Philosophical Doubt versus the Certitude of Common Sense

If philosophy is “primarily an instrument of doubt”, as Scientific American contributor John Horgan writes in the fifth part of his series, and it counters our “terrible tendency toward certitude”, can that sense of doubt prevail to a point that it collides with the clarity of mind one achieves with common sense? In an attempt to provide further evidence of the proclamation that philosophy is an instrument of doubt, Horgan cites Socrates definition of wisdom being the knowledge one has of how little they know. Horgan also cites Socrates’ parable of the cave, and it’s warning that we’re all prisoners to our own delusions.

“In Socrates’ Allegory of the Cave, Plato details how Socrates described a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them, and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality. Socrates explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not reality at all, for he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the manufactured reality that is the shadows seen by the prisoners. The inmates of this place do not even desire to leave their prison; for they know no better life.”

“In the allegory, Plato (also) likens people untutored in the Theory of Forms to prisoners chained in a cave, unable to turn their heads. All they can see is the wall of the cave. Behind them burns a fire. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a parapet, along which puppeteers can walk. The puppeteers, who are behind the prisoners, hold up puppets that cast shadows on the wall of the cave. The prisoners are unable to see these puppets, the real objects, that pass behind them. What the prisoners see and hear are shadows and echoes cast by objects that they do not see.” 

What does Socrates’ cave symbolize? This allegory has probably been interpreted a thousand different ways over the thousands of years since Plato first relayed Socrates allegory. A strict reading of the allegory suggests that the cave is a place where the uneducated are physically held prisoner. The people are prisoner in a figurative sense, in that they’re prisoner to their own ideas about the world from their narrow perspective. A strict reading would also detail that the philosopher is the one person in the story free of a cave, and thus an enlightened man that now knows the nature of the forms. One could also say that various caves litter the modern era, and that the philosophers have their own cave. One could also say that those that remain in that philosopher’s cave for too long, until it, too, becomes an insular, echo chamber in which they become a prisoner.

Socrates bolstered this interpretation when he informed a young follower of his named Glaucon that:

“The most excellent people must follow the highest of all studies, which is to behold the Good. Those who have ascended to this highest level, however, must not remain there but must return to the cave and dwell with the prisoners, sharing in their labors and honors.”

A strict reading of this quote might suggest that the philosopher should return to the prisoner’s cave to retain humility. Another reading of it, could lead the reader to believe Socrates is suggesting that it is the responsibility of the philosopher to share his new insight with the cave dwellers. A more modern interpretation might be that the philosopher must return to the cave to round out his newfound intelligence by commingling it with the basic, common sense of other cave dwellers. Inherent in the latter interpretation is the idea that in the cave of philosophical thought, one might lose perspective and clarity, and they can become victims of their own collective delusions.

The philosopher could accept an idea as a fact, based on the idea that the group thought contained within the philosophical cave accepts it as such. This philosopher may begin to surround themselves with like-minded people for so long that they no longer see that cave for what it is. The intellectual might also fall prey to the conceit that they’re the only ones not living in a cave. The intellectual might also see all other caves for what they are, until they come upon their own, for theirs is the cave they call home. As Horgan says, citing the responses of “gloomy” students responding to the allegory of the cave, “If you escape one cave, you just end up in another.”

One of the only moral truths that John Horgan allows, in part five of his series, that trends toward a “terrible tendency toward certitude” is the argument that “ending war is a moral imperative.” This is not much of a courageous or provocative point, as most cave dwellers have come to the same conclusion as Mr. Horgan. Most cave dwellers now view war as something that we only utilize as a last alternative, if at all.

For whom are we issuing this moral imperative, is a question that I would ask if I were lucky enough to attend one of Mr. Hogan’s classes. If we were to issue the imperative to first world countries, I would suggest that we would have a very receptive audience, for most of the leaders of these nations would be very receptive to our proposed solutions. If we were to send it out to tyrannical leaders and oppressive governments of third world governments, I am quite sure that we would have an equally receptive audience, as long as our proposed solutions pertained to the actions of first world countries.

Former Beatles musician John Lennon engaged in similar pursuit in his “make love not war” campaign, but Lennon directed his campaign to first world leaders almost exclusively. Some of us now view this venture as a colossal waste of time. If Lennon had directed his moral imperative at the third world, and their dictators were genuinely receptive to it, Lennon could’ve changed the world. If these third world leaders agreed to stop slaughtering, and starving their country’s people, and they also agreed to avoid engaging in skirmishes with their neighbors, all of us would view John Lennon as a hero for achieving peace in our time. This scenario also presupposes that these notoriously dishonest leaders weren’t lying to Lennon for the purposes of their own public relations, and that the leaders did their best to live up to such an agreement while having to quash coups to take the government over by a tyrannical leader that has other plans. This is, admittedly, a mighty big asterisk and a relative definition of peace, but if Lennon were able to achieve even that, the praise he received would be unilateral.

What Lennon did, instead, was direct the focus of his sit-ins, and sleepins, to the leaders of the Britain and The United States. The question I would’ve had for John Lennon is, how often, since World War II, have first world countries gone to war with one another? Unless one counts the Cold War as an actual war, or the brief skirmish in Yugoslavia, there hasn’t been a great deal of military action between the first world and the second world since World War II either. Most of what accounts for the need for military action, in modern times, involves first world countries attempting to clean up the messes that have occurred in third world countries.

If Lennon’s goals were as genuinely altruistic, as some have suggested, and not a method through which he could steal some spotlight from his rival, Paul McCartney, as others have suggested, he would have changed the focus of his efforts. Does this suggest that Lennon’s sole purpose was achieving publicity, or does it suggest that Lennon’s worldview was either born, or nurtured in an echo chamber in which everyone he knew, knew, that the first world countries were the source of the problems when it came to the militaristic actions involved in war?

To those isolationists that will acknowledge that most of the world’s problems occur in the third world, they suggest that if The United States and Britain would stop playing world police and let these third world countries clean up their own messes, we would achieve a form of peace. To these people, I would suggest that the world does have historical precedent for such inaction: Adolf Hitler. Some suggest that war with Hitler was inevitable. They declare that Hitler was such a blood thirsty individual that he could not be appeased. Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain did try, however, and the world trumpeted Chamberlain’s name for achieving “peace in our time”. Chamberlain’s nemesis in the parliament, Winston Churchill, suggested that Chamberlain tried so hard to avoid going to war that he made war inevitable. Churchill suggested that if Britain engaged in more diplomatic actions, actions that could have been viewed as war-like by Germany, such as attempting to form a grand coalition of Europe against Hitler, war might have been avoided. We’ll never know the answer to that question of course, but how many of those living in the caves of idealistic utopia of ending war, as we know it, would’ve sided with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and against Churchill, in the lead up to, and after, the Munich Peace Accords? How many of them would’ve suggested that Hitler signing the accords meant that he did not want war, and that heeding Churchill’s warnings would’ve amounted to a rush to war? Churchill has stated, and some historians agree, that the year that occurred between Munich and Britain’s declaration of war, left Britain in a weaker position that led to a prolonged war. How many of those that live in anti-war caves would’ve been against the proposal to form a grand coalition of Europe against Germany, because it might make Germany angry, and they could use it as a recruiting tool?

The point of listing these contrarian arguments is not to suggest that war is the answer, for that would be a fool’s errand, but to suggest that even those philosophers that believe they have the strongest hold on a truth may want to give doubt a chance. It is also a sample of a larger argument. The larger argument suggests that while the philosopher’s viewpoint is mandatory to those seeking a well-rounded perspective, they are not the only people in need of one.

If the only ones a person speaks to one day confirm their bias, they may need to visit another cave for a day. They may not agree with other cave dwellers, but they may hear different voices on the matter that influence their approach to problem solving. The point is if the only thing a student of philosophy hears in a day is doubt directed at the status quo, and that they must defeat that certitude, how far can that student venture down that road before they reach a tip of the fulcrum, and everything they learn beyond that progressively divorces them from common sense?

In the hands of quality teachers and writers, philosophy can be one of the most intoxicating disciplines for one to explore, and some are so fascinated they choose to follow it as their life’s pursuit. Those of us that have explored the subject beyond Philosophy 101, on our own time, have learned to doubt our fundamental structure in ways that we feel compelled to share. This period of discovery can lead some of us to question everything those that formed us hold dear. At some point in this self-imposed challenge to pursue answers to simple questions that are more well-rounded, some of us reveal that not only have we escaped the prisoner’s cave, but we’ve become prisoners in the philosopher’s cave. Few recognize when their answers to the forms dancing on wall reveal this, but those of us that have, have had an intruder inform us “It’s a goat.”


Unconventional Thinking vs. Conventional Facts

Unconventional thinking can be seductive. It can be alluring to gain more knowledge than another has. To those that fall prey to this conceit, I have a warning. Quantity does not always equal quality. There is only so much conventional information available, but there are numerous avenues for those seeking unconventional answers to explore. Most of these avenues contain information that conventional thinkers have never considered before. Some of the times, those arguments place the subject matter, at hand, in a different light that should be considered, but in my experience most of these arguments provide nothing more than provocative distractions and obfuscations from the central argument.

One of the universal truths I’ve discovered about unconventional thoughts is that they are not always true. This may seem like such an obvious truth that it’s a discussion hardly worth having, but how many people put so much stock into unconventional thinking that they consider conventional thinkers naïve for believing everything they tell us? They believe the truth is out there.

Police officers, working a beat, have a modus operandi (M.O.) to their job: “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see.” This is the ideal mindset for a police officer to have. Is it ideal, however, for a casual consumer of news, an employee with regard to their employer, or a friend listening to friends telling a story?

A top shelf reporter suggested that skepticism of the press undermines their authority, but when the press exhibits behavior that warrants skepticism, it should be undermined. The members of the media should conduct themselves in a manner that welcomes skepticism from their audience and defeats it with performance. Wouldn’t the members of the media say the same thing of those they cover? 

There is a point, however, when a healthy sense of skepticism creeps into a form of cynicism that believes “none of what I hear and half of what I see.” Such cynicism breeds holes in people that allow “other” information to fill it.

As an individual that has an insatiable curiosity for unconventional thinking, specific to human behavior, I’ve had friends introduce me a wide array of alternative information outlets. They introduced me to everything from the definitions of human psychology through astrology, numerology, and witchcraft. I also had one friend introduce me to the idea, by way of a book he read and loved, that suggested that aliens from other planets could teach us a lot about ourselves.

Within the transmitted messages, aliens from another planet send to Earth, is a common subtext that suggests that the tenets of my political ideology are wrong, but who am I to question the superior intellect of an alien species? The first question this skeptic asks the author of human psychology by way of alien scripture is why do we assume that they are of a superior intellect? The collective thought, among certain corners of human authority, suggests that not only is there intelligent life out there, but it’s more intelligent than anything we meager humans can conceive. Sort of like the unlimited omniscience that the religious assign to their deity of choice. It would be just as foolish as those that suggest that there are no superior intellects out there, as it is to suggest that all other entities are of a superior intellect, but those that suggest the latter often have an agenda for doing so.

What would be the point of worshiping a deity that had as much intelligence as we do, and what would be the point of reporting on the transmissions from space if the aliens were not of a superior intellect that could teach us a lot about human psychology? We should note that most alien transmissions align suspiciously with the author’s agenda and ideology. 

The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with humans being of superior intellect (“We are in awe of the capabilities of the new iPhone seven plus, and we have not found a way to duplicate that technology in our labs”), will be the first time I take an alien transmission seriously. The next time an alien transmits a message that has something to do with a compliment regarding human technology in agricultural techniques (“We find the techniques developed by Monsanto Co., to be awe-inspiring”) will be the first time I re-read an author’s interpretation of their message. For some reason, most aliens want us to know that the author of the piece, that characterizes their message, is correct about the dystopian nature of human beings.  

