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Our philosophy
by Jason Morrison

We had somehting wirtten here, but it was stupid. This is less stupid. A short while ago this post appeared in our guestbook:

I love people who try to be deep. I do it too! I'm so happy to finally find a publication whose authors and contributors are as lame as I am. I was a big nerd in high school, and no one appreciated me at all. I get a real sense of community from the writers of this 'zine. JD Salinger's Holden would call people like us "phonies", but I prefer to deem myself a "model of all things ultra-chic and totally incomprehensible to those with good taste". I'm thrilled to see that your 'zine shares my lack of values and tact. Rock on Shrubbery! Keep up the facade! Same to those of you that contribute! The best way to be "cool" is to be as distant from your true self as you possibly can be.
Sequioa


I mailed Sequoia about her Holden caufield comments, and got this back:

Well you ARE late reading it. I have a friend who read it in the 5th grade, but then again, she's very well read. Since you seem to have "found me out", I'll go ahead and admit that my guestbook entry was entirely sarcastic. After reading your e-'zine, I've come to the conclusion that despite a few promising authors, most of the articles/fiction/etc. featured are just the ramblings of people who were misled by high school writing teachers when they were told that they had talent. I think that everyone has the potential for good writing, but it has to be whittled and honed and cannot just be something a person wrote in their journal one night. In this day and age of recycled ideas and storylines, it is hard to find originality in people, and I think that too many self-proclaimed writers these days are bent on expressing themselves in "phony" ways- like using unneccessary swear words in an attempt to show that they aren't hindered by conservative convention, or throwing around references to pop culture in the hope that someone reading will remember that particular event/episode/cartoon character and find genius in the author's ability to recollect what they saw on TV when they were eight.

Just because I know the name of Gargamel's cat, that doesn't mean I have talent. This kind of wreckless writing only fosters irresponsiblity in writers, and allows them to forget that words *do* mean something- as do ideas and beliefs and anything else that you can slander in the name of "enlightenenment". When writers act like they don't care about anything- words, religion, feelings, people- it IS phony. We *care* about life, we *care* about people. And only those who are afraid of rejection, confusion, or spontaneous combustion from exhertion of the mind and/or heart, are the ones who don't care- or at least can't admit it. I got the impression from several of your publications that most of your writers are so busy caught up in being above or beyond life that they come off as unaffected, and false.

Real writers are IN life, not beyond it, and they don't pretend. The best writers are those who simply tell the truth- they don't embellish it, they don't decorate it- they just tell it like it is and leave it to others to feel what they have written. I didn't feel a thing reading most of your publication, except maybe sadness and nausea from the many people trying to hide themselves and their truths behind "phony" facades of depth. I wrote in your guestbook with sarcasm because I felt that if phony's what you want, maybe you'd buy what I wrote.

Since you have figured me out, I have hope that there are true people on your staff. And do not take this as some kind of insult to what you guys are trying to do. I just think that by poo-pooing things that people take seriously (and I am referring to that Jesus issue that you put out, not that I saw that as entirely representative of your work- I've read others) you don't make yourself any cooler- that's just as bad as the Stradlater's in life who pick on the nerdier kids in school, or the ultra-nerds that pretend the picking doesn't bother them and then begin to define themselves by "smarter" things and refuse to engage in baseball or beer or proms. Either way, these people hide who they are and what they feel behind a group. I remember a group in high school who wrote publications that remind me a lot of what you guys feature in your 'zine. One of the girls said she "raged against conformity". She raged so hard that she hit the other end of the spectrum- she conformed to nonconformity. She became everything that the preppier kids weren't, and in doing so, presented the world with an "I don't give a shit" attitude. Soon enough, no one gave a shit about her. Consider this a warning to those who post pieces in your e 'zine: own what you write, don't just slop it down and call it a masterpiece- think about what you say and how you say it, and whether or not you know it to be true.


I replied:

Sorry it took me so long to get back to you on this--I've been busy... well, reading your last e-mail, for one thing. It was actually kind of flattering, in a weird sort of way, but I'll get to that later.

