Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Ethical Exchange Rate -- Writer's Poke #280

These days, most people won't bother to pick up a coin on the floor unless it's at least a quarter.

If you were at the grocery store and found a quarter, you'd probably smile at your good fortune, pick it up, and put it in your pocket. Would you even consider taking it to Customer Service to report it as lost? Try it some time, and record the bemused look on the associate's face. Your honesty will probably make the rounds of the breakroom for the rest of the day.

Why do we consider a quarter so insignificant? We cannot know the true value of that quarter to the person that lost it, but we judge based solely on our own situation that the quarter is virtually meaningless -- although not quite meaningless, as we willingly bent over to pick it up.

If we found a wallet, whether it had ID included or not, most of us would probably take it to Customer Service, yes? Perhaps the wallet only included a quarter, but we'd still turn in the wallet. But what if we found ten wallet-less dollars. What would we do then? Would we turn in the money? Is there a monetary amount where pocketing the money without seeking the person that lost it is wrong?

Does the answer change depending on context? If we found ten dollars at the playground in the local park rather than at the grocery store checkout, would we be more inclined simply to pocket the money?

Should ethics be situational? Contextual?

"Life is essentially a question of values." -- Meir Kahane

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Learn Science



I like religions and mythology more than most people, but I also like science more than most people. And, I cannot understand how someone can get so into religions and not spend time learning mythology and science.

Seriously. Enjoy Christmas, but think about learning some science. And, don't ignore the connections between mythology and modern religions.

2010 Goals

Yes, I know that most people are thinking ahead to 2011 Goals -- at least people that make goals -- but that's too far away, really. Instead, I've decided to make some 2010 Goals.

Actually, I made my 2010 goals at the beginning of the year. As always, I experienced some successes and some failures. It's good to look back and examine the past, but why not focus on the now, too?

Setting a beginning-of-the-year goal, while good, is artificial. We're given a new beginning each morning we wake up, and we should use the start of each day to commit to what we want out of life.

So, while others are taking one last week to procrastinate on starting 2011 goals, I'm using each day this week to keep working away at my goals in 2010.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The New Normal -- Writer's Poke #279

Weather services around the world adjust what is considered "normal" -- in terms of average temperatures and precipitation amounts -- every thirty years. We're now at the end of one such cycle, and so everything that was considered "normal" for the last thirty years is about to change.

This, I think, is such a perfect metaphor, as each generation does the same thing with cultural norms. What was once taboo often evolves into "normal" over the course of time. Some people cling to "tradition," but the truth is that even so-called "traditions" evolve. The only constant, as the cliche goes, is change.

As we enter the new year, one big political change involves the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. For years it's been considered "normal" for our military not to inquiry into the sexual activities of its members, but if any "deviant" activies came to light, an otherwise stellar member of the military could be discharged with dishonor. That was considered "normal."

Note, then, that "normal" doesn't necessarily equate to "good," whether we're referring to weather averages or cultural practices.

What do you consider "normal"?

"Normal is nothing more than a cycle on a washing machine." -- Whoopi Goldberg

Christmas Orgins

Most people know that Christmas has pagan roots, right? But Christians tend to overlook this fact. I assume they do so because they believe Jesus is "real" and not like all the other "pagans" that came before him. Question: What makes Jesus real? And what makes all the others "fake"?

I'm not sure how much time it's worth investigating these questions, but probably more time than the average Christian spends examining them.

And maybe I'm even wrong about my initial assumption. Maybe most people don't know that Christmas (and Christianity) has pagan roots.

Anyway, Merry Christmas.

http://www.zeitgeistthefilm.com/

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In the Now -- Writer's Poke #278

I'm sure psychologists have studied this issue, but common sense would suggest that older people tend to live in the past, whereas younger people tend to live either in the moment, or for the future.

That's a generalization, of course, and I'm sure individuals have "cycles" of sorts. For instance, at the end of the calendar year, it's probably more likely to think about (or relive) the past year; on the other hand, don't a lot of us think again to the new year and the promises it holds? That's why people make New Year's resolutions after all.

Life must be lived in a continual series of "nows," and to a certain extent, living too much in the past or too much for the future is like not living at all. In other words, it's the -ing -- the now-ness -- that we should pay most attention to if we truly value living.

What's the most effective way to live in the now?


