Tag Archives: growing up

108. Personal belongings

The slow process of shedding skin. Not the sort that hides my skeleton, but the sort that defines me in another way. My stuff. My acquisitions. From the $150 dollar mattress I bought last year to the perfectly good chair I snagged from beside the dumpster behind my apartment building, mostly everything has to be gone.

“Has to” is an interesting way to put it, but that’s what it feels like. Sure there’s plenty of things I possess with cherished connections to my past… trinkets, books, pieces of art. I can’t even get rid of a sweatshirt I never wear because at one point it was my favorite article of clothing I’d ever owned. There are plenty of things I’ve removed from the “Everything Must Go” liquidation, but when I look around, I see my things as nothing more than that: things. And I’m not bringing many things with me when I leave, so the non-valued personal belongings have to be gone.

It is quite the sensation to whittle away at your personal belongings. It is incredibly relieving to put more than half of your wardrobe into bags for donation, to just look at the things you possess with real, sensible honesty. Do I need this? Do I wear this? Have I even touched this item in the last six months? Mostly, I know which things I’m absolutely not going to need in the next four months, and also what I definitely won’t be using in a wet, humid, hot-as-hell tropical climate.

We don’t get to do this very often. Usually we have our things and that’s that. It takes a dramatic life move to compel us to get rid of a few things. Some of the simplest of us still live very cluttered lives, and this isn’t including the bills we pay to afford these cluttering devices. I mean, this is just what happens. Sit still for too long and moss is sure to grow.

There is more to shed. There are the things I can’t get rid of.

It is hard to suggest for people to rid themselves of their personal belongings for no good reason. It is best instead to express how the act of getting rid of things you don’t honestly need or use is an empowering choice to make. Plus you can make a small profit.

Know when you’re not going to miss something, let it go.

When you don’t need much, you spend less, and somehow it feels like you have more. I am aiming now for the simplest life I can get. I want all my things to fit into a backpack.

After all, the important stuff is shelter, food, water, air, and companionship. You can’t get that from an oak desk, or a stack of videogames, or extra pillows. We spend so much on things that do nothing for our well-being. We collect nonessentials compulsively. It is simply the way of the world, for the most part. We’re all hoarders to some degree. We take the truly important stuff for granted, measuring our lives not by how fresh the air is that we breathe, or how strong our relationships are, but with trophies of social value, like premium cable, ten thousand dollar weddings, and sports cars.

I’m not sure what a life without personal belongings feels like. At a certain point, I’m going to be rendered homeless. I will have my backpack and the clothes on my person, nothing more. I imagine I will feel extremely light. I will have so little to ground me in any place, and no need to collect things, moving in a consistent state of appreciating what’s around me. It’s not for everyone, to go to this extreme, but I do suggest taking a good hard look at the things you own and wonder why you own them.

Are you using it?

Do you care about it?

Then shed it. It’s weighing you down.

 

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107. Ego

The ego is basically your middle man between the id and the super-ego, meaning it holds the ability to rationalize between internal instinct and external influence. The ego is your concept of reality.

Another spin on the word is to see ego as one’s perception of self. Your ego is an instinctive concept of who you are, a reflection you imagine when you’re not near a mirror. It’s who you think you are. And this is all the ego knows.

The ego is, in this definition, a representation of how selfish you are. It’s the definition I became accustomed to, having heard the libel about egoists, being egotistical, having a big ego, having a wounded ego, etc. The egoist wants to be right, wants to win, wants to tell people about it, wants to spread the news across the ocean of social media, and wants to get everything they want all the time every day.

The egoist is their ego, or they’ve at least given up the driver’s seat.

It’s often considered a thing, like a heart or a white blood cell or a rib. This ego is within us, in our minds, perhaps, just pulling our puppet strings.

I could’ve sworn I didn’t really have one, and if I did, because Freud said I did, it was not one I fed, monitored, considered, or was aware of. Sure it felt good to be appreciated or complimented, and yeah it felt bad when people accused me of things I didn’t do or challenged my character, but I’d grown deft at shrugging things off.

I always felt so calm. So collected. I never felt selfish. I never felt like I needed praise or wanted attention. I just existed and was happy enough with that, like a koi fish. Over time, I simply believed that the ego didn’t exist for everyone. Some of us were good as is.

Nope. The ego exists.

Even the ego in the deepest hibernation in the deepest cave can be poked with a long enough stick, and those deep sleepers usually have the deepest roar.

Trust me. As someone who literally thought they were immune to intense emotional experiences, this experience, which I call an ego-attack, proves to me that the ego is a crucial, if terribly unpredictable, part of every one of us.

An ego-attack, nearly identical in mental catastrophe as a bad shroom-trip, is a situation where one (more specifically, one’s ego) feels completely cornered and targeted by the universe entirely, as if it were all about them, all for them, all against them.

Caused, for example, by a broken heart, the death of a relative, a lost job, or any number of traumatic moments that really shake you up, loosen those emotions, and stir awake the ego that was sleeping so soundly just a moment ago…

The first thing it does is blame everyone else.

It is the most selfish I’ve ever felt. The most derailed I’ve ever been. It felt totally out of my control. It felt like my skeleton was trying to break out of my skin, the ego wanting to burst free and fight the world. Trapped, it threw a tantrum in my temporal lobes and sent regular pain missiles through my heart, stomach, and shoulders.

I’m not sure if this violent metaphor relates to everyone who encounters their ego for the first time. Perhaps it depends on the circumstances. In my case, my ego received a heavy dosage of jealousy and heartache, combined with an immediate distaste for my work environment, resulting in a befuddled, misguided ego that didn’t know what else to do but garner and harbor massive amounts of disdain.

What I learned is that, when on the attack, the ego doesn’t  really care about your work performance. The ego doesn’t really care about eating well. Doesn’t care about friendships. Doesn’t care, doesn’t care, doesn’t care. What it cares about is winning.

That’s all. It wants that chalk mark under the W column, and nothing else, because winning is setting things back to how they were, or at the very least, forcing some kind of ramshackle imitation of normalcy to appease itself for the meantime.

I was terrified by this instinctual urge boiling out of me.

My initial reaction was to run. To take my awakened ego and hide it from everyone, because it had transformed me. It took over. Like a toothache or a stomach cramp, it boldly claimed ownership over my every waking thought. The crazy thing about it is how unnatural my behavior felt, yet how familiar that ego was, this cracked-mirror reflection of myself. Another part of me. Someone I hadn’t seen before, but knew all along.

I wanted to run. Quit. Close up. Shut down.

I’m not a mean person. I never will be. I’m not selfish, and I steer clear of those who are. I’m a genuinely happy guy. But the ego doesn’t care about “genuinely happy guy.”

The ego did what it thought it had to, and I’m glad I managed to get control of it again when I did, because it was really starting to bum me out. I like to laugh and goof off and be carefree. The ego took everything too seriously. The ego was basically the star of its own soap opera that no one watched.

What I learned from all of this, however, is that the ego is a part of me that I’ve neglected. As obnoxious and ridiculous as my emotional core has been behaving under leadership of the ego, it was a shock to the system that I think I needed. A lot of ideas were reaffirmed, a lot of life choices were given extra value, and in the end, the ego-attack proved useful, if not annoying and embarrassing as all hell.

I mean, even though I didn’t care much for the guy I became when the ego took over, he had some good points. 

I think the ego is always present, paying attention to your life and the things around you, this little concept of reality that you’ve come up with in your head. Think of your ego as one of those girls in the pool who predicted crimes in Minority Report, all chill until something goes down (or will go down, in some cases).

The moment the ego feels threatened, it will demand answers and retribution from those who awakened it. On the other hand, if the ego is pleasured by a compliment or good fortune, it can have a more outwardly positive effect, resulting in euphoria and confidence. Basically, the ego is either going to wake up wanting vengeance or a high-five.

I’m not sure how we can get to know our egos better. They are quiet operators, way more influential than you could imagine. Already, mine has returned to its depths like some electric eel that ran out of juice, heading home to recharge. At least now I know what to expect should I ever have another ego-attack in the future, and maybe I’ll be able to sit down for a moment with my ego over a cup of decaf coffee and find out what makes it do the things it does.

That would be the greatest knowledge of all, to not make sense of the world, but to make sense of why we care so much about keeping it all designed to our liking.

106. Us, the busy universe

There’s always something. Always a need or an unfilled want. Always. You can’t escape it. We have stuff that we have to take care of constantly and forever. Time doesn’t stop for anyone or anything. Rich or poor, fat or thin, human is human, and part of being human is being busy, because everything is busy all the time.

Sometimes it blows my mind how occupied we have to be. Even when we stand still, we’re busy little machines. Sometimes I wish I could just pause it all and let the moment last a little longer, a purely stationary sensation. I’d like to actually do nothing for a while.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the sense of accomplishment as much as the next guy. It feels good to finish things. It feels good to work for something. But I don’t remember signing up for a life of work.

I don’t want to sound lazy. To be honest, none of us are lazy. How can we be? Right now we’re hurtling through space at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour. We’re busy even if we’re just sitting down reading text off a computer screen. You think it’s easy to be a biological machine? We’re full of moving parts, and those parts need maintenance.

We have to take care of our bodies. We’re thrust into this world, given all the possibility for greatness, but required to monitor and care for our physical selves. That said, we ARE our bodies, not simply conductors, not puppeteers pulling strings. Part of life is being aware of your body and its process of birth, growth, and death. This thing doesn’t just drive itself.

And so I eat. I sleep. I don’t have a car or bike so I walk a lot. I look both ways before jaywalking. I have good hygiene habits, mostly. For this I still suffer from allergies and bad teeth. I have to tend to those concerns. We all do. The body does not sit idly even if we do. I have to shave. I have to suffer headaches. I have to stay hydrated. I’ll have to get health insurance, eventually. We’re machines from the get-go and all machines need constant maintenance, even the most well-oiled machines among us.

I’m not complaining. Get that thought out of your head right now. I love being alive. As Carl Sagan would put it, I’ve “humaned” from the universe and to the universe I give my greatest gratitude. Life is beautiful. It’s just… Mysteriously calculated.

Maybe this is a bit extreme, but imagine a world where everything was just fine how it was now. Imagine if nature in all its infinite wisdom came to the realization that everything was great. Why expand any further? Are we part of a giant masterpiece awaiting a final stroke of the paintbrush? Is there ever a final stroke? Like Valéry said, is the poem ever truly finished? At what point should we be content and take a break?

Thing is, I don’t think it can stop. There would be no NOW without an overarching cycle of Start and Finish. Even that idea of “Finish” is an illusion. Heck, even “Start” is an illusion. Things simply ARE, no matter what form they take. We imagine we are unique because we teach ourselves that this is true but when boiled down to the basics, we’re the same stuff as all stuff, we never “started,” we just continued from where we were to now in a different way, and there is no “finish line,” just another way of being the universe.

The universe cannot stand still because it knows nothing else. Everything is a circle, a cycle, a revolution, an orbit, a whirlpool. Everything is made so that it can spin apart and be made again. If we stopped things now, there’d never be anything new, and I think the universe likes to make new things.

I guess what I’m most baffled about is how puzzling it all is. There are no answers. No one knows what happens after we die. No one knows why the universe exists. No one will ever know. And this mystery is true about everything, not just us. I’m talking about the mystery of hummingbirds and galaxies. Are we just a swirling mass of recyclable space dust? Are we cogs in an even greater machine? Are we anything at all?

We don’t know.

But we act like we do. We act like there’s an answer waiting. The white light at the end of the tunnel. That’s good and all, but forgive me if it defies my personal logic that I have to wait until I’ve croaked to find out what it was all about. In acting like there’s an answer waiting, we have given in to the machinery metaphor. We are part of a greater plan. We are on a path. We are born this way.

