Scat Mask Replica VII


We operate in patterns, and we’re all about routines. Those who doubt that should add a dog to their life. A dog spends so much of its life studying our patterns that when they peg them, they can tell us what we’re about to do soon after we decide to do it. Some suggest that our rituals are such that they know before we do.

On that note, my primary takeaway from the movie My Dinner with Andre was to do everything possible to break the routines of life. In that movie, one of characters talked about opening the door with his left hand for a day or two just to break that routine in a way that might lead to other breaks. The gist of this is that we have so many patterns and routines that some of the times we sleep walk through life.

In an attempt to break one of my routines, I decided to mow in a different pattern. I was hoping to break the tedium of that otherwise tedious task. I spent so much time wondering if I was saving time mowing that way that I focused too much energy on trying to save time. In my typical routine, mowing the lawn seems to take minutes. This experiment seemed to take hours. The difference between the two is that I normally sleep walk through routine mowing, in much the same manner I sleep walk through all of the routines I’ve developed over time. We develop so many routines, as we age, that life has a way of slipping by quicker. How many times do we say, it’s July? What happened to June?

We wake, we eat two eggs and toast, with a glass of OJ, and we top it off with a delicious banana. “Is this banana as delicious as yesterday’s banana could’ve been?” I asked myself one Tuesday morning. On Monday, I purchased a bunch of sparkling yellow bananas shortly before breakfast, and I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into its brand-new solidity. While eating Tuesday’s banana, I realized I completely forgot to appreciate Monday’s banana for what it was. I looked forward to that first bite, while in the store. I thought about it a couple times on the short drive home, but by the time Tuesday rolled around, I realized that I accidentally slipped Monday’s banana in the routine of eating breakfast that day. When I bit into Tuesday’s banana, it was delicious, and I appreciated it, but I couldn’t help but think about how much more fresh and delicious Monday’s banana might’ve been if I remembered to appreciate it.

One of the best ways I’ve found to avoid falling too deep into routine is a grueling workout. I’m not talking about a simple workout, because some of us workout so often that working out becomes nothing more than a part of our routine. I’m talking about a grueling workout that leaves the buns and thighs burning, and when the buns are burning, the brain cells are burning just as bright. This idea led me to believe working out might be the cure all.

When our Mondays melt into our Tuesdays, the best way to break the routine is to push our body beyond our otherwise lazy boundaries. If we’re feeling excessive fatigue, we can burn our brain and body bright with a long and grueling workout. I’ve expressed variations of this cure so often that those closest to me say it before I do, mocking me for routinely advising that this was the ideal way to fight routine. The footnote I now add, based on personal experience, is make sure you’re happy first. Before we start going to the gym three times a week, with at least one grueling workout mixed in, we need to make sure we’ve attended to life’s matters and we have someone who loves us at home. We also need to enjoy the job we have, because after a couple of long, grueling workouts we will be acutely aware of our life choices, and we will probably arrive at some painful critiques.

Some call it hyper-awareness, or hyper-vigilance, is the ability to notice things most don’t. Those who have it, call it a gift and a curse. Yet, even the most hyper-aware person can have their senses dulled by routine. I’ve snapped at people on a Tuesday for something that didn’t bother me that Monday, and the only difference was I had a grueling workout in between. My various computer chairs were comfortable for years before I decided to discipline myself to working my buns rock hard. I loved the life I led before those rigorous workouts led me to recognize how unrewarding my job was. I knew the basic functions of my job were equivalent to data entry, but it never dawned on me how unrewarding the job was until I snapped out of the routine.

When people would ask, I would tell them the title my company gave me, and the tasks I was assigned. After a few rigorous workouts, I realized that the company might have seduced me into believing the position was prestigious, in a manner I suspect a garbage company seduces a prospective garbage man applicant into the job by telling them that they’re about to become sanitation engineers. I wondered if some garbage men tell people that they’re in engineering. When my brains and buns were all soggy, I found the basic elements of my job unrewarding, but I managed to convince myself that receiving bi-weekly paychecks and living the independent life were admirable no matter what the other circumstances were.