"I wasted time, and now doth time waste me." -- William Shakespeare

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Birthday Trivia

Interesting Dec. 2 birthday trivia. Britney Spears turns 29 today, and Nelly Furtado turns 32.

Although they're only 3 years apart in age, Nelly has never seemed Britney's contemporary, has she??

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Conspiracy Theories in American History, Malcolm X entry

I wrote this entry for publication a few years ago, but never actually saw it in print until I happened to Google it today...

http://books.google.com/books?id=qMIDrggs8TsC&pg=PA457&lpg=PA457&dq=bret+fuller+malcolm+x&source=bl&ots=teikSZwiz7&sig=uJ7I6e4wfkfz3Kc4UarGvikw99I&hl=en&ei=6_zeTIj9FIXcngfDwtjsDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

What's Next?

I went to a number of toddler birthday parties this year, and one thing that toddlers have in common is the way they open presents. For the most part, they never look at the present they've opened for more than a few seconds. With so many unwrapped boxes, toddlers simply must move on to the next present. Of course their parents are prodding them to do so. Left to their own natures, toddlers very well may spend more time with the open present in front of them.

Not that Christians are toddlers, of course, but think about the attitude expressed by Christians who long for either the afterlife or the return of Jesus. Instead of savoring the present they've been given -- basically, Earth and the entire observable universe -- they long for the unseen. The next present.

Why is it so wrong to stop and appreciate the life we're given? Suggest that, and Christians will frown. They have been told not to be of this world, which often times translates into not appreciating this world. Or, if they do appreciate this world, it's simply because they think doing so glorifies the unseen maker rather than the gift itself.

Do you think God made the Earth and the Universe just so we could say, "That's a nice gift, Father, what's next?"

Choose It All

Why not have it all?

Gloria Steinem has now spoken, and she says the idea that women can "have it all" is a myth.

http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2010/11/13/news/aa10steinem1111310.txt

But since when did anyone want to have it "all" in the first place? I mean, other than Napoleon or Alexander the Great, say, no one really wants it all when they use that expression. And all that "having it all" every really meant, I think, is that we shouldn't settle for less than striving for what we want -- and I'm using "we" to include both genders.

If we want a career, great. If we want a family, great. And if we want other things in life, let's go get them. How do we know what we can or cannot have unless we go for it?

Sure, we have a limited amount of time and resources. To that extent, it's silly to think we can have "everything." Nevertheless, humans are capable of achieving far more when they try than they are when they simply submit and accept their limitations. Someone prove me wrong on this.

I, for one, would much rather be dissatisfied from trying to have it all and failing than settling for less and not even bothering to try. How about you?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Christian Epic Fail

I'm not sure why, but even when I wanted to believe in Christianity, I could never buy into the literal interpretation of Genesis. Adam and Eve as real people. Really? Adam and Eve eating literal fruit and therefore casting the entire human race into sin and death. Really?

Years later, it no longer surprises me that people literally believe this. After all, most people don't stop and think about what they're taught. And, most people don't read. Add those two things together, and it's easy to see why people believe in a literal Genesis account.

For years, however, I've tuned out to the possibility that Christianity has any real value in my life. Not necessarily because of its worthy principles, but because of what people believe and teach. That, I realize now, is my own shortcoming.

When read properly, there's nothing wrong with the Genesis account as a metaphor. I can even buy into the need for Jesus and the Crucifixion, as long as it's interpreted metaphorically. Otherwise, the need for the Crucifixion of Jesus reads like a bad Superman graphic novel that people take for gospel.

The Meaning of Owning

With Netflix, I have access to thousands of movies and TV shows; I don't own them, but as long as they remain available in my instant queue, what's the difference? I can watch them as many times as I want, and for all real purposes, they are "mine."

Now, think about the future of e-Books. As much as I hate to jump on board, it's all but inevitable that the e-Book will replace the paper book in the very near future. What will this do to libraries? Libraries are already lending out e-Books.

Question: why would anyone buy an e-Book if the library will lend it to you for free? Sure, the e-Book will delete itself off your reader after the lending period is over, but so what? If you want to read it again, just "check it out" again. No need to take up space on your reader's hard drive...