Too much reliance on alternative sources of information leads us to be vulnerable to half-truths that cause us to put too much stock in the more unconventional beliefs. Many unconventional thinkers now consider themselves more knowledgeable than those that ascribe to truths that are more conventional, because they have different knowledge that they believe equals more knowledge. I would have no problem with the purveyors of unconventional information if their consumers sought results. How many outlets, of this nature, provide straight verifiable points that pass peer review? How many of their messages devolve into motives and round about speculation that no one can refute? It’s that kind of information, in my opinion, that leads to so much confusion.

Those of us that ascribed to unconventional thoughts at one point in our lives began to see them for what they were, and we discovered that just because a thought is unconventional does not mean it’s correct. We enjoyed the offspring of the counterculture for what it was. We all thought they were so hip that our interest in their thoughts led some TV programmers to identify and capitalize on the purveyors of unconventional thinking, until those thoughts seduced us into incorporating them into our conventional thinking on some matters.

Whether it is political, social, or any other venue of thought, some people derive definition by fighting against the status quo, but we could say that the status quo is an ever-shifting focus that can lead to so many beginning to convert to such thoughts that they become status quo, conventional thoughts. 

I no longer buy a book of unconventional thinking, or befriend an unconventional thinker, with the hope of having my mind changed on a subject. If their ideas do change my mind, that’s gravy, but I have learned that such thoughts, are often best used as a challenge to my current worldview, and/or to bolster to my current view, as I attempt to defeat it. I do not then write of this discovery with the intent of changing anyone else’s mind. I do enjoy, however, taking the conventional standpoint and melding it with unconventional thinking to arrive at what I consider a truth that neither party might have considered before.

The best illustration of this M.O., exists in a piece I wrote called He Used to Have a Mohawk. In this piece, I documented the conventional thinking regarding an individual that would decide to have their hair cut in a thin strip upon their head. If that person grows the Mohawk to eighteen inches, and dyes it blue, conventional thinking would lead one to believe that that person deserves any ostracizing they might receive. Unconventional thinking suggests that there’s nothing wrong with a person that decides to shave their head in such a manner. This mode of thought suggests that it’s on the observer to accept the Mohawk wearer for who he or she is as a person. They also suggest that the observer might discover the limits of their preconceived notions or conventional thoughts of a person, by finding out that a person that leaves a thin strip of hair on their head, grows it eighteen inches, and dyes it blue is actually a beautiful person. The approach I took, with this piece, combined the two modes of thought and examined them through the prism of an individual that used to have such a Mohawk.

What kind of person asks a hair stylist to cut their hair into a Mohawk? What happens to them when they grow older, and they go back to having a more sensible haircut? Do they change as others’ perceptions of them alter? Do they miss the altered perceptions they used to experience when they had the haircut? Do they regret getting the haircut in the first place?

One of my favorite critiques of this piece stated that the immediate components of this story could lead a reader to be offended, until they read the piece carefully to understand the complex subtext of the piece through deep analysis. “I like the way you take a Mohawk and turn it into something greater than just a simple hairstyle. You give it character that I feel not many others could appreciate,” Amanda Akers stated. 

No matter where the reader stands on the conventional fulcrum with this subject, they must acknowledge that an individual that asks that their hair to be cut into a Mohawk does so to generate reactions, or different reactions, than a person with a more sensible haircut could procure on any given day. Some would say that Mohawk wearers generate unwanted attention for themselves by wearing such a haircut, but others could say that no attention is unwanted for some.

If a Mohawk wearer detested those that judged him for such a haircut, he or she could allow the hair to lay flat. They don’t, I pose, because they enjoy detesting straight-laced people that will never try to understand them as a person, they enjoy the bond they have with those that sympathize with their plight, and they bathe in the sheer number of reactions they’ve received since they made the decision to wear a Mohawk.

The people at this wedding party stated that they wanted to get to know the groom that used to have a Mohawk, when he had the Mohawk. As they learned more about him, to their apparent dismay, they discovered that he was a nice man. As an uninformed bystander, I considered the shock they displayed that a man with a Mohawk could be nice, a little condescending. I considered it odd that one man would say that he wanted to get to know a man that wears a Mohawk better –based solely on that man’s haircut– a little condescending. This groom, his name was Mark, appeared to bathe in all of it. I watched this man react to these statements, and I couldn’t tell if he considered it a mark of his character that he had befriended people regardless of the haircut, or if he missed all of the reactions that haircut used to generate for him. My money was on the latter.

No one cares that a man with a sensible haircut is nice. A nice man with a sensible haircut fades in the background, unless he has remarkable characteristics that make him stand out. My guess, watching this groom emcee the various events of his wedding, was that this man did not have such characteristics, and that he probably faded into the background. The man was not very funny. He was not the type that an observer would say was overly entertaining. He seemed like a shy, normal man that was as uncomfortable in his own skin as the rest of us are. I wondered, watching him bomb on stage, if our reactions to his antics would’ve been different if he said all that he said, and did all that he did, with an eight-inch high, blue Mohawk, and I wondered if he wondered the same? Say what you want about a person that wears a Mohawk, that is blue, but he does generate expectations. When a man with an eight-inch, blue Mohawk shatter expectations by doing silly things, or being nice, those actions stand in stark contrast to what we expected of such a man, and that leads an otherwise normal and probably relatively boring man, to stand out in our memory.

The crux of the argument, as I see it, is that conventional thinking may have some potholes, and we should remain skeptical of everything we see and hear, but some put so much energy into unconventional thoughts that they end up more confused on a given subject than enlightened. Forming a hybrid of sorts, is the ideal plane for one to reach as it suggests that while we should remain skeptical in nature, we should maintain an equal amount of skepticism for unconventional thoughts. Yet, the seductive nature of unconventional thinking rarely calls for a ledger on which one can tabulate how often they have been wrong. Most people hate being wrong, and for unconventional thinkers one would think it incumbent on unconventional thinkers to prove their bona fides on an issue. What often happens is that either the unconventional thinkers adapt a linier adjustment to their way of thinking on the issue, or they move on. The very nature of unconventional thinking lends itself to invulnerability, for few in their audience are comfortable enough with their knowledge on issues to call them out on their record. It’s been my experience that if an unconventional thinker would chart and graph their thoughts on matters, as opposed to focusing so much energy on excuses, they would find that more often than not, conventional, generalized thought patterns on a given idea are generally true.

Let Me Have Cake

An article I read detailed that eating food to sustain life was something of a miracle. For all the things we take for granted, sustained life has to be the most fundamental. Are you sustaining life as you read this? Have you ever considered the idea that food allows you to continue living?

ask-history-did-marie-antoinette-really-say-let-them-eat-cake_50698204_getty-eAn uncle of mine contracted a muscular degenerative disease at a young age. Throughout the course of his life, this degeneration progressed, until he lost almost all bodily functions. He reached a point, in this degeneration, where he was no longer eating well. He had coughing fits in the course of digestion that caused concern. I saw these coughing fits, hundreds of them, and they were difficult to ignore. The coughing fits caused such concern, to the workers at the care facility where he lived, they determined that my uncle should no longer be fed orally. The determination was that he would be fed through a tube going forward. Uncle John was so crushed by this, he had a lawyer draw up a letter that stated that neither John, nor any of his remaining family members, would hold the care facility liable for anything that happened as a result of oral feeding. But, the letter stated, he wanted to enjoy oral feeding once again. He also threatened to sue the care facility, in that letter, if they did not abide by his wishes. He then said, and this is the heartbreaking part, that “Eating is one of the last joys I have left, and I do not want this taken away from me.”

I had a boring, mindless job at the time. Throughout the course of my time at this job, I rebelled. I talked to whomever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I did the work, and my scores were admirable, but management could not abide by all the talking. I assumed, at one point, that management was either trying to drive me out, or the job had become so awful that I couldn’t maintain the illusion that it was a decent job. I was miserable. I obsessed over those that had no talent, but were living the life I had always wanted to live.

A majority of my co-workers were obese. The first inclination I had was that these people ate the same as everyone else, but they were in a job that involved ten hours of sitting. My next guess was that eating was the only joy they/we had left. I, too, was gaining weight, and I was reaching a point where I didn’t care. I read an article that listed off the heinous deeds of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. One of the accounts detailed that Dahmer opened a hole in his victim’s head and poured acid in. He wanted to kill his victim’s brain, or that part of them that produced such sedition. The purpose was to allow Dahmer to enjoy having relations with them, without having to listen to their complaints. How different, I wondered, is that from the day to day life in my current job? My inability to prove my worth to anyone, much less myself, had landed me in a job where creativity is not appreciated. “Just be happy you have a job,” was the mantra fellow employees scream at the unhappy. “You’re in the greatest country in the history of the world, at what could be its greatest time, and you’re complaining? Just be happy that you can financially sustain life, and shut up.”

Routine has a way of killing the mind. Fear of the unknown has a way of convincing one that they are happy. Or they learn, over time, to just shut up!

Employers use fear as a motivation. They convince a person that they’re lucky to have a job, and they instill fear as a motivator. How often have I been informed that I’m meeting the required goals? A number of times, but it’s done in a lethargic manner. They would much rather inform their employees that they’re not, so that they’re motivated to do better. The one that achieves the goal is not the focus of concern, so they fade into the background. They allow their minions to focus on you, and destroy you with hyper critical edicts that chip away at your self-worth. Not only are you in a mindless job that eats away at any creativity that a person may use to prosper in some fashion that they cannot find by themselves, as non-self-starters, but they’re not making the grade.

We were not allowed to speak, in a casual manner, to our co-workers. All conversations were required to be work-related. We were not allowed to email friendly messages to our friends, and our Instant Message system was taken away from us. Food was all we had left, and we were all gaining weight. We were being paid to do this mindless job, and we were using this money to feed ourselves food that was killing us.

When a person sits behind a computer for ten hours a day, four days a week, the clock is a cautious bitch that won’t turn right on red. She drives twenty-to-thirty miles an hour under the speed limit, and we can’t help but notice that the other lane contains free flowing cars, speeding up to prevent entrance. We were in this position as a result of lack of talent, lack of drive, and the inability to take a risk. We felt lucky to have a job in a country that provides ample opportunity for ambitious risk-takers with an idea, but with so much available it’s hard to pick one lane to drive in. The grass is always greener on the other side, of course, but I felt I was planted in a field of weeds that inhibited my own growth. The alternative, of course, is stagnancy.

The complaints that I have/had were all sourced from a first world, privileged background, but I saw those around me grow and prosper, and I reached a point of frustration that probably should’ve led to some counseling. I witnessed firsthand, the end result of frustration so great that one doesn’t want to live anymore, but I have never been suicidal. I’ve always considered alternatives, and what greater alternative is there than change? I would explore my mind for anything and everything that could lead me to happiness. My definition of happiness, I calculated, could be attained. I could live free to explore my mind for every thought I had ever had. It was a privileged, first world avenue, but I had the means to do so. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of it?

People have definitions of the way in which one should conduct their lives. If an individual doesn’t fit those parameters, he is cast out. He is condemned for not living life the way they think he should. How should he live? He made a mistake somewhere around the first thirty years of his life. He sustained life. He entered the workforce with few skills. He developed some. He developed a work ethic. He never called in sick, and after a time, he became more serious, and he was never tardy. Once the latter was managed better, he fell into the background, but he was still employed, gainfully? That’s the question. Was he satisfied? No, he went to another place, and another place, and he discovered a cap on his abilities. He never interviewed well, his public speaking abilities were less than admirable, and he tested poorly. Analysis of his being made him so nervous that he developed a comprehensive form of test anxiety.