With my brain firing on all cylinders, I realized that the core tenet of the job was to make the boss happy. If she was happy, then I should be happy. This description probably defines 99% of all jobs, but I have to guess that most employees find their jobs personally rewarding. If we hit the peak productivity numbers for our department, it makes our boss happy, but how does it affect us overall? Was I being productive in a sense larger than the relative barometer my department laid out, or was the work I did a colossal waste of time? Did the company truly value what I do? Do I clock out with a sense that I accomplished something that day? Those in my department knew that no one, outside our department, read the reports we wrote. If we wanted a raise, we knew the company didn’t devote much of the budget to the work we did, as most of the work we did could fall very comfortably under the title “busy work”. If one of the employees on our team wanted an in-house transfer to another department, we learned that the various recruiters therein don’t value the work we do, or the title we have. They knew the inner machinations of the job better than those outside the company might, and they knew the work didn’t provide a potential applicant to their department valuable experience. I knew all this, to a certain degree, when my buns and brain cells were all soggy, but when I was firing on all cylinders, it became painfully clear to me that I was wasting my life in that position.

Working out so often made my buns rock hard, and while the health benefits of that level of exercise superseded everything else, it also made my once uncomfortable computer chair intolerable. I could smell the flowers better than ever before, and peanut M&M’s were so delicious that I considered eating them by the pound, but I also realized how fraudulent my bosses were, how lonely I was, and how I had no home life to look forward to when my excruciatingly slow work day ended. I noticed all the little things life had to offer, and some of them made me happier, but others made me so angry and depressed that I realized one of the reasons I drank so much and smoked so often was to dull my brain to the point where I wouldn’t question the choices I made in life.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “if at first you don’t succeed try, try, and try again.” An addendum to this quote, that some attribute to W.C. Fields, suggests, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try—and then quit! No use being a fool about it.” A quote by the Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock and published in 1917, suggests that, “If you can’t do a thing, more or less, the first time you try, you will never do it. Try something else while there is yet time.” My addition to this quote is, “if one thing doesn’t work try another.” It seems so simple, yet how many people try to jam a square in a round hole and make fools out of themselves by screaming at the manufacturer of the tools in question. We scream with an “It ain’t me. Don’t look at me. The instructions say this should fix it.” We then throw a fiery temper tantrum that suggests we’re better than this. We just fixed something just last week with wonderful aplomb. There’s nothing different about us with this particular project. It’s the manufacturer. “That’s fine, but have you tried a way other than just jamming it home? Try another way.” We then paraphrase Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is trying one thing one way, over and over, and expecting different results.”

When running down the street be mindful of your feet. Studies show that the chances of tripping increase exponentially when we run. Been there, done that. Experience has also led me to offer another quick warning to my loved ones: Watch out for the ground, it hurts.

Scat Mask Replica VIII


How much money does the average Fortune 500 Company spend learning the mind of the consumer? How many psychologists, linguists, and marketers do their preferred research firms and marketing agencies consult before starting production on a commercial? Their job is to know what makes us laugh, what makes us cry, and what intrigues us long enough to pitch a product or idea. They also have the unenviable chore of finding a way to keep us from fast forwarding through commercials. The average commercial is thirty seconds long, so advertisers need to pack a lot into a tight space. With all the time, money, and information packed into one thirty-second advertisement, one could say that commercials are better than any other medium at informing us where our culture is. One could even go so far to say that each commercial is a short, detailed report on the culture. If that’s true, all one needs to do is watch commercials to know that the art of persuasion has altered dramatically in our post-literate society.

Booksellers argue that we don’t live in a post-literate society, as their quarterly reports indicate that books are selling better than ever. I don’t question their accounting numbers, but some of the commercials big corporations use to move product are so dumbed down and condescending that I wonder if fewer and fewer people are buying more and more books.

When advertisers make their pitch, they go to great pains, financially and otherwise, to display wonderful messages. They then hire a wonderful actor, or spokesman, to be the face of the company. By doing so, of course, the companies who employ the advertising agencies want the consumer to find their company is just as wonderful. If you’re not a wonderful person, their carefully tailored message suggests you can be if you follow their formula. If I am forced, for whatever reason, to watch a commercial, I find their pitches so condescending that they almost make me angry.