Technology is changing the way we think about ownership. Pretty wild.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Unconventional Life

How conventional is your life? If you're in your 30s as I am, think about how much you and I have in common:

Spouce? check
Kid(s)? check
Job? check
House? check
Debt? check

Obviously there's nothing wrong with conventional living, but if that's all there is, it seems kind of robotic to me. We have our freewill, and yet we all go through similar life stages, and we all share basic common experiences. What makes my life any different, then, from a million other lives in the Western world?

This bothers me, and I yearn to make my life more unconventional. Of course people that are "unconventional" often find themselves being unconventional in uniform ways. So, perhaps there's no way out of the box. There's no way to live a life that someone else hasn't already lived. And maybe that's okay. I would just like to be able to add some unconventional elements to the satisfactory conventional elements of my life. The question is: How can I do that without seeming to be needlessly eccentric or hopelessly selfish? Because doing anything unconventional in this life will make you open to scrutiny, and people will quickly judge you without making any attempt to understand you. That's just how things work. People are very conventional in that regard...

What's Your Secret? Practice

This morning started immediately. Linda had errands scheduled, and I had to do the basic routine things. All I wanted was a pot of coffee with an hour or two to collect myself, by myself. Those days are gone.

Of course after being "on" for an hour, I now have exactly the opportunity that I craved above. I have the hour or two by myself, with that much appreciated pot of coffee. I simply wish I could turn time around so that the coffee time came before the abrupt move from sleep to routine.

Anyway, what's your secret? How do you keep your sanity, and how do you defeat routine and the stresses of daily life?

For me, it just means starting another book. Today I'll be spending time with the Dalai Lama, reading his book How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

It's a Good Day

I've been reading Huston Smith lately. He uses a trick that I decided to put into action this week, and so far, it's worked.

For the past three days, immediately on waking, I've told myself that it's going to be a good day. Today was the toughest test, as I was up at 6:30, which is almost never a pleasant time to be up... not to the mention the crud that everyone seems to have, etc.

But, three hours into the day, I'm happy to report, it has been a good morning, and I have high expectations for the rest of the day as well.

Amazing what a little positive thinking can do...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hex Girls!



If you're not watching the newer Scooby Doo movies, you've probably never heard of the Hex Girls. Octavia loves them, and she must have sang "I'm a hex girl, and I'm going to put a spell on you" about a hundred times last night...

Correcting Jesus

Brian Griffith wrote a book called Correcting Jesus. I'm just 30 pages into it, but I'm already to recommend it -- especially if you're interested in looking at Jesus beyond the cliche of modern thought.

Griffith's goal is to show how the story of Jesus has evolved over time. How most people view Jesus doesn't necessarily have anything to do with who he was, because political and social factors influenced how his "biographers" described him in their written accounts.

Interesting stuff.

http://www.amazon.com/Correcting-Jesus-Years-Changing-Story/dp/1935259024/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1289319736&sr=8-1

Monday, November 8, 2010

Friendly Planet -- Taj Mahal Express

Have you ever done a vacation package with Friendly Planet?

Linda and I have thought about doing one for a few years now, but the timing has never been right. Almost all of their options interest me, but the Taj Mahal Express has to be right at the top. I would, of course, want to add the Nepal extension. What a trip it would be...

http://www.friendlyplanet.com/taj-mahal-express.html

Yo

If you're with me on facebook, you know I've been updating much more there than here over the past months. But it always interests me to see direct hits to the blog. Thanks for checking in. Give me a call sometime, droogies.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Have World, Will Travel

When I was 35, we vacationed in Europe for a week, and it was the first time I had left North America. I realized that I was closer to 40 than I was to 30, and I quietly made a goal to visit every continent by age 40.

Two years later, I'm no closer to completing that goal, although I still think about what it would take to make it happen.

Sometimes I think the goal is unrealistic, and I know that this is an attitude that makes it just that: unrealistic.

Others have even more ambitious goals, like seeing every country in the world. The dude at this link claims he's 149/192 countries into his goal, which he hopes to complete by 2013, his 35th birthday: http://chrisguillebeau.com/3x5/places-ive-been/

Bottom line: the world won't come to you. If you want to see the world, go see it. Make it happen.

And with the purchase of a 6-continent ticket, it looks like most of the goal could be knocked out in one trip. Cost for such a ticket: about $7000.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vote for Jesus?

