie).

This quote concerns lifestyle and career as much as it does material belongings, as proven by many American comedies where the main protagonist or Adam Sandler has to choose between career and family, with peace of mind and happiness being weighed against a fifth APV (spoiler: they usually get to keep the four first cars).

Living up to other's standards is the protein mix you drink after your peer pressure drills. A formidable guilt enhancer, which will insure a maximal frustration/effort ratio for every goal you reach.
Reaching a target for which you don't care a fig (whether it's a surviving a karaoke night or a winning a football game) will leave you with the satisfaction of a job well done (after all you've done something) along with the knowledge that you will be asked more of the same later, and the intense frustration occurring when you don't feel fulfilled at all. Which is kind of funny, since not reaching that same target will also melt your self esteem into a sad little puddle. Once again, thank you, peer pressure.

Pictured: Self esteem in a peer pressure prone work environment.

It gets hilarious (if your sense of humor is so sick it regularly sneezes at you) when you start failing at doing things you feel obligated to do, but don't like to begin with. Failure will make you feel unappreciated, and you will compensate by either trying to do more of that compulsory chore -who knows you might get good at it even if you hate it- or by doing something else fulfilling everyone's expectations but yours. Like trying hard to not get mad, get mad anyway, and boast on Facebook that you learned a valuable lesson and will keep your cool longer next time, then try to take some extra mediation classes when you really could have used the money on something really relaxing (whatever floats your boat, just remember that nothing floats on Vodka).

Finding the reason you got mad and cutting the problem at its roots could be better, but what if the problem is that you are trying to enforce standards you don't really want to live by?
Hope you've been packing snacks, the guilt trip can be pretty long.

So what?

The reason I took video games as an example earlier is that they are a closed system, a system with its own objectives, reachable within its own rules and context.
What makes closed systems interesting is that they all exist inside another closed system, on which they depend. You can play a game within a game within a game, each with their own rule set, but ultimately, all these games exist inside, well, the real world. And in the real world, you get to chose the rules.

True, you won't find a place on earth where murder or theft is regarded kindly, but pretty much all the rest depends on your local law and your personal inclination towards not being too much of an asshole.

Guess what? There's nothing written in any law that prevents you from going tap dancing when all your friends are watching a game. There's nothing wrong with not wanting, not racing, and not entering a pissing contest equipped with someone else's dong (you're welcome). All these behaviors are rules belonging to closed systems. Whether you play or not is your choice alone.
On the more scientific side of the question, a certain Erik Erikson, who taught psychoanalysis at Harvard as a day job, and at Yales on the side, has established a list of "Virtues" we need to acquire in order to maintain stable, balanced lives.

If intimacy, integrity and purpose make the list, ability to smile when hearing bad news and amount of leisure boats owned are strangely absent.
All that to say: some things things make you happy, some things don't, get more of the former, less of the latter.

I know a good shortcut to sort them out: it if helps you wake up in the morning, it's probably good for you.
Well, good for you as long as you remember to interact with 'the outside world', that is. None of the above advices will help if…

6) You're self centered to the point of implosion

I don't mean you're an egoist. I mean that you listen to yourself too much, and base everything you do upon what you hear.
Stop smoking, stop drinking, stop complaining, stop feeling so bad, eat less, drink less soda, watch your mood, work more, work out more, smile more, learn more… and be happy, that's an order from you to yourself! Are you still here? You don't see it, but at this point, your navel is gazing back at you, asking you to stop because you're making it uncomfortable.

You've come to believe that everything happening to you is your own and sole responsibility. Gained weight? You ate too much. Got sick? You didn't rest enough. A tornado pries off the roof of your house? You should have lived elsewhere.
In the movie of your life, after a still of your roof flying in the sunset while singing the lonesome cowboy song, the camera will zoom out from your rain and tears soaked face, electronics exploding in slow motion in the background, voicing the shame you feel at not being able to stop a storm all by yourself with your best dramatic line: "I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED!".

That's how it goes. Every little thing that should be all right and ends tits up is your responsibility, every big thing as well. Things should be in control. Yours.
I can't blame you. Anyone looking for advice on the topic will face a wall of DOs and DONTs screaming back at them. This wall is the ultimate trap, barring the way to any real development, keeping you safely held within yourself.

So what?

Listen, there ARE things such as luck, randomness and
many other things you cannot control, even remotely.
No matter how connected you feel to the Universe, I can assure you the Universe doesn't feel the same about you and keeps on happening behind your back.