We often compare ourselves to rats who expect cheese at the end of the maze. And yeah, I recognize that not everyone agrees with the rat idea. Rats are gross. I agree. But the cheese part is accurate. We have this great idea about what this cheese is. Even the most atheist of the rats sees the end of the maze, even if there’s no cheese there, there’s still a conclusion. For me, that’s not enough.

Maybe I’ve been listening to a little too much Carl Sagan lately, but that all feels so strange to me. We’ve never been separate enough from the universe to expect something next. What comes next is we keep being what we’ve always been, just through a different lens. We are the universe. We are a way for the universe to understand itself, like a mirror, and when we move on from this biological form, perhaps we’ll return as another mirror on another planet, or maybe we’ll just become the planet.

I think that’s kind of beautiful. Reminds me that our time as humans is temporary, but our role as the universe could be forever.

How it came that we personified that concept by anthropomorphizing an ethereal creator in charge of everything is a little silly. I like the idea. I mean, it still fits. God is the Universe, the Universe is God. Tomato, Tomatoh.

How we let religion turn into violence is baffling, a very human thing to do. I do not want to be associated with a religion that has killed anyone, and this is why I feel more connected to the universe I literally came from, not the creative impulse of an omnipresent being. We made religion then let religion turn us against each other. There is death in the universe, as well, but when a star dies it’s not because the star believed in a different universe. It’s because it was time for the star’s energy to become something else. When I die, I don’t want it to be because (or for) my belief. I want it to just be another moment in an infinite string of moments of being a small piece of my bigger self, the Universe.

Anyway, it seems like the only seed of truth that’s permeated the collective chaos that is our religious disagreement is to love and live true.

Love and live true. Yet, we complicate things.

We complicate humankind when there’s already so many other things to take care of first, not just our biological bodies but the fallout of forming society. From birth defects to taking care of our ill to feeding the hungry to stopping violence due to inequality. Major problems. As humans, we’re pretty screwed up.

You don’t see a herd of lions forming a jury to convict someone of vehicular lionslaughter.

Society is such a fascinatingly wonderful and equally terrible idea. It’s this partially agreed-upon role-playing experiment that persists on a daily basis by sheer luck alone. I know that’s edging away from what Carl Sagan would say about everything being stupid chance, but I guess what I’m trying to say is there’s absolutely no need for people to have conflict, yet we never seem to learn. We’re basically the universe having a temper tantrum with a part of itself it’s not very fond of. We’re the acne of the universe and we’re being popped like zits.

We can do better. We don’t have to be a blemish.

I think we’re stressed out. I think we’re taking ourselves too seriously. We’re complex enough without all this additional weight on our shoulders. We’re lucky. We got the cool brains of the animal kingdom and we’ve built rockets and vaccines and hot water faucets. We have kick-ass language skills. We’re goddamn awesome with these brains. And they take care of a lot of stuff for us without us even thinking about it. We eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired, but for the most part our brains have things under control. We forget that. We treat ourselves like we’re vessels carrying souls, not bodies being bodies. Imagine living internally rather than externally. Try to think with your whole body, not just your brain. It’s hard to do. We’ve removed ourselves from our bodies, removing ourselves from the universe itself (or at least attempting to), and it’s stressful to go it on your own, isn’t it? Here we are, humans, floating alone in the river of time. Rather than being part of the shore, we invent a figure to stand on the shore and judge us from afar. Why add that burden to an already skewed sense of reality?

I’m stressed out just thinking about it.

We’re using our brains in such strange ways. Sagan said we are a way for the universe to know itself. Yeah, we think about the universe a lot, but usually we’re just thinking about how our hair looks. I think we’ve let ourselves get distracted by the most bizarre things, like cats chasing lasers. Stranger still, we rarely take a step back to consider these things from other points of view, like the cat who knows it will never catch the laser but scurries after it whenever it flashes near.

This thought was about wondering why the universe doesn’t stop. This is a big question. Comparatively  it’s like asking the snail why it doesn’t go any faster. It’s restricted by the laws of its form. The universe is restricted in the same way. So are we. The universe can’t stop and I know this. Birth and death and renewal is all the universe knows. Anything that comes to be in its image will know this pattern. This is the way of things. I suppose what I’m wondering is whether or not the universe can control itself.

If we are the universe thinking about itself, than we’ve had plenty of deep thoughts like this. We’ve seen out into the universe, into ourselves, with telescopes and microscopes, and we’ve likely only scratched the surface of the complexity of it all. Maybe we just don’t know enough. Maybe we’re not going to be the species that gives the universe its answer. Maybe we’re not even close.

When–and if–we ever get there, I wonder if the universe will stop growing. I wonder if the cycle would stop. Kind of like how when you see the secret of a magic trick, you can’t stop seeing the hidden wires. Through all this violence and foolishness, however, I hope the end is worth it. I hope humanity turns all this bloodshed into a profound lesson, like a Tarantino movie with a Wes Anderson ending.

Imagine not worrying about your immune system. Or drinking enough water. Hard to do. We’re born into a biology we can’t control and we make the best with what we’ve got. We shouldn’t expect anything else, really. To be born is to die. There can’t be an alternative. If the universe didn’t work the way it did, it wouldn’t exist, not in the way we understand it now, that is. Our brains are galaxies and galaxies spin out eventually, too. We can’t picture a non-universe in the same way we can’t picture being a non-human. Who knows? Maybe the universe has headaches, menstrual cramps, growing pains, and self-esteem issues like the rest of us. We’re all one, after all, and that’ll never stop.

105. Greatness

I was born running. Felt it with my first breath, this need to chase it with a bigger, better one. We are born thinking we’ll be great. Some of us listened to the classical masterminds while we marinated in the womb if we had those parents who took that seriously. Maybe mine did. Fact is, we meet our gods before we open our eyes. Famous artists. Leaders of their kind. Idols. Some of us, we hear greatness while our ear drums are still forming and people wonder where motivation comes from. Already we look to the stars. And if we didn’t have any musical input from our parents, we met our gods in the delivery room, the masked doctors, the heroes who delivered us to our bearers. We owed them our lives for granting us our first cry and don’t think we ever forgot that. The rest of us, all of us, regardless of how it happened, what foods your mother ate, what lifestyle your parents brought you into, what Zodiac sign you fell under, we were born into prebuilt worlds we believed were made for us, and we were taught that we could do better.

I was born running. Born wanting. We must all start this way. For a couple weeks, as our nervous system finishes wiring together, we probably find it a bit confusing that we’re NOT famous composers or doctors or gods of any kind. We’re little balls of blubber with a fascinatingly vague understanding of the world. All we know is not too long ago we were an indistinguishable piece of the universe that has now sprouted arms and legs and vocal chords. We are born wanting to outrun our ancestors but we can’t even walk yet.

We forget about that drive. There’s too much else to focus on, like learning to share, follow directions, look both ways and tie your shoes. Your biggest goal is to survive until Saturday Morning Cartoons. The last thing you’re thinking about is what you want to be when you grow up, besides the Red Ranger, and that’s okay because goddammit it’s awesome to be a kid and we should be kids as long as we can.

Slowly it comes back to us. We see adults for what they are: experienced. We can learn from them. For a long time, they’re paid to teach us stuff and some of that stuff will stick and some of it will really change you. Things will start clicking. You remember the doctor. You remember music. You see the gods again. They’re familiar but you’ll never see them the way you once did. Now they’re simply experts. Anyone can be an expert if they put their mind to it. So what do you do? You put your mind to it.

Suddenly we’re running again. Chasing goals like butterflies, beautiful and hard to catch. We’re not alone. We’re all chasing something. After all, what else are we supposed to do? When we finally break out of our adolescence, we gasp for fresh air in a polluted atmosphere. The world is a mess and we come to learn this and then we strive to improve it. To better it. We were born destined to press onward, to build higher, faster, greener. The box gets bigger, we have to think farther, farther, farther to get outside of it. Observe science. Observe the population. All of us have an idea that we’re destined to stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, not with them.

To be honest I’m not sure what this all means.

Worldwide, it seems like we have a big problem with the want for better. I’m not blaming Bach or Motzart, but I have an inkling that introducing infants into the world with echoes of Beethoven’s Für Elise in their squishy brains might be like dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit, just out of reach. Not to say that no one ever catches that carrot (we DO have extremely talented musicians), but one man’s carrot creates a dozen more carrots, slightly bigger than the first. It’s as if we can’t NOT exist without carrots, carrotlessly, blissfully in awe at all the glory of the present state. Any architect, writer, politician, plumber, or hotdog vendor could tell you there’s always someone out there trying to one-up the rest of us, to dream grander dreams. We have become a species that sees greatness in others and strives to replace it with greaterness. And at the rate our population is growing, the pace of this Greatening is rapidly increasing.

Until when? Until there is nothing left to improve upon?

That is a world I do not want to see.

104. Paths

I’m having one of those moments.

You know of them. They come in different shapes and sizes, but they feel relatively similar. They possess the power to derail your everyday thoughts, insisting instead that you look a bit further into the future, like Frost and his two roads.

The interesting thing about those two roads is how we’re constantly choosing between paths without being aware of it. Our routines and patterns are choices, yet after time it just feels like normal, so we don’t question those choices like we used to. And for a while, things are good. You’ve picked your road, either the one less travelled on or the other. In the end, they start to feel like the same thing.

Yet every so often you come to a spot where two paths diverge and it stuns you. You weren’t ready for it. Thing is, there’s no way to backtrack. The curse of time is that it only moves forward. There will always be moments in life when two paths present themselves when you weren’t ready to change course, and your only choice is to choose.

It seems more exciting to take the road less travelled on. It seems wiser to follow a path beaten smooth by many footsteps before you. I suppose it comes down to how much of your life you want to improvise.

I suppose there is a third option. Rather than picking between the two diverging paths, take a hard look at the spot where you’re standing. Think about how you got there, what inspired you, who you met, what you’ve learned, who you’ve become. Sometimes we’re so busy driving forward that we forget to acknowledge the driver. It’s been said a thousand times but there’s really nothing quite like stopping to smell the roses now and again. We’re more than just Pac-Men chasing dots. We fascinate ourselves with our free will so much that we become slaves to it.

The third option says: “Stand still. Take a deep breath. Change is good but not a necessity. When you come to two paths, don’t forget that the first step in any direction comes from within. Remind yourself of what brought you to this moment of choice and try to recognize if, perhaps, you’re creating paths for the sake of creating paths. Maybe everything is okay. Maybe you just forgot.”

103. Slides

I counted two hundred and forty-two steps from bottom to the top; 242 wet, cement steps that lifted me from the wading pools to the mouth of a water slide at the top of a giant metal tower. From up here I could see the whole park. Birds were flying by at eye-level. Far off, the freeway, the hazy horizon, and an airplane that looked like it was flying low. Behind me were a hundred other kids on summer vacation looking to ride the tunnel back to earth. A college kid with a lifeguard t-shirt called me over and told me to get ready.

Ten years later, I’d be at that same spot, only I wouldn’t have anyone telling me to get ready. No one would tell me when to slide. But there I’d be on this precipice and the only way forward would be down, so I’d recall my sixteen-year-old bravery and take the ride.

There are no regrets. The ride was great. Now that’s it over, I’m thinking back on the ascent and descent of the past two years of my life, the climb and the slide. I’m all the more aware of the tentative steps I’m taking away from that slide, my feet still drying in the sun. You take with you the lessons learned on that slippery staircase and the sensation of a controlled fall.

With a slide, you know where it’ll spit you out. In the real world, experiences never come with predictable outcomes, so you close your eyes and take a risk.

