by Jonathan Safran Foer.
I found this on Tumblr the other day and decided it would be good blog fodder. This is probably a poem or something but I’m answering the questions anyway, because interacting with art makes new art. I’ve done my best not to read any of them in advance, so these are my first honest responses. I’m not really sure if you’re supposed to take two minutes for each question or two minutes for the whole set, but I’m not doing it either way. However long it takes, it takes.
- what’s the kindest thing you almost did?
The first thing that comes to mind for me is an incident in Indiana, Pennsylvania on a trip I took with my grandmother last fall. We were all standing in front of some building, I forget what now, for a photo, and there was a kid about my age on crutches going toward the doors. I almost broke rank and went to ask if he needed help getting inside, it being difficult to maneuver on crutches and all, but never did.
- is your fear of insomnia stronger than your fear of what awoke you?
Ususally, no. Because if I can’t sleep, I have my phone or my computer and I can occupy myself. If I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s usually from a dream, in which I am usually dying someway, so I do the whole, stereotypical cold-sweat, heart-palpitations thing. It may also be worth noting that my fear response is neither fight nor flight, but freeze (like a rabbit) so until I can talk (think?) myself down from waking up in a panic, I literally cannot move. This is also why I refuse to sleep in pitch dark.
- are bonsai cruel?
I don’t think so. As long as the tree or plant gets enough sunlight and water, it is perfectly happy adapting to the size of its container. I’ve seen rhododendron (among other) bonsai in full bloom, and plants do not put energy into flowering unless they have the energy to do so.
- do you love what you love, or just the feeling?
This is extraordinarily existential. But I have to be honest in saying that I am a glutton for feelings. I think this may have something to do with my crazy Romantic tendencies. I wallow in feelings of all kinds. Love may very well be one of those.
- your earliest memories: do you look though your young eyes, or look at your young self?
Through. My very earliest memory is of, I think, my second or third birthday, playing with one of those water game toys, where you press the button to shoot a jet of water to direct pieces to different places.
- which feels worse: to know that there are people who do more with less talent, or that there are people with more talent?
The former, always, because this is not always so much a problem of envy as it is distaste for society. There are genuinely times that I am envious, because when you don’t want to work, don’t feel like working, can’t work, even, for whatever reason, it really sucks to see someone else doing what you do. But when you are producing and there are people who, for lack of a better term, are lesser than you doing better, or being better off, then you have to question what is wrong with their consumers. Why is a lesser product getting more attention and praise? The answer is generally: simple things amuse simple minds.
- do you walk on moving walkways?
It depends. If it’s in an airport and I’ve been travelling all day, hell no. If I need to get to a place and am short on time, or have the energy, then sure.
- should it make any difference that you knew it was wrong as you were doing it?
I think anything you do should be based on your motivations for doing it, and that should be weighed against the hurt, pain, or discomfort it caused others.
- would you trade actual intelligence for the perception of being smarter?
Absolutely not. Not in a million years.
- why does it bother you when someone at the next table is having a conversation on a cell phone?
This is also an it-depends question. Are they being loud, disrupting the room, talking about a business deal or personal encounter which probably shouldn’t be discussed in public? Those are all solid reasons. Or maybe it’s just frustrating to not hear the other half of the conversation.
- how many years of your life would you trade for the greatest month of your life?
It makes no sense to me to trade more time for less time, even if it’s more enjoyable time. What’s that phrase? “It’s not the years in your life but the life in your years.” Yeah. Fuck that.
- what would you tell your father, if it were possible?
I hope you’re happy with the decisions you’ve made. I hope you’ve made your life into something you’re proud of. I hope your girls are doing well. I hope you never had a son.
- which is changing faster, your body, or your mind?
If the answer to this is ever anything other than “my mind,” my life is over. Your mind should always change, every single day, in some way. Your body is just a physical energy factory for your consciousness.
- is it cruel to tell an old person his prognosis?
That depends on whether or not he wants to know.
- are you in any way angry at your phone?
- when you pass a storefront, do you look at what’s inside, look at your reflection, or neither?
If I’m on my way to a particular destination, neither. If not, I look inside.
- is there anything you would die for if no one could ever know you died for it?
No. If I’m going to die for something, I am going to die a martyr. Otherwise, what’s worth dying for?
- if you could be assured that money wouldn’t make you any small bit happier, would you still want more money?
Yes. Money may not make me happier, but it can make others happier. I have friends in debt, and strangers are starving. If money can ease their burden, even if it won’t ease mine, I will take it.
- what has been irrevocably spoiled for you?
I’m not sure that anything has. Then again I’m not sure that anything can be irrevocably spoiled.
- if your deepest secret became public, would you be forgiven?
I’m not sure what my deepest secret is. I tend to not keep “secrets,” per se. Just irrelevant information. Based on this, I’m going to say probably yes.
- is your best friend your kindest friend?
Yes. The kindest person I have ever known. The shirt-off-my-back type.
- is it any way cruel to give a dog a name?
Dogs as far as I know seem to enjoy having a given name, something that indicates you are seeking their attention. Then again most dogs are also eager to please. So I don’t think so.
- is there anything you feel a need to confess?
- you know it’s a “murder of crows” and a “wake of buzzards” but it’s a what of ravens, again?
An unkindness. It’s also a “parliament of owls,” a “wedge of swans,” a “charm of finches,” a “pitying of turtledoves,” and a “deceit of lapwings.”
- what is it about death that you’re afraid of?
Literally everything. But mostly the ending. I’m not good at goodbyes.
- how does it make you feel to know that it’s an “unkindness of ravens”?
Ravens (and crows, I’ll talk about both here since they are often used interchangeably despite some notable differences) are insanely intelligent. Probably more intelligent than toddlers, or ten-year-olds, or some adults. They can solve complex puzzles with relative ease, learn from mistakes, and will even remember specific people who have hurt not only them, but other members of their flock. (This intelligence and memory for faces can even be passed to later generations of birds!) There have even been documented cases of these birds exchanging small trinkets (they love shiny things!) for food from humans! Ravens, while larger than crows, are generally quieter and more relaxed, while crows are noisy and boisterous. And both types play! Games! For fun! And entertainment! Crows are particularly fond of snow. And both can talk! Poe wasn’t exaggerating. Crows and ravens can imitate human speech much like parrots and other speaking birds, which really says more about their anatomy than their intelligence, but is an endearing trait nonetheless. And all of this, of course, is beside the fact that they’re just gorgeous birds. The problem with the terminology (“unkindness” and “murder”) really is more about human relation of things associated with death (both birds being of the carrion variety) with uncleanliness or even evil. Rather, these things are vital to many ecosystems, clearing away the earthly remnants of other beings and committing their flesh to new life. It’s poetic, in a way, and it saddens me that people see these brilliant, beautiful things as more nuisance than nuance. If you haven’t gathered by now, they’re my favorite birds of all birds, and I really like birds.