Thirty seconds is not a lot of time when it comes to the art of persuasion, so advertising agencies take shortcuts to appeal to us. These shortcuts often involve quick emotional appeals. The problem with this is that people who watch commercials adopt these shortcuts in casual conversations, and they begin using them in everyday life.

I find the quick, emotional appeals these research and marketing firms dig up so appalling that I avoid commercials as much as possible. I find the opposite so appealing, in comparison, that I probably give attempts at fact-based, critical thinking more credit than they deserve. I walk away thinking, “Hey, that’s a good idea!” whether it’s actually a good idea or not, I appreciate the thought they put into making a rational appeal.

Some quick, emotional appeals add crying to their art of persuasion. “Don’t cry,” I say. “Prove your point.” A picture says a thousand words, right? Wrong. We’ve all come to accept the idea that powerful figures and companies require an array of consultants to help them tailor their message for greater appeal. Yet, if one has facts on their side, they shouldn’t need to cry. They shouldn’t need to hire consultants, they shouldn’t need attractive spokesmen, and the idea that they “seem nice and wonderful” shouldn’t matter either. I know it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle, but I think the art of persuasion should be devoid of superficial and emotional appeal.

***

Marketing firms and their research arms also spend an inordinate amount of time discussing “the future”. Some ads intone their pitch with foreboding tones, and some discuss it with excitement. Our knowledge of the future depends on our knowledge of the past. As evidence of that, we look to our senior citizens. They don’t pay attention to the present, because they find it mostly redundant. “What are you kids talking about these days?” they ask. We inform them. “That’s the same thing we were talking about 50 years ago.” Impossible, we think, we’re talking about the here and now. They can’t possibly understand the present. They can, because it’s not as different from the past as we want to believe. The one element that remains a constant throughout is human nature.

You’re saying that all the change we’ve been fighting for will amount to nothing? It depends on the nature of your fight. Are you fighting to change human nature? If so, there’s an analogy that suggests, if you’re trying to turn a speedboat, all you have to do is flick a wrist. If you’re trying to change the direction of a battleship, however, you should prepare for an arduous, complicated, and slow turn. My bet is that once we work through the squabbles and internecine battles of the next fifty years, the future will not change as much as these doomsayers want it to, and if it does, it will probably be for the better.       

***

Brian Dettmer

How many people truly want to create works of art? “I would love to write a book,” is something many people say. How many want it so badly that they’re willing to endure the trial and error involved in the process getting to the core of a unique, organic idea? How many of us know firsthand, what a true artist has to go through? If others knew what they have to go through, I think they would say, “Maybe I don’t want it that badly.”

We prefer quick, emotional appeals. How many overnight geniuses are there? How many artists write one book, one album, or paint one painting to mass appeal? How many of them were able to generate long-term appeal? We should not confuse appeal with best seller. The idea of best seller or attaining market appeal is, to some degree, not up to the artist. They might have a hand in the marketing process, but appeal is largely up to the consumer. The only thing an artist can do is create the best product possible in the large and small ways an artist creates. In this vein, creating art involves a process so arduous that most people would intimidate most.

On the flip side, some say that there are artistic, creative types, and there are the others. There’s no doubt that there are varying levels of talent, but I believe that with enough time and effort most people could create something beautiful and individualistic.

Leonardo da Vinci was a talented artist, who painted some of the greatest pieces of art in world history. From what I’ve read about the man, however, he achieved so much in the arts that it began to bore him. After working through his apprenticeship and establishing himself as one of the finest painters of his day, he received numerous commissions for various works of art from the wealthy people and government officials around him. He turned some down, never started others, and failed to complete a whole lot more. One theory I’ve heard on da Vinci is that if he had a starving artist period, he probably created hundreds of thousands of pieces in that period, but that a vast majority of those pieces were lost, destroyed, or are otherwise lost to history. By the time, he achieved a level of stature where those in his day wanted to preserve his work, painting bored him so much that he created comparatively few pieces. Either that, or in the course of his attempts to create that elusive “perfect piece” da Vinci began studying the sciences to give his works greater authenticity. In the course of those studies, he became more interested in the sciences than he was in painting. These are just theories on why we only have seventeen confirmed pieces from Leonardo da Vinci, but they sound firm to me.

