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The Whippet #46: Pomegranate seeds on white sheets

McKinley Valentine — 8 min read

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Good morning my beloved vectors,

This fortnight I had some dumb flu/plague thing, which I do not recommend. But I do have a tiny lifehack for feeling slightly less garbage about it.

Almost all of the unpleasant symptoms of a cold or flu are not the virus itself, but your immune systems defences:

  • Runny nose/cough/gastrointestinal stuff is all your body trying to flush the virus out of your system.
  • Fever is raising your body's temperature to one the virus can't thrive in. (For this reason, a sauna will reduce the length of a cold, because it's an artificial fever, and paracetamol/acetaminophen will lengthen it because it brings a fever down. But it's sometimes better to have a slightly longer but less horrible cold, so do what you like.)

The point is, when you're feeling miserable, it's probably because of your immune reaction, and I find it helps to recontextualise the horribleness as your body's battle against the virus. It's doing those things to help you; it's on your team. Those are signs of your body's strength.

You know how a tattoo's pain is way more manageable than an injury pain, even though they're both wounds? It's the same deal, when you know why something is causing pain, and that's it's for a good, healthy reason, it's much easier to bear.

PS If you're in Australia, your local council, your GP and Priceline/Chemist Warehouse will do you a flu shot for $15. Even when it doesn't prevent the flu, it reduces the length and severity. If you're not in Australia, wait 6 months and re-read this.

Somebody please try this; I'm not bold enough

Fake smiles are real smiles // a more complicated view of authenticity

What people usually call a fake smile is a deliberate smile rather than a spontaneous one. I just... so strongly dispute the idea that deliberate communication is less real than instant reaction.

If you're genuinely trying to communicate friendliness and warmth by making a mouth shape, that's a real smile, even if you had to force it and you're not smizing. For example! You're jealous of someone who's perfectly lovely and does not deserve your cold shoulder and so you really want to be nice to them but you can't summon it because you still have some weird feelings to process. Real smile! You're not trying to manipulate them, you're just trying to get your face to communicate your true intent, which is kindness.

I hate the idea that your first initial reaction to something is somehow more the real you than the reaction that comes after a lot of thought. Your first emotional reaction is your dumb animal brain, and it can give you incredibly important info, but it's not somehow true-er than all your collected knowledge and experience that lets you take a few deep breaths and not scream at a waitress.

Or jesus if you've ever grinned when someone tells you truly terrible news because your mouth has broken, what the fuck is that, some weird nervous laughter thing, totally spontaneous and not controlled, is THAT a genuine smile?? I do not think so, it is not conveying your intended message.

This article is kinda related - your facial expressions are more an indication of social intent than internal experience, even when you don't deliberately choose them. It makes sense: you laugh way more when you watch a comedy with someone else than when you watch it at home alone, but it's not like you feel at all like you're performatively fake laughing around others. Even if you were, that's probably less annoying than saying "that's funny" every few seconds, and it communicates the same message, which is all that matters.

Mood this fortnight

determined to enjoy my TEA on my BALCONY despite being objectively miserable

(I couldn't find attribution for this artist! if you know, tell me)

Why don't octopus tentacles suction their own bodies?

I have never thought to ask this before I just assumed they were slippery or... something. "We were surprised that nobody before us had noticed this very robust and easy-to-detect phenomena," says [the researcher]'. This not a conscious act as their brains don't control the movement of their arms but the action of a chemical produced by octopus skin that temporarily prevents their suckers from sucking."

We don't grab our own arms because we have a clear kinaesthetic map. That's because we have rigid bones. "It is hard to envisage similar mechanisms to function in the octopus brain because its very long and flexible arms have an infinite number of degrees of freedom. Therefore, using such maps would have been tremendously difficult for the octopus, and maybe even impossible."

"The researchers studied the behavior of amputated octopus arms that remain active for up to an hour after separation. The arms grabbed octopus arms that had been skinned but did not grab octopus skin. oh god that's upsetting, they say they amputated the arms humanely though because octopuses are used to losing them. They grabbed a petri dish smeared with skin extract, but only weakly. Full article.