The nervous unknowing is still the same. The suspense is there. You spend all this time climbing up towers to experience the thrill of a new ride, and some will be good and others will be bad, but regardless of the ride you end up at the bottom and you head out into the park to find another tower to climb. The slides always feel so short. It’s the searching and climbing that takes forever.

School is a slide. Work, slide. A vacation is a slide.

You have ideas of where it’ll pop you out, but who knows for sure. Sometimes a slide is all tower and no thrill, like waiting at the DMV to register your car. Sometimes climbing the tower is more fun than the slide, like acquiring debt versus paying off the debt. Sometimes the tower is defective and you never make it to the slide. Not your fault. Just keep climbing.

Relationships are slides, perhaps the most exhilarating type of slide there is.

242 steps up a tower could equate to months of suggestive flirting, and the slide might only last for a week. You could spend an hour climbing a tower with someone new and know already that this is the slide that you’ve been looking for all along, and maybe that ride goes for a year, maybe it goes forever. Either way, the fact is we never know how this will end, but we climb new towers regardless because it is in our nature to seek new vantage points.

This thought came to me today because I’m climbing an unfamiliar tower. I look around at people climbing with me and some of them are ecstatic, some of them are a little depressed, and everyone’s a little bit scared. We’re creatures born of the ground, so trusting the towers and water slides around us can be a daunting mental exercise. Fear is normal. It’s easier to stay in the cave but it’s more difficult to ignore curiosity, thus we always find ourselves eventually at the top of a tower we never expected, standing next in line for a water slide we can’t see the end of.

There are no lifeguards for life. Only you can decide to slide.

102. Story of a cell

At one point I was just a single cell, one little Cheerio in this vast and lonely bowl of milk. Floating about. Doing nothing of much significance until an act of reproduction cast me out of that bowl and into this warm, dark place where one Cheerio became two, became ten, became thousands, became an infant.

For a while there, I had no idea how lucky I was, this body of cooperating cells. I was a magic trick walking. A miracle of nature. We all start out as snowflakes at the center of our own universe. Gradually, conformity settles in. Society has its way with you. At some point you realize we’re all just variations of the same human. We move from a life of fantasy to facts as people start offering you explanations for things, scientific or religious. People tell you that all of this was written long before we came along. Or maybe it’s pure chaos. Either way, we all end up in debt.

I liked being a kid. It was rewarding. It was me, me, me. And toys. People made the big decisions for me. My religion was Saturday morning cartoons; the answer to life was found wrapped in plastic in the bottom of a cereal box. My biggest responsibility was school, which I endured begrudgingly. There was always a mental disconnect from public school, like a loveless relationship endured for the sake of a good lay.

English was the only subject that I found comfort in. Words made sense. Words made magic. I began writing at a young age and even though it was total nonsense and grammatically atrocious, it felt right. All those stories in my head suddenly found somewhere to land. It would be writing that kept me grounded during the mindfuck that is the process of growing up.

Growing up…

I never had conflicts with my family. Adults always seemed to know best, so I listened. I was quiet, observant, private, polite. I listened to advice. I followed most of the rules. Looked both ways, all that. Should’ve brushed better. Steered clear of peer pressure by deftly navigating the tributaries of the social stream, never quite allied with any one group. Neutral, passive, calm.

I view the world with a pair of big blue eyes that can’t quite fathom the depth of the universe, but I take comfort in the unknown. I still feel like a wide-eyed infant blindly grasping at fuzzy, colorful things.

I like myself this way but it comes at the consequence of feeling inconsequential. I prefer to stand ringside with a notepad and a camera, which means I rarely feel or want to feel like the center of attention. I shy away from compliments. I’m no good at giving them, either.

What blows my mind is how different and identical our lives are. Even if I feel different, I know that I’m not. The tiny infinite moments that make our experiences unique and the grand motions that make us all the same. You can only be so special, you can only be so human.

I didn’t feel like a real person until I passed the age that my father was when I was born, which was six years ago. I didn’t feel like myself until the winter of 2009, when I sat in a windowsill, drank a lot of wine, and listened to a lot of Modest Mouse.

College went by fast and I’m not exactly sure what happened there or what the point was. It was a blur of coffeeshops, all-nighters, sexual tension, and invincibility. I learned a valuable lesson or two, but hell if I know what they were.

Then there was a musician, a dog, and two cats. And then there was none.

I like (midtown) Sacramento. It’s always been a “starter city,” a sort of stepping stone between graduation and The Big City, wherever in the world The Big City may be. Most Californians look to San Francisco for a fulfilling urban experience, as do I, but after a semester in Istanbul I’ve realized that The Big City could be anywhere. Except Paris. Paris is too cliche for a writer.

There have been women but I’m no closer to reaching or understanding the pinnacle that is true love. Sadly, your faith in such a thing begins to wane far too early. There have been many fulfilling friendships along the way. I miss people more than I admit.

Now I’m here, 26 years old. What was once a little Cheerio has now passed the quarter-life mark. Who woulda thought? Some little particle of stardust turned into a living, breathing human being. Me. And there’s you, reading this, an equally valuable evolution of microscopic magic.

I guess the point of this thought is to pay attention to your growth. To be happy that you’re here. To think back on influences and decisions, to wonder where it will all lead, to find meaning in the messiness. Life is a chance for you to turn a single cell into a story. Otherwise, we might as well have stayed in the milk.

101. Unpacking

I wonder if this is how a squirrel feels at the start of Spring, gathering up the nuts it buried in the forest. Digging up caches under the brush, skirting through the trees looking for old owl holes. There must be some elation, not only because the squirrel gets to eat, but because the squirrel has no personal belongings save for its nuts. (There’s a joke there, for another time). This is not only the animal’s food, but also its stuff. So unpacking all my stuff in my new studio must be akin to a twitchy little squirrel reveling in its Springtime bounty, reunited with all its old things.

I wrote a thought about hoarders a while back. Luckily I still have space to walk around, so I’m not quite a hoarder, but goddamn if I don’t always end up with more stuff every time I move. I don’t even know where it comes from half the time.

Finally put away my last emptied box today. My last stash.

The accomplishment is rewarding. I’ve survived moving, as the forest creatures survive winter, and I greet the changing of the seasons ready for a new year. I’ve gathered together all my things and put them away and reinvented myself in my new space.

We’re nomadic creatures, I think. At least we started that way. Living in caves, following the sun, migrating. It wasn’t until we figured out how to build free-standing structures that we really began settling in one place. Even then, it’s common for folks to hop from one place to the next, even within the same city limits. Life happens. Opportunities arise, good or bad, and our addresses fluctuate.

Migration is natural. When you get there, remember that though all the energy it takes to pack, to move, to reorganize… Eventually you’ll empty that last box, you’ll be THERE, and it will feel great. You might lose a few things in the transition, but like the squirrel, you get better at it with practice.

So here I am. And there you are. One day, I’m sure you’ll move. You’ll pack up all your things into little boxes, bury them for a bit, and dig them up again when the sun comes back. You’ll find things you thought you lost. You’ll pick up things that give you flashbacks. You’ll pick up things and wonder why in the hell you still hold onto them. Little parts of you. Your cache. Your nuts.

100. Live and learn

Make mistakes, don’t repeat them. Learn new skills, use them. Make new friends, keep them. I can think of no regular day when a human mind doesn’t acquire one parcel of new knowledge, whether it be the formula that cures a disease or a newfound appreciation for the way the sunlight looks when it comes through the trees at five PM. Live and learn. It’s what we’re made for.

Today marks the end of another phase of my life, the mid-season finale. While many things are going to be the same on the inside, the scenery and cast members are shifting. Scripts are being rewritten. I’m scrambling to memorize my new lines.

When life moves along at a steady, predictable pace, you tend to forget that you’re here to learn. Even animals with less powerful brains know this basic tenet of existence. Brains are sponges. The world is our teacher. But like any sponge, it hardens if it’s not used. Like any teacher, the world ignores us if we’re not participating. So even when things are dull, remember that your brain still needs nourishing. Read books, take walks, meet strangers… You get from the world as much as you put in.

Then there are moments when nothing is steady or predictable. It feels like Mount St. Helens just exploded inside your head and you can’t figure out which way to run. Truth is: running in any direction results in growth and knowledge, even if you run right into the molten lava (metaphorically speaking). The trick is to not stand still and wait around for guidance. This is your mental volcanic eruption and no one else can tell you what to do. If you let others lead the way, you’ll learn far less.

And that’s the whole point of life, isn’t it? To make the most of that brain?

Some phases of life will feel rich with life lessons and revelations. Some will seem boring. But all the while remember that we are in charge of the remote control and we can change phases like we change television channels, perhaps not so easily, but nothing worth it ever came easily. It doesn’t matter what kind of phase you’re in; the lessons are out there.

This is the kind of stuff I tell myself when life takes unexpected turns. When suddenly you’re single, living on your own, neck-deep in grad school homework, and uncertain about where it’s all going to lead.

All I know is when it’s all over, I’ll know more than I did before.

99. Problems

I used to feel bad for German Shepherds because they’re born predisposed for hip problems. We bred them to be our best friends and when they get old they suffer. But they’re not the only animals born with problems to face. In fact, we’re all born with problems. If there’s one thing that unites all species on this planet, its our capacity to gather problems.

For example, all of us are born with expiration dates. Our hair falls out. We get wrinkles. Knees get weak. We, too, have hip problems.

When we’re babies, we’re basically a bundle of problems wrapped up in a diaper. We can’t defend ourselves. We can’t walk, speak, or feed ourselves. Lovable as we might be, we’re a big problem for our parents, who suffer sleepless nights and lifestyle changes. It’s a problem trying to figure out what school to send those kids when they grow up. It’s a problem trying to help them with their problems: bullies, homework assignments, braces, first loves and heartbreaks, college applications…

Problems vary from culture to culture, sometimes from one side of town to the next. First world or third world, a problem is still a problem, and it seems like we’re put on this earth solely to figure out a way to solve this endless barrage of predicaments. From figuring out how to pay a bill to figuring out how to handle our emotions to defending our rights against an oppressive government… Problems, man! Can’t seem to avoid bumping antlers with some problematic beast now and again.

But that’s why we have these brains in our skulls. We’re natural problem solvers, if we put our mind to it. We figured out how to stay warm with fire, how to build a car on four round wheels, how to build skyscrapers, how to land on the moon, and most importantly, how to put cheese in a can. We’re goddamn geniuses.

Most days we wake up with at least six problems to take care of.

A German Shepherd has it easy compared to us. All it worries about is how much time it should allot to tail chasing and figuring out which corner of the flowerbed it wants to dig up today. Then it gets hip problems and dies. We take care of most of its problems along the way.

Day to day, no one can solve our problems for us. If we had someone do all the thinking for us, then what would be the point of living? It’s the daily problems of life that give spice to our existence. Sure it’s good to have help now and again, but in a strange way we ought to be glad to feel a little overburdened. Of course I say this while I’m sitting inside an apartment sitting next to a heater, and so my problems pale in comparison to those who struggle for shelter on the daily, but like I said, degrees of problems can vary greatly between people. I’m where I am due to a long history of decisions that span beyond myself, as you are where you are because of a billion tiny details that came before you. Don’t feel bad that your problems are “easier” than someone else’s. That’s life.

The problem is not that we have different problems. That’s not a problem, that’s a given.

Problems are the breadcrumbs we follow out of the wild forest of life. As soon as we solve one, another crumb appears further along the trail, and we scurry forth to see what brainpower is required to move past it, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Anyway, problems are a part of life. On some primal level, we love them

Just don’t let them weigh you down. If you see someone having trouble with theirs, lend a little of your brainpower and see what you can accomplish together.