His role models, in life, were blue collar workers that did their job, went home, drank too much, and complained about the awful responsibility in life. These were people that focused on his shortcomings. “Where did you come up with that?” was a question they asked the aspiring young minds around them. I have gone back and forth on this relatively innocuous question. At the outset, one has to imagine that such a question arises in an adult mind when the child they’ve known for decades comes to them with a particularly ingenious thought. It has to be a surprise to that old mind to see a younger one outdo them, so one can forgive them for what may cause the young mind to question their base, but it defines that young mind in a manner that suggests that they should remember their station in life.

I’ve witnessed what I can only assume is the opposite of this rearing pattern. I witnessed young, ambitious, and adventurous minds believe in themselves. If they had questions about their abilities to accomplish great things in life, their insecurities paled in comparison to mine. They had such belief in their abilities that when I showed them awe, they swatted my awe away saying that their accomplishment was either not as awe-inspiring as I believed, or that it was but a rung on a ladder to an accomplishment I couldn’t even fathom pursuing.

I considered some of these people so different, I wondered if we were even the same species. How can one put themselves on the line in such a fashion without due consideration put into the fear of failure? They don’t mind the prospect of exposing themselves to ridicule. ‘What if it all comes crumbling down around you?’ I wondered to them. Their answer, in roundabout ways, was that they’d try something else. That wasn’t going to happen, however, for they had belief in themselves. Where does this unbinding faith in one’s self come from? Answer, it’s bred into them. They’re not afraid to try, to risk it all on something that would keep me up at night.

At some point after we spent so much time together, getting drunk and what have you, they ventured out and pursued matters that I didn’t have the confidence to pursue. They were self-starters, and they led, and they accomplished, and I look forward to eating something different in a day. The meal of the day became something to look forward to, nothing more and nothing less than my uncle had to threaten to sue to maintain in his life.

“Let them eat cake,” is an old line, purported to be delivered by the bride of King Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, that suggested that the unhappiness of the Frenchman in her empire could by quelled by allowing them to eat something delicious. Some have also interpreted it to be an illustration of Marie Antoinette’s detachment from the common man, based on an idea that if they could not afford bread, to sustain life, they should eat cake. Whether or not she actually delivered that line, the import is that we, peasants, derive pleasure from food. Some of us hate our jobs, our family, and our lives, and if we can just find one semi-pleasurable meal, we can find some measure of happiness. If that single meal doesn’t do it for the talent-less minions that neglected to develop an ambitious plan for life, we can look forward to the next day, and thus not only sustain life, through the miracle of food, but achieve some sort of sensorial pleasure through the routine of it.

Eating to sustain life. Eating for pleasure. Too much pleasure? Too much eating? What else do we have?

Impulsive vs. Reflective

I have learned, the hard way, to avoid the impulses that drive one to make impulsive purchases. I have learned to define my desire for said product through separation. Take a step away from it, I say to myself, and try to take the newness element out of the product and imagine it on you, in you, or under you one month from now. The problem with these impulses I have is that they drive me to purchase shocking, ridiculous, and useless products that satisfy a short-term desire to be different.

Craftsmanship means as much to me as anyone else, but when it comes time to purchase products, the subtlety of a craftsman’s curve in a rocking chair has never spoken to me on a personal level. I much prefer a new-age piece of furniture that has some innovative sex appeal with a couple exclamation points behind it. I want a piece that causes people to ask questions that have no suitable answers.

Had I followed the impulses that have controlled me at various points in my life, I would now be driving a bright orange Jeep with black trim. I might even have a bright yellow colored living room with equally bright orange furniture, and some kind of multicolored carpet that accentuates the overall theme. I might also have a visually striking painting of a screeching gargantuan, gold eagle, with beaming blood red eyes, flying above shadowed villagers scampering to safety on a red felt background. Those products would fulfill a definition I have for the immediate, shocking, discomfiting, and shocking elements of beauty. It’s a definition of who I was, and who I am, that I know would shock my visitors into thinking there might be something we need to sit down and discuss before it gets out of hand.

Two things currently prohibit me from following these impulses: A wife and a child. A wife, or any person on the inside looking in, tempers such impulses with rational refutation. When a single man, with no children, follows his impulses, people sort through the psychological damages he must have accrued throughout his life, and they laugh it off as a bachelor pad. When that same man has a child, however, that child has extended family members that care about that child and worry about their well-being when they see that one of his primary role models has created a living room that requires sunglasses. When one of that child’s primary role models also has a painting of a bloodthirsty eagle flying above doomed villagers, above the hearth, they might question his ability to raise a proper child.

The other thing that prevents me from following these impulses now is that I’ve been there, and done that. I’ve been the person that others tried to understand, and I’ve been a person that others gave up trying to understand, until they conceded that the person they thought they knew is a lot weirder than they ever thought. I’ve purchased a shockingly bright, baby blue pair of shoes that I considered an expression of my personal definition of beauty. I tore these shocking baby blue pair of shoes off the shelves on sight and without thought. I figured I was in for a psychological pummeling from those that consider anything different a source of ridicule, but I was willing to ride it out for the effect I thought the pair of shoes would have on my essence.

Others echoed these fears by informing me that I should expect the worst from my classmates, if I had the temerity to wear these shoes to school. “People do wear such shoes,” they warned, “when they workout. They don’t wear them at work, in school, or on the path to and fro.”

Hindsight maybe 20/20, in this case, but I remember tingling with anticipation over the effect I thought this would have on my classmates. I couldn’t wait to introduce them to the new me. I then made a statement about the old me, by throwing away my old, sensible shoes.

Those that tried to prepare me for the psychological pummeling that would follow, would have been shocked at how successful my attempt to shock people was. I lost loyal friends over it, as they attempted to distance themselves from me to avoid having shrapnel rain down upon them. The experience was such that I thought of a short story called The Boy with the Bright, Baby Blue Shoes. I remembered a nature documentary in which a pack of hyenas brought a zebra down bite-by-bite, and my sympathy for that beast churned to empathy after this moment in my life. For those that abhor judgments of any kind and seek the karmic effects on those that do judge, this was one of the many for me. It did not feel good, and the pain I experienced changed me. If you’re going to judge others, however, you should prepare for them to judge you. I wasn’t then. I am now, thanks to memories like this one.

I did not have the confidence, or temerity necessary to stare these people down back then, and they broke me. I did learn that when one dares to be different, there are whole bunch of guidelines and borders, and most of them are superficial. I also learned one golden rule of life that I would pursue for much of my life to arrive at a final answer, and that was that most people consider it a worthy goal to dismiss as many people as possible in life. A wearer of bright, baby blue shoes becomes a wearer of such shoes, for example, until that person becomes a barometer of agreed upon truths that need to be agreed upon in the most brutal fashion possible.

At some point, I did find the subtle beauty of a craftsman’s curve in the gap of others’ writings, in certain lyrical phrases, and in the margins of dialogue and characterization. I discovered something in the intended, and unintended, philosophical truths of various artistic expressions of organic craftsmen. In those phrases, lines, paragraphs, and comprehensive thoughts, I discovered a shockingly different beauty that replaced my need for superficially shocking modifications.

My need for character-defining purchases also led me to be a sucker for innovation. My impulses drive me to purchase the latest and greatest technology my fellow man created for my convenience, and it led me to spend a great deal of money in the “As Seen on TV” aisles of prominent stores, and the “As Seen on TV” stores in malls. I purchase these products in the hope that they will simplify otherwise arduous and mundane tasks, but I’ve purchased these types of products so often that I now know that whatever short-term convenience these products provide pale in comparison to their suspect long-term durability. These innovations do sell, of course, because people, like me, get amped up on the idea that a collapsible garden hose will free up so much space on my back patio. The question I ask myself, now, when wrestling with the impulses that drive me to purchase anything that will make my life easier is, if this “new and improved way of doing things” product were in fact better than the more traditional products in the main aisle, wouldn’t the new products would replace those traditional products that my dad and my grandfather used in the main aisle. It wouldn’t take long, I would suspect, for those stores that sold such products to put the more traditional products in the end cap of the aisle, for those that insist on using the more traditional and less convenient products.

For those that still can’t rationalize their impulses away, I have one piece of advice when attempting to define your desire by separation. Those bright, baby blue pair of shoes that look so deliciously freakish sitting in that aisle will eventually become nothing more than a pair of shoes over time. A Jeep will become nothing more than a mode for transportation, and a chair will eventually become nothing more than something to sit in, once the effect of being shocking wears off, and you’re left looking at a pair of shoes that you’re now embarrassed to wear to school, to the office, and to and fro. The person that makes these impulsive purchases also realizes that these products provide onlookers data about the person that purchases them in a manner that the purchaser will likely regret long term. I hoped that by purchasing a pair of bright, baby blue tennis shoes that I would make a statement that no one in my vicinity would soon forget, and they didn’t, and I realized that I allowed them to dismiss me as a person that wore bright, baby blue shoes. I learned that every day beauty requires a study of the subtle forms of beauty that will grow on a person, and when the otherwise impulsive learn this they will decide to purchase the white Jeep with black rims.

Honor Thy Mother and Father

“The commandment (Honor Thy Mother and Father) is about obedience and respect for authority; in other words it’s simply a device for controlling people.  The truth is, obedience and respect should not be granted automatically.  They should be earned.  They should be based on the parents’ (or the authority figure’s) performance.  Some parents deserve respect.  Most of them don’t.  Period.”  –George Carlin

Had famous comedian, and social critic, George Carlin left this argument in the realm of adults conducting themselves in a manner worthy of respect and obedience, a counterargument would be impossible to make, but Carlin went ahead and added a pesky punctuation mark to his argument that opened up a need for qualifiers.  I loathe most qualifiers almost as much as I loathe “But it’s for the children!” arguments.  I prefer bold, provocative statements that shock the collective into rethinking their ideas on a given matter.  My limited experience with children has informed me, however, that children have an almost unconditional need to respect laws and rules, and that they want to respect those that are in roles of guidance, for the structure it provides them amidst the chaos and confusion they experience while attempting to learn how they are to conduct themselves in life.

o-GEORGE-CARLIN-facebookOne would not use the words imposing or authoritative figure to describe me, yet when I am around a child that is lacking in the stability that decent parenting can provide, they gravitate to me.  This is made most apparent when I mention to them that I may leave the room.  To the other kids in the room, this amounts to them having an adult-free moment of their life, and the ability to cut loose.  The kids that are more accustomed to playing without much adult supervision or the degree of authority an adult may provide, worry that I may not be coming back.  ‘What are you talking about,’ the more adjusted kids in the room all but scream.  ‘Let him go!’

Contrary to what may be a natural instinct, this is not a moment for laughter.  This is a vulnerable, revealing moment for kids without a consistent view of authority, as they seek some sort of definition for how to act.  The adult in the room is left with confused by this display of a child not only needing an authority figure in the room, but actually wanting it.  It makes no sense to those of us that spent our childhood attempting to escape any semblance of authority.  It’s sad, and it enhances the need for this qualifier to Carlin’s argument.

As much space as has been given to the respect we should give to a child’s curious mind, their limitless capacity for fantasy, and their ability to view without filter, they’re still doughy balls of clay waiting to be formed.  They have individual opinions, but are those opinions worthwhile?  Fully formed minds have the luxury of scrutinizing authority figures, rebelling to them, and out and out rejecting them based on their performance, because they have less need for those authority figures.  A child needs a definition of respect regardless if their parents have earned it or not.