The longest poem in the world

This bot takes tweets and matches them up into rhyming couplets - when the meaning lines up as well it's *chef kiss*

Mostly the ones that work well sound like softcore brag rap, I guess that tells you what twitter is like.

Anyway, enjoy.

Unsolicited Advice

"Should I go to that thing or stay home?"

This issue's Unsolicited Advice stolen with permission from

When you’re having a hard time, it’s tempting to ask, ‘what should I do?’ rather than, ‘what do I want?’

*Should* I go this party tonight, or am I feeling too fragile?
*Should* I take on this job right now, or is it too stressful for me?

This makes sense. If I’m having a shitty time, what I *want* is complicated. I want to curl up in bed and avoid everybody, but I also crave connection and funtimes. In these moments of decision, of course I wish someone would just tell me ‘here’s what you *should* be doing right now’. It would really take the pressure off.

But asking ‘what *should* I do’ puts us in a certain mode. I call it ‘Investigation Mode’.

In Investigation Mode, the focus becomes: what am I capable of right now? What’s best for me?
When I’m in Investigation Mode, I watch myself like a hawk for signs of deterioration or improvement. I’ll wake up each morning, and the first thing I’ll think is: how bad is it today?
And the funny thing is, for me at least, asking ‘how bad is it?’ tends to leave me feeling, well, pretty bad. (Thanks brain!) [McK: for me at this point I can just circle a decision endlessly and should myself into panicked paralysis]
So, how can you check in with yourself, without just doubling down on the self-judgement?

A new way of checking in with where you’re at
I think we need a new way of checking in with ourselves, one that doesn’t just focus on how well we are (or how bad we feel).
Here's one way of thinking of it.

There are three basic phases of life, and we’re constantly cycling between them: Pushing Yourself, Overdoing It, and Resting. Your answer to the question ‘should I push myself or take it easy?’ may change, depending on what phase you’re in.

[McK: The question 'should I push myself or take it easy?' is much much less paralysing than "should I go to this party?" because it doesn't rely on predicting the outcome (Will I have a good time or will I feel weird and alienated? It's not possible to predict but i will waste hours trying).]

Here’s the thing. When it comes to this question, ‘should I push myself or take it easy?’, often there is no right answer. Not at a day-to-day level anyway.

That party tonight might make you feel better, and then that feeling may pass. Or the party might make you feel worse, and then that too will fade.

But if you think to yourself, ‘I had to skip the party because I’m a garbage person’, that probably won’t feel very good.

[McK: so try that question out if this is something you struggle with, for more context and tips, and subscribe to The Big Feels Club for a fortnightly newsletter on feelings, mental health and trying to function. Bless you Honor + Graham!]

Bonus Solicited Advice to the person who emailed to ask "What is string theory?"

Reader I do not know what string theory is. My mother does and I'm afraid she's going to email and explain it to me if she reads this. PLEASE DON'T, I HAVE REACHED MY LIMIT ON QUANTUM PHYSICS KNOWLEDGE.
Since you wrote to me for some reason I feel completely at liberty to reply without googling. Okay: our understanding of physics at a big normal object level (ie gravity) and the theory of physics at a smaller-than-atom level (quantum mechanics) don't align. For a long time, people have looked for a "theory of everything" that would tie them together. String theory is a possible "theory of everything" but it has a lot of problems, and creates new problems even as it tries to solve the old ones. It's a well-respected theory, but it's still not great, and lots of legit, intelligent people think it doesn't pass muster. If it were true it would mean that there were lots of different parallel universes, but lots of people think that anyway so it's not a big deal.

I find it personally kind of pointless to understand because it's like, "what if the particles you don't understand were actually STRINGS you don't understand?" which doesn't actually change my conception of the universe at all. And then later they were like "what if the strings were actually SUPERSTRINGS??" which I think is now the predominant theory.

It is not important for you to know more about string theory.

I really like the word "sublunary" meaning "below the moon" - these are the things I care about mostly. But what if the moon was actually a MULTIMOON??

If you want solicited advice, send more sensible questions to or just reply to this email.

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