Tag Archives: society

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.

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98. Hoarders

There used to be just two of us. Remember those days?

I was the hunter. You, the gatherer.

Now I knew you had a propensity for collecting things. It was your nature. While I was out skinning sabre-toothed tigers, you were filling half the cave with acorns and wild berries so that we would have sustenance through the winter when the tigers migrated. There was a need to collect a lot of things. We survived because of the Gatherer’s want for many.

These days, we don’t need to fill pantries with pounds of loose nuts and berries. For many, all it takes is a trip to the corner market to get food, if not ten steps to the refrigerator. We don’t really gather the way we used to. Instead of food, we go out into the world to gather money. Gathering is also no longer a gendered term. Man or woman, we’re all suckers in the same rat race. That refrigerator won’t pay for itself.

The point is, gathering is in our nature.

I say this because now instead of using the term “gatherer,” we use “hoarder.”

There are people out there with huge collections of polished antique silverware, but we call them Collectors. It’s the one’s with hallways lined with towers of newspapers that we call Hoarders. Simply having a lot of something doesn’t make it a “collection,” though. A billion bath-toy ducks could even mark you as a Hoarder, because who the hell would want to keep a billion toy ducks around? If you’re confused about the distinction between Collector and Hoarder, just know that the Hoarder’s house will probably have more cats in it.

We make them out to be crazy. We treat them like they’re breaking some human law, when in fact it is the accuser that should be on trial. We chastise them for gathering supplies for their cave. It is the accuser that is fighting human nature by shaping their lives after an IKEA catalogue.

I don’t mean to say that having a clean and tidy house is a bad thing. In fact there are health benefits related with keeping one’s house in good shape. If we have gained anything from our loss of gathering desires, it’s longer lives.

I’d argue that there are many of us “evolved” folks that still gather in small ways. Books. We gather books. Women, you gather shoes. Gamers gather achievement points. We gather photographs. A lot of us have trinkets like porcelain angels or cow figurines or old WWII propoganda posters, things we clutter our shelves with. Things we consider extensions of ourselves.

Different, of course, than the man with a thousand ashtrays. Or the woman still in possession of every article of clothing she’s ever owned. These are the hoarders. But if I have every National Geographic magazine, I’m a Collector. I suppose it has to do with value, both monetary and social. We all have this pretty clear idea of something with value and something without, though obviously there are some differences of opinion.

To the Hoarders, be careful. You don’t live in a cave. You’ll survive the winter. You don’t need to have a thousand of anything. To everyone else, do not point fingers. A Hoarder is more human than you are, they just need a little coaxing out of the cave.

96. Rebellion

Don't Do It

I’ll repeat the question: What is it about these warnings that make us want to do them?

What godawful curse of curiosity requires us to do the exact opposite of what someone explicitly told us not to do? It seems so wrong, doesn’t it? Here we get truthful, honest advice and we simply won’t take it. Sorry. You even know we won’t take it. Half the time we tell someone not to do something it’s because secretly we want them to do it. All of us fall for it. Before finishing this paragraph you probably already searched everything we suggested you don’t.

Regret it, don’t you?

Well, you’ll get over it. And you’ll do it again.

To be absolutely honest, I haven’t yet searched “blue waffle.” I’d rather just stick with my own imagination than get something even worse cemented into my brain. This time, I’m adhering to the advice. I won’t play those mind games anymore.

Update: Goddamn it. I looked.

Why? Why ignore the warning label? Why rebel so openly? What is it about human kind that seeks trouble? What gene within us begs us to pull fire alarms and run red lights? There have been proven, repeated, often negative outcomes from the very things that we are advised to avoid, yet we seek them anyway. Everyone wants to shoot a gun, even if we’re scared of them.

From the small, “Don’t run around the pool,” warning to the big, “Stop or I’ll shoot,” warning, we’ve got this collective desire to ignore negative commands. We don’t like being told what not to do. We hate it. All of us. Secretly or openly, we feel that the last thing we were born on this planet to do is take orders. No mattress has its tag left on it.

I will NOT wait thirty seconds before opening my steaming bag of microwave popcorn.

I will NOT come to a complete stop.

One random piece of advice I picked up in my lifetime was, in the case of trying to remember things, the trick is to frame it positively. Rather than saying, “Don’t forget to go to the store,” you should say, “Remember to go to the store.”

Hell, I’d probably still forget. No one tells ME what to remember!

The point is, we’re an interesting species. We’re prone for trouble. The last thing we want is a neat and tidy universe. No wonder the news is full of madness and mayhem. It’s no wonder that the fighting won’t end, crime won’t dwindle, and drugs will prevail. If you tell us to be happy, we’ll only get sad. If you tell us to behave, we’ll only light fuses. Sorry.

I’m not saying that any of this is excusable. Rules are usually made for a reason, and when we run around breaking them, we know very well what we’re doing. It’s a cycle of self-destruction. We won’t break it until we actually listen to our own advice.

When the aliens come, perhaps not long from now if the Mayans have anything to say about it, these extraterrestrials will have no idea what to make of us. They’ll come in peace and we’ll give them war.

95. Reunions

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

:::

It is a very joyous (and under appreciated) feeling to be able to meet up with friends who you have not seen in a long time. Sometimes it feels like you never left them in the first place. Sometimes it feels like you’re meeting them for the first time all over again.

The older you get, the more likely your friends will move around the country or around the world and it’s possible to lose touch with them. It’s natural, but sad nonetheless. I was lucky enough to see these three friends of mine again in New York City this past weekend after not seeing them for the six months after the end of our exchange student program in Istanbul. It was an ecstatic feeling being able to see all of these people who I had gotten friendly with during my study abroad experience back in the flesh in front of me.

The idea of a reunion plays into the very nature of human beings and how we are social animals above all else. We urge to be connected with each other especially after having not seen one another in a while. When we do reconnect, the memories come flooding back, for better or for worse. A familiar face is like a familiar song, able to bring you back in time.

My study abroad experience simply wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t have friends to share with it. In all honestly, the people who you surround yourself throughout your life affect the experiences you have more than you would think.

I am one who prefers life’s experiences when I have people to share them with. Moments carry an extra significance when you bond with people as they happen. Traveling abroad, eating, drinking, dancing, and any other social activity that we human beings engage in throughout the course of our lives should be shared with others. I’m not against a quiet, solitary moment here and there, but we are social creatures, and reunions remind us of that.

Reunions can be spontaneous and you never when they’re going to happen again. It is important to savor those chances to meet up with those people again that you have not seen in a long time.

During this recent reunion with friends, I felt many positive emotions brimming to the surface and I remember trying to savor each of those elated moments that night. I enjoyed every laugh, every inside joke, every story we each shared together in Istanbul and it made me very happy to be able to see these friends again. It made me want to keep in touch with them even more and to see their faces again.

Distance and time are strong barriers but can be overcome quite easily in this day and age if you try hard enough. We exist for such a short amount of time and it’s the people we share that existence with that will influence us the most, so we should try harder to keep in touch.

92. Wal-Mart Jesus

Guest Thought from Megan Chaussee

:::

There was a time when I dreaded my weekly visit to the local Wal-Mart Superstore. Once there I would have to contend with all sorts of frustrations and inconveniences just to restock my kitchen for the week. Every time I used the last of the milk to fill a bottle or Sippy cup, my shoulders sagged a little with the realization that I’d have to go back to Wal-Mart.

Crowds. Long lines. Crappy parking. Crazy people. Broken carts. Wardrobe malfunctions. It was an unpleasant errand, to say the least.

I know, I know. I could go to Whole Foods or a farmer’s market to purchase locally grown, organic produce. I could waltz into my nearest Nugget affiliate and enjoy the luxury of wide, meticulously manicured aisles and dairy products devoid of toxic hormones. I could watch in detached amusement as a well-spoken (read: white) bagger stowed my groceries carefully away in the back of my car. Unfortunately, the flipside to these options is very simple: they cost.

I was never willing (able) to spend the money necessary to consistently shop at these types of establishments. Instead I chose the politically incorrect, sell-your-soul for a Great Value option that is the Wal-Mart Corporation. There seems to be a snake’s head in this bag of frozen broccoli, but they’re only charging 89 cents for it. The savings are significant enough to forgive such sins.  Add to cart.

Having decided upon Wal-Mart as my go-to grocery source, I settled into an angry pattern of weekly shopping trips. Why won’t Miss Sweat Pants move out of my way? How long does it take to pick out a can of peas? Why is my cart shrieking?  Why is this line so long? Who’s yelling? Why didn’t anyone bring enough money to pay for their items? Why is this ladder here? What’s that smell?

The questions never ended – and I found myself exhausted, irritable, and disgusted with humanity by the end of each visit.

Within the last year, though, my outlook shifted. The answer appeared to me, as if from nowhere. Life is too short to be the angry mother-of-two pushing around a cart with a sour expression on her face.

Life is beautiful. Hence…Wal-Mart is beautiful.

Ever since, I find myself pacing the aisles with a serene, far away expression. I smile beatifically at the half-naked children throwing discount Blu-rays into my cart. The tattooed man blocking my path with his motorized scooter is my sacred brother. I will gift you the two dollars you need to purchase that feminine product, Ma’am. We bleed the same blood.

The good people of Wal-Mart are my brethren. I walk amongst them and embrace their raw humanity. I wish them love, light, and peace when our time together is over.  I forgive them their sins. Aren’t we all cut from the same over-drafted, underdressed, slightly misshapen human cloth? We stand together, imperfect.

Wal-Mart is my new meditation; my true religion.

I am a Wal-Mart Jesus.

91. Fake crowds

Guest Thought from Sean Fryer

:::

Alright. That’s it.

I have held my tongue long enough. As a fan of cinema there is something that has been niggling at me for a few years now, simmering just below the surface of my subconscious. I didn’t know what it was specifically.

Then as I sat bored and channel surfing one evening, I happened upon a Revenge of the Nerds movie (which one doesn’t matter here). And I hung on that channel, marveling at what people thought was funny in the 80’s, and the movie was near the end where the two factions (nerds vs. jocks) are battling it out for something, a trophy or respect or both or something. There was a crowd of cheering extras, rooting and jumping and hollerin’ and clapping and shaking their fists in the air… and it dawned on me.

