Giving into nothing and everything. The mouth is wide and you can walk through it and never say a word. As I went, I saw little patterns repeating in a rhombus and fleur-de-lis crystallized in gold. We don’t see the dawn of the sun until it’s time and we don’t roam to find out. Jay Ee Tee focuses the O; and boat fees to Valletta. And who is to say that a ferry will make everything right?

With beautiful glasses and zero fuss, he sits on blue plastic and muscles transform into bones. Jay is a gull who eats all the time and he doesn’t mind that the ferry’s legs are spinning through the harbour, covering the fish with a crusty water blanket.

A walk down Athens

I’m walking down Athens that morning, the first of the long summer days. I stop at the corner of Xerxes’s Place, and I can see its narrow, cobblestoned lane, its sagging houses. A hush comes through the air, and out comes my old friend, the old man with the hat I last saw at the débutante ball.

“So you got a plan, Mr. Leos?” he asks.

“A beautiful plan. You could call it, ‘To sell a girl into marriage.’ I really think you ought to make about three or four times what the Iktinos-Rothschilds could make in Maltese real estate.”

“Well, you get back to us when you’re done.”

“I will try, Mr. Grant. By Zeus, I will try. ‘You always gotta milk the shit out of your cow’ as the uptown saying goes.”

We both let out gracious, nosy, upper class laughs and part ways. An image of an udder slowly dissolves through my mind as I walk down to the amphitheatre.

He had a party that summer and paid all the bills on the side and gave me $3,500 and offered $55,000 for a girl with her maidenhead. I must have gone mad on hearing that promise. The woman who runs the underground scene, a lady named Blanche, gave me the bill for my chariot fare to the Hill of the Nymphs, where fifty brides were waiting for their suitors. Ophelia was hypnotically beautiful, and delicate. We discussed her name and remembered I had one time saved her from being a prostitute. Her mother almost had me put on trial and lynched. But everyone knew the girls at Temple Corinth, and they get good, good money.

Mr. Grant asked me if I had found the right girl. I said maybe I had, but I still had to give Lady Blanche the marriage papers. I took Ophelia to his apartment. He gave me the money and I walked out of there. I began to think of my other affairs. I had some business in Argos. I liked the atmosphere. I thought I could make a good living there. I did not want to take any chances and lose my life and my freedom, so I got water from the fountain, heated it to wash my face, and departed. It was raining that day and I remember the hypnotic drumming of the droplets unravelling the mystery of how work gets done and money gets made.

The jungle book

You know, looking at the flame at a campfire, I think it’s so captivating because fire is the only thing that hasn’t changed since the dawn of humanity and monkeys became men. It hasn’t changed in shape, smell, feel, sound, color, size. Even watermelons and bananas are widely different since only like 1645. Tomatoes just started existing. And you can compare food and fire because you can get more nutrients out of the former with the latter.

You could change the nature of campfires by branding them. This year’s Fire Blaze S is the first entry-level Fire, priced at $80,000. The most recent additions to the Fire lineup are the $90,000 (including the $80,000 for the special edition) Blaze S, the $75,000 X6, and the $60,000 R7. The X6 is like a more powerful X3, and the X6 is like a brighter X5. With the Blaze S, Fire fans can choose between a 2-mode ambient temperature control system and an ambient temperature sensor.

Imagine you’re a young girl before the Stone Age, and you’re waiting for your brother to get home from hunting. While waiting, you have a campfire going, and you’re watching it with the best of intentions. It’s your guardian and it creates an aura of safety around you, where animals and ghosts can’t harm you. They’re afraid of the mystical portable sun. Scared and sacred are almost spelled the same.

You’re helping the campfire put out a blaze, but all of a sudden, a huge bug flies in front of the light and projects a scary silhouette in your eyes. You quickly put your fire out, your brother comes home, and you’re so distraught at what’s happened that you collapse on the floor. In the midst of your meltdown, you pass out and have a dream. You are sitting on a stone slab in the middle of an incredibly dark forest. You are watching a woman who’s been there for a while, and she says, “Well, you’ve come a long way, baby. You’re a fine young lady, but you’ll always be my monkey girl.” She turns to you and kisses you, and you awaken, relieved.

Stories and novels consist of three parts:

Narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z.

Description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader. “The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary.”1

Dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.

  1. “On Writing” by Stephen King 

The way it was done

1. He regretted that this afternoon’s groom wouldn’t be along—they had always been able to cram so much into such nights: they knew how to attach women and how to get rid of them, how much consideration any girl deserved from their intelligent hedonism. A party was an adjusted thing—you took certain girls to certain places and spent just so much on their amusement; you drank a little, not much, more than you ought to drink, and at a certain time in the morning you stood up and said you were going home. You avoided college boys, sponges, future engagements, fights, sentiment, and indiscretions. That was the way it was done. All the rest was dissipation.

