Tag Archives: They Might Be Giants

Shoehorns With Teeth

My thoughts are scattered. In them, I see a sort of pattern, a coalescence of ideas that I’d like to gather in one net, into my basket of stars or fishes. Yes, I’m fishing for ideas.

Sadly, my thoughts don’t want to be caught. In fact, I don’t want to be caught. I want to slide out, slip free, hold onto nothing. But it’s a curse of humanity to want to capture and categorize. Ever since we gave sense to sounds by giving them meanings, we’ve defined the world according to a shaky order of ideas. Why do the symbols l-o-v-e come to be pronounced in one phonetic pattern (that actually doesn’t follow the phonetic order), and where does this phonetic pattern obtain its abstract meaning?

I have no idea, but I accept the meaning and sound of love for the sake of the linguistic history of my own idiom. But what I can’t accept are others forcing their barbed definitions onto me. You know how it feels when somebody chooses to make sense of you by expressing an all-encompassing definition. And you’re hurt by the callous, if not false, meaning attached to your core being. You aren’t a “right-wing nut-job” or a “bleeding-heart liberal” or a “strident feminist” or a “wannabe writer” or a “conspiracy theorist”–not by the narrow definitions given for those terms. Rather, you’re a complex human being who may have thought long and hard about what it really means to be a feminist or a writer, maybe even what it means to be a Christian.

But, hey, the master of definition says, if the shoe fits, wear it, even if the shoe has been forcibly worked onto your foot by means of a shoehorn with teeth.

The expression shoehorn with teeth comes from the chorus of a They Might Be Giants song. The next line says, People should get beat up for stating their beliefs. The genius of this pair of lines [He wants a shoehorn, the kind with teeth. People should get beat up for stating their beliefs] is in its reversal of meaning. It works both ways. The “he” of the song is an immature adult who believes in his own right to batter others for giving their opinions. But it also works against him because the next time he shoehorns his opinions on others, he might be the one to receive the divine karma.

Now I’m back to my scattered thoughts and the coalescence of ideas. Over the last several days, I’ve read internet debates on feminism, on politics, on self-publishing. Yesterday, I began reading a memoir, in which the meanness of the writer is so grating, so covered over with bumper sticker labels that I felt I was being pinned down. I was an insect on a board, a fish caught in a net, a star defined by a narrow definition of hydrogen and helium. And by the very nature of this memoirist’s status in print, she becomes the master of definition. She’s an authority. An author.

/s-t-a-r/ /l-o-v-e/ /s-h-o-e-h-o-r-n/ /a-u-t-h-o-r/ /b-e-a-t-i-n-g/. Pronounce the phonetics with me: beating, bashed, hurt, wounded. I know we can make sense of these sounds as they correlate to physicality. What about the abstracts, though? What of those? What does this mean?–> LOVE.