Supernovas, for instance, are bursting without us about 900 times every five minutes without asking for our permission. Around 7 billions people live their lives, constantly taking actions which will influence other's path in life, be it in a way as negligible as serving the wrong kind of cheese in your burger or as major as losing control of their school bus.
The complexity of life on earth is so ridiculously high that, from our brain's point of view, we're facing chaos.

We can chose to deny it, try finding every possible pretext to link everything happening to us with our own actions, or accept that we're way in over our heads and focus on things we can actually influence, like a bestial breakfast after a night of yummy sex.

This is a map of the Internet, we haven't even started with the 'outside world' yet.

You can stop reading here.

That's it folks, that's my take on happiness.
Hope it helped you, or a friend, or their pets. Tell me in the comments.
Now since there's only 24 hours in a day an so many days left in my life, imma bake meself a strumpet. Cheers!

More info, more cake and still no lemon at Without a Lemon's Facebook Page

Creative Commons License
6 reasons why you fail at being happy by Danny Hefer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why "Suit and Tie" from Justin Timberlake is really about cross-dresser rape.

Alright. I don't usually rant much in here. But this blog is about writing, and I do believe whoever wrote this song "Suit and Tie", sung(?) by Justin Timberlake,  managed to create the most hideous musical creature since anything sung by Miten.

Now, I know that not many people listen to song lyrics like they did in the sixties, when things would still make a little sense even on acid. Still, I can but wonder what kind of producer would allow such a monstrosity to be born without the help of heavy medication, acute deafness and a probable concussion.

Unless is contains a message about transgender rape advocacy.
Which I'm convinced it does, read on to know why.

For reasons mostly legal, I cannot transcribe all of the lyrics here. Don't worry, though, I chose for you the best of the worst. Try to not do anything you'd regret after reading. Oh, and I commented. Of course I did.

"I be on my suit and tie, shit tie, shit tie"

Okay, you've been saying that for a while now, and I really want to know, are you really that mad at your tie? Or is wearing a tie so traumatizing it induces short term memory losses, and you get surprised every time you see it?

"Can I show you a few things, a few things, a few things, little baby? / 'Cause... / I be on my suit and tie, shit tie, shit"

I'll go for the memory loss explanation. Or your tie is made of fecal matter. I'm good with both.

"I can't wait 'til I get you on the floor, good-looking"

That's what I like about love songs. A good old knuckle sandwich. That's boding well for the rest of the evening. Hope you've got some roofies left in your stash.

"Going hot, so hot, just like an oven"

What women really like to be compared with, is ovens. I don't know, there's this thing with women and kitchen, it just turns them on. Just like an oven (Oh shit I can do it too! Shit oven! Shit Oven!)

"Hey baby, we don't mind all the watching, ha
Cause if they study close, real close
They might learn something"

Nothing about songwriting, I fear.

"She ain't nothing but a little doozie when she does it"

That, I don't get. Who's that little doozie you're talking about? I thought you were addressing that girl you just punched unconscious ? Or is this memory thing playing tricks on you again?

"And you're dressed in that dress I like
Let me show you a few things
Show you a few things about love"

Recap: your tie made of feces gives you memory holes, you want to knock down a lady while people are watching, you're calling her an oven and your weirdly deviant concept of love suggests that there's more? Want!

"Stop, let me get a good look at it
Oh, so thick, now I know why they call it a fatty"

HAH! So that's the surprise! A PENIS! Here it is! That's the first song about cross-dresser rape I've ever half-listened to!

"I guess they're just mad cause girl, they wish they had it"

Ehr. Not to disappoint you but… Oh well to each their own, I guess.

[Verse 3: Jay-Z]

Here I could copy-paste the whole lyrics up to the copyright infringement level, and you would still think I took them one line at the time from different sources. 25 lines of the most obscure references possible. Or ties. Maybe it has something to do with those bloody ties. Chosen morsels:

"Nothing exceeds like excess"


"Stoute got gout from having the best of the best"

Yup! Wait… what?

"Years of distress, tears on the dress
Trying to hide her face with some make up sex"

Face goes where again?!

"This is truffle season
Tom Ford tuxedos for no reason"

Pray, I never!

"Alexander Wang too"

Oooh, Wang too sounds like 'one two'. But then the name is Asian, so that's not racist...right?


Best part of the song. 