I would’ve jumped for joy, decades ago, to read a learned mind, like George Carlin, echo this sentiment of mine.  The more I age, and the more I see the other side of the argument, the more I understand that respect for parents is a benefit to both parties.  As a child ages, experience leads them to need authority less, and the onus falls on the parent to live a life that commands respect from their progressed mind.  Parents are people too, of course, and they’re subject to the same failings, missteps, and lifestyle choices as any other adult.  When that adult become a parent, and they continue to display such failings, they present a challenge to a child that wants to respect them.  It’s important for parents to do whatever they can to fulfill what was once unconditional respect and make better choices.  In the respect arena, children are forgiving, blessed with a short-term memory, and imbued with a desire to respect their parents for the purpose of having something to respect, and to have parents that their friends can respect.  Parents can serve as a lighthouse in a dark sea of confusion and chaos, and this is made most apparent by children that have been guided through their youth by suspect parenting, but I don’t think it’s debatable that a parent, coupled with a child’s obedience and respect of that parent, will play a role in that child’s life that will last well into adulthood.

No matter what my dad did or said, during my younger years, he reminded me that I was required to respect him.  I considered that self-serving.  I, like George Carlin, thought he needed to do more to earn my respect, but like a politician that lies and later informs the public that they’ve “always been consistent on the matter”, my dad’s constant demands for near unconditional respect worked.  He was human, and he had his moments, but no matter how hard I tried to do otherwise, I respected him, and it ended up benefiting me by giving me a base of respect, and a foundation from which I would venture forth in the rest of my life.

Of course there are qualifiers to this qualifier, as we’ve all witnessed stable, large families produce one black sheep in a family of otherwise well-adjusted children, and we’ve all witnessed well-adjusted, under-parented children display a sense of independence that they carried into adulthood.  As much as I focused on these exceptions of the rules, as arguments to be had in my youth, my own experience with the youth that now surround me, is that these are exceptions to the rule.

The aspect of the oft repeated refutation of the commandment that confuses me, in regards to George Carlin, is that by the time he wrote this piece, in his third book, he was older and wiser, and I would assume that he had reached an age where the benefits parental respect could have on a young person were made clear to him.  It sounds great to repeat the line that the age-old “honor thy mother and father” line is B.S., because that speaks to that rebellious side of us that have lived a full life in direct opposition to our parents’ wishes, and perhaps we even hated our parents, but Carlin had children at the time of this writing, grown children, and his perspective on this matter either didn’t change, or it flipped back.  The only light in the tunnel of my confusion is that his children have stated that they often thought they were the parents in the Carlin home, a statement that leads this reader to suspect that George Carlin was probably a relatively chaotic adult in private.  He had to have witnessed the deleterious effects this had on them, and it probably formed his belief that obedience and respect should be conditional and earned period.  Perhaps, he wrote it with the knowledge that he failed his children in this regard.

A Crass Piece of Self-Promotion

I write the following crass piece of self-promotion in protest, as it was never my goal to establish a relationship with the reader. My goal was to allow these pieces to have an independent relationship with the reader, but you’re not bonding them in the manner I had hoped. As a result, I’m now forced to expose myself to you and let you see every nook and cranny of the process.

Anyone that knows an artist knows that the worst question to ask them is any question that references their process. If you value your time, and your just being polite, there are about a million other questions that will fulfill the need some have for polite, friendly conversations. Those that have unwittingly entered such a conversation know that at some point it’s better to just get up and walk away. Artists of all venues, love to talk about the process. I am no different. Having been on the other end of such a discussion, I know how tedious it can be, but you’re not reading these pieces, so I have nothing to lose by doing this.

"Birth of a New Man" Salvador Dali

“Birth of a New Man” Salvador Dali

Some of the pieces on this list will appear pleasing at first glance, but there will be others, and I may be forced to grab your head and train your attention into areas that are not as pleasant. This will be as unpleasant for me as it will be for you, trust me, but keep in mind that if you had just read these pieces when I told you to, I wouldn’t be forced to do to you what I’m about to do.

Everyone loves a piece about something familiar, but most of the subjects that intrigue me do not involve headlines. Of those few eye-catching subjects I’ve covered, I’ve often found an angle of interest that is less than traditional. I also chose to dissect these subjects in a critical manner, as opposed to those slavish, love pieces that do little more than ingratiate the reader to the subject. I prefer to analyze the other side of what drives people to try and accomplish something in their field, what their niche was, and how (or why) they chose to follow that vision to its end? A critical view attempts to analyze a subject from a more objective (some may say negative) manner that scrutinizes a subject in a more comprehensive manner.

The other pieces focus on less attractive characteristics. They are the result of people talking. Most of us talk so much about ourselves so often that those in our inner orb have grown disinterested. When we run across a person that will listen, and listens in an active manner, we become excited. We find ourselves saying things we wouldn’t say in the comfort of our bedroom. Our spouses may cringe when we say such things, but we’ve had thoughts bottled up for so long, and we’ve never had a person this interested before, and we can’t disappoint them. That would be a disappointment.

The talker may not know it, but the creative writer is carving them up, removing the extraneous fat of their testimonial, deleting the painstaking details involved in the talker proving a point, deleting their tired repetition, and even deleting the talker. The latter may come as a complete surprise, for as embarrassing as some of those details were, they were the talker’s details, and the talker didn’t expect to be deleted. They thought it was all about them. The talker has no problem laughing at themselves, of course, but to see a moment of crisis turned into a dance-able number is just beyond the pale.

I am Glad I Came Back, George Grosz. 1943

I am Glad I Came Back, George Grosz. 1943

The difficulty involved in selling these pieces to the masses arrived soon after the joy of completion. The joy I had immersing myself in each character that proved to be so different than the ones I wrote about prior, was a near-spiritual experience for me. The bizarre experiences I’ve had with the subjects covered in these pieces have been so unique, and in some cases so profound, that I couldn’t believe these subjects had never been covered before. The problem arrived soon after I realized that those fascinating and unique qualities would also prove to be their detriment when an attempt to tie them up in a tight, cohesive narrative was made. I realized that most of these pieces are what amounts to self-embodied dissertations.

So, enjoy these pieces for the glimpses into one man’s worldview, as I apparently am not going to make a thin dime off them. Also, remember, as you read through this crass piece of self-promotion that I never wanted to do this. You forced it upon me with your stubborn refusal to read them. This list of what I believe are my best posts is on you!

27) The Conspiracy of Game 6, 2002  I, like all fans of sport, have a love/hate relationship with sports. I have been known to jump around the room a time or two, and this is considered fine for those that haven’t reached maturity. A grown man should never swear at a television set –particularly when watching athletes that are young enough to be his children– and a grown man makes a durned fool at himself in a bar when he draws attention with such antics. I wish I could stop, but some part of me feels compelled to let the world know that I am not happy. I’ve been frustrated a time or two … thousand with sports officiating. When the officials seem biased, and they often do to avid sports fans, there is a feeling of hopelessness. What can a fan do?  They’re a fan. No one cares what they think.

For the purpose of greater mental health, I’ve managed to work most poorly officiated games out of my head, but there are a few that I may never shake. This decade old playoff game, between the Lakers and the Kings, is the number one (non-Cornhusker) game on that list, and I’m not even a Kings’ fan.

26) Anti-Anti-Consumer Art After walking through various art galleries in NYC and Connecticut, it dawned on me that just about every piece I encountered there was based on an anti-consumer theme. I thought of a cure. How about we find a true rebel? How about we find one artist, somewhere, that is willing to fight back against the current status quo of rebels fighting back against the status quo? How about we find one artist that is willing to create an anti-anti-consumer piece of art?

25) The Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence Led Zeppelin is my favorite artist of all time. How did I select Led Zeppelin to be my favorite artist when I was young? Why do I continue to believe that they are the greatest band of all time? Is their music that much better than every other artist’s that ever existed, or does my decision to continue to love them have something to do with the reason I selected them as my favorite artist, in the first place, when I was a teenager?

In the high school I attended, a Led Zeppelin fan was deemed to be cooler than cool. UB40 fans, Elvis Costello fans, Genesis fans, B-52 fans, R.E.M. fans, and Metallica fans all had their arguments, but the mere mention of the ‘L’ to the ‘Z’ shut down most debate. Some of their arguments consisted of a theme built around the quotes: “I don’t see what the big deal is” or “They’re just human beings for God’s sakes, why is everyone going ape stuff over them?” Their arguments operated from the premise that Zeppelin were the greatest band of all time, but they suggested that that was not set in stone, and that the only thing they could do was chip away at it.

The Led Zeppelin defender would say that it was, is and forever shall be about the music. They would say that there was something magical about what the band did from their first album Led Zeppelin to Houses of the Holy. Those six albums spawned near-spiritual devotion among the kids that I knew.

Here’s the point. Once a kid, often between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, selects their favorite band, that band is often the favorite band for that person, for the rest of their life. The formula I used for selecting my favorite band was A) they need to be hard rock, B) they need to have decent lyrics, and C) as much as I would’ve hated to admit this, they have to pass peer reviewed studies.

A part of me still believes that it’s all about the music with Led Zeppelin, but the question I have now is could I have developed a near-spiritual devotion for Genesis, if Genesis was considered, by my peers, to have such a vaunted, spooky, drug-riddled, iconography? What if Genesis, not Led Zeppelin, had been rumored to have sold their souls to the devil? What if we found out that Phil Collins lived in the mansion of renown Satan worshipper Aleister Crowley? What if word leaked that Collins had almost died, a number of times, as a result of heroin overdoses?

We’re now adults, and we continue to listen to Led Zeppelin. Some elements of nostalgia may come into play when we listen to them now, but some of us believe that our decision to continue to listen to the band is now based on a more informed, more adult basis. We no longer strive for the approval of our peers, as much as we did as teens, and we no longer listen to those artists that “it’s okay to like”. If that’s true, and this article disputes that, what if Genesis had been the band it was deemed “okay to like” in our youth? What if they were deemed cooler than cool, and we have been listening to Genesis for the past couple of decades?

The problem for Genesis in that era was, first and foremost, based on their music. They played music our parents enjoyed. They were poppy and cute. They were not hard rock, and their lyrics (for the most part) were kind of dumb. The second most prominent problem for them, and I point this out to elucidate the point of Led Zeppelin, was that they were every where during the years I spent in high school. They were on an endless loop on the radio stations in our big town, and they were on MTV almost as often. Zeppelin hadn’t come out with a truly great album in over ten years, by the time I hit high school, so their iconography was largely steeped in mystery.

Genesis didn’t wear leather jackets, and they didn’t snarl in their promo shots. In some promo shots they even smiled. They were happy. They probably even said, “Cheese!” to the cameraman. Smiles like that suggested that they were not troubled, or angry, and they even appeared happy to be alive. No one I knew, would’ve dared to build their reputation around a group of people that were happy. Add to that, the unfortunate fact that lead singer Phil Collins suffered from premature baldness that made him look like my dad, and Genesis was left with an iconography that no teenage boy, I knew, wanted anything to do with. The words “You’re a Genesis fan!” were not fighting words, but it was close.

The question that is asked in this piece is, do we still listen to the bands we did in high school? We may have branched out a bit, but have our core bands, or musicians, changed that much? Most of us remain trapped in the musical preferences we had in an era where we most enjoyed life. So, the question is, did we make an informed decision in our youth, regarding our favorite musician(s), or was that decision based on a primal need to belong to a peer group? Do we continue to enjoy the music based on our idea of what it means to be hip and young, and do we continue to enjoy the music we’ve been listening to decades to keep that myth alive? To elucidate this point, there are some that believe, at this point in 2016, that they maintain a feel for youth by continuing to listen to The Mommas and the Poppas. Were those decisions we made in youth all about the music, or did it have something to do with the iconography of a Led Zeppelin, the coke-snorting, oversexed Aerosmith, or the classic, naughty boy image of the Rolling Stones? Whatever the case was, a person had to be careful how they answered the question, “Who is your favorite band?”