I voted today, and it turns out that my polling place is a church? I suppose that's pretty common, but this is the first time that I can ever recall voting in a church.

And when I put my ballot in the vote box, guess who was watching me -- or at least guess whose picture was above the box? Yep. The J-man.

I don't have a problem with that, actually, but I did find it a bit odd. In Connecticut, the Attorney General threatened not to let people wearing WWE t-shirts, but in Minnesota, and I assume everywhere else in the country, it's completely okay for Jesus to be presiding over the voting area??

Sunday, October 31, 2010

NaNoWriMo Time Again

I first heard about NaNoWriMo in 2008, and the idea intrigued me. Unfortunately, I had a trip to Europe planned, and that kind of got in my way. Last year, November came and went, and again, the opportunity slipped away.

The idea behind National Novel Writing Month is simple: Put up or shut up. It's a chance for aspiring novel writers to say, this is the month that I will write a novel. After all, 50,000 words is just about 1,600 words a day. Who can't do that?

This year, 175,000 people worldwide are expected to participate. Of those, around 30,000 will probably complete their novel by month's end.

Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Don't let another November pass you by.

http://www.nanowrimo.org

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Kodiak, Alaska -- Heaven on Earth?

Kodiak, Alaska (after 1964 earthquake)

Some places you hear about, and even though you have never been there, you imagine what they're like.

Right now, Kodiak, Alaska is such a place for me. I can picture it in my mind's eye, and part of me never wants to actually visit, lest I be highly disappointed with reality.

My only trip to Alaska was in 2005, and I long to go back. On that trip, all I saw of Alaska was the part allowed to cruise tourists on the inner passage. I absolutely loved the hell out of it, but Kodiak seems even more remote. And yet, it also seems more accessible, as it's on Alaska's maritime highway.

So, if you've stumbled upon my blog, have you been to Kodiak? Or, what place have you not been to that you imagine being heaven on earth?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ban Millionaires from Congress

First, I know that rich people are people too. And yes, rich people have rights.

But of the 535 members of congress, how many do you think have a net worth of a million dollars or more? I'll bet you a donut the number is far greater than the national average.

Which leads to the question: can rich people effectively govern in the best interests of members of the non-rich classes?

No one likes to talk about class these days, I realize that. God forbid someone be labelled as trying to ignite class warfare, just for pointing out the obvious.

***

According to politico.com, the answer is 237. So, 237 out of the 535 members of congress are millionaires; but only seven have a net worth of $100 million or more. That's some comfort, I guess...

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1109/29235.html

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Breguet's $96,000 watch (and my 4%)

I thought I would try to "monetize" my blog, but to make it worth my while, I cannot simply recommend nickel and dime items.

Therefore, for your careful consideration, I present the Breguet Classique Tourbillion Messidor Men's Rose Gold Watch. This may be the most expensive item available for purchase through amazon.com; and, if someone were to actually buy one through my referred link, I would supposedly earn 4% of the purchase price as an "amazon associate." That's about $3,870 for each watch sold through my referred link.

So to Oprah, Bill Gates, the former CEO of BP, and all of my friends: please consider buying this lovely time piece. I'm sure that you'll find it worth every penny. And, you can joke to your friends that time, in this case, really is money.

(Please note that every watch comes with a full two-year warranty, and shipping is only $9.95 -- very reasonable, considering the cost of the product being sent.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rush: The Man, the Media Mogul, the Mouth -- Writer's Poke #277

I was with him in the beginning. Twenty years ago, I loved listening to Rush. He's a gifted gabber, and he has a talent for talk that he has been able to turn into millions of dollars. How many people can talk for a living? Rush has been able to do just that for over 20 years.

His format was rather innovative when he started: no guests, no one else in the studio to banter with -- yes, he does have "Mr. Snerdley" (who is actually the call screener), but we never actually hear him speak. Like almost all radio talk shows, Rush's show does allow listeners to call in, but make no mistake about it: the main focus was and always will be on the man sitting behind the golden microphone.

What always struck me, though, even from the beginning was how Rush could develop arguments against the opposition without considering how those words might apply to himself. That is, he has the knack for pointing his finger without recognizing that three fingers are pointing back at him. Case in point: when I was listening to him today, he talked about how a certain group that he's dubbed "The Ruling Class" has an agenda and aren't to be trusted. They either don't know what they are talking about, or, even more sinisterly, they do know what they're talking about, but use misdirection and subterfuge to misguide people. Interestingly enough, Rush denies belonging to the Ruling Class; instead, he suggests that he and most Americans are in what he calls "The Country Class."

