How to Eat a Bus
Or, the Act and Art Of Chipping Away
i. the bus-eater
Did you hear about the guy who ate a school bus?
Not a joke. Whether it was the product of a dare, or just a personal challenge, this man decided he was going to eat a whole bus.
The notion of eating something as massive and inedible as a bus seems fantastical:
like shifting a mountain, or learning every language. Herculean, even.
But the guy did it: piece by piece,
each one ground into fine powder, stirred into his stew or potato salad, or whatever it was he ate when he wasn’t eating vehicles.
It took a long time: years, probably even decades. But eventually there was no more bus left to eat.
Now, I’ve tried — unsuccessfully — to confirm the veracity of this story. A more committed @Google search could settle the issue.
But in my heart I admit I take it for myth. And I don’t want this myth to be dispelled;
because also in my heart is a wish to live in a world where it is possible for a human to eat a bus.
Assuming a person *could* consume something large and inorganic like, say, a basketball or picnic table, that would be the way to do it:
To tackle it little by little, in bite-sized segments, over a very long period of time.
While I have no intention to consume something other than mostly grains and vegetables for the rest of my life,
it has occurred to me that the bus-eater’s modus operandi is one applicable to other endeavours which can colour a fulfilling existence.
Namely, the act and art of Chipping Away.
ii. hoeing corn
I’m taking a break from reading James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ to chip away at this essay.
This book is a monster: one of the longest pieces of literature out there, and hands-down the longest I have ever attempted.
‘Ulysses’ is something of an Everest:
massive, mythical, and the sort of entity that compels you to conquer it for no other reason than the fact that it is there.
It’s not just its length that asks me to step away from it, often. It’s the complexity of the language, too.
Joyce, a modernist, frequently dips into stream-of-consciousness narration:
the words we read are the words that pop up, like bubbles in your root beer, into the characters’ mind.
Chaotic, frantic, incoherent, piecemeal, nonsensical, erratic, playful, dirty, grotesque, perverted, broken.
Such is the language of our mind. And such is the language of ‘Ulysses.’
I have been tackling this brick on and off since the fall. Progress: about halfway.
Maybe I’ll finish in May. Or June, I don’t know. But I will finish it. Of this I can be sure. It is my school bus.
How can I be sure? Because I find it interesting. This is probably the most important prerequisite for reading a book.
As Austin Kleon reminds us, life is too short to read bad books.
How else can I be sure? Because I know how to hoe corn — so to speak.
It was the writer Jim Harrison who said in his magnificent Paris Review interview:
‘If you can hoe corn for 50 cents an hour, day after day, you can learn how to write a novel.’
Don’t ask me to harvest actual corn, unless you want your crop to be ruined. I’m no farmer — but I do read and write.
And run marathons; and hike mountains; and take courses;
and sit through Wagner; and teach through semesters; and work on the health of my marriage.
No corn or buses in my world. But ask me to perform a small act, over and over, for a long period of time … well, that I can do.
And you don’t even have to pay me (because, as I said, I find them interesting, and that in itself is a kind of payment).
iii. time and stamina
While I may not be very skilled at reading big books, I am moderately skilled at wrapping my head around a long sentence.
And better still at making and unpacking individual words. No problem.
So it stands to reason that if I can tackle one word at a time — one piece, ground to dust — I might do this repeatedly over time.
If we were to get more technical about it, we might say that the key ingredients of completing big projects …
are the twin assets of TIME and STAMINA.
‘Ulysses’ has been called unreadable.
Just as Everest was once called unscalable. And the guy who bet against the bus-eater lost his hundred bucks.
With enough time, and the ability to take advantage of this luxury, the 900+ pages of ‘Ulysses’ can be read, and written.
originally posted to Twitter 5 April 2017