Love. Adoration. Posthumous honorary doctorates. We all crave these things, instead of the blank stare we usually get when the waitress reads what we wrote on the bill.
But to get the world's attention, you have to be a special kind of titan. Not the kind that were born of Gaia and her son Uranus, and later wedded their sisters. No, not even the kind with a permanent hydrocarbon atmosphere. To get the public's interest, you have to begin your flirtations with the line "You know, baby, I'm the one who figured out how to get the beer in your shampoo. So right now I'm in your bathroom." In short: you have to be an inventor.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Creativity But Were Afraid to Ask
Before you can think about inventing stuff, though, we have to tell you what invention is. Research on the subject is lavishly funded but yields few results, since research's insistence on verifiability cramps invention's freeform style. The abstracts of most published results read something like: "Some cat said 'Eureka!' and -- boom! -- all was clear as the groovy crystal night, baby." Nevertheless, funding of hep similes continues.
There are two popular, and therefore true, schools of thought concerning invention. Both originated in corporate team-building seminars, and throught years of testing have gained solid bases of support.
- Invention = Thinking Outside the Box
- Thinking is the real mother of invention, despite the common belief that necessity fills that role. Necessity actually acquired thinking in a hostile takeover bid, and reaped the fruit of thinking's R&D while slapping the "Necessity" logo on the shipments. So the confusion is understandable.
The founders of this philosophical branch must be commended for their insight into the fact that there is a box, and that thinking inside it isn't easy. In fact it's difficult to have any thoughts inside a box other than "I'm running out of air." Before you know it you've punched air holes in the box, and UPS men are stamping the box with CAUTION LIVE ANIMALS. They interpret your frantic pounding as the new Morse-code barcode and ship you to Gwylldyl, Wales.
But the hardship is just beginning! The burnouts from the sixties who get your box read the stamp as LIVE THE ANIMALS. Soon they're streaming from all over to hear The Animals concert. They protest capitalism by burning your packing slip, and don't even pay for their damn tickets.
So get out of the box. In fact, turn the tables. Discover your inner box. Listen to its voice, and trust it. See past your petty differences with others, and understand that inside each and every one of us is a box -- waiting to be wrapped with loving care. Heal the box within.
If that doesn't get you thinking, we don't know what will.
- Invention = 1% Inspiration, 99% Perspiration
- The more you perspire, the more you're inspired. And invention is just a heartbeat away.
Ancient Greeks coined this aphorism. What's more -- they put it into daily pratice by using the Muses to generate steam and inspiration.
The Greeks invented quite a a few applications for steam power. However, most of these inventions were on the order of steam-powered viewing booths. The Greeks experimented with trains, but most of the track was laid in tunnels so the trains could be used as metaphors.
Despite its shortcomings, this school of thought has numerous passionate adherents. They wield clout on a number of social issues, including destruction of the rainforest. Thanks to them the public is now aware of the corporate plot to destroy the world's major source of humidity -- and minimize independent inspiration. Inventors will have to pay premium prices to enter McDonnell-Douglas saunas.
New Ideas Never Die -- They Just Fade Away
Now you know what invention is. But why, you ask, should I become an inventor when there's so much stuff out there already? Won't I drown in a sea of patent applications and corporate idea-swiping? That could be the outcome, but it doesn't have to be so. Just take a look at most so-called inventors, and you'll see they're unworthy of the title.
Advertisers believe they're creative. But all they create are needs. Granted, to give someone a need they don't already have is an enviable skill. Without it human progress would go down the toilet (or would if anyone felt the need for waste disposal). However, advertisers are one-trick ponies. They only create needs to fit their clients' solutions.
In 1994, AOL convinced the tech-savvy public that it needed complete personal privacy. Coffee shops, libraries and Turkish baths were bad. The people you thought were your friends or lovers were bioweapons experts in disguise, just waiting for the chance to steal your mutant DNA.