Is Rush in the Country Class? I doubt that the people in his neighborhood are anything like the people in my neighborhood. But that aside, think about his attack on this "group" of people. Can't his very words be applied to himself -- "agenda," "misdirect," "misguide." Perhaps Rush is correct to say that he's overt in what his agenda is, as if this is somehow more honorable than those that keep their agenda hidden. In the end, however, how is subjectivity, overt or not, an ingredient in the recipe of reliability? And why don't more people bother to question the sources they use when gathering information?

Who do you trust? Do you believe in the principle of "trust but verify," or does that go against the basic principle of trust?

"I trust no one, not even myself." -- Joseph Stalin

Thursday, July 15, 2010

T-Shirts for Sale

I'm starting to add some t-shirts to my zazzle store. Most will be text-based, inspired from the Writer's Poke archieves. Check it out:


make custom gifts at Zazzle

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lullacry - The Autumn

Unfortunately, this album is out of print; fortunately, someone has uploaded all of it to Youtube. "The Autumn" is one of those songs that make you want to reflect. And drink, I suppose. Drink and drink and drink.

But don't do that. Just reflect. That would be a good first step.

Summer is short, and autumn will soon be here.

Be happy. :)

CHARON "The Cure" from A-sides, B-sides & Suicides

A-Sides B-Sides & Suicides

"The Cure" is the new song on Charon's Greatest Hits (and Beginnings) album. The "suicides" part of the album showcases the band's Death Metal beginnings. That's not my scene, but fans of Death Metal might dig it. Otherwise, the first disc is basically a greatest hits walk down memory lane. The second disc includes the bands early stuff, including some demo songs that sound like they could be off the band's first studio album.

Wanna buy this album in the U.S.? Good luck on that. When I checked last, A-Sides B-Sides & Suicides was not even available on iTunes, unless you know the trick. The trick is: Set your account to iTunes Finland. If you scroll down on your account, you'll notice the U.S. flag; click on it, and you can change your status to any country that iTunes serves. That way, you can buy the album -- or if you're like me, just "The Cure."

I like the new song. To me, it's "mellow." It's been 5 years since Charon's last studio album, and that's way too long, but "The Cure" is a good fix in the interval.

In Defense of the Dead -- Writer's Poke #276

Who was Thomas Jefferson? No simple answer for that question, but he continues to be appropriated and recreated for the purposes of the living. In his dirtnap state, he cannot defend himself. He cannot say, "That is not it at all. That is not what I meant at all" if someone attributes their own pet idea or philosophy to him.

Was he a man of Faith, as people like Glenn Beck claim? Faith in what sense?

Should he be seen as a symbol for freedom? As a symbol of any kind?

And why do the living arrange the biographical details of the dead to fit their individual ideals? Do we even care what Jefferson stood for? Do we care what kind of man he was? Or, rather, do we simply wish to use the dead to fit our model of how others should live?

What is the truth that the dead know?

"They refuse / to be blessed throat, eye, and knucklebone." -- Anne Sexton

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Book Tomb -- Writer's Poke #275

I had the rather hair-brained scheme that I would read all of the books in the library; well, not all of them, but all of the books in the History section -- a few thousand books at most.

With a little quick (and optimistic) math, I figured I could read a book a day; and after four years of college, that would equal a lot of books. Okay. Maybe not the entire History section, then, but why not dive into the books in the shelf in front of me? Surely I could read all of those.

The Stacks. What a wonderful place. Musty. Dusty. An elegant tomb full of books and artificial lighting. I could stay deep in its depths. It's where books come to die, but it's where I would go to live. I was going to record the Word on each individual brain cell.

Admittedly, I'm not normal, but I've always known that. Understand: college, after all, isn't a time for learning. It's a time for drinking mass quantities of booze, and chalking up carnal conquests. At least that's what the majority of my peers seemed most interested in. The question one most heard around campus was not: "What cool things are you learning?" Rather, it was: "Are you going anywhere this weekend?" Or, "You want to hit the Uptowner tonight?"

Have you read a history book lately?