94. Santa Clause

The older I get, the more I want to believe in Santa Clause. I find myself fascinated by the magic and charm of the old North Pole legend. Long removed from my childhood wonderment, the idea of a chubby man in a red suit popping presents down my chimney has since evolved into a respect for tradition and storytelling. I think it’s healthy to believe in at least one fantastic element in your life.

Obviously Santa is not real. He’s a marketing campaign gone viral. He’s a holiday season goldmine for children’s movies. He’s a figment of our imagination impersonated by actors in shopping malls.

And many will say he’s a symbol of capitalism. He’s racist and classist. He’s a lazy bastard who uses slave labor to create cheap toys. Not to mention, he’s a crafty criminal who breaks into our houses. Who knows what untold abuse those reindeer go through.

Yet we still leave out the cookies.

For those who follow along with the Santa Clause tradition, I commend you. Not only does Santa make a good tool for behavior modification around the holiday season, but it gives children a taste of real-world fantasy. While they’ve certainly read and seen their fair share of magic and wizardry, they rarely get to actually live it. Santa brings mystery into their lives. For a few years, they believe in the possibility of a fairytale.

Eventually that wears off and the wrapping paper repeats and the kid recognizes Mom’s handwriting in Santa’s signature. Then children often rebel against the idea, revealing the truth to their younger siblings and friends. We all act out against those who betrayed us.

It wasn’t until I’d long abandoned the idea of Santa that I recognized the other value of old Saint Nick. It was the story of him that I liked. It was the idea that such a tradition could be born, akin to the old tales of Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed, and that they could acquire a life of their own and truly thrive. These are stories that somehow feel engrained in the soil of the country, that grow with each new generation, giving grandiose, yet simplified explanations of traditions and history.

Santa served as a neutral character in comparison to the religious weight of the holiday, a figment of cultural imagination that we could all believe in without going to church. He didn’t preach or spread gospel around. He just wanted people to be merry. He wanted people to share with each other. He wanted families to come together. He wanted children to write wish lists and learn that being good was usually all it took to make wishes come true. It wasn’t about devotion, it was about believing in the dream.

Santa is a part of our cultural history now. He is a holiday creation, the bringer of gifts. He might’ve gone through a few revisions, but the story remains the same. As I get older, I remind myself to keep the tradition alive. I remind myself to believe.

93. Permanent goodbyes

I can’t think of many moments stranger than saying goodbye to someone you know you’ll never see again. I mean, that’s it. You have a couple last words, you look them in the eye–like, you really look them in the eye–and you soak it in as best you can. Truth is, you’ll turn around and walk off and with astonishing speed, you’ll start to forget the details. You’ll have nothing but a memory of them to prove that they were ever real. Our minds move on quicker than our hearts.

Not all goodbyes are so serious, of course. We say goodbye to strangers and cashiers that we’ll never see again and it doesn’t really bother us. We put those faces and conversations into our short term memory and let it slide away willingly. There’s no reason to store every interaction.

Then there are the big goodbyes. The friends and family members, who, for whatever reason, we won’t see again. Those ones hurt and they take a while to heal. Feels sometimes like actual parts of you are missing, and we’re not starfish so it’s not like we can just grow that part back. We use time to seal the wound. Time is a fickle bandage.

What got me thinking about the permanent goodbye was my final meeting with the girl I was tutoring. Our meetings in the library were held somewhat regularly over the past three months, giving us a good amount of time to become familiar. I can’t say we were friends because I maintained a consistent teacher-student distinction, but after about twenty hours, cumulatively, you get used to having them in your life. And when the time came to end our tutoring sessions, I felt odd, like a starfish looking at its own severed arm, wondering how things would be different without it, wondering what new part would grow in its place.

I see this being a concern as I aspire toward a career in teaching.

You spend months and months, day after day, with those kids and I like kids, so I can see how parting ways at the end of the year could pull hard on my heart strings. If I felt sad at the idea of ending a tutoring gig, then imagine me saying goodbye to a hundred different kids who have basically become my life and purpose. I’m not saying I can’t do it–I’m actually pretty good at separations like this. Life goes on. I know that. But the weight of these goodbyes, in that moment, in that realization that you’re looking at someone for the last time, is always startling.

Like the last page of a book. The final frame of a movie.

Blink, and they’re gone.

You’ve crossed paths on this crazy wild ride called Life and now it’s time to veer away again, to continue forward in one direction while they take another. You might never know what happens to them. One day, years from now, you’ll look back on this time and you’ll remember them, vaguely, and you’ll wonder where they ended up. Did you influence them? Did they influence you? I think it’s impossible to meet anyone and not have the rest of your life slightly affected by their presence.

Maybe that is what’s so fascinating by the permanent goodbye.

You say goodbye, but they’ll always be with you.

89. Grammar

I teach English someday. In other country. Like yours, maybe. We will learned to write good. Have fun, grammar always, yes. Good grammar makes good student happy grade. I teach English at classroom for the making of great. Students ears fill over from learning so much things.

Okay, enough of that. It’s more difficult to write a grammatically incorrect sentence than I imagined, with some knee-jerk reaction always reaching for that DELETE key when I mix tenses or forget an apostrophe. Grammar affects every little part of a sentence. You can’t write without grammar. It astonishes me, then, when people say we ought to avoid teaching it.

Now, that doesn’t mean they want absolute chaos.

The best part about English being the lingua franca is that people from all countries can use it as a tool for communication across borders. I can go to Turkey and have a conversation with a simit vendor about the weather, if I wanted, because we share a common language. A business woman from India can vacation in South Africa and have a long conversation about digital cameras with a French photo-blogger. If they want.

So when a teacher or researcher advocates steering clear of explicit grammar instruction, it’s not because they want to dismantle the English language. They’re simply leaning more toward the function of English as a tool, as a means of communication. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It only has to make enough sense to convey meaning. You can mispronounce things. You can forget your plural markers. You can mix verb tenses. It’s all gravy so long as you’ve expressed what you meant to express and, perhaps with a bit of negotiation, your listener has understood.

But I like grammar.

I think we let grammar frighten ourselves at an early age, like some kind of monster under the bed. We get through present, past, and future tense and then someone mentions the perfect tense and we freak out. Don’t get me started on the panic sweat that erupts on most of our foreheads when we’re asked if we should use “who” or “whom.”

And who the F came up with gerunds?

I think we need to make grammar explicit. I think we need students to know, early, that grammar is like the earth. The mountains are like nouns. People are like verbs. Animals are prepositions. Oceans are conjunctions. Trees can be demonstrative pronouns. Teach them that without grammar, there would be no language. Without the ingredients of the earth, we’d have no life.

Now, I’m still new at this ESL teaching thing, but I’m pretty sure if you start the kids at a young age without a fear of grammar, then laying out the foundation for them will be the most beneficial.

Arguments can be made, by the innatists like Chomsky, that all you need to do is use English around language learners and they’ll acquire the rules deductively. Imagine a student like a sponge, only instead of soaking up water they’re soaking up articles and relative clauses.

And maybe that really works. Who knows? The point is, you probably know less about your language than a ten-year-old kid in South Korea.

I find it amazing that we develop our language ability at such a young age that we don’t even remember acquiring it. This magical, wonderful tool, given to us, free of charge, with hardly any effort at all. So when we grow up and some of us decide to teach English as a career, we realize that we know jack-squat about the development process we undertook, as if Dumbledore came to our crib and uttered, “Englishium Speakiorus!” and so it was.

Next time you write a sentence, ask yourself, “How do I know this?”

You’d be surprised how many things you know, but hardly understand.

87. Onions

Okay, okay, I get it. I get it now.

It took a Blimpie’s special-of-the-week 6-inch sandwich to prove it. I never thought I’d say this, but I have officially come to like onions. True story.

A few days ago, while ordering my sandwich, the bespectacled bald Blimpie’s owner with the middle-eastern accent asked me, motioning toward the smorgasbord of turkey, provolone, lettuce, pickle, tomato, salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar already smothering my choice of bread, “Onions?”

There was a hesitation.

For twenty-five years I had replied: “Nay, my friend. Onions don’t belong between those freshly-baked slices of honey-oat. Not now, not ever.”

I looked this man in the eyes. His hand, hovering over the plastic tin of white raw onion slices, shiny as slivers of the moon.

I didn’t think about my first McDonald’s hamburgers, where I’d pull off the bun and scrape off those onion pebbles into my cheese-smeared wrapper. I didn’t think about eating everything but the onions in mom’s dinner salads. I didn’t think of their crisp bite or the worry of onion-breath. Instead I felt something new: curiosity, but something more, like trust.

For the first time ever, I said, “Yes,” to onions.

A sandwich is a magical realm where all good things come together to share their talents by way of seducing your taste buds in an orgiastic assault that hits like a hard kiss. Obviously I was worried that inviting onions to the party would throw off the balance. I’d have a flavor that felt out of place–the awkward guy in the corner. How foolish I felt when I took my first bite and realized that onions are not only a valuable part of the sandwich dynamic, but they nearly deejay the whole shebang.

You know when there’s a collective lull in conversation when you’re hanging out with people, but you’re thankful that there’s loud music playing to cover the silence? That’s what onions do.

The best thing about onions is that they don’t brag.

They knew I’d come around eventually, and so they waited, patiently, in the tins of sandwich shops, soaked in vinaigrette dressing at the bottom of a salad, snuck between the buns of a hamburger… They never forced themselves upon me. They waited until I was ready.

And they didn’t say, “I told you so.”

The point is, I think we should eat everything we can (and aren’t allergic to). Anything someone cooks for us. Finish your plate. Anything the man at Blimpie’s offers us. Don’t order the same-old-thing. Anything that exists on a menu, which somewhere, someone enjoys… Eat it. Try it. Put that in your mouth, chew on it, consume it, and make up your own opinion of it.

There are foods out there that you will love, but you don’t know it yet.

85. Nostalgia

Guest Thought from Kelsey Taylor

:::

Nostalgic is one of those things that most people like to be; 90’s kids make Facebook groups or start forums where they talk about the awesome TV shows they used to watch and how they are infinitely better than Anything That Ever Was And Will Be.  “You kids don’t know what you’re missing!” they say. “Your childhood did not involve Robert Munsch or Pokémon and therefore is not as good as mine.”

Everyone has an image of an old relative or the grumpy old man on the porch who is convinced that they lived in the “good old days”, and that  society is on a downward spiral.  “Things just aren’t what they used to be,” they say.

People like to talk about what they’re nostalgic about, but don’t really think about why it can be a problem.

The middle-aged guy who can’t stop talking about how high school or university were the best years of his life: what about everything else?  Maybe you’re married.  Maybe you have kids, and if you do I’m sure they are an important part of your life.  You might not, but I’m sure you have friends and other people who are important to you.  You might have a job, and if you don’t like your job I’m sure you have some sort of hobby.  You probably read a newspaper, have opinions, and care about things.  Or did you write off the rest of your life when you graduated?

People will talk about how “chivalry is dead,” but forget that there was a feminist movement that started in between then and now.  Sometimes we get the sense that “old-fashioned” things are more sophisticated, and a lot of this gets ascribed to our conceptions of what is romantic, for example.

Nostalgia is looking at the past through tinted glasses, remembering everything that was good but forgetting the things that weren’t so great.  Or, they might’ve worked for you, but maybe some people or groups weren’t having the best time.  We also have new inventions, new books, new senses of humour, new ways of understanding the world.  The present is pretty awesome; we shouldn’t be viewing it through a lens of the past.

Remembering our past is an entirely different thing, though.  Things that remind us of the past give us a good feeling, and that’s not a bad thing.  That song that reminds you of drunk nights in university, that time you studied abroad, your wedding, whatever, might make you smile because it is linked to a good memory.  Maybe you have an inside joke with an old friend, and it will make you laugh to yourself while you’re taking the bus to work.  You get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the act of remembering, and we generally call this “nostalgia”.  These memories and associations are part of what construct our individual narratives.  They are part of our identity.  We are the culmination of our life experiences: my personality was certainly shaped, in part, by the fact that I was obsessed with Pokémon as a child or that I know all the actions to “Stop” by the Spice Girls.  …Somehow.