Some artists were deemed “okay to like”, while others were deemed conventional sellouts trying to sell records, so they could be happy. The inclusive magazines later declared things like “Nirvana is the Guns N’ Roses it’s okay to like.” I know we’re not supposed to stick our middle finger up at magazine writers, because they’re hip, and they’re supposed to be the good guys that are only looking out for us, but I’m not going have anyone dictate taste to me based on some proselytizing of their agenda. Except we have had our tastes dictated to us by magazines, the culture, and the cool kids in class, and it’s based on our primal need for group acceptance that dates back to the cavemen knowing that when the mammoth, or the saber tooth tiger came to attack, our chances of survival increased in groups. Furthermore, while our artistic preferences do change somewhat with age, the reasons behind these choices are not as individualistic, and they do not grow more nuanced with age. As some have said, we never leave high school. The question this piece asks is, do you still enjoy the music of Led Zeppelin, and if so why?

24) Know Thyself is one of those pieces that may have been more fascinating to write than it is to read. It involves the idea of losing one’s identity in the fictional characters in books, TV shows, and movies. This piece begins with what I believe to be the counterargument to knowing more about one’s self. “I know myself,” one might say. “I know myself better than anyone else. It’s the rest of the world that confuses me.” I also add the idea that self-knowledge might be considered a useless, self-serving pursuit exclusive to pointy-headed intellectuals with too much time on their hands.

Knowledge of self, as the author defines it, involves reflection, a true accounting of successes and failures, and an honest attempt to rectify the past by learning from mistakes.

As we progress to that “Who you are when no one is looking” definition of character, we supplement the deficiencies in our character with identifiable and glamorous traits that we’ve picked up along the way from fictional characters. What makes that swashbuckling hero a man that all the ladies want and all the men fear? How does that sardonic wit always seem to have the perfect comeback? On the surface, we know we’re not fictional characters, but we’ve identified with their characteristics so often, and for so long, that we’ve fallen prey to the conceit that we have a gift equal to theirs for putting people back a couple of steps with devastating witticism.

The Holy Grail for those that write characters in fictional formats is to have the audience identify with the fictional characters they produce so thoroughly that the audience begins to relate to them. The path to this Holy Grail is littered with idyllic images that a consumer may begin to associate with so often, that they begin to incorporate them into their personality.

It happens in those moments when we know that everyone is watching, and everyone thinks we’re boring. As a reflexive reaction to this attention, we develop a defensive posture that allows us to rewrite our character that we hope they find more interesting. We cop a line from a sitcom, we sit a certain way that suggests we just don’t give a fig. We buy a leather jacket, and we grab a beer, and we hold it in a manner that one guy did on that one show that looked so cool.

Then it happens. Some ahole has the audacity to insult us. They challenged our manhood. They don’t know who they’re messing with. They don’t know that we just took out a whole mess of ninjas while eating a chipped beef sandwich. We said something witty to those ninjas, as they writhed in agony on the floor. We laughed in a manner that put us in the shoes of that strong woman, on television, that had the perfect redirect for the smart aleck that dared question her bona fides. On one level, we know that we haven’t done any of this, but a guy’s allowed to dream. Then it happens, we begin to daydream about being that sardonic wit that puts people in their place, and we realize we have yet to say anything to the ahole that had the audacity to insult us. Our opponent is now smiling in a smug, superior manner. We thought we had it all down, until we realized that it wasn’t us doing all the things we imagined we had. Somewhere along the line, we neglected to develop ourselves on a level that could’ve put such an ahole down. We spent so much time studying idyllic images, and imagining them for ourselves, that we’ve kind of lost track of who we are in the process. We realize that as self-professed kings of useless knowledge, we have gathered knowledge that is, in fact, useless.

23) Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse Bukowski’s philosophy is used to describe the empty nihilist speaking out against the underpinnings of the zeitgeist. I used to be attracted to this mindset, and I tried to employ it as often as possible. I considered comments like “Mickey Mouse is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul” insurgent, revolutionary statements that America would have to learn if she ever hoped to progress.

As philosophers have stated, when the end of the revolution occurs, and the “preferred” leaders take their roles as the new leaders, the revolutionaries are often shocked to learn that their, new leaders, more often than not, co-opt the standard practices of the former leaders’ status quo. As a young ‘un that desired the pathway to nihilism, I learned of the name Charles Bukowski. He was considered the sentry to the palace of cool. He hated Disney, and everything considered “cute” America. The question this piece asks those that considered Bukowski’s line “Mickey Mouse is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul” a revolutionary statement that America needed to learn, is what would Bukowski replace “cute” America with?

From the piece: “Bukowski’s goal was to be the Anti-Disney. Anti-Disney was, to Bukowski’s mind, stark reality. By implication, one could say that if Bukowski were in charge of America, he would have all of her children awash in alcohol, sex, and violence. He would want America’s children to know the country he knew, and wrote about. He would want them to know the stark world of abusive fathers, and the idea that alcohol is the only form of escapist entertainment that has any soul. ‘And the track,’ Bukowski acolytes would remind, ‘Don’t forget about Bukowski’s routine trips to the track.’ We can be sure that the gospel according to Bukowski would include the belief that horses, not Mickey Mouse, can make all of your dreams come true, and if that child doubts that, they can take a look at the cast members that live at the track.”

I then conclude this thought with my interpretation of Bukowski’s vision, as it might pertain to Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech: “Bukowski had a dream, a dream in which all children could one day live in a world where they would judged not by the smiles on their faces, but by the spiritual, or spirited, lights of their soul, and he had a dream in which all Americans, black and white, could one day join hands in a happy-free, cute-free, and Disney-free America.

“Bukowski had to know that the problem of happiness in America did not begin and end with Disney. He had to know that if he were afforded a Disney-free timeline, in a time machine, something else would’ve fallen into that gap. He had to know that Disney was but a symbol for everything happy. Most would say that America is a better, happier place for having Disney in it, but the true believer, the Bukowski acolyte, insurgent types, believe it made America much worse, because fewer people drank, fewer people went to the track on a routine basis, and fewer people had miserable childhoods, at least for the one day they spent at Disneyland.”

22) The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Heard focuses on the minutiae involved in an individual carving out a niche for success. What’s the difference between an individual that has worked their tails off to succeed, in the arts in particular, and one that will succeed? No one knows the answer to this question, because there is no specific answer. They may have an answer, and they may write a book about it, but does that mean it is the answer? The answer to that which plagues us will be one that we need figure out, if we truly want to succeed. If we don’t figure it out, then we won’t succeed.

There’s only so much advice one person can offer another, before that other person has to take over. If a person is going to succeed, they will have to figure out what works for them, and their audience, before they step onto the proverbial stage to deliver it. If a person doesn’t know this immediately, they will need to make adjustments, and they’ll have to figure out what adjustments are needed, and which ones will work, or if they need to make other adjustments. If a person is going to carve out some beautiful niche in life, it will be on them to figure out how they should do it. If they don’t, as they say, the world needs ditch diggers too. This may seem to be obvious advice, but how many people do we know that seek out that perfect piece of advice that will help them figure it all out?

The best example I’ve ever heard about an individual achieving an against-all-odds success story is Gary Shandling. Gary Shandling was a standup comedian that everyone admitted had great comedic material, but his presentation sucked. He spent a decade adjusting his act in a manner that left the audience thinking he had excellent material, but his presentation sucked. Shandling used his greatest strength and greatest weakness to achieve one of the most storied careers in Hollywood.

21) Find Your Own Truth is about one piece of advice that worked for me. It’s an extension on “You’ll either figure it, or you won’t,” advice that there is a truth, a niche, and a (fill in the blank) that may not be apparent at first. If we need another avenue, we’ll find it if we’re open to that search, and we turn over enough stones. The truth, and the niche, will not be the same for us as it is for everyone else, and it’s incumbent on us, if we want to make an artistic creation, to find it.

20) Finding a Better, Happier Person Through Change This piece dawned on me after a discussion with an unhappy relative. This relative spent the time we were estranged changing. Her changes were extreme measures she pursued to ease her present and past suffering. She also spoke of future changes and future remedies. She no longer wanted to speak of the past we shared. She wanted to speak of the present, and how happy she was now, and how much happier she was going to be in the future. The only discussion she wanted to have about the past, was what our deceased relatives would think of her extreme changes. I thought of how happy we are now, even if we don’t realize it. We don’t realize it, because the present is littered with the pain of the past, and it is kind of boring. Or, if it’s not boring, it’s at least not as exciting as the prospect of what the future could bring, with changes, and more changes, until we are so happy that our deceased relatives wouldn’t even recognize us now.

19) Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of Urine Some theories cry out for further exploration. Some should be left to die on the vine. I have been informed that this one should have been left on the vine.

Those of us that have listened to such claims from the misguided to the hilariously obnoxious friends that have far too much time on their hands, have known about this theory for decades, whomever wrote the scene below for television, brought the theory back to mind for me. I researched it, and I found that though there were more skeptics than backers of this idea, the theory had received peer review.

The primary reason that this theory was begging to be explored rested in the theory that all great comedy should contain an element of truth to it. It’s quite possible that future science could determine this theory to be a complete ruse, and it’s possible that it could be found to be more true than not. Whatever the case, I search for theories, similar to these, as I believe they are ripe for comedic input.

This piece was influenced by a scene from HBO’s Lucky Louie. In the scene, a side character, named Rich, played by comedian Jim Norton, has a noticeable wet stain on the front of his shorts. (I can only guess that they chose shorts, because the stain proved not as noticeable on blue jeans.) When he is called out on it, Rich says:

“Urine is rich in pheromones. When I pissed my pants just now, I released millions of pheromones, and that triggers attraction in the female.”

“Yeah, but you pissed your pants,” another side character suggests, as if to state that the sight of one that has peed in his pants would override any idea that there may be subtle attractants to the smell of urine.

“And I suggest you do the same,” Rich replies. “Now let’s go. I have to (get to the bar) before this dries,” Rich concludes, alluding to the urine on the front of his pants.

The scene is sheer ridiculousness, delivered in a straight and conceivable manner. The ridiculousness of it is, however, based on science. The scientific community is skeptical of it, and it is widely regarded as specious science that is debated throughout the community, but those that ascribe to its tenets claim that the human is no different than any other animal in a surprisingly large number of ways. They claim that these instincts are the basic, primal instincts we have for procreation, no different than the boar or the house cat.

As I write in this piece: “Even those laughing at this laughable idea, would admit that our understanding of why we do what we do, even on the surface, is subject to further review. Enter the word subconscious into the argument, and most people would, at the very least, be open to the suggestion.”

While writing this piece, as with all other truth/comedic essays of this variety, I think they should be delivered straight. There are, of course, some attempts at humor, but these lines have been rewritten a number of times to drain them of the more obvious comedic rhythms. I wanted this piece to be delivered in the manner a straight man would, for I believe that attempting to be funny in a piece of this variety is so obvious that it drains the comedic value.

18) Don’t Go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud This is a prime example of my desire to take a well-known figure and analyze them in a manner that is a little different than most of the wealth of knowledge provided by writers that know a lot more about the subject than I do.

17) Mechanical Animals I think it should be considered a cultural violation for a mechanical animal to get us all horny with talk of their expertise on a project that plagues our home before disappointing us while lubing our joint. I have my areas of expertise, but I qualify my advice on these subjects with the appropriate terminology that informs my audience of my limitations. Mechanical animals have no qualms about letting another person think they know everything about a subject that they know little-to-nothing about.

You can fix my ‘what have you’?   Without me having to paying an exorbitant rate?  Holy stuff partner, welcome to my humble abode.