"The only history that's worth a tinker's damn is the history we make today." -- Henry Ford

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fruit Infusion Pitcher? Heck yeah!

It's a subtle change, yes, but once you drink fruit-infused water for a few weeks, you will notice what "regular" water tastes like in comparison.

Week 1, I tried kiwi and strawberry.
Week 2: oranges
Week 3: watermelon

I've also heard good things about cucumber. The thought of that doesn't turn me on, but I'll give it a shot shortly.

Benefits? It's calorie free. And the fruit lasts all week. My recommendation is to change the fruit every 5-to-7 days, though. I left the watermelon in for 9 days, only to discover some mold on the inside top. Basically, you can tell when it's time to change the fruit by its discoloration. But I'd say every 5 days to be on the safe side...

Good little product for those interested in a "healthy alternative."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Great Guides -- Writer's Poke #274

Roger Ebert is my guide, and I think he qualifies as a great one. For the past twelve months, I have been watching the films he writes about in The Great Movies and The Great Movies II.

Each volume contains 100 great films, and Ebert's essays are generally four pages in length plus a photo from the film. At first, I found myself a bit daunted. After all, mentally preparing to watch 200 films is a pretty big commitment. And since I had already seen quite a few of the films in both volumes, I hesitated even further, as I've never been one to watch a film again... not with all the films out there that I've yet to see even once.

But although I might have previously watched a film, I soon discovered that this doesn't mean I remember the film. Sometimes I do, but sometimes I'll be watching a film again with absolutely no knowledge of the plot or characters. Example: I've always liked The Shawshank Redemption, but when I sat down to watch it last month, I was surprised (and disheartened?) by how little of it I remembered.

I usually watch the film first, and then I go back and read Ebert's essay. That way, I can compare my viewing experience with his, without being overly influenced or made prejudice by his insights. The essay serves as a reinforcement to memory, and it also helps me to more greatly appreciate the value of a piece of film making. I might not agree with Ebert, say, about Wings of Desire as a "great film," but after reading his essay, I certainly can better appreciate it as visual art.

We all need guides. It's impossible to go through life without them... not if we want to gain as much from our life experiences as possible.

Who guides you? In what way?

"The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate." -- Douglas Adams

Monday, June 28, 2010

I Don't Want the Glory -- Writer's Poke #273




Larry David is at it again. This time, he's invaded my dreams with another one of his hilarious faux pas. It seems that he needed to buy a birthday gift for someone he didn't much like and hardly knew. But his wife insisted that he buy something nice. And that something turned out to be a licensed NFL jersey.

Knowing that such a jersey would cost $100 or more, Larry decides to explore a cheaper option: knockoff jerseys sold by street peddlers.

So he finds a good deal on a jersey, but it comes with a catch. The peddler asks him to deliver a jersey to an address in Harlem. Without thinking, Larry immediately reacts. "No!" he says. Seeing the peddler's shocked expression, Larry quickly understands that his reaction is inappropriate, and makes him appear racist.

Larry dislikes others thinking badly of him; smiling, he attempts this explanation: "I don't want the glory."

Have you ever used humility as a defense or as an excuse?

"If you tell the truth about how you're feeling, it becomes funny." -- Larry David

Friday, April 23, 2010

5 Years and 50 Cent Ago -- Writer's Poke #272




I teach college writing classes, but sometimes most of the students sitting in my classes are dually-enrolled high school Juniors and Seniors. And I know: I know that I'm old because most of the students I teach weren't even born when I graduated from high school.

And I know that I'm old because five years to me and five years to my students means something completely different.

Example: I ask my students if they listen to 50 Cent. "Yes," one volunteers, "like in 6th grade!" Doing some quick math, I realize that for her, 6th grade is five years ago. For her, five years is the difference between grade school and sitting in the college classroom. For me, five years is the difference between being married 5 years and being married 10 years.

In the past 5 years, I've seen significant changes in my life, to be sure. I completed my Ph.D., moved from Georgia to Minnesota, became a Dean, and decided to go back to teaching. My wife and I have traveled from Alaska to Hawaii, and from the southern Caribbean to Europe; we've also had our first baby and watched her mature into a 2 1/2 year old toddler.

