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The Whippet #35: How to become a coconut palm

McKinley Valentine — 8 min read

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Good morning burning stars!

New Year's Eve is a sham holiday, but New Year's Day is wonderful.

New Year's Eve: look just try not to have a horrible time if you can. Don't get me wrong, I've had a couple of lovely NYEs but I've also had some truly disastrous ones, and disastrous on a scale that you just don't get on any other Friday or Saturday night, reaching into the levels of your life that really matter, with claws out.

New Year's Day though: New Year's Day is the one day of the year when no one expects anything of you. It's a public holiday, but you're not expected to party hard, you're not expected to see your family, you're not expected to cook proper meals (especially in Australia, where it's probably too hot to bear the thought of getting near a stovetop) there's no costume you're meant to be wear or be judged for not getting into the spirit of things. No kris kringle social mazes to manoeuvre, no traditional foods you can't eat because of dietary restrictions.

You can't even run any errands because all the shops are shut, and if you email a client on New Year's Day you'll look bizarre.

No one asks you what you got up to on New Year's Day, and makes you feel vaguely pressured to have done something cool, or puts you in the position of either lying or explaining your weird family situation in front of all your co-workers.

New Year's Day is an introvert's holiday, although you can still go to the beach with friends if you want. You can do or not do anything! It's the obligation-freeest day of the year.

I like to organise my closets and throw out junk and make plans and lists and do a tarot reading and ask everyone I know where they want to be in 5 years' time. And eat a really perfect breakfast.

(Yes, some people have to work on NYD, but some people have to work on every day, I can't fix capitalism or the frailty of human bones.)

Sloth and the Noonday Demon

This might be really obvious to Christians, but it wasn't obvious to me, so:

Sloth, as in the Deadly Sin, doesn't mean laziness, or not exactly. It's more like apathy, anomie or ennui, and it can manifest as listlessness or as restless dissatisfaction. Feeling like there's no point in being a monk so you might as well go home to your family and a nice meal.

Called acedia, it was an obsession of the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers, a bunch of Christian hermits and ascetics who lived in the Egyptian desert in the 3rd Century AD, although there were eventually a few thousand of them which doesn't sound that hermit-y. Evagrius called that feeling the Noonday Demon, because it came to them strongest around that time, making them sleepy and not want to bother with praying and hate their tiny dumb cave.

Wikipedia has a list of a few sayings of the Desert Fathers, and one of them is appropriately just a groanworthy Dad joke?

"A monk was told that his father had died. He said to the messenger, 'Do not blaspheme. My Father cannot die.'" (Evagrius)

Hi Hungry, I'm Dad

This next one I like though:
"Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge or we labour in vain." (Abbas Anthony)

That's basically what I mean about New Year's Day lists etc. Not necessarily a resolution but if you want to be more kind or frugal or brave or whatever, you can't just hope you luck into it, you have to decide to do it, so next time a situation comes up, you can say "No, I was trying to be brave" and then make the braver choice. Or more mundanely, deciding that you're at a point where time is worth more to you than money, so when someone offers you paid overtime you have a guiding principle to help you decline it (if someone offers you unpaid overtime, unionise).

From the Desert Mothers:

"There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town; they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one's mind while living in a crowd; and it is possible for those who are solitaries to live in the crowd of their own thoughts." (Amma Syncletica)

"If I prayed God that all people should approve of my conduct, I should find myself a penitent at the door of each one, but I shall rather pray that my heart may be pure toward all." (Amma Sarah) <-- that there is her deciding in advance what to make of her lump of metal.

A Desert Father describing acedia. Translated and very readable.
Aldous Huxley's essay on acedia

“A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.” ― Bertrand Russell

I think of this quote every time I paraphrase an article for The Whippet.

The curious case of August Engelhardt, leader of a coconut-obsessed cult

"In 1902, a student named August Engelhardt set sail from Germany with a suitcase full of books and a peculiar mission: to establish a new Edenic order on the sunbaked shores of Papua New Guinea. Paradise, he knew, existed on earth, somewhere along the equator, and the key to happiness was simple: Abandon your earthly possessions, move to a tropical island, become a nudist, and eat only coconuts."