The difference, I think, is when we make value judgements about the past.  Nostalgia in the abstract is fine – and the things we choose to emphasize and remember make up who we are.  Our past definitely influences our present.

We just have to remember that everyone has experiences, and we shouldn’t let our past define our present so much that we forget to live now.

76. Behavior

“Our main project this semester,” said my high school psychology teacher, “is changing your behavior. That’s what this is about. Human behavior. The why, the how, and the when of human behavior. We’re going to be looking at motivation. Intrinsic, extrinsic. We’ll be looking at what Carl Jung and Skinner and Freud tell us about behavior. Is it innate? Is it nature or nurture? Something we can teach? We’ll explore dreams. We’ll explore the subconscious. The id and the ego, desires and needs and wants. I want us to understand, to explore, and to expand our private models of the world.”

Mr. Underwood loved his stuff. He was a man uncomfortable with his height and so he slouched, bent over a podium, his hands gesturing wildly even when he wasn’t speaking. He ranted. He told bad puns. He was a little bit crazy. He name-dropped famous psychologists and researchers like they were old friends. He chose people at random to answer questions that even grad school students would stumble over.

I unfortunately spent the class doodling or writing the lyrics of Brand New songs in my binder.

Looking back, I realize how much I missed out by not paying attention in Mr. Underwood’s class. I chit-chatted with the girls. I bullshitted my essays. I never did the reading. I know as much now about Carl Jung now as I did then. It’s sad, really, how certain important bits of knowledge simply passed right over my head. In many classes. Here I am, years later, wondering why I can’t answer eighty percent of the questions on Jeopardy.

Obviously there are different types of knowledge.

Still, if there’s one class I really wish I could take again, it would be my high school psychology class. And if there was one specific project in that class that I wish I’d taken better advantage of, it was the one that Underwood called, “Five Behavioral Changes.”

Basically, you’re in charge of your behavior. Sure, there are outside factors that play a role, but in the end it’s your choice to behave or feel a certain way at any given moment. What Underwood wanted us to see was that altering common behaviors in your daily life can have an astounding effect on our mental health and your perception of the world. The assignment was to pick five new behaviors and to actively incorporate them into your life for a few weeks, then write about the results.

Something really beautiful could’ve happened.

Here’s what I did:

  1. I tried listening to only classical music while driving
  2. I tried eating only fruits and vegetables for a week
  3. I wrote controversial statements in chalk on the sidewalks around school

The immediate problem with my participation level is the fact that I only did three things. Not five. So for whatever concluding write-up I had to do about the experience, two of my five behavior changes were totally made up. Being a fan of fiction, the bullshit came easily, but the fact remains that I was only hurting myself by being lazy.

The classical music led to boring drives (no offense, Mozart). The fruits and vegetables left me hungry. The controversial chalk statements washed off in the next day’s rain before anyone could see them. The idea was for people to write their own statements on the sidewalks, too, with the pieces of chalk we left behind. Didn’t happen.

I could’ve picked up an instrument, I could’ve volunteered at a homeless shelter, I could’ve gone on a hitchhiking road trip across America. I could’ve really produced some positive changes. Who knows?

The point is, I never forgot the assignment, even if I overlooked it at the time. Change five things about your behavior. What would you change? Try cooking at home more often. Try reading a book without reading the back cover. Take more walks. See what happens. Do it for a week. Do it for a month. Soon enough, you’ve created change. What’s the saying, that it takes thirty days to create a new habit? Well, give it a shot.

I think the assignment was a great idea. I wish I’d seen that earlier.

Thanks, Mr. Underwood, for the inspiration.

And sorry for talking so much during class.

71. Headaches

When I first got a headache and lived to tell the tale, I was about eleven or so. I’m assuming I’d had a few before this, too, but this is my first conscious memory of a headache, at least. I’m sure teething as a baby was a hoot.

Anyway, I’m eleven years old and here comes this gnarly wasp sting of an ache in my head, like someone spilled a bucket of xenomorph acid over my brain and smeared it around with sandpaper.

Ouch.

The thing is, headaches have nothing to do with the brain. Your brain has no pain receptors. It’s like a duck in the rain. The pain just slides right off. Your brain is the Chuck Norris of internal organs.

Sure, the brain is the one that registers the pain as happening, but it’s only doing its job. In all fairness, the brain is not to blame.

So what made my eleven-year-old self cry to his momma about an outbreak of black plague in his frontal lobe? Why did it feel like a million snakes just mistook the back of my left eye for the rear-end of a feeder mouse?

I’ll tell you why.

Muscle contractions.

Muscles tighten around the skull like skinny-jeans on a wet hipster. This is usually caused by stress, though the causes can range from bad luck in the gene pool to overdosing on pain medication. This is how headaches are born. You’re basically tightening a vice over your own skull and the pain receptors–not on the brain, but blood vessels and the such beneath the flesh and skull–don’t appreciate the intrusion. Hence, the headache.

At eleven years old, I thought my brain was about to Mount. St. Helens all over the ceiling.

Rubbing the scalp lends temporary support, but the war wages on. Despite all the pressing and the kneeding and the praying, the pain resumes like a bad sitcom past its prime. You just want to find out it was all the dream of a mental patient already and move on.

I mean, seriously, headaches must’ve been an idea concocted by some madman in a straight jacket. Someone who wanted to shut down cognitive abilities to mute the voices in his head. A headache is bested only by a toothache in my list of the human body’s most idiotic design choices.

Why make the brain so susceptible to such vulnerable pain receptors? Stress headaches? Are you serious? We get migraines from thinking too much?

What’s the point?

That’s like punishing students for getting too many good grades. Talk about negative reinforcement. How about instead of giving us a cap on how much bullshit we can handle at once, evolve and make some room for the multitasking, technology-based, fast-paced lifestyles of the modern human. Maybe if we weren’t stalled by migraines, we’d reach the mental capacity to actually solve a global issue or two.

This is what I think about whenever I have a headache.

It’s my body saying, “The brain and I agree that you’re asking a little much of us recently and we’d rather you just settle downIn a heap of terrible pain.”

I have a formula:

1 Ibuprofen = The headache has found me. I can feel it vaguely, more like a whisper, like Sauron seeking Frodo in his dreams. Usually I take one to quiet the Dark Lord and no big fuss is made of it. Headache evaded.

2 Ibuprofen = Hell hath arrived. Cancel all your plans. Hate all your friends. Speak only in broody grunts. This is not nearly as painful as childbirth, though being a man, you’ve got nothing else to compare this to.

3 Ibuprofen = If I could physically pull open my skull and remove the headache with a pair of child’s safety scissors, I would do it, but since I’m all out of safety scissors, a trio of Ibuprofen will be the next best thing.

4 Ibuprofen = Honestly, I’ve never gotten a headache this bad.

I can’t say I’ve ever had a migraine, which is where 10 or 20 Ibuprofen may make a dent. Even that, by the sound of it, is comprable to shooting a t-rex with Nerf darts. From what I hear, migraines are like supernovas made of broken glass erupting repeatedly inside your every synapse. It does to your brain what Y2K was supposed to do to our computers.

I’ve only had to deal with the 7-pointers on the headache Richter Scale.

I’m lucky.

Which leads me to another point.

Why punish some more than others? Why crank the dial up to 11 when 2 or 3 would suffice? Even a minor headache reminds us of our weaknesses. Even paper-cuts make me dwell on my morality. A minor headache is like a 3.2 earthquake in a town made of playing cards. Nothing falls down, but its unsettling how the Powers That Be like to remind you who’s in charge. It’s just not fair. Why make things harder than they already are?

We get it. We’re vulnerable.

What good does a 9.5 Richter Scale migraine do? What’s the human body trying to prove? That’s like whacking a dog on the nose for chewing up a couch cushion. Don’t punish us for stressing out. Don’t kick us when we’re down. A headache is the worst form of torture I can imagine and our own bodies use it against us. Pain isn’t a good mentor. There’s got to be a better way to tell ourselves to take it easy.

I have a friend who once told me he’d never had a headache before.

The lucky bastard.

I’ve met people who take medication to keep headaches away. Can you imagine? Your whole life, behind this shield of prescription pills, knowing the migraines are waiting in the shadow of your medula oblongata, waiting to spring, fangs out.

I didn’t like them when I was eleven. Not one bit. And I certainly don’t like them any better now. Headaches are as outdated as toothaches.

Most pains make sense to me. The scraped knee. The stomachache. The muscle soreness. If I break my leg, I expect a lot of searing pain. I expect to feel like a zombie is gnawing the meat off my shin.

But the headache? No. It doesn’t make sense. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The pain receptors in the head are like car insurance. You never need it when you have it. Odds are, most of your headaches will be from self-afflicted causes like stress or allergies. Therefore, when you’re “protected” from outside trauma, you end up hurting yourself more.

I say, get rid of the pain receptors.

I don’t need an alarm to go off if I accidentally staple my forehead. I know that hurts. I’ll take care of it.

I don’t need a headache whenever things get busy at work and I’m swamped with grad school homework. I need a back massage.

This year, I’m voting for any candidate that promises to abolish headaches. Any Kickstarter fund aiming to remove pain receptors from the human head, I’m in. Please, join me in the fight against unwarranted suffering. End headaches. End them today.

70. Dogs

Guest Thought from Cheryl Carvalho

:::

Looking over my shoulder, I saw my Golden Retriever lying on the ground having what appeared to be a seizure. His front legs aimlessly pawed the air as he thrashed his head back and forth. I ditched my bike and ran back to him, thinking he twisted his leg in a gopher hole. When I knelt by his side and saw blood trickle from his nostril and a confused look in his eyes I knew this was going to be goodbye. I petted his golden fur and said, “ I Love you B,” for the last time. A passing jogger stopped to see what went wrong. He’d been watching Baxter trot happily behind my bike one minute, then fall to the ground the next. Indeed, Baxter had been loping along, sniffing everyone’s front yard and I’d scolded him only moments ago to mind his business and catch up. And now he was gone.

Baxter was the neighborhood welcome wagon with a morning routine of visiting friends and milking treats out of them by gazing sweetly into their unsuspecting eyes, casting a trance that said, “Please feed me. My people suck and you’re my only hope.”

Frantically I called for Zach to stay back and run home to get dad. I didn’t want Zach to see Baxter this way. Zach grew up with this dog. I have a million pictures of Zach as a baby, lying on Baxter like a pillow, the dog’s arm around him. Years ago, I was looking for the two of them in the backyard when I saw little human feet and a puppy tail poking out from behind the grapevine along the fence. Moving the leaves aside, I saw my diapered, dirt-covered baby feeding Baxter grapes in their own private fort. In the winter, Baxter chased Zach down the entire sled hill, as if to say, “What is WRONG with you people?  Letting my boy careen helplessly down this dangerous hill while you stand around like dopes?” Many nights, Zach would take his pillow and blanket down on the floor to cover Baxter and he’d fall asleep beside the dog.

My husband and the passing jogger hauled Baxter’s horse-sized body into the back of our Toyota and he was gone.

Word got around our street about Baxter’s death. Some houses seemed to know our dog’s name better than our family name. They hugged us, gave cards, and told their own stories. I heard from Mat across the street that his little girl would stand at the window each morning and wait for Baxter to come by. I had no idea.

