The guiding principle of Six Ridiculous Questions is that life is filled with ridiculousness. And questions. That only by giving in to these truths may we hope to slip the surly bonds of reality and attain the higher consciousness we all crave. (Eh, not really, but it sounded good there for a minute.) It’s just. Who knows? The ridiculousness and question bits, I guess. Why six? Assonance, baby, assonance.
1. At the age of whatever, Vandor the Cro-Magnon sets off on an important albeit hitherto unspecified quest carrying only his father’s trusty elk-horn club and an antelope bladder he uses to carry water. What is Vandor questing for? Does he ever find it, and what happens when he does? Assuming he is extremely handsome for a Cro-Magnon (make of that what you will), but not incredibly bright (ditto), what are the chances Vamdor’s quest will be picked up by Netflix? Movie or series? Open-ended or closed-? Finally, who should play Vandor?
Well, the club suggests he intends to fight something, so I imagine he’s probably out to seek revenge for his father’s death—perhaps there was an aurochs who slew his father, and now Vandor wants revenge and hopes that enacting it with his father’s club will provide a sense of poetic justice in this cruel Paleolithic world. Perhaps Vandor saw a cave painting of an aurochs on a wall and, not being very bright, imagined that it was the aurochs that had killed his father—from there, he goes from cave to cave, and each time he sees another painted aurochs, he thinks he’s one step closer. Maybe as time goes on he starts to paint the aurochs himself on each bare cave wall he encounters, having seen representations of it so frequently that he’s now become an expert. Eventually, his wanderings start growing circular, and he finds his own paintings but doesn’t remember painting them and uses them as proof that he is indeed getting closer. This could be a commentary on the self-referentiality of artistic depiction and how over time artists gradually confuse the real with the represented.
If Netflix were to pick this up, they’d probably rewrite the story and turn Vandor from a delusional madman who becomes a cave painter into a heroic warrior who does in fact confront the aurochs and slays it, and then marries a Cro-Magnon woman he’s met along the way and has children of his own. There might even be another evil Cro-Magnon who’s working with the aurochs and who Vandor has to fight as well. He’d probably be played by the guy from Vikings (Travis Fimmel) since to a film producer, Medieval Scandinavia and the Paleolithic Era are pretty much the same.
2. Your cat has decided, for the thousandth time, to try to drive you insane. Through an admixture of indiscriminate vomiting, poor little box etiquette, and constant yowling, your cat succeeds! Please provide the pertinent details concerning your break with sanity. That is, how exactly did your breakdown go down and how were you corralled by the authorities? When you arrive at the State Psychiatric Hospital at Blah Blah, what will your diagnosis be? How long before you get out and what happens when you do?
My cat is far too well behaved for this to happen, but if she did drive me insane it would probably be because I tried too hard to communicate with her and ultimately convinced myself that each of her slightly modulated meows had its own sophisticated and complex meaning. I’d probably end up in a room at the Psychiatric Hospital meowing to myself in different intonations and mimicking her movements to try and understand what she was thinking, and I’d only get out one I convinced myself that I understood exactly what she’d said.
3. How would the world be different if plants could speak?
This makes me think of Richard Power’s novel The Overstory, in which a scientist makes the claim that trees and plants do in fact communicate with each other. The novel is ultimately all about trees and humans communicating and a group of environmentalists trying to get the rest of the world to understand the urgency of protecting the natural world. I think if plants could speak, they would speak to us about climate change and plead with us to save our planet before it’s too late.
4. Say you’ve wasted a lot of time on Facebook over the last…decade…how would you go about getting that time back?
I’ve thankfully managed to reduce my time on Facebook recently by doing something as simple as deleting the app from my phone (I still use it on my computer, but I no longer feel compelled to compulsively check it). But let’s assume I spent an average of half-an-hour a day for the past decade on Facebook: that would come out to 1825 hours total, or about 76 days—and when you put it in days, it doesn’t sound so bad! So to get that time back, I’d probably take a long vacation somewhere, some multi-country, two-and-a-half-month trip, perhaps to countries in Asia that I’ve never been too, or even back to Europe, to revisit those small cities and towns that we always overlook as we rush from London to Paris to Berlin to Rome to cram in as much as possible during our too-brief weeklong vacations. Obviously, the rule would be to not use Facebook or any social media in that stretch of time—and by the end, I’d probably feel calmer than if I’d spent those 76 days in silent meditation at a Buddhist monastery.
5. It’s 2040 and the world has changed. Most notably, in 2022, djinnis were discovered to be real. A decade-long techno-magical arms race ensued, leading to the development of various djinni-location and -capture techno-magicologies. Predictably, Jeff Bezos used his vast fortune to corner the market on said techno-magicologies.
Once Bezos located and captured every djinni everywhere, he imprisoned them in an unbreachable fortress hidden at the center of the Earth. (OK, it’s not hidden very well but it is, in fact, completely unbreachable.) Forcing his captive army of djinn to crank out wishes day and night, Bezos has completely cornered the market on wishes. But he’s not selling them. That’s right, Jeff Bezos is giving wishes away, as long as you fulfill a few modest requirements first.
All aspiring wish recipients are expected to serve ten years in the Bezos organization beginning with a tour in the Bezos gladiatorial pits beneath Amazon corporate HQ. There, wish-aspirants fight robots for the right to work as unpaid interns in Amazon warehouses. Assuming you kill enough robots to qualify for warehouse duty and make it through the intervening decade of servitude—and, let me tell you, the robot gladiators were the least of your concerns, sister—you get a wish. Just one. What do you wish for? (Do I need to tell you to be careful with this?) Also, feel free to opine on the scenario in general. After all, it’ll be your reality soon enough. You should have some input!
Probably for all djinnis to disappear forever. I think this would be an effective way to undercut Bezos—I’m assuming in this world he’s transitioned entirely to djinnis and djinni-related services, which means if the djinnis went away, so would the economic base of his company. People would be so used to djinnis by that point that they’d grow frustrated at their sudden disappearance and blame Bezos and his company. The gladiators could then lead a revolution against Amazon and overthrow the system, while a Hans Zimmer soundtrack plays grandly in the background.
6. Is happiness real?
Of course—though I think the definition is very debatable. I remember watching a news program when I was little (I think it was 60 Minutes) about how Denmark is routinely ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world. They interviewed a bunch of young Danish people, and I remember one of them said that his secret to happiness was to have low expectations. Americans, he said, were too ambitious: when reality fails to match up to your dreams, you end up feeling sad. Better not to have those dreams in the first place! I didn’t agree with this definition, though, and I still don’t, even if I’ve come to accept there’s a certain Buddhist wisdom in renouncing worldly expectations and desires. The truth is, Denmark isn’t the happiest country because of low expectations but probably because of a combination of factors like a successful social welfare state and free healthcare. Ambition, meanwhile, might make you feel depressed now and then, but I think the euphoria you feel when you do succeed is worth the occasional bout of melancholy.
Aatif Rashid is the author of the novel Portrait of Sebastian Khan (2019). He’s published short stories in The Massachusetts Review, Arcturus, Barrelhouse, and Triangle House Review and nonfiction in The LA Review of Books and Lit Hub, as well as on Medium. He currently writes regularly for The Kenyon Review blog about fiction writing.
Kurt Baumeister has written for Salon, Electric Literature, Guernica, and others. His debut novel, a satirical thriller entitled Pax Americana, was published by Stalking Horse Press. He is currently at work on a novel, The Book of Loki. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.kurtbaumeister.com.