The days are getting longer and brighter, so I know the traditional time is approaching for me to go to war. Once again, I fight in a campaign against dandelions. After winning the first few battles easily, before the weeds have a chance to go to seed, I think I’m the one in control. I’m much bigger and stronger than they are, I have a brain, and I have Roundup. But the enemy ranks aren’t intimidated by all the things I have. And they have something I don’t: the ability to never sleep. All they do is grow, non-stop. Then comes a morning when I wake up to a garden full of dandelions I’ve never met before, all gone to seed before I’ve finished my coffee. It doesn’t really matter how many times I kill them. As soon as I look away, they’re back, and in greater numbers.
These are good years for the undead. They’re stars in some of the biggest blockbuster films, TV series, and book franchises, and make special appearances in many more. The fame is certainly more enjoyable for the Vampires than the Zombies, though, because Vampires love looking well, and Zombies don’t enjoy anything. Except brains. Their undying appetite for brains is legendary; they will do anything for a taste. They won’t even notice if they are shredded by machine guns or axes in the process, they relentlessly carry on with whatever is left to them, focussed entirely on their single objective.
When you have three children under ten, there’s no point taking a vote on where to go out to eat. You’ll be outnumbered, and there’s only one option in this area that offers the triple crown of childhood meals: nuggets, toy, and balloon – it’s going to be McDonald’s. This was our reality at the beginning of 2016, so after an event in the city one weekend, we made tracks for the Golden Arches. I don’t remember the toy that day (most of those things are forgotten by everyone a few nanoseconds after we get home, only to be rediscovered later inside the couch or under a seat in the car), but I’ll never forget Rebekah’s balloon. She picked it out before the meal, carefully selecting the pink one for herself, distinct from the blue and green of her brothers. She ate next to it happily, and played with her toy. Then we got up to leave, walked out the door, and when she spotted the sky, her eyes lit up. She held her balloon as high as she could and stood up on her toes… but something was wrong. A cloud of disappointment moved over her sunny smile:
“I thought it would make me go up”
In front of me, there is a rectangle with rows of little squares on it. On each square a little symbol is emblazoned; bits of circles, lines, or a mash up of the two. Whenever I push on one of the squares, the symbol transfers to my screen, and I call this “writing”. Even more amazing is the fact that you can read it, because we’ve agreed by consensus with our forefathers that these funny little shapes on my keyboard correspond to real sounds, and that the sounds can be mixed together to make words, and that the words can serve as a shorthand way of communicating about real things, real concepts, and real people.
Last Wednesday the anonymous British graffiti artist known as ‘Banksy’ sold a few prints at an auction in Paris. This is notable mainly because of what didn’t happen: the last time Banksy art was sold (earlier this month) it self-destructed only moments after the gavel went down on a bid of over a million British pounds. Banksy had installed a shredder inside the frame, which was remotely activated as soon as the sale was complete. It sounds a bit like the stuff of spy movies, and certainly was a first for the art world. Or was it?
The world is full of words, more than ever. Never have there been more news headlines clambering for clicks, advertisements designed to arrest our attention, or friends filling us in on everything they had for dinner. Somehow, we have to muddle around this mess with our infobese heads filled to popping with more messages than they can process, too worn out to care much about what is really true and what is deceptively false.
Yet into this deluge I submit words of my own. I take a deep breath and yell into the roaring waterfall: “There are not enough words!”
Because there aren’t.
Slow motion. A woman with her hair blowing in a light breeze walks confidently between library shelves packed with books. Where did the breeze come from? Nobody knows, but it doesn’t matter because the the camera has transported us to a laboratory, where a young man smiles to himself as he mixes chemicals. Is he remembering a joke from last night, or does he really enjoy chemistry that much? We can’t ask, because now we’re on the beach, and a well-dressed lady is picking up seaweed with some sort of oversized tweezers. She’s very happy about the seaweed. The music swells! Now we’re watching dirty men in jerseys fighting for victory. And then the happy people are gone, but not without leaving us with the distinct impression that going to a certain university will make every moment of every day nothing short of epic.