h1

A Natural History: James Arthur

17/03/2010

A Natural History of My Party Tricks

Text and photos by James Arthur

I have a double-jointed thumb. As a teenager, I was eager to demonstrate to anyone who expressed even the most perfunctory interest my ability to set my thumb at an unusual angle.

I feel that I’m good at animal impressions, and the animal noise that I’m most proud of (in other words, the one that I feel is most particular to me) is my impression of a pig being slaughtered. It goes, w-iii-iii-yh-yh-yh-yh-yh-yh-yh-yh-yh-yh-yh-yh! The last time I did my dying-pig impression at an actual party, a friend’s baby began to scream.

I can recite most of the dialogue from Conan the Barbarian. I try to pass this off as a joke.

I’m better than average at chugging beer, and I like to challenge people to chug with me. My friend John creamed me in a chugging contest two years ago, and I haven’t chugged since.

Seven years ago at a party in Seattle, I saw a young man who identified himself as “a stunt tequila drinker” drink a shot of tequila, snort a line of table salt, squeeze lemon juice into his eyes, and then stagger around the room, howling in unsimulated pain as everyone laughed at him.

I can recite many poems by Auden, Yeats, E.E. Cummings, Millay, etc., and more than I care to admit, I want my friends—my writer friends, really—to be impressed by this.

James Merrill wrote, “What least thing our self-love longs for most / Others instinctively withhold.”

I can also recite my own poems from memory. I don’t do this in social situations. Not often, anyway.

Oh Auden! Auden once wrote these words: “… The gross insult of being a mere one among many.”

Double-jointedness, properly known as “hypermobility,” is caused not by the presence of an additional joint, but by a misshapen or misaligned bone.

One person in four has a hypermobile thumb.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

*

James Arthur is, thanks to the efforts of his mother, Dorothy (Penny) Arthur, and his father, James G. Arthur, both currently resident in Toronto, Canada.

*

Notes:

“A Natural History of My Party Tricks” is part of the Natural Histories Project. Click here to learn more >>

James Arthur’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Southern Review, and Ploughshares. He has received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship, and a Discovery/The Nation Prize. Charms Against Lightning, his debut poetry collection, is forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press. He lives in St. Louis with his wife, fiction writer Shannon Robinson.

Advertisements

3 comments

  1. I am a writer, and I am impressed by this.


  2. This was GREAT! I really enjoyed the intermixing of explicit and implied party tricks. I can say, from personal experience, that James can recite an impressive catalogue of poems 🙂

    Thanks for this!


  3. hilarious. .. and ummm, thanks for the visual proof, i mean, illustration of your excellent (and hilarious) points!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s