When life gives you snow
Today is the first snow of the new year! I ready my camera, walkie-talkie, and stack of tutorials, all individually enclosed in snow-proof plastic covers (on such topics as How to Build a Snowman, How to Build a Snowwoman, How to Build a Nongendered Snowperson1, Snow-Angels for Dummies, The Art of Snowball Wars, Snowfort Construction, Hypothermia Public Service Announcement, and Stages of Grief - the last for when the snowcreature eventually melts; it is never too early to prepare), and bundle up before making the rounds.
At Philosophocle, we pride ourselves on our broad foundational knowledge - we learn the common epistemological structure beneath all fields, so that we can, in theory, learn any new subject quickly. This does, however, not seem to include snowpeople building. I often find extremely intelligent Philosophocler students standing outside in the snow, unsure where to start. They show me their specifications for dream snowmen and snowwomen on sketch paper that is getting wetter as we speak, asking me questions such as, “How do I make a snowball \(x\) centimeters in diameter?”
“How about putting on some gloves first?” I reply. Indeed, Snow-Angela, a shrewd businesswoman, is taking advantage of the weather to sell snow gear at 10% markup. I give the amateur snowbuilder Snow-Angela’s business card2, and tell them to present it at checkout, which will ensure that I get a 9% cut of the profits.
“This is my new best friend,” an enthusiastic (and more competent) snowwoman builder announces. “In fact, I think we are going to get married.”
I take a picture of the snowwomanizer proposing to the snowwoman with a snowring. He tells me to hurry before the snowring melts. I give him a ticket which he can use to claim his photo at the end of the day for one dollar.
“You’d better get married fast,” I tell him, and pass him a “Stages of Grief” tutorial.3
He glares at me. “Of all the unhelpful things -”
“Try the Philosophocle School of Religion,” I said, more helpfully, “Which denomination minister are you seeking? I’m afraid I don’t have a guide to Choosing the Right Minister for Your Marriage, or a map of the School of Religion (which is a sprawling complex, including several underground tombs where one can get lost).”
“Is there not a traveling minister?” he asks.
“Ah,” I said, “Of course there is. If you don’t mind a mandatory personal information session on agnosticism, Agnes will gladly give you a secular wedding ceremony.”
My walkie-talkie crackes, and I answer it.
“Is this the hotline for snow-building help?” a crackly voice asks.
“Yes,” I say. “Step 1. Do you have a warm coat, gloves, hat, earmuffs, scarf, and are they put on the correct extremities?”
“Yes, yes,” says the voice impatiently. “I just bought them at Snow-Angela’s Snow Shack. She told me to page in for a tutorial on how to actually build the snowman.”
“Ah. May I recommend joining the Uniformists? They have set up an assembly line at Emptiness Field4, in front of the Philosophy Department, and will gladly walk you through the process. Use offer code SNOOBI when you join.”
There is a pause. “What is an offer code?”
I am patient. Most Philosophoclers have not had experience with online shopping (preferring to use computer time to read long blog posts on tumblr written by foreigners with existentialist problems and provide free philosophical consultation in the comments).
“It’s a secret password to join the Uniformists,” I say. “Otherwise, they may throw snowballs at you.”
“I wasn’t aware they were so… militant.”
“You never know who to trust when it starts snowing.”
I route the confused snowbuilders to the Uniformists, because they have been building Uniformed Snowmen for generations, and have promised me a dollar for every person I refer. There is a line for new recruits, including a tent set up containing Uniformist T-shirts, Uniformed Snowman specification sheets with plastic snowproof covers5 (bottom ball 40 centimeters, middle ball 35 centimeters, top ball 30 centimeters, with identical berets, identical branches bent at identical angles, and identical holsters, each with three standard-issue 8-centimeter snowballs), and where Not Important will give a practical primer on Uniformist philosophy as it relates to snowmen building. (“Every snowflake is unique. However, although each Uniformed Snowman is made up of thousands of unique snowflakes, each Uniformed Snowman is macroscopically the same. If you’re curious to learn more, I suggest taking Professor Tempera’s Statistical Physics course in the spring semester. If you join the Uniformists, we will provide you with free study guides as well as sample homework answers.”)
Suddenly, a snowball splatters in my face. It is Trevisia, holding a paintbrush in one hand. I run.
“You traitor!” She calls, “How many people have you referred to the Uniformists? I thought you were an Art major!”
What she says hurts me. I am in fact an Art major. Art, however, is an undervalued subject, so I have supplemented it with a business education. The other art majors resent me simply for not being a starving artist, like them.
I try to dodge her paintbrush. Any other day, I am content to be colorful, however, it will not do to refer people to the Uniformists when I am splotched. In my dodging I drop several papers in my stack of tutorials. Fortunately, they are in snow-proof plastic covers; I will pick them up later.