JT, you've successfully convinced me that the only valuable lyrics here pertain to an act as despicable as it is disturbing. That you would like to sing about is escapes my logic by digging holes it in with rusty power tools. I would award you with the "Worst song of the decade" award, but, looking at things realistically, I am pretty sure you will not stop there. 

Dear readers, you might want to share this post around, and let people realize how distressingly weak is the music some of them are listening.  Tie listening, tie listening, tie listening.

More info, more cake and still no lemon at Without a Lemon's Facebook Page

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A taste of Saint Melies

"You must be new here", the gruff man told me.
I'd been sitting at the bar for the best of an hours, with no one to talk to, nothing to do next, and not really knowing how to start investigating. That first contact, bold as it was, relieved some of my boredom. Even sitting on a high stool, I could see the man was at least a head taller than me. All beard and wrinkles, salt and pepper hair over a leathered face, he was smiling, looking genuinely amused.
"As a matter of fact I am. I arrived here a couple of hours ago. A friend from England told me I'd like it here." I answered in a broken French.
"Oh, you're friend with the Brit aren't you?" His smile grew wider.
"If you mean Adrian, then that's a yes. Twenty years and counting"
Gruff turned around on his seat, facing the room "Hey, Pierre, Francis, guess what! The Brit has friends!".
I couldn't really distinguish who was Pierre or Francis between the bad yellow lighting and the cigarette smoke clouding-up the place, but it didn't matter: the whole crowd, a full house, welcomed the news with a cascade of laughers. Some even applauded.

To tell you the truth, their reaction didn't quite surprise me.
A couple of weeks ago, I'd received an email from Adrian:

Subject: One fucking scoop 
Hi there old sausage.
How long has it been? A year?
Anyway. If you're still working in the papers, and if you want some bare bizarre stuff to write about, try Saint Melies, France. They don't have a hotel, so you'll want to sleep in your car. Stay there a while and ask the locals about their bloody village. You're already curious about it, I know you are. You'll understand when you get there.
Me? I arrived this morning, and I'm on my way out. Place is full of cuckoos.
Updates later. 
Delicatlessly yours,
PS: You still speak French don't you?
PPS: Tread carefully.

He didn't appear to have made any friend...

Of course I was curious. Journalists tend to be. I didn't care about the magazine's theme of the month. I took a leave and jumped in a plane. A place that could give old Add the heebie-jeebies, I had to see it on my own. I needed some time off anyway. What the hell, right?

So there I was, jet lagged, at the end of an endless train ride and three hours lost in the mountains in my rental car, looking at my appealing stew and my appalling interlocutor, who was in the process of shaking my hand.

"I'm Raymond. My friends call me Raymond, but you can call me Sir". Everyone let out another roaring laughter.
"Don't worry", he added, trying to look reassuring, "I'm a tease like that. Let me get you some wine."
I didn't refuse.
"So, what brings you here, mister friend of Adrian?"
"Taking some holidays…" Somehow I didn't feel like telling them the truth. Somehow, I figured it wouldn't have been well received. "I'm writing a book", I finally blurted, "And I need some peace of mind to focus on the story. Quite a complex topic, really".
His smile vanished. Everybody's smile vanished.
I didn't understand the reason behind the sudden gloom, but I'd apparently covered an uncomfortable truth with an equally uncomfortable lie.

"Oh. Another one uh" Raymond spit out, "The artsy type uh? Making air and selling air and never being useful for nothing but spreading lies uh?" All eyes were on me, expecting an explanation, mouth were pouting in disgust or smirking in expectancy of an apology. Not knowing what to answer, I let out a nervous chortle and blurted yet another lie "It's a scientific paper, about high explosives. I've got all the data and I need to write them down. I can't do that at home, not with my wife around".
Would that one work? Or did they also have something against scientists? "Everybody likes blowing up stuff, right?" I added, in desperation, "A drop of the substance I'm working on in you beer, and the bang will launch a typewriter to the moon and back right into the writer's butt at twice the speed of a rabit's fuck". That, worked. Gruff Raymond spit his brew back in his glass and slapped his knee, almost falling down. The others followed, and resumed their alcoholised chit-chat as soon as they caught their breath.
Where was I? What was this place and what were these people? Adrian was right, there was some fantastic material. If not for an article, at least for a story.

