How to wake up

This entry is part 1 of 39 in the series Manual


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This is the first page of the missing manual, designed to be understood only by those who have no need of it.

Waking up isn’t for everyone.

Dreaming is an anodyne to our nearly inescapable grief.

But if you must awaken, make your bed inside a kettle drum and pray for rain.

When it starts to thunder, climb onto the roof and cling to the lightning rod.

Waking up isn’t for those who are already dead.

You have to start from a position of strength: go fetal.

Every zipper yearns for closure, but it can’t be rushed.

The mountain isn’t going anywhere—stop trying so hard!

Early birds are known only from the fossil record, having met their end in the jaws of nocturnal beasts.

Leave a window open for cat burglars and cats, either of whom might teach you how to travel light.

Waking up isn’t for sleepers.

Eternity can be bribed, though, if you’re subtle about it.

How to eat

This entry is part 2 of 39 in the series Manual


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Cultivate an appetite through rigorous exercise of the organs of speech.

Grow root vegetables and, if possible, talons.

Salivation is important, but in most cases it will not be necessary to consume the saliva of other creatures, e.g. in the form of Aerodramus swiftlet nests.

Go to the ocean—primal eater—and watch how it wags its tongue.

Make sure the bread and the soup are singing in the same key.

Beware of the sea cucumber, which turns itself inside-out to avoid becoming a meal.

The best food is the most obvious: a fan never runs out of air to chew.

If the meat is rotten, eat the maggots.

Forks to the left, spoons to the right and a steak knife’s macron over the dish’s O.

Oxidation is too unpredictable. Use gastric acid and fermentation.

Set an extra place at your table for the anthropologist with the most delectable buttocks.

How to walk

This entry is part 3 of 39 in the series Manual


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Walking is a form of climbing—one extremity should keep hold of the floor or ground at all times to prevent a fall.

(Feet are better for this than hands.)

You can try delegating it to others, but you have to hope they won’t do the same.

Someone must walk or the earth will forget about us and have other bad dreams instead.

Find a tree to coach you—trees spend their whole lives plotting their next step.

Be careful not to take root.

Every corner of terra firma requires a different walk, as well as every hour of the day.

A morning walk should never take the place of an evening or postprandial walk.

Saunter. Shuffle. Swagger. Stride. Plod.

Feet are like oxen bound in harness: they’re paired, but they’re not a couple.

However much they’re fetishized, their first and only mate is the ground.

Muscles are like batteries—simply walk backwards to recharge!

Try not to think about the ten little piggies with their discordant agendas.

Try not to think about those other two-legged animals, the birds.

At birth, you are allotted just so many steps. Choose them carefully.

Keep your eyes on the sidewalk—there are no dropped coins in the sky.

How to listen

This entry is part 4 of 39 in the series Manual


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Just as the tail bone is a vestigial tail, the ears are vestigial cabbages.

Wear a hat to ward off ear worms, which if unchecked can turn into ear moths.

Listen with the heart. It’s not really designed for that, but it gets bored just pumping blood all the time.

Listen with your skin: each body hair is an antenna.

Turn on, tune in, drop into a really comfortable couch.

That “still, small voice” is neither God nor conscience but a long-deceased great aunt with a few things still on her mind.

Take notes.

All sound can be heard as music, but not all music can be heard as music.

Your life did, in fact, come with a soundtrack—what have you done with it?

The listener, too, must improvise.

One chord is enough for most purposes—don’t be greedy!

Silence can take four basic forms: pregnant, shocked, utter, and radio.

Pregnant silence is the most tragic, since she always dies giving birth.

Compose in her memory a sonata for the ear trumpet.

How to wait

This entry is part 5 of 39 in the series Manual


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Incubate an egg with the heat of your palms. Brood.

Nurse your sorrows with the sour milk of jealousy, or failing that, Nestle’s infant formula.

Dissect a seed.

Relive a pleasant memory by reenacting it in excruciating detail.

Do math problems in your head—for example, prove Goldbach’s Conjecture.

Collect rain in jars, tightly sealed and organized by month and day.

Get ready! Sharpen all your knives.

Grind them until they’re thin as piano wires.

Hug yourself tightly and rock back and forth on your haunches.

If you must watch the clock, unplug it first.

If you must play solitaire, dispense with the cards.

Light cigarettes and watch from a safe distance as they turn into columns of ash.

Pace, but let your fingers do the walking.

Novels are best read backwards, one page at a time.

Stop kidding yourself about what comes next.

Go about your business.

Coil into a spring so your mind won’t have anywhere to wander.

How to breathe

This entry is part 6 of 39 in the series Manual


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Find a tree willing to trade some oxygen for your carbon dioxide.

Start with one breath and see how it goes.

Vacuum cleaners make excellent coaches, since they have nothing useful to teach.

Sleep with your mouth closed so your breath can’t escape.

Cover your mouth when you yawn for the same reason.

Every breath is really the same breath, like a guest that keeps coming back.

Some people do other things while they breathe, but we don’t recommend this. Concentrate!

Public air may be free, but who knows who’s used it?

Breathe natural, odorless bottled air instead.

Some religious people may tell you that prayer is the original form of breathing, but they have it backwards.

Cold weather causes insanity—that’s why you see your breath at lower temperatures.

If pneumonia strikes, burrow into the leaf duff and practice breathing through your skin like a lungless salamander.

The lungs are nothing but wings that have lost their way.

