Weird & Güd - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7...

When counting goes wrong.

I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, some hermit-ism required after all.

Phantasms and Magics, Peter Goodfellow

The Weird

Fiction can teach us a lot about what we can’t easily confront: love, the fear of death, morality. This edition of the newsletter dissected what one vampiric quality — being unable to enter homes uninvited — tells us about the role we play in our own suffering. Today we’re looking at another vampiric quality that acts less like a lesson and more like a fossil.

Without the knowledge that previous generations have acquired for us, we wouldn’t enjoy the pleasure of scoffing at backward practices and past beliefs. Are we so different today than the humans who thought epilepsy was a demonic possession only micro-seconds ago in the grand measure of time? The answer is found in any village that key discoveries haven’t reached. Making sense of the world was a bit of a crapshoot before Google and past myths are the proof.

Scatter, Dan-ah Kim, 2013

You’re waiting to buy spice in the busy market you always visit but today the person in front of you catches your eye. As they negotiate with the vendor, you watch them tap the table with perfect rhythm, as if counting to a predetermined number — 8. The strange counter then proceeds to buy 8 potatoes. You watch them take 8 steps away from the stand and stop, almost as if coaxing themselves into proceeding before they disappear into the crowd. What happened?

Count von Count, Sesame Street muppet and mental health icon.

The modern person reading these words on a screen has enough knowledge to answer correctly, but the villager in this scene does not. A few of these instances are probably why early vampire folklore includes arithmomania — a manifestation of OCD that creates a compulsive desire to count things. Some European graves would have poppy seeds or millet scattered around to keep vampires who rose up from graves trapped by counting. Even Chinese myths had vampires beholden to counting every grain of rice in a bag they encountered.

Some fears don’t age well. Today’s vampires rarely count. Before our present times endowed us with more understanding than any society before, superstition was the answer to the world’s mysteries. Looking back on the superstitions of the past is mystic archeology; the problems and fears of a people with no proven answers are fossilized in fiction just as any leaf in amber. Laugh at the past as every new day does, we still can’t know what fears today will be fossils tomorrow.

The Güd

Magdalena Korzeniewska 

The risk that COVID-19 poses for the oldest in our population has inspired talk about the inherent value older people possess. I’ve always liked older people better; they’re more interesting on account of having actually lived a life and they’ve tossed aside the burden of keeping up with society’s whims.

The ire between generations from both directions is nothing new, but with the mass influence that social media carries, jokes like “Okay Boomer” can grab more traction than they should. We crave simplicity and the kind of black-and-white narratives that make our judgments easier; that craving often leads to a subtle internalization of simple narratives, and that’s how stereotypes are born.

Tree of My Life, Joseph Stella, 1919

Stereotypes are sticky because they hold a grain of truth — older people tend to be more conservative and view younger generations as weaker. Yet, the danger in letting stereotypes seep into your worldview is this — stereotypes and nuance are like oil and water. Is the younger generation’s liberalism “correct” or just an equal but opposite facet of their stage in life? Younger generations do bear less hardship than older generations (vaccines, new discoveries, improved laws, etc.) but this is the mark of a healthy society. Nuance matters.

Some people might find these interviews with elderly people from a century earlier boring. Sure, we’d probably hate what these people had to say on social issues and some of their practices, but that sentiment shouldn’t lead to an overused quip. Instead, realize that one day we will be the boomers with nearly a century of life experience who get brushed off by people who’ve never heard a dial-up tone.

I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.

I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.