“You and your instructions! Building a snowperson to specifications ruins the creative process that is building a snowperson! A snowperson is not a list of instructions! Every snowperson and snowcritter is a poem! Where are those ‘Let Your Inner Snowcritter Out’ paintings I asked you to distribute?”
“I am happy to distribute anything for you if you pay the distribution fees,” I shout as I run. I do not tell her that I doubt her painting will be popular. It is a picture of a snowperson climbing out from a person’s chest. While it is certainly a piece of artwork, it is not what people are looking for when they ask for instructions on how to build a snowperson.
I trip over an unfinished snowperson’s bottom. To my dismay, while I am down, Trevisia dabs furiously at my new coat with her paintbrush. I sit up, expecting the worst, but Trevisia is staring sadly at her paintbrush, which is frozen. She tries to warm it with her breath. Her mittens are threadbare, and she rubs them furiously to keep warm. I have a sudden desire to give her a business card and coupon for Snow-Angela’s Snow Shack. (I have a limited number of coupons for select customers.) A voice interrupts us before I can make the offer.
“Hey, excuse me,” someone says, “Can you teach me to build a snowman?”
“Are you sure you want to build a snowman?” Trevisia says. “Does the world need another white male? Why not build a snowturtle, giraffe, bear, unicorn, dragon, or dung beetle?”
Trevisia glares at me, daring me to say otherwise.
The lines are well-rehearsed in my mind: May I recommend joining the Uniformists? Use offer code SNOOBI… But for once I don’t say the words.
“A snow dung-beetle? But that sounds really hard…”
“Do not worry about the finished product. Is it not said that ‘Every blizzard begins with a single snowflake?’ And every snowflake, tiny as it is, is unique…”
They walk away, leaving me in the snow. I pick up my brochure. My interests are for today aligned with the Uniformists. They will give me a $100 bonus if at the end of the snowstorm, Uniformed Snowmen constitute the majority of all snowcritters. They are on track to win. An anonymous Uniformist has been paging me with the counts: ninety, one hundred, one hundred and ten…
They certainly seem to have the upper hand. The freelance snowbuilders have been spending one or two hours on each snowcritter, while my snowpeople techniques guarantee assembly in half an hour (terms and conditions apply). For every unique snowcritter I’ve seen, there seem to be at least two snowpeople that are cut out of my common mold. The Creativists have set up an apprenticeship program pairing up wannabe snowcritter builders with Creativist volunteers. Their tutorials involve “showing, not telling,” “learning through failure,” “building your snowcritter with love and care,” and “lying in the snow and letting the picture of your snowcritter come to you,” all of which increase the assembly time. However, there are many more snowcritters unaccounted for, as these artists often eschew public places and carry out their construction in untraveled paths in the woods. The final tally may be close.
My walkie-talkie crackles. Anonymous is giving me an hourly report. “Using assembly line techniques, we have increased production from 30 snowmen to 40 snowmen per hour,” Anonymous reports, “Unfortunately, we are running out of snow. We are beginning an operation to cart more snow to Emptiness Field…”
Which are all the same. Snowperson gender is an artificial construct, solely in the mind of the creator.↩
The business card doubles as a philosophy card. Snow-Angela’s statement of philosophy is: “When life gives you snow, make snowpeople. However, in order to build snowpeople, you must have snowgear. Buy snowgear from Snow-Angela! All snowgear purchases come with free tutorials! 10% off on non-snowy days!”↩
Some believe that a relationship is more passionate when one is cognizant of its impending demise. With snowpeople, however, passion is not recommended: snowpeople are to be admired from a distance, for every touch hastens the arrival of Stages of Grief.↩
There has been debate about repurposing Emptiness Field as a sports field, which has met with intense opposition from the Philosophy Department. When several students attempted to play a game of football on the Emptiness Field, several philosophy students meditated on the field to protest, not flinching even as the football whistled a centimeter past their noses. The game ended in a draw when one of the philosophy students was hit in the head, and the football players were preemptively flunked from their philosophy courses. This has led the Department of Athletics drawing up a plan to cut down 10,000 square meters of forest for a new field, which then sparked a protest from the Naturalists, led by Trugger, who estimates that about 7 squirrels will be made homeless. The Naturalists are petitioning the Philosophy Department to compromise with the Department of Athletics and come up with a two-department solution to the use of the Emptiness field. This is difficult, as the Philosophy Department does not see eye-to-eye with the Department of Athletics. Indeed, it is often said by disillusioned students that the Philosophy Department sees only eye-to-eye with the crows who roost on the pinnacles of the Philosophy Tower.↩
Covers provided by yours truly, for ten cents per cover↩