Growing up, the only dogs I ever encountered were chained outside and lunged as I rode by on my bike, bearing their teeth and snarling menacingly. It scared the piss out of me. Even our own dog was a Charles Manson incarnate.  In 3rd grade, my friend’s German Shepherd lunged for my neck. He missed, putting a tooth in my leg instead. I feared dogs all my life until Baxter. I was a bumbling idiot of a dog owner and he tolerated my ignorance in stride and showed me that dogs aren’t to be feared but loved. When I gave that love, I learned how a dog’s behavior mirrors that of his owners. With Baxter around, we felt like pretty good people.

66. Pushed

I wake up every morning with a tsunami warning in the back of my mind. An ominous feeling. Kind of like someone has taken my head in their hands, locked their eyes on mine, and asked me with utmost concern, “What the hell are you going to do with your life?” I can hear the oceans churning. I can feel the pressure changing. I am pushed, relentlessly, quietly forward.

From what?

What pushes me?

What sparked my Big Bang? I feel like the universe, expanding, a little replica of all that ever was, reenacting existence. Perhaps this could explain where motivation comes from. Where we get our drive. We are ignited, we are explosions, we are expanding in slow motion, enriching our flames.

Even on the dullest of days, there’s a force within me compelling me to make the most of myself. Even if all that means is that I do the laundry.

What am I pursuing? This forward motion gives the impression that it has an end, as if I were the tortoise in the race without knowing I was in a race (or that I was even a tortoise). I simply move forward. A heart beat, a firing neuron, a muscle spasm, and there I go. Forward every morning. Blindly through the dark.

Is it success? Is that what I want?

A part of my brain says, “Yes. Of course. You want to be a famous author. You want to have the comforts of money. You want to feel accomplished.” Another part says, “Success is so twentieth century.”

Accomplished is an interesting word. Completion is implied. Is that really a good thing, to be complete?

To be honest, of all the LEGO sets I ever worked on, the finished product was rarely as exciting as the construction of it. So what if I had a helicopter with revolving LEGO rotor blades? I just want to build things.

Maybe that’s the push.

Maybe I’m pushed to find more blocks. More pieces. More ways to grow. I’m basically a LEGO set without an instruction manual, a biological cornucopia of various ideas, experiences, and dreams built around a skeleton. Every day is a new day to add a new dimension.

I don’t think it’s completion that I’m seeking. I can’t decide if it’s success.

There are smaller things that push me now. The want for no student debt. The want for a fulfilling career. The want to go skydiving. The want to write for an audience. If achieving these things equals success, then so be it. I’ll let you know what it feels like.

Enough time passes on an idle afternoon, I feel the push come. The tsunami warning rings and I feel this need to run for the nearest craigslist job posting or unfinished homework assignment to hide from the feeling that I’m not moving forward. I can’t sit still for too long or I get worried that important things are passing me by.

Sometimes I just want to do nothing.

That feels like a crime.

The twenty-first century knows no idle creature.

We are constantly reaching. Like the expanding universe, will I once day reach my limit and begin to retract? What lies out there in the outer reaches of my design? Will I know when I get there?

56. small evolutions

i’ve read in newspapers that children who grow up in confrontational or abusive households develop a keen sense of bad energy. they can walk into a room and instantly detect any lingering bad energy. they can sense who is fighting with you, even if nobody is talking. their brains develop in this way from a young age. kids like this can develop these hyper-sensitive energy detectors before they even reach puberty.

sad circumstances aside, that’s an amazing thing. it’s amazing that such an advancement can develop so quickly in a human being, that people can adapt so easily.

of course, change is easy when you’re young. or at least that’s what we’re told, and after years of hearing it, the idea becomes reinforced.

i wasn’t exactly abused as a kid. childhood was crazy, yeah, but not too far off from what i imagine most people experience in their lives. i feel like i grew up with a pretty keen awareness of the energies around me, but i didn’t really understand what it was i was picking up on. i could walk into a room or be hanging out with a friend when there was an energy shift and i would instantly feel the desire to just shut down and be on guard. i thought this was shyness. but no, this was my super human awesome power sending feelers out into the world.

and it’s not a bad sixth sense to have. it’s kept me relatively safe from trouble. even as an out-of-place kid in school, i never encountered too much drama and i didn’t get into physical fights. creepy strangers usually didn’t approach me.

but i come from a long line of sensitive folk. most of the people in my family are a little shy, a little awkward, a little lonely.

somehow, i got really lucky and had a lot of opportunities to see myself as i am, outside of my own head, and each of these experiences were really inspiring and invigorating because we’re never as bad as we think we are deep in our heads. i’ve gotten down with the whole self love thing, and this has served me pretty well. i’ve also met a lot of admirable introverts, who have managed to make the most of their internal lives and have developed an aura of good energy that quietly attracts a small following of loyal friends. i tried my best to watch and repeat this ability. i learned i didn’t have to be loud and overtly entrepreneurial to get friends. my relatives had been right all along. i could just be myself.

this was probably the biggest evolution of my early adulthood. or at least, so far.

of course, different voices had their influence along the way. i adapted to my environments. i tried on a lot of different clothes. from surviving high school to opening up in college to starting all over out in the world. if i met myself as i was at 15, i wouldn’t be able to relate to myself because i wasn’t really myself at all when i was 15. but that’s who i was, at that point in my life. there was no 24-year-old future self to compare myself to.

i’m still making it up as i go along, and it’s strange to look back at the habits and ideologies and super human awesome powers that i’ve developed and used and then grown away from. it’s weird to look back at little evolutions and see them as just step stools. it’s weird to see how far i’ve come.

and by far i don’t entirely mean forward or upward linear movement, but just distance. there have been progressions just as much as there have been regressions. some things have recycled.

but the other day it really hit me when i realized all of the things i’ve learned now, all of the things i’ve come to believe in, the things that get me out of bed in the morning and let me sleep at night (or not), the thoughts i am writing right now, will likely be completely gone and/or completely transformed in five and ten and twenty and thirty years. it’s weird to even think of the future, let alone imagine a whole different person with an entirely different world view.

my best friend recently pointed out that humans could not have possibly evolved from the same monkeys that exist today, because in order for a species to evolve it’s old model has to die out, since it is replaced with the newer model.

so this explains why all the phases of my life feel so oddly disconnected. after each phase there has been a small evolution that has brought on a small death, and replaced it with the next model. it’s weird to think i’m just a working prototype.

kinda takes the pressure off though, eh?

54. Grown ups

As a kid, I never thought that I’d still feel like a kid at age 25. I always thought being a grown up started somewhere after high school, when you drove a car and voted and kissed girls and stuff. I imagined this specific moment when I’d stop eating sugary cereal, enjoy green vegetables, start drinking beer, and grow hair on my arms and chest. Then I’d be an adult and no one would ever pinch my cheeks again.

The truth is, growing up doesn’t work like that.

At 25, I still feel the confusion and disconnection of a child. The world is still a mystery. I still don’t know what the hell is going on. The future certainly isn’t any clearer. I don’t have much hair on my chest, either.

I still eat sugary cereal.

According to the mirror and assumptions of those who’ve just met me, I look younger than I am. Especially if I shave. I’ve got youthful genes. I’ve also got an optimistic attitude and proceed through life in a consistent state of childlike wonderment, so perhaps this is part of the reason I still feel like a kid. I still feel like there are adults and that I’m not one of them.

So when does it happen? When will I feel like an official grown up?

There were a few significant moments in my recent past that felt like they were signifiers of “growing up,” even if I still didn’t feel like a grown up: the day I actually started to like beer, the day driving a car felt natural, and the day I passed the age of my father when I was born.

Maybe it happens with marriage or having kids. Maybe it comes with a career. Maybe it happens when you can say, “Back in my day,” with regularity to the yipper-snappers on the bus. Maybe it never happens.

I like that idea the most, that we never actually grow up.

After all, we’re always learning. There’s always something we don’t know. There’s always more to explore. Our bodies are always changing and our minds are changing right along with them. “Grown up,” to me, always implied a sense of finality, like the end of the race, this moment when you’d wake up as a completed, finished product. But that doesn’t happen. You’re never finished. Each day you’re a little different than the day before.

I guess the best thing we can do is take each year of our lives as the unique adventure that it is. Each year our body will go through some monumental shift, either physically or mentally, and we can either reject it or embrace it. Our opinions will change, our vision will worsen, our passions will flash and sizzle. We are always a year away from being grown up, but we’ll never actually be a grown up.

Even the full-grown tree continues to spread its roots.

48. Magic of Mad Libs ®

You’re a kid again. Let’s say you’re _____________ (age) and it’s your first day of school. After scarfing down a/an __________ (food) for breakfast, you hop on the __________ (vehicle) and hurry along to first period English class.

The __________ (adjective) teacher has a game for the students to play. “Games in school?” you question such a thing. “Please. I’ll believe it when I __________ (present-tense verb) it.” The teacher proceeds to introduce you to Mad Libs.

Mad Libs is not exactly a game, nor is it a puzzle. It’s a mix between a __________ (noun) and a __________ (noun).

You’re given a series of fill-in-the-blank requests with no explanation of their purpose. Is this a test, you wonder, or some other _________ (adjective) form of torture? As you __________ (present-tense verb) in the blanks, you think of __________ (adjective) examples. In the space for ‘body part,’ you __________ (present-tense verb) and write: __________ (body part).

Eventually the truth is revealed. Your examples are parts of a story. Suddenly you’ve got this __________ (adjective) creation in your hands. You’re __________ (gerund verb) hysterically at your desk. What madness! You’ve never felt so ____________ (emotion).

What makes the result of the Mad Libs so appealing? The unknown, perhaps. The absurdity. The __________ (present-tense verb). You’ve taken a/an __________ (adjective) story and made it __________ (adjective). You did. With your words.

It shows children they are creators. It shows children they can __________ (present-tense verb) anything. Words are powerful. A/an __________ (adjective) word can make you ____________ (present-tense verb) while the image of a/an __________ (noun) can change your opinion of __________ (historical event) forever.

Mad Libs lets children know they can be __________ (adjective). It encourages them to experiment with __________ (plural noun) and is meant to inspire creativity whenever they __________ (present-tense verb). It teaches them the power of words. It inspires them to try new __________ (things). They’ll look back and think: Wow, I really could have __________ (past-tense verb) anything.

This isn’t an activity only for children or teachers. If you’re a __________ (job title), then think of other ways to incorporate Mad Libs into your life. This is less about the __________ (activity) and more about the philosophy.

Leave blanks in your plans. Improvise. __________ (present-tense verb). Experiment. Don’t live a life prewritten. There is magic in the not knowing. Try new nouns, seek new adjectives, experiment with new verbs, like __________ (gerund verb). Before you know it, your life will become a whole lot more __________ (adjective).

Trust me when I say __________ (poignant closing statement).

47. Back to school

Guest Thought from Cheryl Carvalho

:::

When my daughter was a little girl I remember she loved back-to-school shopping. We’d acquire armloads of bags teeming with fresh supplies for the coming year. New shoes with spotless soles begged to be scuffed by a game of tag on the playground. Colorful, waxy crayons sharpened to perfection and lined up like soldiers in their box anxious to become treasured art. But maybe it was the empty notebooks that really got to her. The blank pages beckoned to be scribbled upon as she itched to spill her many thoughts. We’d remove tags, tear off stickers and stuff her pencil box with blunt scissors and hope. Hope for good grades & decent cafeteria food. Hope for nice teachers and to fit in with the cool people. This ritual of buying hope and new pencils has a beguiling fragrance with the power to bring a grown adult like myself back in time to Mrs. Walker’s 3rd grade class. The memory of Joe Flint stealing my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup still stings. We played on outdoor equipment that would make today’s moms gasp in horror. The year wore on and my crayons wore down. The broken ones could be found next to the crumpled homework at the bottom of my locker.