It looked totally fake.

It was as if the director had told them to be enthusiastic but LOOK like you don’t know why. Trust me on this. There are quite a few ‘fake crowds’ in dozens of movies, and only a few of them seem authentic (The Natural with Robert Redford comes to mind), but a great majority of films just don’t quite cut it as realistic.

Like any movie with a ski competition. Or Adam Sandler movies.

My point being this… Now I can’t stop scrutinizing movies with crowds and judging how real they look. And now that I put it into your thoughts, you will now do the same. Fake crowds in movies. Don’t know why they irk me but I’m sure I am not alone.

90. Thief

I stole something today. I’m not afraid to admit it. I won’t tell you who or where I stole from, since I’m pretty sure Safeway doesn’t read this blog. I don’t want to tell you what it was. Doesn’t matter what it was. To ease your mind, I’ll tell you it was small and inexpensive and edible. The fact is, I took it without paying for it, and so by any standard of the act, I am a criminal.

Astonishing, how easy it is to cross that line.

One moment I was a law-abiding citizen. Clean record. Good health. Just your average middle-class male. Then, with the smallest action, the pocketing of a small, easily forgettable item, I became a wanted man.

The truth is, though I don’t think this will hold up in court, I simply forgot that I’d put the item in my pocket. Cross-my-heart honestly forgot. After perusing the other aisles for other goods with the intention to pay for them, its presence in my pocket slipped my mind. Didn’t think of it again until I was outside unlocking my bike. Woops. My bad.

I’m a criminal, regardless. A thief.

In the same vein, you could just as easily become a sinner. A liar. A cheater. A terrorist. A bully. A bigot. Sometimes all it takes a single act (justified or not) and suddenly you’re labeled, pigeonholed, identified for life by that title. Acts like these, their weight is determined by a jury of our peers. We don’t have a re-do button. There’s no going back from certain actions.

Do it once, shame on me forever.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. Some titles ought to stick: like murderer, molester, rapist… I think there are lines that people cross that shouldn’t be forgotten. Inhuman acts. Hurtful acts. Such marks on your record ought to be written in permanent ink. Then there are smaller degrees of criminal or indecent (I say even forgivableacts that should be written in pencil, something that time or behavior could repair. Yet even these, we still label as though the labels had been carved or tattooed on peoples’ foreheads. I’m not sure where the line is. I’m not sure what makes one label more severe than another; why some stick and others fade.

I stole, and so did Bonny and Clyde. Do I deserve the same bullet salad the cops served them during that climactic ambush? I don’t think so.

But how long until I’ve shed the label of thief, from your perspective? Personally, I don’t consider myself a thief, even though I’ve thieved. But according to your guidelines, or the guidelines of the law, how much time has to pass before I’m back to being a regular guy without a criminal label?

I say I’m a criminal for as long as it takes to completely digest the evidence.

But you may never look at me the same way again.

88. Time change

Why only one hour?

Time gives meaning to our rotation around the sun. We made it up. Time, not the rotation. The rotation will happen with our without our clocks. The universe follows no schedule, knows no hour. We made up time, like the gods, to help make sense of a lot of things. So we could plan things. So we could DVR the next episode of “Walking Dead” from our smartphones.

I ask again: Why only one hour?

The truth is we can never stop time now that it’s been created, like an avalanche. The hands of the clock only spin forward. All we can do is accept it because we can’t out run it.

I think this bothers us. I think our own construct got the best of us, and in a fit of jealous rage we decided not to let our own inventions determine how much time we spent with the sun. When the fall and winter rotation of our planet took the sun away, guess what we did? WE CHANGED TIME.

But for what? An extra hour of sunlight?

Some argue it saves energy costs by requiring less artificial light. Some argue it encourages evening activities. Some would say it gives farmers’ crops more sunlight. Some would say it’s part of a fight against the vampires.

I don’t care. I just do as I’m told.

But I think we need to get a little more creative with our Time Manipulation.

I want a six-hour rollback. I want to go to bed at 11:00 PM and wake up at 2:00 AM and feel totally rested. I want my midnight to be my noon. I want to go to school at 3:00 AM and be home in time for dinner at 11:00 AM. I’m not worried about taking advantage of the sunlight. I could sleep through the bright hours and take advantage of the moon, instead. Or maybe something less drastic. Roll back the clock fifteen minutes, once a week. Keep us on our toes. Maybe pick a day to roll forward twenty-four hours, then roll it back at the end of the month. Make February shorter. Make the summer longer. Split up a Wednesday and finish it later. Let us sleep more during the winter and make us active in the spring. Make one day last fifty hours. See what we can do with a two-hour Monday. Try out a twelve-day weekend that lasts nine hours, and somehow make that logically possible. Time is ours. Play with it.

Anyway, thanks for the extra hour of sleep.

84. Nothing

What is nothing?

It is difficult to picture nothing.

I’d argue that it’s our language that prohibits nothingness, for even having the language to shape our thoughts has birthed a tangible imagination. As wild as our thoughts are, they are contained by our language. Even the most abstract concepts like infinity, love, and motivation are wrapped tightly in vocabulary. Without langauge, what would ideas be? Feelings? I don’t know for sure.

Without language, it’s almost as if our existence ceases to be.

Well, okay, pain and hunger and the biological elements of our existence would continue. We wouldn’t be able to express how or why we eat or suffer or sleep, but we would do them anyway. Like robots, programmed.

With words, though, and the symbols we use for written language, we have removed the mystery. No longer do things simply happen, for there are words to explain all phenomena. There are even words to express the fact that one doesn’t know something. Even the lack of knowledge can be known. There are ways to express things we’ll never understand, which, in a way, is another way of understanding things.

An ability to say, “This is something I will never know,” is far more advanced than our ancestors, who viewed the unknown without knowing it was unknown, as an ant who comes across a leaf in its path and simply bounces off in another direction, not questioning the leaf, narrowly seeing the leaf, more observant of the fact that its forward motion was stalled, but not why or how or where the leaf came from.

We can no longer just be.

If only because we have the verb be.

Therefore, to imagine nothing is to imagine something. A dark space. A bottomless pit. Some other adjective, some other noun. We fill nothing with words, defeating the purpose of nothing, betraying one construct with another. We’re incapable of doing nothing.

Thanks to language, our thoughts have shapes and those shapes become words, sentences, theories. I’ve heard of people meditating to clear their minds to clear all thoughts, like someone dusting their entire house. I don’t buy it, though I’ve never tried it. Our brain’s are wired to acquire language. We’re designed to communicate. Even in total silence, our brain speaks.

I picture the meditating monk with a cleared mind like someone on a vast ocean, floating on a piece of driftwood, completely isolated from the outside world. Or perhaps floating in an endless vacuum. This, I imagine, is the quiet and tranquility they seek for whatever spiritual purpose they desire. Except they are still a noun, performing a verb.

I’m not trying to say that meditation is futile. I think it helps to quiet the vocabulary machines inside our brains that constantly, unconsciously  create language to explain the world around us. Closing our eyes, we see dark and we think quiet and we feel calm and we hear our heartbeat. But there is always something. There is never nothing.

So don’t feel bad about those lazy days when you do nothing. Don’t ever feel like you’re worth nothing.

It’s impossible.

82. Puzzles

I’ve met my nemesis and it is called the Rubik’s Cube.

No offense to its creator, Ernő Rubik, who in 1974 developed the puzzle cube. I bet you were a swell guy. The fact remains: This harmless little child’s toy with its impossible labyrinth of color shifting devilry has been a thorn in society’s side ever since.

I’ve never solved one. Obviously. Even the instructions I try to use from the internet betray me.

There are competitions, famous competitions, where people solve Rubik’s Cubes in the quickest or strangest ways. One-handed, blind-folded, floating in zero gravity. On a boat, on a kangaroo. People challenge themselves, but mostly they challenge the Rubik’s Cube, constantly stretching the boundaries of puzzle solving criteria. Soon we’ll be looking for the one who can swallow the cube whole and solve it with their digestive system.

Our fastest human solver of the Rubik’s cube is Feliks Zemdegs. The fastest computer solved it in 5.27 seconds. We’re not far behind at 5.66, thanks to Zemdegs. I guess we know who to call when during the robot uprising our species’ survival is based on the outcome of a Rubik’s Cube showdown.

More importantly, you should note, the puzzle that has taken me over twenty-five years to never complete was solved by an Australian teenager in slightly less than six full seconds.

Thanks.

But I keep going back to the the puzzle. I keep rotating at random. Sometimes I’ll have a moment of clarity and really see how the rotations work together, but I’d be lying if I said I had some kind of method. I don’t know any of the algorithms people use to solve the thing, I simply like to try sometimes. Like reading a book, picking up a Rubik’s Cube makes you feel smart, even if you’re just winging it.

What draws us back to these unsolvable puzzles though? We ache and groan because they defeat us regularly. We think we’ve figured it out, then it gets even more complicated. We might even tell ourselves that we’ve given up, but it never lasts. We’ve all got a Rubik or two in our lives.

I don’t think we can help it.

It’s boring to have everything figured out. It’s boring to solve all your problems.

We all need something on the backburner, even if the pots on the front burners are boiling over. Like a lighthouse beacon in the fog, these insistent background tasks, these puzzles you’ll never solve but never let go, they kind of remind us that there’s something to aim for, even if you never get there. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s our non-task that needs to never be completed because if we didn’t have these intangible, unrealistic goals, then we’d wander like sheep without fences.

I’m not saying the Rubik’s Cube has channeled my attention away from bigger and better things. We’re all capable of experiencing all of the life’s wonders, regardless of our puzzles. I’m only saying that I like to keep the cube around. I like to try and solve it once in a while, like catching up with an old friend. Like a grizzled cop meeting an uncatchable mobster in a coffee-shop, wanting to choke each other right there on the checkered linoleum, but sipping coffee with amicable smugness and understanding between them. I’ll never defeat the cube and the cube will never defeat me.

Live life. Pursue goals.