It is interesting to watch this type speak from their backside, and it provides communal laughter to those standing on his lawn, with a beer in hand, and machismo punctuating his sentences, but what happens to those people that don’t see these primal, chest bumping contests for what they are? What happens when one member of the mechanical animal’s audience grows so desperate that they fall for those sweet, late night whispers?

I have been that puppy dog on that lawn soiling myself when I hear great ideas and simple how-to, fix-it solutions. I make no pretenses about my knowledge in this area, and the mechanical animals love it. I don’t know if they view me as smart, but they do love the idea that they have superior knowledge in this arena, and it has led them to enter my home and perform some half-fix that was stalled by a variable that they couldn’t foresee on that lawn, with a beer in hand. They need a tool that they left at home, and they’ll get back to me in a week, and my (what have you) is left dangling in the breeze. I’m forced to call the fix-it guy and pay that exorbitant fee to not only fix what has needed to be fixed in the first place, but to repair the damage that the mechanical animal did to it. (At this point, a descriptive expletive would be appreciated to round this description off and describe for the audience the degree of frustration an inordinate amount of exclamation points can’t capture.)

16) Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland. This piece wrote itself. It is the result of a lifelong hatred of those that say, “Do you know what is in that?” when I’m about to consume something. *Spoiler Alert: I don’t care.

It would be one thing if the sole concern busybodies had was for my health. I might be able to move on if all they did was occasionally advise me, but these “Do you know what is in that?” people, badger. They’re so relentless that anyone that has encountered them knows, if they know nothing else, that it’s about more than a general concern for greater health. If it were about a concern for health for them, they would advise the consumer and move on, but they cannot do it. They would be able to sit there and allow the consumer to consume without further comment or incident. They cannot conceal their disgust for you. There’s a superiority element to it. “I would never put something like that in my mouth,” is something they might say. Or, if they are of the more polite variety, they sit there watching a person consume with an element of disgust on their face. We all have thresholds, and some of us have no problem eating like cavemen, and some of us have developed a STFU mentality that awaits the next “Do you know what is in that?” comment.

15) The Balloonophilia ConflictMake a general assessment about a noun (a person, place, or thing) in our culture today, and the one making that assessment is bound to encounter a wonderful person that will defend that noun. This “wonderful” defense is based on the idea that all assessments are based on generalities. My counter to this ever-present defense is that while it is true that there is an exception to every rule, that exception does not make a general rule untrue. If a speaker makes the claim that an individual engaged in freakish behavior 99.8% of the time is a freak, wonderful people will often focus on .2% anecdotal information regarding the fact that that freak is an exception to the general rule the speaker espouses. 

“There are no absolute truths,” is a defense they may employ.

“That’s a wonderful sentiment,” the speaker will reply. “But if it’s true 99.8% of the time, that’s good enough for me to accept it as general rule.”

The wonderful hope that their argument will seduce the speaker into making the leap that everyone is an exception to every rule, until the only reaction that can fill that void is confusion. The wonderful also hope that the speaker will join them in the realization that the only problem lies in the speaker’s need to label. 

The wonderful person will also hope that the speaker arrives at the notion that the constructs they use to label are flawed, and that they’re woefully uninformed about human behavior, because everyone is different, and that a freak’s reasons for being different vary. The problem that could arise, as a result of this ever-present anecdotal argument, is that the collective stops examining what makes us unique, and different, and damaged in a fundamental manner that could’ve been resolved long before it became an identity crisis, if we had properly identified it for what it was in the beginning.

14) Busybody Nation is an attempt to turn an event from my life into a battle cry. It is built on a theme that is the polar opposite to the Most People Don’t Give a Crap About You essay, to discuss the people that care so much that they have no qualms about infiltrating another person’s day. Busybodies are begrudged individuals that acted right as children, while authority figures fiddled as Rome burned. They were the types that said:

“Don’t let Ms. Johnson catch you doing that, she’ll tan your hide,” only to find out that Ms. Johnson did little-to-nothing about it from their standpoint. The busybody believed that Ms. Johnson was fierce and authoritarian, and it was the primary reason that the busybody didn’t engage in nefarious activities. Thus, when Ms. Johnson failed to live up to the busybody’s expectations, to preserve the busybody’s sense of order with a fire and brimstone style punishment for the disorderly, the busybody was confused and resentful. They overestimated Ms. Johnson based on their need to fear of authority, and the consequences for acting up. If Ms. Johnson didn’t witness the transgression, the busybody informed her of it, and when Ms. Johnson did nothing after that, with all of the evidence the busybody compiled against the culprit, a begrudged feeling was born in the mind of the busybody that resulted in a festering boil that led the busybody to spend the rest of their life trying to correct. It’s a begrudged feeling that leaves them with the idea that they’re the lone sentry guarding the final outpost to total chaos in the universe, and they don’t mind invading your privacy to get you to act according to their begrudged findings of how the world around them should operate.

13) The Unfunny. I’m not funny. I’ve been told that I’m not funny. I’ve been told that to whatever extent I might be humorous, exists in a weird, strange, and perhaps clever place that isn’t all that funny.

This piece is dedicated to those that have learned they’re not funny. Most of us think we’re funny when we’re young. We have insider jokes about our dad that makes our brother laugh, and we say odd things that our grandparents delight in. At some point, truly funny people learn to branch out beyond immediate familiarity to material that is more universal. When we, the unfunny, step out into the world, they run into a wall. No one knows what we’re talking about, until we gain some points of familiarity with them. We want to be funny, everyone does. Girls like funny. Everyone wants to know what a funny person is going to say next. They enjoy funny analysis of people, places and things. This piece is for people like me that have little-to-no talent for being funny.

Those of us that strive to make people laugh have tried copying the great comedians, and their sitcoms, and we’ve all grown a little frustrated that no one has recognized our breadth of talent.

This piece is an homage to Andy Kaufman, the most hysterical, unfunny person that ever lived. When I write that Mr. Kaufman influenced my sense of humor, the word understatement feels like an understatement. I’ve read just about every book written on Sir Kaufman (I’ve personally knighted him in the halls of comedy). I’ve watched every videotape, Taxi episode, and YouTube video there is available on him, and the one thing I learned when I walked away from the proverbial temple I had built for him is that his genius was, in fact, limited. It pains me to write that, and it took me a while to reach this point of objectivity on the man, but if Andy Kaufman had lived for another twenty to thirty years, I’m not sure he would’ve done much more to add to what he did, by the time he became ill.

You never know what could’ve happened of course. He could’ve reinvented himself, and all that, but I think the entry into woman’s wrestling confirmed for all of us that this man was, if not a one-trick pony, then a limited one. With that said, what he developed in his short life, was something that led those of us that are unfunny to believe we had something to offer the world of comedy … Whether or not our brand of comedy is limited to our own peculiar definition of funny is inconsequential, for being funny has its own rewards.

As I wrote in the piece, we had no idea we could be someone that someone, somewhere, regarded as so unfunny that we were an idiot, until Andy Kaufman kicked that door in and showed us all of the beautiful furniture.”

12) Scorpio Man IScorpio Man II, and Scorpio Man III These testimonials should not be analyzed. I enjoyed writing the first one so much that I wrote another, and that other led to another.

11) Are you Superior? and Are You Superior? II Part I of Are you Superior? focuses on explaining the roles a sense of superiority and inferiority can occur in the most innocuous interactions. The second piece focuses on an interaction that provided arrows of superiority and inferiority based on the variables that occurred in that brief conversation. It was, in essence, an algorithm that left me completely confused about my status in that conversation, until I realized that I missed a day when I didn’t obsess about status, and that I just missed what should have been an enjoyable conversation based on the fact that I was so consumed with these ideas.

10) The Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes. I am a foodie. The self-described, slightly snobbish foodie may not be indigenous to America, but I would guess that there are more foodies in America, per capita, than anywhere else in the world. Part of that is based, I think, on the fact that we are blessed with such an overabundance of food.

My recognition of this personality trait was born in comparison to the young people around me. Young people eat. Most of the time, they eat in a manner equivalent to the method they use to breathe. They have preferences, but they don’t value food in the manner adults do. Eating is just something they do, before they do something else. As we age, we begin to realize that we can no longer eat the way we did before we turned thirty, unless we have no problem with failing to register on scales that only go up to three hundred.

The rest of us learn that we’re probably going to have to limit ourselves to about one and a half meals a day. That self-imposed limitation makes the one and a half meals a day an event. When we force ourselves through a number of unmemorable meals, we begin to seek out memorable meals more often, and we relish them, and we begin to look for ideas from those that have had an exciting meal. This culminates in us putting thought into our meals. We think about what we’re going eat that evening, when we leave for work in the morning, and the thought of that meal consumes our day. If that evening meal turns out bland, it ruins our night, and to prevent that from ever happening again, we spend the next day looking for ideas from others, until we end up talking about meals so often that we reach a point that we can’t understand grown adults that say, “It’s just food. It gets me through the day.”

Then it happens. A person gives us an excellent recommendation. They become our resident expert, and our go-to-gal, when it comes to restaurant recommendations. We develop a bond with this woman that goes to her head, and we’re not sure if that mindset was always there, or if she only showed it to us after we developed this bond, but she has evolved from being a fellow foodie to a foodist. She begins to regard those that don’t put enough thought in their diet as inferior beings. Is this a natural progression, or something endemic in the human need to feel superior about something?

Why is a dining experience at a Thai restaurant superior to one at Chucky Cheese?  I’m not talking about the quality of food there, I’m talking about the sense of superiority one feels when telling another they ate exotic last night. Why is a wine from an exotic, foreign country considered a superior drinking experience when compared to an evening spent drinking a supermarket wine? It’s an experience that you must have and, and, detail for your friends. Coffee is another experience that people must indulge in for all the fruits of life. As I detail in the piece, McDonald’s coffee is judged to be on par with some of the finer coffees available to the public, but it has no value at the water cooler at work the next day, not when compared to the refined, exotic Kopi Luwak bean. Drink that, and more importantly pay the exorbitant price tag for a drink of that, and the water cooler crowd will be hanging on your every word. The key word of this piece, just to give a tease, is the word expectation.

9) Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias We all have ‘no fear’ friends. These are manly men and headstrong women that believe fear is a sign of weakness. These people have precedents stored in their biological hard drive for unexpected anomalies that cause others fear. Fear is weakness to them. Fear is propaganda. They are well-traveled and experienced individuals that have lived in other locales far more tumultuous than the silly city you two now live in, and no silly weather anomaly can compare to what their cosmopolitan metropolis offered.

This mindset is indefatigable. Even when an anomaly is documented to be unprecedented, they will proclaim that they’ve been through worse. ‘What would cause you fear then,’ I ask. “I don’t know, but it’s not this.”

Our lives should not be ruled by fear, of course, but acknowledging fear and using it to prompt one’s self to action is the theme of David McRaney’s brilliant essay Normalcy Bias on the topic. In this essay, McRaney points out that if one encounters a life-threatening episode, all the qualifying they’ve done to this point is bound to catch up to them, and it may be their undoing.

There is a state of mind called the fear bradycardia state, or tonic immobility, that occurs in life-threatening episodes. It is a state individuals fall into that that is near-catatonic. It is a state that first responders have documented where a victim of such an episode freezes in place. Some of these first responders have spoken about not being able to talk victims out of the burning airplane, because that victim is sitting in their seat wishing that this episode would just go away, or they are immersed in the ‘It’s not that bad. Shut up!’ mindset. The mindset is the culmination of a life spent rationalizing fear and explaining it away in all the ways described above.

