Skip to content

The Whippet #101: Without milk or absolution

McKinley Valentine — 9 min read

On this page

Good morning!

This is an anecdote about ADHD coaching, but it’s also a parable, so stay with me.

(An ADHD coach is like a life/organisation/career coach, but they understand how ADHD brains work, so they know which methods tends to work and which are not worth bothering with.)

So someone with ADHD books a coaching session and says:
“I can’t seem to stick with an organisation system. Every time: I buy a new planner or try some new method, and I get really organised and manage everything super well for maybe two months, and then I fall off the wagon and stop using the planner and lose track of everything, until I buy a new planner, get all excited about it, and the whole cycle starts again. Ya gotta help me, coach!* I need a system I can actually stick with!”

And the coach says:
“It sounds like you already have a system.”

The system is a little more expensive, because it involves buying a new planner every two months, but by doing that, the person is able to stay organised and on track most of the time. That’s a system that works! It’s a messy hack, but who cares?

The only thing they actually need to do is stop feeling ashamed. They have a system that works, but their brain is still telling them that the only ‘valid’ system involves sticking to the same method indefinitely. A huge amount of ADHD coaching involves being given permission by an authority figure to do things that work for ADHD brains, instead of trying to push forward with what ‘should’ work, but never has.

The other thing the ADHD person needs is to understand the pattern, so that they buy a new planner as soon as they start lapsing, instead of waiting the extra couple of weeks for things to really fall apart. To do that, they would need to accept the reality that they’re not going to stick with a single system, instead of hoping this time will be different. This acceptance also requires not feeling ashamed of their messy hack method (and their messy hack brain).

This is a true story, but I forget where I read it, unfortunately. But it’s also a parable because every neurotypical person also has things that ‘should’ work for them, but don’t. Maybe you need a solution, but maybe you just need to stop feeling ashamed about the messy solution that you already know gets the job done.

* “But coach, I am Pagliacci!”

Further notes for the brain-chemistry-curious:

What’s happening here is that ADHD is, among other things, a dopamine deficiency. (Caution, reductive explanation ahead). Dopamine is what makes you feel motivated to do stuff. Not just “hell yeah, I’m pumped!” but even the low-grade motivation that makes you go “fiiiiine, I guess I’ll get off my arse and do laundry.”

When you don’t have baseline levels of dopamine, you go ““fiiiiine, I guess I’ll get off my arse,” and then an hour later you’re like “why haven’t I got up? why didn’t I move my limbs in the direction of the washing machine? what is wrong with me that I can’t do such a simple task, even though I see the clear benefits of doing it?” and if you’re undiagnosed, you also feel broken and hate yourself.

Novelty is a dopamine-generator, as anyone who has bought fancy new stationery or got excited about a new Method That Will Solve All Your Problems Forever can attest, so buying a new planner every two months is basically self-medicating.

Podcast with Angus Hervey of Future Crunch!

Me and Angus Hervey of esteemed newsletter Future Crunch went on The First Time: Conversations With Friends, a podcast about the writing life. Future Crunch is international good-news stories on tech, climate, politics, society etc. - but actual good news stories about real changes that have happened, not things so trivial that you end up feeling more depressed than before.

We talked about how newsletters as a medium, and how the hundred interesting things people are doing with them. We also talked a lot about the thinking that goes into The Whippet and Future Crunch, how they’ve evolved over time, how we choose what to put in and what to leave out, stuff like that.

Not to brag, but I genuinely think it was a great conversation if you like listening to informed people talk about a topic they’re excited about and have thought about a lot.

Weeping Bear Mother

Carving by Frances Horne, a Coast Salish sculptor. (Coast Salish are a First Nations people in the Pacific Northwest - Portland/Seattle/Vancouver sort of area.)

Horne’s art often features weeping faces (see also: the amazing Weeping Frog Woman with mother-of-pearl tears).

“When I was a child, my step-father was very abusive,” Horne says in this interview. “He would get mad if we cried. We were taught not to cry.”

Horne teaches an Indigenous Carving course at a university, and sees his role as both teaching art and chipping away at intergenerational trauma.

“Horne wasn’t only teaching the technical aspects of carving, he was equipping his students with a cultural toolset to process emotions.”

Someone please give me $20k to buy one of his artworks. Nothing makes me wish I was rich more than seeing amazing art.

Irish curses

  • “May the road rise up and swallow you.” (a play on the traditional blessing, “may the road rise up to meet you”)
  • “May a cat eat you and may the devil eat the cat.”
  • “May you have an itch that will never be relieved.”
  • “May you die like a cat in deepest winter, a grey death without milk or absolution.”

That last one is chilling.

These are taken from Episode 32 of Gaeilge Bhriste, a podcast that mixes Irish music, Irish phrases (like the ones above), and readings from Irish literature, in Irish language and then in English. Even as someone who’s not trying to learn Irish, it’s a delightful background listen.