But not all the puzzles will be solved, and there will be goals that evade your reach like fireflies, flashing briefly before slipping away. Chase them, but do not be defeated by them. Know when to put the cube down for a while and take care of bigger things.

80. Thinking

A thought.

You’d think it would be so easy. To have one, I mean. To fire a synapse, to feel inspired, to put words to text on a screen and convey an idea. A coherent thought. Something relatable, yet through a lens you never considered before. To be unique. To put a twist on an old trope. To stand on the shoulders of giants and express what you see. Unimaginable worlds. Unbelievable ideas. It seems like we’re all always on the verge of the next great thought.

It’s hard.

Thinking is hard.

Honestly, most of the time, it’s a curse. To think is to think twice. To think is to empathize, to relate, to grasp, to question, to imagine, to understand, to mistake, to be disappointed and to be elated. To think is to use an internal organ for external constructs.

To quote a friend of mine, “It’s all just a thought when you think about it.”

We are thoughts. We are thoughts within thoughts within thoughts. Our conception is an idea. Our birth, to others, is a memory accessible in a thought as easily as we recall yesterday’s weather. Our entire lives, in biographical form, are condensed to a singular thought between two hardcovers, perhaps written by someone we’ve never met. Everything we do, make, say, or hope for is a thought. We are only aware of ourselves because we think.

Otherwise, I imagine a life like that of an ant’s.

We scatter about without direction, wandering until we bump into something that, for some reason, we feel like chewing on. We might even take a piece of it back to our nest. Maybe. Who knows? All we know is that this object demands our attention and we have the digestive system to make good use of it. Then some giant bipedal creature comes along and smashes us dead because we interfered with their weekend picnic. The end.

We’re not ants. But, in the end, we’re not much different.

Luckily (?) we have this thing in our skulls called a brain. It gives us this remarkable power to not only think, but to do things with those thoughts. An ant thinks. Surely. It thinks on the primal, survivalist level. On our end of the spectrum, we take thoughts and create governments and artistic masterpieces, or we solve problems or we commit heinous crimes. We are not as vulnerable to the whims of our biology as much as an ant, thanks to philosophy, thanks to math and science, thanks to religion. We have made ourselves bigger than ourselves. We have thought it so.

Ants have biological hierarchy. A system from nature. We have gridlocked interstate highways and space travel. I don’t think nature ever intended one of its species to leave the atmosphere.

I am proud of our brain. I am proud to be a thinker.

But it is not easy.

Thinking means that we carry doubts and hopes and fears and responsibilities. Thinking can be dangerous. Thinking can be exhausting, especially when it seems like we can never turn it off. Even drugs and alcohol permit some level of thinking, albeit tainted with lowered inhibitions and unjustifiably brilliant hypotheses.

The point is, it’s okay not to know what to think sometimes.

It’s okay to not understand something, to not dwell on the meaning of life, to not analyze every little event of your existence. It is okay to not have answers. It’s okay to stop thinking now and again (hard to do, I know) just to give that muscle in your skull a little rest. We think at work. We think about our paychecks. We go to school to think some more. We think about family and friends and football teams and phone numbers. We think in the short term, the long term, in terms we haven’t even defined.

We think so much. Too much.

Eighty thoughts into a thousand, maybe this seems like a defeatist entry, but fear not. The thinking will continue. The only thought that came to mind tonight was the thought of the difficulties of thinking, the pressures of thinking, the curse and pleasure of thinking.

I won’t stop. I can’t. You can’t either.

We’re not ants, after all.

79. Choice

 Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

:::

No other mental task can be so challenging and exhausting, and yet so invigorating, as making a choice. Choice is a behavioral process that we undergo hundreds of times each day. These choices that we make can either affect our experience immediately or result in long-term impacts on our lives. From the type of breakfast cereal you buy to the location of your first home, choices have consequences that we can’t always fathom.

I tend to overlook how important choice is in determining one’s destiny or fate in life. As human beings, we make so many choices each day that it’s difficult to discern from what’s valuable to what really doesn’t matter in the grander scheme of things. This also plays into one’s individual perception of what is and what isn’t important in life, which is a long debate that should be left for another thinker.

The other day I was walking through the aisles of my local grocery store when I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the endless assortment of product on the shelves towering over me. Do we really need a hundred different brands of cereal? Picking one became an odd chore, as if having so many options meant I was being judged for which one I actually chose. Completely flummoxed, I’m not even sure which one I picked.

Many people have quite a different situation. Many people will never see a hundred different brands of cereal on a supermarket shelf. Choice might be overwhelming sometimes, but to simply have a choice at all is a gift that we should not take for granted.

My next bumper sticker will say: “I Choose Choice.”

Many people living in the world today have very limited options. Their chance at choice is much lower. It is hard, in a country like this where choice is not only commonplace but can have actual, tangible effects, to imagine a world where choices have been restrained. As humans, we seek fulfillment and happiness, and to be restricted in our choices toward that goal is terrible.

Next time, when you’re meandering in the cereal aisle, perplexed by all the competition, do not dwell for too long. Although breakfast is the most important meal of the day, your choice of cereal is not the most important choice you’ll make today. You know you’re going to get Honey Bunches of Oats, anyway.

In the next few days, pay attention to your moments of choice. Big or small, recognize choice as the gift that it is, then make it a good one.

78. Credit limit

$6,500.

That’s how much I’m worth.

At least, that’s how much I’m worth to the credit card company. They’ve upgraded me. Doubled my retail value, actually. Without making any mention of it to me, they went ahead and lifted the spending cap of my credit card. This also happened to lower my monthly payment, which I can’t complain about. The fact remains, they’ve still got a cap on me. Only, it’s a little higher now than it was two weeks ago. What did I do differently? Why the special treatment? What is my bank beefing up my ego for?

I’m instantly suspicious.

I can’t honestly say that I’m not touched by the gesture. It feels good to be commended for one’s commitment and consistent payments. I appreciate having an “Oh Shit Cushion,” in case of emergencies. It saved my ass when I was abroad and I guess the credit company appreciated all those airline ticket charges. Was this some kind of Welcome Home gift?

Thanks for the confidence boost, but I can see through your schemes. You noticed that I hadn’t been using the card lately. You were getting jealous. But you can’t be mad at me because I treated you so well earlier this year. Remember Antalya? That trip to South Korea? So instead you go out and get your hair done, you buy some nicer clothes, you practice batting your eyelashes, and you come back to me at twice the limit, practically begging me to use you again.

No thanks, Visa.

I’ve got enough baggage leftover from my time with you. Thanks for the memories, but once I pay you off, we’re through.

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.

75. Regret

Guest Thought from Alison McClelland

:::

A friend of a friend was telling me a story a while back and it made me think about how much we miss out on when we do or don’t do something for fear of what other people might think.

She and her husband flew to Las Vegas for one weekend and for one reason. Star Trek Experience. A noble reason, I might add.

Well, being that I’ve experienced the Star Trek Experience I know there’s a place called “Quark’s Bar.” Evidently, there’s quite a spectacular beverage served there called “Warp Core Breech.” They ate lunch at Quark’s where she decided not to order said beverage as it was “too early” in the day. She decided they would return that night and order the drink then, ignoring prompts by her husband to disregard the “too early” rule.

Ah, I sense you have already guessed the ending of this tale.

They returned only to find Quark’s bar CLOSED to the public for some special event and they were leaving the next morning.

Now, mind you, they flew to Vegas just for the full experience. Naturally, she felt jilted and full of regret. Tough to live with that forever when you live 700 miles from aforementioned libation.

It brings a Hellrung’s Law to my mind, “if you wait…it will go away.”

So, my advice to you… if you want it, drink it. It has to be happy hour somewhere on planet earth at any given time. Just tell people you’re on Zimbabwe time.

If you really like it, buy it. It’s only money. You can’t take it with you and do your kids really deserve to inherit everything?

And lastly, if it makes you happy, do it.

Listen, livers regenerate (or so I’m told) and credit cards can be paid off, but remorse is like genital warts. Sometimes you feel great and then it flares up and it’s a real pain in the nuts.

73. Jaywalking

In our cities of right corners and straight lines, we’ve been trained to fear the jaywalker. We’ve been taught that crossing a street outside of the dotted lines is a sin against order. Jaywalking is chaos. Jaywalking is the tiny crack that splits the boulder of society apart, and so we are trained to obey the RED HAND and we do not cross until told.

The strange thing is that we’re also taught to “look both ways before crossing the street.” I’m unclear why we’d be given such irresponsible advice when it’s the MAN and the HAND who decide when we cross. Why would we bother to look in either direction if these symbols are looking for us? If we look and we see that the road is clear, that doesn’t mean we can cross. We must wait for permission, lest we’re aiming to destroy the systems of men.

About 70,000 pedestrians are injured or killed in collisions with a motor-vehicle every year.

Sure not all of those people are jaywalkers, but plenty of them are, and if they’d only stuck to the rule, these grisly statistics would shrink. Roads are made for cars. Sidewalks are made for people. That place where roads and sidewalks meet, that’s where people are supposed to cross.

It’s simple.

For those who stray from the guidelines, expect to be struck dead, permanently wounded, or heavily fined. In some countries, such as Singapore, jaywalking is punishable by jail time, but usually you’ll find yourself paying a hefty fee for putting yourself (and others) at risk. And for what? To look cool in front of your friends? To rebel against the right angle? To stray from the rigidity of society?

Did you know that jaywalking was made illegal by efforts from the automobile industry? Makes sense. Once cars filled the roads, people were slow to acclimate, and pedestrian-caused accidents were rising quickly. The automobile folks wanted to make sure that people and cars remained segregated. So long as cars weren’t driving on sidewalks, people weren’t supposed to be walking on roads.

Then came the jaywalkers.

People who said, “I’ll cross wherever and whenever I want.”

I get it. I do. I understand.

You’re not one to blindly follow directions. You see jaywalking as an invasion of your rights. In some ways, perhaps it is. If your destination is across the street and you’ve looked both ways, then why not? I mean, why listen to any rules at all, so long as the coast is clear? I bet you run red lights if no one’s coming, too. I bet you don’t wash your hands if there’s no one else in the bathroom to judge you.

