A Writing Exercise

time to put the Vermeer out on display

We generally try not to write about people who are still alive. Their deeds and achievements should stand for who they are, unmolested by the subjectivity of a peanut gallery, canine/human/otherwise.

 nevertheless, if one does need to write about a living person, we recommend what we like to call “the wood chipper test”.

Imagine an outdoor barbeque, southern-USA style, in the middle of nowhere, late afternoon.  You’re in a small, peaceful clearing surrounded by big, old-growth maple and fir trees. The only sounds, aside from what you yourselves produce, are the wind working its way through the full, green, late-summer leaves of those trees, and noise from a distant country road. There’s a full spread of food and booze, intended for you, a squadron of bodyguards, and your subject. Not far away, in a field, awaits a brand-new, well-oiled, top-of-the-line Vermeer wood chipper.

today, you are God. you can do whatever you like with your subject. barbecue & fascinating conversation that becomes a lifelong best memory? check. revolting gay (or not) gangbang orgy at gunpoint? check. drunken Civil War reenactment? check.  origami-making session with paper napkins? check…i guess.

“but what if things go badly, or if I decide I really don’t like this person”, you ask?

Well, that’s why the wood chipper’s there.

see, the wood chipper execution is an highly nuanced piece of business.

it can be a nearly painless mercy killing (head-first) or it can be an absolutely horrific, incredibly violent mess of an experience (feet-first) as all parties watch an human being be gradually consumed and recycled by a simple piece of gasoline-powered machinery into its constituent parts of blood, flesh, and bone.

 But the additional complexity of this scenario is that the wood chipper execution is the only way out of the scenario for both you and your subject if things go badly, even if you decide he or she only deserves a good beating on the basis of your own worldview.

that’s the thing: there are literally hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who, given the chance, would sit down with Adolf Hitler, say “you know what, I totally get you! you only deserve life in prison on a technicality but since that’s not an option, I’ll just punch you in the face” three hours later, and let him go.


just ask the Jews, they’ll be happy to remind you.

See, Adolf isn’t a nice guy. You know that already. If you let him go, he goes to the police and you go to jail for a long time. So either Mr Vermeer gets a nice long lunch or you’re in for a serious lifestyle change.

Which is it?

“well, now that you put it that way, I guess…”

 Really? Are you going to help the bodyguards?

“well, I…isn’t that why they’re there?”

Actually, no. They’re there to protect you. If you ask, they’ll help you – but the decision is yours.

“shit…I…Adolf’s such a nice guy, I mean, you could practically imagine him as a Jew, couldn’t you?”

Yeah, that’s the problem: he’s a psychopath regardless of ethnicity, but the distinction doesn’t really matter to you, does it.

 “why are you being so critical? this is a hard decision! don’t you thin..”

No. I’m not here to advise you; I’m simply providing an exposition. There’s no doubt it’s pretty hard to feed a human being into a wood chipper in a literal sense, yet the metaphorical equivalent happens every day with the consent of allegedly educated people as long as there’s at least one degree of separation involved.

“well I went to the LSE, and in my global econo…”

Look. You have an option here. This is the first day of the best part of your life. You can literally unceremoniously throw the dickhead into the wood chipper without any real-world repercussions.  So do you want to?

this, in essence, is the subject matter of every Hague war trial and every corporate malfeasance inquest and every congressional ethics probe, and unless the person in question is very rich by birth, the answer is inevitably “well, yeah, I guess so, I mean, who really gives a shit.”

 Don’t get drawn into an ethical dilemma here: the world circa 1933 and later is better off with Adolf as atomized flesh in all cases – and this is what “the wood chipper test” is all about.

 you are the writer. it is less important that Adolf’s corporeal mass is promptly scheduled to meet a wall of sharp, geared, gasoline-driven teeth, and more important that those teeth are totally indifferent to whichever end of Adolf comes first.

Nevertheless, those teeth are inanimate; you are not.

Which end of Adolf goes first?

this, truly, is the most human part of the question. Adolf is important only to the extent that you feel it appropriate to offer him mercy: once you’ve already decided on the execution, whether Adolf experiences just 0.5 or 55 seconds of excruciating pain is most likely immaterial to you – and everyone else, actually.

The important part is you. What questions do you want to ask? How much of the process do you truly want to witness? Do you want to distribute the video? And if so, how and with what goals and strategy? How does that affect your choice of cinematography?

These questions confront both ISIS and BCG every month or so – but they have been asked for centuries. Neither cares what the answers are anymore. Nor should you. All that matters is that you asked the questions, and from asking them, you gain greater insight into what you should write. Nevertheless – the dickhead goes into the wood chipper.


The dickhead goes into the wood chipper.

The dickhead goes into the wood chipper.

The dickhead goes into the wood chipper.

The dickhead goes into the wood chipper.

The dickhead goes into the wood chipper.