The mindset is also borne from this belief that we will know what to do when tragedy arrives, because we’ve already experienced tragedy in the form of a third party, at a movie theater, mentally informing the characters in these movies to do the right thing. We know what we would do, in other words, and now that it’s upon us, it’s beyond anything we ever imagined, and holy stuff!  It can’t be that bad. The victim cannot deal with it, because they’ve never truly prepared themselves for a true, life-altering tragedy.

This piece is based on the essay Normalcy Bias, by David McRaney. After reading that brilliant essay, I decided that his piece wasn’t as focused as I thought it could be, or as visual as I thought it should be, or as humorous as I thought it might be. Imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.

8) When Geese Attack! On some level, I flirt with the notion that we are being deceived by When Animals Attack videos. Most of these videos have after-the-attack testimonials from the victims. In these testimonials, the victims declare that they aren’t bitter about the attack that left them legless and sexless. I don’t think these victims are lying, though I suspect that some may fudge the truth to get on the air. I do suspect that the producers and editors of the show are engaged in some deception, in the process they use to select which testimonials to air. I think that the team involved in the production of the video have reasoned that if they’re going to make such a violent video, with the expressed purpose of showing animals at their worst, they had better round it out with a forgiving human at the end that says, ‘I don’t blame the animal. I was in their environment.’  If that’s not true. If the producers and editors air every testimonial available to them, even the angry ones (I’ve never witnessed one of these in all the videos I’ve watched) then what these victims say goes against everything I think I know about humanity.

I know that some people can have their arms and legs torn off by a homicidal maniac, and they manage to find a way to forgive that person, or pray for them, or try to better understand why they did what they did. I guess there’s something wonderful about a person that can do this. I know they’re out there, I’ve met them, and I know they’re more evolved than I am. I also respect the Christian ideal of forgiveness, and I know that holding onto bitterness, as the victim Charla Nash basically said, will ruin your life, but as a man that supports vigilantism against violent criminals, I cannot imagine how victims of violent acts can arrive at such a rational, healthy mentality.

7) You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore! The exclamation point forms the thesis to this piece. How can a punctuation point form a thesis? The apt title is, of course, taken from a Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand song, but the simple exclamation point forms the demand of the thesis that can only be discerned through a reading. 

To protect the innocent, let’s just say that this story has six different testimonials in it. There were six different blocks that the author had to weave together to form the term adult baby. In this piece, I felt more like a reporter than a storyteller, as I reported on the stories that people around me told me.

The main thrust came from a friend and her sister complaining about former husbands, and how one husband bought his wife so many flowers, so often, that it put them in financial peril. Another husband complimented his wife for getting them out of the financial messes he got them into. She thought that was great, until it became obvious that he had no plans to alter his lifestyle in any way to make things easier for her in the future, but that he would continue to admire the way she got them out of financial dilemmas.

“You’ll work it all out,” he said. “You always do.” What kind of adult mind thinks that way, I wondered. What kind of adult continues to live like an irresponsible teen and moves on? It was explained to me that this man didn’t expect others to clean up after him. He didn’t give it that much thought. He just did what he did, and it would get cleaned up. It always did.

There is something about true stories, like the You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore! piece that trumps the greatest, most creative fiction. I had some initial thoughts of making a short story about this, but I realized that it had to contain straight fact, because I think readers can sense when a story is real or not, and that adds an element to the narrative. In fiction, I think there’s a need to go over the top with details of a story, and a recognition by the reader for that need. Thus, when they finish the story, they reach a conclusion that it was an entertaining story, but it wasn’t all that plausible. No grown man can be that irresponsible, and if they are, they aren’t that oblivious to it. There was a eureka moment that occurred in this making of this story, but that amounted to little more a couple paragraphs. The rest involved weaving those six blocks together, until the piece achieved a sense of completion.

6) And Then There’s Todd is another piece that wrote itself. Anytime an author writes the words ‘wrote itself’ it should be followed by an asterisk and a footnote that says: “Some pieces do flow with such ease that an author merely documents them, but there is a lot of pruning involved for a smooth, clean flow. Some require artificial enhancements, some do not.”

As opposed to the other pieces on this list, there is no central message in this story, no theme, and no arc that will lead the reader to a greater understanding of humanity through my mind’s eye. It’s just a true story about a man named Todd. Todd was (and probably still is) an enigma that only an author seeking a definition of humanity through an atypical lens could appreciate. The material that the real life Todd provided was such that all I had to do was document my experiences with the man.

One of the beauties of this ‘Todd piece lay in its understated beauty. This beauty may be relative to the reader, of course, as it leaves the reader with a ‘who gives a (blank)’ feeling when it’s done. I know this feeling, because I felt it when it was completed. It didn’t feel complete. I thought it needed some oregano, some rosemary, or something. I didn’t know what it was, but as I smacked my lips together, I thought it needed something profound to make it worthy, until I realized that every addition felt like an addition, and it was then that I realized that some stories are complete in the essence of that sense of in-completion that everyone knows soon after digestion. As with most unusual items we consume, however, some of them stick with us, and we’re forced to rediscover their essence in various ways.

Write as many stories as I have, and you have that built in ‘beginning, a middle, conflict, arc, and ending’ requirement. With narrative essays of this sort, an author is only given a snapshot. Some of the experiences an author has in life are incomplete, and the author is required to complete them. Some of the times an author cannot complete a piece, and some of the times they shouldn’t. We don’t know what happened to that person, and our perspective on them is limited by the perspective they have of themselves, and our limited experience with them. There is no profound conclusion to be had in other words. We just run into some guys and girls that have a twisted logic about life, and we happened to hear some of them. Todd was quirky man that even an interested observer could never quite grasp, and this observer never would because he’s just that different. I still thought this story had to be completed, in the sense that all storytellers feel a need to complete, until it dawned on me that the sense of completion for some stories exists in the idea that they are to remain incomplete.

5) A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind. Some of the descriptions in this essay are bold and heartless. As with the better He Used to Have a Mohawk article, part of what some may consider ridicule in this Simplicity piece, is what I consider straight forward talk regarding how one deals with the fact that they were, are, and may forever be an anomaly. I could’ve qualified each thought I had with a statement that suggested that I don’t think mental health sufferers, or people with Mohawks are all that I’ve defined, but I’ve had friends that qualify everything they say and write. It’s tedious. Plus, much of He Used to Have a Mohawk concerns my thoughts of what a man that used to have a Mohawk must think regarding what other people are saying about him. We don’t often qualify thoughts in our own head when we ask ourselves what we thought of those days when we used to have a Mohawk. We just miss it, or we declare it a mistake in our lives that we now want to forget. On that note, how does a mental health sufferer view themselves, and how do we view them?  One of the ways we deal with anomalies in life is through ridicule. Ridicule is, in this sense, a coping mechanism that helps the normal human mind deal with the fear of someone that is different. If the patient reader is able to overcome some of the offenses to their sensibilities that these two pieces contain to read through to the end, I think they will find that what the author seeks is an unvarnished, universal truth. The path to the conclusion does not adhere to the rich tradition of provoking empathy, as time-honored ABC After School Specials and Lifetime Network movies will, with stark definitions of good guys and bad guys, for even good guys can be offensive. As such, the reader may be confused by the characterizations of the players involved, for they are not bad people, but people seeking a greater understanding through what some could consider offensive venues. If the reader is blinded by offensive statements, and they don’t believe that a greater understanding of humanity can be derived from them, they may want to forego reading these pieces.

4) Most People Don’t Give a Crap About You Among the many ways in which humanity is divided is the difference between optimistic people and cynical thinkers. The optimistic view their fellow man in an optimistic manner, until they are proven wrong, and those that have a more cynical take regard themselves as more prepared for the snakes around us.

Among the many pieces on this list, this piece may be one of my two personal favorites (He Used to Have a Haircut being the other). I tried very hard to disassociate my personal feelings from my professional assessments when compiling this list, but the material in this piece was so fun to write that it will forever hold a special place in my heart.  

This piece focuses on a quote from an old professor that I approached with the age-old argument concerning the optimism versus cynical approach to humanity, and my expressed question regarding whether it is healthier to approach humanity from an optimistic point of view.

“I’ll give you a third possibility, have you ever considered the idea that most people don’t pay attention to you, near as much as you think.” That was the exact quote that I spruced up for the nature of this piece. This quote changed my outlook on many matters. As I approach a person, I’m always wondering if I should trust them. Are they trustworthy, and should I take into account what it says about me that I don’t? Is my inability to trust them steeped in racism, misogyny, jingoism, or xenophobia? Most people don’t care one way or another what I think, at least to the extent that we may think they do. Most people don’t care if the people they encounter are more optimistic, pessimistic, or cynical in regards to them. Most people don’t care what caused us to be sad today, or that we’ve survived a tragedy intact. Most people just want to go home and live the lives we don’t give a crap about.

Even after exploring this mindset to whatever extent I did, I find it astonishing that some people can achieve a plane of certitude regarding the idea that nobody gives a crap about them. Some of us think that everyone is paying attention to everything we do, some of us have realized that people aren’t paying attention half as much as we once feared, but some of us (and I’ve met them) are convinced that no one is paying attention. If I could achieve that plane of absolute certainty, I would probably find it liberating on one level, but on another level I wonder why these people would even bother wearing different clothes on different days, if they considered it pointless to try to make an impression. On yet another level, I think that if people found out how little attention people paid to them, it would depress them, and they would attempt to fix whatever others so much disinterest.

3) That’s Me in the Corner This little essay began its gestation cycle in the womb of the He Used to Have a Mohawk essay. Its life began as nothing more than three paragraphs that could not remain in the Mohawk essay, and they couldn’t exist on their own either. As anyone that has ever written anything knows, the difficulty involved in excising material can be as painful as the surgical removal of an organ. The painful decision came and went, and I left the three little paragraphs roasting in some forgettable file for about a month. I couldn’t get this kid out of my mind, however, and I loved (and I mean loved!) the idea of it. At some moment after its exorcism, approximately one month later, it began speaking. It was gibberish, at first, but it was something. I considered it such a beautiful, little idea that when it began walking on its own, I took its hand and began correcting some of the more immature mistakes it made, until it found a way out of its mother’s basement and grow into the beautiful, independent essay you know today.

2) He Used to Have a Mohawk This may not be the best Non-fiction narrative essay I’ve written, but it does capture the essence of what I’ve been trying to accomplish better than any of the other narrative essays. This piece and That’s Me in the Corner take place at the same wedding, a wedding my uncle forced me to attend. Those in attendance were different. I would say that they qualify for the weird or strange designations I’ve laid out in other essays, but they were different. They also didn’t do things that were that different. The entire event was unusual, but nothing of substance happened at this wedding.

My guess is that 99% of the world’s population could’ve attended this wedding and found nothing of note. This is not to say that I’m more intelligent, or more observant than 99% of the world’s population, but that some, otherwise routine occurrences can happen in a manner that applies to one person more than 99% of the population. Capturing that element, and personalizing it, may be the definition of art I love more than any other.

Having said that, if someone informed me that this wedding would produce 5,000 of my favorite words, it, it probably wouldn’t have. If they instructed me to enter this wedding with a scribble pad to document the goings on, because “Something fundamental to whatever it is you’re doing will occur,” I would’ve been sitting on the edge of my seat, documenting everything, and absorbing little-to-nothing. If someone had hoped to inspire me to thought by requesting a 5,000 word essay on it later, it may not have coalesced into the material that I have now pined over for over three years. I would’ve expected something groundbreaking, and under that mindset, I would’ve been disappointed.

“You cannot go get the game. You have to let the game come to you.” –Joe Montana 

Once the game comes to you, you do with it, what you do. Some of the moments in these narrative essays have been immediate, but most of the moments ended up coalescing into my favorite material, after spending a great deal of time browning in a slow roaster.