The result of this privacy craze? Completely electronic communication. Email! Chat rooms about a cable show called The Real World! Real JPEGs of amateur Barbies! Fake JPEGs of professional Kens! The world needed web browsers and busy signals to power this rampant surge of privacy, and AOL had the goods. Now the public had the perfect low-cost solution to engage in DNA-free transactions, and AOL had a way to insure that all human interaction went through a corporate moderator.
The flood of online buying, selling, and class-action lawsuits had a welcome side effect: personal debt soared into the stratosphere. Marketing departments quickly perceived a new need embedded in this situation, and scrambled to take advantage. The need in question? To spend money and not feel guilty!
Advertisers first asked the question: what creates guilt? As Dostoyevsky knew, criminal activity creates instant guilt. The solution was therefore to make the taking of money illegal, while making the offer of money socially commendable. Stocks and bonds became the only legal sources of income, and within days the Dow peaked at 80,000 -- fueled by rumors that day trading would soon be the only legal profession.
Instantly the prison population swelled with urban cashiers. Despite stiff sentences, recidivism was high, and the black market for goods and services surged. At the time of this writing, U.S.-funded military detachments in Taiwan and Korea are spraying cash-register-growing fields with powerful "regicides" in an attempt to snip money trafficking at the roots.
That's one story of how the best of intentions can go awry, even when the intention is just to milk a gullible public. The answer is that the public needs more than needs. It needs even more than your reassurance that you miss it whenever you step out to the restroom. The public needs real live inventions.
On the Mass-Mailing List of Destiny
This issue is now at a crucial point. As we speak, biofirms are racing to isolate the genes that control invention in mice and rats. The degree of improvisation these rodents show in utilizing any solid surface to meet their gnawing needs has long been known.
The first biofirm to isolate this gene is sure to patent it. This could mean that any idea anywhere else would be regarded as a patent infringement. To escape prison all humans would have to become employees of biolabs, with all their ideas taking place on company time.
Forces exist to combat this genetic colonialism. The internet gives freethinkers the capability to make their inventions (or, more likely, someone else's) available for free. However, your family will look askance on any exercise of First Amendment rights that fills up your hard drive.
Likewise, radio lets so-called "pirates" set up low-power stations. But these would be subject to prosecution. The airwaves are free, and pirates always try to seize booty from their conquests -- thereby involving a monetary transaction. Faux pas!
How to Save the Roller Rink (and Get the Disco Chick)
So here we are to help you fill the gap. We realize you're busy, and might not have time to invest in becoming a fuller more interesting person. So we offer two free pre-lessons. One to help you find time the other to help you find talent.
You're living la multimedia loca. You've got a legal brief in one hand, a universal remote in the other, and clenched in your teeth is a chicken soft taco that's on the losing side in a tug-of-war between you and Barfy. Meanwhile your daughter is giving you a haircut. This can't work! You have no more mindshare to spare. You need more time.
The problem is that time is a relativistic phenomenon. Mass warps space-time in a way that's not to your advantage. The closer you are to a large mass, the more time slows down, and the faster everyone else away from that mass moves. Thus it's always a losing proposition to be a corporate giant.
The solution is to divest yourself of ballast. At minimum, get in touch with the unbearable lightness of being. Even better -- live in a vacuum. Nothing comes between you and your time, so you can perform any activity at lightning speed -- provided the activity is compatible with your separation from all matter.
It's not sufficient to seal yourself inside a bell jar. It preserves mashes excellently but doesn't shield you from gravitons, as Sylvia Plath found to her woe. Nothingness is the ticket for you.
Now for the next hurdle: talent. Fortunately this one is simple. Find a talent agent. You provide the body, he provides the electric spark. Before you know it you're a shambling giant of talent, with people all around waving torches at you! And they're real torches, not the plastic lighters that get fished out for lame power ballads.
Found talent? Good. At last you're prepared for that lovely chimerical mud pie called invention. And, like mud, it's best when created in your image.
Be Your Own Flubber
So just what is it you're supposed to create? Yourself, of course.