In the morning you were never violently sorry—you made no resolutions, but if you had overdone it and your heart was slightly out of order, you went on the wagon for a few days without saying anything about it, and waited until an accumulation of nervous boredom projected you into another party.1

2. He was critical about women. A single defect—a thick ankle, a hoarse voice, a glass eye—was enough to make him utterly indifferent. And here for the first time in his life he was beside a girl who seemed to him the incarnation of physical perfection.2

3. Nevertheless, they fell in love—and on her terms. He no longer joined the twilight gathering at the De Sota bar, and whenever they were seen together they were engaged in a long, serious dialogue, which must have gone on several weeks. Long afterward he told me that it was not about anything in particular but was composed on both sides of immature and even meaningless statements—the emotional content that gradually came to fill it grew up not out of the words but out of its enormous seriousness. It was a sort of hypnosis. Often it was interrupted, giving way to that emasculated humor we call fun; when they were alone it was resumed again, solemn, low-keyed, and pitched so as to give each other a sense of unity in feeling and thought. They came to resent any interruptions of it, to be unresponsive to facetiousness about life, even to the mild cynicism of their contemporaries. They were only happy when the dialogue was going on, and its seriousness bathed them like the amber glow of an open fire. Toward the end there came an interruption they did not resent—it began to be interrupted by passion.

Oddly enough, Anson was as engrossed in the dialogue as she was and as profoundly affected by it, yet at the same time aware that on his side much was insincere, and on hers much was merely simple. At first, too, he despised her emotional simplicity as well, but with his love her nature deepened and blossomed, and he could despise it no longer. He felt that if he could enter into Paula’s warm safe life he would be happy. The long preparation of the dialogue removed any constraint—he taught her some of what he had learned from more adventurous women, and she responded with a rapt holy intensity. One evening after a dance they agreed to marry, and he wrote a long letter about her to his mother. The next day Paula told him that she was rich, that she had a personal fortune of nearly a million dollars.1

  1. “The Rich Boy”, F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

  2. “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”, F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

Morning in Italy

Imagine yourself on a sleepy morning in Italy. A group of Italian workers are cleaning up the sidewalk while an old coffee shop owner is telling them how to properly do it. You will immediately find yourself getting the feeling that the energy you thought to be lost the night before is back inside you.

The priming effect

Priming in psychology is exposure to a stimulus that unconsciously influences the response to a subsequent stimulus. Daniel Kahneman exposes the following examples in “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”

In one experiment, groups of students were asked to assemble sentences from scrambled sets of words, after which they were sent down the hall to do another experiment, the point of the experiment was this walk. One group was given a set of words related with the elderly (e.g. Florida, forgetful, bald, gray). The time it took them to get to the other room was measured. That group walked significantly slower.

In a mirror experiment, people were asked to walk around a room for 5min at about one-third their usual pace. After which they were much quicker to recognize words related to old age.

Priming seems to work both ways: thinking a certain way influences you to act a certain way. And acting a certain way reinforces certain thoughts.

In another experiment, students were asked to rate the humor of a cartoon while holding a pencil between their teeth so that the point was facing to their left and the eraser to their right. Other students did the same while holding a pencil by pursing their lips, so that the point would be aimed straight out. The groups were unaware that these actions made them either smile or frown, but the first group found the cartoons funnier.

Simple gestures can also unconsciously influence thoughts and feelings. People were asked to listen to messages through new headphones, supposedly to test the quality of the audio equipment. To check for any distortions of sound, half the participants were told to nod their head up and down while others were told to shake it side to side. The messages they heard were radio editorials. Those who nodded (a yes gesture) tended to accept the message they heard, but those who shook their head tended to reject it.

A study of voting patterns showed that the support for propositions to increase the funding of schools was significantly greater when the polling station was in a school than when it was in a nearby location. A separate experiment showed that exposing people to images of classrooms and school lockers also increased the tendency of participants to support a school initiative.

Reminders of money produce some troubling effects. Similar to the old-age experiment, participants were primed to the idea of money by constructing sentences from words related to money. Other primes were more subtle, including the presence of an irrelevant money-related object in the background, such as a stack of Monopoly money on a table, or a computer with a screen saver of dollar bills floating in water. Money-primed people became more independent and self-reliant than they would have been without the associative trigger. They persevered almost twice as long in trying to solve a very difficult problem before they asked the experimenter for help. Money-primed people were also more selfish: they were much less willing to spend time helping another student who pretended to be confused about an experimental task. When an experimenter clumsily dropped a bunch of pencils on the floor, the participants with money (unconsciously) on their mind picked up fewer pencils. In another experiment, participants were told that they would shortly have a get-acquainted conversation with another person and were asked to set up two chairs while the experimenter left to retrieve that person. Participants primed by money chose to stay much farther apart than their nonprimed peers (118cm vs. 80cm). Money-primed undergraduates also showed a greater preference for being alone.

Consider the ambiguous word fragments W__H and S__P. People who were recently asked to think of an action of which they were ashamed were more likely to complete those fragments as WASH and SOAP and less likely to see WISH and SOUP. Feeling that one’s soul is stained appears to trigger a desire to cleanse one’s body, an impulse that has been dubbed the “Lady Macbeth effect.” The cleansing is highly specific to the body parts involved in a sin. Participants in another experiment were induced to “lie” to an imaginary person, either on the phone or in e-mail. In a subsequent test of the desirability of various products, people who had lied on the phone preferred mouthwash over soap, and those who had lied in e-mail preferred soap to mouthwash.

Lastly, an experiment was conducted in an office kitchen at a British university. Members of that office paid for the tea or coffee to which they helped themselves during the day by dropping money into an “honesty box.” A list of suggested prices was posted. For a period of ten weeks a new banner poster was displayed above the price list each week, either flowers or eyes that appeared to be looking directly at the observer. On average, the users of the kitchen contributed almost three times as much in “eye weeks” as they did in “flower weeks.” Evidently, a purely symbolic reminder of being watched prodded people into improved behavior. As we expect at this point, the effect occurs without any awareness.