You know how sometimes a strange thing happens to you out of nowhere? Often, it’s the sort of thing you have to check and make sure someone else witnessed it as well, just to be certain your brain’s not malfunctioning? My roommate in college called these kinds of events Weird Shit (you know you love someone dearly when you start being able to hear their capital letters). Weird Shit happens to some folks more than others, and it’s magnetic – the more it happens to you, the more it will happen to you. One of the key requirements for something to qualify as Weird Shit is that it’s completely inexplicable with the evidence available to the observer. I’ll give you an example: one night a buddy and I were walking to my car down a long, straight street that slopes down a hill to the parking lot, lots of streetlights down one side. It’s very still and very quiet, late at night in a very small town. As we approach where we have to turn to get to my car we both see, sitting on a retaining wall, perfectly framed in the circle of light from the streetlight: a bologna sandwich and a giant, freshly-lit cigar. Which would have been weird but not Weird. Except. There was a match on the ground, still smoking, we could still smell it, but we’d been walking down a straight, empty, well-lit, and almost silent street with a full view of this spot for at least five minutes and there had been no one there. A very David Lynch moment. Weird Shit.
Now, there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for that, but there’s no way that I can connect the dots and reach that explanation with the information I have. If I could, then it wouldn’t be Weird Shit anymore, just a mystery, and then a mystery solved. Most of my personal Weird Shit has remained not mysterious. There’s no question to be answered, no trail of breadcrumbs to follow. Just a series of mindfucks and incongruities, most of which were deposited in my vicinity by the permanent scars of the tiny wormholes in the universe that LSD creates (I should note, however, that in the above story I and my compatriot were both cold sober). But some people have questions, and even evidence. And a few lucky ones have a friend with a weird hobby, to whom some genius has handed a microphone and we all get a podcast out of it.
Mystery Show is probably the strangest podcast that I listen to, and I say that as a fan of Welcome to Night Vale. Starlee Kine, our hero, has a thing for seemingly unsolvable mysteries, things people think are Weird Shit. She takes their stories and really goes down the rabbit hole, following every possible lead. It’s earnest investigation and storytelling, but there’s still something going on. Something just a little off. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is. Maybe – and I could be wrong here – it’s every single person on the show failing (or refusing) to acknowledge the ridiculousness of these situations, being collectively deadpan and tongue-in-cheek. They really want to solve the mystery, they’re not silly people, but they are somewhat absurd mysteries. For example, in the second episode the client is a writer whose book tanked really badly. But a couple of years later she sees a photo of her idol, Britney Spears, carrying her book out of a Los Angeles restaurant. She must know – how did Spears get the book? Did she actually read it? Did she like it? Did it help her at all (this is during Britney’s head-shaving crazytimes)? So many questions, so many roadblocks to legally shaking down a celebrity. But it turns into a really interesting look at art and artists, fame and failure, fandom and existentialism. It’s ridiculous and profound at the same time. One could easily imagine that this is a piece of outlandish performance art, thought provoking but too absurd to be real.
On the other hand, this woman isn’t fucking around. She does, ostensibly, get as close as she can to solving the mysteries and even dives really deep with people, asks them serious questions about their lives and the meaning of life – sometimes so unexpectedly that I’ve asked myself both “Does she talk like this all the time?” and “Why don’t I randomly grill strangers about the nature of reality?” I think I should. I think we all should. Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time with people. They want to waste time talking about the weather and I, understanding the inevitability of my death and that time is fleeting, would rather discuss something fun like quantum physics or how it’s impossible to have a Platonic ideal of truth. Of course, I’m perfectly happy to sit and have a beer and talk about bad 90s music and Doctor Who for hours on end, as well, so maybe I just find certain people eye-gougingly boring. It’s possible.
On the other other hand, given that silliness and seriousness are merely opposite as terms and not mutually exclusive personality traits, maybe I should try to take my silliness more seriously. An absurd or ridiculous question could lead down an interesting or complex rabbit hole just as deceptively simple ones often do. I mean, Einstein changed the world with math because he liked to think about trains, you guys.
On yet a fourth other hand, silliness is relative, or at least subjective. Maybe if I asked someone about the nature of the universe they’d laugh and tell me to stop goofing around, stop wasting their time. And maybe if I asked someone else about annually compounded interest or the electoral college (both boring but very important), they would equally think those things a waste of time and tra-la-la their fairy wings back into the forest. One man’s dire is another man’s “so what?” I suppose. Although I feel like there’s not a lot of middle ground between these two types of people.
Of course I’m overgeneralizing here, but I think our generation’s extended adolescence has made it easier to dick around and do things that “don’t matter” for more of our lives. Easier? Maybe “more acceptable” is a better way to say that. I don’t think it’s ever really been difficult to kill time. Point is, is that time actually wasted? Who gets to decide? Are those seemingly silly pursuits dicking around? Or do we need to understand life and ourselves more than previous generations of grownups? Going out and doing and seeing and tasting and feeling and fucking up seems like a better way to be happy once we figure out how to adult, rather than just ticking off arbitrary goals on a list and trying to squeeze happiness into a box having had only the same experiences as everyone else. That sounds like a nightmare. I’d rather be a weirdo who’s had some fun and gets called irresponsible than a drone who always pays the bills on time but is dying inside from boredom and monotony. Any fucking day.
I should also point out here that a lot of those silly or ridiculous or absurd pursuits that people scoff at and say “get a real job”? They’re artistic or creative pursuits. Wanting to paint or dance or write or make a podcast or make movies – these are worthy goals. And one could spend a shit ton of money going to school to learn to do them, thereby getting their ticket onto The Great American Hamster Wheel of Debt Forever and maybe (probably) still not finding a job they want. Or. They could just go do the thing and be called crazy or irresponsible. Our capacity for ridiculousness is directly proportional to our capacity for wonder. Absurdity and whimsy, silliness and imagination. They’re all tied together. And they all color what we think is important. Remember when you were a little kid running around, screaming like a banshee, playing some game you made up as you went along? That was just as important a part of your day as sitting quietly in a chair learning how to read or do math. One or the other might have been more fun, sure, but they were both important. Why have we cut out so much of the screaming banshee stuff from our grownup lives? What makes us think it’s not okay? Not important? Be an idiot for a little while. Roll down a hill. Spin in circles until you get dizzy. Fight a dragon. Make up a game. Write it down. Turn it into a movie. Whatever. I say embrace your ridiculousness and be happy. That hobby or that project or that invention, whatever it is, might be your life’s work. It might become a job. It might become a business. It might become legend. But it sure as shit isn’t time wasted. We really need to stop trying to turn our time into money, our lives into jobs. I hate that expression “making a living.” I’m already living. Now I just have to make something out of it. How, though, remains a mystery.