So, much has occurred in my life in the past five years -- much more than I might have initially appreciated when I first stopped to consider the five year time span. Nevertheless, the perception of time slows down as we age, don't you think? Think about it rationally. To a 17 year old, 5 years represents 30% of a lifetime; for a 36 year old, 5 years is only 14%. Thus, 5 years as a length of time is twice as significant to my students than it is for me.

How is it possible for time to speed up? to slow down? to do both simultaneously?

"Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age." -- Victor Hugo

Friday, March 12, 2010

Brain Freeze -- Writer's Poke #271

When I drive through the Hyvee parking lot, I often look at the special parking spots designated for the handicapped. Most users of these spots must have invisible handicaps, though, because as I walk up and down the aisles at the grocery store, I hardly ever see anyone in a wheel chair. So who are using these spots? Certainly not paraplegics.

But then it dawned on me. Maybe these spots aren't for people paralyzed from the neck down. Maybe they're set aside for people paralyzed from the neck up. Until these people speak, you'd never assume them to be anything other than normal. It's only after holding a conversation with them that you understand that they suffer from the worst handicap imaginable.

Millions of people suffer from brain freeze, and I'm not talking about the kind that comes from eating ice cream too quickly. Brain freeze often goes undiagnosed, and often times those that suffer from the condition don't even know they have it, because they tend to congregate among other people that have the same condition.

So who are the at risk groups? It's difficult to generalize, but in broad terms, people most susceptible to brain freeze are conservatives, traditionalists, and religious fundamentalists. Other at risk groups include people under the age of 25, people that do not read poetry, and people that text message more than fifty times per day.

Now that I've figured out who the people are that park in the designated spots, I don't have any problem walking a little farther. I just sincerely hope they are actively seeking the treatment they so desperately need. For there is a cure.

What keeps you from thinking?

"I've got the brain of a four year old. I'll bet he was glad to get rid of it." -- Groucho Marx

In Memorium: "Lost Boy" Corey Haim

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Generically Engineered -- Writer's Poke #270

We try so hard to fit in, don't we? Wouldn't it be great if scientists could generically engineer us from birth? That way, we wouldn't have to worry about if we were enough like our peers and society. We would find automatic acceptance, as we wouldn't even have to think about how we could be more like our school chums, our cubical-dwelling neighbors, or even our church-sitting pew-mates.

I jest, of course. No one needs "generic engineering"; it seems to be built into our genes. Ironically, even people that try to be different often end up being different in pathetically generic ways. Is there any escape? In a world of 6 billion people, probably not. Even people that are "one-in-a-million unique" will find that there are thousands of people just like them.

Not to say that sharing common values and interests is a bad thing. But it's simply the process of being worn down to the least common denominator that bothers me.

How can we fight generic engineering? First, we need to eliminate strip malls. Every time a strip mall dies, let's demolish it and dig up all of the concrete evidence that it ever existed. In its place, let's create sometime unique. Maybe a park here and a playground there. Whatever, just as long as Bed, Bath & Beyond, and Old Navy never return.

Second, can we all agree that there are more important things in life than simple convenience? Walmart and McDonalds served their purposes in the 20th century, but does each town need 5 of them? How can you promote a non-generic culture when everyone shops at the same place and eats the same processed food?

Third, boycott Chinese imports. Personally, I like China, but can you imagine living without relying on all the mass-produced products that come from China? Why not give it a shot for a week? It will be uber-inconvenient, but it might force you to buy local, and to seek out new products that you would have never have found if you rely solely on any of the major retailers that import everything straight from China and other places that basically produce the majority of generic products that we now buy.

How generic are you?

"As a child, I was always playing some generic child." -- Susan Olsen

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

American Idle -- Writer's Poke #269




Before going to work, I like to stop off at the local coffee shop in the morning. I find it's a good place to center myself, prep for the day ahead, and catch up on some grading.

Meanwhile, hordes of older people congregate there, too, for no other purpose than to gossip, chat loudly, and drink coffee. And I have to admit it; if it weren't for my trusty headphones, I'm sure I would find them and their idle conversations to be annoying at best and depressing at worst.

This morning I happened to forget my headphones, and so I was treated to chatter about who was most likely to be voted off American Idol, how late the winter Olympics forces people to stay up past sensible bedtimes, and where to stay in Las Vegas on upcoming adventures.