First, a few things I think you've misread:

Number one, I have yet to claim (seriously) that The Shrub is any more than what you have accused us of being--a smattering of writers cashing in high-school English class recommendations, trying to look better than we are. I've had to make this point before--if my stuff was great, would I be self-published? Heck, if my stuff were great, would it come out primarily on the web? Nope, neither. So why do it? A few reasons, some of which I hope you agree are not completely valueless.

For starters, Jessica and I were looking for a way to bolster both resumes and portfolios at the time we started this thing. Oh, I know, how very capitalist; still, eventually my parents will stop feeding me and I'll need a job somewhere, and they'll want more than just my word about HTML, art and management skills.

Secondly, among all our columnists/contributors who you find distasteful, fake, or too cool for themselves are I'm sure a few very sincere individuals who are encouraged in very good directions by seeing their name in "print", even in such a little piddly magazine. These writers who do indeed need to hone their work might not even try without some encouragement.

Third, there's a lot worse to be read out there on the web right now and if you take a quick hop around the sites professing to deal in humor, you will find blond jokes, polish jokes, and the same damned forwards we've all seen a thousand times. This, I think, is a travesty--so why not put something original together, even if we can't please 100% (yourself included)?

Now, stepping up one level of point-listing, the second point about The Shrub it seemed you missed was this: it is supposed to be humor. That Jesus issue? The one that mocked what some people hold dear? I thought some of it was quite funny--Jesus playing foosball is completely inappropriate, right? That's one well-documented form humor takes.

In fact, i would say the literally millions of people who have/do twist the teachings of Christ to the purpose of beating, killing, and otherwise persecuting others have out done out little effort by about trillion-fold, and if you read enough you'll notice that we firmly stick out our tongues at them. I can't claim to have any idea what religious persuasion you are, but if you're 'against' homosexuality, women's rights or even Irish Catholics because of it, you had damn well better shut up and go home about that little criticism--Jesus, if he's up there somewhere, is no doubt not happy.

Oh, yes, humor, right. We do sort of lean to off-beat stuff rather than satire, but we do have plenty of satire, and though I can recognize (psychologically and sociologically) many of your criticisms as applying to satire...

 >I just think  that by poo-pooing things that people
 >take seriously (and I am referring to that Jesus issue that you put
 >out, not that I saw that as entirely representative of your work- I've
 >read others) you don't make yourself any cooler- that's just as bad as
 >the Stradlater's in life who pick on the nerdier kids in school, or the
 >ultra-nerds that pretend the picking doesn't bother them and then begin
 >to define themselves by "smarter" things and refuse to engage in
 >baseball or beer or proms.

...it still has value. I admit, every time I make fun of the NRA or Clinton I lose out on an opportunity to touch someone's heart, express great themes or write a great work, but I am also keeping the spirit of free-thinking alive. Satire has accomplished a lot throughout history. I have not. But at least I'm trying.

I have tried to write worthwhile stories, poems worth reading, essays worth republishing! 99% of the time I fail. But I'm trying, and I'm trying a lot of different directions at once. I am afraid of rejection, confusion, and the lot. So is Ryan, so is Dan, so is Summy, so is everyone else, even you, I assume. And yet that's your criticism? When you say we don't care about anything, asterisks or not, you're sorely mistaken. I can only give you my word that I care deeply about life--that's why I speak! I cannot prove that this magazine has made anyone's life more meaningful, longer, or happier, but I'd bet in small ways it has.

Even the just-plain weird crap, the sick stuff, the mindless babbling has some point to it--the idea of absurdity is to point out basic assumptions to people who are sleepwalking in little ways through life. Each time I slip on a trail and fall I pay more attention to what I'm doing, and in doing so more fully live. Each time a turn of phrase or creative bit of nonsense catches me off guard, I pay more attention to what I hear and say, and therefore live a little more fully. The challenge is to be surprising and not just predictably unpredictable.

But you, of course, already know ALL of this. You might not admit it, but I know you know it. Your guestbook entry was sarcastic. Why did you do that? Don't answer--we'd just be switching sides, getting nowhere.

Finally, to be petty, I did laugh about the whole "swearing just to show off" bit. We're about the only ones around who discourage that in our magazine, and I've taken your side on that one in more discussions than I care to remember. It's a rare use of profanity that I find funny--it's like a man in a dress, it's been done to death.