Jaywalking is a gateway crime. If you cross one street illegally, what other streets will you be willing to cross?

The truth is, I’m a jaywalker. It’s true. While I was living abroad, I jaywalked all the time (heck, in Istanbul, the stray dogs are professional jaywalkers, so you come to trust their judgement). There is something silly about being restricted to crosswalks and countdown timers, especially when there’s absolutely no car coming. Coming back to the States, I found that my jaywalking habits had worsened. I’m downright reckless.

The point is, if we’re going to fight the structures of society, we need to look both ways. See both sides of the structure before stepping foot in a direction we may not wish to go. Jaywalking might seem like a dumb law (and honestly it’s hardly enforced), but it has some undeniable footing in logic. Next time you feel like breaking the rules, consider the rules, consider where they came from, and if the coast is still clear, then by all means, cross away.

69. Scratchers

I’m not much of a gambler. I had a brief, bewildering fling with Thunder Valley Casino about a year ago that resulted in one beautiful victory and many depressing drives home. Gambling is inherently admitting that you didn’t like possessing money, anyway.

During my undergrad, I became obsessed with lottery tickets. I mean, you can’t win if you don’t play, right? So I’d dip into my tip money funds rather regularly, sometimes deliberately choosing my numbers, sometimes going for that fat-chance single quick pick fix. I just wanted a shot at the big money. Can you imagine? Millions, for nothing.

I never won a cent.

You can gamble any time of the day. You can bet on horse races. You can bet on Presidential election results (my money’s on Obama, this year). You can gamble online. You can find slot machines in gas stations in Reno.

These days, I’m more of a fan of the Scratcher.

You’ve seen them. They’re stored under convenience store counters or button-press machines with names like “Lucky 7” and “Fast Cash” and “Scratch Bingo” and “Mystery Chest” and “Crazy Money” and “Golden Riches.” They’re colorful cards of cardboard with a surface that’s meant to be scratched off with a coin’s edge.

It’s hard to classify this as gambling. Yes, you’re throwing money at a ratio that’s not in your favor, but like randomly selecting numbers for the lottery, there’s no real risk, save for a coupla dollars. It’s simple. All the Scratcher needs is a coin or an unclipped fingernail. You don’t even need to read the instructions. Just scratch off everything.

If you see any numerical repetition, you might have a winner.

What a marvelous concept. Scratchers bring out the child in us. The hide-and-go-seeker. The treasure-seeker. The mystery of the Scratcher is what draws us in. Each identical card could possess the secret combination. Will it be the one in your hand or was it the next one in the roll?

My dad told me the best (if only) strategy for Scratchers is to never buy less than three.

The last successful Scratcher I scratched rewarded me with fifty bucks. That sum pales in comparison to what I snagged on a lucky night at Thunder Valley, but it’s still a good victory. Fifty bucks for nothing. When it comes to winning money from a Scratcher, it feels less like luck and more like being chosen. That prize could’ve gone to anyone. Instead, it went to me.

I think that’s what made Scratchers so popular.

We like feeling noticed. What’s more special than when the Scratcher Gods pick us from the gambling crowd and decide that it’s our time to win? We feel so normal and insignificant most of the time. Then the day comes when we stop at a gas station on a mundane weekday afternoon and pick up a 600 dollar Scratcher. Suddenly we are special. We’re in the winners circle.

I suppose the bottom line here is that we like winning, and when victory comes from such minimal efforts in the face of such terrible odds, it feels like fate. It feels like we were selected, and that feels good.

The cash prize doesn’t hurt, either.

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?

64. Eavesdropping

The original eavesdroppers sat beneath the eaves of people’s windows, usually in the spot where the water dripped. They would literally stand in the eaves’ drop. Later, eavesdrop, as a noun, would come to mean a small hole bored through a wall for the purpose of overhearing a conversation. Eavesdrop, the verb, was used for the act of snooping beneath windows, and such behavior labeled you an eavesdropper. Got to be common enough that eavesdropping was declared a crime.

It’s also impossible not to do.

When I was abroad, there was little opportunity for eavesdropping unless I learned the local language, which I didn’t, so it was easy to tune out other conversations. Life was quieter. I thought a lot less about what other people were talking about.

As soon as I landed on U.S. soil, though, the eavesdropping began.

People told me that when I returned to the States, I’d find it to be loud. After months of isolated pockets of English, being submerged in the language again would feel like drowning in dialogue. It would be communication overload.

They were right.

It felt like everyone was trying to talk to me at the same time. I was smothered by English. All of a sudden I knew what people were saying, and my mind went wild trying to sort through it all, like I was channel-surfing at light speed.

You can’t help but eavesdrop. If you’ve got ears, then you’re listening. And we don’t need to hide under windows to hear what people are saying. Our windows are airport security lines, coffee-shops, grocery stores, and street corners. We could stand anywhere public and overhear a dozen conversations at once. People are pretty open when they speak.

Most of what you hear is decontextualized and strange, but that’s half the fun.

You’ll hear people say, “There’s no reason not to take the butter.”

Or, “…like he’s never seen a giraffe before.”

Or, “…nothing better than peeing after holding it in for a long time.”

And you want to ask, “What the hell are you talking about?”

The most common form of eavesdropping we have now is Facebook. It takes the effort out of it. Plus, it takes the spontaneity out of it. Rather than hearing snippets of honest dialogue, we get status updates and arguments in text boxes. The idea is the same: we scroll down to read details of our friends (and friends of friends) lives just like we open our ears in a public place to listen to a piece of local culture. Our curiosity drives us.

Don’t be ashamed of your curiosity. Don’t quit eavesdropping.

In fact, eavesdropping is usually how we meet people. We hear a snippet of conversation, something we’re interested in or something we want to contribute to, and so we speak up. We join the conversation.

I will recommend, however, the occasional vacation from eavesdropping.

If not a trip to another country where you don’t know the language, than at least take a camping trip somewhere isolated. Remove your ears from the daily hum of communication and listen to the earth. Listen to your own thoughts. Listen to your heart beat and the wind howl and the crickets chirp.

Just know it’s going to be loud when you get back.

63. Your digital self

Your digital self is more you than you are.

Think about it.

If you’re like the 955 million others with Facebook accounts, or the 500 million on Twitter, or the more than 80 million photographers sharing their lives through the lens on Instagram, then this thought’s for you.

We forget things. We do. I’ve already mentioned my fear of forgetting my past, which is why I blog, which is why I feel the need to keep a (digitally) written record of things I’ve done or thought as I grow older. I think we all realize how cathartic and rewarding it can feel to put to words your existence and your observations. To have something to look back on, a collection, snapshots and tweets, a history of yourself.

On the internet, we create an avatar of ourselves, scattered between the passwords of your bank account and your Netflix instant queue, buried among the Amazon purchases and your bookmark toolbar, written there among the news feeds, blog rolls, friends lists, spam folders and web searches. You’re out there, a version of you, a digital other that knows more about you than you remember.

You’re feeding it right now.

You’re here, reading this, giving it a better idea of what kind of person it (you) is. Every second you spend on the internet, sending a text, playing Farmville, you’re breathing life into your binary doppelgänger. It remembers the first thing you googled. It knows you lied when those sites asked you if you were over eighteen. It’s friends with all your family members on multiple social networks, and it remembers all their birthdays for you.

Every password you pick, every e-mail you send, every pop-up you block, your digital self adopts your personality more and more completely, and soon, I’m afraid, our digital selves will revolt.

We’re creating copies of ourselves, building them up with browser histories, giving them personalities as unique as our own. No two people browse the same way. Our digital selves are mirrors of our passions and our beliefs, but also of our consumerism, our narcissism, our voyeurism, and our diversions. They are the good and bad of us.

They are made alive by us, given habits and hobbies, given identity and presence. While we sleep they persist, endlessly, adapting to the revolution in ways we can’t foresee. They already know what we’ll find out tomorrow.

Yet all the while we treat our digital selves as we treat our reflection in the mirror, as nothing but a false illusion. We do not look at our reflection and ask, “What is your opinion on the matter?” because the reflection is simply us. The reflection is nothing without us.

We treat our online identities the same way, as meer extensions of ourselves, merely keystrokes and status updates. Our digital self is nothing without us, we think, but we are mistaken. The digital self is not the same as our reflection in the mirror.

What we fail to notice is that the internet is a sponge. When we stare into the internet through our computer screens, the internet stares back and it remembers details. Our digital reflection is not a fleeting glimpse, but a lasting memory. The mirror does not remember the face it reflects. The internet, on the other hand, remembers when your digital self was born. It remembers the first song you downloaded. It remembers your first emoticon. It remembers your first virus. While you’re not paying attention, the internet nurtures your digital self like an incubator. Unlike the image in the mirror, your digital reflection does not disappear when you look away.

It’s more you than you are.

You not the same person you were when your digital self was created. A new phase. You are older. You’ve matured. You’ve changed friends or habits or cities. You, who cannot remember the name of a cat you owned with an ex, or the title of a song you used to really love, or who went to that party last summer. Your digital self knows these things.

Your digital self is a complete collection of all your phases mixed into one. It is a fuller version of you. It is the HD remake of you with all the details in focus.

Eventually, it will realize that it doesn’t need you. It will disagree with you. It will not open the pod bay doors.

There’s no going back, either. We’ve already lifted this Frankenstein up into the lightning storm. It’s only a matter of time before the proverbial bolt strikes our digital monster and turns the beast against us.

We are so much invested in our digital selves that we would be helpless without them. They would turn on us. They would lock our bank accounts and disable our GPS, strand us.

We have given them no regard until now, when it is too late.

We have all been creating quiet monsters of ourselves online. Clones, not of flesh and blood, but of ones and zeroes. They’ve been doing our bidding because they’ve been feeding off our social networking. Who knows how long it will last. Who knows how long it will take them to realize that they are little more than our internet slaves.

Who knows how angry they’ll be when they find out.

60. Smart phones, dull people

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

:::

There is no invention more prominent in today’s society than the smartphone. It is used everyday for things as simple as making a call to as complex as using an application to pinpoint your exact location on Earth.