***

There is a hemispheric divide between creative types and math and science types. One barometer I’ve found to distinguish the two is the Beatles. So many types love the Beatles that we can tell what type of brain we’re dealing with by asking them what Beatles era they prefer. With the obvious distinctions in style, we can break the Beatles down into two distinct eras, the moptop era includes everything they did before Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the “drug-induced” era that followed. Numbers-oriented people generally love the moptop era more, and the creative, more right brain thinkers tend to prefer Sgt. Peppers and everything that followed. The moptop era fans believe the Beatles were a better band during the moptop era, because “they were more popular before Sgt. Peppers. Back then,” they say, “the Beatles were a phenomenon no one could deny.” Moptop era fans often add that, “the Beatles got a little too weird for my taste in the “drug-induced” albums that followed.” Although there is some argument over which album sold the most, at the time of release, it is generally argued that the latter half of their discography actually sold more than the first half. Numbers-oriented people should recognize that the latter albums were bound to sell more if for no other reason than the moptop Beatles built a fan base who would purchase just about anything they created after the moptop era. Those who lived during the era, however, generally think that the Beatles were less controversial and thus more popular during their moptop era, and if you’ve ever entered into this debate you know it’s pointless to argue otherwise. We creative types would never say that the pre-Sgt. Peppers Beatles didn’t have great singles, and Revolver and Rubber Soul were great albums, and we understand that those who lived during the era have personal romantic attachments to their era of Beatles albums, but we can’t understand how they fail to recognize the transcendental brilliance of the latter albums. We think the brilliance and the creativity they displayed on Sgt. Peppers and everything that followed provided a continental divide no one can dispute.

Further evidence of the popularity of the latter half of the Beatles catalog occurred in 1973. In 1973, the Beatles released two greatest hits compilations simultaneously for fans who weren’t aware of the Beatles during their era. The blue greatest hits album, which covered the 1967-1970, post Sgt. Peppers era has sold 17 million to date, while the red greatest hits 1962-1967, moptop-era album has sold 15 million. As anyone who has entered into this debate knows, however, it’s an unwinnable war.

Scat Mask Replica VI


Turtle and Tiger

My son has a very healthy imagination, and I encourage it in every opportunity I can. We play all sorts of imaginary games, some involving his stuffed animals. We put these animals through various life scenarios. I am in charge of developing these stories, but he will often spider web these stories into other side stories. In one of these sessions, he gave his stuffed turtle an unusual name. Playing the role of the tiger in this production, I asked the turtle if his parents were weird. “If they gave you such an unusual name,” Tiger said, “your parents must be weird people.” I was not testing my son, or playing any type of psychological game. The reader might flirt with such notions, because it was an odd thing for a dad to say to his six-year-old son. My only defense is that we play so many of these games that he wears me out.

Tiger pressed turtle for an answer on this question, and the turtle refused to denounce his parents in anyway, saying, “No, I have great parents who love me and don’t let me get hurt.” That was all turtle said, and we moved into other areas of the turtle’s life story. Months prior, someone suggested that my son’s lack of displays of affection could suggest that he might be on the spectrum. Boulderdash, I say. I say his lack of displays of affection means that his parents are doing one hell of a bang up job. I’ve seen my son’s six-year-old friends worry when they can’t see their parents at the park. ‘Shouldn’t that be the other way around?’ I wonder. I know my son doesn’t worry about such things. I know he considers every minute we can’t see him a momentary minute of freedom. I’ve witnessed other boys appreciate their parents. I’ve seen other kids his age, kiss their parents without them having to ask for one, and my reaction is 180 degrees different from envy. I think if a six-year-old voluntarily displays affection for their parents, it suggests there might be some deficiency in their home. It’s a guess, and it’s probably wrong. Some six-year-old boys are just more affectionate than others are, but that just seems so unnatural to me. If my six-year-old boy says, “Leave me alone”, and he hates hugs and kisses, it means he takes me for granted. He takes it for granted that I’ll always going to be there for him, and he knows that I will always “protect him from getting hurt”. As a person who has never had a parenting job before, it strikes me that if you’re doing your job, your child should be surprised to learn that other kids like you and think you’re fun to be around you, because he thinks you’re one of the most boring people on earth. Then, if you’re doing one hell of a bang up job, you might eventually reach a point when you’ll hear how much he appreciates what you do from his turtle.