"Sorry for that… for a moment we thought…"
- "You thought I was an author, I get it", I interrupted. "What I don't get is, why is it a problem?"
Raymond's face flushed, and for a moment he stood silent.
He broke his musing with a saddened tone. "Really, I apologize for all that. I guess I owe you some clarifications. But first let me ask you something: Have you ever heard of Saint Melies before?"
- "I can't say I have". I answered slowly, weighting my words.
- "You wouldn't. Nobody knows us anymore. They knew our parents though… well, for a while at least. Look, I guess you haven't seen the place yet, but how old do you think this town is?"
- "I don't know much about French architecture, but I'd say a couple of hundred years at least?"
- "Sixty years."
He gulped the rest of his pint and ordered another one, quaffing half of it without even removing the foam spilt in his beard.
"In the forties, this place was nothing. Nothing at all. Land. After the war though… In 1953, some lad looking for his lost dog went missing. Later, he was found shot right between the eyes, in a spot not a hundred meters from this pub. There was an investigation, and then the police found it. A hole in the ground, hidden by bushes, going on forever. Inside there, was a skinny, bereaved man in a German Infantry uniform, enough weapons to arm a battalion and, on the walls, paintings older than the first alphabet." He paused again. This time, I felt, for effect. "Can you imagine?" he asked, lifting his arms to the ceiling, "A local man killed by a German soldier lost for four years in a cave full of ammo and prehistoric paintings?" He rolled his eyes. "That, went all over the news before the day ended. Nobody talked about anything but the Cave German for weeks. A couple of months later, a film crew came-in to shoot a documentary. Maybe it sounds quite normal, but there is something you have to know about the producer: the bastard had amassed a fortune during the war, presumably for transporting all sort of things to both Axis and Allies, including information and prisonners. He barged in with a massive retinue and literraly a ton of equipment. It started well, I heard. But the man wasn't half as sane as he was demanding, and not half as demanding as he was demented. He wanted better film, better equipment, a better crew. He ended up buying the land to build his own permanent studio."

Were was my laptop? Were was my pencil, my notebook? How comes nobody knew of this place already? Year 1953… That was it, I had to look for archives, I needed sources. I was starting to enjoy Rude Raymond's company. After syphoning his third pint, he went on.

"That mad idiot finished his documentary -which was lost to the public for some reason, and started dreaming about films. First he built a warehouse for props and gears. Soon, houses, for the crew and actors. All 'historically accurate'. It had to look old, believable, he used the place as a movie set… Imbecil.
Of course, you can't keep that many people in one place without attracting business. Some outsiders came to settle. Before long the town had a butcher, a doctor, a market… Even a couple of farmers were called in to breed cattle and grow produce… All sponsored by the Producer. People married, kids were born. Ten years later, the town was christened "Saint Melies".
- "That's quite an unusual story but…"
- "But you've heard nothing yes, there's more. Did you notice that I haven't mentioned school, post office… or a town hall?
Think: You have a whole town full of actors and film crew, all working for the same person, shooting movies all day. All the buildings belong to that same person, as well as the land…  it's a compound, in the middle of nowhere, without identity, without legal status… what do you think happened when the Producer died?" I let myself think for a moment, trying to find a logical answer to his question. "I don't get it", I finally said, "The system should have collapsed, right? Without films to shoot, there would be no job for actors, they would just go home, along with the shopkeepers, the farmers and their kids, right?"
He moved his face forward until his nose could almost touch mine and whispered, in a low voice smelling of sour beer "Wrong".

A fourth pint in hand, his voice thicker and deeper than a moment ago, he continued "The Producer's movies were bombs. All of them. But the man had connections… the price of his silence over some delicate intelligence had kept on inflating his pockets. He had made enough money to support the whole village for a couple of decades. After his death, we found out he'd written a will: Salaries would keep on flowing in… as long as nobody left town. His 'legacy had to be preserved', the will said. One single soul left, and everybody was out of a job, lost in god-forsaken rural France. He'd been working his men like a tyrant for years, and all of a sudden they could get paid for doing nothing. Figuring out what happened isn't hard: everybody stayed. They'd been cut off society for an eternity anyway, staying was safer, easier. So they stayed. All of them. They had it good. Us… not so much. Remember what I told you about not having a town hall? Look around you. None of us drunkard has a a social security number, or an ID card… not even a birth certificate." He peeked inside his now empty glass. "We don't exist."