"From his newly purchased island home, Engelhardt established a cult called Sonnenorden, or the Order of the Sun: a religion that revolved around worshiping the sun, which he saw as the ultimate giver of life, and coconuts, which he believed to be the tropical transubstantiation of God’s very flesh. The sun, God, and the coconut were like Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

"The precepts of Sonnenorden are meticulously outlined in Engelhardt’s collection of writings, entitled, A Carefree Future: The New Gospel. A Carefree Future dwells obsessively on the coconut; page after page is filled with wild theories that extol the virtues of the fruit and adoring, devotional poems with titles like “The Coconut Spirit” and “How to Become a Coconut Palm.” One poem, entitled “Mother Coconut,” begins, “Coconut, noble princess and benevolent mother of men, Likeness of God you are, and divinity in shape of a plant.”

"The crux of Engelhardt’s coconut obsession was rooted on a thin observation: The coconut, with its spherical shape and furry shell, is the fruit that most resembles the human head. Therefore, it is the most ideal fruit for man’s consumption. “We can expect from God that he created our food in the shape of our heads,” Engelhardt reasons. Coconuts are “vegetal human heads, and they alone are the proper human nourishment.”

I won't go into what happened to Engelhardt or the 15 people who joined him (read the full article for that), but suffice to say you can't stay healthy eating nothing but coconuts, and the German government eventually banned anyone else from following him. It seems like he was completely sincere though, not a guru on a power trip, and I can't help but have pity and warmth towards him.

Art by Olga Skomorokhova

PS, weirdly, because he was a German during WWI, his tiny piece of land and writings were all claimed by the Australian Government under wartime expropriation law. A copy of A Carefree Future can be accessed by the public at the NSW State Library.


The original meaning of "secretary" is "someone you entrust with a secret" which is so cool and the highest praise but I think almost impossible to bring back into use because you can't call your partner your secretary unless I guess you're doing a Secretary The Film type of situation.

The Golden Tortoise Beetle

Photo taken by Tibetan photographer Chime Tsetan, who remembered them from when he was a kid. "

"We used to catch the insects and put them in our geometry boxes with the leaves on. A big golden beetle like this used to fetch us two to three pencils or a pen in exchange with other kids who used to be amused with this shiny creature."

The bugs can "turn from shiny gold through reddish-brown when disturbed" by using valves to hydrate and dehydrate its elytra (wing-cases), which alters the reflectivity and makes it appear a different colour and/or translucency.


Unsolicited Advice

Deal with passive-aggression by wilfully assuming the best intentions

This is something my partner does - he just refuses to read sinister subtext into things. If you want him to know you're pissed off, you have to tell him. (I don't mean that he refuses to notice any communication that isn't words, which would be gross, I mean specifically passive-aggression.)

I am not like this. I analyse tiny not-said things to see if I've hurt someone's feelings and they're avoiding telling me. I really don't like it when people don't tell me if I've hurt their feelings, but I can't bring myself to take the approach of just cheerfully assuming they're not hurt if they won't say.

There's a lot of privilege in being able to do that of course - if you're in any kind of vulnerable position whatsoever, someone's hidden anger can get you fired, deported, beaten, etc, so you need to be good at reading all the unspoken signals and placating people before they make you suffer for it. There's actual studies that have shown women, poor people and people of colour are on average better at reading emotional cues than rich white men: they have to to survive.

Still, just because something's a privilege doesn't mean it's not a good idea. I think this is very much a "sometimes" approach - not always optimal - but what I especially like about it is that it grants the other person a small space of grace. That is, if you're unjustifiably angry and lash out with a tiny underhanded remark, and someone acts like they haven't noticed it, you get a chance to regroup and be the better version of yourself. That's a nice gift to be able to give someone. It's a luxury, but, well - luxuries are nice by definition. Sometimes we're hurt by really petty things, and it can be nice not to have that pettiness drawn out and exposed, but to have a second chance to be less petty.

It reminds me of a blog post by Andrew WK (guy who sung Party Hard). In it he was celebrating good manners. Good manners is another thing that gives you a second chance. Let's say you meet someone. And you think they're an asshole. Manners gives you a way to interact with them that isn't untruthful but doesn't reveal that you think they're an asshole. And so half an hour later, when you find out their sister just died, you don't get filled with shame at how you treated them. (Something like this happened to Andrew WK, and he was like: thank god i was polite. thank god i had that mode of interaction available to me.) Good manners creates a buffer from acting on your original judgement of a person.

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