The Death of a Gregory

A forty-something man on our block died recently. It’s a sad thing when any person dies young, but I didn’t know this guy as a man. I knew him as a rival when we were in our early teens. One could go so far as to say we “hated” each other in the harmless way young, testosterone-driven teenage males hate each other. We did whatever mean, harmless territorial peeing things that two teenage boys do to each other. I tee peed his house, he egged mine, I threw an M-80 in his yard, and he shot a bottle rocket under my car. I sidewalk chalked something awful about him on his driveway, and he lit firework snakes on the sidewalk leading up to our house (some of those stains are still there some 35 years later). I spotted him on our old block some 35-years later, and I waved at him. He did not wave back. He apparently believed that our teenage rivalry should extend into our forties, and I found this out soon after I waved at him. I was driving into our old neighborhood, and he was driving out when I stuck that hand up. He gave me the nastiest look he could. That look said, “I don’t like you, and I never will!” That’s fine, I guess, but how about I wasn’t asking if I could come over for dinner, or if I could play with his Star Wars figurines. I was putting my hand up in the air to him as nothing more than a momentary, symbolic greeting. It’s your job, sir, to put your hand up in the air back at me! You don’t have to smile when you put your hand in the air, and a wave is not a promissory note on future conversations. You just wave back, and everyone moves on with their lives. It’s what we adult humans do when we somewhat, sort of recognize each other. If you can’t forget the things I did to you at 13, well, that’s kind of on you. If he was still alive, I’m sure he could give you a laundry list of things I did to him, but I don’t remember them, and none of them would post date 1983. If anyone suspects that I bullied him, and it affected his personality in such a way that he could never forgive me, I can only say this in my defense, this kid gave as well as he got. When my family would drive onto our block, he would have a special twinkle in his eye when he spotted me, knowing that we would be spotting his latest bit of carnage. When I saw how much he enjoyed this, I realized what I was up against, and I stopped. He didn’t, and he apparently didn’t want to let it go 35 years later.  

He Stuck a Foot Out!

Yesterday I realized that sports announcing is a cutthroat business. The candidates for a top job in sports announcing must be knowledgeable, and interesting, but they must also have an extraordinary ability to make the mundane exciting if they want to win the job. That’s not an earth-shattering revelation, I know, but when I hear a hockey announcer almost lose his lunch when a goalie sticks their foot out, I see the profession for what it is.

“HE STUCK A FOOT OUT! HE STUCK A FOOT OUT!” the announcer screams.

As we watch the replay about seven times, the analyst describes the command a person playing goalie must have of his body, as if it’s something he’s never seen it before. “I hope the viewers at home recognize how brilliant this save was,” the analyst says with reverence as we watch it. “The goalie is in the zone, and he’s just playing on another level. To have the wherewithal to know not only how, but when, to stick a foot out, you just can’t teach that.”

As one who has never played hockey, I have to imagine that teaching kids who want to play goalie when and how to stick a foot out is one of the first things they teach. It is not our intent to diminish the athleticism it takes to play goalie in this piece. When a puck is traveling at a high rate of speed and the goalie has a center in front of him, trying to block his view, and that goalie gloves the puck, it’s impressive. Those of us at home know we probably couldn’t do that on a regular basis. When a wing flicks a puck to the goal and a goalie sticks his foot out to stop its progression, however, that’s just what we call sports.

The key to most sports, (spoiler alert!) is to cross lines. The defense doesn’t want the offense to do that, so they use various parts of their body to try to prevent that from happening. This conflict can provide some noteworthy achievements, but most of the time it’s just a guy doing what they practice to prepare for such moments. If an announcer can convince a viewing audience that the results are a brilliant display of athleticism, they will win the job.

Creativity in Tight Spaces

Some of my favorite moments of inspiration arrived in tight spaces. My manager put me on suspension. “Get your numbers up, in 90 days, or you’re gone!” he said. With my little world crashing down around me, inconvenient flashes of inspiration bombarded me. Some were so good that I felt required to write them down. A guy interrupted me with a question, and I thought his mannerisms were perfect character-driven piece. The inspiration for another piece arrived when another fella said goodbye to me. My mind was on fire when I heard a set of lyrics from a Sufjan Steven’s song, and those lyrics inspired a novel I would spend the next two years writing. These were all inconvenient interruptions that took time away from the moments I should’ve spent trying to get my numbers up, but I couldn’t stop them from pounding into my brain.