Another one was “may the devil grab you and break your legs”. I like this, because it’s such overkill. They could send pretty much anybody to break my legs and I’d be upset about it, but they’re sending the devil. That’s so unnecessarily mean.

Plants panic and warn each other when they get wet

Ah look, there’s not much more to the story. Plants release chemical signals when they panic, which other plants can understand and react to.

When a raindrop hits a leaf, it can pick up any bacteria or fungus the plant is infected with, then bounce off and hit a plant anywhere in a 10-metre (30 feet) radius. So the chemical signals tell other plants to ramp up their immune systems in preparation. [Source: University of Western Australia.]

I just think it’s hilarious that plants need water as one of their top 3 basic essentials of life, but they still freak out when they get wet.

Once a Czech man saw me doing the hunched-dash-between-awnings thing you do when you’re caught without an umbrella, and said: “come on, we are not made of sugar!” (As in, “you won’t melt.”) It was the first time I’d heard the expression, and I have treasured it ever since.

In ancient Kazakhstan, nomadic herders kept their toothless pet cat alive

“A 1,000-year-old cat skeleton found along the Silk Road in Kazakhstan likely belonged to a pet cared for by nomadic herders, who typically carried only the barest essentials.”

The cat’s skeleton showed it had broken bones that had healed - meaning it went through a period where it was unable to hunt, and so must have been deliberately taken care of and fed. The broken bone healed at a particular angle, showing it was splinted or restrained in some way while it healed.

The cat had heaps of teeth missing, but analysis of carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the bone show it had a high-protein diet that included millet (a grain). Calculus on the cat’s remaining teeth suggest it ate sticky foods. In other words: it wasn’t eating wild birds or game offcuts. Humans deliberately made soft foods for it to eat once it lost its teeth.

The discovery has a broader archaeological/anthropoligal significance too, which is explained in this Nature article.

Unsolicited Advice

This is the section where where I try to tell you how to live your life, which I consider to be entirely my business. But I kinda put it all in the intro!

And I don’t have any other advice, so instead here’s me taking way too long to explain a theory about Banksy (the graffiti artist) and the human tendency to just fabricate entire conceptions of what another person is thinking and feeling:

So there’s a prevailing viewpoint that Banksy is a wanker (that is, pretentious: thinks he’s so deep and clever with his vaguely anti-corporate messages, when actually they’re pretty obvious and heavy-handed). If you haven’t heard anyone call him a wanker (or culturally translated equivalent), you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s a common-ish opinion, and proceed accordingly.

There’s a genre of art which is like, very unsophisticated visual metaphors for how kids are on their phones too much. Example. Another example. There’s so many of them! You know people can read books on screens, right? Anyway.

There’s one where teen girls are being handed a bunch of drugs but they have the facebook and tumblr logo on them. In theory, they’re meant to be critical of corporate and tech industry control, but in practice the message just seems to be “kids are idiots, something about sheeple, I am very smart”.

So, people sometimes think Banksy is basically the same as these artists, but getting paid a lot more.

(For what it’s worth, my personal opinion on Banksy is neutral to mildly positive. I like the rats.)

Here’s the thing that occurred to me: pretentiousness isn’t about doing any particular type of thing, it’s your attitude to it. If an actor plays a scenery-chewing villain in a bad action film and says “this movie was a lot of fun, we flew a helicopter into an oil tanker, it was rad”, then no one thinks that actor is pretentious, even if the film was really bad. You might even want to watch it.

But when you find out the actor was completely obnoxious and intolerable towards all his co-stars because he was doing six months of method acting for the scenery-chewing villain, and really believes he’s saying something earnest and deep and important about the human condition, you start to worry.

So: pretentiousness is about the gap between the work and the creator’s attitude to the work, not the work on its own.

And no one knows who Banksy is. So no one knows what he thinks about his work! Does he think it’s super deep and intellectual, or does he think it’s a bit of fun? We have no idea!

Therefore: anyone who thinks Banksy is pretentious is 100% projecting. They’re just fully fabricating Banksy’s opinions on his own work out of their own ideas about artists and art.

Okay that’s my theory!

I’ll try to put Unsolicited Advice in the correct section next time <3

Discuss this issue in the comments!

Non-Toxic Comments Section

If you like The Whippet, please tell other people about it, if you feel comfortable doing so! There’s a share button at the bottom of this email, or just the regular URL way if you’re looking at it on Substack.

Word-of-mouth is pretty much the only way for The Whippet to grow, at least until we get a covid vaccine and I can start writing SUBSCRIBE TOTHEWHIPPET on my unmasked front teeth again.

You can also support The Whippet on Patreon for as little as $1 an issue.

It’s a US dollar, too, which is a tidy $1.40 once it’s turned into Australian money. That’s a pretty sweet situation for me. At last, the intimidating exchange rate is on my side!


Sign in or become a Whippet subscriber (free or paid) to add your thoughts.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.