A whole village, full of walking, talking ghosts! A fucking scoop alright! By then, I wished I cold have kissed Adrian on the mouth. A couple of pictures the next day would complete the article, and I'd get myself a name as soon as it was up. Oh, alright, it would take some more fact checking, I had to dig deeper. If I managed to hide my jubilation, I might get some more details. My mouth was still agape when Raymond stood up.

"Now come outside, your food's on my tab. I'll show you why we don't like artists in here."
- "A-alright". I didn't fake my stutter -of excitement, as opposed to the consternation Raymond expected me to share.

When we came out, the sun was already setting, giving an eerie atmosphere to the transition between the smoky inside of the pub and the fresh air of the countryside. To my astonishment, after five pints (that I knew of), my self-appointed guide was steady on his feet, walking up the town's main street at a resolute pace. The road's asphalt was coarse, in some places giving way to wild grass, turning into gravel. By the short walkways' side, houses made of uncut stones and mortar were sternly looking at us. Evening shadows dropping over heavy wooden doors and window shutters turned them into grotesque face, frowning below their mossy tiled roofs. A couple of antique cars were parked along the way, models I hadn't seen anywhere but in old magazines. Ahead of us, a worn-out sign spelled "Boucherie" in decaying, old school typography. Raymond headed for the deli and kneeled before the front door, pointing at something on the ground, near the doorstep. A 10 Francs coin, a currency made obsolete by the newer Euro.

"This" he said while picking it up, "is why we hate writer, authors, directors…" He carefully replaced the coin back on the ground. "When the Producer died, this place was divided in two groups. The Crew people, the one with a salary, and the ones selling them things. The Crew people are all dead now, you see. So there is no salary anymore. The traders, they left when they went out of business. Oh, they'd taught some of us, so we still can sustain ourselves. But the town hall isn't the only thing we're lacking. We don't have a bank, or a school, or a post office… things change slowly here. When the news came that our currency had changed, it was way too late to exchange it. We were already self sufficient, we became independent. Against our will. So here we are. Leaving coins for the least fortunate of us. The ones that clean up our trash, carry our waste. Funny people, them. They're the youngest among us, but they don't know anything, they don't want to, either. They clean up. That's all.
If they don't find that coin in front of your door when they come to collect your garbage, they think you don't want them anymore. They get offended, they go 'on strike', they start 'begging'. They call it that. 'Don't make us beg'. What they mean is 'Don't let us break in your house and let you know how hungry we are, and upset'. Needless to say they can get really upset. When we're out of coins we borrow. It's not a big deal as long as you don't forget. Usually you only get to forget once. When you do, eventually you'll remind the whole community, from the top of your voice. The reminder never lasts long, but generally it's loud enough to be remembered. We all abide. No choice. So our coins disappear along with our garbage, reappear when the beggars buy something, and it goes on and on. We can take care of any other problem but that one. No education, nothing to do, our youth is regressing."

I felt a chill going down my spine. I'd expected to find something bizarre, I'd expected feeling disoriented. I hadn't expected stepping into a locale lost in time, at the mercy of a group of extortionist scavengers. I found some solace knowing that the only working car around was the one I'd rented earlier. Staying a fortnight would be way more than enough.
Before I could finish my though, Raymond had produced a key and was unlocking the deli's door.
"We're almost there. I live upstairs, but what I want to show you is in the back" he pointed toward a metallic door at the far side of the shop. "See, since we're literally trapped here, with not contact with the rest of the world but some lost tourist, there are things we can't allow. For instance, if an outsider picks up a coin, thinking it's fallen out of some pocket, we're almost sure to see a friend beaten up. Or dead. Or worse. That's why I'm explaining you all that, so you don't make a dumb mistake." He looked even taller than before in the half-darkness of the store, but still I had difficulty following his bulky figure, let alone see what was before the steel door he'd opened for me. I became aware of an acrid smell, the smell of meat.
He switched on the light.

"That's what happens when the begging starts. That's why we don't like people who write air. They created this community with air, and left us with nothing but air. Air, and what's in front of you"
In front of me was the body of a man. What was left of it. Drained of its blood, its translucent skin revealed the network of veins beneath. It dangled mid-air, suspended by a butcher's hook poking though his right collarbone. Its legs were severed at the hip and its neck had been twisted so far I could only see the back of its head. I retched.
"This one… we never knew how he came in." he continued, impassible. "One morning he was there, asking questions, looking for a house to buy. It lasted a couple of hours, then he picked up a coin… "
It rotated slowly when Raymond shoved it. I saw its face. Adrian had never left Saint Melies, someone had seen to it.
"Obviously, with our meager cattle and the little game we have, we seldom eat meat. So why waste this one? Did you enjoy your stew, earlier? It's tastier near the spine, but I've always thought thighs were perfect for stew."

