On ‘Doing The Thing’ (Whatever That Is)

katherine spellerI tend to speak in the same sort of kitschy catch-phrases. Maybe they’re a verbal crutch or a sign that I think I’m significantly cleverer than I actually am, but that’s neither here nor there and hardly the point of this column. The “lexicon,” as we at The Oracle refer to it, persists.

One phrase I use again and again is “do the thing.” Someone suggests a word or layout or activity and that’s pretty much my constant affirmative response. It’s a bastardization of an internet-ism that I’ve adopted as my own. But it works for me.

So, I say it a lot.

Do the thing. Just do it. 

It’s weirdly vague and annoying and it’s seeped into my quote-unquote “real world” conversations (class, interviews, uncomfortable small talk) as most of my abuses of the English language do, making me seem several IQ points dumber.

Yet, somehow, I still can’t shake the thing.

I consider myself the kind of person who really, genuinely values written word. I try to be that person anyway. So, when I say something, I want to understand  the origins and semantics of it.

This is my attempt at doing that for this little monster of a verbal tick — not simply justifying why I’m saying something, but maybe picking my own brain for what I’m saying. I’m hardly what you’d call spiritual, but I’m reluctant to call most anything arbitrary.

So, what does it mean to “do the thing,” anyway?

I’d like to think of it as a way of taking advantage of the grey areas of language. There’s universal beauty in the details, sure. But there’s power, something strangely and equally universal, in the pairing of a undeniably, literally active verb of “to do” with the almost meaningless term pounded out of every second grader’s marble notebook.

There’s a forcefulness and ownership there somewhere, paired with a level of nonchalance. It’s a marriage of extremes that I can’t help but find appealing.

And, really, within the confines of that great, amorphous thing, there’s much to be done. It’s your too long essay, your too short naptime, it’s the dishes you let sit overnight and the person you pushed away one time too many. For me, that thing is so massive and all-encompassing that it’s simultaneously overwhelming and freeing.

Weirdly enough, one of my favorite essays, Albert Camus’ “Myth of Sisyphus,” has one line that fits here. In reference to the mythic boulder, the image representative of all the absurd activities occupying our conscious hours, Camus writes “the rock is his thing.”

It’s in those things — the mundane, the absurd, the painful, the intoxicating — that we come the closest to meaning.

And maybe that’s a little heavy for a kitschy catchphrase, but I can’t help but think there’s so many layers and moments under words that we so easily overlook. The ones that seem to mean nothing can maybe mean everything. Those things uttered over and over, that seem like place-holders on the surface level, might just hold stake somewhere. Maybe nothing means nothing.