I've eclipsed your last e-mail length-wise and I probably seem very defensive. I am. This stupid thing doesn't put itself together and so far it's cost Jessica and I a couple hundred dollars. And I'm not quite as self-confident as you, I suppose, so I do rebut what I could just accept as no matter. But if later I feel like covering these inadequacies up, there's always the fact that I need to replace the current philosophy page, so I ask your permission to reprint your letters and my replies.

Oh, and the complement I mentioned-I am honored that I have been able to touch you this deeply, even in a negative way. I don't realistically expect more than I light chuckle or hasty click of the back button from all this.


The Reply:

I must say that I see your points (and I found that whole resume'-improvement thing hit home with me). And I did not mean to sound like I was blasting you out. I have a tendency to go overboard sometimes, but I get very frustrated with so much of the so-called "literary" pieces published on the web. And honestly, who wouldn't? Most of it is, as you wrote, people longing to see their names in print.

I did not want to get personal about this whole thing- and I hope I haven't. Being a college student forced me to deal with a lot about people who run off at the mouth and call it philosophy- it gets a bit old.

And I am all for satirical humor- some of the best and most profound political and social (and SNL)writers have been satirical about seemingly serious issues. It's just sometimes people become so sarcastic and cynical that it sounds like whining, don't you think? I still feel that most of your Jesus issue was utterly distasteful and irreverent, but the world is like that these days. I just find that most of the people who enjoy making fun of such things have little experience succumbing to the humility required to go before a Being that is so much larger than themselves. Then again, that's a human thing. We tend to think that we have the world by the tail and that we are the pinnacle of human acheivement. Which is what I, personally, find hilarious.

And as far as your comment about people using Christ to justify inhuman atrocities, I completely agree. I have too many gay friends who have been told they were "going to burn" to defend that kind of attitude. I'm not getting into the women's rights thing with you- it may lead to a fierce abortion debate, so I'll leave that be. I have to say that through these correspondences I have learned that you (or to humble myself, I) can't judge a site or its creators by its contributors/contributions. I am glad you took the time to write back and somewhat straighten me out. I just hope that I have made you think about your selection process a little bit, and maybe the next time you put together an issue, you'll think about this and ask yourself if you want to risk talking to me again!


My Reply:

I can't say you weren't getting personal at all, but (as you probably noticed) my last reply was more of a rough draft of some ideas I've been meaning to put down for quite some time now.

As for the humility and the Being greater than one's self, we're not trying to say that's all a load of crap--heck, pick your diety and we've probably had a submission from a devoted worshiper of that diety. Jessica is Christian, though not politically so. Personally, I wouldn't say I'm a member of any organized religion--I was raised in some vaguely Protestant way though we didn't go to church often, and right now I've got more of a personal philosophy for life than a religion per se.

Some one had mailed the Robot From The Future earlier and asked if he was an existentialist, but I think she missed the point that the whole thing is a joke. I do, however, lean that direction--I'm kind of a personal-responsibility/free will freak, so i go around examining my own beliefs, reaching conclusions based on evidence and realizing that I have chosen to think this way or that and am not forced by absolutes. I do think there's something way bigger than my own nearsighted point-of-view out there, but I tend away from the god-as-a-bearded-old-man thing or the Jesus/persoanal savior thing. I have a feeling god is a bit above my ability to even understand him/it/whatever. Consequently I tend to take those who say they know this and that about god/whatever FOR SURE with a grain of salt.

Oh yes, I had a point going here. The point is, we are a bunch of sarcastic bastards, but we buck conventions because we think it's A) funny or B) worth pointing out. Either point is arguable, sure.

We're going to make a concerted effort to be a bit better in both directions in the future. The problem, as always, is finding people willing to contribute. I guess the real problem is exposure ingeneral--not only would we like a bigger audience, but we'd like more worthwhile writers to notice us and send stuff along. Slowly these thing pick up, I suppose.


The Point:

This little exchange spoke more to our philosophy here at The Shrub than an of the little taglines and descriptions ever have.




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