32. Dentists

Last time I thought about teeth and how much I hate them. No offense, teeth, but you suck.

There are people who do like teeth, though. They make a living off of them. They are the dentists, the masked people in white coats with armies of assistants and pointy, metal tools. They’ll claw the plaque right off your canines. They’ll suck the saliva out of your mouth with a hose and shoot you full of Novocain like it’s liquid candy. This is what they do. Every day. They drill and extract and root canal the teeth of society.

Honestly, I like dentists.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I used to be terrified of the dentist. I remember being a kid waiting for a dentist appointment, reading Highlights Magazine to block out the rising panic in my chest. I hated that stupid lamp they pulled over your head to blind you with. And the smell of fluoride. What if I had a cavity? What if they told me I wasn’t brushing enough? What if they had to surgically remove all my teeth and replace them with metal robot teeth? Noooooo!

Maybe that’s the point of this thought: as you grow up, you come to realize something valuable, that the fears we harbored as children were often a misguided distrust of the unknown. As kids, we spooked ourselves with imaginary monsters. As adults, we became less afraid of the dark and, hopefully, more willing to embrace the foreign.

I could go on and on about how dentistry is way too expensive for the working class man, how insurance is too pricey and difficult to come by, and how for any appointment you make, you’ll spend most of that time just sitting by yourself in a reclined chair like a corpse waiting for an autopsy.

But this isn’t a rant about dentistry (they’re just doing their job, after all). This is an observation about our ever-changing understanding of the world. We’re scared of things because we avoid them, not because they’re scary. Be scared, yes, but be brave enough to eventually defeat that fear.

Oh, and brush your teeth.

30. Double dog

Here’s an idea: I dare you to go embarrass yourself for everyone else’s benefit.

Pretty sure we’ve all given and received our fair share of dares. Raise your hand if you were one those folks who opted for “truth” rather than dare when there was a choice involved. Shame on you. Truth is boring and everyone knows that.

However, there were certain Truth & Darers who were downright criminally insane, and from them I didn’t want to risk a dare that put my life in danger, because we all know you can’t turn down a dare.

Oh wait. Yes you can.

Some dares are simply too much for some people, too far out of their comfort zone. Sometimes people are too shy to perform the task, and even after all the begging and pleading and ridiculing, they’d still deny the dare, perhaps switching their selection to truth instead.

“Not so fast, shy guy,” they’d say, “I double dog dare you.”

Meaning: I will also do the task so long as you do it first.

This was some heavy shit. This meant that the darer was putting themselves on the line as much as the daree, so long as the daree didn’t persist in backing out. Not only was the daree offered a chance to share their embarrassment with another, but to deny the double dog was nearing societal inappropriateness. The darer was literally offering themselves on a platter, equaling the playing field, and if you said no to that selflessness, then you were all but ostracized.

That’s like a neighbor asking you to bring chips to a barbecue, promising to bring chips to your barbecue next time, and instead of chips you bring a sledgehammer and you smash his cat with it.

The double dog dare led to inner existential turmoil. Obviously the original dare was embarrassing enough to deny it outright, but now there was this overt societal factor at play. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours,” said the darer. “You do this task, and I’ll do it, too.” On one hand, this put the darer in a higher position of power by proving to the audience that they, unlike the daree, would willingly perform this task without a moment’s hesitation. On the other, it took some of the excitement out of the dare, since doing these tasks alone was half the fun.

Still, there were those who were persistently lame.

If anyone else wanted to participate in the egging on, they could add a triple, quadruple, or quintuple to the dog dare, depending on how much your friends wanted to encourage you to not be lame. For the daree, this only made your choice more difficult. Denying these darers their extended hands of good faith and unity, their willingness to be silly or stupid with you, and you were basically telling them you were better than them in some way. More mature, more reserved. Maybe they’d be willing to make fools of themselves, but not you. No way.

Here’s a truth for you: You’re not better than anyone.

Be silly. Do the dares. You only live once.

29. Facebook parenting

Say what you will about Facebook’s Skynet-esque takeover of all things internet, but at least it’s opened the door for more good old fashioned child-bragging. It just makes my day to see that my family has written some adorable comment about a photo or story I post. A “that’s my boy” or “my, you’re getting so handsome” does wonders for my self-esteem, and for that one digital second it feels like they’re here with me, giving me a pat on the back.

I mean, as parents, I can only imagine that you want to stay connected to your kids’ lives. This can be difficult when us kids grow up, leave for college, study abroad, and move into tiny apartments in big cities far away. You probably won’t see each other every day. Or every month. Suddenly there comes a time when you see your kid maybe two or three times each year.

Before Facebook, there was e-mail. Some of us still use e-mail.

But there’s something immediate and social about Facebook that makes it more appealing. You can’t brag about your kid’s new girlfriend, or your kid’s college acceptance, or your kid’s third-place swimming trophy in an e-mail. Who will ever see it? No, now that we have Facebook, we can post a comment and have it seen by many. This is bragging on a global scale.

I reckon Facebook is akin to the barbershops of yore, when men gathered to have their beards shaved with razors and share tales about their sons and daughters, off braving the real world, occasionally asking for help with money. Or perhaps Facebook is like the playground where the adults sit on the benches, commenting about their children to other parents, while the kids fumble about in the jungle-gym of life.

Johnny made a cool sandcastle. Like.

Sally took an artsy photo of the see-saw. Like.

I love the connection we’re allowed through Facebook, as disconnected as it seems. I agree that the lack of verbal communication is detrimental to society, but no one’s stopping us from picking up the phone every once in a while. Facebook is just quicker. It’s good for other things, like photos, videos, brief life updates, and everything in between.

And one day, when Facebook becomes self-aware and initiates Judgement Day, we’ll regret we gave it this much power over our lives. But in the meantime, like on, parents.

Like on.

27. Alcohol

It’s strange to think that there was a day in my youth when beer was the most disgusting thing I’d ever encountered and it baffled me how my parents could drink such a thing. What were they, crazy? Might as well be chugging barrels of Elmer’s glue. There was this red liquid called “wine” that felt like a tingly fruity punch to the mouth and made your insides go all warm like the inside of a toasted Pop Tart. I stuck out my tongue at these adult beverages, shunning them like taxes and full-time jobs.

Then I grew up.

And there came a day, sometime in college, when after a hard day of working at the coffee-shop, there was nothing better than coming home to or going out to get a nice cold beer. Not a Coke, not chocolate milk, not a glass of water… No. Beer. In my belly. Now.

Two things are intriguing about that evolutionary leap:

  1. My parents were right all along.
  2. People change.

My mom used to love clams, then, one day, she became allergic to them. As a kid, my sister’s first taste of wine was quite a similar experience to mine, but someday she’ll sit down with a nice Italian dinner or a sappy chick-flick, and a glass of wine will just feel right. I mention this because I’ve learned of an important facet of the human condition: We can hate something for a long time, then turn around and love it. We can love something for a long time, and turn around and hate it. This can happen overnight or over a summer, sometimes by our choice, sometimes due to outside circumstances. The point is, nothing is forever.

Your admiration for Pabst Blue Ribbon will not be the same in ten years.

With beer, I’ve gone through a fluctuating relationship, at first swallowing any drunk-inducing brew available, now a bit more refined in my choice of hops intake. With wine, I’ve found my favorites, but I still like anything with a neat label on the bottle. With hard alcohol, we got off on a rocky start, and there was some vomiting, and we didn’t speak for a while, but ever since a semester abroad in Istanbul, we’ve been getting along much better. People change. Or, to be more specific, our tastes change. This is part of growing up.

Your admiration for anything will change. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in a dozen years. Whatever you’re doing right now, whatever you enjoy, whatever you hate, whatever you’re afraid of… None of that will exist in the same way tomorrow. We’re always changing. We’re always growing.

Grab a beer. Pour some wine. Order a round of shots.

Let’s drink to Now.

Today is the last day you’ll be who you are. Tomorrow you’ll start becoming someone totally different.

20. High school

What follows is an e-mail from my younger sister inquiring about my opinion regarding her upcoming high school experience.

I’ve decided to answer those questions here, putting my remarks in [brackets]. 

“Hey Chrissy! [only my sister can call me Chrissy] As you know the school year is right around the corner and I’m super anxious. I know high school is when some people REINVENT themselves or whatever [“or whatever” is the best way to describe what happens to you in high school]. But there is so much more to think about that I can’t even think about one thing at a time [welcome to your first taste of real life]. I am overwhelmed with all the new things that I will have to get used to… New school, new people, more freedom [as well as a job, paying for gas, dumb boys, and pre-calculus]. I really want to make new friends since I’m kind of lost with friends [lost without friends or you lost your friends on a hiking expedition?]. And since I want to make NEW friends, I kind of want to  REINVENT that part of my life. All i want is for people to like me [the curse of the human condition, my dear sister, just remember to be yourself]. And when lunch comes around, who do I hang out with? [hang out with classmates first, they’ll be the first people you talk to and you’ll have something to talk about] I mean, I’m not going to sit by myself and eat. That’s sad [the trick is not to sit alone and eat, but to walk around and eat, and people will think you’re going somewhere]. Do I just go up to someone and start talking throughout the lunch period, it’s only thirty minutes… [you can try, and since this isn’t a shady dive-bar, there won’t be any negative assumptions]. And what is it about the juniors and seniors being the upper class men and the freshman and sophomores being lower class men? [it’s been that way for eons, but don’t worry, you’ll be upper class soon enough] Are they mean to a freshman like me? [they’ll probably just ignore you] Will they be rude? [only if you bother them or touch their cars] Should I stay as far as I can from them? [if you can] And what do you pack in your backpack? [books, doodling paper, Twizzlers, and one nice pen] Do they tell you at orientation? [they tell you nothing valuable at orientation] What do you do at orientation? [sit in the bleachers and size up the competition sitting around you] Do you introduce yourself to your teachers? [nope, they’re probably too hungover to remember names, anyway] At orientation, do you have time to hang out with your friends, if you have any? [if I remember correctly, the school staff will just fill your head with a bunch of information, then set you free to do as you like] Did you go to school on the first day with a friend? Or did you go solo? [I went solo every morning, but if you meet someone who takes the same route as you, befriend them] Sorry there’s so many questions… [you’ll have plenty more, I’m sure] You don’t have to answer them if you don’t want to [well, I did].”

Good luck, sister. High school for me wasn’t all that bad. I played the quiet card, keeping to the fringes of a variety of social groups, never an outcast but never in the spotlight. Part of me wishes I’d been more outgoing and memorable, but high school is the beginning of a long process of figuring yourself out. You’ll hit some walls. You’ll make some breakthroughs. You’ll find out which subject you’re passionate about, you’ll find a new hobby or two, and you’ll probably kiss someone at a party. Everything will be new and strange and uncomfortable and exciting. You’ll change your styles, you’ll get a bad haircut, you’ll cry and you’ll laugh and you’ll hate some teachers and love others. You’re going to drink beer and probably meet people who smoke cigarettes. In the end, no one will judge you if you try these things, just don’t make them into bad habits. You’ll learn how to drive and your car will become your second home. DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE OR I WILL STEAL YOUR CAR. Please don’t get into any accidents, but I did, so know it’s probable and just go slow on slippery roads. You will fail a test. You will ace an essay that you spent the entire night writing the day before it was due. Maybe you’ll ditch some classes, but don’t ditch too many. Do it at least once. Mom caught me the one time I did it, so be sneakier than I was. You’ll have your heart broken, you’ll go all goo-goo-eyes for someone else, life goes on. You will go to Prom. You will gossip and probably be gossiped about. Be nice. Be fair. You’ll have a locker but you probably won’t use it. Appreciate art class. Pay attention in math class. Stay awake in history. Aim for the Advanced classes, but don’t feel bad if you don’t take them, they just count for college credit. Study for the SAT and take it more than once, if you can. I got an 1180, which is okay, but you can do better. Don’t fight with Mom about stupid things. You’ll argue a lot, probably, about things like staying out late, the clothes you wear, the friends you make… I’m not saying she’s right about everything, but she’s only looking out for you and respect the fact that she went through a lot of the same situations as you. Go to her for advice. Keep her informed and she won’t pester you with questions. She is your greatest resource. Don’t hate school. It’s the last stretch of free education that you’ll receive and after this, you go into debt to learn. Join a club. Join a sports team. These are good ways to make friends. Eat a lot of pizza, take pictures of your life, keep a journal, and always make sure your behavior comes from a place of self-love, not the need to please others. You come first. They come second. Most of them, you’ll never see again after high school. Enjoy the ride.