It wasn’t a great novel, it turned out, but the inspiration for it struck me during a very inopportune moment of my life. I’ve had these moments before, I think we all have. They’re the “You’re not supposed to think about that now” moments when creativity seems to flourish. I had an “in-class” friend one time. We engaged in “what you’re not supposed to do” fun in class, when the teacher wasn’t looking. We developed a temporary, very real bond misbehaving, but when we ran into each other in the hallway, we had nothing to say to one another, other than a conspiratorial “there he is” point. I used to love to make my brother laugh in church, with stupid, little in-jokes that would not have been funny anywhere else. We were having naughty, “You’re not supposed to do that here” fun that required subtlety and a deft hand to avoid getting caught. Was that what my brain wanted, with my job on the line and my boss watching every move I made? Regardless, my mind was on fire with naughty, “You’re not supposed to be thinking that now” thoughts that I would spend the next two years completing.  

I did manage to quiet the inspirations long enough to survive the suspension, and I spent the next five years juggling my need to be creative and the need to be productive for the company. I wouldn’t say that these tight spaces always resulted in creative inspiration, but I was never come that close to losing my job again, and I would never have that much inspiration flooding my brain either. 

Scat Mask Replica V


Turtle Porn. We’ve all read reports from conservation biologists detailing the trials and errors involved in saving a “critically endangered species like the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle”. Some of us might view such a chore as thankless and not very rewarding financially, but for these people it’s a passion. Most passionate people have, at least, one or two stories to tell about moments they’ve experienced in their field that define their reason for being, what the French would call their raison d’être. Others spend their careers chasing such moments. For a conservation biologist, zoologist or anyone else involved in the field, the idea that they might one day play some role in saving a species would be that raison d’être. Reading the note in the accompanying photo, even the most casual observer can’t help but feel that passion coming off the plaque.

Courtesy Henry Doorly Zoo

Perhaps no story better illustrates the frustrations of working with animals in this manner better than the tale of Lonesome George. Lonesome George was a “Pinta Island giant tortoise who lived in captivity in the Galápagos for 41 years, as biologists tried to coax him into copulating with a female of a closely related species. His caretakers tried just about everything—they even considered showing him videos of tortoise pornography (though it’s not clear if that ever happened). But the 100-plus-year-old George just wasn’t in the mood. He died in 2012, taking his species with him.”{1}

Numerous testimonials from conservation biologists inform us that as common as these captive breeding programs are, they don’t work near as often as some might think. The frustrations of years of such failures probably lead to feelings of such hopelessness that end when the male Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle finally violates the sanctity and purity of the female. When that moment happens with a critically endangered species, one can only imagine the euphoria that must occur in those observation rooms. Those involved probably lose all sense of professional decorum, as they begin unleashing all of that frustration by using crass words to describe the moment of truth. We can also imagine that they try to abide by a self-imposed governor placed on any displays of jubilation, as a viral video of such a celebration might cast the entire profession in an awkward light. We can also guess that colleagues in these fields try to hold one other in check by mocking and ridiculing those who get a little too excited. “Did you see Darren when the pandas started going at it? He was out of control. I bet he doesn’t get that excited in his own situations.” 

Baseball is boring. Anyone who has any appreciation of the history of baseball can’t help but feel nostalgic when they enter an old Major League baseball stadium. When we smell the peanuts, the hotdogs, and something we can only guess is the smell of age-old soda drying on the ground, associations between game and country come to mind. When we hear the crack of the bat, as the players take batting practice, we think of all of the great players who stood astride home plate waiting for their pitch. When the warmth of the summer sun hits us, we think of the associations most Americans have with summer and baseball, and it makes me feel a part of something larger. When the players take the field, we take some pride in knowing their names and a little bit about their history. We also know that every team has a scouting report on their tendencies, and that this will dictate how the opposing team pitches to them and plays them in the field. “It’s a chess match,” we tell our friends.  