I don't blame these people for being old. Unless you die, you have no control over the aging process. But I do blame them for how they apparently "live." Do their lives really revolve around TV and trips to Las Vegas? Or, is that just the kind of thing that people find interesting to chat about in coffee shops? Actually, I found the conversation about Vegas to be rather interesting, but all too often, what I tend to hear is talk about the latest reality shows on TV, and I find myself thinking that perhaps living a long life isn't all that important if it's spent watching others "live" and then reporting back to others on your observations.

How long would you ideally like to live? What plans do you have for your life, and how will you know when you've lived long enough?

"We would all be idle if we could." -- Samuel Johnson

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Year One -- Writer's Poke #268



Comic book characters do age, but not in the same way that you and I do.

Upon her reintroduction to Gotham, the Huntress meets Catwoman, and Catwoman immediately takes to Huntress's renegade style. So, Huntress asks, how long have you and Batman been chasing each other? I know it's only been two or three years, Catwoman replies, but it feels like seventy.

And that's how time works for comic book characters. Time isn't linear; it would be closer to say it's parallel, but even that isn't exactly correct.

As DC comic fans know, until Infinite Crisis, continuity problems in characters and story lines were explained away through the use of parallel universes. Infinite Crisis put an end to the alternate realities, but character relaunchings still occur. Thus, Huntress's origin story is entirely rewritten, for example, and her placement in the DC Universe shifts.

The writers claim the practice of starting characters over again and re-imagining their beginnings helps to keep them (both writer and character, I suppose) fresh. And as long as the essence of the character remains the same, who can complain about petty things such as chronological details?

Start your story over again from the beginning. What details do you change? How do you keep your "essence" the same?

"Desire is the very essence of man." -- Baruch Spinoza

"Heartkiller" -- the new H.I.M. video




Strange little video. Not sure it adds anything to the song... I like the song a lot, although some of the "heavier" H.I.M. fans think it sounds too pop. Video does show the band is aging a bit, but don't we all?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Intellectual Pursuits -- Writer's Poke #267




Like me, Roger Ebert is an Illinois boy. He has dedicated his life to one thing: watching movies. My initial reaction to that is: Gee, what a way to waste a life -- sitting in a dark room all day, living life vicariously by watching the fictional stories created in the minds of others. But that's just my initial reaction. When I stop to think about it for another two seconds, my thoughts shift to: Wow. He got paid to watch movies for a living.

Of course he did a lot more than watch movies. He thought about them; he analyzed them; he wrote about them.

I'm no Ebert fanboy; he and I don't always agree, but I generally respect his opinions and observations, and I love to read how he viewed a movie. I've never had the chance to watch a movie frame-by-frame with him, but I imagine that would be an illuminating experience.

At this point in my life, all I can do is work my way through his The Great Movies I & II. Thanks to the invention of Netflix and the instant availability of streaming movies, over the past several months I've been able to watch about one hundred of the movies that Ebert rates as among the greatest of all time.

Last night I started watching an Ebert-recommend black and white Japanese movie, and my wife said, "You really like this stuff, don't you?" And honestly, I do. I'm not watching Ebert's picks as an "intellectual pursuit," per se, but I do appreciate the fact that some people make movies with a goal other than box office receipts.

Now that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy watching The Transporter; it simply means that most movies come and go and are forgotten once they leave the theaters on their initial run. Others, however, have the potential to stand the test of time.

What is a worthwhile pursuit to spend one's life? To spend your life?

"Men tire themselves in pursuit of rest." -- Laurence Stern

Human Nature -- Writer's Poke #266



Should we apologize for what is in our nature? According to Madonna, we shouldn't, and yet perhaps it's society's need to curb the individual that has promoted thousands of years of repression.

The basic thesis of the movie Roshomon, for example, is that everyone lies. We all embellish our presentations to others to place ourselves in the best light. In other words, we attempt to present not our real selves, but our ideals. In truth, however, no one ever lives up to their ideals.

So why do we feel the pressure to be something we're not? Why do we feel the need to pretend, or to apologize for failing to live up to something fake?

The question is, what's wrong with being human? Granted, except for Britney Spears, most people wouldn't turn to Madonna for advice on how to live their lives, but perhaps Madonna actually is a modern-day prophet?

"Dogs never bite me. Just humans." -- Marylin Monroe

What is your definition of what it means to be human?