Five pints of beer don't make for a fast runner. A fast runner will make for a hell of a story. That is, if he can pick up his car keys, which are still in his coat, in the bar. And if he doesn't, he'll still make for a hell of a headline… I can almost read it already: "A Taste of Saint Melies".

More info, more cake and still no lemon at Without a Lemon's Facebook Page

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

5 ways smiling is very much like sex

Yesterday, the memory of a chain email I received years ago came back to me for no apparent reason. The message was all about how awesome smiles are, and how the power of our zygotes would change the world while we rode on rainbow-colored sea lions.

Now that I can't open my Facebook timeline without reading about happiness and how wonderful life is, I feel compelled to let my inner lover tell you the real reason why smiling is awesome: because it's almost exactly like sex.

1) It's better when it's free.


The same is also true for your daily pound of cocaine, but then again, it takes only four muscles to smile whereas driving to your  dealer still costs you a thirty minutes drive and a couple of spare septums.

The same way I've never really liked spending half a year of earning on that veteran *cough* escort *cough* from my local red light district, I find her post-transaction smile rather difficult to appreciate and totally not worth the 20% tip.

My grandmother, on the other hand, smiles all the time, just because she likes it. She genuinely makes me want to smile back, and I always do so provided herpes is not tearing my mouth apart.

Also yes, talking about paid sex, cocaine and my grandma in the same paragraph is disturbing.

2) There is no real alternative to it


Sometimes, however you contort your face, your smile will not show:  You're wearing a full helmet, you're conversing via instant messenger or more realistically, Uncle Peter has once again fed you polymer glue instead of your morning cheerios…

Of course, in front of a screen, you have the choice of typing a whole range of nonsensical abbreviations… but what if you're part of a face-to-face conversation? Do you hop in circles while singing a happy song? Do you punch a clown in the face? Do you write "LOL" on your forehead?

One can think of many ways, but, just like with sex, nothing is as good as the real deal, not even an abnormal muscle growth on your left forearm.

3) It's a perfect way to test your oral hygiene


Whether your pearly white dentition is the pride of your lineage, or tentacles wildly spread from your unflossed interstices, all it takes is 2 seconds to know if your mouth is a sanctuary of freshness or a Chtulhu Du Jour a la Garlic.
Notice that if reactions may vary depending on where you are at, getting waterboarded with mouthwash may happen anywhere.

4) It doesn't really help when someone forces it on you.


One of the most traumatic events in my life involves a rather large regroupment of hippies and a bald, older man greeting me with the facial equivalent of an upside down shark attack dipped in valium. Greetings went as follow:

"So very nice to meet you my friend"
-"Let go of my hand. NOW!"

His way of smiling somehow managed to unite smugness, authentic care, total contempt and years of LSD abuse in one suave feat of labial coordination.

The feeling that ensued got me picturing the man pulling my mood by the neck, trying to french kiss it while gurgling a cheesy pick-up line about making me a woman soon.

Since I have this pet peeve about avoiding castration, physical or mental, I left the place as soon as I could, regretting to have given that bald freak a shake from the hand I usually masturbate with.

5) It's only valuable when triggered by a shared, hartfelt intent.


When the mood's not there, the mood's not there. Forcing it will only result in an awkward moment at best, with at worst a chance of being kicked in the privates.

Just like sex, a smile is a choice and just like sex, it's a bilateral action enabled by a mutual agreement. Don't believe me? Try your brightest grin during funerals.

These motivational pictures with unreadable fonts over sunset backgrounds telling you to keep smiling even if an evil djinn is keeping open your dislocated jaw to stuff you with red hot nails and arsenic?

Yeah screw them. With a smile.


This post is illustrated by the very talented illustrator Cecilia Hidayat. I am planning a unicorn barbecue next Friday and I will personally invite you if you visit her blog. 

More info, more cake and still no lemon at Without a Lemon's Facebook Page

Creative Commons License
5 ways smiling is very much like sex (text) by Danny Hefer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Creative Commons License
5 ways smiling is very much like sex (images) by Cecilia Hidayat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.