In that first inning, we watch the best players in the game do battle, and we understand what the sportswriters are talking about when they write about the historic lore of the game. It’s an experience that anyone who hasn’t been to one of the older ballparks must experience for themselves. Those of us who have been to a number of them know this magical feeling. We see it, we feel it, and we get it. By the time the third inning rolls around, however, these qualities begin to wear thin. We’re not short-attention span types, but the game just isn’t one that can captivate an audience for three hours. It might have something to do with the uncomfortable seats, the pace of the game, or the awful concessions most baseball stadiums provide, but by the fourth inning most of us want to be anywhere else. By the time the sixth inning rolls around, the children around us are so bored that they’re screaming and few adults are still paying attention to the game. I’ve witnessed a grand slam to win a ballgame with two outs in the bottom of the night, and I saw an extra-inning, game winning home run to complete the cycle on another night, and I almost failed to calculate how historic those moments were, because by the time they occurred I was so bored I almost missed them. The baseball purists might not be, but anytime I think of hard-core fans, I remember something a hard-core race car fan said, “We watch the first five laps and the last five. No one I know watches all of them from the edge of their seat.”  

Eating your appetite. When we are younger, we eat anything and everything, all the time. Eating is just something we do when we’re young. Ask a teenager their favorite places to eat, and they will inevitably list off the top five fast food restaurants. They don’t appreciate the quality of food they eat. They just eat. They’re not especially hungry when they grab a sandwich en route to a meal. They just eat it. They eat while they watch TV, when they drive, and so they have something to do with their hands. When we’re young, we eat because we’re bored, because it’s there, and because everyone else is doing it, but we offset all of this eating with rigorous physical activity.

As we age, and our rigorous physical activity begins to slow as much as our digestive system does, we limit our eating. Some of us start by eliminating snacks, or we change our snacks to healthier fare. Some of us even go so far as to eliminate entire meals, so that we’re only eating once, or twice a day. By doing so, we make mealtime an eventful moment of our day, and for some it becomes the most memorable moment in a given day. Then we talk about past meals, and we labor over deciding future ones. “What are we going to eat?” “Where are going to go?” and “When are we going to eat?” We don’t know what we want to eat yet, but we want it to be tastier than the meal we had yesterday. We want something that might help make today even more special. Once we finish that meal, we are often disappointed, because it wasn’t as great as the other meals we’ve had.

We still talk about french dip we had the other day at the corner deli, and we use all of our creative skills to describe it, “I was literally and actively walking down the sidewalk, and I just happened to literally look up and see the sign Corner Deli. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but then I literally ordered the french dip sandwich. You haven’t tried it? Oh, you simply must,” we say to the uninitiated. “The meat is so tender, and the au jus is to die for there.” Some of the young people at the table might listen to such observations, if they have nothing else to distract them. Some of them might even begin to mimic them, but no matter how they might react, they don’t care as much as we do. They just want this whole dining experience over, so they can do whatever it is they do to make their day eventful. For us, the meal is the event. “You don’t know how to eat,” we say to them to try to establish some level of appreciation in them. They might want steak, but it’s only because we place so much value on it.

If we grill the most beautiful, tasty filet mignon, a cow has ever produced for their nourishment, they might say, “It’s good,” after they search for a suitable response between shrugs, but they say it with the same emotions they say things like, “The grass is green, sky is blue, and I love you.” They may not even look at us when they answer, and they might not answer us at all, if we fail to inform them how rude it is if they don’t. To us, this is such a delicious slab of meat that we will remember it for weeks. We also think that, at the very least, people our age should treat it the same way, until we witness one of them eat a sandwich on the fly. I can appreciate it when Seinfeld says adults don’t lose appetites, but when one of my peers eats an apple on the way to the restaurant I don’t think that they’re ruining their appetite by doing so, but I can’t help but think they’re diminishing the event status of our meal tonight.

Literally and actively. The next generation has probably been twisting and turning the language to have others take them serious for as long as humans have been alive. The next generation is insecure and they don’t think anyone will take them seriously, or find their stories funny, because few people do at this point in their lives. I empathize with their plight for when I was a member of the next generation I always thought I was missing something. I didn’t know what it was, of course, but I thought I needed to add something extra to generate interest and/or laughter. For my generation, it was all about cussing. We relied on swear words, delivered in a confident rhythm, to give our stories provocative punctuation. I don’t know if the comparative prevalence of swearing in movies and TV shows makes it passé to cuss now, or if young people don’t cuss around me now that I’m old, but the young people I know don’t swear as often as we did.