How to find things

This entry is part 7 of 39 in the series Manual


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Stop searching. Only pre-existing itches should be scratched.

Pull the petals from a daisy, then use tweezers to remove the yellow florets in its eye.

This is the way to perfect your own seeing.

Court sleep as if it were a lover.

When you dream of being chased, stop fleeing—let yourself be caught, killed and dismembered.

Your dreams will be so much better with a new protagonist!

Call your own phone number and say, Who’s this?

Have a notary’s signature tattooed above your genitals.

If you’re claustrophobic, team up with an agorophobic and make love from a safe distance.

(Love-making is dangerous: you can discover too many things at once.)

However quickly you’re going, go faster still.

Give each of your possessions a pet name and a safe word.

Work. Do somebody else’s bidding for 50 years.

Vacate. Watch a log burning in a fireplace on cable TV.

If you want to find God, sin flagrantly to invite divine retribution.

If you want to follow your gut, you must first acquire a gut.

Close your mind and open your mouth to every sweetness.

You are a child of the universe. Stuff yourself until you resemble a minor asteriod.

Each borborygmus is a message from the other world.

Manual: How to make videopoems, courtesy of Swoon

This entry is part 8 of 39 in the series Manual


Manual: How to wait from Swoon on Vimeo

Manual: How to walk from Swoon on Vimeo

If you follow my poetry video collection Moving Poems even a little, you’ve probably watched more than one videopoem by the Belgian video-artist and soundcreator Swoon — and I haven’t even posted all his work. Not only is he prolific and (obviously) fast-moving; he’s one of the most inventive and interesting artists working in the medium. I like the music he composes as well. So I was thrilled when he asked me, this past week, if I’d mind him making some videos for my new Manual series.

He’s also kindly provided an English translation of his blog post about the videos as well as a short bio, which I have tweaked just a little with his permission:

Poetry, words and dreams form an important basis for the work of Swoon. As a stranger in our midst he recycles “virtual” internet images, shoots his own, creates soundscapes and makes dreamlike, moving paintings out of it all — a dream made real out of vague bits. Swoon’s work has been selected for several festivals around the world. He’s an autodidact.

Swoon writes:

For “Manual” I wanted to create, first of all, a track that I could later adjust with each new episode.

Listen on SoundCloud

For images I wanted to do something with what Dave said on Facebook: “My biggest influences on the writing in this series, by the way, are the Serbian poets Vasko Popa and Novica Tadic. That’s the level of absurdism I’m trying to mine — a challenge for my somewhat too-logical mind.”

So I needed to go away from my usual way of setting up a project. I was not going to use layers; the feel of the films needed to have a slight touch of absurdism.

For “How to wait,” I wanted to film two bare feet standing/waiting. When I used a piece of bacon (lying around, waiting for lunch) to set focus and I looked at the test-footage, it struck me. This works. I love it when coincidences like this take a lead.

All I had to do was follow my trail of thoughts. Keep it simple. Film at home with what you can find in the kitchen.

For editing, I created three “storylines” of film for each text. Then I edited three different versions (backwards, …) of those three into a “nine-screen.”


Swoon adds that more videos will probably follow. How exciting! I think the bacon works in part because of the English expression “bring home the bacon” and related phrases such as “save one’s bacon” and “chew the fat.” According to the U.K. site The Phrase Finder, “bacon has been a slang term for one’s body, and by extension one’s livelihood or income, since the 17th century.” So to me as a viewer, the bacon in these videos seems to symbolize the generalized object of striving or attention. In any case, I think Swoon’s use of it is a good demonstration of the Zen dictum, “first thought, best thought.”

Listen to Swoon’s audio compositions on Soundcloud, watch his videos on Vimeo, follow his blog and visit his website.

How to lose

This entry is part 9 of 39 in the series Manual


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Learn to love silence and the taste of water.

Let birds nest in your best suit.

Live at home.

Change your mind often to prevent wear.

When called upon to speak, let words escape you: ululate.

Weep at weddings, dance at funerals, sleep-walk in parades.

Peg your moods to the weather.

Keep careful records of the shapes of clouds.

Burrow like a star-nosed mole into the task at hand: blindly, guided by an extinguished light.

Give yourself up like a river in flood.

Whatever you accomplish, make it look as if it happened on its own.

Form a committee for the reinvention of the wheel.

If you’re boring enough, even death may forget about you.

Erase your tracks with a worn-down broom.

How to dance

This entry is part 10 of 39 in the series Manual


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Don’t merely spin; unspool.

Replace all your bones with strong, flexible, environmentally conscious bamboo.

Forget how to walk.

You’re not trying to depart; you’re trying to arrive.

Apprentice yourself to a flat tire. Get down!

You are 60% water by weight—start acting like it.

Evaporate. Precipitate. Flow.

Apprentice yourself to a tectonic plate. Subduct!

Practice by following distant celestial bodies through a telescope without a tripod.

Whatever you’re doing, do it while holding an infant.

Dance about architecture, yes, but also about demolition.

Dance on your last legs, which have waited long enough.

Contrary to received wisdom, it actually takes three people to tango, unless you think you can do it without an accordion.

If you can’t dance, don’t worry—it’s not your revolution.

Do-si-do and promenade. Change partners.

Let your partner also change you.

Dervishes whirl because the beloved could be anywhere, anywhere!

Don’t be in such a hurry to finish.


Thanks to RR for a couple of the lines and much of the inspiration.