That said, we don't recommend that you make yourself an idol. Idols are best dead, or gold. Live idols do embarrassing things like appear on David Letterman and beg for the role of Catwoman.
If you must go this route, at least try to be moribund. Show a striking degree of calm when assailed by demons who wish to interrupt your meditation under the bodhi tree. The world will be wowed when beautiful women fail to tempt you, and a giant cobra coils about you. Freud, beware -- man is about to fulfill himself!
We can't stress enough your lack of response to external stimuli. It's crucial that you ignore all but the shining path. For example: Mahavira, founder of the Jain religion, was discovered by rogues while meditating in a field. They drove a spike through his ear without disturbing him. His reward? Everlasting and immediate fame as the founder of a religion -- as well as creator of a party game called "Pin the Ear On the Bodhisattva".
But this is the hard road to self-creation. Instead of forcing the public to worship you for your own merits and virtues, take the form of whatever the public desires. Appreciate the creativity of the cuckoo bird -- famed role model for the likes of Liza Minelli and Scrappy-Doo!
The cuckoo succeeds by making you think his cereal is the kind of cereal you like, no matter what your breakfast started out as. Under cover of darkness the cuckoo bird sweeps in, lays his cocoa puffs in your bowl, and departs. Then the magic begins.
When you pour the milk in the bowl, the cocoa puffs outcompete your natural cereal by floating to the top first. Your native breakfast sogs to pieces while the cuckoo spawn thrives. Once swallowed, it tricks your digestive system into spawning even more cocoa puffs, and the cycle repeats. The elegance of evolution at work!
Or learn from the strategy of successful teen pregnancies. Most teens copulate with no thought of parenthood. But when the baby slips in under cover of sex, teens can't tell the difference. Indeed, they bond to the baby, loving it and defending it as though it were their own sperm and ovum.
So aim high. Go for the gold. Turn yourself into a venerable institution. For example -- try becoming the institution of marriage. It's not as hard as you think. Even if you're hypertense or passive-aggressive, you can still convince your neighbors and coworkers that you're a roaring success. Just remember to act nice in public, and their imaginations do the rest!
If this sounds like too much work, remember that marriage offers many part-time positions. The graveyard shift is pretty cushy. If you want something with a little more spice, the swing shift will fit the bill.
If the sacrament of marriage is not for you, go for a more controversial institution. Try out for the role of original sin. Offer people fruit they were specifically told not to eat. This is pretty easy, since fruit represents knowledge of good and evil. People who haven't eaten fruit can't know it's evil, even though they were forbidden. It's like giving candy to a baby!
Be original. After all, "original" is the first word in your new job title. Instead of offering raw fruit, blend it into a healthy and refreshing beverage. Take the apple of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and mix it with the banana of Knowledge of Benny Hill and the wheat germ of Grim Self-Righteousness. Yum. So irresistible that the newly fallen will skip the intercourse and get right to the gluttony!
Sell Yourself (and Give Us the Money)
To be more specific: sell your name. Remember, Calvin Klein flattered heaps of the rich and beautiful by reminding them every day that he couldn't wait to snuggle up to their crotches.
If you need a job -- a sad fact of life for most inventors -- invent a new way to get attention from prospective employers. Magic-marker your resume onto the undergarments of the Human Resources department. Be thorough and include their spouses and children in your scheme. They'll be flattered you thought of them! And -- given the ripped condition of HR staff these days -- your resume could end up on a billboard in Times Square!
But if modesty forbids, try a different route. Sell your organs. But sell them in a new way.
First, gouge a couple of extra chambers into your heart, then set it on a Lazy Susan. Now patent and sell your heart as a six-chambered revolver -- with pump action!
The inhabitants of Texas will flock to your banner and install heart racks in their vehicles. Charleton Heston will lead a national call to repeal the ban on automatic hearts -- after all, what's the point if you have to squeeze them every single time to make them pump? Even the greeting-card industry will jump on this action when they realize you've made the perfect unisex Valentine's greeting. Valentine's Day will thereupon and forevermore be known as Legalize Mail-Order Firearms Day!
