Friday, February 26, 2010

Everybody's free (to rehash)

For reference:

Work on you.

If I could give you only one tip for the future, "work on you" would be it. Nothing you can obtain and nothing you can accomplish will be worthwhile if you can't appreciate what you have. The finest meal is wasted on an uncultured palate. The simplest breakfast is exquisite to one who is genuinely grateful for it. Water and wine both take the shape of their containers.

The rest of my advice is nothing more than a bunch of corollaries to this one idea. I will dispense this advice now.

Never fall into the delusion that you've accomplished anything on your own. You owe an enormous debt to everyone who has ever fed, taught, or encouraged you. Any good you do in the world is just paying them back.

Not a sports page, not a magazine. A book.

Don't stare at people. Don't ignore them either. Everyone deserves your regard and your suspicion. Human-beings-are-not-simple.

Dance. Preferably swing.

Most things we regard as problems are just symptoms of some larger problem. Be mindful of the difference.

Hustle hard in any hustle that you pick.

Hot, clean running water is a miracle, and don't you EVER forget it.

Having a difficult life gets you sympathy, it does not get you an excuse. You are always responsible for your actions.

Arrogance is destructive to your spirit. So is self-deprecation. It doesn't matter which side of that bridge you fall off of, it's long way down.

YOU get to choose. This is the most terrifying and wonderful prospect in the world. Seize that power, but take it seriously.

Take anything seriously but yourself.

Work to lessen your prejudices about people, but know that you are never completely free of them. Giving everyone a fair shake is tricky.

Being healthy is worth the trouble.

There are good reasons to do something, but "because you think you're supposed to" is not one of them.

There are good reasons to not do something, but "because you're scared to" is not one of them.

Wash your hands.*

*And also flush the toilet. I am so tired of seeing your pee when I use a public bathroom.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Ok, I think I'm ready to begin. Good afternoon everyone, thank you for attending this lecture. You may note that I am not your regular instructor. Don't worry, you're in the right place. Today I'll be filling in for him, as he is currently locked in his office by a large, heavy padlock that I'm afraid will have to be sheared off with bolt cutters.

Don't worry, your teacher is fine, and someone is on the way to free him. Considering the reports I've heard about his general lack of teaching skill, misinformed opinions, and the fact that he's used class time to talk about a reality TV show called "The Bachelor," I honestly believe that a half hour of quiet reflection in his office couldn't hurt anything.

But now, let's move on to the material at hand!

Today's lecture is entitled:

Now, unfortunately the people who most need this lecture often cannot get a quick grasp of that, so I "texted" it to a young person, who provided me with a subtitle:

*slide 2*

In short, this lecture is a basics guide of what you'll need in order to become a worthwhile human being. Exciting, no? Let's dive right in.

*slide 3*

This simple statement will serve as the core of these lessons, so we need to really understand it. Here's a breakdown of it's core principles:

*slide 4*

Now I know what you're probably thinking, you're thinking that this isn't true, because your friends care about you, right? And they seem really impressed by what you think and do. But guess what? Everyone's friends are like that. So the lesson here is this: Don't let your limited social circle confuse you into thinking that anyone in the general public cares about anything you have to say.

Our second point can be stated thusly:

*slide 5*

Now as we go through this one, take note of how it's a direct corollary to our first point. The scenario described here is frequently of the "guy likes some girl who has no interest in him" variety. All too often some dude decides to play social "knight in shining armor" just because his crush had a fight with her roommate. Here the important things to remember:

*slide 6*

And . . . okay, yes, I'm hearing sirens outside, which means our class time is nearly up. But I definitely want to get these last couple of slides in, as they're very important.

*slide 7*

And, implicitly:

*slide 8*

This can be a tricky one. People often tie their opinions about movies, TV shows, and even food into their sense of self. Then when they encounter someone who happens to disagree, they take a simple difference of perspective as a personal attack on their judgement. Here's why that is erroneous.

*slide 9*

I believe that's all I'm going to have time for today, but please take this lecture to heart. I promise it will help you. Since I know all of you with laptops have been surfing facebook, I've made the lecture available online for your further review.

Thank you very much, and good day to you.

*But that being said, I gotta give them this one.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I sat down at a piano last weekend for the first time in a long time, and I was amazed at how quickly it all came back. It was like I was picking up right where I last left off, years and years ago.

I should mention here that I don't play piano, or any instrument, and never have. Ability was not the thing that returned.

What came back to me was a mindset. I found myself doing what I used to do at my mother's upright piano: looking intently at the pattern of the keys, pressing them and listening to the sound gradually fade away, trying to figure out exactly what those stupid pedals were supposed to be for.

To see it, you might think I have/had a facination with music or sound. But cross reference this data with the amount of time I spend/spent on my other favorite things, like playing with gadgets/legos or thinking about robots/robots, and you'd realize that I like/liked the piano simply for its construction, for the make of the thing.

And in that, an upright piano is in a special class of tools. While it can't produce the kind of sound that a fine grand piano can, it is small enough to fit in a normal home. That difference is important. It means more people have access to the instrument, thus more people learn it, thus the music it makes becomes a greater part of our culture.

Is this as strange a concept as I think it is? A person created a new design of an old thing*, and in doing so made a significant impact on music, more significant than any single composer.

*Another strange concept: making something easier often has much more drastic consequences than making it possible in the first place.

Friday, February 5, 2010


Human nature being what it is . . . I'm sorry, what exactly is it?

Because it seems like for every suicide bomber there's a charity that gives toys to sick children. For every reckless driver there's a police officer who doesn't get paid very much. So you'll forgive me if I have trouble propelling myself over the horizontal distance to your conclusion.

The trouble is that your view represents just as much about you as it does about your subject. We're all looking at the same statue, in effect, but you picked your seat.

So when you look to The Holocaust and marvel at the evil men can do, when you look to the Mars rovers* and shudder at what we can accomplish, when you look to Wikipedia (where you looked to The Holocaust and the Mars rovers) and wonder that it works at all, you are making a choice.

YES, you are.

You are choosing to make a single example into a microcosm of the whole. And even if you can explain at length why that reasoning is valid, you must concede that your conclusion was not self evident, that it required a decision on your part.

And knowing that it was a decision, I now look to YOUR nature before I follow you any further.

A universal theory of human behavior, attractive as it seems, might be a more wily idea than you think. I have good reason to think so.

For all my experience, for all my learning, for all my careful consideration, I have found but one sparkle at the bottom of my pan.

The only consistent thing about human beings is that they surprise me.

*You know the ones I mean. Spirit and Opportunity.