17. Other milk

Let’s say I was about one when I made the switch to store-bought milk, and from then on out I was pretty sure the only white drink in the world was 2% milk from the udder of a cow. It was a long time before someone said, “Here, try this, it’s goat milk.” Of course I thought them heretical, to be banished to the darkest corner of the Earth. I bellowed, “Goats don’t make milk! How dare you! Remove that imitation abomination from my fine glassware and apologize to the Great Bovine for your insolence!”

The only variation I permitted was the addition of chocolate to the flavor, and sometimes Oreo crumbs.

However, my world of cow-dominated dairy products continued to crumble as I aged.

Soon people were telling me that American and Cheddar were not the only types of cheese in the world. What! “Why yes,” they said, “there’s gouda and bleu and pepperjack. This one with the holes is called swiss. That one: provolone, and the other: brie.” I tried these foreign creations with contempt. How could they be cheese if they were not orange? And this one, this brie, is like a thick custard, so little like the cheese of my youth that there must’ve been a mistake. “No, no,” they said, “cheese comes in all shapes and sizes. Your pizza features mozzarella. Your spaghetti is sprinkled with parmesan. See this cheese here, it’s called feta, and this type has been made of sheep’s milk.”

SHEEP!

The blasphemy stung deep. I could handle news of cheese varietals, but this? No! Only cow’s milk could create such a wonder as cheese! “Try this,” they said, passing me a scrap of baguette with a white cheese spread. I did, and it was quite delicious, and they said, “That’s goat cheese.”

GOATS!

They’d invaded my milk and now my cheese! These bleating, skipping creatures of the hillsides. Trouble was, I really liked goat cheese. It was apparent that my loyalty to cows had blinded me from the reality: there were other cheeses, and more shockingly, there were other milks, and not just those from other animals. “Look here,” they said, taking me to the supermarket. “We have soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, and even rice milk. And did you know there’s such a thing as buffalo milk?”

My God, I remember thinking. Have we lost our minds? We’re milking almonds, now?

The point I want to make is, certainty about anything is denial of the idea that alternatives exist. I think we tend to have a problem with this, as a global society, which leads to many arguments. We get stuck in our little worlds, our opinions and our beliefs, and when we discover that there are other options out there, we sort of freak out. People who feel like they’re absolutely correct are likely to be disproven, and unfortunately, they probably won’t take it very well. That said, never be certain, stay open minded, and remember: there are always other milks.

15. Kids

I think we should let them rule the world. Perhaps not entirely, but we should have children on our advisory boards, in our governments, in our inner circles and chilling out with the 1%. Sure they can’t drive and can hardly feed themselves, but kids have something that many of our upper crust decision makers don’t: fairness.

Today I played a makeshift game of Taboo with some kids where I wrote a word on the board and the two teams had to figure out ways to make their teammate guess that word while never actually using that word (or parts of it). For those that don’t know, imagine I wrote pumpkin on the board, and to make you guess pumpkin, I’d say, “orange Halloween gourd.”

Simple game, right? Wouldn’t it be nice if life were so simple? “Here, you can have that promotion if you can guess what word I’m thinking of.”

My point is, one team found it unfair that the other team guessed their word “eating” correctly simply by miming the act and not using any words. When I gave them a point for a correct guess, the other team all but threw a coup. This wasn’t charades. They were right, of course. It wasn’t fair. As an adult, I made the choice to let it slide just to make the masses happy, but the decision backfired. I nearly sparked a revolution. Which leads me to my first observation: you can’t please everyone. Rules are rules, and that’s fair. However, if the rules are fair and maintained without breaking, then in theory we could have fewer conflicts. Even the other team agreed that they’d been given an unfair point, peace was restored, and the game went on.

Imagine a couple kids in the White House. Think of how they’d interpret our wars and corporate monopolies and tax hikes and tuition prices. Think of how they’d suggest we negotiate peace treaties and create fair rules for the world to follow. They’d see right through our bureaucratic bullshit. They’d let us know right away how unfair some of our policies are.

On one hand, our crooked ways might corrupt their young minds: What’s this about borrowing more money when we already have a debt? You’re saying I can have more cookies even though Mom said we’re out? Oh, so I can help those kids from getting beat up under the monkey bars, but not the kids getting bullied on the basketball court? I guess it’s okay if I have all the water balloons and no one else can have them because I know what’s best to do with them.

Or maybe they’d actually be able to change some things. They might not know much about government or politics or international trade, but they know what fair means. They know when people are getting a bad deal. After all, we’re leaving this world to them eventually, and sure they’re not exactly stoked on voting or paying taxes, but they do like to be heard, and I think it’d be beneficial to hear what they have to say.

Continue reading 15. Kids

12. Forgetting

I don’t know when the fear started, but I’ve always been weary of growing old and forgetting my life. Seems rather normal, actually, and for whatever reason I’m expecting the forgetting to start after I turn seventy, if not sooner. Already I freak out a little when I forget the names of old friends or memories I shared with them. It makes me feel uneasy, to think I can live my one and only life on this planet and forget parts of it, basically clipping out parts of a movie reel, regardless of their emotional value. Seems like a waste.

Hence, the incessant blogging. I’ve been chronicling my life since 2010, writing it down mostly for the sake of maintaining a record of it, like a journal but more like a time-capsule with images, songs, and written things. These are the only mid-twenties I’ll ever know and to think I’d one day forget they ever happened, well I just can’t let that happen. When I’m old and bored, I want to have these written histories of my life available for review, the good and the bad stuff, so I can lay out my stiff joints on the lawn and read about my past.

Anyway, the point is, I don’t think we’re meant to remember everything forever.

Even writing it down, it’s not the same as the memory itself. I might read these words again in fifty years and ponder fondly on the thoughts and behavior of my youth, but there will be a detachment, a disconnect between my future self and my present self. I mean, you look at a picture of yourself as a small child and you think, “Who the hell was that kid?” Reading them is not the same as remembering them which is not the same as experiencing them, but second to a video recording, a blog is the closest thing I can think that captures at least the essence of what it means to be where you are right now. Because we will forget, eventually, and we will be curious about our past.

We have to forget things. It’s natural. Life is long and full of adventures, faces, stories and numbers. We have to remember to set alarms and attend meetings and see the dentist. We need room for names, addresses, and directions. We can’t remember all of our childhood friends. We’re not supposed to remember anything before fourth grade, in my opinion, and this comes from the guy who’s afraid to forget. Our brains move through life like forests. Some trees have to fall to feed the ecosystem.

In conclusion: I’m jealous of people with great memories.

But what I really wanted to say was… Wait… What was I talking about?

11. PB & J

My desert island food involves two slices of wheat bread and between them: one layer of chunky peanut butter and one layer of raspberry jelly. If I were allowed to be greedy, I’d ask for three slices of bread with an additional layer of each ingredient, creating what I like to call the Big Papa PBJ (a delicious secret I discovered in a college dorm). Many a childhood school lunch was made complete by the PBJ, but better yet was when Mom made them for me at home and cut the sandwich into quarters. The sandwich is like the perfect perfume, with a fruit-jelly top note, a wheat-bread middle note, and a peanut-butter base note. It’s a culinary miracle, harmonious to the last bite.

Anyway, my point is that there’s some things that never get old.

We grow up surrounded by stimulus, constantly absorbing the world around us like flowers soaking in the rays of the sun. Our photosynthesis is the digestion of information. Some of it becomes white noise, forgotten as we age, habits that we lose or beliefs that are shattered. Santa Clause fades. Parents become real people. Sweet snacks give us stomachaches and diabetes. So we adapt as we grow up, snipping away the bits that don’t serve us any purpose. Goodbye Beanie-Babies.

But what about the stuff that stays with you? I still twirl my hair when I think, just like I did as a kid, I still hold my breath when I drive through a tunnel, I still claim that my favorite movie of all time is a movie I saw when I was seven, and my favorite sandwich is still the PB & J.

I can’t let these things go. Is it because I don’t want to grow up? No. I’ve given up on that Peter Pan dream. Being a kid kinda sucks in comparison to the freedoms of adulthood. It’s not about fighting your age but maintaining your essence. Keeping some of your habits and preferences the same throughout your entire life is a difficult task. These were things that defined you from the get-go, your initial idiosyncrasies, your first experience with individuality. We will grow older and for the most part, this is good, but we will change in ways that we cannot foresee. The world will try to harden you, so if you can, uphold those childhood habits and beliefs. Eat goldfish crackers and wish upon stars and don’t step on the cracks or you’ll break your momma’s back. It is important to hold onto bits of your childhood if you enjoy them. Keep them with you because they will keep your heart young. Now go drink some chocolate milk.

I’ve got a sandwich to make.

5. Cardboard boxes

Call me crazy, but one of my favorite toys as a kid was a cardboard box. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of other things to keep my attention, but there was nothing quite like coming home from a long day at elementary school and taking a box out into the backyard to kick the shit out of it. I’d make sure it was put together all perfectly with the ends folded together tight (best ones were taped shut), then I’d just go wild. I’d kick it off the porch. I’d kick it high enough to where I could kick it before it touched the ground. You’d be surprised how long a cardboard box can endure this torture, but eventually it would fall to pieces and the game would be done. I’d go inside and drink a Capri-Sun and watch Wile E. Coyote cartoons.

But why the hell did I do that?

I liked the process of destruction. I liked figuring out how to make each new box last longer than the one before, how certain kicks resulted in specific outcomes. It became a science, and I even got a little exercise out of it from running around chasing those damn boxes around the yard. I can only imagine my mom watching from the back porch, sipping a bloody mary and thinking, “My God, what have I done?”

This leads me to my next point, however.

Mom shouldn’t have been asking herself what she had done wrong with me (her box-kicking son), but what she had done wrong with herself. Why wasn’t she out there kicking boxes with me? What happens to us that removes our ability to be entertained by simple things? Sure, we’re not cats chasing laser pointers, but should we be ashamed to find beauty or amusement in the mundane? I didn’t need an expensive gadget or Direct TV subscription to keep me entertained as a kid. Just an open yard and a declaration of war against all things cubed and cardboard. Mom should’ve come out and battled those paper products with me. Cats don’t need laser pointers or electric mice or plastic balls, they just need a scrap of paper and a piece of string. I think we could learn a little from our feline friends.

I won’t be picking up the habit again any time soon, but I still fondly remember my days of kicking boxes and I wonder where that part of me has gone. When did I grow up? Who told me, “Boy, you oughtta be kickin gas pedals and breakin girls’ hearts, not goofin around with them boxes in the yard.” They had no imagination, whoever they were, and they infested me with their same near-sightedness.

I mean, don’t you remember your childhood? A cardboard box could be a fort, a robot costume, a barricade, a time machine, a prison cell or a lava-resistent vehicle. I used it for all those things and more, then took it out to the pasture to put it down like an old horse.

We lose our childish cat-like infatuation with the world around us, and it’s a pity.

Find your cardboard box before it’s too late.