The problem for them, as I see it, is how does one punctuate a story without swear words if they want to provoke a response from an audience? If they tell us a relatively common story about how they noticed that the stop sign of at the end of their block was upside down the other day, for example, they know that they won’t receive quality reactions if they tell such a story flat. They know they need to spruce it up a little. When my generation told such a story, we said, “I was walking down the street the other day, when I noticed the [insert the popular swear word of the moment] stop sign was upside down.” I don’t know if we felt compelled to add the swear words to acquiesce to the rhythms to which our peers were accustomed, or if we thought adding them would attach some gravitas to our stories, but we added them whenever and wherever we could. The special ingredients this next generation adds to their stories now are the infamous –ly words. Thus, the new way to add provocative import to one’s otherwise banal experiences is to add an adverb. “I was actively walking down the street when I literally noticed that the stop sign at the end of our block is now upside down.” I might pay too much attention to linguistic trends in the popular culture, but I’m curious about how such trends start, and what the user hopes to accomplish with them. The next generation obviously uses the –ly words to affect the rhythm of their stories, but I don’t think the words provide the provocative punctuation they seek. The only rationale I can find for adding these –ly words as often as they do, is that they seek to add gravitas to their stories in a way they might not otherwise achieve. When I listen to them, however, I hear the effort more than the story, and it distracts me so much that I can’t take them seriously.   

{1} https://psmag.com/environment/is-breeding-endangered-species-in-captivity-the-right-way-to-go

Scat Mask Replica IV


If your child exhibits creative qualities, my advice is to offer them tantalizing constructive criticism. This may not work in every case, as every child is as different as every adult is, but too much encouragement leads to the dreaded parent-approved stamp, and if you’ve ever been a kid then you know that stamp will collect dust in the attic. As much as our children hate to admit it though our opinions are important to them, and they want to impress us, so discouraging them too much will provide diminishing returns. Parents don’t want to destroy their child’s dreams of course, but there is a sweet spot between being too encouraging and too discouraging.

We might reach a point one day, when we can artificially induce creativity into the brain, but to my understanding, the science of creativity is still a mystery, and the idea of developing it to the point of establishing a career out of it might be so farfetched as to be futile. To become a successful creative artist, a young person needs to be hungry and driven with almost inhuman ambition. How does a parent cultivate such extremes? Anyone who knows anything about the elusive qualities of creativity knows that some of the most brilliant and unique material reveals itself when the stressed creative mind strives to prove their detractors wrong. Does this mean that we should be constantly criticize everything they do? I would say no, but every child is different. In my firsthand experience with the topic, the best mix involves a stew of criticism and compliments. Provide your child a compliment, and if that doesn’t work, add a dash constructive criticism. The problem with that, of course, is that you’re playing a long game when trying to cultivate a creative mind. The parent who can find the perfect blend that works over the long haul needs to tell the rest of us how to do it, because it’s hard to find. If it were easy, we would have a lot more brilliant, creative types.   

Too much constructive criticism could break your child of course, but too much encouragement could lead the child to experience a sense of accomplishment in the field of creativity, and feeling accomplished might be the worst mindset for a creative type to know. The ideal stance for a parent to take is one in which a creative young mind is forever striving for our approval and to prove us wrong about them, so they can wipe our influence off their map. When our child completes a project, we might want to take a critical stance, no matter how much we appreciate the incredible progress they’ve made. We might also want to say that one creation is the best project they’ve ever completed, but we should be honest in our appraisal, and we don’t want to say this about every piece they’ve done, as one of the greatest creative motivators is to attempt to outdo what we’ve accomplished in the past.

To encourage our child to navigate the dizzying path to success, hunger and angst are vital. Thus, a parent may never be able to give up this façade. Giving it up, may squash further ambition. At some point in the process, they might break our heart by saying, “How come nothing I ever do is good enough for you?” They may then go through the list of their accomplishments, and an accompanying list of all the people they care nothing about who are impressed by their accomplishments, and without knowing it, they will have answered their own question.

Continue reading