To finalize your pièce de guerrilla résistance, invent the world's first six-cylinder heart. Sensible and economical, yet perfect for off-road lovin'. Your inventions will make the cherished American dreams of personal independence and slap-happy romance meet at last.
Be Your Own Adventure
Remember that anywhere you are has potential. Invisible -- but crackling, electric, barely contained! Remind those with you, too. Nothing lights up a coworker like rubbing your feet on the carpet and touching his earlobe.
People crave adventure. The more ordinary the life, the sharper the craving. What they don't realize is that the raw materials of adventure lie all about them. This gives you an ideal opening for greatness.
If you work in a bakery, remember what bakeries produce. No, not bread! Though certainly that route has promise. For example, you could found a literary movement based on disenchantment with yeast, move to Paris, and drink nonalcholic beverages. Your life, if not better, would at least be European. Undergraduates forevermore would scrawl "Metaphor for Nature" in the margins of your chapter on the meaninglessness of carmelization.
But we're not talking about bread. We're talking about ozone. Yes -- the stuff that's in such short supply in the stratosphere is produced copiously at bakeries. Here's the supply, there's the demand. With a little gumption, this is the little twain that could meet.
Remember, the stratosphere is almost space. Space is almost adventure. And getting there is easier than you think. If the pace of modern life finds you spinning faster and faster, slingshot around the pace of modern life until you achieve escape velocity. Before you know it you and your bakery are in the nether vacuum!
You'll gain the admiration of proletariat and intelligentsia alike as you make your career on the edge of nothingness. Environmentalists will love the replenishment of the ozone, and ascetic hermits will love the manna from Heaven as your cheese danishes fall from the sky. You'll be one of the few, the pioneers: like the Marlboro Man: rugged, resourceful, and blanketed in tumors.
If you fail, remember that love of adventure is easily translated into love of inconvenience. If you're at the grocery store and your funds turn out to be insufficient for that quart of Chunky Monkey, don't apologize. Barter. Offer the cashier a quart of Pocket Rocket. Heck, it's the only thing he'll talk about all week.
Your New Life: Cabaret or Bad Toupée?
So now you're positioned for productivity. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. The life of an inventor is not easy. Peril and opposition abound. Mediocre minds want you to stop being brilliant. Your wife doesn't like that mashed-potato sculpture you keep making over and over. No one understands! Heck, even Nietzschean supermen who invent their own morality get lonely once in a while -- especially after they realize Ayn Rand is no longer accepting marriage proposals.
We all know the sad story of Galileo and his outspoken support of the heliocentric view of the solar system. The Church, claiming prior ownership on all new ideas, instituted a 350-year-long lawsuit against the poor man. It finally ended in 1992 when the Church realized that Galileo was a discoverer rather than an inventor -- and thus its turf had not been violated. Solar-system mobiles with big yellow balls in the middle were at last permitted in grade schools. But at what cost?
We don't mean to backpedal on our soft-shoe job. But that warm humid dome of enthusiasm you're feeling for inventorhood will, sooner or later, crash against the cold front of reality. Your life will be a big high-pressure center.
What you need are examples. Role models who saw the future and forged ahead despite the obstacles they faced. People you can look up to and remember when the light seems to fail. Here are three men who changed the world.
Mr. Johannes Gutenberg (or "Steve" as his friends called him) invented the one indispensable accoutrement of modern civilization: the printing press. But despite its success and Gutenberg's public acclaim, his work wasn't easy or obvious. He came to understand the need for this device via careful observation and soul-searching.
As a student at the University of Illinois, Gutenberg worked on the staff of The Daily Illini (or, as it was called in his day, The Daylie Heathen). But this distinction was far from unusual. In fact, every student was a full-time employee.
