You can be famous. You don’t need any skills. You don’t need to do any good deeds (in fact, the more self-involved you are, the better). You only have to be patient and have a tolerance for being surrounded by crap. Take our advice, and start off on the multi-century road to fame.
Top Image: Will Crocker, Getty Images
Even though your friends don’t want to know what your food looks like, you take photos of your meals and post them online anyways. Do you know who does want to see these pics? People in the future. Right now scientists are studying fossilized poop to find out what paleolithic people ate. They are studying ancient pottery to figure out what people cooked and served. Wherever there are records of the kinds of food that any population farmed, stored, cooked, and served, there are historians pouring over those records and wishing for more complete information. If today’s Instagrammers are making a mistake, historically speaking, it’s that they’re not taking enough photos of their food. Photograph every bowl of cereal, every burger, and every menu.
And don’t stop there! Photograph the box the food came in, the food truck that you notice it is carried on, whatever. Write about whether it tastes stale and speculate on the reasons why.
Don’t feel like a foodie? Don’t worry about it! Any record of the mundane details of everyday life will do. Write about in, the food truck that you notice it is carried on, whatever. Write about whether it tastes stale and speculate on the reasons why. Write about your circle of friends, what they do every day, and how much you hate them. Write about building projects in your neighborhood and what they do to your commute to work. Write about the people you see on the street and how tacky they look. Write about how often your air-conditioning breaks and how much the company charges you to fix it. Write about how long your cable company puts you on hold. No detail is too mundane, no annoyance too trivial.
Recently the world went gaga for one Madame de Florian, who locked up her Paris apartment at the beginning of World War II and left for the south of France, never to return. When she died at the age of 91, she asked her executors to inventory the stuff in her apartment, and the world went nuts as a “time capsule” was opened up after 70 years. People read, breathlessly, about the painting of a previous Madame de Florian, the love letters between that Madame and a notable painter, the beautiful old furniture, and vintage toys.
You may point out that Madame had a glamorous grandmother and an apartment in Paris and another house down in the south of France, which is likely more interesting than your one-bedroom apartment or the crap you have littering the floor. True, but remember Madame’s room was only locked for 70 years. You’re playing a longer game.
It’s true that historians gravitate towards the rich, the famous, the powerful, and the scandalous, but that’s only at first. As time passes, the exceptional lives become less fascinating, and the ordinary ones more so. And right now we’re in an age during which it’s surprisingly easy to document your life. Save every receipt for coffee, every movie ticket, every grocery list, every postcard, and the wrapping paper from every gift. Get a filing box and fill it, day by day. If you want to drop notes with your observations inside, so much the better. No one will care now, but in 500 years? There’ll be holo-movies with your giant spinning face hovering over them with titles like John Smith: Portrait of a Man.
If you’re still not sure that the detritus of your life will make fascinating reading, try other people’s lives. Herodotus earned the name “The Father of History” by wandering around, talking to people, writing down their stories, and putting those stories in order. But, you ask, what if the stories people tell you aren’t true? Doesn’t matter. A lot of what Herodotus wrote down was complete crap, and he knew it. He just kept recording, even when the stories he recorded involved things like parents being served the flesh of their own children in a stew at a royal dinner.
Like Herodotus, you might try to tackle an important subject. Between the gore and the pseudo-mysticism, he collected quite a bit of information on how people lived, and he shed light on the war between Greece and Persia. All it takes is a recording device, a pair of legs to carry you, and a transcription service and you can probably learn a lot about the history of your town, or even your nation.
But if you want to half-ass it, it doesn’t take much to collect stories right now. Set your Google alert, go to a blog, print out information, put it in a box with the date on it. Try to stay on the same subject, and try to stay away from official sources like newspaper accounts. What you want is the fly-by-night blogging platforms, the ones that will fold in a decade and leave no trace of their data (except what you’ve printed out). Just keep collecting, maybe make a couple notes, and take smug satisfaction in the idea that someday people may start selling busts of your head and saying things like “We learned that due to the diligence of the greatest historian of the age... SparkleUnicorn242.”
Have you ever heard of Caligula? I bet you have, and I bet none of what you’ve heard is good. But it’s all very, very entertaining. That’s because we get it from the Roman historian Suetonius, who lived 80 years after Caligula, but loved writing down every rumor about the mad emperor, and probably spiced a few of them up himself. Suetonius’ accounts of Caligula’s penchant for incest, his madness, and his military folly have made for thousands of titillating hours of entertainment under the guise of historical drama. Only recently have people looked at Suetonius’ motives and questioned his stories.
The same is true for the biographers of Cleopatra. Marcus Tullius Cicero loved writing about the gossip she inspired, and since a good story never goes out of style, people never stopped talking about Cleopatra’s double dealing and dangerous seductiveness. Again, it’s only recently that people really looked at the political reasons why her critics never had anything good to say about her.
So here’s what you do. You pick someone that people will be interested in a few hundred, or even a thousand, years down the road. Then you savage them like a sow savaging an unwanted litter of piglets. Tear into them. Report every scandalous comment under a YouTube video of them. Embroider on every legend. Maybe drop a couple of lies in there. Remember, you’re writing for the far future. They have no idea what’s happening now. They’re not going to absolutely know for sure that American presidents don’t marry their own sisters. And even if they do, they’ll love the story.
You’ll have to be careful with this one, though. We remember Caligula, but we don’t remember Suetonius. Try to form some kind of personal connection to the person you’re tearing down in your diary or on your blog. You want to be part of the story.
The Folger Shakespeare Library has one of the most impressive collections of Shakespeare in the world. It was founded by Henry Clay Folger and his wife Emily Jordan Folger. Emily Jordan was a Shakespeare scholar who oversaw the workings of much of the library, but Henry Clay, the president of Standard Oil of New York, provided the money.
He fell in love with Shakespeare when he was in college, and went to see a talk by none other than the great Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote extensively about Shakespeare. How do we know that? Because Henry Clay Folger saved the ticket from that college lecture. It’s sitting in the library to this day, a testament to the origin of a great institution.
Actually, we don’t know that. We have the ticket, and we’ve decided that it’s part of a noble origin. Henry Clay could have slept through the lecture. Which brings us to how to make your own legend. From day to day, it’s best to tell the truth. Historians, those little busybodies, will figure out if you claim you’ve fought in a war and you haven’t, even if you fake the diary carefully.
But if you drop the occasional lie in, if you produce ticket stubs to a concert you never went to, if you were out of town when the earthquake hit, but claim you were right at the epicenter, if you’re just a friend of a friend of that famous politician but you claim you’re drinking buddie.... really, who’s going to know? Record the history you’re not interested in, and with a bit of tweaking, you can make yourself a history that the future is interested in as well.
Who’s going to know?