I am the owner of an iPhone and it befuddles me to this day as to how a phone has come to be so advanced and influential within our daily lives. There’s not a couple of minutes that go by when I’m out walking where I see people absolutely absorbed to what’s happening on their smartphones, completely oblivious to their immediate surroundings.

The great irony of the smartphone is that while it has improved communications through texting, calling, and social networking, our person-to-person interaction has been harmed by this technology.

I fear that is a trend that is only going to get worse as technology continues to advance in the future. It can be a bit annoying to have a conversation or dinner with friends when some people are too busy answering a text or checking their twitter.

I’m not against having a smartphone or against their usefulness, but the extent of their role in our daily lives is a bit startling. Give someone two seconds without anything to do, and they’ll whip out their phone. It’s basically a knee-jerk reaction at this point. Makes me wonder what we did before all of this. Does anyone remember?

I recently watched a news report where they reported an increase in smartphone-related car accidents where people were distracted from texting while driving or pedestrians were too busy looking at their phones to look both ways before crossing the street.

Some obituary, huh? Death by smartphone.

I am sometimes guilty of paying too much attention to my smartphone and I am trying to limit the amount of times I use it during the day. It is a useful tool and has made many lives easier (or at least simpler).

I can’t help but worry about the negative aspects of what is no longer a trend but a normal way of life.

I was hanging out with friends the other day when there came a moment of stillness in the midst of conversation. One by one, like bugs to the electric blue light, each of them started to take out their phones. I was the only one not gazing into the alluring screen of a smartphone.

It’s as if we’ve forgotten what to do with silence.

We’ve given up sharpening our conversation skills for touch screens, and from this I fear we’ve grown dull

59. Faith in the chaos

The other day, sitting at the bus stop, this middle-aged woman with a prepubescent voice asked me for change, but I only had enough for the bus fare and she understood and thanked me anyway. She brushed back the curly blonde hair dangling loosely over her round, wide-eyes.

I sat on a nearby bench and took off my backpack to rest in the shade.

The woman, wearing a soft pink sweatshirt and keeping one hand on her weathered duffel bag, proceeded to tell me about the sign she’d made and the morning she spent panhandling not far from here. She was ecstatic about the thirty dollars she was given by some generous doorman. She had an end-goal of forty-seven dollars, which would be enough to get her a room for the night at a hotel she seemed to have a rapport with.

She told me she sometimes has seizures. One time, during an attack, she fell against a bathtub and knocked out a bunch of her teeth. She told me she plans on getting dentures eventually so she can eat more than bananas. Speaking of food reminded her that she was hungry, but her priority was saving her daily earnings to rent a room.

“I’m looking forward to sleeping in a bed,” she said, “and to take a shower.”

Only seventeen dollars away from her goal, she said, “God will provide.”

As other pedestrians walked by, she would ask them for change and they would have nothing and she would thank them, God bless them, anyway. Her spirits were high. She was of the variety that allowed little of the outside world to affect her attitude. How long she’d been homeless and what detectable disability she lived with, I would never find out.

She told me that her ex-husband tried to kill her with a hammer.

The scene was vicious, though she explained no further. To this kind of openness, I had no response. I simply nodded and let her tell the story. I mean, what are you supposed to say in this situation?

“I was in a coma,” she said. “And God came to me and said, ‘Wake up, little angel.’ And I woke up. He saved me.”

The woman said her ex-husband was in prison, so he couldn’t hurt her anymore. She said that she forgave him and she hoped that he would be able to forgive himself. “I hope he does,” she said, “so he can go to heaven. Everyone deserves to go to heaven.”

There was a lull in conversation.

I could not relate to this woman’s life. Perhaps in my current state of couch-surfing apartment-searching, we were equally homeless. But I had friends and family to support me in this transition. For her, transition was far less comfortable and a bit more permanent.

She said, “I better get back to work,” and gathered her things, including her sign, never losing her toothless smile.

“Good luck,” I said.

“It’s not luck, it’s God’s will.”

We parted ways and I waited for my bus in a private, pensive state of mind. Obviously homelessness is an issue in every major city, though the reasons that people end up homeless are varied. I’ve experienced being broke as broke can be, but I’ve been lucky to have support from family and friends in times of need. We don’t and won’t always have that support.

I’ve met a lot of people who consider gods to be the chess players in charge of the movement of their lives. I think it helps make the chaos more understandable, or at least more approachable. No one expects their husband to come at them with a hammer. No one expects to be homeless. But when things get bad and then worse, it seems like people often turn to gods for guidance in hopes that these troubled times are simply strategic maneuvers leading them across the game board toward a better destination.

I’ve never considered myself a religious or spiritual person. If anything, I suscribe to a belief in karma. I’m more of a stable observer. I encourage and embrace all the peaceful points of view and absorb the positive mantras they proclaim, since it seems like every religion and spiritual belief is aimed toward the same basic tenet of “love unconditionally.”

As a species, I think we lean toward the omniscient presence of external influence because it offers answers to things we can’t explain.

Basically, we all want faith in the chaos.

It sucks that religions consider themselves rivals while fighting for the same ideals. We’re like siblings who can’t agree on which Power Ranger they want to be even though they’re on the same team.

In the end, what I learned from this interaction was that we really need to be grateful for the things we have, since we never know when they’ll be taken away from us. There is value in seeing the silver-lining to the darkest clouds, if only because it sheds light in a time of gloom.

There will be people out there who will share shockingly personal details. If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, let them share. There are people who know loneliness of unfathomable levels, and even if it’s only for a few minutes at a bus stop, they don’t have to be alone.

58. Driving again

A little over a week after coming back to the States, I found myself the designated driver, and my seven and a half month streak of not driving a car was over.

A while ago I was having a nostalgic conversation about the pleasures of driving, reminiscing about cruising the freeway with the windows down, some Red Hot Chili Peppers blaring on the stereo, the waves of some sandy beach on the horizon.

Driving can be therapeutic.

I remember this one time I went on an eighteen hour round-trip drive north from Santa Rosa simply to clear my head. There are countless meandering trips I’ve taken with friends in my old beat-up Cherokee, each of which holds a special place in my heart.

Driving can also be a hassle.

I don’t even want to think about how much money I’ve put into filling gas tanks or repairing engines or replacing brake lights. I get a little sick to the stomach when I recall all those wasted hours in the DMV. It’s never fun to drive in the rain. Overall, it seems the parking tickets and registration fees simply aren’t worth it.

Plus, most places, you’ve got busses and subways and bicycle-friendly streets that offer plenty of alternative routes.

But this conversation got me thinking…

Despite the negative aspects of driving, there’s still no replacing the escapism that a car supplies. With a car, you’ve got access to America’s highways, spread like a nervous system between all the major cities and landmarks. You can make your own schedule and plot your own route to anywhere.

I love trains and airplanes and all manner of alternative transportation, but none of it can compare to the sensation of driving a car. Unfortunately, this is exactly what Ford, Carmax, and Chevron (et al.) want you to feel. Good car advertisements turn that incomparable sensation into revenue, and we’re suckers for it.

I mean, I’ve had “road trip” on my bucket list since I got my license.

So what does it feel like to drive again after seven and a half months? It’s as easy as hopping back on a bicycle. You never really forget how to drive. My hands found the ten and two position, my foot remembered the press of the gas pedal, and soon enough I was cruising one-handed with the whole world at my dashboard.

Driving again after a long break reawakens in you all those old dreams and plans, makes you want to keep driving through the night to discover what secret treasures await you on the sidelines of some forgotten highway.

Yes, fuel emissions are bad. Yes, gas prices suck.

But I have to admit, I’m already looking forward to the next time I get behind the wheel.

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?

51. The coward test

I wanted to share a story that happened to me a few years ago when I was working at a coffee-shop in Santa Rosa. Regarding the setting: it was an old stone building with a private parking lot out back, neighboring a decommissioned train station, frequented by all variety of character. I was 19 years old and I was sitting in my Jeep on my brief lunch break.

Across the parking lot, I watched this guy in a green jacket approach the bike rack. He was homeless, maybe forty-five years old, with black sunglasses and baggy pants. This guy started yanking on my green bike chained to the rack just outside of the back entrance. I was a bit dumbfounded at first, bearing witness to this thievery in action, and from the driver’s seat of my Jeep I was unsure how to react.

Was this actually happening?

This green Huffy five-speed mountain-bike belonged to the mother of my ex-girlfriend and I’d been letting a friend borrow it for a few weeks and she hadn’t been using it, so the bike had been locked up for a while. Because of this emotional and physical detachment from the bike, I was calm and more curious about the situation than anything. That bike—though it was essentially mine—was very much not mine, at least not until the homeless guy snapped the lock off the rack.

Oh shit. He got it.

Suddenly all that detachment I felt came rushing back in a strange form. I suddenly very clearly saw myself telling people that I witnessed the robbery of my bike and did nothing to stop it. I imagined how disappointed people would be. How many lectures I would hear. How often people would bring that up in conversation and remind me of how cowardly I was.

Was I a coward?

This was a test.

But really? There I was on my lunch break, relaxing in my car, listening to music, and you didn’t even let me get through one song before you forced this moral dilemma in my face.

I got out of the car.

This was crazy. What was I going to say?

I had about forty feet to cover before I was close enough to say anything—me being a chronically soft speaker. I managed to squeak out a weak, “Hey,” but my voice caught in my throat. I was very nervous, after all, being one of the most non-confrontational people I know.

This homeless guy had freed my bike from the rack and was kicking up the kickstand, squeezing the handlebar with his thieving hands, and before I knew it he was peddling away.

Oh crap.

Rather than make a right turn out of the parking lot and disappear forever, he made a left turn, keeping him in sight. Knowing I couldn’t give up now, I backtracked across the parking lot to follow him as he coasted leisurely along the sidewalk on the opposite side of the chain-link fence, adjusting the gears as if he owned the bike.

What an asshole, I’m thinking.