And their days consisted of mind-numbing toil. Each student was responsible for hand-lettering the full text and graphics of his own copy of the DI's morning edition. And each copy had to look exactly like all the others -- or else the teacher would tear everything up and make the kids start over.
Gutenberg quickly realized the futility of paying a quarter to read the news he'd hand-copied the day before. And since most people were illiterate, they only read the comics anyway.
His daring plan to stop this madness? Simple. End the curious and heartbreaking practice of everyone knowing the news before it was published. Instead, tell the news to a select few plutocrats, and let them decide what's OK for us to read. Once again the profit motive triumphed!
Realizing again that most people just read the comics, Gutenberg devised a bold parallel strategy. Employ mimes to enact the news, and keep the illiterate majority well-informed. This tack proved so successful that, to this day, people are amazed to learn that George W. Bush is trapped in an invisible box. So that's why he can't think!
Samuel Langhorne Clemens
If you're like most people today, you think of Mr. Clemens as a writer, not an inventor. And you probably think he took the pseudonym Mark Twain so people would stop calling him "Foghorn Langhorne". So much to learn!
Clemens was the first to harness the power of steam for practical use. As noted, the ancient Greeks were the first to notice steam's motive power. But they were also the first to invent Hedonism. The result: ancient music videos with lots of steam to hide the tantalizing bits.
But Sam Clemens had no such qualms about practicality. It was the only thing on his mind. In his early days as a barge captain on the Mississippi, he had to tow his barge by hand.
Most navigators at the time were content to wait for winter to freeze the great river and make it navigable. Then they would skate their cargo to its destination. A few entrepreneurs offered year-round services at exhorbitant cost to freeze portions of the river, but these outfits were mostly sweatshops for ice goddesses like Kim Novak and Doris Day. A better solution had to be found.
At that point in history water was new to Western culture. People were just getting over their superstitious fear of bathing. The bathtub was not yet a household fixture, so the first bathers trekked to the river.
Lack of experience meant bathers didn't dogpaddle correctly. Often they did it in reverse. Mr. Clemens first noticed this unique form of locomotion only minutes after he discovered how to boil water. In a once-in-a-lifetime flash of insight -- it came. Steam-powered reverse dogpaddling! The riverboat was born. Gambling was changed forever.
In later years, Clemens kept his original prototype reverse-dogpaddler as a tourist attraction. Only one small child could fit on the dogpaddler's back, so admission tickets were almost impossible to come by.
This meant the tour's true purpose was well-concealed. Each child who took the tour was transported to Clemens' private island in the Mississippi River. Thus Clemens paid touching tribute to the contributions the ancient Greeks had made to his discoveries.
In later years, Clemens née Twain sunk most of his fortune into an invention called the Paige compositor. Meant to compete with the linotype in the then-hot typesetting market, the compositor worked only once and then was dismantled.
Derided as madness, this move was actually Twain's attempt to conform to contemporary licensing laws. Ancient agrarian tradition held that actions could be performed exactly once, after which all rights reverted to the Divine Pharaoh (aka. the Secretary of State). This was the main source of the clergy's power: they could grant absolution from sin, but then the single-user divinity license reverted to the original grantors. More sin meant more purchases, and failure to pay meant excommunication.
Hence Twain's invention: a machine to mass-produce print which could be used once. Gutenberg had encountered the same problem. He circumvented it by being literate -- a feared and misunderstood condition in his day. Paper at that time was mainly used to make primitive toy airplanes. When Gutenberg stamped small black marks onto paper and claimed it was the Holy Bible, people thought his madness might be contagious and left him alone.
However, more secular pursuits suffered. Crops could only be grown once, which is why agrarian societies suffered from constant famine. Unfortunately famine was itself exempted from single-usage licensing -- by the Divine Punishment subclause of Divine Law.
