Friday, June 26, 2009

What the "S" really stands for.

I flop down on the bed and turn on the TV, and there they are again, just waiting. These two, the smiley-Asian guy and the curly red-headed woman, have spent all weekend telling me about the many features and amenities of my fine hotel decision.

There's wireless internet at the business center, they say. And room service is available if I need it. Oh, and there's the high-def TV in my room, smiley-Asian guy can't shut the hell up about that. He insists that I just "kick back and watch" my wonderful wide-screen.

Let's think about this: He is informing me of the thing I am watching him ON. The thing that I clearly know about, or else I wouldn't be able to hear him. He's encouraging me to do the thing I'm already doing, the experience of which is somewhat degraded by having to hear him encourage me to do it.

Lewis Black would call this "a mobius strip in your mind."

You'd probably imagine that these two people are young actors who took a little gig doing a looping video for this hotel chain.

If you think that's what I imagined, then well . . . welcome to my blog, it's always nice to have first-time readers.

In my mind, the hotel channel must be some kind of special hell. And those two are not actors, but pitiful souls, forced to forever repeat the same mindless, non-threatening mantras of hotel accomodations. Each time curly-redhead talks about ordering movies that are still in theaters, I sense her true pain and desperation. When smiley-Asian guy subltly nods in agreement, he's not thinking "Yes, what a wonderful feature," he's thinking "Yes, get me out of here. Now."

How terrible it must be. Even having to listen to their super-clean presentation is painful, I can't imagine being trapped in there, like the bad guys at the end of that one Superman movie, endlessly repeating this trite sludge of words and pretending to be excited about it all.

Curly-redhead woman just smiled even bigger, her eyes fixed just off camera. I assume she's staring into the maw of whatever dark monster is assigned as "director" for her torment.

What did they do to deserve this? Am I staring at two of the most evil dictators in history, reconstituted in clean, comforting forms? Or does this kind of punishment require more than the regular transgressions.*

*When he says "don't eat of that tree," he means don't eat of that tree.

Friday, June 19, 2009

To my students . . .

I don't know what your problem is.

Maybe you were raised in a religious tradition that, in an attempt to stamp out foolish pride, accidentally taught you self-deprecation.

Maybe our society's gospel of success made you so afraid of failure that you began downplaying your potential from the start, giving you an excuse to give up whenever you didn't immediately excel.

Maybe you simply never had anyone in your life to provide encouragement and support, and now you beat yourself up purely because you don't know any better.

But the reasons don't matter, because today is a new day.

So let me lay it all out for you.

There is no aptitude. The great dancers of the world weren't born with a "natural" ability for movement. The best musicians didn't have some "magic" that let them sit down and create beautiful sounds. God does not need to bless us with talents individually, because everyone of us is blessed enough already.

When you came into this world you couldn't even walk or talk. You learned how to do those things, and you didn't need some inborn "gift" to do it, did you?

Do you understand how complicated walking is? Imagine trying to design a robot that can shift constantly from one state of balance to the next, quickly correcting for any change in the terrain, all while being ready for a sudden shift in direction. But you do that everyday, and you learned to do it.

Do you understand how amazing speech is? Not only do you remember the definitions for thousands of words, but you know how to construct them into logical ideas. You can even structure a sentence, then vocalize it into sounds on the fly while you're thinking of what to say next. And as if that wasn't enough, you can then listen to other people talk, and interpret their words while also taking into account inflection, context, and emotional content. And you learned to do all of that.

But those are just the tip of the iceberg of what you've accomplished. You've learned more about math than most of the people who have ever lived. You can find what you need in a phonebook, a library, and the internet. You regularly operate a host of different machines, from calculators to cars to telephones. And you do it all without even thinking about it.

You have succeeded in learning an enormous array of things in your lifetime, simply by putting in the time to study and use them. In short, you are a miracle.

And I will NOT stand here any more and let you INSULT THAT PERSON.

So stop it. Stop telling me that you suck, that you can't do this, that you're hopeless. Stop rolling your eyes at yourself and shaking your head in disgust every time you make a mistake.

You have no idea how ANGRY it makes me.

You want to know why those people became great dancers, great musicians, great anything? Because they never had time to doubt themselves, they were too busy practicing. You think those people didn't fail? They failed constantly, failed so much that failure didn't bother them anymore. THAT was their gift, and even THAT was something they learned.

Are you standing here with a working mind and body? Then you can do anything, ANYTHING, you decided to do. Period. And don't you EVER try to tell me otherwise.

And if you're going to walk into this classroom, if you're going to walk into MY classroom, ever again, you'd better learn one more thing right now. Three little words that sum up exactly how I feel about all your self doubt, all your self deprecation, and every nagging, angry little voice in your head that calls you pathetic:*

*Now get to work.

Comic panel provided by XKCD. The original comic is here:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Note to self: Write this post

Some people say that it's not what you believe that defines you, but what you do. I like to think that we are best defined, not by the things that we do, but by all the crap we've been meaning to do.

(Note the change in phrasing. When you've actually done it, it's a thing. When it's yet another item on the backlog pile, it becomes "crap." That change isn't my invention.)

I struggle with this problem constantly. I think I waiver between a state of complete mental focus and terminal distractability, and the end result is that I generally can't hold on to a "to-do" item for more than a minute. If I remember something as I'm parking my car at work, I'll have forgotten it by the time I walk to my office.

And forget about leaving the house with everything I need.

I should really get a notebook and carry it with me all the time, so I can write all the things I need to do in it.

Note to self: get a notebook.*

*No, not a laptop. Actual pieces of paper bound together.

Friday, June 5, 2009



Why is the phrase "the things you don't know would fill volumes" considered a snappy comeback?

The thinks I don't know DO fill volumes. In fact every library on Earth is chock full with volumes of things I don't know. And the same is true for everyone. In fact, it would be supremely arrogant to think that "the things you don't know" DO NOT fill volumes.


Why does every handyman think it's perfectly ok to throw all their spare crap in your garbage can without putting it in a bag?

Guys, the garbage service isn't going to take that stuff. They don't have many rules, but one rule is that they'd prefer to handle the garbage itself, and I think their request is reasonable.

How did you get this far without knowing to bag your garbage? Do you not have garbage service at your houses?

. . . Wait, maybe you don't . . . that would explain why you're leaving all that crap here to begin with.


What do kids in Junior High School say when their friends are dealing with interpersonal drama?

The go-to line I've been hearing since 9th grade is "I'm so sick of all this Junior High School bullsh*t." Even now, if I so much as suggest that another person has acted in error, someone will be right there to trot that phrase out.

But doesn't that make life hard for people who are IN Junior High? What do they say when they want to make light of conflict?

"I'm so tired of this . . . right here . . . right now . . . bullsh*t."

I like to think that the 7th grader who will one day be "the guy who accuses people of JHSBS," just stands there for a second, knowing he's supposed to say something but not being able to yet. He blinks, shakes his head, and says, "This sort of bullsh*t is entirely appropriate for our current station in life." And he walks away.


Why is it that, as soon as you commit to going out of town for the weekend, awesome things are suddenly happening IN town that same weekend?

When I buy plane tickets now, I just go ahead and log onto facebook to watch the invites roll in.

"And . . . yes, confirm purchase . . . there's my confirmation from Delta. And let's see, one, two, three parties and a cookout, everything's free for one day only at my favorite coffee shop, concert, concert, . . . real live ninja giving ancient ninja magic class Saturday morning, that's a new one. Thanks, Universe."*

*Hello beautiful girl . . . no, I cannot go out for coffee with you next weekend. Yes, I know it's free that day."