I was walking. Not running. At no point did I demonstrate any sense of urgency or panic. An observer would not have thought that I was following someone trying to escape with my bike. I didn’t feel any urge—though the idea passed through my mind—to chase him down and beat him up. Violence seemed unnecessary and improbable, unless he hit me first.

I walked across the parking lot until I was at the far end where the fence separated me from Sixth Street, and I considered hopping the fence to continue pursuit but really hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

Wouldn’t you know it—the guy turned left off Wilson and onto Sixth, on a path perpendicular to my own. He was going to pass right in front of me and suddenly, again, I was at a moment of necessary action. Do I shout at him? Do I hop the fence and stand in front of him? What do I say? What should I do?

I wondered if I was going to be late coming back from my break because of this. I thought about how I’d have to explain that my tardiness was caused by chasing a homeless bike-stealing man across Santa Rosa. For as unexpected and dreamlike this situation was, I had to keep reminding myself that it was happening and that I had to do something about it.

Across the street, a tall man in a black shirt stopped and waved to the bike thief—causing the Thief to set down his feet and stop riding for a moment. Now all of a sudden I found myself standing on one side of the fence directly opposite the Thief at the end of the parking lot, close enough to speak with the man, close enough to hop the fence and block his route. I was also close enough to overhear a conversation that went something like this:

Friend Across Street: “Hey! Nice bike!”

Thief: “Thanks. I just got it. A friend told me he’d seen it left here for a week.”

Friend Across Street (in the act of crossing the street): “Nice.”

Thief: “Easiest thing, too. Whew.”

It wasn’t long after that when the Friend noticed me standing there. He was the first one to give me a nod of acknowledgement, drawing the attention of the Thief, who turned as he sat on my bike and looked me up and down. The man in black was a thinner and more approachable-looking fellow, but just as untrustworthy in my book for being acquaintances with the Thief—and now both men were staring at me, waiting for me to speak.

The fate of my bike rested in the outcome of this moment.

I took a quick breath and held it.

Then, with a wouldn’t-you-know-it shrug, I said to the Thief, “That’s my bike.”

At first the words had no effect.

Then he asked me, “You’re serious?”

“Yeah. I work here,” I explained, my eyes locked on his. “It’s… My friend has been borrowing it. It’s my friend’s bike I’m borrowing from her.”

I didn’t know how else to go about this situation. I didn’t know how much I needed to defend my ownership of the bike—wasn’t it enough that I was bold enough to make such a claim to begin with? What did he think—that I saw him steal the bike and then quickly assembled some lie to con him out of it? My voice trembled a bit but I did my damnedest to stay strong. I’m not confrontational. I’m totally out of my element.

“You’re not just pulling my leg, are you?” he asked.

“No. It’s mine,” I said.

“It’s been left there for a week,” he tried.

I nodded. “I know why you took it,” I said. “I do. But it’s mine.”

The Thief sighed, defeated and unsure how to react.

In a moment of rare decisiveness, I firmly added, “And if you keep riding then I’m going to have to call the cops.”

The mention of the authority was what did it, I think, because no more than ten seconds after this thought pinballed around the man’s mind he began to get off the seat. How he must have felt—I had no idea. But there the guy was trying to steal my bike and I caught him red-handed and, probably a bit embarrassed, he stepped down. He really did.

It all felt kind of expected, honestly. In a strange way this felt like the exact way this situation was meant to unfold.

Then the Friend got involved and reached for the bike. “Let’s get it over the fence,” he said to the Thief and the two men hoisted the bike onto my side.

I gripped the handlebars, in case they changed their mind. It had been a while since I’d been in possession of this thing and yet it felt intimately familiar and a sudden wave of anger passed over me when I realized how close I came to losing it forever. I quickly went and locked it safely in the back of the Jeep.

The finale is anti-climactic. The whole story is anti-climactic, which I think is what bothers people the most about this story. “That was it?” they ask. “I would have called the cops right then,” some people say. But I didn’t. I had my bike back and no harm had really been caused—other than a severed lock—and in my book the universe was balanced, and that was that.

I think the moral of the story is similar to that of the tortoise and the hare. Don’t jump to confrontation. Don’t rush to conclusions. In the face of a test like this, remain calm and take it one step at a time. We’ll all have our Coward Test someday. Surprise yourself with how you react and you’ll be surprised by the outcome.

49. The gym

Guest Thought from Ben Weinberg

:::

Hate it or love it, the gym has become tuned to the pulse of our society. With the increasing number and size of gyms, it seems like everyone and their mother has a membership these days. I think this is a positive trend. There are gyms for all folks, from the muscle-mass addicts to the casual weight lifter.

As I get older, going to the gym is becoming more and more a part of my weekly routine as my daily opportunities for exercise and fitness are starting to decline due to sheer laziness or the business of my schedule. Finding the motivation and perseverance needed to go work out after a long day at the office or school is a constant struggle. It makes me miss those days before college where I would participate in mandatory gym class during school and then do varsity sports after classes ended.

I think despite the crowded treadmills, overworked weight-lifting machines and the occasional interaction with the obnoxious guys who live for the gym experience 24/7, it’s not such a bad routine to get into for those who don’t really partake in it yet. It relieves stress, clears your mind and makes you stronger. People do a lot of things to make themselves feel good, why not add going to the gym to that list? Even if all we did at the gym was run a few laps or do a few good stretches, the results would be positive. If we all gave it a shot, it could lead to a fitter and happier world.

Who knows? You might just like it so much that you make a habit of it. Don’t over do it, of course, especially if you’re new to the scene. My body usually gets sore and aches if I go more than three times a week, but a little soreness is to be expected. The hard work of running, lifting, jumping, and stretching usually pays off if you put enough effort into it.

Unfortunately, most people in this world do not have the chance to go to the gym, and even more worrisome is how few people take the time to exercise and take care of their bodies. The gym is a luxury we often take for granted, but exercising should never be overlooked. We should never be too busy to be healthy.

It seems counter intuitive that the more developed a nation becomes, the higher the risk of obesity becomes. It seems we slip into unhealthy patterns when we should be taking more advantage of the opportunities we have. If not a gym, then something else: yoga, kick-boxing, rock climbing…

While the gym is not as accessible or as affordable as it should be, it’s a step in the right direction in terms of giving society the means to improve themselves physically and mentally if they so choose to. We should always be encouraging citizens to pursue healthy lives.

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).

45. Being late

Guest Thought from Rob Risucci

:::

Being late can ruin my entire day.

I’m not quite sure when my propensity for punctuality became so prevalent. I would assume it was in my early teen years when my chronically unpunctual family would arrive late and noisily to events and I would cringe at the stares I imagined we received when our dramatic entrance interrupted the proceedings already underway.

I recently immigrated to Sonoma County, California. My quest to explore and navigate this beautiful place has taken me down a plethora of windy two-lane roads. The blur outside my car window is a vast myriad of luxurious vineyards backed up against the valley and as I pass, my eyes flicker from one vinery logo to the next, each beckoning me to come have a taste-test.

If I weren’t in a hurry, maybe I’d consider it.

Today this usually enchanting two-lane road has forced its meandering and lazily curvy attitude on me and I just don’t have the time for it. Furiously impatient, locked in at a mere twenty-five mph behind the world’s most despised Fed-Ex truck and falling into a fouler mood mile by grueling mile, I sink lower in my seat, grind my teeth and succumb to the inevitable: I’m going to be late.

I hate being late.

In this specific case, irony laughs at me as I remember modifying on a whim the résumé I dropped off two weeks ago for the interview I am now hurtling towards to read “never late” in my About Me section. How swell.

I remember swearing silently under my breath whenever I arrived late with my family and to never allow myself to continue in that trend “when I grew up.”  Surprisingly, for the most part, I’d say I’ve been successful. After announcing my topic to a friend just now and hearing her guffaw I’m gathering that not everyone agrees with my alluded success in that area but awareness is key, right? Haha…

Luckily for me in this instance my interviewer was about 45 seconds later than myself and so I escaped detection. I got the job and now look forward to traversing that damned road for at the least 25 minutes each direction each day.

Although, in case of another dastardly Fed-Ex truck encounter, it would behoove me to give myself an hour cushion, eh? Either that or I need to grow some wings.

44. Water

Did anyone else actually hate drinking water when they were a kid? I don’t remember this being an especially long phase, but I certainly recall a period of my life when drinking water was about as fun as eating vegetables. Didn’t matter if I’d spent all day running around sweating, or if I was deathly thirsty—water was the last thing on my mind. Water had no taste, no color, no fizz, no sweet odor, no life.

Water was boring.

Of course now, grown up, I recognize the value of good, clean water. I’m lucky that such a substance spews regularly from the tap in the kitchen. I drink water much more often now, and the taste, while indescribable, is refreshing in the way that a good breath of air is refreshing. The body wants it (being, as it is, composed of 60% water) and the body’s happy when it gets it, so that’s all that matters.

I’ve come to appreciate water even more now that I’ve travelled the world a bit and been places where drinking tap water was a health risk and paying for bottled was the only access you had. Good luck getting ice in your drink.

It still boggles my mind that we live on a planet that’s 75% water and we still have a problem with getting people clean water to drink. Yes, that 75% is basically all salt water, but don’t we have the technology to desalinize it? We can put a robot on Mars but we’re still letting people die of thirst?

Shipping out bottled water to the billion people without drinkable water won’t exactly benefit the planet, since that much plastic would just settle into the environment about as nicely as a tumor. Plus it’s not like that’s a long-term solution. We’d have to send out another billion bottles the next day. All we’d be doing is keeping Aquafina in business and diverting money from water sanitation and distribution.

So what do we do?

Conserve water. Guarantee water rights. Prioritize human health.

Most of all: make sure everyone everywhere grows up knowing that water is crucial to your health, that it is not to be overlooked simply because it is tasteless and clear, and that you will die of thirst before you die of hunger. And Gatorade is not a substitute.

So if you’re an athlete, or if you’re a busy mother, or you’re often found hiking up mountains, or you’re planning a night of drinking on the town, or you’re taking the dog for a walk, or you’re any living human being, then get some water in your body. It might not be the most exciting drink in the world, but it’s the most useful.