The gist of this essay, and why it personifies so much of what I’ve been doing on this blog, can be condensed to an effort I make to combine all of my unconventional knowledge with my conventional knowledge to reach what I consider a hybrid of the two that leads to unique analysis.

Conventional thinking may have it that a man that decides to cut his hair into a Mohawk should be regarded as an outcast. Unconventional thinking suggests that there’s nothing wrong with a person that decides to shave their head in such a manner, and it’s on the observer to accept the Mohawk wearer for who he, or she, is as a person, and the observer might discover the limits of their preconceived notions or conventional thoughts of a person, by finding out that a person that leaves a thin strip of hair on their head is actually a beautiful person inside. The approach I took, with this piece, combined the two modes of thought and examined them through the prism of an individual that used to have a Mohawk.

What kind of person asks a hair stylist to cut their hair into a Mohawk? What happens to them after they change back to having a more sensible haircut? Do they change as the perceptions of them alter? Do they miss the altered perceptions they experienced when they had the haircut? Do they regret having the haircut in the first place?

One of my favorite critiques basically stated that the immediate concepts of this story could lead a reader to be offended, until they read through the piece carefully to understand the complex subtext of the piece that requires deep analysis. “I like the way you take a Mohawk and turn it into something greater than just a simple hairstyle. You give it character that I feel not many others could appreciate,” Amanda Akers.  

No matter where the reader stands on the conventional fulcrum with this subject, they must acknowledge that an individual that asks that their hair be cut into a Mohawk does so to generate reactions, or different reactions, than a person with a more sensible haircut could procure. Some would say that a Mohawk wearer generates unwanted attention on themselves by wearing such a haircut, but others could say that no attention is unwanted for some.

If a Mohawk wearer detested those that judged him for such a haircut, he or she could allow the hair to lay flat. They don’t, I pose, because they enjoy the perspective of detesting straight-laced people that will never try to understand them as a person, they enjoy the bond they have with those that sympathize with their plight, and they bathe in the sheer number of reactions they’ve received since they made the decision to wear a Mohawk.

People wanted to know this man that I had a brief encounter with, that had a Mohawk, that was blue at one point, and they discovered that he was nice. As a bystander, I considered the shock they displayed that a man with a Mohawk could be nice, a little condescending. I considered it odd that one man would say that he wanted to get to know a man that wears a Mohawk better, based solely on that man’s haircut, a little condescending. This man, his name was Mark, appeared to bathe in all of it. I watched this man react to these statements, and I couldn’t tell if he considered it a mark of his character that he had befriended people regardless of the haircut, or if he missed all of the reactions that haircut used to generate for him. My money was on the latter.

1) The Thief’s Mentality I tried to make the argument that this wasn’t the best, most original concept I’ve developed. I’m going to guess that just about every artist goes through this act of denial, especially if they’ve created a wealth of material after said piece. In the original version of this list, I attempted to do just that. Based on some reflection, I realized that I was trying to convince myself that what I’ve done more recently is better. Hindsight has led me to realize that this was an error, and I have since come correct.

With that said, I just want you to know that I’m expending great effort to economize my words here to inform you that this little 4,000 word piece was decades in the making. I have always had these thoughts about a person with this type of mindset, in other words, but it wasn’t until a loved one informed me that this succinct characterization helped her frame the accusations that her loved one had made against her for years that I thought it had any literary merit.

If you’ve ever met an actual thief, you know that they believer everyone is a thief. The thief’s mentality is one that top security firms seek when hiring, because they want their employees to be as sneaky and duplicitous as the culprits that seek to steal from their clients. If you’ve had some form of extended involvement with a person that thinks this way, you know that its logical extension involves a thief suggesting that most people are rotten and rotting. It also extends out to those that don’t believe the same, and the laughter and ridicule they direct at them for being hopelessly naive. The decades of interactions I’ve had with these types, and all of the reflection and introspection that has been devoted to them just needed a title, and once I had it, I sat down to write it.

I’ve never been accused of cheating on a girl more than I was by the girl that cheated on me the most, I’ve never been accused of stealing more than I was by the guy that stole the most from me, and I’ve never been accused of lying more than I was by the person that lied to me more than anyone else. These people know who they are, on some level they’ll never understand, and they know we’re not much better than them, so no matter what we do or say to them, they’re not buying it, because they know what we are. It’s the thief’s mentality.

The thief’s mentality is about a search for truth by the cynical, and while they may not think the world is as awful as they portray it, it makes them feel better about themselves to think it is. It allows them to think they fit in better. The accusation is more important than the truth in this regard, for by leveling the accusation they hope to inhibit the searches for the truth in their mind, and the introspection such a search might cause the thief.

The thrust of the thief’s aggressive strategy is to locate a truth, and a definition of trust, for modern times, but their definitions of truth and trust are subjective and self-serving, and it requires an arbitrary level of street smarts that the thief will exert on the unsuspecting, naïve, and honest individuals that may judge them for their actions. In this sense it’s more of a redirect, or a slight of hand, to deflect judgment.


Tennis Shoe Thomas

“They’re nice, don’t get me wrong,” a kid named Thomas said of the shoes I wore, “but why do you insist on wearing tennis shoes?”

Thomas was the only son of my dad’s friend, and his question came so soon in our introduction that it was almost a part of his greeting. He said the word tennis shoes with such disgust that I felt like a second-class citizen in them, before I knew what a second-class citizen was.  His question was framed in a manner that suggested he had known me for years, but this was the first time we met. His question also laid a depth charge that would detonate throughout the course of this evening in the form of a theme: There was something I had missed out in this whole definition of the pre-teen years, and in the preparation for the life beyond.

imagesThis kid’s confidence was difficult to mirror, and I didn’t.  I was caught off guard.  Had I been better prepared for his assessments, I would’ve mentioned the fact that I had no say in the matter.  I didn’t pick these shoes out, and I’d never given much consideration to preferences. I was a kid, my parents bought me tennis shoes, and I wore them. Second, I didn’t place much focus on what other kids wore, and I didn’t think anyone else our age did either.  That would’ve been wrong, of course, for there was always a “cool factor” to the shoes one wore.  The idea that tennis shoes were now deemed uncool as to be a tired element of the kid ensemble, however, had never occurred to me, or anyone else I knew for that matter.

It wouldn’t be the first time that my identity would be challenged, nor would it be the last, but this kid did a masterful job of placing me in a state of flux.  As soon as I formulated some half-hearted answer to one of these questions I had never been asked before, he was onto something else.  The purport of our conversation was that he had little time for me, because I was a kid, and even though I was only one year younger than him he preferred speaking to adults.

I took it as a personal insult that he preferred to speak to my parents, and that he gave the impression that my parents were more his speed, until my parents asked him how he was doing. I can’t remember the exact question my parents asked him, but it did not divert much from the typical “How do you like school?”  “Do you have a girlfriend?” questions adults ask pre-teen kids.  The typical response to such a question, we learn from our cool contemporaries, is to be polite but dismissive, with a heavy dose of the latter.

Not only was this kid respectful, he appeared to prefer the company of my parents before knowing anything about them. He also appeared to want to have them approve of him. It was so out of the realm of my experience that I was fascinated, after I determined that this kid was in full control of his facilities. His answer to my parents’ typical question consisted of a verbal flowchart of his path for life, built on various contingencies that he could not foresee at that point. It was impressive in a cute kind of way that suggested that his whole life had been geared toward getting his father to muss up his hair with pride. The tennis shoe question became clearer in that light. I thought he was trying to impress my parents to impress his all the more. Until, that is, he commented on my hairdo.

“That bangs thang isn’t working for you anymore,” he said after his mother all but shoved him out of the room. There were no adults around when he said that. He was the first boy I recalled meeting that had a hairdo. As I said, he was one year older than me, and I wondered if this kid was emblematic of what I’d be facing in a year.  He also had a girlfriend.

The girlfriend thang damaged the whole profile I had been building on him. I had been planning to tell all my friends about him, so we could laugh at this kid, and they could help me believe that he was the aberration that I thought he was. I knew the girlfriend thang would damage that presentation, for in the pre-teen world, having a girlfriend nullifies all prior deficits of character, unless he cherishes her.

If a kid our age was lucky enough to have a girlfriend, he was to be dismissive of her.  She was to be a fait accompli.  No one wanted to hear about the process you had to go through to get her, and those revelations often did more harm than good.  Her role in a young boy’s life, was one of adornment.  She should be nothing more than a badge of prestige that that boy wore on his sleeve.  Saying one had a girlfriend was more important than actually having one, in other words.  This Thomas kid loved having one.  He cherished her, a fact made evident by the fact that he enshrined her love letters in a central location, on a dresser, in his impeccably clean bedroom.

“She must really have it bad for you,” I said, looking at the size of that stack of letters.

A dismissive “yeah” may have been called for at this point to keep it cool between the fellas, but this Thomas kid didn’t say anything of the sort.  He said those letters were mostly responses to his love letters, and his plans with her. He informed me that the two of them were in love. He said he thought about her all the time, and he had a smile on his face when he said that, that my Great Aunt Mary Louise would’ve considered sweet.  He talked about the fact that he wanted her to be his wife one day.  He said that most of his letters detailed those long-term goals, and her letters were a positive response to that.  If that day never happened, he said in response to whatever doubts he perceived from me, he informed me that he would be just as happy with one kiss from her.

He had a deeper voice that he reserved for conversations with adults, a voice I presumed was an affectation he had developed to garner more respect from them.

“I prefer Thomas,” he said when I asked him if he went by Tom or Tommy. “My birth certificate says Thomas,” he said when I asked him what the fellas at school called him. “So, I prefer Thomas.

After his mother had all but physically pushed him out of the living room “So, the adults could talk”, and he was forced to play with me, he informed me that he did not want to play with his Atari 2600.  He then shot me a glance that suggested that I shouldn’t be so reliant on it for my entertainment purposes.

Thomas was such a violation of everything I held dear that I couldn’t tell if he had something I had missed out on, or if he was stuck in the same quadrant of self-defined cool that all the nerds in my class were.  This Thomas kid’s violations of everything I held dear went deeper than the nerdiest nerd in my class however.  He basically stated that he thought it sucked to be a kid.

Kids I knew hated being subjected to authority, going to school, eating vegetables, and some semblance of the idea that we weren’t older, but this kid hated everything about being a kid, even the good stuff.  This kid envied maturity, and the greater responsibilities that come from being older, and the whole idea of being older.  In me, I thought he saw all the trappings of being a kid, trappings that consisted of wanting to play, laugh and have fun.

I never saw Thomas after that day, so I have no idea if one of the paths on his flowchart panned out, but we spent most of that evening discussing how much Thomas had going on, and how much I’d missed out on by being such a kid.  My guess, now that I’m old enough to reflect on the people that shaped my life, both large and small, is that Thomas suffered from a debilitating case of only child syndrome.  My guess is that the reason the two of us focused on how much I missed out on was, in part, a defense mechanism he had developed to prevent us from focusing on how much he had missed out on.  My guess is that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, when fools, like me, may have been able to teach him how fun it was to be foolish at times, in these ever dwindling years in which it’s acceptable to be foolish. My guess is that he got so wrapped up in his solitude that he forced others out before they could approach his door.  My guess is that I was the reason that our family was invited over to their house, based on the need Thomas’ parents thought Thomas had for another kid to teach him there was another way of conducting one’s self as a child, a way other than the one his parents had taught him.  My guess, not knowing how Thomas’ life panned out, is that soon after one of the paths on his flowchart panned out, and he addressed all of the variables that he couldn’t foresee as a kid, he began wearing tennis shoes, playing Atari 2600, or whatever game system he had, to the point of immaturity, and that he began chasing all the youth he missed out on in his pursuit of responsibility, maturity, and greater impressions.