It took the Civil War to bring this practice to an end. By winning against the agrarian South, the industrial North was finally able to legalize mass-production. No longer were workers legally bound to a lifetime of service in exchange for one payment consisting of a ragged loincloth (a practice better known as slavery). Workers could now be paid to perform the same task over and over, twelve hours a day. The sheer novelty of this paradigm drove many laborers to madness, but saner heads prevailed and guided America to prosperity.
None of this helped poor Twain. He died destitute and bitter. But he achieved posthumous regard as the inventor of the in-joke. Cogniscenti of later years adored the high camp of Twain's Paige-compositor caper, and found much else to like in his oeuvre's sly references to democratic societies that forbid women and blacks to vote.
Cole Porter penned a ditty in honor of the old clown-sage, entitled "Authoritarian Agrarian Regime". There were many smirks when the ignorant masses misinterpreted the song as an ode to Leon Trotsky.
The movement probably reached its height when cartoonist Pat Oliphant published a book entitled Burn This Book! The nation of Germany took the book at its word, much to the delight of cosmopolitan literati. And hipsters shook with glee when these dupes declared themselves a Master Race and attempted to subjugate all other peoples. What fun to be one of the few in on the joke!
After the campy weenie-roast of the sixties, the public's taste for sly fun abated somewhat. All in all, though, it's amazing how long Mark Twain has remained fresh and hip. He still speaks to budding high-school cogniscenti everywhere. Here's to you, Pseudonymous Guy.
Edison invented many things, none so lasting as his own public image. To this day he's pictured on record labels everywhere, staring curiously into the megaphone of a Victrola. In truth this image was an accident, born of Edison's collaboration with Dylan Thomas on his masterwork Portrait of the Inventor As a Young Dog. An accident, yes -- but this is how cultural monoliths are born.
Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of sound reproduction. Sound reproduction had already existed for some time, but the mortality rate was so high that only rich sounds could expect to have healthy male heirs. Few noises could expect to survive to their well-deserved retirement.
What Edison perfected was the process of sonic pasteurization. The treatment of milk to remove harmful bacteria proved indispensable in the sonic world. Newborn sounds were fed pasteurized milk, and the survival rate quadrupled.
This inspired the subsequent invention of sonic innoculation, which grew into a cultural mainstay. As a matter of course, all new songs are now vaccinated against harmful noise. The result -- happy, healthy sounds from the throats of pop divas throughout the world!
With some justification, however, critics deride the related practice of sonic surgery. All too frequently musicians resort to surgery to sound better. And the analogous process of digital alteration has the potential to damage young minds. Nowadays any child with internet access can download faked .WAVs of Britney Spears! Internet providers must take responsibility and stop closing their ears to this travesty.
But back to Mr. Edison. Furious at his use of Louis Pasteur's name, the French initiated a vicious smear campaign against Edison. They claimed that all he did was take existing sounds and graft on a French accent. This made any sound sexier and therefore more likely to reproduce. The reputation of clean, wholesome American noise was in jeopardy!
However, Edison had his revenge against the French with his work in electricity. Although -- again -- he did not discover it, he did give us the innovation of high-tension wires. These quickly came into popular use, supplanting the old French technology of sexual-tension wires.
For this we can never repay Thomas Edison. He gave us the gift of the modern high-tension American lifestyle. The danger of sexiness was removed from our national landscape, and our children could at last grow up right. This is why, today, the man is the idol of every schoolchild -- and why children stand on street corners with books of Edison quotations, slapping passersby who express lukewarm feelings about this Cultural Revolution.
Don't Dream It. Be It.
We hope we've given you something to think about. We of What Jail Is Like must take humble exception to those who call us inventors. We're really more like creators. But we do know that, if you're capable of acting like someone you're not, you've got what it takes to change the world.
If you really don't possess strength of character, you can still follow in the footsteps of the inventor of fajita wraps. Diners were already making wraps when they ordered Mexican -- but some lucky sap discovered he could sell prewrapped food to the throngs of restauranteurs who were too damn lazy to do it themselves.
So take the next logical step. Invent predigested food. The personal chefs and modern artists of America will canonize you.