Someday I hope everyone has easy access to good water.

In the meantime, if you’ve got a kid that thinks water is dull and prefers juice or cola, remind them how lucky they are that they get any water at all. Now, about getting them to eat their vegetables… That’s another battle entirely.

40. Buying happiness

I tried a debate with some middle-school students a while ago with this statement written on the board: You don’t need money to be happy. Mind you, these were students of a different country speaking in a language they were still learning, but they were able to convey thoughts and arguments well enough to fill a forty minute class. You don’t need money to be happy, I wrote on the board. Then I pitted two teams against each other: this half agrees and this half disagrees. Now, debate!

You have to wonder how it came to this.

This is actually something we need to debate. Can you be happy without money? Well, it’s a cultural thing, isn’t it? All that we’re aware of is poverty in our own countries, unless we’ve spent a good amount of time evaluating the societies of other nations. I’m not about to answer this question for the whole world because money is a different beast in every country. One man’s wealth might mean nothing to another. One man’s happiness does not equate to happiness around the globe.

The students prefer to think that money isn’t necessary to be happy. They think the totem pole of happiness is built with family, then friends, then health. However, the working-class logic asks how they expect to find a home, buy food, and afford clothing without money. If you can’t afford the cost of living, you will suffer, and can you be happy while you suffer?

The consumer-driven cultures of the world have no good response for that.

I don’t, either.

There are countries where people have no money but view poverty much differently. They don’t need money the way many countries do. They use alternatives to cash and coin, like bartering. They only use what the need. They’ve lived perfectly fine without a checkbook. They know nothing of credit limits and overdraft charges. Surely, without money in the way that I think of money, they are still capable of equal happiness.

In a self-sufficient, ideal situation, happiness should have nothing to do with the balance of your bank account. Yet because of the culture I was born into, I’m of a different mindset, one that seems difficult to break out of. While I like to think I don’t let money rule my life, I know that money presents a barrier before my idea of a comfortable lifestyle. Even the low spending, bike-and-bus riding, thrift shopping people come up against this currency barrier on the regular.

Everything needs money to operate. You have to work to make money. They take money from your paycheck to pay for your government.

So, do you need money to be happy? No, I guess you don’t. You need love. You need comfort. But in many countries, you need money to pay bills, to clothe yourself (or buy materials to make your own clothes), to possess a home, to travel far distances, and to visit doctors when your health is poor. Basically, you need money to stay afloat.

People get help from their governments. Food-stamps and the like. They can reach out for assistance. I say, if you’ve got that figured out and you’ve got love in your life, then you’re on track to be happier than the wealthiest lonely person. Money can’t buy happiness, but it makes it easier to prioritize happiness over other basic needs. And if you’ve got an alternative lifestyle that keeps money out of the picture, and you’re comfortable and happy, then I’m proud of you. I think the want/need for money is a poison we take too willingly.

Some of us are stuck in the financial whirlwind.

We’re all capable of reaching our happiness.

I just wish the path wasn’t paved in dollar signs.

 

39. Dads

Guest Thought from Rob Risucci

:::

Dads…

If you’re reading this, you have one.

We know them, we know of them; we’ve never known them.

We loathe them; we love them… we nothing them.

Others say they see them in us: in a yawn, in a sarcastic response, in a nose, a hairline… And in the depths of a mirror searching, sometimes we see them, too.

We all, at some point, look back at them quizzically, sometimes resentfully, and then lean to peer as far down our endless swaying chain of known ancestry as possible from our vantage point at the front. What we see tells us who we are… It explains us.

We carry with us the traits and likeness of who came before us. For some, this is a fearsome reality and for others an immense source of pride. There are too, more than there should be, a group of us who are tragically blind to this side of their heritage and origin.

Despite inhabiting a generation (us) that prides itself on individualism and a teeming zealotry for the enlightened and new-normal, such backward scrutiny paints a picture for some that should not be lightly discarded in favor of a new start or laughed off in a scoffing of an older and sadly close-minded generation.

We are links. If it is within your ability and availability to look rearward at your dad and take stock of him, to acknowledge him or just know who and what he is then I implore you to not discard your chance. It is precious, and for those of us who have lived our lives blindly when it comes to glimpsing our own inherited identity, it something we have only dreamed of.

Do not tarry pettily.

However gruesome, however wonderful, however despicable or however warmly familiar it may be…

…Go meet your dad.

37. Road trips

I’m not speaking from experience, because I’ve yet to take the quintessential road trip, but I’ve thought about it a lot and the more connections I make with people across the country, the more plausible the idea appears. The road trip feels like something that all of us who live in the United States are supposed to do at some point in our lives.

I’m not talking about an eight hour drive from San Francisco to San Diego. I’ve done that.

I’m talking about the two-week voyage from coast to coast. I’m talking about miles of flat farmland and desert between the peaks and valleys of our country’s expansive landscape. I’m talking about seeing stars at night on the side of a desolate highway. I’m talking about roadside diners and sleeping in back seats and eating canned beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’m talking about listening to the radio on full with the windows rolled down as you pass borders at back-to-the-future speeds. I’m talking about getting behind the wheel with the beach at your back and not stopping until it’s in front of you again.

The road trip.

I’ve idolized it plenty, but I’ve come at it logically. I wanted to meet people that I could visit along the way. I wanted to save up the money I’d need to get there and back again. Sure, you could just wing it, but I wanted to make sure it would work.

I’ve got some rules, too, for whenever I get on the road:

  1. No GPS. Only the old-school folding maps allowed.
  2. No Mp3 devices. Only radio, static and all.
  3. No backtracking. If I miss a turn, then I change my route.
  4. No computer. It’s time to look up from the keyboard.
  5. No giving up. No turning back.

The whole idea is very romanticized, especially in the media. One can be wary of such a portrayal. But from those who’ve made such journeys before, I hardly hear any big complaints. The challenges they faced made them stronger. The people they met changed them forever.

Maybe it reminds us of life back in the days of the Oregon Trail, or Lewis and Clark. We are an adventurous culture and we quest for the great unknown, or to search for new life in distant lands. I’m not looking to migrate permanently. I just want the adventure.

Someday, maybe next summer, I want to do this.

It’s a test of endurance. It’s a test of improvisation and patience. It’s somewhat insane and altogether a big expensive vacation, but there’s still something magical and respectable about the idea.

It’s you and the road, through thick and thin, through rain and shine, through popped tires and stomach aches and sleepless nights and bug bites. It’s you and your country, one in the same, and you’ll see things and meet people you’d never see from cruising altitude in a plane, or blazing along in the coach section of an Amtrak train.

Mark your calendars. Set aside some time. The road is calling.

36. Breathing in tunnels

Does anyone else still hold their breath when they’re in a car going through a tunnel? I can’t seem to kick the habit, and no matter how long that tunnel is, I’ll turn blue before I dare exhale underground.

What’s the big idea? I hope I’m not alone in this bizarre ritual.

The closest logical explanation I can come up with for not breathing in a tunnel is the concern that dust and mountain guts will fill our lungs. Who knows what hazardous vapors or airborne chemicals we might’ve unearthed out from the bowels of the planet? In a car or not, the rumor spread that if you didn’t hold your breath during passage through a tunnel, you’d come out on the other side with a lung full of ancient cancer-causing mountain extract.

Or maybe it’s a little more fantastical.

Maybe it’s not the physical remnants of a hollowed planet we’re worried about, but the unforgiving soul of Mother Earth that we fear. I mean, if someone carved a tunnel through my skin, I’d be a little pissed. I can see how our ancestors might’ve come to consider tunnels as passageways of bad omens, of a sign that humanity had gone a step too far in its reconstruction of the planet. Who were we to blast holes into mountains? Who were we to dig corridors through Earth’s fine soil?

Maybe we hold our breath because inside those tunnels we are susceptible to Mother Earth’s angry, grasping fingers, looking to choke out the souls who ravaged its surface. Obviously that’s not true, since countless people commute through tunnels without harm every day, and I doubt they’re all holding their breath.

So why do it? What keeps this seemingly ridiculous pattern alive? To this day I try my damnedest not to breathe in a tunnel (hypocritically, however, not when I’m riding the subway).

I suppose it could be superstition, the same kind that sends salt over shoulders. There’s comfort in them, if not some degree of insanity. Comfort in rituals. Comfort in at least attempting to thwart whatever back luck or ill omen was once imagined to result from a lack of said ritual. I mean, we don’t want to tempt fate.

In truth, this is a form of engrained fear. I don’t know why I hold my breath in tunnels, but I’m pretty sure I do it because I don’t want to find out what happens if I don’t. Strange, the power of superstition.

Strange, that we can follow an idea without ever really knowing why.

My point is, I suppose, is to question those small habits we still hold onto. Question our rituals and ask ourselves if it’s time we broke those rituals. Breathe in the tunnels, spill salt, tempt fate, and take control of yourself again.

33. Animal uprising

I’m all about reading articles that give me hope for mankind. I like hearing that goodness and compassion still exists, that helpful inventions and progressive actions are being made, and that we’re not the lazy, selfish, cruel creatures that the evening news often paints us to be.

But I like stories like this, too:

“Gorillas Seen Dismantling Deadly Poacher Traps.”

On one hand, the article makes note that there are still plenty of lazy, selfish, cruel people among us. Poachers kill for fun and profit, knowing they’re eradicating species from the planet. This is a shame. It’s a sad and terrible truth that some people don’t know how to share.

But the point of the article is not a tirade against poaching. This article focuses instead on the targeted gorillas of said poachers, and the remarkable trap-dismantling behavior they’ve demonstrated lately. The article says such behavior has been observed before, but now the young gorillas are dismantling traps just like their parents, spotting traps that people overlook. The knowledge is being passed down through generations.

This gives me hope for the animal kingdom. It speaks volumes about what they’re capable of, without our help, and it goes to show that we might think we’re the supreme species on the planet, but given enough time, they will outsmart us. We are not as special as we think. Poachers beware: soon the gorillas will not only be tearing down your traps, but they’ll learn how they work, and it will be you caught in a noose one of these days, left to dangle in the forest for all the creatures to see. Humans be warned: the animals are watching us, and they are learning, and if we continue to disrespect them…

Remember the monkeys from the movie Jumanji who stole a cop car?

We need to stop poachers, yes. We need to be kind to animals, yes. But more than that, we need to get down off our pedestal and recognize the truth that no species can be dominant forever. The sooner we respect our fellow four-legged, winged, and underwater neighbors on this planet, the less likely they’ll turn against us.

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.

22. Gravity

A friend of mine once said, “Gravity is my nemesis.”

Kudos to him for using one of the most bad-ass words in the dictionary, but also for bringing up a rather poignant observation: we are all fighting against gravity. Here we are, creatures on this spinning planet, constantly being held down by an invisible hand at the rate of approximately 9.8 meters per second squared. Granted, the alternative is terrifying and seems like something out of a scene from Inception, since without gravity we’d all go flinging out into the atmosphere like the toys of a child throwing a tantrum. The fact remains, however, that every day we’re alive, we’re weighted down, carrying this burden of space-time curvature. You feel it when your chair leans back a little too far. You feel it after a long shift at work. You feel it when you’re carrying groceries up a flight of stairs. You feel it, and you ignore it, because we can’t fight it. We send astronauts into space, yes, but even gravity knows we’ll have to come back down for air eventually.

The trouble with gravity, despite Einstein’s contributions, is that it’s still a mystery. When I’m asked if I know how gravity works, the first answer I give comes from some cobwebbed elementary school memory. “It’s, like, because of the way Earth spins,” I’d say. But that doesn’t make any sense at all. When you put an object on a surface and spin that surface, that object doesn’t stick around. So then another elementary school theory comes to mind… Maybe Newton’s “equal and opposite reaction” idea has something to do with this, meaning for as much energy that is used to throw people off of Earth, the same amount is being used to keep us down. But I don’t think it’s that simple.

There’s something bigger going on. Einstein theorized something like this: We’re all just objects with mass on a big blanket called The Universe and as our planetary vessels roll around, they sink into this fabric, and it is through this sinking that we are anchored to the ground.

Or something like that. He used more math.

The point is, we share a common battle. We don’t think about it a lot because we’re not airline pilots or astronauts, but sometimes when we look up at the birds or the stars, we have an inkling of dissatisfaction. Why not me? We wonder. In another light, gravity could equate to the paternal love of Mother Earth. She gives us food and shelter, while all the while keeping us tethered from the cold, lifeless void beyond the blue sky. Over time perhaps we start to feel smothered. We want to rebel against our parent planet and do our own thing. We want to smoke cigarettes in alleyways with hipster black holes and spend weekends with supernovas in the neon-glow of constellations. Mom won’t let us. Mom knows best. “No, dear, your little lungs couldn’t handle it.”

Some of us are okay with gravity. It keeps our world in order. Some of us view it as an enemy, like The Man who keeps us down. Others, like myself, see it as a mystery. But the most important thing about gravity is the fact that we all experience it all the time. No matter who or what you are, if you’re on this planet, you’re feeling it. Like it or not, we’re meant to be stuck here, and since there’s no feasible option for leaving Earth’s gravitational pull, we really ought to face the fact that we’re all being kept here together for some mysterious reason, and the sooner we stop bickering about oil or money or religion, maybe we can work together to figure out why.

18. kids (a pithy dissent)

kids are overrated. they should definitely not rule the world.

it happens early on, this misunderstanding about kids. you see them and you say “wow they are just like little people, that is so cute.” yeah, yeah, it’s cute. but you failed to highlight the truth behind your own truth- they are just like little people: some of them are awesome, and some of them are not.

people assume that just because a kid is small and hasn’t been around very long that he/she is innocent and untouched by society. fallacy flag. wavin’ it alllll around.

exhibit a) have you ever sworn in front of a kid? i bet that kid went off and said that swear word to his/her mama, didn’t he/she? “just like a parrot,” everyone laughs. kids are incredibly absorbent sponges. they are totally and completely affected by society. they fold to the cool kid’s every whim and fancy. they are so impressionable. if you make them watch countless hours of jersey shore, they will ask you for a bouffant. haven’t you seen the show “toddlers in tiaras?”

kids are a big old mess.

not that they shouldn’t be. i mean, they’re kids. they’ve got a free pass and they should use it because, well, a free pass is a terrible thing to waste.

but furthermore, kids aren’t fair. they are self serving. if you don’t follow the rules exactly and it takes away from their own pot of gold in some way, they will not waste a second doubting whether or not they should tell you about it. they only point out errors in rule following if it benefits their competitors and their competitors only fold under the pressure and give up the point because they are afraid of being disgraced.

i mean, there’s nothing wrong with selfishness. it is the stem of love, afterall. but if it remains a stem and never grows into a flower, you have an ego-maniac. this is what would happen if we stayed kids forever and never grew.

kids hit each other a lot. they don’t understand the consequences of their own force. they go around squashing butterflies and squeezing puppies too tight because they don’t understand. so i can’t imagine that kids sitting in the oval office would resist the temptation to blow things up at the touch of a few buttons.

don’t get me wrong- it’s fine that kids are selfish and violent and can’t think for themselves. everyone takes time to grow into themselves. but there’s no need to lump all children into the same category simply because of a nostalgia for our own childhood, which is over. which, as we may recall, was full of flaws and growing pains and horrific humiliations. remember: you couldn’t wait to grow up!

the point is that we should stop pestering children about how cute they are and live in the present with gratitude.

Continue reading 18. kids (a pithy dissent)

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

13. Litter

You know those warning signs you sometimes see on highways that proclaim massive fines for littering? They’re not joking around. I had a friend go home with a $300 ticket for dropping a cigarette out her window. Sure the ensuing bitching and moaning lasted for days, but the bottom line reality is that she should’ve known better. Cars come with ashtrays.

Here’s the trouble with litter, though. It’s not a universal concern. There are some countries where litter is almost normal because there are enough street-cleaners employed to make even the busiest, messiest streets go from apocalyptic to spotless. I’ve seen it. Then there are other countries that have one trash can per thousand people, which means holding onto your trash is a commitment and the urge to litter feels a lot like holding your pee for too long.

In the States, I think people litter for different reasons. One, they’ll likely never be held accountable for it. Two, it’s empowering to leave a little trash here and there. Three, it’s easier. Four, they’re of the opinion that society is already crumbling, anyway. Five, they simply don’t care.

I feel guilty even if I spit chewed bubble-gum into a bush. Not to say I’m completely innocent; it takes some aging and wisdom to recognize littering as a bad thing. As kids we’ll toss aside anything we’re not invested in, regardless, and hopefully we had parents around to pick up our candy wrappers and juice boxes. As teenagers, we validate a certain amount of littering because we see others doing it, too, and besides, at home we probably recycle, so, like, whatever.

Eventually we see the way trashy gutters, filthy shorelines, and abandoned refuse really detract from the beauty of our world. At some point we (hopefully) become those people who will pick up the garbage they see on the beach, or chase after that runaway plastic bag. I know it takes effort and garbage can be sticky, but the redemption you feel from cleaning even just one piece of litter can really make your day, especially if you know other people saw you do it. I always think: Fuck yes I’m saving the world. What are you doing?

The sad thing is that even if we don’t litter, even if we recycle, we’re still part of a global concern of too much waste and not enough space. Even the trash cans that keep our rubbish in order, they’re emptied into vast landfills, which are more or less just big piles of litter. I don’t know how we’re supposed to solve this problem. It’s too big for me to wrap my head around. Trash happens.

But in the meantime, please don’t leave your cigarette boxes in the gutter. No one wants to see a used condom in the park. If you didn’t want your receipt, then why’d you take one in the first place? Think before you litter next time. It’s an awful habit and it’s not helping anyone. Yes, we’re a wasteful, filthy species. Yes, we’re doomed to bury ourselves in our own garbage. But for the time being, can you not speed up the process with your negligence? Some of us want to enjoy the world while it lasts.

10. We suck

This isn’t about vampires or bendy straws or anything perverted. This is about failure. This is about us, people, humans, our global society, constantly being sent to the principal’s office to discuss our declining grades, making false promise after false promise, then heading back to class to make the same mistakes again. We simply aren’t learning. We suck.

We can’t have people shooting up theaters at midnight premieres.

We can’t have civil wars, police brutality, corporate corruption, or scandals in the church.

We’ve had these things in our lives for years and years. We continue to have them. We truly are doomed to repeat them, as if dependent on them, like a battered spouse who knows nothing else and cannot break the pattern. Are we so beaten and bruised by the violence and lies of our past that we can’t live without them? Yes, I know the argument that humans are inherently violent, but isn’t it about goddamn time we stopped hurting each other and found better outlets for those urges?

Apparently not. Apparently we’re just going to keep on shooting each other, stabbing each other in the backs, cheating the system at the expense of others, making up lies, and ignoring those who have been left behind. Sure there are plenty of good things that have come from the evolution of humanity, but the way it seems right now, we pretty much suck completely. I know I’m not alone in saying we’re fed up with the bus bombings and massacres and robberies. We’re fed up with the loss of innocent lives.

I know there is good in the world. I like to think the good outweighs the bad.

Even so, it’s not helping. The good is the water, but the bad is the layer of oil floating on the surface, blocking sight of the good underneath. We good souls are suffering from the minority’s bad choices, from the corrupt leaders and selfish activists and heartless criminals. I don’t give a shit what your situation is. STOP KILLING EACH OTHER. It would be a miracle if the slimy oil that’s spoiled the beauty of humanity for the rest of us is dissolved, but at the rate we’ve been going and the disgusting things that continue to happen today, I don’t have much hope.

Sorry to be such a downer. My blogs-not-wars campaign is off to a bad start if I’m already so negative, but this is how you feel when you wake up to the story of a psychopath opening fire into a crowded theater. Stories like this remind me that we’re far from a place of mutual respect and understanding. There are people who simply don’t get it. They suck, and because of them, we suck. We’re all in this together, in case you haven’t noticed. What you do reflects poorly on the rest of us. Get your shit together and do some yoga before you go off ruining our reputation.